Mapping BBQ locations using Yelp

A little while back a friend suggested that maybe we could write a fun piece about BBQ. We are both living in Texas and while BBQ has always been a big deal in Texas, it seems to be getting bigger, with Texas Monthly appointing a full-time BBQ editor. I’ve been wanting to learn to work with maps better and to get into interactive web visualizations for a while, so this seemed like a good excuse to work on both.

I used the Yelp API to get data on BBQ restaurants in each of the 30 largest US cities (according to Wikipedia, city limits only). You’re really not supposed to use the API like this and in the future I’ll use one of Yelp’s academic data sets. To make it work, I had to split each city up into 625 lat/lon grid points and query each one separately. I averaged the ratings of each restaurant I found to get an average for the city. I also sampled a small number of restaurants in each city and collected review text for those restaurants (Yelp really doesn’t like you doing this, since it can’t be done with the API, and I don’t recommend trying it. Let’s just say that I can no longer read Yelp at home.) I used a dictionary of food adjectives I found on the web to pare the corpus down, and found three words for each city that are frequently used to describe that city’s BBQ. As you can see from mousing over the cities on the map below, this didn’t always work out great. More thoughts under the map…

US BBQ according to Yelp reviews

Circle size is proportionate to number of restaurants. Mouse over a city to see adjectives commonly used in Yelp reviews for area restaurants.

Average restaurant review
>3.7 >3.6 >3.5 >3.4 >3.3 >3.2 <3.1

Some thoughts:
1) I should have looked at the word dictionary I got off the net a little closer before I committed to it like this. ‘Garlic’, ‘honey’, and ‘chocolate’ are, alas, not adjectives. It wouldn’t be too difficult to go back and redo the corpus analysis with a better dictionary, but I’ve spent about as much time as I want to on this project.
2) It’s not really fair to compare cities. After all, we don’t know if the people of Houston and the people of Los Angeles have the same standards when it comes to BBQ. I thought about trying to control for this by looking at the ratings of a national BBQ chain in each city (presumably chains are relatively consistent in quality from place to place) but there aren’t too many national BBQ chains. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is pretty close, but in many of the northern cities I looked at there isn’t a Dickey’s, or there is only one of them. I might revisit this at some point but for now I’m moving on to other things.
3) I strongly suggest visiting Columbus, OH, where the barbecue is smoked, cheesy, and, perhaps most importantly, free.

I also wanted to look just at Texas. I did this one a little differently, splitting the entire state up into a grid and sampling every couple of miles to see if there were any BBQ restaurants and, if so, how they were rated. The ratings look higher on this chart because this is actually the average of all Yelp reviews in the area instead of the average of all Restaurant ratings in the area. The former tends to be higher because good restaurants get reviewed more often. If you know your Texas geography, you can see the major highways. It makes a lot more sense to compare points on this map because the assumption that Texans have similar BBQ preferences is a lot more plausible than assuming that the whole nation has similar BBQ preferences.

Texas BBQ according to Yelp reviews

Average restaurant review
>3.7 >3.6 >3.5 >3.4 >3.3 >3.2 <3.1

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