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Rancorous Ratings

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The annual Zagat Survey of restaurants has just been released. The Southern California portion of the 2005 edition, which includes evaluations of 1,744 restaurants by 6,621 participants in Los Angeles and surrounding areas (Orange County, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara) contains a few changes this year that are certain to be intensely debated across tables all over town. For starters, the 2005 Zagat reveals some interesting trends. Angelenos eat out more frequently than the average American. We forgo home cooking on average of 3.8 times a week in contrast to the average habit of eating out 3.3 times. Despite the increased hike in the cost of living in LA, we shell out an average $30.17 per meal, a mere 56 cents more than last year. It's still below the $30.95 you'll spend on average in any given American city, and considerably less than the mean cost of a meal in New York City ($37.06). We also contain more top-rated Asian restaurants than any other city in the U.S.

But let's get down to the nitty gritty. Apparently Zagat raters are dedicated followers of the cult of Sushi Nozawa, even if S. Irene Virbila recently chronicled her disappointment following a concerted effort to figure out what all the fuss is about. Nevertheless, Nozawa knocked Nobu Matsuhisha off his #1 Food rating throne, which he previously held for six years running.

Fortunately some of our chow values are in the right place. Seventy-six percent of diners point to bad service as the primary buzz kill, and only 10% count potential celebrity sightings as a primary factor in choosing where to eat. Diaghilev moved to the top of list in the Best Service category.

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LAist cheers a few distinctions: the delightful Blair's in Silver Lake as Best Newcomer, and, entirely predictably yet always deservingly, In-N-Out Burger takes the prize for Best Bang for the Buck. Top status given to the décor at the Hotel Bel-Air suggests that the Zagat crowd clearly enjoys a break from LA’s predominant casual ethos. (The establishment also touts Bell Captain Tony Marquez’s surprise winning of the 2004 Mobil Five-Star Best of the Best Employee Award.) And tanti auguri to the terrific Angelini Osteria for earning the best Italian restaurant rating.

Here's the list of Most Popular Restaurants according to the 2005 Zagat guide, from the crowd pleasers to the budget busters:

2005 Top Rated Restaurants [( ) = position in 2004 Survey]
1. Cafe Bizou (1)
2. Water Grill (7)
3. Spago (3)
4. Campanile (4)
5. A.O.C. (31)
6. Houston's (20)
7. Cheesecake Factory (2)
8. Melisse (14)
9. Crustacean (16)
10. Matsuhisa (5)

Guess folks just can't resist that clear underfoot fish tank at Crustacean.

We'll see if the anti-Zagat brigade gets to chatting about whether or not justice was, um, served this year vis-a-vis their favorite and least favorite joints. Even the many Zagat detractors usually can't help but dish about the ratings.

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Did these Zagat ratings fall prey to the hype, highlight the best of the best, or land somewhere in between? Were your favorites overlooked? On second thought, maybe you'd rather keep it that way.