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The Online Vox Populi for Local Eats

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It seems like there are a million places to get a bite to eat in this city, and we will nod our head emphatically in agreement if you were to say it's all a bit overwhelming. Most of the time we opt for something tried and true, where maybe we find comfort in the familiar listing of menu items, a favorite dish, or a staff who knows our name. But then there are the times when--gasp!--we want to venture outside the parameters of our dining boxes and try something new. But where to go? And how to we choose?

There are books, most assuredly, from the great Jonathan Gold's to the almighty Zagat. But with books come the risk of things being out of date, and, much like magazine articles and capsule reviews penned by those who make their living by eating, often make where they eat seem out of reach for the rest of us regular folks. Who can afford to drop a few Ben Franklin's on a steak at Cut, and why do we have to keep reading about it? What about when we want something satisfying for dinner on any given Wednesday and we don't want to break the bank? So we go online, because it's got the immediacy we want and, if we're lucky, the people who really eat there can chime in with their two cents' worth. So here's our guide to our favorite website about local eats where the real eaters--with real budgets--have their say.

The veteran: Chowhound's Los Angeles Area board
Chowhound, despite recent cosmetic reinvention, is still the mainstay in the foodie's online universe. Our suggestion is to cruise it long before you use it; most often the info you're looking for is already buried in the archives. You can unearth some great lists compiled by food fans, like a massive listing of all the cheap ethnic eats in the West Valley, or tips on where to shop for specialty ingredients or find that one dish you've always been looking for.

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The newcomer: Urban Spoon
Urban Spoon is brand-spanking new, but does something rather innovative by linking the restaurant's page with blog posts about it. We'll keep our eye on this one.

The hipster: Yelp!
We're big fans of Yelp! because oftentimes the reviewers are witty and inventive in their descriptions. If you look hard enough, you'll see us on there, and we'd be happy to see you there, too.

The Menu 411: Menupix
Ever read Sandra Tsing Loh's "Coming Home to Van Nuys?" and felt that pang of simpatico when she talks about all those take-out menus that seem to have been flung on her porch in the wee hours of the night? Do you throw them out rather than "file" them in your mish-mash drawer? Most likely someone has scanned it in to Menupix, where you can look up the menu info for many eateries; we've used it, and we like it.

The one that isn't worth your time except to get an address: Citysearch
Frankly, we're over Citysearch.