A variety of factors interact to influence my opinion on an eating establishment, be it a taco wagon or an upscale restaurant.
Obviously! But it is much more than just how it tastes, although crappy food can never be balanced by other factors. While all of the elements that go into taste such as quality ingredients and skillful preparation matter greatly, I'm looking for more. How unique is it? I am more likely to drive 50 miles out of my way for some good carnitas than I would be for a great hamburger. How different is it? If you serve me something that I would have never thought of doing, and it's good, I will bow down in homage.
I want prompt service that does not intrude on my dining experience. I don't want to be your best friend and I don't care what your name is. I do want a drink in my hand ASAP, though, and you better make sure my glass is never empty. If you provide good recommendations, you will make me a happy man. The food better be damn good to make up for bad service.
How I rate this one depends upon the restaurant's and the meal's context. It encompasses noise level, background music, the decor and clientele. I will make an effort to point out circumstances in which it might be better to visit a place. Sometimes what works for lunch just doesn't ring my bell at dinner. It is hard to overcome bad ambiance since I cannot enjoy a meal if I'm in a bad mood.
The more expensive a place, the harder I'll grade it on the above factors. All else being equal, a $5 burger is always better than a $10 one.
I will try to visit a place multiple times before I write a review. Sometimes, though, a place is so bad, it only takes once. On the other hand, I would like to bring attention to place that has potential, so I'll flag it with Quick Bite and will follow up later after additional visits.
5 Stars: This is among the most amazing food you will ever eat. I will visit this place as often as I can so I can work my way, continuously, through the menu. You cannot get this rating unless the food is top notch and the ambiance perfectly matches the context. I will over look the occasional service slip, but not if it appears to be systemic.
4 Stars: This is a good place. You will get a very good meal here. This will always be a good fall back option when you're stuck for where to eat out. They offer enough good dishes to allow you to see past the items on the menu aren't that great, how loud the place is, or the fact that their prices are a tad too high.
3 Stars: Eh. I don't feel like I wasted my money, but I probably won't come back here. If you have no other options, I suppose. Likely, the low price allows you to stomach the less than stellar food or consistently bad service.
2 Stars: This place sucks. I finished my meal, but I was not enthused. This place must be avoided!
1 Stars: Why is this place in business? I didn't finish my meal either because the food was inedible or the service was catastrophically bad. I don't need to tell you to avoid this place, since it will probably be shut down soon.