Have you ever visited an unfamiliar city and wondered where you could go for a really good pizza? Perhaps you've spent precious minutes debating dining choices with friends as your knees begin to shake from lack of food. Or maybe you just want to cook a meal for yourself, but you forgot to bring a list of ingredients with you to the grocery store. Never fear -- as iPhone commercials point out, there's an app for that.
The iPhone's sleek design and exhaustive application database have made it a hit. You can find iPhone programs designed to do everything from playing a simple game to plotting out a trip from beginning to end. Considering how most of us enjoy a good meal, it should come as no surprise that many of the most popular iPhone applications have to do with food.
We're going to look at five applications, listed in random order, to help ease those hunger pains. We'll start with one of the first applications to debut on the iPhone.
Apple launched the iPhone App Store in iTunes in 2008. Among the apps Apple chose to demonstrate at its press event was a restaurant-finding application called Urbanspoon. The free application gained early buzz for its innovative user interface and fun design. It remains one of the most popular applications on iTunes.
The app uses three factors to classify restaurants: neighborhood, type of cuisine and price. UrbanSpoon arranges these three factors into slots like a slot machine. Shake your iPhone, and the app spins the three columns. Once the columns stop, the application will search for restaurants that meet those criteria and present you with a result. Results bring you to a page giving you the restaurant's phone number, address and user reviews. Don't like the results? Just give the phone another shake.
You can choose to lock a column in place if you like, limiting your choices to a specific neighborhood, type of cuisine or price point. The random element adds in a bit of fun and can inspire you to try a place you've never visited before.
Some people find cooking a meal just as much fun as dining out. (Some find it even more fun.) Whether you're a blue-ribbon chef or just learning to boil water, you can use the Epicurious app to help you plan out a full menu. The free application gives users access to thousands of recipes found on Epicurious.com.
The app divides recipes into categories like healthy lunches or decadent desserts. Select the category you want, browse the contents and choose your dish. The app will tell you the ingredients and hardware you'll need to prepare the meal. Use the app when strolling down the aisles at your local grocery store to make sure you pick up everything you need. The app even has an interactive shopping list that lets you check off items as you pick them up. Then it's time to head back to the kitchen and get cooking.
You can e-mail recipes to another address if you want to print out instructions or you can use your iPhone to view a step-by-step process. Each recipe has clear instructions on how to go from raw ingredients to a culinary masterpiece. Create a successful meal and you may want to flag the recipe as a favorite -- that'll make it easier to return to if you want to recreate the same dish later.
Epicurious.com updates the application regularly with the latest recipes from the site, so there's little danger of you running out of options any time soon.
Sometimes it's a challenge to find a place where everyone in your party can have a meal. Vegetarians and vegans are familiar with how hard it can be to dine out. That goes double if you're a vegetarian in an unfamiliar city. The VegOut iPhone app can help vegetarians and vegans find a place that will satisfy both their dietary restrictions and their grumbling tummies.
The application accesses a database of restaurants that are vegan, vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly. You can search by your current location or enter a custom location if you're planning a trip. And unlike some applications, VegOut is international in scope.
Sort results by alphabetical order, distance from your current location or user ratings. You can also view results on a map if you need to get your bearings. It's an especially helpful application to have on hand if you're a vegetarian deep in the heart of barbecue country. The application costs $2.99 in the iTunes store.
If you search for a recipe using Google, chances are good it will bring up a result from Allrecipes.com. The cooking Web site hosts more than 40,000 user-submitted recipes for appetizers, desserts, poultry, brunch and everything else you could possibly hope to eat. User ratings help separate the mediocre recipes from the melt-in-your-mouth favorites. The free Allrecipes app for iPhone gives you access to that library of content, but with a twist.
The Allrecipes Dinner Spinner helps you pick a recipe by presenting three simple categories: dish type, ingredients and "ready in" time. Instead of browsing through long lists of recipes, you pick something in each category and set it spinning. Then you get the top-rated results! The "ready in" category can help you choose between a beef dish that takes 30 minutes to prep (like a hamburger) and a beef dish that takes eight hours (pot roast).
Feeling even more daring? Shaking the phone prompts the app to make a completely random search. If you're looking for something specific or are already a diehard Allrecipes.com user, search and favorites are always available from the menu. A pro version of the app costs $2.99 and removes ads, includes more search options and a shopping list option that automatically adds ingredients based upon the recipes you choose.
If you're out on the town with a few friends and decide you want a meal, OpenTable can help you find the perfect dining destination. The free application searches for restaurants near your location. Results not only include names and locations of restaurants, but also tell you which locations have tables available.
The app has access to more than 10,000 restaurant reservation systems in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. You can either use the application to make reservations for a specific restaurant, or rely on its search feature. Just input the size of your dining party and the time you want to eat and it'll bring back search results for you.
You can narrow your search by indicating the type of cuisine you want or the price range you're willing to pay. The application also lets you get a glimpse at menus and has a rewards program for people who register as OpenTable members. Members can redeem points for gift certificates to any participating restaurant.
Can you imagine looking through all 40,000 dishes in Allrecipes' catalog? Well, here's an app with an absolutely mind-boggling number of recipes: BigOven, which proudly proclaims its 170,000 recipes in its app title. The free BigOven app earns its name with a massive catalog of dishes that can be searched by title, ingredient, keyword or course. The app has been downloaded from the iTunes App Store more than 5 million times [source: BigOven].
BigOven's sheer variety of food makes it an easy recommendation, but there's a lot more to the app than an endless list of recipes. Free BigOven.com accounts grant access to a menu planner within the app, and the ability save favorite recipes and upload photos and reviews. The menu planner allows you to drag and drop recipes around a monthly calendar to plan out your meals days, weeks or months ahead.
When the menu planner is completed and leaves beta status, it will move up to BigOven's pro tier, which costs $16 per year for subscribers. That payment opens up far more functionality and interaction with BigOven's Web site. For example, you can edit the menu planner from your computer, and then access it on the mobile app while you're at the grocery store. Menu planner can automatically import its ingredient lists into a grocery list, and the app will also import information from your receipts. Finally, subscribing provides detailed nutritional information for the thousands of recipes in BigOven's library.
Exploring a new city can be both exciting and frustrating, particularly when dinner time rolls around. And while chain restaurants are likely to deliver a familiar experience, it's not the same as finding a locally-owned dining establishment. The LocalEats iPhone app acts as a knowledgeable tour guide, giving you the inside skinny on the best places to eat in towns and cities across the United States.
You won't find an Applebee's or Outback Steakhouse using LocalEats -- the app doesn't index chain restaurants. But you will find authentic, locally-owned restaurants. The app uses the iPhone's GPS receiver to identify your location and pull up restaurants that are nearby. You can also search restaurants alphabetically or by category. If you're only interested in the best of the best, you can choose "Best in Category" to see the town's top restaurants for each cuisine.
The app provides links to restaurant descriptions, Web sites and directions. With one quick press on the iPhone's screen, you can call the restaurant. Users can read or leave reviews as they explore. Also, the application gives users access to dining coupons and discounts to stretch every penny. The app costs only 99 cents in the iTunes store.
Recipe sites like BigOven and Allrecipes collect thousands of recipes from users putting their own creations on the Web for public consumption. The How to Cook Everything app, by contrast, contains recipes from only one source: New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman. The $10 iPhone app offers the 2,000 recipes originally published in Bittman's cookbook at a lower price and in a searchable index.
That's a slim selection compared to the likes of BigOven, but Bittman has written multiple books on cooking, published a regular column in The New York Times and been on TV programs like The Food Network's "Chopped." In short, he's an expert. How to Cook Everything includes 400 illustrations to go along with its recipes and includes timers for individual steps in the cooking process.
How to Cook Everything is essentially a real cookbook in your hand at a third of its paper price. If you're looking for a culinary pro to guide your hand in the kitchen, give Bittman a try.
Yelp is Urbanspoon on a grander scale. Since Apple launched the App Store, Yelp's been there with a free and exhaustive list of restaurants in cities big and small, from Albuquerque to Washington D.C. The app focuses on community interaction, encouraging users to review and rate the restaurants they've been to. Restaurant ratings on Yelp don't come from critics: Scores are based entirely on regular restaurant goers.
Now here's where that grand scale comes in: Yelp doesn't just cover restaurants. The first page of the app allows you to search and check your bookmarks and user page, but the most important icon is called "Nearby." This feature lets you search for businesses in your vicinity, from a wide range of categories: restaurants, bars, coffee and tea, as well as non-food businesses like banks and drugstores.
You can run a search for locations that are nearby or anywhere in your city. Like Urbanspoon, restaurant/business pages contain information like hours of operation, price range, dine-in or take-out and links to menus.
Like Allrecipes' Dinner Spinner, the No Time to Cook? app is all about delivering a food plan on the double. Where Allrecipes catalogs thousands of dishes and requires you to sort through the ingredients and kinds of meals you're looking for, Real Simple Recipes offers a narrower focus on fast and easy food. As the name implies, these are recipes you can cook fast. Real fast.
The first screen of the app displays three time options: 40 minutes, 30 minutes and 20 minutes. It also displays a basic selection of food categories like poultry, beef, seafood and vegetarian. Picking a type of dish and a time frame for readiness will sort through the app's 850 recipes and pull up something you have time to cook even on a busy night.
Real Simple Recipes includes kitchen timers and how-to videos along with its cooking instructions. Favorite recipe and shopping list support are there, too. The only downside: the $5 app contains advertisements, which are usually only displayed in free apps.
The next time you find your stomach growling in an unfamiliar neighborhood or when you're at a loss for cooking ideas, remember that the solution may just be one iPhone app away.
Learn more about the iPhone and ways to satisfy your hunger by following the links on the next page.
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More Great Links
- iTunes Store. (Dec. 10, 2009) http://www.apple.com/itunes/
- Lowry, Ethan. "Urbanspoon on the iPhone." Urbanspoon. July 10, 2008. (Dec. 10, 2009) http://www.urbanspoon.com/blog/27/Urbanspoon-on-the-iPhone.html
- Murch, Steve. "BigOven for iPhone 3.0: Now with Menu Planner!" Nov. 30, 2011. (Jan 18, 2012) http://blog.bigoven.com/blog/2011/11/menu-planner-now-available-on-iphone.html
- OpenTable. "OpenTable Announces Free iPhone Application Now Available on Apple App Store." Nov. 17, 2008. (Dec. 10, 2009) http://www.opentable.com/info/newspage.aspx?id=275
- Steel, Tanya. "Epicurious' IPhone App." Epicurious. April 30, 2009. (Dec. 10, 2009) http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/2009/04/epicuriouss-iph.html
- VegOut. (Dec. 10, 2009) http://vegoutapp.com/
- Where The Locals Eat. "LocalEats." (Dec. 10, 2009) http://www.wherethelocalseat.com/Mobile.aspx