Salt Bae, Guy Fieri and More: The Most Scathing Restaurant Reviews of All Time


We’ve all been there. You splurge for dinner at that upscale, impossible-to-get-into restaurant only to experience mediocre food, rude service and a check you need to look over three times because it can’t possibly be right (“They charged me for a napkin?”). You go home, write a nasty Yelp! review and shake your fist to the sky, knowing that one day that place will answer to a higher power. No, not God. The restaurant critic. For in the culinary world, a critic’s word is gospel and a bad review can do some serious damage to both the restaurant and the chef’s reputations. But for the rest of us, a bad review is just plain fun to read! That’s why we’re serving up some of the finest restaurant takedowns, not-so-lovingly prepared by critics from The New York Times and other fine publications, all with a bit of a bite and an extra side of sass.

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The Reviewer: Scott Lynch, Gothamist 

Choice Cuts: Nusret “Salt Bae” Gökçe‘s newest restaurant has been getting a lot of negative press, but one of the most brutal articles comes from Gothamist‘s Scott Lynch in a review entitled “Salt Bae Burger Is the Worst Restaurant in NYC Right Now.” Prior to ruthlessly trashing everything from the ambiance to the food, Lynch makes note of the lengthy list of accusations and lawsuits that have plagued the chef’s international chain of restaurants, “from labor law violations to wage theft to sex discriminaiton.” And according to Lynch, Salt Bae has brought that mentality with him to NYC. As he writes, “Let’s start with ridiculous, possibly illegal ‘FREE FOR LADIES’ Veggie Burger…Free is no bargain for this horror show, which tasted of old broccoli and was garnished with a pathetic slice of wilted iceberg lettuce that was browning at the edges…Even the stale ‘homemade pink bun’ on this was really more pale orange, as if Gökçe couldn’t even be bothered to do sexism well.” In describing the atmosphere, he writes: “When you enter, you enter a Salt Bae theme park — unsurprisingly, there are images everywhere of Gökçe doing his Salt Bae thing, and if he’s around, he’ll be more than happy to pose for however many pictures you want to take.” The “shockingly good” french fries appear to have been the highlight of his experience, but still, he writes, “Salt Bae Burger is an insult to our city. Don’t eat here, not even as a goof.”

The Pièce de Résistance: “The food is terrible here. I had the unfortunate opportunity a few weeks ago to eat several sad servings of hospital food, and everything I had at Salt Bae was worse, and delivered with much less love. The menu, framed within a weirdly weighty metal tombstone apparently marking the death of everything pleasurable about eating, is wall-to-wall bad sandwiches.”

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The Reviewer: Pete Wells, The New York Times
Choice Cuts:
Wells has not always hated the well-known steakhouse. At the start of his brutal zero-star review, he recalls happily emptying out his wallet to eat one of their sizzling porterhouse or rib steaks in the 1990s. “Because a Peter Luger steak made me feel alive in a way that few other things did, I considered this a fair trade.” But a visit back in October 2019, did not encourage the same exchange. He likens the shrimp cocktail to “cold latex dipped in ketchup and horseradish,” calls the dole “dry and almost powder,” and the Caesar salad “drippy” with croutons straight out of the bag. “I know there was a time the German fried potatoes were brown and crunchy, because I eagerly ate them each time I went,” he writes. “Now they are mushy, dingy, gray and sometimes cold. I look forward to them the way I look forward to finding a new, irregularly shaped mole.” His porterhouse was equally disappointing. Though he “could live” with its ranging degree of doneness despite his request for medium-rare, Wells still called the meat “far from the best New York has to offer.”
The Pièce de Résistance: “There is almost always a wait, with or without a reservation, and there is almost always a long line of supplicants against the wall. A kind word or reassuring smile from somebody on staff would help the time pass. The smile never comes. The Department of Motor Vehicles is a block party compared with the line at Peter Luger.”

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The Reviewer: Tina Nguyen, Vanity Fair
Choice Cuts: Don’t be surprised if Nguyen builds a wall to prevent diners from entering this Trump Tower steakhouse. For starters, she’s upset by the inconsistencies: Trump Grill “is occasionally spelled Grille” and her menu “was missing dishes that I found on my dining partners’” (maybe theirs listed items with alternative fats?). The décor —”French-ish paintings that look as though they were bought from Home Goods” — was not exactly a gilt-y pleasure, and the food left Nguyen disappointed. Bigly. “Flaccid, gray Szechuan dumplings” with “flaccid, gray innards” were unappetizing, while Ivanka’s Salad, “a chopped approximation of a Greek salad, smothered in melting goat cheese and dressing and missing the promised olives” was perfect … for hiding “several uneaten dumplings.” Don Jr.’s favorite, the filet mignon, was “overcooked and mealy” and “slumped to the side over the potatoes like a dead body.” And though the 45th President’s beloved Taco Bowl, accompanied by guacamole that “NASA might have served in a tube labeled ‘TACO FILLING,’” was adequate, it was “not good enough to prevent Trump from deporting millions of Hispanics.”
The Pièce de Résistance: “Renowned butcher Pat LaFrieda once dared me to eat an eyeball that he himself popped out of the skull of a roasted pig. That eyeball tasted better than the Trump Grill’s (Grille’s) Gold Label Burger.”

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The Reviewer: Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post
Choice Cuts: Lines are often very long at this restaurant located near the White House, but Post restaurant critic Sietsema assures you the dining experience is hardly worth the wait. Servers inform diners of the hotspot’s “fresh and seasonal” food integrity, but “there are several wrinkles in the script,” he writes. “Witness a skillet of cornbread, bright with corn kernels but also doughy in the center, and pickled ‘seasonal’ vegetables that turn out to be mostly sliced cucumbers. The snack is also unpleasantly mouth-puckering.” The cornbread wasn’t the only dish that left the reviewer with a sour taste in his mouth. “The best part of the goat cheese burger has nothing to do with the unfortunate sandwich but with the squat brown paper bag alongside it. Inside are potato chips. They’re okay. Not okay: Chicken pot pie weighed down with an arid biscuit the size of a softball.”
The Pièce de Résistance: “Therein lies a key to survival: Never mind that it’s noon. Order a Sazerac. It will help you forget what you’re about to eat, or at least keep you much better company than the cooking.” Ouch!

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The Reviewer: Pete Wells, The New York Times
Choice Cuts: The Times awarded four stars to renowned chef Thomas Keller’s upscale eatery in 2011, but oh how the mighty have fallen! In January 2016, Wells crucified the restaurant for its inflated prices ($325 for a nine-course tasting menu!), add-on charges that “seem like extortion,” and indifferent waitstaff who left wine glasses empty throughout the meal and “give you the feeling that you work for them.” The food also left a sour taste in his mouth. “Gristle of the sea” (Wells’ name for the lobster, not mine) was served with a grainy chestnut purée that “tasted like peanut butter to which something terrible had been done.” Check, please!
The Pièce de Résistance: “I don’t know what could have saved limp, dispiriting yam dumplings, but it definitely wasn’t a lukewarm matsutake mushroom bouillon as murky and appealing as bong water.”

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The Reviewer: Jay Rayner, The Guardian
Choice Cuts: Sounds like someone has a major beef with the London outpost of the popular American steakhouse. “It is about as shoddy an operation in separating people from inexcusable amounts of their cash as I have seen in a very long time,” he said in July 2015. OK, but were the drinks any good? “Cocktails are a13. That buys me an insipid Moscow Mule served in a stupid brass mug with a thin plastic straw.” But the steaks are great, right? “I think that if you’re going to eat beef, you want to know it has come from an animal that has moved. This steak slips down like something that has spent its life chained to a radiator in the basement.” Sorry we asked!
The Pièce de Résistance: “We are told there is an option to take leftovers home. We choose not to. The last thing we want, as we walk out the door, is to take any part of the dreadful Smith amp Wollensky experience with us.” Mic drop!

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The Reviewer: A.A. Gill, Vanity Fair
Choice Cuts: The Parisian bistro counts Alice Waters, Francis Ford Coppola and Kim Kardashian among its fans, but writer Gill? Hell no. “It is, all things considered, entre nous, the worst restaurant in the world,” he wrote in 2011. And not just because of the “surly” waiters and “dung brown” dining room that makes one feel “that you might be a suppository.” No, it’s the food. And before you continue reading, you may want to have a barf bag handy. Got one? Good! Foie gras is likened to “gross flabs of chilly pâté, with a slight coating of pustular yellow fat … It tastes faintly of gut-scented butter or pressed liposuction.” See, I tried to warn you! Thankfully, Gill knew to avoid the roasted chicken, unlike that Japanese couple, who wrestled with it like “a manga poltergeist from some Tokyo horror movie, its scaly blue legs stabbing the air.”
The Pièce de Résistance: Still got your barf bag? Here’s Gill’s take on the broiled kidneys. “Somehow the heat had welded them together into a gray, suppurating renal brick. It could be the result of an accident involving rat babies in a nuclear reactor. They don’t taste as nice as they sound.”

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The Reviewer: Pete Wells, The New York Times
Choice Cuts: After four years of being dark, the 700-seat Central Park institution reopened to much fanfare in 2014. But judging by Wells’ review, perhaps it should have remained shuttered. The Victorian building now houses an all-white dining room reminiscent of a “casual-dining option at a family-friendly resort in Florida” and servers who have a “determined enthusiasm of counselors poached from a summer camp in Maine and given a crash course in big-city restaurant customs during the bus ride down Interstate 95.” As for the food, Wells says, “Prying tiny quail bones away from meat that was griddled until it was as dry as a week-old English muffin wasn’t very wonderful.” We could think of worse ways to spend a Friday night.
The Pièce de Résistance: “The hosts may learn how to read their reservations screen so they don’t tell a customer he’s the first to arrive and ask him to wait while the rest of his party is already in the restaurant’s inner recesses, wondering if he’s gone for a carriage ride.” Zing!

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The Reviewer: Lesley Chesterman, Montreal Gazette
Choice Cuts: “The second I was presented with the menu, I knew something was off.” And thus began Chesterman’s fiasco of a feast in April 2014. Besides the yellowed, badly translated French-English menu, there was the fish finger that had the “texture of canned cat food” and the lobster and bone marrow salad that was “the worst restaurant dish that has ever passed my lips.” And don’t get her started on the waiter! “He tried to upsell us at every opportunity,” suggesting the most expensive wine options and pushing Chesterman’s male dining companion to order a $45 deer chop because he looked like he appreciated red meat. “In 16 years of restaurant reviewing, I had yet to hear that kind of sexist sales pitch,” she writes.
The Pièce de Résistance: “Desserts sealed the miserable deal,” says Chesterman, whose opera cake with butterscotch ice cream turned out to be dry white cake with strawberry sorbet. “When I asked our waiter about the butterscotch ice cream, he looked confused and headed to the kitchen to inquire before coming back with a bowl of it. You can’t make up incompetence like this.”

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The Reviewer: Victoria Pesce Elliott, The Miami Herald
Choice Cuts: When Elliott visited the fancy French brasserie in May 2014, it had everything: “Marble everywhere. Sparkly chandeliers. Delano-esque white furniture. Starched linens.” And, unfortunately, “some of the very worst service I’ve ever experienced.” Among the offenders: waiters who “rolled their eyes like sullen teenagers” and “disappeared for long stretches.” Perhaps they were busy tending to her food, which was as “insipid as unwaxed dental floss” and consisted of half-cooked salmon with a “gelatinous, raw, silvery sheen” and undercooked lamb chops “oozing red juices”?
The Pièce de Résistance: “The executive chef, Michael Fulci, holds a Michelin star and two-toque award in his native France. He must have been out on my visits, because I doubt Michelin inspectors are keen on moldy berries or salads without dressing. Or hair gel. A big black tube of L’Oréal sat on the bar as if in a salon.”

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The Reviewer: Pete Wells, The New York Times
Choice Cuts: In the 2012 review heard round the world, Wells talked trash about not only Fieri’s restaurant but also the Food Network star himself. “Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? …. Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish? … When you hung that sign by the entrance that says, WELCOME TO FLAVOR TOWN!, were you just messing with our heads?” And then things turned personal. “Why is one of the few things on your menu that can be eaten without fear or regret – a lunch-only sandwich of chopped soy-glazed pork with coleslaw and cucumbers – called a Roasted Pork Bahn Mi, when it resembles that item about as much as you resemble Emily Dickinson?” Ouch!
The Pièce de Résistance: “Does this make it sound as if everything at Guy’s American Kitchen amp Bar is inedible? I didn’t say that, did I?” Of course not!

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The Reviewer: Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post
Choice Cuts: The European import “makes a strong case for hazard pay for restaurant critics,” Sietsema wrote in 2013, citing paper-thin pizzas that taste like saltines, Risotto Rustica that brought to mind the soupy Spanish rice served in his grade-school cafeteria, and a three-cheese and fried eggplant-stuffed calzone that “does a great impression of a mummy” (huh?). And did we mention that the lasagna contains raisins?
The Pièce de Résistance: “Someone needs to put a stop to this threat to our nation.” Good news, m’friend: Someone did! The restaurant closed in February 2015.

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The Reviewer: Frank Bruni, The New York Times
Choice Cuts: The restaurant’s decor resembles a “slick parody of a suave Italian restaurant,” while the food is nothing but a tragedy, according to Bruni’s 2006 review. Take the fiery buffalo, cubes of bland flesh that “could have come from any number of beasts or birds.” And the crab meat soup seemed a ripoff at $13. “Were there discernible crab in it, you’d understand. But there wasn’t, so my companions and I didn’t.” And lest you forget that Champagne was on the menu, the aggressive waiters were happy to remind you. Repeatedly. “They do it even if you have a full martini in front of you. Even if you have already said no.”
The Pièce de Résistance: “Once you’ve visited Mr. Chow Tribeca, you will appreciate your favorite neighborhood Chinese takeout place like never before.” Yeah, but they don’t have Champagne!

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The Reviewer: Besah Rodell, L.A. Weekly
Choice Cuts: You think Gordon Ramsay is mean? Wait till you hear what Rodell said about her dining experience at his now-closed restaurant in 2012. The fish, which tasted of glop, was “outrageously overcooked and mushy, the batter thick and doughy and more like something you’d find surrounding your deep-fried Twinkie.” Her meal was so bad, in fact, that Rodell accused Ramsay of hoodwinking customers and noted, “Perhaps, rather than comparing the Fat Cow to other Los Angeles restaurants with big-name chefs involved, we should compare it to its true brethren – other mall food.” Oh no she didn’t!
The Pièce de Résistance: “Branzino ceviche was so besmirched by dollops of goo both green (avocado?) and yellow (horseradish?), it looked like a science experiment gone wrong. It was so disturbing it prompted me to take a picture and send it to a friend, who responded, ‘That looks malignant.’”

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The Reviewer: Michael Kaminer, New York Daily News
Choice Cuts: Lady Gaga’s parents’ Italian eatery wasn’t a monster hit with Kaminer, who declared in 2012 that it was “a careless, lifeless production that feels like a weird facsimile of a restaurant rather than the real thing.” Helmed at the time by executive chef Art Smith (he of Oprah fame, pictured), the menu featured focaccia that had the “texture of kitchen sponges” (yum!), eggplant parm that was a “flavorless mess” (we’ll take two!) and tiramisu tasting “vaguely of plastic” (can we get the recipe?). Most offensive? The expresso, spelled with an “x” and tasting like “concentrated Sanka.”
The Pièce de Résistance: “I came with an open mind, despite the fact that most of my colleagues have portrayed Joanne as the worst thing since herpes.” And … scene.

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