Our generation is obsessed with information: compiling it, analyzing it, conveying it, especially when it comes to food—we want to feel like we’re completely and fully in control. We want to know the name of the chef who cooked our dish, the name of the farmer who harvested the vegetables in our salads and the name of the cow that sacrificed itself for our gourmet burgers.
But sometimes, ignorance is bliss. This is one of those times.
Each year, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene pays a surprise visit to each restaurant in the city. Based on their findings, they assign violation points, which they then calculate and assign a letter grade, A being the best and C being the worst, which the restaurant proudly (or not so proudly) displays on its storefront.
So yeah, obviously we know that if we aren’t feeling like rat feces in our egg drop soup that day, we should probably avoid that sketchy C-rated Chinese restaurant down the street. But here’s what’s terrifying: it’s not that simple.
The New York Times recently published an article exposing the truth about the health inspection process, and it’s a lot more dubious than you’d think (or hope). The article included an interactive map of the New York City restaurants, color-coded by ranking.
Below is the map showing all the eateries in the Manhattan area. The blue dots indicate A-rated restaurants, green indicates B-ratings, orange indicates C-rated, and gray means not yet rated (aka sketchy AF).
Here are all the rodent-infested restaurants in the same area:
And last, but certainly not least, these are the restaurants that are hoppin’ with insects. Note those A-Ratings… I’m blue, da ba dee da ba di.
What you didn’t know was that an A-rated restaurant—like, say, that Italian bistro you dropped a few hundos at for your birthday—can still have up to 13 health violations before it gets bumped down a letter. So restaurants currently displaying that shiny blue A on their front doors may have racked up violations ranging from minor, like unsanitary surfaces, to major, like evidence of rodents… or worse.
In a few cases, these violations are acceptable. Some of our favorite cuisines sacrifice sanitation for the sake of cultural convention, taste and customer satisfaction. For example, sushi is traditionally prepared with bare hands. And raw bars are often written up for using “undercooked ingredients.”
Still, there’s a big difference between upholding a time-honored tradition and harboring a rodent infestation a la Disney’s Ratatouille. But the Health Department weights every violation equally. That means you could be avoiding the B-rated restaurant with fourteen innocent food temperature citations, and end up at an A-rated restaurant with thirteen rat and roach violations instead. Talk about out of the kettle and into the fire.
Think your favorite eateries are completely sanitary? Here are some names you’ll recognize that have received some pretty shocking violations despite their A-ratings:
1. Momofuku Ssam Bar: Turns out they’ve been letting a few roaches near your food.
2. Blue Ribbon Sushi: They could use some help in the sewage department.
3. Luke’s Lobster: Lobsters aren’t the only critters on the premises.
3. Magnolia Bakery: You thought those were sprinkles, but they may have been filth flies. Or fruit flies. Or, if you’re lucky, flesh flies.
So next time you’re at a meal, stop worrying about whether your meal is organic, locally-sourced, vegan and gluten-free, and maybe start worrying a little more about basic sanitation.
Still have an appetite? Here’s the lowdown on the NYC food scene: