Do DOH Grades Matter to You When Choosing Lunch?

Hing Won
I recently learned in the forums that ML favorite, Hing Won recently ran afoul of the DOH (again) and were briefly closed last week for inspection violations. Last week I posted about the slightly out of ML price range Tuna Burger from the Oyster Bar’s takeout window and Midtown Lunch’r infoman411 called me out in the comments saying:

Are you sure you want to promote this place on ML? Did you happen to notice the Giant C in the doorway? They have it so that if the door is open you can’t actually see the fact that their NYC Dept of Health Inspection rating shows a C. What’s amazing is that I walk by every day and I never saw the rating sign until recently yet DOH site shows its been a C since December 2011.

I actually didn’t know that they received a C, I’ve since learned that the sign is posted in the corner near the door of restaurant, if you went straight to the take out window, as I did, there’s a good chance you might not see the sign at all. But it got me thinking…if I had known at the time that the Oyster Bar was a C, would I have cared? Would you care?

If we’re to believe the recent Quinnipiac University poll, 82% of respondents supported the use of letter grades to evaluate restaurants and 67 % “said they consider letter grades when they decide where to eat, in contrast with 28 percent who don’t.”

In the Tuna Burger post Lunch’r CheeeeEEEEse said “Nobody who actually likes food cares about those anyway. C is still passing. If anything, there will be less people there.” While Lunch’r NOLA Steve responded: “I’m eating the Tuna Burger now, and it tastes much better knowing that it comes from a “C” establishment. I don’t like “A” establishments. “B” and “C” shows some character. Stick to your sanitized restaurants, more dancin’ room for me!”

Still the DOH website touts “Selecting a place to dine out is now even easier with the City’s new restaurant inspection website.” Really? Because last I heard the DOH wasn’t Zagat. Sure, having transparent inspection information available to diners let’s you make a choice about places that might have serious or on-going problems, but I’ve never used the DOH to narrow down the “24,000 restaurants in the city.” And when choosing between where to eat, I’ve never picked an A restaurant over a B because of the grade. I choose based on the merits of the food and what I’m in the mood to eat.

I can think of a certain white tablecloth restaurant in midtown that currently has an A grade, where a few years ago I actually saw a mouse run clear across the dinning room several times in the course of one meal (this was prior to the letter grade system). I discreetly left our clients and told the management. They comped me dessert (not exactly what you want from a restaurant with rodents running wild). I haven’t been back since–close encounters with rodents will do that to you, but other than that, I can’t think of another establishment that I’ve forsworn because of DOH related issues. Do letter grades influence your choices? If you’re a diehard for a restaurant’s food, what would keep you away?


  • *posted (1st ‘graf)

  • Yes, any place less than a B I don’t eat at.

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    As always, the answer is “it depends”. If a place I am familiar with gets a B or C rating, I’ll go on the DOH website and see what caused it. They can rack up points for some pretty unimportant things (was it the Certe owner who wrote something here about their “violations” in that regard?) and I’ll take that into account. But if I see references to rodents, droppings, etc either in the current rating, or a prior one, I’d probably skip over it.

    I don’t put full faith in it because I’m sure some of these places are paying people off for ratings, or are getting worse ratings by not playing ball to avoid some of those more minor issues from coming up on the report. My biggest issue is when places try to hide their ratings or play games with the system – this site called me out on the front page when I was so excited about Taz closing, because I hated that they could get shitty ratings, close down, open up under a new name, etc.

    All that being said, this is NYC and it’s not a perfectly clean place. If I see fruit flies in a place where I normally eat, I won’t cross it off the list. I use my discretion and that’s served me well so far (knock on wood). And I’ll say it again…Margon could get a Q rating and I’d still line up for that sandwich.

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    if i go into a place, realize it kinda looks dingy and dirty but see an A on the window it relieves me of any stress about eating there. if anything they help me be more secure about eating at hole in the wall places

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    i live on 14th street where there are a TON of grungy-looking hole in the wall places that have As in their windows. do i think they’re cleaner than decent-looking places with Bs? absolutely not. i think the grading system is somewhat arbitrary depending on the inspector’s mood, and also silly in the sense that restaurants can appeal their grade as soon as it gets posted. little poland on 2nd ave had a C about 6 months ago, but now it has an A.

  • I take notice of the letter grading a restaurant receives but I don’t let it affect my decision to eat there, especially if it’s a place I normally dine at & love their food. I’ve also seen plenty of hole-in-the-wall places with an A grade while a high class restaurant will have a B grade… it doesn’t mean too much to me.

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    Some ML favorites have had C grades in the past.

    Cer Te

    Cafe Zaiya

    Social Eatz


    I find the yellow “CLOSED by order of the commissioner of health and mental hygiene” notices much more disturbing.

  • But…the yellow “CLOSED” signs probably indicates that the place will be spic and span when they reopen. Probably the safest day to eat there is that first day after the sign comes down.

  • Most of my favorite places I eat at have gotten C’s. I still go. Hing Won had been a C for a long time, shut down numerous times and has ranged from B to Pending. Has not stopped me from going.

    And i agree with Victoria that its silly they can appeal. all they need to do is “hide” the violations and get an A. once the inspector leaves, they can let all the violations “hang loose” again.

  • NYC Department of Health now has an Iphone App called “ABC Eats” that gives you all the details behind the letter grades and also all the details of past inspections. It’s easy to use and pretty comprehensive.

    I’ve found some restaurants that aren’t posting their Current Letter grades and some of the reviews are pretty disgusting like evidence of rodents, and bugs present during the inspections. I won’t go to those places.
    If I see a place with lots of Red critical violations, I will avoid it.

  • IMO I’ve eaten in Chinatown plenty of times and never gotten sick, so the way I see it is I shouldn’t put much stock into these letter grades.

  • Grades seem like Blommberg politics. I don’t let Bloomberg, or politics, govern my eating. Ever. If I hear a place is good, I’m going to try it. If I get sick, well, lesson learned.

  • Some people should read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair.

  • I still go to Certe. My problem with Oyster Bar and Certe is that they try to hide their grades, particularly for the months that Certe had a C.

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    Hing Won gets frequent visits by the DOH because they have hanging roasted meats, which incidentally, is the best part about this restaurant and most chinatown places as well. With the high turnover this place gets, I am sure the meat hasn’t been sitting there long. Get over it and go to lunch already.

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    What you mean to ask is, “Does food cleanliness and safety matter to you when choosing lunch?”

    You’re making this weird distinction between DOH grades and actual food safety as if the DOH grades are just some random letter grade arbitrarily assigned to the food.

    They’re not. Sure, there’s likely some degree of subjectivity, but there are also clear criteria on which these restaurants are scored. And while we may talk about some “petty” criteria that matter (like hand-drying stations or whatever), let’s not act like some of the restaurants with bad grades did not also get marked up for vermin.

    Plus, the real kicker is that the DOH tells you why you got a bad score, so you thus get a CLEAR blueprint for improving and getting an A. If you aren’t willing to make the necessary investments, I have to wonder about the restaurant’s overall commitment to safety.

    • User has not uploaded an avatar

      If the Hing Won referenced here is “Hing Won Express” … look at some of the gems here:

      2) Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas.

      3) Food not protected from potential source of contamination during storage, preparation, transportation, display or service.

      5) Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to attracting vermin to the premises and/or allowing vermin to exist.

      7) Proper sanitization not provided for utensil ware washing operation.

      And that still gets it a *C.* I hardly think the DOH is being unreasonable.

  • I’m going to echo that CheeeeEEEEse guy. He sounds like a genius.

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    I didn’t really call out Brownie just making a point that when its an A rating restaurants proudly post the BLUE A but when its a GREEN B its carefully placed in a less visible location and then Oyster Bar creatively placing the ORANGE C where you can’t see it if the door is open. Impressive.

    Should a rating influence your choices? Absolutely. The scariest rating is a BLACK Grade Pending which infers the place failed and is now trying to recover its rating before its next inspection and A borderline B is fine but when a place gets a C you need to seriously judge whether or not that place cares about health and hygiene. Its not simply the rodents/vermin/roaches but also the intangibles that can get you ill plus its in Grand Central where if you commute you get the smell of insecticide permeating the lower level every morning before 8AM. Face it Grand Central eateries that get an A may not be as perfect of an A rating as others but to get a C rating, don’t you think that there are serious issues that need to be addressed?

    • “The scariest rating is a BLACK Grade Pending which infers the place failed and is now trying to recover its rating before its next inspection” — WRONG.

      from NYC DOH:

      If it doesn’t earn an A on the first inspection, it’s scored but ungraded. An inspector goes back to the restaurant unannounced, typically within a month, to inspect it again and the re-inspection is graded. If the grade is a B or C, the restaurant will receive a grade card and a grade pending card.

  • I truly believe that the grading system was invented to make more money for the govt. To be honest, I’d be more worried about the cooks’ hygiene over food temperature. I also know that some of the higher end restaurants definitely do ‘buy’ the grading system.

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