Phoenix Food Nerds Unite on Dominic Armato's Discussion Board

Dominic Armato

Local food blogger Dominic Armato is a gastro-geek on a mission. He wants to build a grassroots coalition of people who are passionate about food, and to that end, he has launched a discussion board called

His aim is to bring Phoenix food-lovers together for food-related events, impromptu restaurant outings and in-depth discussions of ingredients, dishes, restaurants, chefs and trends.

According to Armato, local food nerds (he detests the word "foodies") need a virtual home, a place to build community through talking and sharing ideas. Borrowing the template from a similar discussion board in his hometown, the Chicago transplant created what he calls an "old school bulletin board" because he believes there's simply too much food knowledge going to waste here in Phoenix.

Why do we need another online platform when we've already got newspapers, weekly magazines, Yelp and Chowhound?

Armato explains his reasoning on his Skillet Doux blog -- nominated by Saveur for Best Food Blog in the restaurant/dining coverage category in 2011.

What he says makes a lot of sense.

Twitter's "great at moving news far and fast," but people "can't have a real discussion in 140-character snippets." He rejects Yelp because it concentrates solely on reviews and focuses too much on individuals, and he's not big on Chowhound either, bemoaning its policy of removing posts that veer even slightly off-topic, a buzz-kill for folks who might enjoy following a meandering but interesting conversation.

He gets a bit cagey when it comes to criticizing online news outlets. In fact, it's not entirely clear if he's ragging on azcentral or Chow Bella (or both) when he writes:

The only area that can handle discussion is practically an afterthought. And as a corporate entity, it's designed to generate more traffic at the expense of better traffic.

Thanks, Dom. We love you too!

And his viewpoint on top-down reviewing -- meaning paid restaurant critics and even influential bloggers who spout information but don't solicit or elicit responses -- is that no one person, no matter how good he or she may be, can or should be driving the conversation.

So, you may be wondering, how does an aspiring gastronaut get on board?

First by reading the food nerd credo -- a set of rules and guidelines that includes no spamming, no political or religious rants, no rumors of restaurant closures or health code violations without solid evidence and no being a jerk.

Second, by registering on the site. After that, it's pretty easy to jump in, using the index to find discussions on Valley Eats, Far From Home (dining outside of AZ), In the Kitchen (sourcing ingredients, cooking at home), Events and Gatherings, Other Culinary Chat (food news, food media, etc.) and Shop Talk (business discussion for the pros).

So far, many of the people who've joined seem to be people who know each other and hang out together already.

In fact, some of them are the same folks we have recognized here at Chow Bella as Tastemakers, including Lara Mulchay and Eric Schaefer. Discussions have included The Fry Bread House, Phoenix Food Memories, The Great Pizza Debate, Fish Tacos and Favorite Sushi.

So how about it? Are you food-nerdy enough?

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Lots of http links in this article don't work. But I figured it out, they are missing the : !

Michelle Martinez
Michelle Martinez

The very first think I wanted to do after reading this was check out PHXfoodnerds, but the links are broken.


Chowhound lost its focus ages ago. It used to be a dedicated community of very passionate people all one one mission: Great food. It didn't matter if it was swanky splendor or tamales out of the back of a minivan, if it was delicious it was fair game. I'm glad that they received funding to continue, but it came at the expense of making the site more user-friendly. That pain-in-the-ass board of days gone by was a great deterrent to people who weren't as food-crazed as the regulars Nowadays it's full of people travelling into town, asking the exact same questions that were asked a few days ago, and then never reporting back on their findings while here.

Yelp... ugh. That site has turned everyone into a wanna-be professional critic, thinking that they have to be incognito at restaurants so they can complain about it later in a public forum. What you end up with is ignorant, passive-agressive assholes who don't know that problem resolution is a HUGE part of good service. Didn't complain at the restaurant? Don't fucking post about it on Yelp! And don't get me started on the people who just have no clue about what they review. I've seen complaints that the chicken Caesar salad at a backwoods roadhouse wasn't up to par (The dressing was obviously bottled and the Romaine had been sitting around? No shit! Who the hell orders a chicken Caesar salad at a roadhouse?), that a steakhouse was shamefully lacking in vegetarian options (do these people go to Green and exclaim "Where's the beef?!"), and nitpickings about how something would be better if it wasn't prepared the traditional way (e.g. the bimbo who thought her club sandwich would be better if it was heated so the cheese melted). Every single goddamn time I look up restaurant information on Yelp, I realize there are a hell of a lot of villages out there who miss their idiot greatly.

Chris Lee
Chris Lee

Nice article! Very cool to see Dom's efforts get some press. I'm hopeful that this can be transformational for our dining scene! And I love the symbiotic relationship - this post being a great example!

Dominic Armato
Dominic Armato

How's that Carly Simon song go?  (I keed because I love! :-)

"He gets a bit cagey when it comes to criticizing online news outlets. In fact, it's not entirely clear if he's ragging on azcentral or Chow Bella (or both)..."


That quote you pulled was referring to Yelp (and its "Talk" section), of which I'm unashamedly not a fan.

I'm not knocking commercial online news outlets at all.  I think the need to build readership and ad revenue ties their hands in terms of the type of content they have to focus on sometimes (would you disagree?), but I certainly never intended to criticize Chow Bella or azcentral.  I think they're limited in scope simply by virtue of the number of people involved, and I think comment sections of blogs are a less than ideal place for serious discussion (though good ones certainly crop up), which is why the need for a site like PHXfoodnerds exists, but commercial news outlets are incredibly important and like non-commercial blogs, I think they're one of the cornerstones of a healthy ecosystem, so to speak. Some folks who are into discussion boards and such get defensive about larger media outlets picking up on places that are popularized on non-commercial sites. I disagree. If the horde of boots on the ground get excited about something which is then picked up by the larger megaphones of sites like Chow Bella and AZcentral, I see that as everything working as it should to get the word out. And someplace that's mentioned here would, I hope, be put through the rigors by a crowd of dedicated food nerds. I see it as a symbiotic relationship. At least that's where I hope it goes. We're still wee, obviously :-)

Bottom line, you've got me all wrong here.  That wasn't directed at you at all!

And thanks for the mention... based on my experience with similar sites elsewhere, I have high hopes for what this can be. We share the same goals as you (mostly), and if we're perceived as the enemy, then we're doing something wrong.

Incidentally, I started this thing, but I hope I'm nothing more than its steward. I'm kind of front and center trying to get it off the ground, but the more I can fade into the background as it ramps up, the better. What success we've had so far is because there's a *community* of people who all see what it can be and want this to work. And on the subject of community, it's true that a lot of the regulars know each other, though many of us didn't a few weeks ago. And that's exactly the point. The strength comes from community. And as others join, I hope they come out to hang and eat and get to know everybody else too.

David Bickford
David Bickford

Yelp Talk used to be the nexus of a tight-knit community of content contributors in Phoenix, but over the last year or two it has degenerated into toxic political rants and bizarre requests for personal advice. That deterioration is the main reason that I’m a lot less active on that site than I used to be. That said, I still find Yelp remarkably effective in terms of its core function: aggregating consumer opinion. Sure, critics of Yelp can point to any number of individual reviews that are biased, uninformed, or just plain crazy. Even with those reviews, I can think of few restaurants for which Yelp’s overall star rating is off the mark.

Despite the existence talk threads as a sort of ancillary feature, Yelp’s model has never been about discussion. It is, as you have stated, a “database of opinions,” but I don’t see why that’s necessarily bad. Obviously, I like some discussion or I wouldn’t be participating in PHX Food Nerds. At the same time, I see the limits of discussion. We could talk for a week straight, and I don’t think that you’d convince me to like Andreoli or that I’d convince you to like Sens. Sometimes, it’s best just to accept differences in taste, agree to disagree, and celebrate areas of agreement like Hue Gourmet, which you graciously acknowledged in a blog post today.


Hey Dominic, Sorry! I guess I read that wrong!  Good to know. And yes, I agree: let's ALL talk about good stuff. I like your analogy to a healthy ecosystem with all parts important. Keep fighting the good fight and we'll do the same on our end. Yes, we're in it for the money and we have to write a LOT of posts, but we try to be informative, insightful and funny (Laura is especially good at that). I'm a  PHXfoodnerd member now, you know. So we'll be chatting, I'm sure . . .

PS: we'll fix the link.

Dominic Armato
Dominic Armato

"I can think of few restaurants for which Yelp’s overall star rating is off the mark."
This isn't my experience at all.  Almost everything is crammed into a 3.5 - 4.5 star window (not nearly as much of an exaggeration as it should be).  The difference between Com Tam Thuan Kieu and Pho Thanh isn't half a star.  Inka Fest and Rincon Peruano aren't even remotely in the same league as Contigo Peru, much less equal (four stars for all).  Cherryblossom Noodle Cafe and Hana both at four stars?  And just half a star above the AYCE sushi splendor of Iron Chef?  And whatever you think of Andreoli, you think it's not up to the high standards of Niccoli's?  I could go on (and on and on and on...).  And this is precisely why stars -- even worse, aggregate stars -- suck.  The context, the detail, the discussion is what matters.

"At the same time, I see the limits of discussion. We could talk for a week straight, and I don’t think that you’d convince me to like Andreoli or that I’d convince you to like Sens."

Of course not.  But the point isn't to convince each other.  The goal of a thread on a good discussion site isn't to have everybody emerge with the same opinion because they've all knocked their heads together and discovered Universal Truth. They change the way you look at the next place.  They give you notions of what you should maybe look for in the future.  If you still find that your feelings about the place are unshakeable, they help you to understand *why* you feel that way. And even if your opinion doesn't change, that doesn't mean you don't learn something.  And even if it doesn't cause somebody to feel differently about this place we're discussing right now, a lot of times it causes somebody to feel differently about a different place a year down the road.  That doesn't happen with Yelp. Off my opinion goes, into the void, rolled into the aggregate.  Now I can move onto my next rating without even considering what anybody else has to say, whether I agree with it or not.  It is, almost by definition, a forumla for the status quo. I'd agree that it's good at capturing the general dining population's current feelings about any given place. But is that what we want to do? Tread water on a citywide level?


You two should break bread some time, I have a feeling you both would get along swimmingly.

Dominic Armato
Dominic Armato

No worries  :-)

"Yes, we're in it for the money and we have to write a LOT of posts, but we try to be informative, insightful and funny..."

Of course!  Naturally, you have a scope of duties you have to fulfill, but I didn't mean to imply that you guys don't do everything you can within that framework.  I think it's great that you're on board here, and I love that Laura's been featuring places like Chou's, Ga Hyang, etc.

We'll definitely be chatting... if for no other reason than my complete inability to shut the hell up  :-)

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