More scrolling leads me to a few rooftop bar recommendations, and a couple sushi spots that are booked up, until I finally land on a video recommending a restaurant I’ve never heard of in Hudson Yards. “If you’re in NYC you need to check out this amazing restaurant!” reads the app’s somewhat clunky text-to-speech narration voice. “It’s in Hudson Yards, and you get stunning views of the Vessel,” it continues, referring to the 150-foot piece of public art that’s vaguely shaped like an enormous rotating shawarma. Queensyard miraculously has tables available, and after a few clicks on Resy, my fate is sealed.
The first thing to note is that Queensyard is located inside The Shops at Hudson Yards—that is to say, it’s in a mall. But upon entering, the restaurant feels undoubtedly luxe. Large candles on the steps leading to the bar give everything a warm glow, and endless potted fiddle leaf fig trees, a notable staple of the TikTok aesthetic, make the space feel lush and luxuriant. I take note of the couples dining together, the just-a-bit-too-loud oontz oontz music playing over the speakers, and, as promised, the unobstructed view of The Vessel.
The restaurant bills itself as New American—whatever that means—and the menu features dishes like octopus with truffled scallion kimchi, and housemade bread with Marmite butter. My friend and I start with the aforementioned bread and Marmite butter which does not in fact have much of the malty, Marmite-y flavor the spread usually holds. We mosey through a respectable truffle Caesar salad, a well-cooked, delightfully citrusy branzino, and an overwhelming squid ink-heavy linguine that’s made gloopy by a leek cream sauce.
We leave full, but I’d describe our meal, in TikTok parlance, as “mid.” Sure, the restaurant was pretty in a frictionless, blandly luxurious way, and the food tasted fine—truffles, pasta, and warm bread will pretty much always taste good—but I wouldn’t describe the restaurant as “incredible,” the way the narrator in the TikTok video had gushed.
Using TikTok to search for restaurants felt like riding a hype machine rollercoaster. Every restaurant was the best restaurant, and each video saw the creator straining to prove why the restaurant they were featuring was particularly special. Look at this bar’s secret entrance! Look at this cheese pull! Look at this cocktail overflowing with vapor from dry ice! If there’s one thing that drives engagement for TikTok’s restaurant content, it’s a gimmick.
Recipes were another story entirely. Some, like the instructional steak video, felt incredibly user focused; instructions were right there so I didn’t have to exit the app, and I could follow along, referring back to the video or the written instructions as often as I wanted. Others, like the videos I found in the #easyveganmeals rabbit hole felt almost deliberately misleading. They led me to link-in-bios where creators were selling cookbooks, meal plans, and apps. When I did eventually find the written out recipes, they were not as easy as I’d been promised. Whereas traditional recipe apps and archives are generally quite good at helping you decide what to cook by accurately categorizing recipes by genre, TikTok’s recipe content worked best for me when I already knew what I wanted, and could search for specific recipes.
“TikTok Food Week,” as I’d been calling this experiment to anyone who would listen, had come to a close, and I’d learned a lot about both myself and the app in question. I learned, for instance, that helpful TikTok restaurant recommendations only come from very specific searches. I also learned that spontaneously planning meals on the fly makes me incredibly stressed out. I got new insight into a lot of different cooking techniques and recipes, and I learned that my pantry is woefully understocked to cook most of them.
Most of all, though, I learned that although it may gather worryingly detailed information from my scrolling habits, TikTok is a lot like every romantic partner I’ve had: It cannot read my mind and magically guess exactly what I want to eat.