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June 13, 2014

Nate Silver Analyzes Yelp Data to Launch Quest for America’s Best Burrito

When the name of renowned statistician, sports fan and burrito enthusiast Nate Silver popped up in our inbox a few months ago, we were all ears! His team had begun planning for a project based on his favorite Mexican indulgence - a bracket to determine the best burrito in America. The goal was to find the one burrito to rule them all, but the challenge was where to begin. With thousands of burrito joints in the U.S., the FiveThirtyEight team had to narrow the playing field down to a mere 64 burrito contenders to kick the contest off and turned to Yelp to help them take a by-the-numbers approach.

Yelp is the source people turn to for the richest data on local businesses of every persuasion, from doctors and dentists to pet groomers and nightclubs, and you can bet your bottom dollar Yelp will surface the best place to get a tasty burrito. Yelp Engineer Ben G. and I worked with FiveThirtyEight to identify attributes that would signal a possible burrito champion and then compiled a list of all the businesses in America that met that criteria, based on reviews contributed by locals countrywide. The FiveThirtyEight team then used their own considerable statistical acumen and the input of their expert selection committee to choose 64 top finalists, representing businesses from Florida to California and everywhere in between. For you data geeks, read the full breakdown of methodology on Nate’s inaugural Burrito Bracket post.

For the Burrito Bracket, the game is just beginning, with the restaurants broken out into four regions of 16 contestants each: California, West, South and Northeast. FiveThirtyEight’s official “Burrito Correspondent,” Anna Maria Barry-Jester, is currently traveling the states getting (probably more than) her fill of stuffed tortilla goodness to determine who Nate Silver’s team will crown the king of burritos at the end of this grueling competition. We know Yelpers have strong opinions about the best local businesses, so be sure to follow the competition on FiveThiryEight.com.

BurritoBracketElFarolitoA nom-worthy photo of the goods at California region #1 seed El Farolito. Photo by Jessica L.

Yelp’s wealth of data has revealed fascinating consumer and business trends through projects like the Yelp Wordmap and our recent Top 100 Places to Eat on Yelp list, and we’re thrilled to provide insight on local businesses for FiveThirtyEight’s Burrito Bracket. We also encourage students and academics to dig in to Yelp data for their own research projects and analysis using Yelp’s Phoenix Academic Dataset. As Nate Silver mentions, there’s still so much to be studied about how people interpret review ratings, how those ratings correlate with a single expert’s tastes, what factors might predict a five-star rating, and lots more. At Yelp, we'd love to learn more about these areas, and you can contribute through the Yelp Dataset Challenge. Students can even win $5,000 for creating projects that use our data in insightful, unique, and compelling ways.

All this burrito talk whetting your appetite? Follow Nate’s lead and tap the Yelp app to find a five-star burrito near you.