The 2007 edition, which hit the street last week, includes rundowns on 872 restaurants - a swath from Berks County into Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania, South Jersey and northern Delaware suburbs.
Zagat (rhymes with "the cat," accent on the last syllable) compiles reviews based on the ratings and comments of everyday people, who are rewarded with a free book. More than 5,000 people voted this time.
Here's how it works: For each restaurant visited in the previous year, reviewers assign numerical scores (zero is worst, 3 is best), one each for food, decor and service. The Zagat numbers-crunchers average these scores and multiply by 10 to get a final rating on a scale from zero through 30.
A 2.7 average in food, for example, translates to a 27, which is regarded as "extraordinary to perfection."
The top food rating in town was the Fountain at the Four Seasons at 28.4565, edging by Le Bar Lyonnais' 28.3439. Both scores are rounded to 28. The Fountain also got top scores for decor (28) and service (29).
Respondents also are expected to comment - pithily, it is hoped - on each restaurant.
Since respondents estimate that they eat 2.7 meals a week out, Zagat says this survey represents about 698,000 meals over a year.
That's a lot of food, and that's a lot of comments.
And that's where my shift key comes in. It's the part of the job that makes the late nights worthwhile.
Each review is based solely on the comments - and not my opinions. Liberal use of quotes is encouraged.
Take Caffe Casta Diva in Center City, which got 23 for food, 16 for decor, and 20 for service. Of comments on this restaurant, most focused on the solid food and intimate dining room. The review reads:
Among the multitude of Italian BYOs, this "jewel" in a "converted" apartment near Rittenhouse Square "stands out" with "beautiful" food and "friendly" service; it attracts a crowd, and bear in mind that "close," "intimate" quarters can mean "you hear everything your dinner neighbors have to say."
The fun part is stumbling upon a comment that is so outrageous, so inappropriate - and so potentially libelous - that I can't use it.
Caffe Casta Diva had no such indignities heaped upon it, but other restaurants did:
"Please, please no one go there and perhaps they will all go away," wrote one passionate observer of another Center City restaurant.
"Health inspector must be paid off," insisted someone about another place.
"The people who rave about this place need to get out more," concluded a third.
"We thought there was a wet dog in the restaurant, then realized the smell emanated from the food."
"The only way I can describe the food is edible. Nothing fancy, nothing that a trained monkey couldn't make at home in 10 minutes either."
"If you want average food you could make at home for 1/4 the price and have to yell at the person sitting next to you for them to hear you, this is the spot for you."
"You'd be better off with a pound of Ronzoni and a jar of Ragu at home."
"I think you'll find jars of Prego in the Dumpster out back."
"Better Peking duck is available at our local pond."
"Is it kept dark so you can't see the mediocre, overpriced food?"
"Like eating in the center of Grand Central Station at rush hour, only not as elegant."
"The creative decor is enough to give an epileptic seizures."
"Portions fit for a woolly mammoth."
"Food is striving for mediocrity. The only reason it stays around is that it preys on parents visiting their kids at Penn and Drexel."
"Blllllaaaaaggghhh! I just threw up. Sorry."
"Go only if you're below 30 or lost your hearing in a rock concert in the '60s."
"The geriatric singles scene is still sizzling on Fridays - if you are under 50 watch out."
"Fruity-tooty commie hangout, but the food is delicious."
"We kept waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out and tell us we were being Punk'd."
"Servers must be required to pop a couple of happy pills before they begin their shift."
"Come for dinner and stay for the show; wife and co-owner tends to lose her temper when customers are displeased. As long as her antics are not directed at your table, it is more entertaining than dinner theater!"
"So awful that it must be a front for something else."
"You can do better in the frozen food section of the supermarket."
One comment oozes sour grapes: "The owner was having lunch at the table next to ours and in spite of the fact that we had made a reservation from France, recommended by a 3-star Michelin chef colleague of his, we did not so much as receive an acknowledgment of our presence, save for the champagne on the house."
And if I live to 100, I'll never know what to make of "poo in a box."
Contact staff writer Michael Klein
at 215-854-5514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.