There you are scrolling through Instagram when you see a sponsored post of the most perfectly swirled ice cream. The caption reads, “Now open,” and it’s just a few blocks away from where you are. You look at the picture again and see the neon sign behind the photo that has some type of inspirational quote.
A few days later you walk into the shop and have a hard time choosing between the traditional flavors and ones they seemingly pulled out of a hat, like orange blossom, dragon fruity pebbles and brownie mix. You taste test a few and choose to play it safe with a mix of vanilla and blueberry. There’s a line of people waiting to take a photo in front of the inspirational quote with their ice cream stretched out before them.
The cashier rings up your order and promptly asks for $8 for your small cone. Luckily you grab a photo in front of the sign before the ice cream melts. You eat half the cone before tossing it. After posting your photo on Instagram commenters ask how it was.
You reply it was OK. You spent $8 on an ice cream cone that was just OK.
As Instagram culture takes over the food scene I worry that taste has taken a back seat to look. Add that to Houston’s ever-growing culinary landscape and it’s not surprising that the newer the place, the “cooler” the food is.
Food presentation is important, but I don’t care how nice something looks in a photo. If it tastes mediocre, I probably won’t be going back.
With so many options to choose from, concepts are turning to functional art to get people in the door. But how many places that rely so heavily on the look of their product are worth the higher price?
I knew I couldn’t be alone with this thought so I asked in a Houston food group on Facebook how they felt about companies creating a beautiful product that fails to taste as good as it looks.
“About 95-percent of the ‘Instagrammable’ foods I’ve tried were just overpriced garbage,” Justine Hernandez said.
Another user talked about how sometimes it’s genuinely good, while for other places it’s just a gimmick. Just because a food photographs well doesn’t automatically mean that it’s all for show. It does make it harder to figure out where to eat. Reviews help, but not always.
While Houston is drawing in new restaurants all the time, the Heights in particular is a lightbulb and restaurateurs the moths. Also at home in the Heights is some of the most Instagram-friendly foods.
One place I stopped by in the Heights because of the enticing photos on Instagram was SMOOSH Cookies, the food truck that opened its first brick and mortar in September 2018 at 718 W. 18th St. I ordered on the simple side with cookie dough ice cream smashed between a chocolate chip and peanut butter cookie with rainbow sprinkles on top. The cookies were fresh and the ice cream was delicious. It’s one of the few Insta-worthy places I look forward to visiting again.
While it’s great to have such a variety of interesting places in the area, some of the most-hyped restaurants I’ve visited left me feeling disappointed.
I got a mediocre meal at too high of a price. Oh, and a photo to show off what I ordered.
I’m all for a pretty plate of food or a perfectly swirled ice cream, but taste should come first. Trying new things becomes a chore when nothing lives up to the photo.