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Nate Silver: In Search Of The Best Burrito In The United States

(credit: www.pasadita.com)
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By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) — Before Nate Silver became a Big Deal analyzing Big Data, he was quite fond of Big Burritos in Chicago.

Silver, who rose to fame at the New York Times for his political data analysis (among other things) and now runs the popular Five-Thirty Eight blog, lived in Wicker Park and developed an obsession for burritos there.

He started a Burrito Bracket back in 2007, but then got busy developing Five Thirty Eight and dropped it.

Silver is now taking his love affair with the burrito to the national stage, launching a competition for the Best Burrito In America.

The project is part crowd-sourced data-mining and part expert-mining.

He has hired a foodie to judge the 64 restaurants that have made it to the Big Burrito Dance. Anna Maria Barry-Jester is traveling the country and sampling burritos from every establishment that made the bracket.

The 64-burrito bracket was reached by parsing data from Yelp reviews and developing an overall rating called Value Over Replacement Burrito (VORB). Silver says it is similar to baseball’s Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) statistic. You can read more about how this was developed here.

Once the VORP scores were tallied, a Bracket Selection Committee–people with a good pedigree in the food industry–came up with the 64 burritos.

“It isn’t a perfect analogy, but in some ways this project represents an attempt to engage in a “Moneyball”-style experiment pitting statistics (as represented by the Yelp ratings) against “scouts” (as represented by the members of the Burrito Selection Committee),” Silver wrote in a blog post.

Three Chicago restaurants made the tournament: Irazu, 1865 North Milwaukee, La Pasadita, 1132 North Ashland and L’Patron Tacos, 2815 W. Diversey. Just making the bracket is an achievement. Silver found that there are 67,391 restaurants that serve a burrito.

While Silver never finished his Chicago burrito project, he says that La Pasadita is the unofficial winner.

CBS Chicago’s Mason Johnson, who is also partial to La Pasadita, was written extensively on burritos and you can find some of his top picks here.

California burritos dominate the VORB scores, Silver wrote. However, that’s where the expert judging comes into play. It’s simply not enough to rely on data for such a project.

In fact, there is a bigger purpose to this. It’s an initial attempt to find a way to help consumers use crowd-sourced data to make more informed decisions.

“Are there identifiable biases in the review sites and ways to correct for them? When using sites like Yelp, should you pay more attention to the number of reviews, or to the average rating?” Silver wrote.