For better or worse, the Bay Area food scene is about to receive some significant online attention. According to a video posted Thursday, TikTok’s most famous — or infamous, depending on your point of view — amateur food critic Keith Lee is headed to the Bay Area. “The first stop of the Keith Lee and Family food tour 2024: the Bay Area,” Lee says in the video. “We coming.”
For those who aren’t already familiar with Lee and his work, here’s what to know: He’s a former MMA fighter turned hotshot internet celebrity; was included in Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 list last year; and, in just over a year or so, has amassed more than 15.6 million followers on TikTok, where he posts video reviews of restaurants often featuring his family members. These days, most people just refer to him as a TikTok food critic.
Fans swarm to Lee’s videos for a handful of reasons, most usually because his reviews are perceived as honest, sometimes brutally so. For example, he’s not afraid to give an iconic New York pizzeria a dismal 4.4/10 review or to talk about a negative customer service experience at a small business. He focuses his attention on mom-and-pop restaurants primarily suggested to him by his followers on social media, which typically means he’s skipping past the high-profile places with budgets for publicity and marketing in favor of smaller, less famous businesses. Plus he always pays for his food and visits anonymously, usually sending in friends or family to pick up takeout orders, which he then eats and reviews in his car.
So, if Lee’s coming to the Bay Area, where do his followers want him to go? Comments on the video, which was posted 15 hours ago as of this writing and already has more than 141,000 likes, shoutout restaurants including Lucky Three Seven in Oakland, a suggestion which garnered hundreds of likes in support, and Chef Smelly’s, also in Oakland, which earned more than 2,800 likes and dozens of replies in support. Other restaurants called out in the comments include Blue Saigon in Pittsburg, Papi Clary's Kitchen in Concord, legendary chicken wing destination San Tung in San Francisco, and Sol Food in San Rafael — a local favorite for Puerto Rican food across the Golden Gate Bridge, but perhaps an unlikely pick.
But before any chefs and restaurant owners jump into the comments to draw Lee’s attention their way, note that it’s not always a boon to small businesses — though, of course, it often can be. Notably, the Las Vegas-based critic visited Atlanta last year and, after having underwhelming experiences at a handful of the city’s restaurants, sparked drama in local media and went so viral as to draw comments from rapper Cardi B. He also visited New York late last year, which he found to be “unwelcoming” despite the food being “not the problem.” In any case, the Bay Area has plenty of homegrown food influencers to follow, if you’re into that kind of thing, or you could, you know, just not.