Taste Test: We Went Out and Reviewed Bay Area Robot Restaurants - NBC Bay Area
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Taste Test: We Went Out and Reviewed Bay Area Robot Restaurants

Straight from the cutting room floor, these are digital reporter Jonathan Bloom's uncensored first reactions to food from three of the Bay Area's robotic restaurants

Eat-Takes: Reviewing the Bay's Robot Restaurants

Straight from the cutting room floor, these are digital reporter Jonathan Bloom's virtually unedited and totally unauthorized reviews of three robot-run restaurants across the Bay Area.

(Published Friday, Oct. 12, 2018)

After months of visiting the Bay Area's robot-run restaurants and tasting their food, a reporter is bound to wind up with a little extra footage — the kind that's peppered with nonsensical, mouth-full mumblings about giant slices of pepperoni and rich oyster aioli.

Rescued from the digital cutting room floor, we've saved these priceless (and messy) moments for you to watch in the video above: the totally unscripted reviews of pizza, ramen and hamburgers all prepared largely by robots.

Here's more about the three restaurants featured in the video:

Zume Pizza

Mountain View loves a good pepperoni pizza. So says the data gathered by Zume Pizza, which is headquartered in that city, and aims to reinvent the age-old field of pizza logistics.

Zume calls its kitchen a "co-bot" environment, where robots with human names move in eerily human ways — spreading sauce with a ladle, and shoveling pizza crusts in an out of an oven. The pies are partially baked, then loaded onto "kitchen trucks," where artificial intelligence predicts how many veggie pizzas Sunnyvale wants tonight, and whether the highest demand will be in Palo Alto or Santa Clara after the football game. 

The kitchen trucks park in a location near where the most orders are expected, and finish baking the pizzas when they're ordered — so a driver can whisk them around the corner to your house before they get soggy. 

Zume Pizza is slowly adding more cities — not by building new restaurants, but by adding more kitchen trucks. The company plans to start service in San Jose on October 3.

Yo-Kai Express

Some people get hangry. But when Andy Lin's stomach growled at midnight three years ago, he knew just what he had to do.

Situated next to the original CafeX in the Metreon, Yo-Kai Express is Lin's creation: a fully-autonomous machine that spits out a piping hot bowl of Japanese ramen at any time of the day or night. A "yo-kai" in Japanese is a ghost that can appear anywhere, at any time.

Much like Eatsa, there are humans making the meals here — not inside the machine, but in a kitchen across town. The noodle bowls are frozen, sealed, and loaded into the machine, which keeps them cold until you order them. Lin's team has developed a defrosting method that doesn't damage the noodles, to keep their texture authentic.

The machine also offers Vietnamese pho, and will soon offer Italian pasta dishes too. Lin says his next machines will go in airports, factories and college dormitories — all the spots where hungry people burn the midnight oil.

Creator

Arguably the most ambitious robo-restaurant yet, Creator eschews the industrial robots and ordering kiosks of its predecessors, and starts completely from scratch. The two robots, or "culinary devices" making burgers, are enclosed in modern woodwork with big glass windows, adding some literal transparency to the process of making America's favorite sandwich.

Creator is based on the concept that a better burger comes from fresher ingredients — and that freshness is often limited by human factors, like the need to slice vegetables hours before the lunch rush, or the sheer difficulty of the revered "vertical grind" method for making a freshly-ground hamburger patty that stays together on the bun, but melts in the mouth. When your kitchen is staffed by a machine, all those problems go away.

Before lunchtime, Creator's staff stocks the machine with whole tomatoes, onions, pickles, lettuce, blocks of cheddar cheese and mounds of whole chuck and brisket. Then, employees open the doors and take your order — face-to-face — before you head over to watch the machine assemble your sandwich. It's a tiny, autonomous assembly line, where each vegetable is sliced by a custom tool made especially for that purpose, and fresh-grated cheese melts onto a perfectly-buttered bun before your eyes.

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