A long time ago, before there were iPhones, if you and your friends wanted to go out to eat, there was a whole ritual involved. You’d call each other on your “dumb” phones, have a whole conversation on who’s hungry for what, then call each other back with restaurant suggestions. Then you’d all call each other some more with competing suggestions based on price, proximity, etc. Eventually everybody would converge on the joint, flip-phones still in hand, and realize you were there.

Now, “there’s an app for that.” You seek out locations, price ranges, cuisines, and even good nutritional choices using your iPhone, and get down to chowing down in record time.

So what’s the best app for finding a place? It depends what features you want. Here’s a quick menu:

Restaurant Finder (Free) – Perfect for travelers, Restaurant Finder lets you enter the cuisine you want and the city/zip code or location, and returns the nearest restaurants that have what you’re hungry for, displaying address, telephone number, and URL, if available. It also gives you a handy weather forecast, so you know when “closer is better.”

Find a Restaurant (.99) – This handy app goes Restaurant Finder one better; it tells you your current location using GPS. Search by cuisine, and it gives you nearby restaurants complete with phone number, GPS map location, driving directions, and one-touch website visit (But no weather). Also includes Tip Calculator (yes, it splits the check if you want. Cheapskate.)

Urbanspoon (Free) – This is the app from the Apple commercials with the “slot machine” randomizing feature to add a little fun to your search. Of course, you can also filter choices by cuisine, price, or location. Urbanspoon also includes access to ratings and reviews and a “friends” feature to add a touch of social networking…but it’s no Yelp.

Yelp (Free) – Yelp isn’t hopping on the social networking bandwagon; it’s the real deal. That’s because Yelp is a website first and an app second (which is both good and bad–but more on that in a moment). With Yelp you search for a restaurant, bar, club, or any business in similar ways to other restaurant-finding apps, or just enter the name of a food (e.g., “Peking Duck”) and Yelp finds a place for you. You can post notes and reviews (although you have to go to the Yelp site to post–hence the “good and bad” comment above.) The “Check-in” feature lets you and your friends track each others’ whereabouts. Fear not: Check-in is voluntary, so if the stalker ex is back, you’re safe. Check into the same place often enough, and Yelp decides you’re a regular. Some user complaints of outdated/inaccurate information; not bad at finding the eats, great at keeping the party rolling.

Where to eat (2.99) – Another GPS-enabled food finder. But WTE has a couple of features that just make sense. Searching is by cuisine or particular food type, and there are separate categories for bars, take-out, and delivery. Emphasizes intuitive experience; typing is optional. Shake-to-Suggest shuffle works on the same principle as Urbanspoon’s “slot machine”.

What if your interest runs to depth rather than breadth? Check out Sushipedia (free) for scads of sushi knowledge, and of course, a database of places to buy it. And if you’re watching your weight, click on Lose It or Nutrition Menu once you get to a place for calorie counts and more. Thankfully, neither tells your friends you’re dieting.