Go ahead. Search for "rodent" in our new restaurant inspections database. You're not going to like what you find, but you do want to know, don't you?

Here's what you'll see when you go to restaurantinspections.dallasnews.com.

Here's what you'll see when you go to restaurantinspections.dallasnews.com.

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We're thrilled to unveil a new, searchable system created by The Dallas Morning News. It compiles restaurant inspections from Dallas-Fort Worth cities into one easy-to-use database.

Used to be, if you were curious about how clean (or unclean) your favorite restaurants in Dallas or Fort Worth were, for instance, you'd have to sift through two very different online systems. In some cases, it felt like cities didn't want you to be able to easily access this public health data. So we streamlined the process: Now, you can know if there's mold in the ice machine at your favorite lunch spot with a simple 30-second search.

It's the only website in Dallas-Fort Worth that combines several cities' health inspection data into one place.

How it works

Go to restaurantinspections.dallasnews.com to find our searchable database. There, you'll see the cities we currently have data for: Dallas, Carrollton, Plano, Richardson, Fort Worth and others in Tarrant County.

Do you live in one of D-FW's healthiest neighborhoods?

If you don't see the city you desire, don't worry! Email inspections@dallasnews.com and express your interest. Eventually, we hope to add more cities' data. Here's a list of how to get restaurant inspection scores in more than a dozen cities if we haven't yet pulled the data you're seeking.

There are three main ways to search: 

  1. By keying in a restaurant name, in the "Find a restaurant" search function. Use this search function if you're going to lunch or dinner and want to check that it's on the up-and-up before you walk in. The site is easily searchable on your phone -- so feel free to use it on the go. (Though what you find might change your plans. Just saying.)

  2. By asking about a specific issue, such as "mold," under the "Find a violation" search function. This is an especially interesting search for anyone who relishes gross stuff. (If you've got some time, search "toxic" and you'll have an eye-opening experience.) Note that searching for a violation searches our entire database, which includes many cities. Click on the city you desire, on the right rail, if you want to drill into a violation in a specific city.

  3.  By picking a grade, A B, C, D or F. To do this, click on the city you desire at the top of the page, then click on the grade on the right rail. This will give you a list of all of the reports under that grade. But let's be real: You're clicking on those D and F grades first -- and you should. Reader beware!

Computational journalist Allan James Vestal and former DMN intern Carlie Procell spent three months building the database. If you get hooked on searching for your favorite restaurants, you're not alone: "I've found this to be really addictive," Vestal says. "I've probably killed an hour or two just looking up places."

Why we did it

Wake-up call: A recently reviewed restaurant earned a D from the health department

In early 2017, our former restaurant critic Leslie Brenner was shocked to find that a Plano restaurant she reviewed -- and enjoyed -- got a D score from the health department. Oh no: We'd hate to think that the restaurants we rate highly are following some unsanitary practices. She described it as a wake-up call and began checking the health scores of every restaurant we review. 

Today, The Dallas Morning News remains committed to checking health scores for every restaurant we review. What's more, you'll find a health inspection score noted in every review.

"If we're in a position of recommending restaurants, cleanliness is an important piece of the puzzle," says Christopher Wynn, our arts editor. 

A few things to know

All restaurants in Texas are graded based on statewide rules. Local inspection agencies then tally and release their scores in a variety of ways. We've distilled those different reports into one place, with simple A, B, C, D and F grades. You may notice small differences among  data; that's OK.

From the archives:  Food inspector Keith Clark inspects a Plano restaurant.

From the archives:  Food inspector Keith Clark inspects a Plano restaurant.

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If you're trying to decide whether a restaurant is worth patronizing, look for patterns on health inspection reports. If a restaurant is having the same issue several times in a row, you might assume its managers are not committed to complying with that particular rule, which may be a sign of other problems. 

Some violations, we hate to say, are boring. Sometimes, a restaurant is so compliant that the health inspector doesn't have much to say. (Eat at that place!) But violations also show the minutiae of the health code, like the fact that a restaurant's squeeze bottles have to be labeled. Let's just be thankful the rules exist -- and that we don't have to follow some of them in our own homes.

Finally, a tip: Don't wait until after you visit a restaurant to look up its health inspection score. Do it before. You might save yourself some heartburn.

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