Foodies often toss around the term "Michelin-starred chefs" or "Michelin-starred restaurants." You might not be entirely sure why Michelin is awarding stars to restaurants—especially if you're thinking about tires—but this prestigious rating is one that recognizes some of the best restaurants in the world.
What Are Michelin Stars?
The Michelin tire company launched guidebooks in the 1900s, which included ratings of restaurants from anonymous reviewers. Even today, Michelin relies entirely on a full-time staff of anonymous reviewers to put together its restaurant reviews. The company reviews restaurants in dozens of cities across the world.
Many people who talk about Michelin stars use the French pronunciation when referring to the restaurant ratings. They will call it "Meesh-lahn" stars. In Britain, others say it more like "Mitchel-in."
Restaurants are awarded zero to three stars, with three stars being the highest possible rating, indicating a restaurant with exceptional cuisine that is worth traveling for. These stars are coveted because the vast majority of restaurants receive no stars at all, making Michelin stars a completely different rating than, say, Zagat or reader-driven sites like Yelp. Just inclusion in a Michelin Guide, without being awarded any stars but as a Michelin Plate designation, is note-worthy. The guides also designate the ranking of Bib Gourmand to some restaurants that don't earn stars but offer a worthwhile meal at a great price.
Michelin has traditionally reviewed five cities in the United States: New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco. However, in 2019 the San Francisco guide expanded to the entire state of California.
New York City's Michelin Stars
As New York City is the largest in the country, it's no surprise that it also has the most starred restaurants. In 2019, 76 New York restaurants received a Michelin star rating, with a few mainstays receiving the coveted 3 stars:
Chicago's Michelin Stars
In 2019, the Michelin Guide handed out stars to only 22 Chicago restaurants, but Michael Ellis, Michelin's international director in charge of the guides, heaped praise on Chicago's restaurant community. “There are a lot of really interesting things going on; there are great chefs out there, and the audience is out there," he said. "They really like innovation in Chicago.” Only one Chicago restaurant, Alinea, received the coveted 3 stars.
San Francisco's Michelin Stars
The abundance of fresh produce, creative chefs, and strong kitchen techniques makes the San Francisco area a favorite among fine diners and full of Michelin starred restaurants. When the dust settled after the San Francisco guide expanded to the entire state of California in June 2019, the Bay Area was again home to more 3-star restaurants than any other American city:
Los Angeles' Michelin Stars
In the mix for Michelin stars for the first time, Los Angeles seemed primed to compete with the world's best restaurants. The anticipation of the stars built a lot of excitement in the Los Angeles restaurant community, but the announcement was a bit of a letdown, with no L.A. restaurant earning the coveted three stars. However, several prominent restaurants in Los Angeles did receive two stars, indicating an excellent dining experience: