Michelin restaurants may be the height of fine dining, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're out of reach. If you're passionate about exceptional food, consider a Michelin-starred restaurant as an investment in good living — and a serious addition to your bucket list. With a little bit of research and an appetite for adventure, you may even find a Michelin restaurant near you that suits your tastebuds.
What is the Michelin Guide?
It all started back in the late 1800s when the Michelin brothers, Édouard and André, were establishing their tire business in France. To promote car ownership, then in its infancy, they began by devising the Michelin Man and one of brand marketing's most iconic figures to this day.
Next, the brothers launched the Michelin Guide, first published in 1900. The guide was designed to encourage the 3,000 or so motorists on French roads at the time to get out and travel. It comprised maps, mechanics listings and handy information about roadside amenities, including (you guessed it) places to eat.
By the 1920s, the restaurant portion of the guide was spun out independently and the star-rating system was born. The rest is gastronomic history.
How does the system of Michelin-rated restaurants work?
Every year, the Michelin Guide publishes its list of establishments that meet its criteria for one, two or three stars. Stars are awarded on the quality of the food served, from the mastery of flavor to the consistency of meals between visits.
The awarding of three stars by the team of Michelin reviewers denotes the presence of “exceptional cuisine" and an establishment that is “worth a special journey." Only a small number of fine dining establishments in the world receive the full three stars. At the latest count, there were little more than 130 three-starred restaurants globally.
Michelin stars are so highly coveted that celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey reportedly cried when his New York restaurant The London lost both its stars in the 2014 edition of the guide.
How many Michelin-starred restaurants are there in the United States?
There are currently fewer than 200 Michelin-starred restaurants in the United States, with each star incredibly hard to earn. Michelin currently only rates restaurants in the states of New York, Illinois and California as well as the recent addition of Washington, D.C. So, while you may offer the finest of dining in Miami or Boston, you can't yet get the stars to prove it.
What are Michelin's Fork and Spoon ratings?
Whereas Michelin stars correspond to the food itself, Michelin's Fork and Spoon ratings recognize the quality of the overall experience, from restaurant décor to table service. The awarding of one fork and spoon recognizes the establishment as “quite comfortable", while the top award of five covers meets the criteria of “luxurious in the traditional style".
What is Michelin's Bib Gourmand designation?
Established in 1955, the Bib Gourmand award, represented by an icon of the Michelin Man (aka Bib) licking his lips, signifies a restaurant that offers high quality cooking at a decent price. Restaurants must offer menu choices below a certain price point to be eligible for this recognition.
Additional considerations for Michelin restaurants
Now we've explored a selection of Michelin-starred restaurants across the United States, here are a few more things to keep in mind as you plan your visit:
- Book early: The most-acclaimed restaurants often require reservations several months in advance. Check the policy for your chosen establishment and get on the list. Don't want to wait? Ask about fine dining takeout options and experience the world of Michelin-starred food at home.
- Inquire about payment policies: Many top restaurants require you to pay some or all of your booking upfront. If you can't then make your reservation, you may lose your money. Remember to have a payment method handy when making the booking.
- Communicate any food allergies or dietary restrictions: Ask the restaurant if they're able to cater to your requirement. Don't be surprised if they say no.
- Look for special events and tasting sessions: Find out what's on offer and take your gastronomy up a notch.
- Get the lowdown on any surcharges that may apply to your visit: When it comes to managing your money, you want to be prepared.
- Ask about the dress code: Beach shorts and flip-flops probably won't cut it. Unless, of course, you're fine dining from home.
Remember that menus and fine dining services change often, so keep an eye on the establishment's website, or call for up-to-date information.
Experiencing a Michelin restaurant can be an extraordinary pleasure. With a little planning and a willingness to invest, don't be surprised if your Michelin-rated dining experience leaves you hungry for more.