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What are Michelin Stars?

How Michelin Awards Stars and Their Definition

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Michelin Guide are seen at the release of the hotly anticipated Michelin Guide to New York City at the Guggenheim Museum on November 2, 2005 in New York, NY. Scott Wintrow/Stringer/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
What is a "Michelin Star"?

The term "Michelin Star" is a hallmark of fine dining quality -- which is pretty funny considering that Michelin is, in fact, a tire company. But the Michelin company launched its first guide book in 1900 to encourage road tripping in France, and started anonymously reviewing restaurants by means of a three-star system in 1926.

Michelin awards 0-3 stars on the basis of anonymous inspections by reviewers. The reviewers are supposed to concentrate on the quality, mastery of technique, personality and consistency of the food, not on interior décor, table setting, or service quality.

There are annual Michelin guides available for countries and cities all over the world, mostly outside the United States. (In the U.S., there are Michelin guides to New York, San Francisco, and since 2010, Chicago. The company discontinued its Los Angeles and Las Vegas Guides in 2009.)

Since Michelin started in France, the guides are sometimes accused of having a bias towards French cuisine/style/technique, or towards a snobby, formal dining style. In New York City, for instance, there are seven restaurantsthat received the top three-star rating, and only one of them greatly varies from a classic and formal dining experience. (That's Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, where the meal is served at a kitchen table.) Check out the list of celebrity chefs who failed to receive three Michelin stars.

Michelin Stars Defined:

  • One star: A very good restaurant in its category.
  • Two stars: Excellent cooking and worth a detour. First class cuisine of its type.
  • Three stars: Exceptional cuisine and worth a special journey. Often extremely expensive, and with an extensive wine list.
The reason Michelin stars are so coveted is that most restaurants receive no stars at all. For example, in the Michelin Guide to France 2009, 3,531 restaurants are included, but just 548 received a star. Most of these restaurants -- 449 -- received one-star, 73 received two stars, and 26 received three.

Michelin also awards a "bib gourmand" for quality food at a value price -- in New York, that's two courses plus wine or dessert for $40 or less, excluding tax or gratuity.

  • Read about New York City's Michelin-Starred Restaurants.
  • Read about San Francisco's Michelin-Starred Restaurants.
  • Read about Chicago's Michelin-Starred Restaurants.
  • Connect with Michelin stars on your iPhone, via Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter and more.
  • Become sommelier savvy: learn what the terms AVA and "estate bottled" really mean.
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