Is it Worth Going to a Michelin Star Restaurant?

Édouard Michelin and André Michelin

Michelin stars are regarded as the Oscars for the restaurant industry; a single Michelin star can take a restaurant from the roadside to a must-visit. However, getting one takes much work.

The Michelin Guide—the benchmark for excellence for more than 150 years—appoints inspectors to review more than 50,000 hotels and restaurants globally. According to the Big Red book, one Michelin star marks an excellent restaurant in its category; two stars indicates that the restaurant has excellent cooking that is worth a detour; while the three-star designation signifies that it has exceptional cuisine providing a unique journey. These stars are so desirable that some chefs work more than 75 hours chasing them.

The Michelin Guide was started in France in the year 1889 by Édouard Michelin and André Michelin. They owned the Michelin tire company and believed that if they produced a guide highlighting places to eat and rest, drivers would spend more time on the road and wear out their tires, pushing up the company’s sales. The little-known guidebooks soon expanded throughout Europe and eventually the world, growing into the renowned dining authority it has become today. More than 50 million guides have sold worldwide. As of 2020, France has the most Michelin stars globally, followed by Japan and Italy. Only 4% (133) of Michelin-star restaurants have earned the top rating of three stars.

So, what goes into getting the guide’s coveted star? It is the most-asked question according to a panel discussion held in Singapore in 2018. The panelists identified the following specific criteria for earning a Michelin star:

  1. Using Quality Products: The first thing Michelin inspectors look for is the quality of products and produce used in a particular dish served at the restaurants, including whether the product is house-grown or sourced from outside.
  2. Mastery of Flavor and Cooking Techniques: The second criterion is the flavor profile and the cooking technique. To be the best in the food business, a chef and kitchen team need to acquire an impeccable palate and have mastered the cooking technique in prepping any dish they serve.
  3. Personality of a Chef: The third thing Michelin inspectors note is the personality of a chef; it is evident that the name sells in today’s world if a chef of a particular restaurant has an immense amount of respect from the food world and critics.
  4. Value for Money: The fourth criterion for Michelin inspectors is the dining experience. Many restaurants go with the set 13–25 course of tasting menus and claim that more than the food. It is about the experience, but for many, affording $500–$600 excluding taxes could be a big shake on the budget, so justifying that the products are worth the value will lead to the inspector awarding a star.
  5. Consistency of Food: The last criterion for Michelin inspectors is that the restaurant serves quality food at the right quantity consistently. Visits by inspectors are anonymous, so the chef and his team need to always produce above-par food because they never know when they may be serving an inspector.

So, the million-dollar question: is the Michelin star worth it? My opinion—if you like food, then yes, I think it is.

If you are fussy with food, some Michelin-star restaurants may not suit you. Often, they are more inclined to serve things that fussy eaters may have problems with, like offal and shellfish. You have to be prepared to eat things you never heard of or tried before, cooked in ways you may find odd—or not cooked at all.

Sometimes it can be a bit underwhelming, and occasionally you will get better food in non-star restaurants. But if you like food, you are all but guaranteed a good meal at a Michelin-star restaurant.

Here are some of my favorite Michelin-star restaurant recommendations in New York City:

  1. Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Avenue—Chef Daniel Humm
  2. Le Bernardin, 155 West 51st Street—Chef Eric Ripert
  3. Restaurant Daniel, 60 East 65th Street—Chef Daniel Boulud
  4. Masa, 10 Columbus Circle—Chef Masa Takayama
  5. Indian Accent, 123 West 56th Street—Chef Manish Mehrotra