The Michelin Guide, the vaunted star-bestowing restaurant list assembled by a tire company, completed its reveal of its 2021 guides across the United States in September. While many reviewers have foresworn star ratings at restaurants still reckoning with the effects of the pandemic, Michelin had no such compunctions this year, releasing the guides for the first time since 2019 on a dining world that remains undeniably changed.
How does that translate into the dining landscapes of major cities in the U.S.? True to form, the theme of the 2021 Michelin guide selections stuck to mostly Eurocentric and Japanese selections, leaving out major swaths of the U.S. culinary landscape. In Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York, Michelin inspectors continued to overlook restaurants centered on some of the cities’ most celebrated cuisines — namely notable Mexican, Indian, Vietnamese, Central American, Middle Eastern, and Chinese establishments — in favor of cautious choices like (the recently panned) Eleven Madison Park.
Northern California continued its streak by once again claiming the most stars in the Golden State, while in the Midwest, Alinea remains Chicago’s sole three-star restaurant. And in San Diego, the city celebrated finally getting a slightly bigger slice of the California ratings with the addition of three new star-rated restaurants, one of which was up front about its star aspirations back in 2019. It seems that no matter what year the guide is released, inspectors are still playing by the same book.
Alinea in Lincoln Park remains Chicago’s only three-starred restaurant, but three Chicago restaurants joined the tire guide’s list this year: Chef Curtis Duffy’s Ever, a hulking fine dining restaurant that opened in the middle of the pandemic, received two stars — one short of what Duffy’s previous restaurant, Grace, earned before closing in December 2017. Another two-star rating, for the tasting menu at Moody Tongue Brewing Co., reflects that Chicago’s beer scene is one of the tops in the country. Notably losing its star was Kikko, the omakase sushi counter helmed by chef Mariya Russell, who became the first Black woman to preside over a Michelin-starred kitchen after inspectors awarded it a star in 2019. Russell left Kikko last year, and star status apparently went along with her. — Ashok Selvam, Eater Chicago editor
After a one-year hiatus, following its multi-year abandonment of LA, the Michelin Guide returns to Los Angeles and once again mostly misses the mark, continuing to leave off the city’s meaningful Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and Mexican restaurants — to say nothing of LA’s genre-defining street food. Nearly as rude, no LA restaurant earned three stars this season — a shock for n/naka, the kaiseki specialist often cited as the hardest reservation to score anywhere in Southern California. Still, the one-man show Hayato in Downtown LA and the ethereal Phenakite from chef Minh Phan, perhaps the city’s biggest recent success story, both took well-deserved spots on the list. It’s also nice to see Mélisse continuing to hold two stars after decades of fine dining service, while Pasjoli’s star is a new recognition for what is perhaps the most talked-about French restaurant in the city. — Farley Elliot, Eater LA deputy editor
The first COVID-era Michelin Guide for New York aimed to be as non-controversial as possible, and it largely achieved that end by doing what the anonymous inspectors do best: changing as little as possible. There were no new entrants to the elite three-star category, a reality that has held true for nine straight years, no new entrants to the two-star category, and no dropped stars for venues that stayed open. Heck, even Eleven Madison Park, which was closed for most of the pandemic, and which reopened as a completely different vegan establishment (that hasn’t won many critical fans so far) got to keep its three-spot. The seven new one-star venues — Don Angie, Francie, Rezdora, Jua, Kochi, Tsukimi, and Vestry — all fell squarely within the Red Guide’s predictable comfort zone, which is to say they were all French, Italian, Korean, or Japanese-leaning venues.
Put differently: Michelin continues to believe the city’s thriving restaurants serving Indian, Chinese, modern Vietnamese, Thai, pizza, barbecue, or deli fare are better suited for the so-called Bib Gourmand consolation prize. Also: Two of the three Mexican spots with stars — while very good — are run by white guys not of Mexican descent. As the larger food world tries to change in myriad and complex ways, Michelin is here to stay the same, putting out a list of starred selections that remain a poor representation of where New Yorkers are eating right now. — Ryan Sutton, Eater New York chief critic
Michelin fanfare started in San Diego on September 15 when the company released a list of “new culinary gems” as a preview of its 2021 Michelin Guide California; among them were five San Diego restaurants: Animae, Callie, Fort Oak, Little Frenchie, and Menya Ultra. Local Bib Gourmand honorees were announced for San Diego on September 22, with the four-month-old Callie getting a nod along with Cesarina, Ciccia Osteria, Dija Mara, and Morning Glory. San Diego, which had earned just one Michelin star, for Addison, when the inaugural guide was released in 2019, fared better this year. On September 28, Michelin announced its latest class of star-earners, upgrading Addison to two stars and bestowing one star on Carlsbad’s Jeune et Jolie as well as Soichi Sushi and Sushi Tadokoro, two standout local sushi spots that were previously recognized by Michelin as “new discoveries” in 2020. — Candice Woo, Eater San Diego editor
Northern California continues to claim the highest concentration of stars in the country, with a total of 54 restaurants glittering across the Bay Area — including a half-dozen three-star restaurants. In all, it picked up two new two-star restaurants — including Birdsong, the SF spot known for its pandemic-era fried chicken sandwich served with the claw intact — and nine new one-star restaurants, ranging from luxe omakase counter the Shota to Redwood City’s Sushi Shin. But the guide is far from flawless: It’s puzzling that Octavia, which reopened in late June after being shuttered for most of the pandemic, lost its star, while other spots including Bar Crenn and Kin Khao, both of which have yet to reopen, retained their statuses. Bacchus Management Group’s sweep (three of its SF restaurants have earned their way into the list of starred restaurants) is another eyebrow-raising inclusion, particularly when held up against the omission of Eight Tables, George Chen’s fine dining Chinatown celebration of Cantonese cuisine. — Lauren Saria, Eater SF editor
In an affluent city where maitre d’s keep tabs on members of Congress, diplomats, and defense contractors, a Michelin star carries serious weight. But Michelin has once again reinforced the criticism that it cares most about Eurocentric cooking and ultra-exclusive sushi bars, excluding Levantine stunner Albi, modernist Latin Seven Reasons, and modern Vietnamese Moon Rabbit.
In all, the number of starred restaurants grew to 23. A notable win is for Jônt, which picked up two stars for its focus on Continental luxury, Asian-influenced preservation techniques, and 16-course progressive menus that start at $305 per person — all seemingly conceived with Michelin in mind. El Cielo, headed up by Medellín-born chef Juan Manuel Barrientos, now bills itself as the first Colombian restaurant in history to hold a Michelin star; in D.C. at least, it’s the only one on the list that asks customers to wash their hands with molten chocolate. The Inn at Little Washington remains the only three-star awardee in the D.C. guide, but considering its rural Virginia location, the famed venue for chef Patrick O’Connell’s haute American cuisine is a true destination restaurant. — Gabe Hiatt, Eater DC editor