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A Guide to Spain's Three-Star Michelin Restaurants

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As of two weeks ago, Spain now boasts seven restaurants with three Michelin stars, the guide's highest designation. The top-ranked restaurants represent several different styles and approaches: there are bastions of New Basque cooking that go back decades (Akelarre, Arzak, Martín Berasategui), young avant-gardists (Quique Dacosta, a new addition) and naturalists (Azurmendi, another new addition), and temples of modern Catalan cooking (Sant Pau, El Celler de Can Roca). A couple of things to note: none of them lie to the country's south, nor is there a three-star in the capital. And for the record, Mugaritz, Andoni Luis Aduriz's restaurant, which is ranked #3 in the world, is still sitting pretty at two.

Here's a primer on the group, including the years they got their stars, whether they're ranked on the World's Fifty Best List, and who's in the kitchen. There's also a map showing their locations throughout the country.

El Celler de Can Roca

canrocaeater.jpg [Photo: Ulterior Epicure]

City: Girona
Chef: Joan Roca
Three Stars Since: 2009
World's 50 Best: #2

El Celler de Can Roca has its roots in a family-owned restaurant. Three brothers — Joan, Jordi, and Josep — opened the place in 1986, and slowly they've turned it into one of the world's best restaurants. A pivotal step in that process was the construction of the restaurant's new dining room, in 2007, whose modern design provides a striking contrast to the historic building next door.

Joan is chef, Jordi is pastry chef, and Josep runs the front-of-house and wine program. Joan has been known as a serious exponent of sous vide cooking, and his menu tends to skew heavily toward the sea. Jordi is known as one of the world's great pastry chefs, and his whacked-out but usually spot-on preparations have included desserts meant to mimic perfumes. See photos of a 2011 meal there here.

Sant Pau

santpaueater.jpg [Photo: Ulterior Epicure]

City: Sant Pol de Mar
Chef: Carme Ruscalleda
Three Stars Since: 2006
World's 50 Best: #65

With the exception of Arzak, which you could argue is now completely run by Elena, Sant Pau is the only three-star in Spain with a woman as its driving force. She is Carme Ruscalleda, and her cooking is colorful, bright, and delicious. The Ulterior Epicure filed a report on a dinner there last year, writing "For the most part, it was extraordinary. But, the sum of Sant Pau was much greater than its parts. For me, it was one of those restaurant experiences that I loathe to cleave for fear of finding minor faults in the details, opting instead to savor the entire package undisturbed."

Ruscalleda has a Sant Pau in Tokyo, as well as a restaurant in Barcelona's Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Moments, which just earned two Michelin stars. Her son, Raul Balam, is its chef.

Quique Dacosta

quiquedacosta.jpg [Photo: Quique Dacosta]

City: Dénia
Chef: Quique Dacosta
Three Stars Since: 2012
World's 50 Best: #40

The chef Quique Dacosta has emerged as one of the country's most visible avant-garde chefs. The location of his eponymous restaurant, just a two-minute walk from the beach in the tiny seaside town of Dénia, is at once surprising but sensible: you're eating food from one of the best technicians on the planet, rendered with a pristine aesthetic, but it all draws from the area around it. Said Dacosta in an Eater interview: "My cooking is rooted in the idea of proximity: the concepts of context and terroir. In my case, the inspiration comes from the soul and spirit of the products and culture of the Mediterranean... There are olive trees, icons of the Mediterranean diet. There are natural parks, rice fields, and one of the best fish markets in the world." You will taste, more than anything, the sea.

The restaurant used to be El Poblet, established in 1981. Dacosta arrived there in 1989. It's no longer his main focus, but the chef is known for making some of the best rice dishes in the world. See photos of recent meals there from A Life Worth Eating and Ulterior Epicure.


arzakeater.jpg [Photo: GoodiesFirst/Flickr]

City: San Sebastian
Chef: Elena Arzak
Three Stars Since: 1989
World's 50 Best: #8

One of the world's legendary restaurants, Arzak has been at the forefront of New Basque cooking since the 1970s, when chef Juan-Mari Arzak and some of his cohorts became stars by applying the tenets of La Nouvelle Cuisine to Spanish traditions. Nowadays, Juan-Mari's daughter Elena runs the show, maintaining the restaurant's high but often playful standards. At a recent conference, she presented a dish of clawed lobster, hemp cracker, and mustard, with clothespins made of lobster.


azurmendieater.jpg [Photo: Azurmendi]

City: Larrabetzu
Chef: Eneko Atxa
Three Stars Since: 2012
World's 50 Best: Unranked

Over the past few years, there's been a good deal of buzz surrounding Azurmendi, which is a short drive from Bilbao. Given Spain's disappointing performance in the last few Michelin Guides, however, it was especially surprising to see it earn a third star in the latest edition.

Chef Eneko Atxa, who is 35 years-old and has cooked with Martín Berasategui and at Kikunoi Honten in Kyoto, opened Azurmendi seven years ago. The restaurant is perched above a hill and has its own wine making operation and gardens. Of a recent meal there, the critic Bruce Palling wrote, "It was impressive to find so much intensity on what is quite crafted cuisine." There he ate dishes like a confit of lobster with essential herbs from the garden and pork jowl, as well as one that uses a variety of purple onions that you can only find from one producer. The cooking owes much to Berasategui, but the setting and the emphasis on local produce puts Atxa in the category of many contemporary chefs today.


akelarre11.jpg [Photo: Akelarre]

City: San Sebastian
Chef: Pedro Subijana
Three Stars Since: 2006
World's 50 Best: Unranked

The tall, mustachioed Pedro Subijana has been manning the stoves at Spain's Akelarre since 1975. He's not particularly well known outside of Europe, but he's a beloved elder statesman in San Sebastian, where he's considered a great teacher. Year in and year out, he serves as one of the faces of the city's Gastronomika congress.

His restaurant is considered one of the pioneers of New Basque cooking, but these days, you're more likely to be wowed by the panoramic views of the ocean than by the food. Here's a run-down of what a meal there was like in 2010.

Martín Berasategui

berasateguieater.jpg [Photo: Ulterior Epicure]

City: Lasarte
Chef: Martín Berasategui
Three Stars Since: 2001
World's 50 Best: #67

The diminutive, gruff, and kind Martín Berasategui is a workhorse who cut his teeth at local restaurants in San Sebastian, but also on the weekends in Paris. He brings to his pastoral restuarant, which is a ten-minute drive from San Sebastian's city center, serious chops and a series of influential dishes, including a millefeuille of green apple, eel, and foie gras that has popped up on menus around the world since Berasategui introduced it in 1995.

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Restaurante Quique Dacosta

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Sant Pau - Carme Ruscalleda

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El Celler de Can Roca

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Martin Berasategui

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