San Francisco Is Now the Top Fine Dining Destination in the U.S.
Epicurean travelers, take note: if you needed another reason to visit California — one of our nominees for Destination of the Year 2017 — the recent release of the 2018 San Francisco Michelin Guide is giving you one. Start booking your flights to San Francisco, now home to the highest concentration of three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the U.S.
Michelin defines a three-star restaurant as one with “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” As of the 2018 guide’s release, greater San Francisco has seven of them: Benu, The French Laundry, Manresa, Quince, The Restaurant at Meadowood, Saison, and Coi — the only new addition to this highest echelon, but a worthy one, founded by Food & Wine Best New Chef 1997 Daniel Patterson and now one of the city’s iconic restaurants. In total, San Francisco now has 55 starred establishments, with an impressive 77 combined stars.
The big news this year is the unseating of a giant: New York City, one of the food capitals of the world, no longer claims the most restaurants worthy of Michelin’s highest honor. A notable development in the dining scene there is the demotion of Jean-Georges, a three-star restaurant since Michelin first came to New York in 2006. The same thing happened a few years ago to Daniel, a luxurious Midtown restaurant once considered similarly unflappable.
With star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s dependable French establishment losing one of its stars, and no new promotions, NYC has only five restaurants in Michelin’s top tier: Brooklyn Fare, Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernardin, Masa, and Per Se.
But even if that hadn’t happened, the new accolades for Coi would have put San Francisco on top — making the Michelin inspectors’ assessment very clear. San Francisco is on the rise: promotions for three previously starred restaurants and four first-time honorees send a strong message that this city is one to watch. New York City, whose list of starred restaurants dropped by five this year, may be resting on its laurels.
But is the Michelin Guide a reliable indicator of how good a dining scene is? Perhaps not. The series of guidebooks has gained considerable clout since its beginnings as a road trip manual to early 20th-century France — but many have criticized its methods and values, with some chefs even turning away their stars. Notably snubbing powerhouse food cities like Los Angeles and Mexico City, the guide’s critics also seem to heavily favor certain types of food, with New American, French, and Japanese restaurants (read: expensive) heavily represented compared to the many other robust cuisines that thrive in the Bay Area.
No female chefs in the U.S. have been awarded three stars for their work, and only 11 of the kitchens on the 2018 San Francisco list are helmed or owned by women. The elite restaurants on the list reflect broader issues of representation for people of color and women in the restaurant industry, and the Michelin Guide does (seemingly unapologetically) serve to uphold a very narrow, very exclusive definition of “exceptional” food and dining experiences. Still, these judgments hold a lot of weight — chefs build their careers around the chase of these coveted stars, and diners plan their itineraries around the restaurants that win them.
New York still tops the country in sheer volume of stars, with 93. This is the guide’s second year in Washington, D.C., where Michelin inspectors awarded 17 stars to the up-and-coming food city but withheld the top three-star honor entirely. Chicago currently boasts 33 stars and two restaurants with three (Grant Achatz’s Alinea and Curtis Duffy’s Grace).
All signs point to a Bay Area ascendancy. And with a crop of exciting openings this year — from Bar Crenn, sister establishment to two-starred Atelier Crenn, to exciting Chinese tasting menu spot Eight Tables, to Che Fico, helmed by a pair of Eleven Madison Park alumni — we don’t see it stopping anytime soon.
Full list of Michelin-starred restaurants in the Bay Area:
The French Laundry
The Restaurant at Meadowood
Auberge du Soleil
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
Keiko a Nob Hill
Sons & Daughters
State Bird Provisions
The Village Pub