Hacking 2019 Michelin Guide Awards – Here’s How to Eat Fancy for Less!

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The Michelin Guide has begun releasing the list of restaurants they awarded stars to for 2019, and my mouth is already watering.  If you’re not familiar with what exactly a Michelin star is and why you should (or shouldn’t) care about a tire company’s opinion on where to eat, I’ll explain.

Even though Michelin stars are generally only granted to more expensive eateries, you don’t always have to pay an arm and a leg for a world-class meal.  I’ll share some tips on how to eat well for less!  So grab your best restaurant rewards credit card, and join me on the journey!

Tim Ho Wan Is the Second Cheapest Michelin Star Restaurant in the World!  They Serve Tender Chicken Feet, But You’ll Probably Want to Stick With the Sweet Pork Buns

What Are the Michelin Guide Awards?

If you’re not familiar with what a Michelin star means, here’s what you need to know.  The awards are handed out by Michelin, the same company that makes tires, and their story is very similar to other industry awards.  For example, the Grammys were started by the music industry to increase album sales.  And the Oscars have a similar history with the film industry.

When Michelin stars were first awarded to restaurants by the French tire manufacturer in 1900 it was for the purpose of inspiring folks to travel.  After all, more traveling = more Michelin tire sales!  That doesn’t mean the award is meaningless – far from it.  Your favorite movie might not be nominated for an Oscar, but if a movie is nominated, it is definitely something special.  The same goes for Michelin Guide awards.

A restaurant can earn 0 to 3 stars, and just being reviewed for a Michelin star is an honor.  Most restaurants aren’t considered worthy of a visit by a Michelin inspector.  Also, the rating isn’t supposed to be granted after only a single visit.  It takes multiple inspections to earn a top rating because the consistency of the experience is a factor.  And restaurants that are awarded stars are supposed to be re-inspected regularly, although there is some controversy as to how frequently those visits happen.

Here is what each star means according to the Michelin Guide:

  • 1 star – A very good restaurant in its category
  • 2 stars – Excellent cooking, worth a detour
  • 3 stars – Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey

So if a restaurant earns 3 stars, they are saying it’s worth a trip just to eat there!  A 2-star establishment is worth going out of your way for if you’re in the general area.  And a 1-star location is a good choice if you’re already nearby.  So, hop in your cars folks and start wearing down those tires!

You might be wondering, who is it that goes around inspecting all these restaurants?  They are all anonymous.  Michelin is so secretive about it that there are top-level executives in the company who don’t know who the inspectors are.  And the rumor is that inspectors are even required to keep their secrets from their families!  It’s like working for the CIA!

If you want the inside scoop on what it’s like to be an inspector there is a tell-all book by a former Michelin Guide inspector Pascal Remy, although I haven’t been able to find an English translation of it.

How to Hack the Michelin Guide Awards & Eat Fancy for Less!

If a restaurant doesn’t win a Michelin star, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t have Michelin star quality food.  Locations can be docked for an inconsistent experience across visits or sub-par service, among other things.  And Michelin also hands out Bib Gourmand awards, which are for establishments serving “exceptionally good food at moderate prices.”  Bib Gourmand winners must offer prices below a certain maximum determined by local standards.

I’ve found that brunch at Bib Gourmand restaurants is usually spectacular and more reasonably priced than dinner.  For me, that’s the sweet spot.  Plus brunch is pretty much the perfect meal.

In the US, the price point for a Bib Gourmand award meal is $40 or less, but I just ate at a location for ~$12 per person.  So there are deals to be had.  And in Singapore, the Bib Gourmand maximum price point is ~$25 (depending on the exchange rate).  Not surprisingly, Singapore is home to the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant – Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle – where a meal can cost under $3!

Also, if a restaurant is a chain, each location will be judged separately.  For example, Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan (pictured above) has 45 locations worldwide.  One Hong Kong location has a Michelin Star and 2 other Hong Kong locations have Bib Gourmand awards.  Does that mean the Tim Ho Wan location in Australia isn’t worthy of an award?

Only a Single Tim Ho Wan Location Has a Michelin Star, But Do the Sweet Pork Buns Taste Different at Each Restaurant?  I Couldn’t Tell a Difference

Not necessarily, but currently, Michelin only publishes guides to 35 cities & countries worldwide and 22 of those are in Europe.  So there are a lot of great places that fall through the cracks for no other reason than geography.

You should also pay attention to the restaurants that fall off the list each year.  Sometimes the chef doesn’t want the pressure of having to maintain their prestigious star rating and will close the restaurant down.  If this happens, do a little research and see if they have opened up another restaurant or cafe under a different name.  Tim Ho Wan may only have 1 star, but it was started by a chef who previously ran a 3-star restaurant.

Also, one chef or owner maybe have several different restaurants, but only one that has a Michelin Guide award.  The starred location might be a fancy fine dining establishment, but they might also have a spin-off restaurant that is more casual and reasonably priced.  So don’t just look at the restaurant’s name, look at the name behind the restaurant.

Happy eating!  Have you eaten at any of the world’s Michelin star restaurants?  If so, what was your experience like?

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