Courtesy of Michelin

Michelin Guide to Los Angeles is Out: We Have Some Feelings

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Michelin Awards aka the Oscars of the food world have been announced. And everyone suddenly cares — even if Michelin ignored L.A. for a decade.

As of last night, the Michelin Awards are being given to L.A. restaurants for the first time in a decade. And people are talking about it. I’m pissed at Michelin, like most Angelenos are, for calling us “not real foodies” and ignoring us for the past 10 years. Like, fuck you and your Eurocentric standards. But yeah, I’ll tune in to the live stream.

I wasn’t invited to the awards show in Huntington Beach last night, so I hate-watched it on my laptop. Even if I were invited, I wouldn’t have driven from Glassell Park in rush hour.

Just kidding, we all know that’s a lie. Because it’s Michelin.

Anyways, the show was pretty predictable. Except for the video quality, which was startlingly poor and seemed to have been shot on a soccer mom’s iPhone — odd, given the company’s association with refinement and the fact that California’s tourism board paid it 600k. (“​wE rEPreSeNt QuAliTy,” a YouTuber commented.)

We are, famously, a land that bucks the pressed tablecloth and suit jacket. The more famous you are here, the shittier you’re allowed to dress. Can Michelin really understand the city’s casual complexity?

Still, there weren’t any actual award shockers, except for one: L.A. was awarded zero three star restaurants. Like, what the hell? Have you ever heard of a little restaurant called Providence, where everyone — i.e. rich people whose parents are producers — has their birthdays? Or Vespertine? Where I’ve never actually eaten because it would set me back around 70 percent of my rent? Or n/naka?

Why yes, Michelin has heard of these restaurants, and — womp, womp — they all got two stars. Before we proceed any further to debrief this hot mess, here’s the full list of local winners.

L.A. one star Michelin restaurants—19 total in L.A., of an overall 69 one star restaurants in California

  1. Bistro Na’s
  2. CUT
  3. Dialogue (only one star though?)
  4. Hayato
  5. Kali
  6. Kato (good one)
  7. Le Comptoir
  8. Maude
  9. Mori Sushi
  10. Nozawa Bar
  11. Orsa & Winston
  12. Osteria Mozza (the most L.A. restaurant ever)
  13. Q Sushi
  14. Rustic Canyon
  15. Shibumi (finally)
  16. Shin Sushi
  17. Shunji
  18. Taco Maria (well-deserved)
  19. Trois Mec (predictable and well-deserved)

L.A. two star Michelin restaurants

  1. n/naka (Again, only two stars? Really thought this would be one of our three star contenders)
  2. Providence (see above commentary)
  3. Somni (see above commentary)
  4. Sushi Ginza Onodera  
  5. Urasawa (predictable, as it had two stars in 2009 before Michelin pulled out. Same with Providence.)
  6. Vespertine (see above commentary)

L.A. Three Star Michelin Restaurants

None. What the hell?

To back up, a little primer on the Michelin awards. Started by the tire company — I know, so weird — the whole thing began in 1900 as a roadbook of sorts, ranking different restaurants and incentivizing people to visit them. And, consequently, to buy tires. Again, it’s all weird.

Anyway, fast forward a century and now Michelin is the Oscars of the food world. And everyone cares about them. Even if they say they don’t. Michelin stars are important — for consumers, for business, for prestige. When you earn three stars as a chef, you’re not not going to call your mom.

The problem is, as has been well-documented in literally every single article on the internet, the French-based company skews its awards towards Eurocentric and Japanese restaurants. Think French, Spanish and Nordic cuisine as well as sushi. This, of course, leaves out the many highly skilled gastronomies that don’t fall under the Western canon.

And this is why it’s so contentious that Michelin is back in L.A. We are, famously, a land that bucks the pressed tablecloth and suit jacket. The more famous you are here, the shittier you’re allowed to dress. Can Michelin really understand the city’s casual complexity? Let alone its cultural diversity?

Short answer: not really.

While it is awesome that restaurants like Guerilla Tacos and Chengdu Taste were recognized in Michelin’s bib gourmand category this year (which we’ll discuss shortly), the fact is that the range of foods that Michelin rewards with actual stars is still quite narrow.

n/naka, one of the most deserving restaurants in the entire city, somehow fell short of the highest possible recognition. Not that chef Niki Nakayama seemed mad about it — receiving two stars is a great honor, but it seems an injustice. Same with Providence. Michael Cimarusti’s food is flawless. And Providence is one of the few places in this city where the longstanding hype is actually worth the price tag.

And, of all the one star restaurants, you’re telling me that only one is Mexican? (That would be Taco Maria, by the great Carlos Salgado.) Of course, there aren’t any quotients here and I’m not advocating for some type of affirmative action for restaurants. They don’t need it. What I’m saying is: given all the amazing Latin-inflected cuisine in L.A., this seems like a statistical crime. (Aka, that shit is racist.)

And, as Eater notes, it’s also kind of weird that solidly great restaurants like Bestia, Bavel and Republique were left out altogether.

Not to mention the ridiculousness of Bib Gourmand. It’s basically a short list of restaurants that don’t get stars but which Michelin deems affordable. LOL, because Majordomo is on that list and a restaurant that serves $190 short ribs in a city where a lot of people make $12 an hour as assistants or Lyft drivers is not affordable.

Here’s the thing though: Michelin isn’t trying to be affordable. Or for the everyman. They’re trying to be the “best.” And, de facto, when you define yourself as such, you’re going to be exclusionary.

So yes, Michelin is and always will be elitist. Am I glad it’s back though? Sure. I’m even proud. It gives this city more of the recognition it deserves. Even if that recognition is within the bounds of a Eurocentric, colonialist playing field.

At the end of the day, a French-owned, century-old company giving two stars to an Indian restaurant is not radical, folks. That happened in San Francisco, by the way, to the well-deserving Campton Place, chef’ed by powerhouse Srijith Gopinathan. The question isn’t why more places like this aren’t getting stars. The real question is, who gets to give out the stars? And why?

As long as the arbiter of taste — the “default” point of view — comes from a privileged and Eurocentric perspective, the diversity we desire can’t happen. I’m not saying that white people or the French can’t have a voice. That would go against the very plurality I’m championing. But they can’t have the only one. I want to see POC-run award shows share the limelight. I want to see more critics from non-Western backgrounds, like Soleil Ho from the San Francisco Chronicle and Tejal Rao from The New York Times. I want to see POCs as editors and CEOs in food media, not just as staffers or award recipients. And it’s happening, slowly.

As for Michelin coming back to L.A., Roy Choi said it best in Los Angeles Magazine:

“They called you unsophisticated, left you hanging, slandered the city across the globe. And now they’re going to come back, and guys are going to grovel at their ankles? That doesn’t mean you have to hate Michelin or the idea of it, but if you have L.A. pride, think about that.”

Los Angeleno