How Many Restaurants In The US Have 3 Michelin Stars?

With the exception of Chicago, you'll be hard-pressed to find a three-Michelin star restaurant anywhere in the central United States. That's probably due to a confluence of reasoning, including international influence on a location and regional preferences. But more than anything else, it's likely because it's incredibly difficult to earn three Michelin stars.

But first things first: What exactly is a Michelin star and does it have anything to do with the tire company? Simply put, a Michelin star is a widely recognized symbol of excellence in the culinary world. One star indicates a restaurant has entered the upper echelons of elite dining (via Business Insider). Two stars means the restaurant has achieved the highest standards of excellence, and three stars suggest the restaurant is worth a trip to experience. That last part, the point about a three-star restaurant being worth a special trip, is where the stars connect to the tire company.

Back in 1900, at the dawn of the automobile era, French brothers Ándre and Édouard Michelin hit on a genius idea to promote the sale of tires, according to Business Insider. Together they hit on a genius marketing idea — they compiled a guide to hotels and restaurants that would encourage car owners to hit the road (and presumably wear out their tires faster).

Fast forward to the 21st century and what started as a sales gimmick has morphed into the world's pre-eminent guide to fine dining.

The US' 3 Michelin-starred restaurants and where to find them

As the Michelin brothers expanded their tire company internationally, the guide followed suit, growing first to include individual guides to European countries and eventually crossing the Atlantic in 2006 to honor 39 restaurants in New York with Michelin stars. As of this writing, the collection includes 28 titles rating restaurants in more than 25 countries (via Michelin Guide).

As the guides expanded, the rating process became more formal, eventually resulting in core training for Michelin inspectors who are bound to remain anonymous, according to Michelin Guide. Inspectors always pay for their meals and are barred from taking notes during their visits. They rate their experience based on five criteria: quality of products, mastery of flavor and cooking techniques, the personality of the chef represented in the dining experience, harmony of the flavors, and consistency between visits. And unlike movie portrayals of Michelin inspectors (think Bradley Cooper's 2015 film "Burnt"), one bad night does not make or break a restaurant's chances for a star rating. Inspectors usually visit several times before making a decision.

Taking all that into consideration, it's easy to understand why chefs covet the elusive three-star rating. As of June 2022, 13 U.S. restaurants each hold three 3 Michelin stars (via Michelin Guide). The list includes five restaurants in New York, one in Washington, D.C., one in Chicago, and six in California.