Last week the eyes of the culinary world turned to a beachside resort in Orange Country, where the venerable Michelin Guide unveiled its first-ever all-California guide. Though the tire-company-turned-eating-evaluator had evaluated Los Angeles previously, for the better part of this decade, it only considered restaurants located in San Francisco and the surrounding wine country. Now, the entirety of the Golden State was eligible for stars.
Despite the larger swath of land Michelin now covers, the Gallic guide didn’t deem any further restaurants worthy of its highest rating. In fact, California has one less three-star restaurant now. With Joshua Skenes stepping aside at Saison—the restaurant he founded—to let acclaimed chef Laurent Gras run the kitchen, Michelin demoted the restaurant to two stars. Gras, no stranger to Michelin-starred kitchens, may well earn it back soon. But for now, there are seven Michelin three-star restaurants in California, and all of them clustered in the Bay Area. Here are the seven.
Atelier Crenn, San Francisco
Better late than never. Since opening in 2011 chef Dominique Crenn has put out a soulful, artistic take on modern French fare. After sitting at two stars for years, Michelin has finally awarded Atelier Crenn a third. The guide wrote that “The current menu displays a wonderful balance of grace, artistry, technical ability and taste.” With the honor, Crenn became the first woman to run a Michelin three-star restaurant in America. Not only that, her newest restaurant Bar Crenn—an ode to classic French gastronomy—picked up a star in its first year of eligibility.
Benu, San Francisco
Among his peers, chef Corey Lee is highly revered. “The first time I ate Corey’s food was at the French Laundry when he was chef de cuisine,” says Crenn. “I could taste the talent behind the food. What I love about Benu is he celebrates where he’s from—Korea—and he communicates that in a very special way.” Praised for his technical ability and refinement of dishes, Lee’s Benu earned its third star in the 2015 guide. Lee has merged flavors from Korea, China, and Japan with techniques he honed as the French Laundry’s chef de cuisine for four years. The result is a lauded tasting menu that will feature dishes like an oyster with pork belly and kimchi; or smoked quail, lilies and fermented pepper.
French Laundry, Yountville, CA
Around since the early 1900s, The French Laundry was transformed by Thomas Keller into a leader of American fine dining after taking it over in 1994. Rooted in his love of French food and technique, the nine-course menu features dishes like a cauliflower velouté with toasted marcona almonds, john dory with creamed black trumpet mushrooms, squab with sunchokes, and venison with caramelized Brussels sprouts. As it approaches its 25th Anniversary this summer, the restaurant remains a great beacon of American fine dining. One of the greatest testaments to the French Laundry’s influence has been the sheer number of alumni who have opened acclaimed restaurants of their own, from Grant Achatz’s Alinea, to Corey Lee’s Benu, to Rene Redzepi’s Noma, to Jordan Kahn’s Vespertine. Like his idol Paul Bocuse, Keller has created a proving ground for exceptional chefs.
Manresa, Los Gatos, CA
It’s cliché to say a chef embraces farm-to-table, but David Kinch has been a pioneer in developing vegetable-centric, contemporary California cuisine. Utilizing the bounty of Golden State produce, he’s inspired by the region, making dishes like Tidal Pool that mimics the rocky coasts of the Bay Area. It’s a rich broth that poaches a raw slice of foie gras and is accompanied by uni, butter clams, mussels, oyster, pickled kombu, toasted nori, and shitake mushrooms. His influence continues around California with alums opening their own outstanding restaurants, like James Syhabout of two-Michelin-starred Commis in Oakland, Jeremy Fox of Birdie G’s in Santa Monica and Josef Centeno of PYT in Los Angeles. Another fire at Manresa shut the restaurant down last year, as it had three years ago, but Kinch has bounced back again to reopen his flagship. Now, he’s expanding the Manresa name even further, with head baker Avery Ruzicka creating the exceptional bakery and café Manresa Bread.
Quince, San Francisco
Chef Michael Tusk has combined his love of Northern Italian cuisine with his surrounds in Northern California, to evolve classics like tortellini into modern American fare. Opened in 2003, Quince earned its third Michelin star in the 2017 guide. As with fellow pillars of contemporary California cuisine in the Bay Area, Quince is devoted to sourcing the best product. Tusk has created a partnership with Fresh Run Farm—an early adopter of organic farming—to grow heirloom fruits, vegetables, and flowers exclusively for the chef. In 2011, after six straight nominations, Tusk won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Pacific, for his work at Quince and his rustic Italian restaurant Cotogna. Earlier in 2019, Tusk and his wife Lindsay also opened their French-inspired casual wine bar Verjus.
The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, CA
When chef Christopher Kostow led Meadowood to its third Michelin star for the 2011 guide, he became only the second restaurant outside of New York to earn the award. And, at the age of 33, he was the third-youngest chef ever to reach Michelin’s pinnacle. The restaurant, located at the Meadowood Resort in St. Helena, has become a leader in modern American cuisine, driven by terroir and produce of the Napa Valley. The guide praises Meadowood writing that it “exudes California style wealth and comfort,” and adds that “The magic of chef Christopher Kostow and team lies in their ability to take just-picked produce and create dishes that are the very essence of laid-back luxury.” Kostow also owns and operates the more casual St. Helena restaurant Charter Oak, where he’s embraced radical simplicity in a rustic space.
SingleThread, Healdsburg, CA
Husband and wife duo Kyle and Katina Connaughton wanted to open more than just a restaurant when they debuted SingleThread in Sonoma in 2016. From the inn above the restaurant, to the farm, to the 11-course tasting menu, the two create an immersive and comprehensive experience. The Japanese-inflected food is informed by Kyle’s time as a chef around the globe. Among many stints, he worked at the famed chef Michel Bras’ restaurant in Hokkaido, Japan, made pastries at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills; and led the research kitchen at Heston Blumenthal’s temple of molecular gastronomy The Fat Duck.