Is 2016 the year Philly (finally) gets a Michelin star-rated restaurant?

A waitress serves caviar on mother-of-pearl spoons at Jose Garces' Volver in 2014. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A waitress serves caviar on mother-of-pearl spoons at Jose Garces' Volver in 2014. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The short answer? Likely not… but it’s not been completely ruled out.

When you think of a Michelin Star-rated restaurant you think of Paris, Rome, or New York, a place with an air of regalia and a regard for the grandiose. The restaurants are meticulous, and meticulously chosen places, the kind you save for a very special occasion.

But as the food-loving Philadelphians that we are, this may then begin to weigh on our historically gritty self-conscience.

Are we not good enough? Are our restaurants not posh enough? What do they have that we don’t have? Why can’t we land some Michelin Stars? Well, actually, it’s not that Philadelphia lacks the kind of restaurants that earn Michelin stars. It’s that Michelin hasn’t released a Guide here in Philadelphia.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“It’s not that Philly doesn’t have any good restaurants, it’s that we’re not currently evaluating the restaurants there,” said Lauren Davis, public relations coordinator for Michelin North America. “That’s not to say we wouldn’t find some that are star-worthy. We’re just not there.”

The Michelin Guide has been released in only three cities in the United States: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. So while it may seem to alienate our local chefs, in reality, we’re only one of the many fabulous food cities that have not been featured.

“It shouldn’t be a denigration against Philly, compared to Chicago,” said Davis. “We just don’t have a presence there yet.”

That presence brings with it an air of sophistication and a century of history. Michelin Stars are the granddaddy of epicurean rating systems, the Guide a handy-dandy tool for travelers that got its start as a marketing strategy to sell more tires.

Right. Tires. As in Michelin Tires.

Back in the 1900s the brothers Andre and Eduard Michelin were in the business of selling tires. But people didn’t travel like they do now, and services like gas stations were few and far between. So the Michelin brothers put out this guide to help people navigate, directing travelers to fill stations, then to safe lodging, and finally, to restaurants… all in an effort to sell more tires.

Michelin installed its three-star system in the 1930s and have kept their standards strict. Inspectors who work anonymously look at the quality of the ingredients, how well they’re prepared, technique, and consistency. Multiple inspectors visit a place multiple times and then decide together on a star rating.

“To be included in the guide is an honor,” said Davis. “The stars get the most notoriety, but even if you’re listed…Not every restaurant gets listed.”

Over the years the Guide has expanded to include thousands of establishments in hundreds of cities across Europe. This year, it expanded to Singapore, the first city in Southeast Asia. Last year it was Brazil, a first in South America.

“There is certainly always an eye on the what’s next,” said Davis. “It could be that we’ll see a Guide come to Philly. It’s not clear as of yet what will be next but it’ll be something to stay tuned for, for sure.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal