With the pandemic weighing down the restaurant industry, the upper reaches of Michelin’s ranks remained relatively static the last few years in California. But there have been a serious shakeup of late to the three-star level of restaurants in the Golden State. A massive wildfire burned down the Restaurant at Meadowood, knocking it off the list; David Kinch closed his legendary Manresa at the end of 2022, despite holding onto his star in the latest guide; Quince announced it would close six months for a remodel; and for the first time, a Southern California restaurant was given a third star (but more on that later).
Here are the six Michelin three-star restaurants in California, or as Michelin would say, the six restaurants “worthy of a special journey.”
Addison, San Diego
When Michelin expanded to cover all of California in 2019, Addison received one star for its outstandingly executed French-influenced fare, but chef William Bradley had higher ambitions. So he and his team set to remake the menu and find a voice more distinctly their own, focusing on the produce, flavors and culture surrounding them. Calling it “California Gastronomy” now a the nine-course tasting menu includes dishes like the Thai coconut soup tom kha gai and Regiis Ova caviar perched atop creamy koshihikari rice with a smoked sabayon and sesame seeds. Michelin noticed, elevating Addison to two stars in the 2021 California guide before handing the restaurant its third this past December.
Atelier Crenn, San Francisco
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. In 2019 she announced that she would take the meat off of all her menus—seafood would remain—because of Crenn’s concern about the environmental impact of animal agriculture. However, she has said she would serve lab-grown chicken once it passes FDA approval.
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,” Crenn says. “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.