The Michelin Guide has a long and fascinating history. First published in 1900, the guide originally focused on only French restaurants. Tire magnates Andre and Edouard Michelin gave the book away to valued customers; it was an auto guide, as well as a guide to gas stations, hotels and restaurants. The brothers saw it as a way to increase demand for automobiles and conversely increase sales of car tires. This little bit of ingenuity has spawned the book with humble beginnings into the most famous food guide in the world.
These days the guide features reviews of restaurants in over 20 countries. Japan is the country with the most three-star Michelin restaurants; it has 32. France has the second greatest number at 26. Tokyo has more three-star restaurants than any other city at 16 while Paris follows with 10. When people think of Michelin-starred restaurants they first think of exquisite taste – but almost immediately afterwards, they’ll think about how empty a Michelin starred meal will leave their wallets.
Since 1955 the Michelin Guide has incorporated a section called ‘Bib Gourmand’, named after Michelin’s mascot. Bib Gourmand is separate from the Michelin stars and focuses on top-quality restaurants that are affordable. Affordability is measured by meals under a certain price point. The price point varies from city to city and country to country based on the cost of living. For example, in Japan a restaurant can receive Bib Gourmand status if a meal costs under 5,000 yen. In New York it’s US $40, and in France it’s 29 euros (34 euros in Paris). Plenty of cheap and tasty Michelin eats can be found in New York City, which has 124 Bib Gourmand restaurants. The Tokyo area has 95 Bib Gourmand restaurants, Paris has 70, San Francisco has 70, Hong Kong and Macau have a combined 64, and the Kansai region in Japan has 40.
But what of the ‘starred’ eateries? Surely they’re barely affordable at best, break-the-bank expensive at worst? Not necessarily! Here, we’re taking a look at some of the most affordable restaurants to be featured in the Michelin Guide.
12. Yauatcha in London, 1*
For less than 30 pounds sterling (around $50) you and your dinner guest can enjoy a total of eight dim sum plates, or simply eat them all yourself if you really want to indulge on a frugal budget! King crab Shanghai siew long bun is a delicacy, and the meal is accompanied by Chinese tea.
11. L’Agape in Paris, France, 1*
For just 35 euros (about $49) you can partake in a four-course lunch; that’s a mere 9 euros per course – cheap for any Parisian restaurant, never mind a Michelin starred one! An eight-course tasting menu is available for dinner, but it’s quite a bit more expensive at 120 euros. However, while that might sound a lot, you’re still getting serious bang for your buck – because it equates 15 euros per Michelin recommended course.
10. . Jean Georges in New York City, 3 *
While it’s easy to spend over US$200 per person at this world-class eatery, it’s also possible to eat here if you’re on a moderate budget. A two-plate “taste of spring” lunch will set you back a mere US$38, almost incredible for a three-star Michelin restaurant. Its dinner menu is more affordable than most other three-star restaurants in New York, but we wouldn’t exactly call it cheap at $168 for a tasting menu.
9. Nectari in Barcelona, Spain, 1*
Three courses here will set you back a mere 25 euros. Traditional Spanish food -with a focus on seasonal local ingredients like truffles and wild mushrooms – is served. There’s also an extensive list of world-class wines.
8. Zum Heidkrug in Luneberg, Germany, 1*
In Germany, for a restaurant to be included in the Michelin Bib Gourmand section it must have menu items below 35 euros. Zum Heidkrug meets this criterion, but it went above and beyond and earned a star instead. A three-course meal here is just 22.50 euros – around $30.
7. Laut in New York City, 1* / Bib Gourmand
The easiest way to fail when opening an Asian restaurant is to be too broad with the menus. Think about it. When was the last time you ate a restaurant that served both sushi and Chinese food and thought it was any good? You probably haven’t. Somehow Laut in NYC bucks that trend with its eclectic mix of Asian cuisine, and it does so by offering extremely affordable food, too. The average price of a meal here will only set you back US$28, and you can choose from lunch specials like the bento box or pad Thai. Malaysian specialties include massaman curry and laksa, and delicious Thai dishes include som tum (green papaya salad) and tom kha (chicken or shrimp with coconut milk soup). Laut was previously awarded one Michelin star, but now it only retains its Bib Gourmand ranking.
6. Onyx in Budapest, Hungary, 1*
If you’re Hungry in Hungary and in need of fine dining on a limited budget then this restaurant, which serves classic Hungarian fare, is worth checking out. Adorned with ornate chandeliers, the atmosphere is elegant and the food is a mix of traditional and modern. A set lunch is a mere 5900 forint ($27) for three courses. Specialties include sea bass, goose liver torte and gerbeaud (Hungarian poppy seed cake).
5. Hand and Flowers in Marlow, UK, 2*
Marlow is a quiet little town in the south of England, which means it’s the perfect locale for a high-quality gastropub like Hand and Flowers. It’s here you that you’ll find mouth-watering, Michelin starred grub for a fraction of the price you would almost anywhere else in the world. Hand and Flowers offers a two-course set lunch menu for a mere 15 pounds and a three-course set menu for a mere 19.50 pounds – that’s the equivalent of $11 per course. The set lunch currently features whole roasted quail, pumpkin soup, and banana and rum ice cream.
4. I Tigli a Lago in Como, Italy, 1*
Nestled in northern Italy, this is the most affordable Michelin-starred restaurant in the country. For a mere 18 euros – $25 – patrons can enjoy two courses comprising the catch of the day and a delectable dessert.
3. The Spotted Pig in New York City, 1*
Mario Batali is one of the most famous celebrity chefs around, and Jay-Z is an entertainment and business mogul. So, when they joined forces to create the Spotted Pig something magical was created. Serving British and Italian food, an entrée will set you back a mere US$16 before tax.
2. Nakajima in Tokyo, 1*
Tokyo is known for having more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else in the world, and the big three 3-star sushi masters (Jiro, Mizutani and Saito) are battling it out to be named best of the best. But if you’re broke, tired of sushi and still hungry for good food then Nakajima is the place to go. This third-generation family run restaurant is located in Shinjuku (downtown Tokyo) and offers Kansai-style fish dishes for a mere 800 yen (under $8!)
1. Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong, 1*
For just over US$6 visitors are rewarded for braving long lines to try the legendary dim sum at his eatery. The Hong Kong location jumped to one star from being labeled Bib Gourmand the year before. The popularity of the affordable dim sum spot has led to Tim Ho Wan franchising and expanding to multiple locations in food-obsessed Singapore.