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RESTAURANT RATING SYSTEM


And Cost Categories

RATING SYSTEM


STAR RATING 1-30 SCALE RATING
21-30
18-20
15-17
10-14
1-9

COST CATEGORIES


CATEGORY DINNER
(Per Person)
LUNCH
(Per Person)
$$$$ Over $24 Over $18
$$$ $16 to $23 $13 to $17
$$ $9 to $15 $8 to $12
$ $8 and under $7 and under


Asian Food Special Rating Info.     |     Mexican Food Special Rating Info.

RATING OF INDIVIDUAL ITEMS.  Some entrées and other items are given star ratings in the restaurant reviews. While a restaurant's overall score is based on many factors (but primarily food rather than service or ambiance), the individual items served play an important part in the point rating. The star rating of entrées and items that are the restaurant's specialty is many times the most important factor in determing the overall rating.


FURTHER EXPLANATION OF THE STAR RATING SYSTEM

The five-star rating system is based on the Zagat system of 1 to 30 points, with more points indicating a higher rating. The "calibration" of my rating system occurred by purchasing the Seattle Zagat guide and using it to get an idea of the ratings given to restaurants with which I am familiar. I do not always agree with the scores given by the Zagat ratings, nor do I even consult it when rating a restaurant-- the idea was simply to become familiar with Zagat's methodology.

The designation of "five stars" as a score of 21 or higher is somewhat arbitrary on my part, and the only purpose is to provide a correlation between my star rating of individual items and the numerical score used for the overall rating.

The hardest part of the process is to rate restaurants of different cuisines against each other, so I usually have to rely on my own opinion and taste buds.

I have personally visited every restaurant listed on this web site (although I may occasionally include other restaurants in the "Special Features" section).

  OUTSTANDING

These are outstanding or very good restaurants, characterized by at least one of the following:
  • A world-class restaurant (perhaps with a rating of at least 27 or 28).
  • One of the best restaurants of its category in the country.
  • Has outstanding examples of certain menu items.
  • In my opinion is very authentic for an ethnic restaurant, or very good for other cuisines.
  • A restaurant that I would consider very good even if it were located in another city where it had greater competition.

  EXCELLENT

Better than average for its category. Characterized by very flavorful and/or authentic food. One of the best in its category.
  • For Chinese restaurants, would probably not serve authentic Chinese soup and would not serve things from the "Chinese menu" of a typical "Chinatown" restaurant, but may have dishes I like such as home style tofu or kung pao tofu.
  • For Mexican restaurants, this is typically the highest score given to Americanized food, such as Tex-Mex, that I consider very good.
  • Has at least one outstanding dish worth trying, but other things may be inconsistent.
  GOOD

To earn a three-star rating it would have to be a place to which I could envision myself returning. This may not be my favorite restaurant in the world, but one in which I could find things I enjoy ordering on a routine or consistent basis. Generally these restaurants are free of any extremely negative experiences. These restaurants would be "average" if I took all eating places into account, including the national chains, fast food restaurants, Chinese buffet restaurants, truck stops, hospitals, school cafeterias, and any other type of place I could imagine. Although I have had my share of meals at all these types of places, my reviews are primarily for local independent restaurants (not chains). Thus an "average" score for all restaurants may appear at the bottom of the list of restaurants I review. I still consider 3 stars as a "good" score, however.

  FAIR

I'm using this category for restaurants that provide good freshness, quality, temperature, etc., and do not give me a bad experience (such as making me sick or giving me a MSG reaction). However, they are not restaurants I recommend in terms of having really flavorful, authentic, or interesting food. In rare cases they are rated fair because I may have ordered an item which they do not prepare well, although I do try to ask what dishes they recommend, and I do tend to rate higher if I at least liked the soup.

  POOR

I'm reserving this category for places in which I had a bad experience. I will have to say that if I get sick to my stomach, it rarely happens on my first visit, but after such an experience it earns a one-star rating forever. Asian restaurants with a one-star rating are usually ones that use too much MSG, with almost no possibility of finding anything without MSG. I do not review fast food chains, but if I did I would almost certainly give a one-star rating to franchises such as KFC and Long John Silver, since I can find nothing in these restaurants worth ordering (either in terms of nutrition or flavor). Whataburger and Wendy's would probably earn two stars. Some fast food places, such as Sonic, might even be in the three star category. The ratings are based strictly on food quality.


A NOTE ABOUT HAMBURGERS, DESSERTS, SNACKS, AND "FAST FOOD" 

I do not usually consider that the best meals consist of hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, sandwiches, or items that might normally be served in fast food restaurants. Occasionally, though, these items reach levels of deliciousness that demand recognition with a high rating. I sometimes struggle with maintaining a consistent rating system across many categories (such as comparing hamburgers to Italian food or sushi to enchiladas). As much as possible, though, I try to give high ratings to good food, no matter what the category.

Certain eating places are not rated because of the type of food served, although I want to recognized them by including them on the web site. Some examples are desserts, places that sell soda pop, and bakeries. I generally do not give a rating unless it is an actual restaurant where a meal is prepared for customers to eat on the premises.


A NOTE ABOUT ETHNIC RESTAURANTS 

One important factor in rating ethnic restaurants is to determine how authentic they are, and whether the restaurants have enough ingredients to make the food taste good. Mostly this is a judgment call, and as much as possible I rely on experiences at different restaurants.

For Mexican food I compare the food with that which I have eaten in Mexico, as well as in the U.S. in areas with large Hispanic populations. The United States border cuisines (Tex-Mex, New Mexican, etc.) are generally not served in Mexico, so the test of "authenticity" has to rely on the best restaurants I can find in the U.S.

For all ethnic food I try to at least sample the most authentic dishes possible. My main stumbling block with this is the "mystery meat" that some cultures eat (I think mainly because the people traditionally cannot afford the more prime cuts of meat). In almost all cases I can find delicious dishes that I enjoy and that are authentic without having to eat "mystery meat," and my recommended dishes are usually those that I think many Americans will enjoy (but are always the ones I enjoy the most).


AN EXPLANATION OF THE COST CATEGORIES.  The following table gives an explanation of cost categories used for this web site:

  • Prices are for each person, excluding tax and tip. The dinner menu is the primary rating factor, unless the restaurant does most of its business at lunch time. Usually I will use what I order as the basis of estimating the cost unless it is far out of range with most menu items.

  • Prices include a drink such as tea, but not an alcoholic beverage.

  • Prices do not include an appetizer or dessert, unless I think it is essential for the meal. Some examples might include sushi (two pieces) in a Japanese restaurant, a sopaipilla with spicy New Mexican food, or a salad with Italian food. I would not count the cost of an appetizer if I think the meal is sufficient by itself (this is all subjective, so if you are on a budget it is best not to take my word for it).

  • I order vegetarian meals frequently, and these tend to be less expensive than meat items. This will be reflected in my cost estimate.

  • At Mexican restaurants I tend to order enchiladas with beans and rice, and the price tends to be mid-range. If I "splurge" with an extra chile relleno, gordita, etc., it will only be included in the cost estimate if I needed an extra item to be full-- not if I only wanted to splurge to have more items to sample.

  • Cost categories were defined in 2003. In 2007 prices were adjusted for inflation, and the new definitions may not always be an accurate reflection of the restaurants that were reviewed prior to 2007.