okgourmet.com    Home of Steve's Restaurant Reviews


And Cost Categories




(Per Person)
(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.


This web site uses a 1 to 30 point rating system for restaurants. It is based on the Zagat Guides to various cities (which use a 1 to 30 rating).


I first saw this rating system when I bought a Zagat guide to Seattle. I noticed that the Zagat book gave me a much better guide to food quality than I had seen in other guide books (such as the AAA four-diamond system).

When I was in the early stages of developing the web site I noticed that Gil's Thrilling Blog used the Zagat system for determining restaurant ratings. Gil and I both reviewed restaurants in New Mexico, so this gave me a chance to compare notes (and Gil had already laid the groundwork for the methodology I later applied). Thus both Gil's site and the Zagat Seattle guide gave me a chance to "calibrate" my ratings.


Some entrées and other items are given star ratings in the restaurant reviews. I use my own opinion to determine how items rank (from one star to five). Individual ratings are combined for the overall restaurant rating (see details in the next paragraph). The important factor here, though, is that five star ratings should be based on food found nationwide, and not just that it is in the top percentage of the local area.


Ratings are mostly done from the "bottom up." That is, I try individual items, and if they are five-star items, the restaurant will likely have a five-star rating (see the table at the top for a number to star equivalence).

More weight is given to main dishes in determining a rating based on individual items. In Mexican restaurants the appetizers and side dishes make up so much of the meal that they carry more weight, but I would say that in most instances the main dishes are the most important.


If I make multiple visits I try to establish a "normal" rating for the restaurant, disregarding rare occasions that were exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.

If I think I restaurant is getting better or worse over time, I will use the most recent experiences for the rating (after there has been time to establish that this is the "new normal.").


I rate restaurants based only on the food, and not the service or other factors. The rating could be affected, though, if I could not get the food I wanted as a result of mistakes by the waiter or the kitchen (and I do not think this was an isolated incident).


Another common situation is where some items at the restaurant are better than others. If an item I do not like is one which they claim as their specialty, this will bring the score down somewhat. Otherwise, the ones I identify as the "Best Items" are probably the ones that establish the rating.

If you have to order in advance to get the best food (such as at ethnic restaurants), I will lower the rating based on what is normally available, but the writeup will indicate the other options which are available.


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 do try, though, to rate each cuisine by its own standard. For instance, a cuisine I eat very often (such as Chinese food) does not automatically get a higher rating because it is Chinese, but each restaurant has to compete based on its own merits.


For very high ratings, I am sticking to the Zagat methodology used when I purchased the Seattle Guide for 2003. There seemed to be no restaurants with a score of 29 or 30, and very few rated 27 or 28. Since that time Zagat has gone on the Internet, and scores seem to be higher than before. I think it serves readers better to stick with the old methodology, and only give ratings of 28 or 29 for very special restaurants that would have to be considered "best of class." I believe 29 is the highest rating I will give on the web site (based on the belief that even if a restaurant is perfect, it may not be so the next time, thus I should not use the score of 30).

If I included fast food and chain restaurants it is likely that more scores would lie at the bottom end of the scale. However, since all restaurants try to serve good food, I think the actual "median" number for most cities would be around 20, and not 15 (the mid point between 1 and 30). See the section below for an explanation of the five-star rating system (which translates to a 1 to 30 rating scale).


The five-star rating system is based on the Zagat system of 1 to 30 points, with more points indicating a higher rating. My opinion could vary greatly from the "consensus of opinion" found in Zagat, but I do try to use the same methodology I would use if I were filling out a Zagat survey form.

When there are a number of different star ratings for individual items, these are probably a better guide than looking at the restaurant's overall rating.

Restaurant reviews are for restaurants which I have visited or have gotten a take-out order.

Numerical ratings are only given for restaurants which provide full meals. Specialty places (such as dessert restaurants) will only have star ratings for individual items. Regular restaurants will only have star ratings if I got food which is only available at special occasions or is not normally on the menu.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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. These usually offer me the best experience, and are the best test for judging an ethnic restaurant.

At this point I think I am best able to judge authenticity at Chinese and Mexican restaurants. For other cuisines I am on more of a learning curve, but in all cases I look for what is the most delicious.

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.