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Food & Drink

San Francisco is hemorrhaging Michelin-starred restaurants. Has the city lost its dining mojo?

Dominique Crenn’s restaurant Atelier Crenn is one of only two three-Michelin-starred kitchens in San Francisco that’s currently open for business. | Source: Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Northern California is nothing if not an international fine-dining powerhouse, and 50 of the state’s 88 Michelin-starred restaurants are in the Bay Area and wine country. Of those, 27, or just over half, are inside San Francisco proper. By any metric, that is an extraordinary concentration of excellent restaurants, crowned by world-famous destinations like Lazy Bear and Quince.

But after a decade-plus when the Michelin ranks seemed to swell without limit, they’re beginning to vanish from the scene. In 2019, the last year before the pandemic, San Francisco was home to 37 restaurants with one, two or three stars, which means the city has since lost 10 in just four years. A number, like Spruce (2023) or Mourad (2022), were dropped from the list, while other highly regarded places—AL’s Place, In Situ—closed outright, victims of Covid’s economic wrath. 

The closures continue. Bernal Heights’ Marlena shuttered this summer after a dispute between its chefs and the owner. And Eater SF broke the news this week of the impending demise of chef Rodney Wages’ Avery, a Western Addition favorite known for its selection of unusual sakes.

That will leave just 26 restaurants lauded by the French tire company’s secret dining agents, clustered in a question-mark shape from the Fillmore up to the waterfront and down to the Mission District. On top of this, the Bay Area, long considered New York’s equal for high-end dining experiences, was notoriously snubbed at the 2023 James Beard Awards. Has San Francisco lost its restaurant mojo? 

The Michelin math would seem to say so. For every exciting, inventive newcomer, like Corey Lee’s San Ho Won or Peter Hemsley’s seafood-centric Aphotic, there’s been plenty of attrition, like Nico losing its star or Michael Mina winding down the eponymous capital of his empire.

Peter Hemsley's Aphotic, a seafood-forward SoMa restaurant that won its first Michelin star this year, is a new bright spot in San Francisco. | Source: Kelly Puleio

The picture is arguably grimmer at the very top. Five years ago, San Francisco had five three-Michelin-starred restaurants: Atelier Crenn, Benu, Coi, Saison and Quince. Saison shed a star in 2019, Coi closed in 2022, and Quince’s dining room has been dark for more than six months while it undergoes a massive renovation ahead of its 20th anniversary, with owners Michael and Lindsay Tusk working on Officina, their other project above North Beach beat hangout Vesuvio. Quince is slated to reopen in late fall, in a grand recommitment to fine dining in San Francisco. But at present, only Dominique Crenn’s Atelier Crenn and Corey Lee’s flagship Benu are open for service.

Such losses have mounted across the region. The three-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood was lost to a wildfire, while Manresa in Los Gatos couldn’t survive without chef David Kinch. It shuttered forever last New Year’s Eve

Of course, these ups and downs tell San Francisco’s story from one specific and undeniably elite angle. The ranking system, ostensibly designed to help French drivers—one star for a good place to eat if you pass by, two for a detour and three for a destination in its own right—tends to reward ultra-pricey exemplars of Continental cuisine or multicourse, “tweezer food” tasting menus for the jetset. 

Michelin frequently snubs the veritable galaxy of San Francisco restaurants that serve what used to be called “ethnic food.” Instead, places like Izayaka Rintaro, Good Good Culture Club and Flores get awarded Bib Gourmands, a separate Michelin category for restaurants that match good quality with good value. 

Even though the guide has come in for plenty of criticism, and some chefs reject its tyranny to the point of trying to give stars back, the importance of Michelin’s stamp of approval is largely baked in at this point. But whatever the criteria the clandestine operatives use, it certainly hasn’t jived with San Francisco’s hometown favorites, like House of Prime Rib, Swan Oyster Depot, Nopa, Yank Sing, Marlowe or Zuni Cafe. These restaurants are among the most beloved icons in the city—and none has ever been awarded so much as a star. 

Update: This story has been updated with further details about Quince’s temporary closure and renovation.

Astrid Kane can be reached at