Michelin adds 3 East Bay restaurants to long-awaited California guide

Michelin will announce the region’s star ratings next month, so consider this but a taste.

A platter of Texas-style meats from Oakland's Horn Barbecue.
A platter of Texas-style meats from Oakland’s Horn Barbecue, one of the newest entries on Michelin’s 2021 guide to California. Credit: Horn Barbecue

Michelin, the French tire company that’s better known in food circles for its well-regarded restaurant guides, famously paused its review and rating programs as the COVID-19 crisis disrupted the worldwide restaurant industry. It appears that its inspectors are back on the road, however, as on Wednesday it released a list of Bay Area restaurants that it’s calling “new discoveries,” all spots that will be included in its pandemic-delayed guide to California dining.

Nearly a third of those newly acknowledged restaurants are in the East Bay: newly-opened Horn Barbecue in Oakland, pan-cuisine food truck turned San Leandro standby Top Hatters and Paul and Laura Magu’s classic Lafayette French spot Rêve Bistro. All will be eligible for the guide’s special Bib Gourmand and coveted “star” ratings, a new level of recognition that could change the fortunes of these small businesses, all of which have been hit hard by the area’s roller coaster openings and closings of the past year.

Michelin’s guide program is a big deal in the food business, with high-end restaurants competing for its premiere rating system, which ranks restaurants from one to three stars. The East Bay only has one starred restaurant: James Syhabout’s two-star Oakland spot Commis, a showy, ambitious and high-ticket restaurant, where diners spend $185 for an eight-course tasting menu. It remains a scandal to many that since 2010, Chez Panisse has gone starless.

The ratings platform is more generous to the East Bay when it comes to its Bib Gourmand awards. Those are described as “a just-as-esteemed rating that recognizes friendly establishments that serve good food at moderate prices.” For the purposes of the guide, that moderate price is “a three-course meal with starter, main course and dessert” for under $40 per person. Unlike many things French, that full meal does not include wine. (You can find a full explanation of Michelin’s rating system here.)

Michelin’s last California guide, in 2019, honored 14 East Bay restaurants with a Bib, including favorites like Oakland Burmese destination Teni East Kitchen and Berkeley California-Oaxacan spot Comal. As the full gravity of the coronavirus crisis hit in 2020, Michelin canceled that year’s guide to the state (as well as all its other ratings); but as of April 2021 it resumed the release of new guides for U.S. cities. In an announcement issues today, Michelin said that it will announce California’s star ratings and Bib Gourmand some time in September.

Until then, Michelin is hoping that California food fans will be satisfied with today’s snack, a list of 10 Bay Area restaurants that will be added to this year’s guide. Here are the guide’s newest East Bay picks, straight from the tire guy’s mouth:

Horn Barbecue (Oakland)
Cuisine: Barbecue
This local sensation from Matt Horn serves up “West coast barbecue” set within a cool, warehouse-style space. Employing his family’s cooking traditions and all manner of meat-smoking, the chef turns out brisket, pulled pork, and sausages—all unfussy yet irresistible.

Rêve Bistro (Lafayette)
Cuisine: French
The staff are a smooth, efficient bunch and the bistro menu from chef-owner Paul Magu-Lecugy spans the classics. Think gougères and wild boar pâté or a more hearty plate of noisettes de chevruil poélées (venison stuffed in puff pastry over celery root purée). The lemon meringue tart is a sublime way to cap off the meal.

Top Hatters Kitchen (San Leandro)
Cuisine: Contemporary
Husband-and-wife co-owners Matthew Beavers and DanVy Vu opted to honor this fixture’s former life as a family-owned hat shop by keeping the name; the well-crafted cocktails are also dubbed with nods to millinery. Chef Vu leads the kitchen, and her skillful contemporary combination of Vietnamese and Californian flavors is tantalizing. 

You can see the full list of every new Michelin-recommended spot Bay Area spot here, but readers, we must know: What do you think of these choices. What restaurants did Michelin’s mysterious, anonymous inspectors miss? Let’s hear it in the comments, or if you’re feeling shy, via email at nosh@berkeleyside.org.

Eve Batey is Berkeleyside's interim Nosh editor. Email: eve@berkeleyside.org.