Spanish Gastronomy Is Michelin Star-Lit

gourmet food plated up

Fine dining in Spain. Credit: Image by mrblmoreno on Freepik

The upward trend of culinary tourism is a testament to the fact that, wherever they are in the world, everyone loves trying new food. Europe has long been the centre of diverse and quality cuisine and Spain is a leading gastronomic light in the continent.

Culinary tourism is growing increasingly popular, with the market worth 805.9 billion US dollars in 2022 and expected to exceed 2114.2 billion US dollars by 2028, an increase of 17.44 per cent. In an Internet age, for better or worse, foodies rely heavily on rating apps and recommendations from Social Media influencers, but the one recommendation that has held the heaviest weight for the last one hundred years is that of the Michelin Guide and its star rating system.

Culinary Stars Of Spain

A traditional view of Spanish cuisine is that it’s simple, cheap, simple food that’s wholesome and varied. However, Spain holds the fifth most Michelin stars in the world and its restaurants rank third in the world for the coveted three-star award.

The Basque Country town of San Sebastian holds the crown for the highest density of Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and is regularly named by many of the world’s top chefs as their favourite foodie destination.

In 2022 Spain boasted 226 one, two and three-starred restaurants, 38 Green Star restaurants and 232 Bib Gourmand. In 2023 the number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain has risen to 248, demonstrating the rise of Spanish gastronomy on the world stage.

The five regions in Spain with the most Michelin-starred restaurants are:

  1. Catalonia 
  2. Basque Country 
  3. Valencian Community 
  4. Madrid 
  5. Andalucia 

At the other end of the scale, Extremadura followed by Murcia and Navarre have the least. Holding the coveted three-star award in Spain in 2023 are 13 restaurants:

  • ABaC – Barcelona, Catalonia
  • Akelaŕe – San Sebastian, Basque Country
  • Aponiente – Cádiz, Andalucia
  • Arzak – San Sebastian, Basque Country
  • Atrio – Cáceres, Extremadura
  • Azurmendi – Larrabetzu, Basque Country
  • Cenador de Amós – Villaverde de Pontones, Cantabria
  • Cocina Hermanos Torres – Barcelona, Catalonia
  • DiverXO – Madrid
  • El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Catalonia
  • Lasarte – Barcelona, Catalonia
  • Martín Berasategui – Gipuzkoa, Basque Country
  • Quique Dacosta – Dénia, Valencian Community

The Dawn Of The Michelin Guide

French brothers, Andre and Edouard Michelin founded a tyre company in Clermont-Ferrand in 1889, a time when there were fewer than 3000 cars in France. As part of their marketing strategy for boosting car sales, and thereby tyre sales, they produced a little guide of handy information for drivers, such as maps, petrol stations, basic car maintenance ‘how-tos’ and a listing of places to stay for the night or eat.

In 1920 the brothers decided to overhaul the guide, abandoning paid advertising in it in favour of making it a paid publication sold for seven francs. In this new version, they introduced listings of hotels and restaurants in Paris that were categorised and they recruited a team of mystery diners to visit and review the restaurants anonymously.

The next evolution of the guide happened in 1926 when it began to award stars for fine dining, initially marking them with a single star. The new star rating systems expanded out to a hierarchy of zero, one, two and three stars in 1931 and, five years later, the criteria for the starred rankings were published.

Michelin Stars Explained

Many people know that having a Michelin star is good, but not really what the difference between one, two and three is and how the restaurant is judged or by whom. 

The original star system has three levels:

One star: High-quality cooking. Worth a stop.

Two stars: Excellent cooking. Worth a detour.

Three stars: Exceptional cuisine. Worth a special journey.

Since 2020 there is an additional Michelin Green Star award that can be gained by restaurants that display exceptional sustainability practices and this award is given independently of the other star ratings.

Michelin stars are awarded to the restaurant, not the chef, so a celebrated chef will leave the stars he or she has earned behind them when they move restaurant. Of course, they can then earn new stars in the restaurant they move to and may do so more quickly as they are familiar with what it takes to earn them.

Alongside every restaurant listed in the Guide is also a price range:

€: On a budget

€€: A moderate spend

€€€: Special occasion

€€€€: Spare no expense

There’s a myth that all Michelin restaurants are expensive however, the Bib Gourmand is an award from Michelin that is given to restaurants that fall within the € and €€ price range and offer a three-course meal comprised of a starter, main and dessert that represents high-quality cuisine at good value for the country the restaurant is in. In Spain, the bill cannot exceed €35 per person for three courses to be considered for Bib Gourmand.

How Restaurants Are Judged

woman judging macarons
Judging secrets. Credit: Image by master1305 on Freepik

Michelin inspectors apply five criteria to restaurants they visit and the criteria is identical, no matter where in the world they are:

  • One –  Quality of the ingredients used
  • Two – Mastery of cooking and culinary techniques
  • Three – Harmony of flavours
  • Four – The personality of the cuisine as expressed through the dishes
  • Fine – Consistency, across the entire menu and between visits

The role of a Michelin Inspector is shrouded in mystery and is a job about which many people exclaim they would love to be one, but nobody knows of anyone who is one and nobody knows how to spot one. 

One of the requirements of the role is to have a minimum of 10 years of experience in the restaurant or hotel industry. Applicants also need to demonstrate that they have a very fine, nuanced palate and are able to set aside any personal preferences in order to judge a restaurant objectively. Other requirements include an extensive knowledge of global culinary cultures and of produce.

The average Inspector will partake in over 250 meals a year in establishments that span the range from luxury hotel dining to bars, bistros and even street food stands. Each visit is then documented in a detailed report. All of this is done completely anonymously with tables booked under fake names and the bill paid in full personally. Far from rocking up with an imperious attitude, asking dozens of questions and making copious notes before breaking out the Michelin company credit card, the Inspectors blend in and appear to be the average customer.

2023 Michelin Rankings

Michelin’s ranking of countries with the most one, two and three stars in 2023 shows the dominance of Europe on the gastronomic scene with only two countries in the top 10 outside Europe. It may come as a surprise to some that the highest-ranking non-European country is Japan.

Top 10 Countries With Michelin Stars

  1. France: 626
  2. Japan: 414
  3. Italy: 381
  4. Germany: 329
  5. Spain: 248
  6. United States: 223 
  7. United Kingdom: 187 
  8. Belgium: 138 
  9. Switzerland: 128 
  10. Netherlands: 123 

The good news is that Spain comes fifth in the overall ranking of Michelin stars and third in the ranking of three-star establishments so exceptional dining need be no stranger to residents or visitors.

In fact, after France which always tops the Michelin rankings, Spain has the highest number of three-star restaurants and that number is growing rapidly as talented chefs explore the exceptional and diverse produce of the country.

Top 10 Countries With Most Three Stars

  1. France: 29
  2. Japan: 21
  3. Spain: 13
  4. USA:  12
  5. Italy: 10
  6. Germany: 9
  7. UK: 8
  8. Hong Kong: 7
  9. China: 5
  10. Switzerland: 4

Spain certainly proves that foodies can enjoy cheap, fresh regional cooking alongside innovative fine dining in a country where the sunshine and varied geography produce an abundance of exceptional produce.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Do remember to come back and check The Euro Weekly News website for all your up-to-date local and international news stories and remember, you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Written by

Emma Mitchell

Emma landed in journalism after nearly 30 years as an executive in the Internet industry. She lives in Bédar and her interests include raising one eyebrow, reckless thinking and talking to people randomly. If you have a great human interest story you can contact her on


    • DBath

      11 November 2023 • 17:58

      What is that in the picture?? Looks like a one-inch triangle of fabricated fish with a slice of regurgitated pickle and a single Lays frito on top – thanks, but no. I used to travel on business and could eat at any restaurant I wanted, and this is why I never chose to eat at Michelin-starred restaurants. Often times they were not among the higher rated restaurants in any given city nor was the food at these places the freshest.

    • Rico del Rio

      12 November 2023 • 22:53

      All of Spain is full of amnesty protests, millions of people, and your headline on your front page is some silly food article? No mention of the protests anywhere on the website?

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