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Michelin announces its first D.C. honors: the Bib Gourmand list of affordable restaurants

Staff members prep the dim sum bar at China Chilcano, recently named a Bib Gourmand selection by Michelin. (Photo by Kate Patterson for The Washington Post)

D.C. restaurants are anxiously awaiting the Oct. 13 release of the city's first-ever Michelin Guide, but 19 of them received good news today: Michelin announced its Bib Gourmand list, a rating of the best cheap-eats in the city.

Bib Gourmand restaurants have been deemed a good value by Michelin inspectors, who frequent them “when dining off the clock,” said a press release. These are restaurants where you can get two courses and a glass of wine or a dessert for $40 or less, excluding tax and tip.

You won’t be surprised to see Bad Saint on the list.

“Oh my God! How exciting!” said co-owner Genevieve Villamora of the news. “It’s just really thrilling to be among the recognized restaurants.”

The Filipino restaurant has had a phenomenal year. In August, Bon Appetit named it the second-best new restaurant in the country. Her team probably won't do anything special to celebrate, though: “I think we’ll just prepare for service as we usually do, maybe have an extra hurrah before we open the door.”

Thip Khao, another Bib Gourmand, made Bon Appetit’s list in 2015.

Four restaurants in the José Andrés empire — China Chilcano, Jaleo, Oyamel and Zaytinya — make an appearance, as well. Such newcomers as Kyirisan and Ottoman Taverna are included, along with crowd-pleasers like the Red Hen, Maketto and Doi Moi. “I never expected any of that. I didn’t think we would even be considered because we opened so late,” said Kyirisan chef Tim Ma. “To be included in anything Michelin is an honor.”

Some selections were more popular with Michelin inspectors than with local critics. Bidwell, the restaurant at Union Market, got a lukewarm write-up from Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema, who also knocked Two Amys for “rest[ing] on its laurels” in his most recent Spring Dining Guide.

Because Michelin-reviewed restaurants tend to be more upscale, the guide’s definition of cheap eats may not align as closely with the view of some diners. Many of the Bib Gourmand restaurants serve tapas or small plates, making it possible to pay less than $40 for two dishes and a glass of wine — but you might leave a little hungry.

Being named a Bib Gourmand may be a bittersweet honor for some. A Michelin spokesperson said that Bib Gourmand restaurants don’t receive stars. Starred restaurants tend to be more formal and expensive, though cheap restaurants occasionally rise in the ranks, such as a starred food stall in Singapore.

“To get a Michelin star is something that some people work their entire lives for, so I've still got some time,” Ma said.

The tire manufacturer introduced its guide in 1900 as a way to encourage people to take road trips (and wear down their Michelin tires). Michelin inspectors, which are famously anonymous and always pay for their meals, rate restaurants on creativity, personality, ingredient quality, value and consistency, among other factors. The “Bib” in Bib Gourmand isn’t the kind of bib that protects messy eaters' shirts — actually, it’s short for Bibendum, the name of the puffy white Michelin mascot that Americans commonly refer to as the Michelin Man.

D.C. will be the fourth American city to be the subject of a current Michelin Guide, after New York, San Francisco and Chicago. Michelin previously published guides in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but it ceased evaluating both cities in 2010.

The full list is below.

D.C.’s Bib Gourmand restaurants

Bad Saint
China Chilcano
Doi Moi
Ottoman Taverna
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
Red Hen
Thip Khao

This post has been updated.

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