As Twitter fans and newswire followers know, I am 5280’s new restaurant critic—and I couldn’t be more excited about the post. My first review appears in the magazine’s July issue, set to hit newsstands later this week. In it, readers will see that we’ve been up to more than just eating out and writing about it: We’ve also changed our star rating system. Denver restaurants now have the opportunity to earn a maximum of five stars (5280 previously used a four-star system), yet it will be harder than ever to earn those stars.
For decades, bona fide restaurant reviews were reserved for fine-dining establishments. Today, however, some of the nation’s most celebrated chefs are opening burger counters and taco bars that are just as important to review as any dining room with a 50-page wine list. At 5280, we realized it was time for a change, and this greater number of stars befits an era with a greater range of reviewable concepts. Under this five-star system, the pizza parlor of a top-notch chef may serve flawless pies, but might max out at three stars for having neither table service nor a bar program. Its white tablecloth cousin—with impeccable food of its own, a dedicated sommelier, and hand blown decanters—has the opportunity to earn all five.
What does this mean in everyday terms? If a well-travelled food friend with a discerning palate visited Denver for 36 hours and asked me where he should eat, I would suggest any place with a new rating of three stars or greater. Whether I would nudge my friend toward Pinche Tacos or Frasca Food and Wine would depend on a variety of personal factors, but I’d recommend with confidence anything on the upper half of our revised scale.
This isn’t to say that restaurants that earn one or two stars aren’t recommendable. With only 12 monthly issues a year, being selected for a 5280 review is alone a nod to being among the best of the best. But a one- or two-star report card means that there is great room for improvement. I might suggest a two-star restaurant if my visiting friend had an entire week to dine around town.
In this way, readers can think of 5280’s five stars like this:
One Star: An overrated restaurant with a significant number of flaws to consider.
Two Stars: A restaurant with good potential but notable areas for improvement.
Three Stars: An entirely recommendable restaurant.
Four Stars: Among the very best establishments in Denver.
Five Stars: A nearly unparalleled restaurant.
When it comes to earning these stars, Denver chefs, servers, restaurant architects, sommeliers, maître d’s, and bartenders are victims of their own success. There are a handful of Denver and Boulder restaurants that offer meals every bit as memorable as celebrated restaurants in other cities, and so I’ll be looking at local establishments through this more unforgiving national lens.
We know you’ll have questions, and we encourage you to ask away. In fact, on Monday, July 1 at 2 p.m., food editor Amanda M. Faison and I will host a live chat to cover this change and any other food-related topics that interest you. Whether you want to talk about the five-star system, the difference between service and hospitality (and the critical importance of both), how many times I visit a restaurant before writing about it, or the late, great Craig Claiborne, I hope you’ll join us.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock.