There’s no American equivalent to France’s famed Guide Michelin, with its much coveted star ratings of restaurants and recommendations of hotels. Michelin itself does publish guides to Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City and Westchester County, and California as a whole (a Las Vegas edition was discontinued in 2009) — but ignores the rest of the nation.
There is one hotel and restaurant guide that spans the country, however, and also rates places in Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean (which are likewise bereft of Michelin coverage). It’s the Diamond Program listings, run by AAA — officially the American Automobile Association, but commonly known as “Triple-A.”
The organization, a lobbying and automotive and travel service federation of automobile clubs, began its Diamond Program more than 80 years ago. It sends inspectors all over North America to conduct in-person anonymous evaluations of restaurants and hotels, awarding one of four designations to those deemed worthy — Approved, Three Diamond, Four Diamond, and Five-Diamond.
The inspectors’ recommendations are reviewed by a panel of experts, and all Diamond Program establishments are re-evaluated annually. Some 60,000 hotels and restaurants are included in the AAA assessments, of which almost 2,000 fail to meet the basic requirements each year.
To qualify for the top-of-the-line Five Diamond rating, a restaurant must offer “Leading-edge cuisine, ingredients and preparation with extraordinary service and surroundings.” Not surprisingly, this definition encompasses a number of what other sources also consider to be the best restaurants in America.
AAA has just announced its annual Diamond Awards for North America, adding five new restaurants to the Five Diamond category. There are now 67 restaurants with that designation (along with 119 hotels). The eating places making their debut on the list this year are Smyth in Chicago, SingleThread Farm – Restaurant – Inn in Healdsburg (in California’s Sonoma County wine country), Providence in Los Angeles, Le Baccara in Gatineau (in Québec, Canada), and Ha’ in Mexico’s Playa del Carmen.
This list isn’t very democratic. The vast majority of the restaurants included serve French or modern American food. Mexico and Italy are represented only occasionally, and Asian cuisines are honored mostly as accents at more eclectic places. Many of the restaurants are in hotels, and many of them serve only multi-course tasting menus, sometimes costing hundreds of dollars per person. (These are the kinds of places, in other words, where diners should certainly consider observing dining out etiquette rules that should come back.)
While it may lack a certain kind of variety, however, the AAA roster of Five Diamond establishments includes many of the very finest places to eat on our continent. They’re arranged here alphabetically by state for the U.S., followed by listings for Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico.