Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 795 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 5700 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Gil’s Rating System

Ming Dynasty, my highest rated Chinese restaurant in New Mexico.

Ming Dynasty, one of Albuquerque's very best Asian restaurants

In rating restaurants, I use a 1-30 rating system similar to the Zagat Southwest Restaurant Survey, however, unlike Zagat, I don’t survey anyone.  Although I once rated each restaurant for the quality of food (taste and portion), atmosphere, and service, my primary consideration has always been whether or not the meal or aperitif pleases my pedantic palette. Therefore, I no longer rate a restaurant’s atmosphere or service, although they will be mentioned where warranted.

In all fairness, I won’t rate the quality of a restaurant’s food until I’ve dined there at least two times (except for far-away restaurants which are more difficult to visit frequently) although you can probably tell from my comments what rating would have been accorded.

You will also note a tremendous number of restaurants categorized as “Closed”, many having stopped serving their patrons because they couldn’t survive the onslaught of corporate chains and the competition from casinos.  Many new restaurants open with great fanfare only to be consumed by competition–about 80% of restaurants headed by people with little experience in the industry will fail within the first three years.  In Albuquerque, that percentage may be even higher.  Those restaurants which do survive, however, warrant your patronage if not loyalty.

My rail against corporate restaurants and their copycat food could occupy an entire Web site, but insofar as 21st century dining in America is concerned, I might be in the minority.  To me, diners flocking to new franchised restaurants bring to mind a certain piper’s followers–or at least the behavior painted in the clever limerick below:

An epicure dining at Cree
Found a rather large mouse in his stew.
Said the waiter, “Don’t shout,
Or wave it about,
Or the rest will be wanting one too

It’s not even as though American diners are held captive by the exclusivity of corporate restaurants.  In many cases, far superior mom and pop restaurants exist, albeit usually without the loud ambiance,almost inordinate variety, huge portions and low prices provided by well bankrolled franchises. It’s no wonder nearly so many new restaurants close.

Throughout this blog, I postulate with some degree of cynicism that many Albuquerque diners are sheep-like in their docile loyalty to corporate chains, but the truth is they’re more akin to Pavlov’s dogs.  Madison Avenue jingles and commercials make them salivate at the thought of the latest offering from Olive Garden and that ilk.  The thought of trying something new, different and non-chain doesn’t cross their minds and if it did, the heretical concept would be quickly dismissed with apologies to their favorite chain.  Their loss!

Adventurous chowhounds daring enough to deviate (gasp) from the well-beaten path to the nearest chain frequently discover real gems–those remarkable family-owned restaurants whose arsenal in the competition for hungry diners consists of reasonable portions of great meals at reasonable prices.  For these mom and pop restaurants, word of mouth is crucial to survival and through this bully pulpit, I’ll do my best to extol the great value and virtue of supporting local restaurants.

I should also mention that one of the core values espoused by my place of business is “risk-taking”, a value I practice in ordering meals as well as in performing my job.  Generally ordering the most adventurous sounding entries offered, a world of epicurean delights has been opened to me.  It baffles me that otherwise intelligent co-workers won’t try anything more adventurous than meat and potatoes and company outings tend to be held at such establishments as Chili’s and Applebee’s.

Before traveling I scour the internet for information on the “best of” restaurants at my destination.  There are two particularly good frames of reference I use–Chowhound.comin which savvy diners who have blazed the trails in pursuit of gustatory treasures post their findings for us all to benefit from; and, the wonderful Web site of Michael and Jane Stern, America’s foremost experts on dining as an American cultural event.

I find it tragically funny that in such “sophisticated” cities as Phoenix and Las Vegas, diners select Olive Garden as the best Italian restaurant (what’s next, Denny’s for having the best American cuisine?).  Sometimes I question the opinions of restaurant critics (and their supposedly more didactic palates), but I’d rather put my money on them than on the trough-diving mentality of some American diners.

Here’s my 1-30 scale:

26-30: A rare jewel; an outstanding dining experience; more than food–it’s edible art; among the best in the country.

20-25: Very Good to Excellent; always high quality; you can’t go wrong; a difficult rating to achieve.

15-19: Good to Very Good; where most restaurants land.

10-14: Good to Fair; fortunately not too many restaurants in Albuquerque land in this rating space

1-9: Place skull and crossbones image on the door and have the food hauled away to the WIP (Waste Isolation Project Plant) site.


* An asterisk (*) denotes my first review (not necessarily first visit) of a restaurant.  I use this symbol when reviewing Albuquerque and Albuquerque area restaurants, but will rate restaurants elsewhere even after only one visit.

$$$$: Expect to pay $75 or more for two (excluding adult beverages).

$$$: Expect to pay $50 – $75 or more for two (excluding adult beverages).

$$: Expect to pay $25 – $50 or more for two (excluding adult beverages).

$: Expect to pay under $25 for two persons.

I have yet to dine at a “perfect” 30 restaurant but would rate a dining experience at such an ideal as absolutely flawless with uncompromising standards and an obvious commitment on the restaurant’s part to providing a dining experience I would want to repeat over and over again.  Obviously the food would have to be more than good; it would have to tantalize, titillate, enrapt my taste buds with every morsel.  Every facet of the meal would have to be like a well synchronized and beautiful ballet in which each course is a prelude to the next and leaves you lusting for the next bite.  I’ve rated some restaurants in the high 20s and some of them were nearly of the “30″ caliber.

If a 1-30 rating system doesn’t make sense to you, the following guide might help.  I essentially multiplied each numeric rating by 3.3 to arrive at a more traditional 100 point rating system.  Using that multiplier, a restaurant rated 30 would translate to a perfect (or as close to it as possible) 99.9 points which rounds up to 100.  I also show what a 1-10 equivalent rating would be.

30 = 99.9 (100) 10 19 = 62.7 (63) 6
29 = 95.7 (96) 18 = 69.4 (60)
28 = 92.4 (92) 9 17 = 56.1 (56)
27 = 89.1 (89) 16 = 52.8 (53) 5
26 = 85.8 (86) 15 = 49.5 (50)
25= 82.5 (83) 8 14 = 46.2 (47)
24 = 79.2 (79) 13 = 42.9 (43) 4
23 = 75.9 (76) 12 = 39.6 (40)
22 = 72.6 (73) 7 11 = 36.3 (36)
21 = 69.3 (69) 10 = 33.3 (33) 3
20 = 66.0 (66)    
  • Jon C says:

    I note that La Choza and the Shed have different $$$ amounts
    The shed is $$ La Choza is $$$ since they are sister resturants
    I would think they would be the same. Looking
    forward to one or the other. How come no Tomasitas? Thats’ where
    I usually go.
    Best, Jon

    September 18, 2008 at 8:16 PM
  • fibergal says:

    So why did you take down your top rated list? The ‘Best of’ really helped me find some treasures I had been driving by and I wasn’t finished with it.

    December 10, 2008 at 2:31 AM
  • Larry McGoldrick says:

    Hey, Gil. I just reread your rating system.

    About 40-50 miles west of DC in the rolling Virginia countryside sits a place that I would consider a perfect 30 — The Inn at Little Washington. Best dining I’ve ever had anyplace in the world. I have eaten there three times and stayed there once.

    I know a lot of words. I am, however, at a loss to describe the experience of this place. Save your shekels and go there sometime.


    September 25, 2009 at 2:26 PM
  • Pdeason says:

    We are headed to the balloon fiesta for the second time. Found your web site and and TRUSTing that you know good food. We’re planning to eat at several you have reviewed. Is there any one place that you would recommend as an absolute must to eat at in the area?

    September 29, 2009 at 7:27 AM
  • Sue Brown says:

    Hey haven’t you tried Chillz Frozen Custard yet? You’re right about people in Albuquerque never trying anything new. I’m from WI where custard stands abound. It’s fabulous! I hope you try it soon. It’s across from UNM on Central

    November 29, 2009 at 5:28 PM
  • Jim Millington says:

    In writing about the high praise for Olive Garden among so many diners in large cities you asked “what’s next, Denny’s for having the best American cuisine?” It didn’t quite get down to Denny’s level but the highest rated restaurant in Los Lunas (the home of the Luna Mansion) is Village Inn according to Trip Advisor. At the time I drove through Show Low AZ in ’08 the highest rated actually was Denny’s but we went to Fiesta anyway. A little sense has intruded and Fiesta is now No. 1 and Denny’s has fallen to a lowly 6th.

    April 18, 2011 at 11:21 AM
  • Elaine Markley says:

    Gil, FYI, it’s WIPP for Waste Isolation Project Plant. ;)

    January 26, 2012 at 9:44 AM

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