The rating system is based on the Zagat Guides, which use a 1 to 30 point rating system. I originally calibrated it based on the Zagat Seattle Guide, but I do not claim to use the same methodology as Zagat or to judge restaurants the same way (only that I use the same rating system).
Individual food items also have star ratings on my reviews. Because of this I have made a rough comparison of star ratings with the Zagat ratings (such as five-star being a Zagat rating of 21 to 30). Restaurants are weighted a little more toward their main or most popular dishes counting toward the (1-30) final rating, but in the end it is an average of all the factors I think are important. I did look at several Zagat rated restaurants in Seattle, try to determine what factors contributed to their ratings, and do the same with my reviews. While the rating of a restaurant can be used as a tool, I try to provide much more information in the reviews about different aspects of the restaurant (so that the rating is not the whole story).
$$$$ Over $24 Over $18 $$$ $16 to $23 $13 to $17 $$ $9 to $15 $8 to $12 $ $8 and under $7 and under
Dollar amounts are for the food, excluding tax and tip. They include a drink such as tea, but not alcoholic beverages. Normally I do not order the most expensive item on the menu, and I do not use this item as the cost basis. There are exceptions, though, such as when the most expensive item is the restaurant’s claim to fame (at a steakhouse you would probably want to order steak).
The most difficult aspect of the cost index is keeping up with inflation. I made my last adjustment in 2007. I am now finding it almost impossible to find $ rated restaurants, although if there is some doubt (such as ordering a lower priced item rather than a more expensive one) I will give the restaurant a cheaper cost estimate rather than a more expensive one.
Very Hot. Probably too hot, unless you’re used to it. Hot. Hot, as found in most El Paso and New Mexico restaurants Medium Hot. Has a little bit of a bite. Medium. A little bit of flavor, but not much spiciness. Mild. Pretty much like tomato sauce.
The chile index is my own system used to describe the spiciness level at Mexican restaurants. Four chiles is the standard level I find in El Paso and most New Mexico restaurants. Five chiles is for the most extreme restaurants that I think are not trying to appeal to a mass audience (including, it seems, most New Mexicans). Almost everyone I know can eat at the “four chile” restaurants, but only a few appreciate the “five chile” spice level.
Knowing that almost everyone who comes to El Paso can eat the four star level, it pains me that so many restaurants around the country use a one or two chile spice level (usually by changing the ingredients and not using real chile). Still, I just want readers to know where restaurants stand.
My rating is usually for the enchiladas, and usually for the authentic enchiladas (many restaurants have both the “authentic” and the “gringo” kind). If other items are more spicy than this I will state so in the write-up.
I do not try to use a chile index for Thai restaurants or similar cuisine because customers can choose their own spice level. With Mexican food, the sauces usually just come one way (if not, I will usually use this rating to “warn” readers about the hotter sauce, although usually I find the hot sauce to be the best tasting).
Accessible: The main factor that goes into the “yes” or “no” rating is whether you go to a restaurant expecting for it to be accessible, and you can either get inside the building to eat or not. A “no” rating could be because of no handicapped parking, no ramps, ramps being blocked, or a number of factors. I will report as many potential problems as I find, but this does not mean I will find everything (readers can also report their own experiences).
MSG: I think I am one of the most sensitive people to MSG, and I have an information item in the Asian restaurant reviews for this. A “yes” does not mean you will get MSG in the food, only that you may need to make a special request to have it omitted. My body seems to be very accurate in spotting when restaurants “lie” to me and use MSG when they say they do not (although of course it is possible they do not know). I also try to get information from the restaurant about whether they use MSG (most of the time I take their word for it unless I have some reason to think otherwise).