Rating System

Further Information about Restaurants’ Ratings, Cost Categories, and Other Details Reported in the Reviews



star 5 21-30
star 4 18-20
star 3 15-17
star 2 10-14
star 1 1-9

Restaurant Ratings (1-30 Point System):

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).

The most important factor used in the restaurant rating is the food, although other factors also come into play. The ambiance of the restaurant is of little consequence unless I believe it affects the enjoyment of the food. For instance, if they have plastic utensils and paper plates this would only be a factor if I think this makes me enjoy the food less (very subjective, but sometimes it becomes important). Chinese restaurants that do not have chopsticks or ethnic restaurants that do not have the appropriate drinks to go with the food are definitely subject to a lower rating because of this. A fine dining setting and higher class service do not necessarily increase a restaurant’s rating, but the reverse of this (poor service, etc.) would make a difference if it affects how I enjoy the food.

The hardest aspect of a restaurant to factor is comparing different food items. Other food writers on the Internet seem to be like me in valuing high quality “fast food” items as much as more fancy dishes if the result is something we sincerely enjoy. For me, though, a restaurant with very good quality tacos, hamburgers, fried fish, etc. might be rated up to about 25 points, but a higher rating would probably be reserved for more complex and finely prepared dishes.

The main or most popular dish served in a restaurant counts the most toward its rating, but I let others count as well (especially if these are the ones I list as the “Best Items”).

If the best items I try are seasonal dishes or weekly specials, this will cause a partial raising of the rating (but not a full raising unless I am fairly sure that other diners can have the same type of experience I had).


Star Rating of Individual Food Items (1-5 Stars)

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-stars 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.

The following are some points I wish to make about the individual item ratings:

  • A five star rating for an item only means that if given to the majority of items, it would be enough to give the restaurant a score of 21 points (which is not extremely high on the Zagat scale). At the same time this item may be the best one I ever ate, so this just means that five stars is a fairly broad category.
  • Four star items for the most part are items with good quality but they do not have a flavor that I would consider five stars. I also use this for items with minor flaws or for any reason that I just do not want to say that something should be five stars.
  • The other end of the scale (one or two stars) would include items that I did not think were good quality, but the rating may be for other reasons as well (the food was cold, they left something out, I did not like the flavor, etc.).



(Per Person)
(Per Person)
$$$$ Over $24 Over $18
$$$ $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.

Note Dec. 2017: These cost categories clearly need to be updated, but I have not done so yet. In the meantime I have been making adjustments so that restaurants are in the same categories that they would have been in 2007 relative to other restaurants.


chile 5 Very Hot. Probably too hot, unless you’re used to it.
chile 4 Hot. Hot, as found in most El Paso and New Mexico restaurants
chile 3 Medium Hot. Has a little bit of a bite.
chile 2 Medium. A little bit of flavor, but not much spiciness.
chile 1 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).