Last year, Bon Appétit, the gold standard in gourmand magazines, again named San Francisco the top city for dining out, and the New York Times then announced that San Francisco has the highest number of restaurants per capita in the nation 3,588, according to health-department records; one for every 227 residents.
But to the great chagrin of San Francisco and to the great embarrassment of the Gray Lady in fact, Durango has more restaurants per capita than its coastal foe.
According to the San Juan Basin Health Department, there are 357 food service establishments in La Plata County or one eatery per every 143.7 of its 51,334 residents.
But using countywide data actually understates the number of restaurants per capita in Durango.
Mike Meschke, the local health departments director of environmental health, said there were fewer than two-dozen restaurants outside Durango city limits which means that there is one food establishment per every 51 of Durangos 16,887 inhabitants.
But Meshcke warned that food establishments include grocery stores, convenience stores, schools and restaurants.
Meschke said there were about 140 full-service, fast-food, short-order and complex-menu restaurants in Durango.
Even when using this more conservative figure, there turns out to be one restaurant per every 120.6 Durangoans, a ratio that puts San Franciscos one for every 227 residents to unambiguous shame.
On the Durango Area Tourism Offices website, this fact is trumpeted with understandable heraldry.
John Cohen, director of the tourism office, said Durango first started claiming it had more restaurants per capita than San Francisco a long time ago. Then we kept saying it because we liked saying it but we didnt know if it was right.
Cohen said he was scared when The Denver Post came in a few years back, and did the math. Luckily it turned out to be right.
Laurie Armstrong, director of media relations for the San Francisco Travel Association, remembers the story differently.
Its funny for years and years, we claimed that we had more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States. Then a few years ago, I got one phone call I believe from someone in the Durango Tourist Bureau wanting to do their due diligence, said Armstrong.
We did the math, and it turned out that Durango really did have more restaurants than we do. So we had to change our materials to say that we had the most restaurants per capita of any major city, she said.
Over the last five years, dozens of towns have claimed (often spuriously) to have more restaurants than San Francisco including Dallas; Wichita, Kan.; Madison, Wis.; Washington, D.C.; Shreveport, La; Lafayette, La.; New Orleans; Myrtle Beach, S.C.,; Fairfield, Iowa; Portland, Ore.; Portland, Maine; and Louisville, Ky.
Armstrong said she does not think that losing the title of most restaurants per capita to Durango had diminished San Franciscos luster.
In San Francisco, were famous not just for the quantity of our restaurants but their quality. When we see lists of the best dining cities in world, were up there with Paris and Tokyo, she said.
Though Armstrong recounted Durangos triumph over San Francisco with admirable sangfroid, she did point out in the spirit of municipal competition that you may have more restaurants per capita than San Francisco, but how many of them are Michelin starred?
To chefs and restaurateurs, being awarded a Michelin star the first and last word in culinary excellence is the gastronomic equivalent of winning a Nobel Prize.
No restaurants in Durango, Colorado, or indeed the Southwest, are currently Michelin starred. San Francisco, by comparison, has 47 Michelin-starred restaurants, the most per capita of any American city, and the 12th most worldwide.
Kyoto, Japan, with a population just shy of 1.5 million, has 136 Michelin-starred restaurants, making it the leader in Michelin-recognized restaurants per capita.
But Pete Meersman, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association, disputes that Durango lacks world-class restaurants.
You live in my favorite place in Colorado its a great restaurant town regardless, he said.
Meersman would not name his favorite Durango restaurant on the record, citing Switzerland as the example of neutrality that his job obliged him to emulate.
Karen Barger, owner of Seasons Rotisserie & Grill on Main Avenue, agreed that Durango is an internationally respected culinary Arcadia.
Weve had customers from China, Germany, France, Italy, Lebanon. While I prefer to live in a town like Durango over San Francisco, our restaurant could stand up in San Francisco, as could a number of restaurants in Durango, Barger said.
For the size of our town, we have amazing, amazing choices for an amazing range of food, said Barger.
In December, Smart Money magazine even featured Durango in an article titled Retire Here, Not There: Colorado, which named four less-known havens for living the Rocky Mountain high life. It cited Durango as a destination for the small-town foodie and noted Oprahs former personal chef opened a restaurant here called The Palace.
Cohen said bragging that Durango has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco is central to Durangos cultural cachet.
When we say that we have more restaurants per capita than San Francisco, people go, Ohhhh! It gets a real, surprised, positive reaction, Cohen said. Were a foodie destination, and we have a lot of great restaurants. People who food is important to, it does shape their travel plans.
Cohen hurried to add that the comparison is a compliment to San Francisco. Its known for being a great restaurant town.