Looking at the 2005 Edition of the AAA Guidebook, I am appalled at some of the ratings and recommendations for nearby restaurants that I'm familiar with.
In Vancouver (WA), Billigan's Roadhouse gets a two-diamond rating as does Mexican restaurant Who-Song and Larry's. Both are sub-par - not just in my opinion but those of family and friends as well. Neither establishment should have even been listed in the AAA book. For Mexican food (which is plentiful and taken seriously in the West), Chevy's (a California chain) is far superior to Who-Song and Larry's. As is local-chain Los Jalapenos. Or Casa Maria in Woodland. If you're traveling around Washington state, look for one of the many Azteca Mexican restaurants - the food and service are exceptional. And, if you yearn for roadhouse food, you can't beat the Stardust Diner in east Vancouver. For fine dining in Vancouver, try Bacchus, which isn't even listed in AAA's Guidebook.
In Portland, the Original Taco House was given a two-diamond rating. Food, service and ambiance are bottom-rung, in my opinion; this joint shouldn't even be listed. Stanford's, a mediocre and formulaic sports-themed chain, is given 2 or 3-diamond ratings, depending on location. Meanwhile, far-superior establishments, such as Salty's on the Columbia, Jake's Grill and McCormick & Schmick's only receive two diamonds. This is nuts!
Ho-hum chain restaurants like Newport Bay get a 2-D as does Sayler's Old Country Kitchen - its slogan: 'Home of the 72-ounce Steak.' From that alone, you can probably figure out what Sayler's offers - big portions of low-level fare in a low-ambiance setting. Meanwhile, the Ringside - the best steak place in Portland - gets a three-diamond rank, sharing that rating with the seriously-overpriced El Gaucho Steakhouse. (My wife refers to it as El Gouge-o.) The nearby London Grill gets the coveted four-diamond rating; it's a nice place but I've never considered it to be 4-D material. Perhaps, the rating reflects that it's inside the tony Benson Hotel. But, for me, the Esplanade at the RiverPlace Hotel is a far better 4-D choice for hotel dining, yet AAA doesn't even bother to rate it.
Is AAA on the take? Incompetent? Or careless? Beats me. I used to applaud Triple-A's objectivity. But I fear it may no longer exist. (posted 4/22/2005)