101 Best Restaurants in America for 2012

Great dining all over the nation

101 Best Restaurants in America for 2012
Francesco Tonelli, Arun'sThaiRestaurant, Jonathan Young
Our second annual attempt to acknowledge and rank the multitude of great restaurants.

What factors make any given restaurant that much better than another? In a country with so many great eating places to choose from, seeking out the best ones can be a daunting feat and could quite possibly inspire blood-boiling debate. Just how good is that cozy neighborhood spot with the best spaghetti and meatballs you’ve ever had? What about that impossible-to-get-into sushi bar that serves 20 perfectly executed courses to a handful of lucky diners every night? And who’s to say the best restaurant in America isn’t a barbecue place so incredible that both visitors and locals are willing to wait in line for three hours for sliced brisket and ribs? Bearing this in mind, we offer The Daily Meal's list of the 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2012.

Click here for the 101 Best Restaurants in America 2012 Slideshow.

This is our second annual attempt to acknowledge and rank the multitude of great restaurants, on every level, with which our country is blessed, and it should be noted that while a third of last year’s restaurants fell off, 68 of the places that made the cut last year also secured a spot in 2012. That turnover made room for a considerable handful of new, fresh places and familiar spots that didn't show up in 2011.

How did we come up with our list of America's best? The first step was a nomination process. An illustrious panel of judges (comprised primarily of restaurant critics, food and lifestyle writers, and assorted bloggers, from across the country) examined the list of 2011’s winners and offered nominations for new restaurants to be considered. Next, The Daily Meal's editors added their nominations, ending up with a total of 202 nominations, and prepared a survey that allowed participants to vote for their favorites.

The voting — based on cuisine, region, and a number of specific factors, including formality (of food and atmosphere), level of "buzz," and price range — narrowed the list to 101. As was the case last year, the spectrum of restaurants ranged from chef-driven neighborhood spots and avant-garde restaurants to iconic casual establishments. Each restaurant had the chance to be voted on three times during the survey. Finally, the percentage scores from each category were averaged to arrive at the final ranking.

The results were both fascinating and refreshing. Thomas Keller got knocked out of the top spot, and barely made the top five, with the French Laundry coming in at number five and Per Se falling to number seven (they placed first and second, respectively, in 2011). Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Le Bernardin took the list’s top spot — with an extensive dining room renovation and a revivified menu, the restaurant had the industry elite and devoted diners alike abuzz all year. Two newcomers to the list, Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern, both placed in the top 10 in 2012.

Geographically speaking, New York City restaurants took top billing, taking five seats in the top 10. California, especially restaurants in the areas surrounding Los Angeles and San Francisco, came in second place regionally. Citronelle topped the list for D.C. for the second year running and Alinea owned Chicago (and claimed the number two spot overall).

The regional breakdown is just as interesting. For instance, our judges deemed Franklin Barbecue (which wasn’t even on the list last year) to be the highest-ranking restaurant in the South, and Pok Pok, another newcomer to this list, was rated the best restaurant in the Northwest. Not including the restaurants that made the list from New York City (there were so many nominated that restaurants in Manhattan were divided by neighborhood in the survey), Blue Hill at Stone Barns topped the list for Northeast restaurants.

Looking at The Daily Meal’s list of 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2012 by cuisine proves less surprising. Restaurants serving American fare, both standard traditional and modern, dominated — especially those that focus on seasonal ingredients. When it comes to the list’s newer restaurants, the ones that offer an edgier (and often more casual) approach to ethnic cuisine, California was the home of the most winners.

The list includes all kinds of restaurants — there are pizza places (such as Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven, Conn., and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix), taco joints (like La Taqueria in San Francisco) and a handful of real down-home spots serving up food without frills (like Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C., and Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City, Mo.). Right beside those more casual eateries are fine dining restaurants that are constantly bringing innovation to the culinary scene, and ones that stand as iconic beacons of light that have guided the industry for decades. It appears that The New York Times' revered dining section would agree with this philosophy, given Pete Wells' review of Shake Shack this week.

You may question the final results ("Katz’s Deli is better than Next?"), and wonder aloud how on earth one restaurant made the list when it’s so clear to you that another one that didn't is much more deserving ("Ben’s Chili Bowl made it but Meadowood didn’t?"). But given the nature of the content being ranked, with restaurants and dining experiences as subjective as they are, it would be surprising if there weren't some disagreements. Please do let us know what you think we've missed or misranked, though. We'll publish a follow-up with your comments and opinions — and, hey, if you turn us on to some great places we've somehow missed, so much the better. There's always next year.

101 Best Restaurants for 2012: 

101. La Grenouille, New York City

100. Bar Masa, New York City

99. Michael Mina, San Francisco

98. The Pit, Raleigh, N.C.

97. Jitlada, Los Angeles

96. The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle

95. SriPraPhai, Queens, N.Y.

94. Jaleo, Las Vegas 

93. Charlie Trotter’s, Chicago

92. Boulevard, San Francisco

91. Stephan Pyles, Dallas

90. The Four Seasons, New York City

89. Tertulia, New York City

88. O-Ya, Boston

87. Palena Café, Washington, D.C.

86. Zahav, Philadelphia

85. Son of a Gun, Los Angeles

84. Arun's, Chicago

83. Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, D.C.

82. Casa Mono, New York City

81. The Bazaar, Los Angeles

80. La Taqueria, San Francisco

79. The Hitching Post II, Buellton, Calif.

78. Gjelina, Venice, Calif.

77. Boulud Sud, New York City

76. Ad Hoc, Yountville, Calif.

75. Father’s Office, Los Angeles

74. Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, Miami

73. McCrady's, Charleston, S.C.

72. Valentino, Santa Monica, Calif.

71. Coi, San Francisco

70. Herbfarm, Seattle

69. Beast, Portland, Ore. 

68. Al Forno, Providence, R.I.

67. Joe's Stone Crab, Miami

66. The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.

65. minibar, Washington, D.C.

64. Spago, Los Angeles

63. The Publican, Chicago

62. Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.

61. Luling City Market, Houston

60. Gotham Bar And Grill, New York City

59. Spiaggia, Chicago

58. Galatoire's, New Orleans

57. The Dutch, New York City

56. Osteria Morini, New York City

55. Mustard's Grill, Napa, Calif.

54. Fonda San Miguel, Austin, Texas

53. Roberta’s, Brooklyn, N.Y. 

52. August, New Orleans

51. Lucques, Los Angeles

50. Fig, Los Angeles

49. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven, Conn.

48. Arthur Bryant's, Kansas City, Mo.

47. Minetta Tavern, New York City

46. The Modern, New York City

45. Fearing's, Dallas

44. Locanda Verde, New York City

43. Masa, New York City

42. Slanted Door, San Francisco

41. Husk, Charleston, S.C.

40. Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas

39. Flour + Water, San Francisco

38. The Little Owl, New York City

37. Del Posto, New York City 

36. Zuni Cafe, San Francisco

35. Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va.

34. Le Bec-Fin, Philadelphia

33. Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix

32. Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas

31. Canlis, Seattle

30. Frontera Grill, Chicago

29. Bouchon Bistro, Yountville, Calif.

28. Next, Chicago

27. Katz's Deli, New York City

26. Vetri, Philadelphia

25. Animal, Los Angeles

24. WD-50, New York City

23. Girl & the Goat, Chicago

22. Commander's Palace, New Orleans

21. Marea, New York City

20. Cochon, New Orleans

19. Daniel, New York City

18. Peter Luger, Brooklyn, N.Y.

17. ABC Kitchen, New York City

16. Jean Georges, New York City

15. Franklin Barbecue, Austin, Texas

14. Babbo, New York City

13. Blue Hill Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

12. Pok Pok, Portland, Ore.

11. L'Atelier de Joël Robouchon, New York City

10. Citronelle, Washington, D.C.

9. Gramercy Tavern, New York City

8. Momofuku Ssäm, New York City

7. Per Se, New York City

6. Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles

5. French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.

4. Eleven Madison Park, New York City

3. Chez Panisse, Berkeley, Calif.

2. Alinea, Chicago

1. Le Bernardin, New York City

 

 


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23 Comments

Gastrothug's picture

Not a single Atlanta Restaurant? You need more Southern Contributors, it seems. It's kinda happening down south, you know.

beginner713's picture

Interesting post and thanks for sharing. Some things in here I have not thought about before. Thanks for making such a cool post which is really very well written. will be referring a lot of friends about this. Keep blogging
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Getting this info I am really so impressed. A big thank dude for sharing this post article. Keep it up...
live music in Houston

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Hmmm...never been to Houston I see. No Glass Wall, Underbelly, Artisan, etc...but somehow one of the worst BBQ joints in town--one that does not even make it to the top of local polls for best BBQ--gets on the list.

EbonyLotus's picture

As others have said this is not a very broad list. It focuses mainly on NY, chicago and Cali. I am very disappointed that the writer didnt take the time to even look at the great restaurants that the south has to offer. Places all over Georgia, Tennessee, Louisianna, Miss. ETC.

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Manresa is on the top pf Forbes list and not even on your 101....how can that be.

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Bertrand's Bistro in Erie, PA. We need one like it here in Pittsburgh. Good prices great food and fine service. Not always found here in this fine combo. A great view of the city from Mt Washington may not be enough.

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Bertrand's Bistro in Erie, PA. We need one like it here in Pittsburgh. Good prices great food and fine service. Not always found here in this fine combo.

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I don't mean to be disrespectful to the reporter who put this list together but being in this business, I can tell that the two from Dallas mentioned were most likely ones that he or she just googled and figured since they were big name "old school" Dallas chefs that they must warrant being on this Best Of list. I can safely say, that the two mentioned in Dallas are so far from being the best in our city. We have come a long way in dining here and to see Fearing's and Pyles listed as the best just makes me want cringe. Why would you not even take the time to research our city a bit more thoroughly? Smoke, Bolsa, Lucia, Nosh, Oak, Nonna...to name a few. Shall I go on??!! We have MUCH more current and relevant dining experiences here than ever before. Come on guys! This is clearly a thrown together and lazy list which is really too bad. From the comments I am reading above regarding other cities, it looks like whoever put this together needs to go back to the drawing board and start this all over again.

twoell76's picture

Having eaten at many of the restaurants on the 101 Best list, I have to say that I am amazed that many of them are on it. It seems as though NY, Chicago, and Los Angeles are the only good cities to eat in.
One restaurant that I recently enjoyed and that should be on this list is, "The Restaurant At Patowmack Farm" in Lovettsville, Virginia. http://www.patowmackfarm.com/Restaurant.html
They grow all of their own produce organically and the meat and seafood is fresh and locally procured. Chef Christopher Edwards does absolutely magical things with his bounty of fresh ingredients straight from the farm to your table. This Loudoun County restaurant is a must stop for anyone visiting northern Virginia and the District of Columbia.

RalphKramden's picture

This is very lazy reporting indeed. There is an American restaurant scene beyond New York, L.A., San Francisco, Chicago and Washington. I realize we're seen as a bunch of dumb farmers and factory workers in flyover country, but I'll put our food against any other region.

caseyhy400's picture

Really, there are only 3 restaurants from Texas on this list? Two barbecue joints and a Tex-Mex (that is very good), that's all Texas has that's good? Try some of the amazing places in Dallas or Houston. This list, much like last years list is a NYC, CA and Chicago guide book.

thebarbecuemaster's picture

french food is nothing but snails and butter you dont know what real food is and its bbq in texas hill country. this list is not for real people

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I am a foodie in Dallas, Texas.

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Oh Sorry you had at #88 O-Ya OMG a Japanese Nuevo California place with all the Seafood and Italian restaurants in Boston, now I know you are on crack lite

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There is not 1 restaurant on the list from Boston Mass. Who ever made this list is on crack lite.

Daforce's picture

Seriously, La taqueria in SF?!? You find the only non-Mission burrito (no rice in the burrito) place in all of SF and proclaim it king?!? Obviously you don't know good food (anyone who dislikes lamb falls immediately into that category) as this list from a 1992 Zagat's Guide shows.

And can you get any more New York-centric in your banal choices? Not even good New York places were chosen. It was almost as if you had an old Zagat's guide pinned to a dart board, blindfolded a chimpanzee with a spastic arm reflex, and gave it fistfuls of darts to throw.

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48, FORTY-EIGHT!!!, of the nation's best 101 restaurants are in either NY, LA, or Chicago?!! Come on! I'm so sick of the hype. Yes, Brooklyn and Queens are still NY to the rest of the country.

I've eaten at many of these restaurants and while good, many are not great (i.e. Commander's Palace, Joe's Stone Crab).

I love love love anything that Robuchon does. He is a WORLD CLASS restauranteur, not to be placed behind a deli or barbeque joint.

I'm from Houston, the most underrated culinary city in the nation. Do you really expect me to swallow that the best you could do for Houston was a barbeque joint? Did you even try Mark's? Da Marco's? Arturo's? Reef? Pappa's Bros. Steakhouse? Or did you just read the New York Times?

Atlanta! Have you heard of it? Wonderful dining scene.

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I've been to eight of the restaurants that were on the list last year but have been dropped this year. They are:

Lotus of Siam
Guy Savoy
Reef
Eugene
Fore Street
L2O
Moto
Quinones at Bacchanalia

I thought Lotus of Siam was good but wasn't sure it deserved a ranking it in the top 101.

My meal at Guy Savoy was very disappointing. The service was mediocre and the price was excessive for what I got. I'm happy to see they were dropped.

Reef and Fore Street both were noisy bars with seafood menus. They were OK but I was surprised they were on your list.

I had a fine meal at Eugene and a somewhat better meal at Bacchanalia. I'm surprised you dropped both of them.

My meal at L2O was just OK. I was disturbed by the servers as they wheeled around the boxes they use for storage near the tables and I wasn't blown away by the food.

I was blown away by Moto. I don't understand why it's been dropped from the list. I found it to be very creative and a wonderful dining experience. And while I'm on the subject of Chicago restaurants, in my opinion, Alinea deserves the top spot on your list. I'd put minibar as number two and Per Se as number three. Le Bernardin is OK but I certainly don't think it's better than Alinea, minibar or Per Se or a number of other restaurants on your list.

I had previously been to three restaurants that you added this year. They are:

Eleven Madison Park
Charlie Trotter’s
Jaleo Las Vegas

Eleven Madison Park (also better than Le Bernardin, in my opinion) and Charlie Trotter's both belong on your list. I don't think that the Las Vegas Jaleo does but e by Jose Andres, which is in a back room of Jaleo, certainly does. If you're putting Jaleo on your list for that reason you should be more specific.

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It's interesting to me that there are more NYC restaurants in the top 10 alone than in all of New England. o ya is the only Boston restaurant to make the list, and pretty far down at that? And nothing in Portland? I think the same complaints can be made in the Southeast, where if you don't include New Orleans or Texas (and I won't), you have only 6 restaurants included (nothing in Atlanta? Birmingham? Oxford, MS? Only 2 in Charleston? Only 1 in the Triangle?) . Five and Ten, Lantern, City Grocery, Magnolia Grill, FIG, Hominy Grill, Catbird Seat, Restaurant Eugene, Highlands Bar and Grill, Hot and Hot Fish Club...just a few off the top of my head. I think people more familiar with the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, heck even Vegas) could bring up some similar questions. I realize a big part of the problem is that the judges have to have eaten at these places (I would hope), and I don't anticipate the judges looking over the list in the link to have eaten at a place like, say, the Catbird Seat, at this point, but I think that's the problem. It seems that you need a little more regional variability in the judges you've chosen.

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The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare should be in the top 5 of this list. It is one of the country's most unique and enjoyable dining experiences.

Your ranking is a bit puzzling. Although I am a big pizza fan and have enjoyed Frank Pepe's clam pies, there are certainly much better pizzerias in the country. And, to put a pizzeria above, say, a place like Zahav in Philly, is a mistake.

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So I'm guessing you meant to put in City Market in Luling, TX, not Luling City Market in Houston. If not, then wow.

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People in Houston will be surprised to learn that the only place there to make the list is a mediocre BBQ place!

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