There are some 200,000 full-service restaurants in America, so it’s no small task to determine the best ones. A storied Northern California palace of perfection? A counter in Brooklyn where an intimate 24-course tasting menu is prepared by a moody chef? A Texan 'cue shop that sells out of brisket the moment it opens? What factors make one restaurant better than another? Can you compare a roadside burger joint with an urban fine-dining restaurant whose theme changes every few months? And how do all these restaurants stack up against each other in a list of the 101 best? "Best restaurant" lists are tricky, but answering these questions is what the third annual list of The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in America sets out to do.
View Slides: 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2013
How did we arrive at this list? It wasn’t easy. We put together our first 101 list, in 2011, with a simple criterion: Where did we, The Daily Meal’s editors, like to eat? Accounting for our mood, budget, and where we happen to be when we get hungry, how would we vote — not with our critical faculties, but with our mouths and wallets? Where would we send friends? We devised a list of 150 places from every part of America, and argued, advocated, and cajoled on behalf of restaurants ranging from old-fashioned to avant-garde, ultra-casual to super-fancy. We categorized selections, invited an illustrious panel of judges (mostly restaurant critics, food and lifestyle writers, and bloggers) from across America to help order the restaurants via an anonymous survey, then tallied results to assemble a ranked list. We repeated that process in 2012, considering 2011’s winners and nominees, and suggestions from judges and readers, ending up with 202 nominations.
Read More: 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2012
Read More: 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2011
But it’s getting harder every year to winnow down nominees to even the 202-restaurant master list we begin with. That’s partly because the quality and variety of restaurants across America is constantly improving. Note that in addition to winners and nominees from the previous two years, we considered readers’ suggestions and canvassed what we’re proud to note was an even more impressive panel of judges (174 esteemed panelists) for nominations. We’re proud to note that this year we considered more restaurants from an even more geographically diverse area than ever. A list of 303 nominees was narrowed to 202, then voted on by the panel and our staff, with each restaurant getting the chance to be selected three times on the basis of location, type of cuisine, and factors of price, level of "buzz," formality of food and atmosphere, classic status, and epic meal experience offered.
The results were thought-provoking and contentious — and, incidentally, definitely got us thinking about how we’ll continue our commitment to coming up with the best list possible for years to come (this is, of course, a work in progress).
As for 2013, chef Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, first place in 2011 but dethroned in 2012, reclaimed number-one restaurant status, knocking last year's number one Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin — to third place. Not everything was peachy for Keller, though — his New York outpost Per Se fell for a second year, 10 spots to 17th place. There were other significant drops from the top 10. Both chef Grant Achatz’s Alinea and Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse fell to 14th and 15th places respectively, and Osteria Mozza fell to 22nd place. They made way for the Girl & the Goat, ABC Kitchen, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Babbo. Other restaurants fell further, like Grant Achatz’s theme-shifting Next, down 22 spots, and the Seattle classic Canlis, plummeting 57 rungs. Meanwhile, among other rises, Chicago’s The Publican surged 28 spots and Portland, Ore.’s Beast climbed 35.
There were 34 first-year restaurants, places that hadn't made the list before. Eight restaurants — Bern's, Clio, CUT, Fore Street, Frasca, Guy Savoy, Hominy Grill, and Rasika — returned from our inaugural list after falling off in 2012. There were 55 restaurants that returned from 2012, and 46 restaurants have been on the list all three years.
We try hard to represent a wide geographical spread, but the fact is that there are "food towns" around the country — Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Portland (both Oregon and Maine), San Francisco, and a few others, including (grumble away) New York City — where many of the best restaurants seem to be congregated, at least sometimes because talented chefs and restaurateurs from other regions gravitate to there. There are some 71 urban areas in the U.S. with populations of 500,000 and above, and while they’re all full of restaurants, does each of these have one or two places that can really be compared with the best America has to offer? Maybe. But probably not.
We’re all for regional pride, but the question we’d encourage panelists (and readers) in areas that seem underrepresented to ask themselves is: Is the restaurant I love here something I’d recommend people make a special trip here to experience? The answer to that question would be yes for most if not all of the top-ranking restaurants that made 2013’s 101 best list, whether they’re gastronomic shrines or just iconic local institutions that happen to do a certain thing better than anyone else.
That being said, in the jostle for positioning, the list’s most prominent regions did lose spots to a more geographically diverse group of winners in 2013. While the top 20 spots were still dominated by New York, these fell from 12 to 11 and overall, New York City’s 28 spots in 2012 fell to 26 restaurants in 2013. Similarly, California dropped from 24 winners to 20, and Chicago slipped to seven finalists. Restaurants from 22 states and Washington, D.C. are represented in 2013, up from 19 and D.C. in 2012. The newcomers were Hawaii, Mississippi, and Ohio; cities not previously represented include Honolulu, Oxford, and Cleveland.
While winners from the East and West Coasts dropped, there were more restaurants from Florida, Las Vegas, and South Carolina. This year’s regional breakdown featured 39 restaurants on the East Coast, 25 on the West Coast and Pacific, 16 in the South, 13 in the Southwest, and eight in the Heartland. Gramercy Tavern, The French Laundry, Cochon, Joël Robuchon, and Girl & the Goat took top billing in their respective regions.We’re all for regional pride, but the question we’d encourage panelists (and readers) in areas that seem underrepresented to ask themselves is: Is the restaurant I love here something I’d recommend people make a special trip here to experience?
In terms of cuisine, restaurants serving American fare, standard, traditional, and modern, dominated. French cuisine held steady after a dramatic fall in 2012. Asian restaurants increased after a dip last year, and Italian restaurants, which have climbed by a third since 2011, surged again. Perhaps most noticeably, the number of avant-garde restaurants on the list nearly doubled. Does this list represent a rise in quality and innovation at restaurants outside some of America’s biggest cities or the falling off of the same things at places in them? Can we finally say that Italian, Asian, and avant-garde cuisines have stuck a fork in French cuisine? Hard to say, given that The French Laundry tops this list. These questions are up for debate. Can you look forward to more liquid nitrogen and agar-agar in your food? Probably.
There were winners that will be certain to infuriate detractors and inspire advocates. In its first year on the list, Shake Shack’s claim to the 11th spot (above Jean-Georges, Daniel, Alinea, Chez Panisse, Del Posto, and Per Se) will likely anger more than In-N-Out lovers. Less controversial were additions of Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, é by José Andrés, The NoMad, The Restaurant at Meadowood, Sushi Yasuda, The Catbird Seat, and Benu. Food media and culinarian favorites Mission Chinese, Torrisi, Underbelly, Stella!, and Yardbird likely also won’t set off too many arguments. But hey, it’s not like best restaurant lists are a subjective thing, right?
Joking aside, this list includes every kind of restaurant you could imagine. Besides burger joints, taquerias, and noodle shops, there are "molecular" and tasting-menu restaurants like WD-50, Alinea, and Next rubbing shoulders with steak houses like the venerable Bern's and cult favorites like Xi’An Famous Foods, known for tingly lamb face salad.
You may question the results ("La Taqueria is better than minibar? Geez, El Farolito is better than La Taqueria!"). You may ask how many of the restaurants our editors and panelists visited (most). Some listed restaurants may even drive you mad with knowledge that your firsthand experience positions you to better order this list, or replace a number of winners with places you think are more deserving ("Where’s Manresa?"), but given the nature of what’s being ranked, it would be surprising if there weren’t disagreements. Indeed, there were places we were pulling for that didn’t cut it. Please let us know what you think we missed or misranked — we do read your comments even if we don’t always agree with them. As we have every year, we’ll publish a follow-up with your comments — and hey, if you turn us on to places we missed, so much the better.
We think our list turned out well. The quality and sheer diversity of menus and cuisines at the restaurants on this list and the hundreds of others that almost, but didn’t quite, make the cut demonstrate there are some really exciting cooks in America, chefs who are raising the bar to a level this country has never seen. For that we salute the hard-working people who make dining out in America a truly rewarding adventure. We’d also like to sincerely thank our panelists for helping us (check out the full list here). You can be certain that we will continue to sign up more trusted panelists and refine the process by which we make our choices. What will the next 101 installment bring? You’ll find out on The Daily Meal.
101 Best Restaurants for 2013
101. Lola, Cleveland
100. Rasika, Washington, D.C.
99. Providence, Los Angeles
98. Stella!, New Orleans
97. Benu, San Francisco
96. The Four Seasons Restaurant, New York City
95. minibar, Washington, D.C.
94. Fearing's, Dallas
93. Sushi Yasuda, New York City
92. Woodshed Smokehouse, Fort Worth, Texas
91. The Catbird Seat, Nashville, Tenn.
90. Underbelly, Houston
89. Congress, Austin
88. Canlis, Seattle
87. The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.
86. Dahlia Lounge, Seattle
85. Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, Las Vegas
84. Al Forno, Providence, R.I.
83. Jaleo, Las Vegas
82. Michael's Genuine, Miami
81. Fore Street, Portland, Maine
80. The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.
79. City Grocery, Oxford, Miss.
78. Al Di La, Brooklyn, N.Y.
77. Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix
76. Zahav, Philadelphia
75. Hominy Grill, Charleston, S.C.
74. SriPraPhai, Queens, N.Y.
73. Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.
72. Lucques, Los Angeles
71. Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas
70. Joe's Stone Crab, Miami
69. McCrady's, Charleston, S.C.
68. Yardbird Southern Table and Bar, Miami
67. TRU, Chicago
66. Craigie on Main, Cambridge, Mass.
65. Komi, Washington, D.C.
64. State Bird Provisions, San Francisco
63. Clio, Boston
62. O-Ya, Boston
61. Alan Wong's, Honolulu
60. Bern's Steak House, Tampa, Fla.
59. The NoMad, New York City
58. Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, Colo.
57. é by José Andrés, Las Vegas
56. Michael Mina, San Francisco
55. FIG, Charleston, S.C.
54. Quince, San Francisco
53. Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, Brooklyn, N.Y.
52. Coi, San Francisco
51. CUT, Los Angeles
50. Next, Chicago
49. Spago, Los Angeles
48. Di Fara, Brooklyn, N.Y.
47. Xi’An Famous Foods, Queens, N.Y.
46. Spiaggia, Chicago
45. Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
44. Torrisi Italian Specialties, New York City
43. The Bazaar, Los Angeles
42. La Taqueria, San Francisco
41. Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, New York City
40. Galatoire's, New Orleans
39. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven, Conn.
38. Blackbird, Chicago
37. The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va.
36. Ippudo, New York City
35. The Publican, Chicago
34. Beast, Portland, Ore.
33. Vetri, Philadelphia
32. WD-50, New York City
31. Marea, New York City
30. Bar Tartine, San Francisco
29. Masa, New York City
28. August, New Orleans
27. Mission Chinese Food, San Francisco
26. Franklin BBQ, Austin
25. Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas
24. Husk, Charleston, S.C.
23. Bouchon Bistro, Yountville, Calif.
22. Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles
21. Gotham Bar and Grill, New York City
20. Animal, Los Angeles
19. Zuni Cafe, San Francisco
18. Commander's Palace, New Orleans
17. Per Se, New York City
16. Del Posto, New York City
15. Chez Panisse, Berkeley, Calif.
14. Alinea, Chicago
13. Daniel, New York City
12. Jean Georges, New York City
11. Shake Shack, New York City
10. Cochon, New Orleans
9. Girl & the Goat, Chicago
8. Babbo, New York City
7. ABC Kitchen, New York City
6. Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
5. Eleven Madison Park, New York City
4. Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York City
3. Le Bernardin, New York City
2. Gramercy Tavern, New York City
1. The French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.