101 Best Restaurants in America 2012 Slideshow
This iconic New York restaurant opened its doors on a snowy night in 1962, and has survived while its onetime counterparts like Lutèce, La Caravelle, and La Côte Basque have shuttered. So what makes this restaurant so special that it's continued to flourish? Le Grenouille is a captivating snapshot of the dining trends of past eras, where the signature dish, pike quenelles lyonnaise, is the same as it was on the first night of service, and the luxurious dining room, decorated with fresh flowers and scarlet banquettes, feels positively refreshing (even though the décor hasn't changed at all, either). Yes, the prices are high (starting at $98 for a three-course prix fixe) and the menu is devoid of the kind of culinary drama often experienced at more modern fine dining restaurants, but when the food is as expertly prepared as it is here, there's no need to change a thing.
The casual counterpart to the restaurant at number 43 on our list, Bar Masa is sushi master Masa Takayamas slightly more economical spot next door. Unlike at Masa, where the only option is the omakase menu, the offerings at Bar Masa are la carte, including a variety of upscale sushi and modern twists on Japanese street food. The "bar" in Bar Masa, incidentally, refers not to the sushi bar, but to the vast selection of sakes and cocktails available.
ARIA Resort and Casino
As the owner of 18 restaurants, Mina is one of the most successful chefs and restaurateurs in the country, but he's not a TV food star (yet) and he remains somewhat under the radar. He has become an important figure in the Las Vegas restaurant scene, but it’s his flagship restaurant in San Francisco, Michael Mina, which was named as Esquire’s Best Restaurant of 2011, that gets the most praise for its Japanese- and French-inspired take on the best American ingredients.
Barbecue is religion in the South, and without question, The Pit is one of its most holy institutions. Despite the fact that The Pit's legendary barbecue baron, Ed Mitchell, left this year to open his own restaurant, this destination-worthy joint continues to serve up the same North Carolina-style whole hog, pit-cooked 'cue that it always has. The word "authentic" should be dispensed with caution when it comes to food, but Mitchell's generations-old recipe (which is now being used by The Pit's new executive chef, Darrell Brown, a barbecue veteran in his own right) is the real deal and widely regarded as the standard for its genre.
All the standard Thai dishes are done very well at this well-known storefront restaurant in Thai Town, but the southern Thai specialties, many of which are found nowhere else in America, are the real draw. Try the oxtail soup, crisp catfish salad, softshell crabs with yellow curry, sea bass with caramelized garlic, and whatever else proprietor Sarintip "Jazz" Singsanong recommends — even the beef curry called khua kling Phat Lung, quite possibly the spiciest dish in L.A.
A whimsical name for a pretty straightforward restaurant, The Walrus and the Carpenter is a relatively new addition to the hip Ballard dining scene. At the raw bar, bearded men pedal eight different kinds of oysters from metal baskets of ice while diners take in the industrial-chic interiors along with steak tartare or geoduck chowder. Also the chef and owner of Boat Street Caf and Boat Street Pickles, Renee Erickson embraces the artisanal, locavore ethos typical of the Pacific Northwest but is also heavily influenced by French cuisine, which can be evidenced in dishes like the duck rillettes, and she has created a menu of Francophile bar food to enjoy while singing a sea shanty and sipping on a fancy cocktail.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Consistently lauded by critics and Yelpers alike as the most authentic Thai restaurant in New York, SriPraPhai boasts a menu as large as its reputation, from papaya salad with dry shrimp and crushed peanuts to fried fish with green mango sauce by way of classic pad thai and sautéed pork leg with chiles, garlic, and basil. Feeling overwhelmed by the spread? Ask a member of the friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff for a recommendation, but be forewarned: Things may get spicy.
After opening the original Jaleo in Washington, D.C., in 1993, chef José Andrés expanded to the suburbs of the city before turning his attention from Spanish cuisine to other cuisines like Mediterranean and Mexican. Now he has opened Jaleo in Sin City. As Spain's unofficial culinary ambassador, for both traditional cooking and Ferran Adrià’s brand of avant-garde, Andrés keeps the Jaleo menu packed with traditional tapas and paellas, using the finest ingredients and time-honored techniques with measured modern flourishes.
Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
Hurry, you only have until Aug. 31, 2012, to eat at this landmark restaurant. In January, Trotter announced that he'd be closing the restaurant after 25 years of groundbreaking, award-winning cuisine, and instead moving on to academe. The classic dining experience, Charlie Trotter's Grand Menu, with items like Hawaiian big eye tuna with sunchokes, serrano ham, and New Zealand spinach, references a world of influences while remaining quintessentially American.
Boulevard exudes the warm, relaxed San Franciscan ambience that marks many of the city's best restaurants, but chef and owner Nancy Oakes, named 2010 Best California Chef by the James Beard Foundation, aims high with her hearty but modern, sophisticated American cuisine — the likes of Monterey red abalone with abalone mushrooms, artichokes, sunchokes, and octopus; wood-oven-roasted California lamb with potatoes crushed with nettles, sautéed chard, and romanesco broccoli with Tokyo turnips; and DeVoto Gardens apple tart with cranberry caramel and bruléed fig.
Stephan Pyles’ eponymously named restaurant might be his 13th or 14th restaurant, but who’s counting? An illustrious career as a chef, restaurateur, best-selling cookbook author, and co-founder of Share Our Strength has allowed him to have as big of an impact on contemporary American cuisine as, say, Wolfgang Puck, but without the household-name visibility. Pyles’ brand of bold Texan flavors and classic execution are on display at the restaurant, which serves some of his signature dishes, like the tamale tart with roast garlic custard, peekytoe crab, and smoked tomato sauce, as well as new territory for Pyles, such as his menu of six different types of ceviche.
The Four Seasons is a New York original, with a stunning interior designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, a faithful clientele of Gothamite high rollers, and an American menu that offers few surprises but usually manages to satisfy everyone's tastes. This is the place to order things like assorted cold seafood, smoked salmon carved tableside, grilled Dover sole, pheasant coq au vin, or crisp farmhouse duck, then sit back and dine like a grown-up.
One of New York’s most heralded new restaurants; Tertulia is the first solo venture of chef Seamus Mullen, who was previously at Boqueria. You may also recognize him from Food Network, since he’s been on The Next Iron Chef (in 2010) and on Chopped. For the West Village restaurant, Mullen took inspiration from a Northern Spain-style cider house and created a "nuevo rustico" (to quote New York Magazine) atmosphere and menu. The jamón Iberico, which shows up in three different items on the relatively small menu, gets special recognition, but the compact menu contains a range of familiar Spanish tapas as well as reimagined dishes like the Cojonudo… Revisited, a cheeky name for "two bites" of smoked pig cheek with quail egg.
Chef Tim Cushman brings innovative sushi and related new-Japanese fare (hamachi sashimi with banana pepper mousse, venison tataki with shaved foie torchon) to his menu with imagination and flair, serving these and other truly wonderful dishes, accompanied by a large choice of excellent sake and wine, in an understated dining room whose simplicity belies the complexity of flavors on the plate.
Palena is known as much for the cheeseburger on the café menu as for the more elegant, seasonally driven food that is served in the dining room. After a stint as the White House chef, it was an interesting move for chef-restaurateur Frank Ruta to set his restaurant in Cleveland Park, far away from the glitzy, lobbyist-packed K Street dining scene. Though the restaurant’s dining room offers sophisticated menu items like a guinea hen ballotine, the café really shines as a low-key neighborhood spot, turning out a simple roast chicken from the wood-fired oven and homey pasta dishes like spaghetti with cauliflower, pine nuts, and egg.
Coming from chef Michael Solomonov, who won a James Beard Award in 2011, Israeli food finds its own identity away from the typical Mediterranean standbys. Blending the farm-freshness and homemade ethos of the kibbutz with the European, Middle Eastern, and North African heritage of Israel’s populace, Zahav is a journey through ancient times to the 21st century, from the traditional laffa bread baked daily and the Hungarian lamb stew heavily spiced with paprika to a kugel with brisket and beef and lamb kofte grilled over hot coals.
The latest venture by the chef duo behind Animal (a repeat fixture on our 101 Best list), Son of a Gun does to fish what their first restaurant does to meat; that is, find ingenious ways to take familiar tastes and recast them in new roles with more esoteric ingredients. Lauded chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo use the element of surprise to their advantage — they prefer low-key interiors and minimal flourishes to spotlight the complexity of their seemingly simplistic "beach shack" food. To add to diners’ sense of excitement, the menu at Son of a Gun, like Animal, is ever-shifting, so one day it might include a smoked fish dip and another alligator schnitzel, but oysters on the half-shell and a lobster roll with celery and lemon aïoli are in heavy rotation likely due to demand.
Son of a Gun
Since 1985, Arun’s has offered refined, sophisticated Thai food, and earned a reputation as one of the top Thai restaurants in the country. Though the restaurant’s namesake, owner–chef Arun Sampanthavivat, is not classically trained, he has a master's touch in the kitchen, best experienced through his nightly seven-course, $65-per-person tasting menu.
The celebrity (and presidential) photos on the wall are clear indications of Ben's Chili Bowl's city landmark status, but the continuous lines out the door (and its election to this list) are evidence that the restaurant's chili cheese dogs are some of the best in the country. But those in the know dont just order "dogs," they get the half-smokes, a half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage which is a native D.C. specialty supposedly invented by Ben Ali, the original proprietor, whose sons took over the restaurant after his death. As the U Street Corridor/Shaw neighborhood around it has gentrified and become trendy, it's a more than 50-year-old bastion of down-home D.C. where college kids, old-timers, and celebrities are all welcome as long as they're willing to stand in line like everybody else though the president eats for free.
Ben's Chili Bowl
Inspired by the Boqueria market in Barcelona (slightly before most of their compatriots had ever heard of the place), Mario Batali — who went to school in Spain and has a great love for the country’s cooking — and chef Andy Nusser created this casual but superbly run Spanish and Spanish-ish establishment, bringing cod cheeks pil pil, tripe with chickpeas and blood sausage, squid with pork meatballs, and the like to a hip Manhattan clientele. It earned one Michelin star this year.
Spanish food, whether traditional or avant-garde, has no more fervent and eloquent champion in America than José Andrés, proprietor of this multi-part restaurant and culinary theme park. Whether you choose to sample hot and cold foie soup with corn at Saam, Ottoman carrot fritters with apricot and pistachio sauce at Bar Centro, or the best jamón Ibérico in America at Rojo y Blanco — or, best of all, a combination of the traditional and the completely mad, easily achieved here — you’ll have a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience here, that is until the second location of The Bazaar, which is currently being built, opens in Miami.
Naming San Francisco's "best tacos" is such a personal thing, its likely to start arguments, but La Taqueria seems to be one place that a large majority of the city and the rest of the nation can agree on. It's one of the Missions many casual Mexican joints, but at around $3.50 a taco, it's one of the more expensive ones. Still, the hugely popular tacos and rice-free burritos, especially the melt-in-your-mouth-tender grilled carne asada version, keep the seat-yourself tables packed with an eclectic mix of diners, who come in droves before heading to the bars on weekend nights.
The "barbecue" tradition of Santa Maria, north of Santa Barbara, based not on long-smoked pork but on tri-tip steak, grilled on red oak, helps define the cooking of California’s Central Coast. This homey, always bustling place, celebrating its 25th year, extends and improves the basic idiom, and adds a knockout wine list, full of vintages made by the proprietor and his neighbors.
The quintessential neighborhood restaurant, Gjelina, on the trendy Abbott Kinney Boulevard, has anchored the Venice restaurant scene as the neighborhood has turned from grimy to gourmet. Chef Travis Lett’s modern American cuisine is firmly rooted in the abundance of farmers market findings, and both the fire pit and wood-burning oven speak to the restaurant’s ardent rusticity, much like the typical patrons’ unshaven faces and shabbily artful outfits. Crispy, thin-crust pizzas and a roster of creatively prepared vegetable dishes reveal a minimalist sensibility that requires lots of attention to detail. As Lett said to the Los Angeles Times, "We're working really hard to not look like we're working really hard."
You know a place has to be pretty spectacular when it lands on a list of the best restaurants in the country after only being open for 10 months — but, if anyone is up to the task, Daniel Boulud is the chef and restaurateur to do it. Boulud Sud, the culinary legend's seventh New York City restaurant, is a celebration of the Mediterranean, specifically highlighting the cuisines of Sardinia, Gibraltar, Greece, Tunisia, and Turkey. The flavors and dishes of these areas are blended to create dishes that are new in concept but familiar in spirit, such as sea urchin and crab tartine with green olives, lemon cream, and seaweed rye bread; and zaatar baked cod with mussels and Greek yogurt. The décor in this sprawling space (especially by New York City standards) reflects the same coastal sensibility as the food, decorated with warm wood furnishings, buttery yellow walls, and plush banquettes printed with stripes in hues of blue, yellow, and white. Attached to Boulud Sud is Épicerie Boulud, an eat-in and takeout market where customers can purchase oysters, house-made charcuterie, soups, salads, breads, pastries, and other sweets.
Thomas Keller’s fourth showing on this list, Ad Hoc began as his opportunity to showcase the dishes that he grew up eating, presented in a warmer and more casual setting than fancy places like Per Se or the French Laundry provide. Ad Hoc started as a simple, temporary concept with a single, constantly changing, four-course, family-style meal served nightly (except for the legendary buttermilk fried chicken, which is available every day except during the winter), designed as a space-holder while Keller developed another restaurant here. The response was so positive, though, that Keller and his staff decided to make this one permanent. The restaurant is currently undergoing a remodel and will open again in March 2012.
What do you get when you go to Father's Office, chef Sang Yoon's gastropub in Los Angeles (now in both Santa Monica and Culver City)? No table service. And no pretention. There's a wood-paneled, comfortable vibe of a great local lived-in spot, but it's clean and to the point. There are great craft beers and small bites (think smoked eel, sobrasada, spinach mushrooms, and white anchovies). You can also "Eat Big" and opt for the spicy oatmeal stout ribs or the bistro steak. But lets face it, you're here for the Office Burger, which many people in L.A. refer to as the city's best burger. There's nothing bougie or frou-frou about it, just caramelized onion, bacon, Gruyre, Maytag blue, and arugula. It's a very, very juicy burger with funk, freshness, and great flavor. Checklist item? You bet.
According to Michael Schwartz, winner of the 2010 James Beard Award for Best Southern Chef, the most important thing you can take away from dining at this New York Times Top 10 establishment is: Know Your Source. The restaurant procures its Old World rustic-breed chickens, for instance, from North Carolina's Joyce Foods, the only producer of Label Rouge poultry in the U.S. Heirloom tomatoes figure not only on the menu here (more than once), but also as décor in the minimalist dining room.
McCrady’s is an establishment richly steeped in Charleston history, residing in a structure, built in 1778, that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Landmarks. Juxtaposed against the staid surroundings, the menu at McCrady’s is anything but traditional, though chef Sean Brock, who received the James Beard award for Best Chef Southeast in 2010, weaves touches of Southern tradition into the otherwise highly modern cuisine. The bar has become known for its specialty pre-Prohibition-style cocktails. Brock’s other Charleston restaurant, Husk, came in at number 41.
Piero Selvaggio opened Valentino 40 years ago, in 1972, when L.A. Italian dining meant spaghetti with red sauce and veal parmigiana. He was in no small part responsible for changing how not just California but all of America looked at (and ate) the cooking of his native land. By sourcing the best products from both California and Italy, building a wine list (Italian and otherwise) that is one of the most comprehensive in the country, and serving both classic and imaginative Italian food with consummate skill, Selvaggio created an enduring gastronomic landmark.
Using carefully sourced ingredients, Coi chef Daniel Patterson serves thoughtful Northern California cuisine, balancing classical methods with modern techniques to create unusual and evocative experiences for diners. Some of Coi’s many accolades include a two-star Michelin rating, four stars from San Francisco Magazine, and the title of 75th best restaurant in the world according to San Pellegrino.
Located just outside of Seattle in a converted garage, Herbfarm offers a seasonally inspired dining experience that celebrates the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. Each unique, nine-course meal features the freshest ingredients from forest, farm, and sea, and is paired with five or six wines; the themed menus change with the season about every two weeks.
Much of the charm at Beast, apart from that provided by the wide-ranging modern American menu (need we add that it's local and sustainable in nature?), comes from the intimate atmosphere. Chef-owner Naomi Pomeroy accepts just enough reservations for two dinner seatings Monday through Saturday and two brunch seatings on Sunday. Guests dine at a pair of communal tables, where they are served the prix fixe menu of the day (no exceptions). Those who are lucky enough to snag a seat at the tables are sure to be treated like family.
Husband-and-wife owner-chefs George Germon and Johanne Killeen received the Insegna del Ristorante Italiano from the Italian government, a rare honor for Americans, attributable to their informed passion for pasta along with their invention of the grilled pizza. They also, though, aim the culinary spotlight on Rhode Island's defining vegetables — corn, squash, beans, and tomatoes — prepared simply, with the authentic Italian panache one would expect of multiple James Beard honorees.
"Eat at Joe's" may have been a running joke in classic Warner Bros. cartoons, but this almost 100-year-old establishment is a serious Miami institution. The old-school seafood house boasts a massive menu, but your order is simple: stone crab claws (jumbos if available, nothing smaller than large), hash browns, and Key lime pie.
Joe's Stone Crab
The cuisine is so emblematic that it has inspired a new category — Foothills Cuisine, a term that has actually been copyrighted. Truly farm-to-table, the Barn uses the farm estate’s produce and products in a dynamic menu of Smoky Mountain regional dishes with a global flair.
The Barn at Blackberry Farm
At José Andrés' D.C. restaurant America Eats Tavern, the best seat in the house is at an entirely different eatery — the counter he has christened minibar. With only six bar seats, this restaurant within a restaurant is arguably the country's toughest reservation to score. Because it functions as a kind of test kitchen for his L.A. restaurant, The Bazaar, expect a dining experience filled with culinary hat tricks — cotton candy eel, popcorn that smokes in your mouth, a study of zucchini seeds. Even with a price tag of $150 for 30 (mini) courses, it's a steal of a deal. The imaginative cuisine scored chef José Andrés a 2011 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award.
This more elaborate but immediate descendent of the original groundbreaking Spago remains the flagship of the ever-growing Wolfgang Puck empire. Full of glamour and glitz, it nevertheless remains a place where food is taken very seriously. The famous Spago pizzas are available only for lunch, but it’s almost a shame to waste your appetite on them anyway (almost), given all the first-rate modern Californian fare cooked here under the direction of executive chef Lee Hefter, one of the most underrated chefs in America.
There are restaurants you walk into, see the décor, and shrug your shoulders, and then there’s a restaurant like The Publican, a James Beard design award winner, which shows you what restaurant design can be. The cavernous, high-ceilinged affair filled with communal seats and warm hanging globes simultaneously makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a contemporary fine dining establishment and a restaurant in a Charles Dickens novel. But this self-described beer-focused restaurant in the West Loop by chefs Paul Kahan and Brian Huston is much more than ambiance and even beer. This may look like a European beer hall, but the food is next-level. Yes, there are potted rillettes, aged hams, duck hearts, boudin blanc, and suckling pig, but there are also fresh oysters, hamachi crudo, cured meats, and daily pickles. You sit, you drink, you eavesdrop on the people next to you, and on no occasion do you skip ordering the amazing spicy pork rinds.
Under the direction of 2011 James Beard Award-winning chef Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon lures diners to its communal tables for hearty, imaginative, locally sourced entrées (pork tenderloin with pretzel spätzle, brussel kraut, and mustard) and such standing-ovation-worthy desserts as honey, bacon, and apricot cornbread with maple ice cream, and foie gras profiteroles. If it's a slaw-slathered burger you crave, get there early because Rucker serves up precisely five per night.
Start a conversation about the best barbecue in Texas and you're looking for trouble. "It's in Lockhart!" some will say. "It's in Austin!" others insist. "It's the local place in my town where you'll find real cowboys chowing down on brisket and beans," the proudest Texans proclaim. Well, in Houston, Luling City Market has been making its own case since 1981. Luling is nothing if not local. The tables feel like they're made from patina, the regulars size you up as you walk in, and when it's on the money, the brisket and sausage can be very good. And as those in the know will tell you, "If it is a day when it is not good, you just cover everything in that orange sauce and all is well."
Most New York City restaurants would consider themselves lucky to even get a review in The Times. In the 27 years that it’s been around, Gotham Bar and Grill has been reviewed no fewer than six times by the Gray Lady. Even more impressive? It has scored 15 stars — five three-star reviews (four is the best) since chef Alfred Portale took it over in 1985. You can argue about what other restaurants could better stand in for this Greenwich Village institution as the standard-bearer of American haute cuisine, but few would debate the merits of its classics or its long-term commitment to innovation.
Gotham Bar And Grill
Decades before the likes of Mario Batali and Michael White brought about the most recent wave of the popularity of fine Italian dining, Tony Mantuano taught Chicagoans how to enjoy refined Italian fare at Spiaggia. Taking a cue from its name, which means "beach" in Italian, the food and décor at the restaurant are inspired by the coast. Mantuano has won countless accolades for his accomplishments at Spiaggia, including a James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Midwest in 2005. The restaurant’s executive chef, Sarah Grueneberg, gained national recognition this year as a contestant on the most recent season of Top Chef.
This is what you should know about Galatoire’s: The food is classic Creole, all-around New Orleans in style, and it’s not on your diet; the menu has changed little over the past century-plus and is full of things like turtle soup au sherry, crabmeat au gratin, eggs Sardou (with creamed spinach, artichoke hearts, and hollandaise), and Louisiana seafood eggplant cake; and you’ll have a good time if you go hungry — and a better time if you go hungry with a regular at your side. This Nola classic is a cult favorite and highly recommended by the likes of many food writers, including Ruth Reichl.
The second restaurant on this list from chef Andrew Carmellini (the first is Locanda Verde at #44), The Dutch serves elevated Italian- and American-inspired fare in a spirited yet unfussy setting. The whimsical nature of the restaurant is fully apparent in the dessert menu, which is chock-full of nostalgic Americana items, such as sandwich cookies and banana cream pie. Carmellini opened the second branch of his critically acclaimed restaurant in Miami’s W Hotel this year. The location serves most of the same dishes that are available at the original, along with his take on a few Miami specialties, such as a grouper sandwich.
A few years ago, Mario Batali said Michael White deserved more praise than he’d been getting, noting that this Wisconsin-born chef was someone who probably even "makes love like an Italian too, defo [sic] better than me." No longer hurting for praise, White has, with Osteria Morini, taken the opportunity to show off some of the food that means the most to him. In Italy, an "osteria" is a place where the owner "hosts" guests. And at Morini, the host draws on his experience in Emilia-Romagna, where he worked under chef Valentino Marcattilii for seven years. Amid the terra-cotta floors and timbers from a dismantled, Italian 1700s-era farmhouse, White serves cured sliced meats, crostini, antipasti, at least 12 different types of pastas, and fish and meat entrées that show off the soulful cuisine of the region.
Napa Valley winemakers crowd into the unpretentious Mustards Grill to sample Cindy Pawlcyn’s American-international cooking, encompassing everything from wild mushroom tamales to grilled Laotian-style quail to seafood tostadas to one of California’s best burgers. Pawlcyn is one of the chefs that were part of making Napa into what it has become foodwise.
In a town full of great Tex-Mex places, Fonda San Miguel stands out for its superbly made authentic Mexican food, from tacos al pastor and spinach salad with toasted pasilla chiles and panela cheese to Gulf shrimp in chipotle cream sauce and crêpes filled with goat’s milk caramel. The interior isn’t too shabby either, earning a spot on Zagat’s Best Décor list in 2011.
Fonda San Miguel
Say Roberta's is in the new class of restaurants that has fanned the flames of the Brooklyn vs. Manhattan debate, call it a great pizza joint, recall it as a frontrunner of the city's rooftop garden movement, and mention that Carlo Mirarchi was recently named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine, and you'd still be selling it short. Roberta's is in Bushwick six stops out of Manhattan on the L, and its one of the city's best restaurants. Bushwick! The Neapolitan pies are at the high end of the debate about which are the city's best, but pizza isnt even the point. Theres a hard-to-reserve tasting menu, great dishes (sweetbreads, foie gras, octopus), fantastic pastas (tagliatelle with squid ink, mussels, and sea urchin), and a brined, pan-roasted Red Wattle pork chop the citys best rendition. Bushwick!
John Besh is one of the most interesting and ambitious chefs in the Crescent City today. The American menu at this splendid eatery shows his love for, and understanding of, French, Italian, and high-level American cuisine, much of it interpreted with a New Orleans lilt. It was named one of the 100 best restaurants in the country by Open Table in 2011.
Chef Suzanne Goin was nominated for a 2011 James Beard Award for her first endeavor, which remains as good as ever.The restaurant shines with a warm dining room, an enchanting patio, and a menu of bright, full-flavored food (ricotta dumplings with sunchokes and walnuts, slow-roasted lamb sirloin with parsnip purée), based on raw materials from sources "guided by principles of sustainability."
Rob Stark Photography
There was a time when many chefs felt obliged to list every single farm, grower, vintner, and cheesemaker on the menu. Then, there was the backlash. None of this seems to matter to chef Ray Garcia, whose philosophy at his Wilshire Boulevard restaurant is to put ingredients first, building a menu around what's in peak season (with the help of their in-house forager Kerry Clasby). The bistro menu features enough vegetables to have critics raving, and a pastaless lasagna keeps the gluten-free happy, but with a playful Bloody Mary menu (Foie Mary, anyone?) and dishes like the black truffle cavatelli and côte de boeuf for two, it doesn’t skimp on the soul-satisfying stuff, either. With the queso fundido, there’s even a nod to Garcia’s background.
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America's best pizza with any authority, you have to make a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven spot. What should you order at this checklist destination? Two words: clam pie. This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of them all — freshly-shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated cheese atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
There's a long line inside this fluorescent-lit, linoleum-floored barbecue joint, and you'd better know what you want when you get up to that glass window — or be able to figure it out fast — because it's hot back there and they don't suffer fools lightly. But when you get that plate full of meat with those soft, square slices of white bread and sit down with a bottle of sauce and dig in, it's bound to be one of those meals you're always going to remember.
Four years after its opening, Minetta Tavern continues to demonstrate the vision of restaurateur Keith McNally and his partners, chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr. Originally opened in 1937 and named for Minetta Brook (which once ran from 23rd Street to the Hudson), this Greenwich Village haunt was frequented by every literary figure of the day Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Eugene O'Neill, e.e. cummings, Dylan Thomas, and Joe Gould among them. The current incarnation boasts celebrities, too, but above all, the food is fantastic. Minetta has made its reputation on its fabulous Black Label Burger, ground dry-aged côte-de-bœuf with roasted marrow bones, and on potatoes, what potatoes! frites, Anna, aligot, and "punched." The crowds and the 6 p.m.- or 10:30 p.m.-only reservations aren't for everyone, but the new lunch service helps and brings with it one of New York's great new sandwiches: the French dip.
Given that this Danny Meyer restaurant is located within the renowned Museum of Modern Art in New York, it’s no wonder that design plays such a vital role here, both in the décor and on the plate. The restaurant is divided between the fine dining room and the bar room, which serves a completely different menu. The food is inspired by the cuisine of Alsace, but executed with a distinctly modern hand. The handcrafted cocktails, spiked with house-made liquors, and their notable wine program are also outstanding.
Located in The Ritz-Carlton Dallas, Fearing’s features modern Southwestern-American cuisine with a farm-to-table approach (think barbecued duck tamales or Nantucket scallops with pecan-crusted shortribs). Choose from one of the many dining venues on-site, from the outdoor patio to the more upscale Gallery; if you’re dining chef-side in Dean’s Kitchen, or at the Chef’s Table, look for the ebullient chef Dean Fearing himself, who is often present.
Chef Andrew Carmellinis rustic Italian tavern, located in the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, serves up delicious food from morning until late at night. Dont miss pastry chef Karen DeMascos delicious baked treats, or any of the pastas on the menu. Youre in for a real treat if you land a seat at Trufflepalooza, Carmellinis three-course menu consisting entirely of the beloved ingredient, thats offered one night a year.
This past June, former Times critic Sam Sifton pegged Masa down to three stars from the four given to it by his predecessor Frank Bruni. Given that his reasons seemed to be that they asked him to wait outside when he showed up early, some of the dishes weren’t explained, and the staff didn’t pay him much attention after dessert, you may want to take a magnifying glass with you to discern the "wrinkles in Masa's fine silk." By all accounts, Masa's toro-stuffed maki rolls are still inspiring the lip twitching and eye rolling that characterized Bruni's 2004 review, establishing it as the premier sushi spot in New York City, if not the U.S. The swanky Time Warner Center setting and elaborate omakase-only menu is accompanied by a high bar for entry: the price. At $450 per person before tip, you're looking at a bill that can easily total more than $1,000 for two.
Award-winning chef Charles Phan’s Slanted Door serves a modern interpretation of classic Vietnamese street food, with a focus on locally sourced, fresh ingredients. Located in an airy and relaxed new space in the Ferry Building, it has become a must for food-loving visitors; a meal here, overlooking the San Francisco Bay, is not to be missed, but good luck getting a table.
The first of two restaurants on this list from chef Sean Brock (the second is McCrady’s at #72), Husk is known for its focus on regional Southern ingredients. The daily changing menu is full of elevated down-home dishes, such as Southern-fried chicken skins, pimento cheese spread, and brioche- and foie gras-stuffed quail with bourbon apple jus. The only thing more charming than the fact that much of their produce comes from a garden out back is that the chefs are known for personally delivering orders to diners.
Definitive Hill Country barbecue meat on butcher paper in a big barn of a place perfumed with wood smoke. The brisket is what it's all about, but there are also fans who drive for hours for the house-made sausages, including the impossibly delicious "regular" and the more complicated jalapeo cheese links. "Side dishes" include German potato salad and sauerkraut alongside the usual coleslaw and beans a reference to Kreuz's Teutonic origins.
Flour + Water is a great neighborhood spot on the corner of Harrison and 20th, but it’s also just a great restaurant. Owners David White and David Steele (longtime Mission residents) and Thomas McNaughton, their 2011 James Beard finalist for Rising Star Chef, call pasta their focus, and it's excellent and unusual (where else will you find tajarin with brown butter-braised giblets and chiles?). But they also serve some of the country’s best Neapolitan pizza, including a textbook Margherita (heirloom tomatoes, basil, fior di latte, and extra-virgin olive oil) and a spicy Salsiccia (tomato, sausage, gaeta olives, smoked caciocavallo cheese, and chile).
Chef Joey Campanaro’s gem of a restaurant in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant in philosophy — warm lighting and dark wooden fixtures make for a cozy and romantic atmosphere that’s echoed in the thoughtfully prepared Mediterranean-inspired dishes on the menu. Signature dishes include the famed meatball sliders and crisp, juicy, roasted chicken. There’s just one catch — due to the extremely tight quarters, reserving a table at The Little Owl is no easy task.
The Little Owl
Having earned a coveted four-star rating in The New York Times (the first Italian restaurant to do so since 1974), Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali's temple of contemporary Italian fine dining ranks in a class of its own. In a space that is both luxurious and remarkably comfortable, executive chef Mark Ladner, with the help of pastry chef Brooks Headley, serves dishes that build on the classics with a true innovative spirit, and get this — they’ve created a database of videos showing how to make dishes at home.
Zuni showcases San Francisco Mediterranean cooking at its best, with dishes from chef Judy Rodgers, and Chez Panisse alumnus Gilbert Pilgram now in charge of the dining room. The house-cured anchovies with celery, parmigiano, and coquillo olives; the grilled local opah; and the whole roasted chicken with bread salad for two are among the emblematic dishes in this food-mad town.
Patrick O'Connell, self-taught as a chef, opened this restaurant in 1978 in what was originally a garage in a little town about an hour's drive from D.C. He formed alliances with local farmers and artisanal producers long before it was fashionable, and developed into a sophisticated modern American chef of the highest order. His partnership with The Inn co-founder Reinhardt Lynch ended in 2007, but praise for this Five Diamond Award-winning property has continued.
After French chef Georges Perrier sold this Philadelphia classic to former French Laundry general manager Nicolas Fanucci, Fanucci put his own spin on the storied restaurant, re-instituting the original prix-fixe only menu. The food is full of modern American touches (and top-quality regional ingredients) but the finesse of the cooking and the overall feeling of the place remain attractively French.
Since Serious Eats founder and pizza maven Ed Levine named Pizzeria Bianco's the best pizza in America, this desert classic has become a go-to destination for pie fanatics. Bronx-born owner Chris Bianco created this restaurant to serve not only addictive thin-crust pizzas but also fantastic antipasto (involving wood oven-roasted vegetables), perfect salads, and homemade country bread. Reservations are accepted only for six or more, so be prepared to wait (though the wait is slightly more bearable now that theyre open for lunch).
The cooking is simply exquisite in this opulently furnished dining room in the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. As the first restaurant opened in America by the famed, award-winning Robuchon, commonly considered the greatest of modern French chefs, it maintains the highest standards, from its superb service and impressive (and impressively pricey) wine list to such finely crafted dishes as truffled langoustine ravioli and guinea hen with roasted foie gras and braised potatoes. The 16-course tasting menu is a truly memorable experience — as well it ought to be at $425 a head, wine not included.
Canlis is a Pacific Northwestern landmark thats been open since 1950 and serves fresh, seasonal dishes that are more polished than cutting edge, in a rustic-modern space whose use of native wood and stone evokes forests and streams. The Dungeness crabcakes and Wagyu steak tartare are definitive dishes of the restaurant, and the grilled king salmon is about as good as it gets.
Celebrity chef Rick Bayless doesn't want for fans; dine at this Chicago-based Mexican Restaurant of his and you'll have a good idea why. The champion of local and organic Mexican cuisine has a true award-winner on his hands here (it took home a James Beard Award for "Outstanding Restaurant" in 2007), serving real-deal South-of-the-border fare in a casual setting. (He takes the concept upscale at his Topolobampo, just next door.)
Shellfish platters, foie gras terrine, salt cod beignets, steak frites, steamed mussels, profiteroles, and other bistro basics are on the menu at this authentic-looking French bistro reimagined in the Napa Valley — and the fact that the man behind the place is Thomas Keller means that it’s all very, very good.
What does one of the world's most successful avant-garde chefs do to challenge himself? Open a restaurant that completely changes concepts every few months. First it was Paris 1906, a menu paying homage to the creations of legendary chef Escoffier, then it was a futuristic Thai menu, and that was followed by a theme perhaps even more ambitious in scope: childhood. It was already hard enough to buy a ticket (there's a special online reservation system) and then chef Grant Achatz decided to do an homage to the now-closed, legendary elBulli. Some people play at being innovative. Not Achatz, and not Next's capable chef, Dave Beran, who has deftly executed the restaurant's concepts.
"Send a salami to your boy in the army!" This Jewish kosher deli has been making converts with its salami — and pastrami and hot dogs and more — since 1888. You go in, get a taste at the counter from one of the expert slicers, and marvel at how great it is that a place like this exists. Then you dive into pickles and a huge pastrami sandwich with mustard and a big price tag. It's worth it. And the pastrami and eggs "made like the boss likes it," with eggs cooked on the hot dog grill to get that greasiness? Not many things better for breakfast. Just don't lose your ticket. You don't want to know what happens.
In this little jewel box of a place, chef Marc Vetri offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties (squid ink linguine with crab and sea urchin, almond tortellini with truffle fonduta, crisp-skinned roast baby goat), served with precision and grace.
At this ultimate haven for adventurous carnivores, chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have won a host of awards for their hearty, straightforward, and innovative cooking. Dishes like their foie-gras-spiked loco moco, oxtail poutine, and "Buffalo style" crispy pig's tail keep chefs and civilians alike coming back for more.
Say what you will about so-called molecular gastronomy, but you have to give it up to a restaurant that takes an iconic dish like eggs Benedict and reintroduces it to the plate as egg yolk cylinders with crispy cubes of molten hollandaise with dehydrated bacon. And it's so pretty that you almost don't want to attack it with your fork — almost. Wylie Dufresne continues to prove himself one of our country's most imaginative and technically accomplished chefs.
It’s impossible to step inside Girl & the Goat, Stephanie Izard’s West Loop restaurant, and not feel the joy — the sense of community and comfort are widely apparent, from the soundtrack of pop and rock hits playing in the background to the broad communal bar table. The best part about the restaurant, though, is how well made every dish is, from locally sourced creations like farm-fresh roasted beets with green beans, white anchovy, and avocado crème fraîche to such whimsical plates as escargot ravioli with tamarind-miso sauce.
A slice of New Orleans dining history — it opened in 1880 — this culinary landmark has long been collecting accolades for everything from its service to its wine list to its "haute Creole" cuisine. It’s still going strong, now with chef Tory McPhail at the ovens. The gold standard of family-run restaurants, Commander's Palace offers a dining experience that could win you over on its Southern charm alone — but you'd be remiss to not order the turtle soup, practically synonymous with the place.
One of the most original and consistently wonderful upscale Manhattan restaurant newcomers in recent memory, this very handsome restaurant on the site of the old San Domenico specializes in exquisitely fresh fish and shellfish in Italian-inspired preparations (crostini with lardo and sea urchin, fusilli with octopus and bone marrow) by skilled chef Michael White.
A serious cult favorite since it opened in 2006, Cochon is the domain of pork-loving chef Donald Link, proprietor of the popular Herbsaint and winner of a James Beard Award for his cookbook Real Cajun. Inspired by Cajun and Creole culinary traditions, Link serves dishes like shrimp étouffée and Louisiana cochon (roast pig) with turnips, cabbage, and cracklins’, as well as such non-porcine delights as fried alligator with chile garlic aïoli and rabbit with dumplings. Things are still on fire at this Nola hot spot — chef Stephen Stryjewski won a 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South.
Peter Luger is a New York classic — an institution even. Serving steak since 1887, the restaurant presents a simple menu. Single steak, steak for two, steak for three, or steak for four. In other words, how many people are you going with? OK, so there's a little more selection than that, but the point here is high-quality, expertly prepared beef, along with the famous house sauce, sliced tomato and onion salad, and of course, the celebrated thick-cut bacon appetizer. Many imitators, one original.
ABC Kitchen, a trendy New York City restaurant, is a celebration of the best ingredients that each season has to offer, all served in the classically elegant style that Jean-Georges is widely known for. Market-fresh dishes, like roasted kabocha squash toast with fresh ricotta and apple cider vinegar, stand alongside Vongerichten mainstays like pretzel-crusted calamari. The décor is fresh, with an utterly cool urban sophistication that pairs perfectly with the style of the home furnishings store it’s connected to, ABC Carpet and Home. The restaurant was awarded the recognition of Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation in 2011.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten is one of the few chefs in New York City with the distinction of four stars from The New York Times. At his eponymous restaurant in the Trump International Hotel and Tower, his classic French technique bridges old and new worlds, eschews heavy sauces, and embraces the spice and flavors of Asian cuisine.
By 10 a.m. on a Friday there will be more than 90 people in line at this modest new establishment. The 90 people who show in the next half hour wait in vain a waitress will tell them that there's just no barbecue left. So it goes at Franklin, where Aaron Franklin serves some of the best of Texas' greatest culinary claim to fame. The brisket, with its peppery exterior, falls apart as you pick it up. The turkey is what presidentially pardoned birds aspire to. The sausage snaps loudly when you slice it, juice splashing out and up... You've heard the buzz. It's not hype. It really is that good.
While Mario Batali certainly made headlines this year, Babbo stayed a New York essential. What can you say about this place that hasn't already been said? The pasta! That pork chop! Mario Batali is a genius! Rock music in a fine dining restaurant? Brilliant! At this longtime darling of the critics, after almost 14 years, you're still at the mercy of the reservation gods if you want to get in — buona fortuna.
High-profile organo-loca-sustainavore Dan Barber has found the perfect home at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a beautiful restaurant in a bucolic but hardworking setting on a year-round farm and educational center. Most of what you eat here will be grown, raised, and/or processed on the property, and Barber’s modern American food is full of color and flavor.
When Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok in 2008, he took the Pacific Northwest (and many of the nation’s most devoted eaters) by storm with his uniquely refined approach to Southeast Asian street food. In fact, his Vietnamese-inspired chicken wings and boldly flavored array of house specialties are in such hot demand that Ricker opened a location dedicated specifically to wings in New York City this year. To top it off, the James Beard Foundation named Ricker the best chef in the Northwest in 2011.
Multi-Michelin-starred chef Joël Robuchon’s swanky restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel offers peaceful solace amidst the noise and bustle of midtown Manhattan. A sleek, minimalist interior is the backdrop for executive chef Xavier Boyer’s classical, French-inspired menu. (The beef and foie gras burgers with caramelized bell peppers are a must.)
With his Santa Claus build, amiable nature, and obvious passion for his mtier, Michel Richard sometimes looks like the happiest chef alive as he leans over a plate at Citronelle that holds one of his imaginative, brilliantly executed specialties, smiling and putting on the finishing touches a sight you can witness through the glass wall that encloses his sparkling kitchen at this D.C. classic. Though Richard's other spots, Central and Meatballs, have gotten a lot of play in the last year, Citronelle remains a D.C. star.
Addendum: as of July 12th, 2012 Citronelle has closed due to water damage with plans to reopen in several months
Gramercy Tavern is among the finest of the new wave of classic American restaurants. With Danny Meyer running the show and Michael Anthony taking control in the kitchen, the restaurant continues to excel at serving refined American cuisine without pretension. Anthony has become known for his simply prepared fish dishes in particular, such as sea bass with spaghetti squash, walnuts, and sherry sauce. And let’s not forget that this is the restaurant that helped to jumpstart Tom Colicchio’s career; he was a founding partner with Meyer before eventually leaving to open his collection of Craft restaurants.
Meals at this East Village hot spot wowed former New York Times critic Frank Bruni into a praise-filled three-star review in 2008, and no wonder. Chang's food offers bold, Asian-inspired flavors — like his duckaholic lunch and popular bo ssäm dinner (slow-cooked pork shoulder, oysters, rice, kimchee, and sauces to be wrapped in bibb lettuce leaves). David Chang continues to be the culinary cool kid. With Lucky Peach (his new magazine) and lots of buzz around Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi, he has definitely done something right.
This elegant dining room overlooking Central Park in the Time Warner Center remains a must-have experience in New York, even for Sam Sifton, who chose the restaurant for his final review as The New York Times' restaurant critic last year — giving it four stars. Per Se upholds the standards set by Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, winning a James Beard Award in 2011 for Outstanding Service and being named the 10th best restaurant in the world in this past year by Restaurant Magazine.
Nancy Silverton, whose La Brea Bakery changed the game for artisanal bread in America, teams up here with New York-based Italian-food moguls Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in this lively urban restaurant, complete with a mozzarella bar, unusual pasta (calf’s brain ravioli, spaghetti with marinated white anchovies), and main dishes ranging from sea trout with lentils to grilled pancetta-wrapped quail. In 2011, Mozza pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez was named a James Beard Award finalist.
How did a chef whose innovative restaurant in Manhattan failed and who headed west to cook in a downtown L.A. hotel suddenly emerge in the Napa Valley to create a restaurant to rival the great three-star establishments of rural France? Hard work and outsize talent, most probably. Taking over what had been a good but far simpler restaurant, chef Thomas Keller approached contemporary American food with classical technique, and his French Laundry established new standards for fine dining in this country. In 2012, Keller and the French Laundry received a coveted AAA Five Diamond Award, just another honor to add to the pile.
Like many of the finest things in life, Eleven Madison Park is a restaurant that seems to get better with age. Although it opened to much fanfare and subsequent acclaim in 1998, Danny Meyer’s hiring of Swiss-born Daniel Humm to helm the kitchen in 2006 elevated the place to the level of the finest restaurants in the country. Humm — who has won such plaudits for the restaurant as four stars from The New York Times, three from Michelin, and a number 24 ranking on last year’s Restaurant Magazine list of the world’s 50 best restaurants — bought Eleven Madison from Meyer last year, in partnership with his front-of-house counterpart, Will Guidara, so standards aren't likely to fall.
Celebrating 40 years in business and still going strong, Chez Panisse was instrumental in changing the American food scene; before this restaurant, practically nobody in America served only fresh local foods and wrote menus daily, according to the season. Alice Waters, an organic-living pioneer, is also the founder of The Edible Schoolyard, a foundation that is bringing healthy breakfasts and lunches to schools across the nation. It has become fashionable to criticize this culinary icon as irrelevant or pretentious, but the truth is that her restaurant's food is still superb, both in the one-menu-a-night downstairs restaurant and the lively, diversified upstairs Café.
There's little question that Grant Achatz, whose training includes stints with Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, and Ferran Adrià, deserves the title of America's most creative chef. The menu at his Alinea sounds deceptively simple (bass with black pepper, vanilla, and lemon), but what shows up on the plate is absolutely original and almost always dazzlingly good. However, there are rumors going around that he and partner Nick Kokonas have plans to make some major changes to the Alinea concept, now that they’ve successfully launched two new ventures, Next and The Aviary.
Think Le Bernardin and you think accolades: Michelin, The New York Times, James Beard Foundation. Is it a little stuffy? Sure… But with a super sleek renovation recently completed and a lengthy new lease, this iconic restaurant isn’t going anywhere. And if cooking fish well is an art, then chef Eric Ripert is a Michelangelo; his contemporary French touch has led some to call his creations the world's best seafood.
This very grown-up restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side maintains standards of service and cuisine — French haute cuisine, very much an endangered species today — that hark back to an earlier era. But the cooking is up-to-date and really, really good. It’s so good in fact, that President Obama is a regular of sorts — he held a $15,000 (per person) fundraiser in January and has already visited again since then.