101 Best Restaurants in America for 2014 Slideshow
Decades before the likes of Mario Batali and Michael White brought us the most recent wave 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 here; including the 2005 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest. Chris Marchino took over for longtime executive chef Sarah Grueneberg in November and hasn't skipped a beat, continuing to delight diners with such fare as Pugliese burrata with golden Osetra caviar and potato crisps, squid ink spaghetti with Maine lobster and toasted breadcrumbs, and wood-roasted steelhead trout with honey mussels, black garlic, butter-roasted turnips, and Meyer lemon.
The restaurant is currently undergoing a massive redesign in honor of its 30th anniversary, and when completed in late spring there will be a newly designed dining room, a new location for the bar, and a new lounge area with its own menu. Onward and upward!
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s interview with chef Tony Mantuano on Spiaggia's 30th anniversary and what's next.
The cuisine here is so emblematic that it has inspired a new category: Foothills Cuisine; a term that has actually been copyrighted. Nestled inside a luxury resort and functioning farm, The Barn is truly farm-to-table and uses the estate’s produce and products in a dynamic menu of Smoky Mountain regional dishes with a global flair, like grilled lamb loin with sweet potatoes, lamb merguez, peppers, arugula, and mushrooms. And while the restaurant is a destination unto itself, topping off a weekend at the resort with a meal here can be one of life’s great experiences.
The Barn at Blackberry Farm
Russian restaurateur Andrei Dellos’ ostentatious Midtown West restaurant Brasserie Pushkin, meant to be the New York version of his Moscow success Café Pushkin, closed after less than a year. Now with its gaudy décor toned down, a new chef and general manager in place (former Eleven Madison Park executive sous chef Bryce Shuman and Eamon Rockey, also of Eleven Madison, respectively), the restaurant has reopened; humbly renamed Betony for a minty herb, to much greater success. There are spectacular cocktails including a crystal-clear milk punch with the spirit of your choice, and a menu that’s been noted as derivative (though not pejoratively) of Shuman’s time spent with chef Daniel Humm, featuring much-lauded marinated sardines, chicken liver mousse, and roasted chicken. But it’s the hot foie gras and grilled short rib that you’re going to want to be sure to order; the first a seared slice under crisp kale and bathed in a smoked ham hock consommé was recently described as “the most soulful foie gras” by The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, and the second sous-vided with beef fat for two days and seared on a Japanese yakitori grill.
This gleaming Williamsburg newcomer, helmed by chef Paul Liebrandt (late of Corton, where he earned two Michelin stars and two from The New York Times), is an ode to classic French fare. Located inside a bustling, trendy hotel, the atrium-level hotspot, which opened last summer, has a super-focused menu separated into four sections: Raw, Sea, Land, and Share. From Raw, a classic steak tartare with cornichons and capers is boosted by black olives. Sea features a fish and chips dish that gets a tangy kick from pickled lime. In the Land section, pumpkin is treated like royalty with the addition of crispy sweetbreads and mole. The big-ticket “Lobster Cassoulet” from Share is a sight to behold.
King and Grove Williams
Yes, of course, José Andrés understands the food of his native Spain, probably better than anyone in America — but he also understands food, period, so it's not surprising that when he undertook the creation of a restaurant specializing in the cuisines of the Eastern Mediterranean; specifically of Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon, he'd figure it out pretty quickly, and pretty well. In Zaytinya's airy, blue-haloed white-walled dining room, tables are crowded with hummus, taramosalata, tabouleh, Turkish flatbreads and stuffed grape leaves, lamb in myriad forms, octopus Santorini style, grilled veal breast, grilled chicken skewers with sumac and onions amongst a whole anthology of savory delights.
With its luminous contemporary-style interior, enhanced by vivid Indian art, and a varied menu that offers many familiar Indian flavors but avoids cliché, Rasika is one of the most appealing restaurants in our nation's capital. In addition to the expected tandoor oven; utilized for such dishes as swordfish tikka and tandoori salmon as well as more familiar offerings, the kitchen makes good use of a traditional tawa, or griddle, to produce delights like spiced potato and chickpea patties, shrimp-rice pancakes with tomato chutney, and griddled kidney beans with figs and vermicelli. Breads include mint paratha, truffle naan, and goat cheese kulcha, while the sigri (barbecue) preparations include fresh mango shrimp with cashews and ginger and paneer (cheese) brochettes with onions and peppers.
“Our restaurant is very small, very cramped, and very loud,” notes Night + Market’s website. You can almost imagine chef Kris Yenbamroong warning, “Know what you’re getting yourself into!” While Yenbamroong has no formal culinary training, he’s not without a Thai food pedigree; he’s the son of the family behind the well-respected West Hollywood Thai restaurant Talesai. But Night + Market dances to its own beat, serving Northern Thai street food in the nightclub district of the Sunset Strip with a style and philosophy Yenbamroong describes using Thai term “aharn glam lao,” which he explains means making “the most delicious and authentic Thai food to facilitate drinking and fun-having amongst friends." Fried pig tail, fried pig ear with chile and garlic, Isaan-style grilled fatty collar, lots of Thai beer and Mekhong whisky (actually more like a rum) are served in a setting that has been described as a G.I. Bar in '70s Bangkok.
Night + Market
Those obsessed with sushi watched the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi with fascination and even a little bit of envy for the lucky diners sitting at the small bar in the tiny, three-Michelin-star restaurant tucked into a Tokyo subway station run by Jiro Ono, marveling at the many years his sons and apprentices took to master tasks like making rice and egg custard. A similar sense of marvel and fascination is now taking place in New York City at Sushi Nakazawa, the West Village restaurant opened by Jiro’s apprentice Daisuke Nakazawa in August of 2013. In just six months, America gained not just one of its best sushi restaurants, but one of its best restaurants period. Your two-hour meal at Sushi Nakazawa will feature about 21 pieces of sushi that Nakazawa prepares with dedication to tradition and ingredients. Prices are $120 for one of the 25 seats in the back, and $150 for a seat to the show at the counter.
This restaurant might be a newcomer to New York’s dining scene, having opened in March 2013, but the man behind it, chef Wylie Dufresne, certainly isn’t. Dufresne opened wd~50 more than 10 years ago and it’s still a destination in its own right; remaining one of the finest – and earliest – restaurants to sing the virtues of molecular gastronomy. His newest creation takes his experimental and supremely creative approach and applies it to the most accessible style of cuisine around: bar food. Located smack dab in the heart of the young and bustling East Village, Alder takes the familiar and turns it on its head, with delicious results. French onion soup is transformed into "rings" with beef gravy and gruyre, jalapeño poppers are made with uni cream cheese and trout roe, pigs in a blanket are made with Chinese sausage and compressed hot dog buns, and rye pasta with shaved pastrami takes all the flavors of New York’s unofficial sandwich and turns them into a world-class pasta dish. And don’t skip the cocktails. Standouts include The Sanctimonious Kid, with Pimm’s, tequila, bay leaf, and blood orange; and the Burnt Reynolds, with rye, smoked vermouth, and Campari.
Houston’s dining scene may still be a secret to culinary outsiders, but it won't be for much longer — thanks to chefs like Chris Shepard. He insisted on an in-house butcher shop here in his first restaurant, and he works with Houston’s finest ranchers and farmers for the best possible product. Underbelly’s farm-to-table approach isn’t the only thing that makes it stand out in a sea of Houston restaurants; though, the restaurant is dedicated to telling "the culinary story" of its city, reaching back all the way to its Creole roots. Expect dishes like homemade charcuterie with pickles and toast, Vietnamese-style meatballs with gravy and a baguette, and grilled shrimp with Texas grapefruit and barrel-aged fish sauce.
You have to marvel at Meadowood in Napa Valley, California and its chef Chris Kostow. It wasn’t good enough to helm a three-Michelin-starred restaurant — the whole thing had to undergo a renovation under the direction of architect Howard Backen and designer George Federighi, one that stretched from the dining room to the kitchen. Chef Kostow also re-examined his menus and reinvented the way he served his customers, coming up with a more curated experience for them, which the restaurant describes as "creating bespoke menus." Kostow says he sits down the night before guests visit to write out menus for the next day’s 70 customers. You will have to lay out some coin for the experience; the nine-to-10-course tasting menu costs $225 (plus an additional $225 for wine pairings), but it’s well worth entrusting it and yourself to what has to be one the country’s least-hyped amazing chefs. How's the food, you ask? Expect modern American cuisine featuring masterful technique, and deft mixes of texture and flavor; alternately playful, straightforward, and serious.
The Restaurant at Meadowood
Tokyo-born Roy Yamaguchi, whose first restaurant jobs were cooking French food in Los Angeles, didn't invent fusion cuisine, but he took it far and wide — there are now roughly 30 Roy's Restaurants in eight states — increasingly grafting multicultural Hawaiian influences onto the European-style training and Asian ingredients he's been working with for years. There are six Roy's locations in Hawaii, with slightly different menus. Many Roy's fans prefer the Waikiki iteration. The big attraction here is the glistening fresh local fish, served as sushi and sashimi and in such dishes as macadamia-crusted opah, Hawaiian style misoyaki butterfish, and Hawaiian kampachi with cauliflower purée and roasted kale.
Serving Northern-style Thai food in a Sin City strip mall, Lotus of Siam has been nominated twice for a James Beard Award and has been called by more than one critic the best Thai restaurant in America. Chef/owner Saipin Chutima began her career at the age of five under her grandmother’s tutelage and cooks such inspired cuisine today as charbroiled prawns in tamarind sauce and kao soi-braised short ribs.
Lotus of Siam
Some 12 years after opening, Hugo’s has become somewhat of a Houston institution; a Mexican standout in a land in love with Tex-Mex. There’s a robust menu, a collection of regional Mexican dishes to which Ortega gives modern flourishes – consider duck carnitas tacos, crusted chicken breast with peanut mole, and grilled rainbow trout stuffed with seafood tamal topped with pipián rojo. There’s also a seasonal menu, but you may want to take cues from The Chronicle’s Allison Cook and Houstonia Magazine’s Robb Walsh, who have singled out between them notable dishes like chile and garlic-braised lamb barbacoa that’s slow-roasted in agave skin, octopus al carbon, and the beef cheeks with pasilla chile sauce.
Hugo's Regional Mexican Cuisine
Part of the Star Provisions complex, Bacchanalia has long been one of Atlanta's premier fine-dining destinations. Executive chef David Carson and chef de cuisine Matthew Adolfi propose an elegant five-course menu for $85 (a comparative bargain), with suggested wines in two serving sizes. Start; for instance, with Georgia red shrimp with local Berkshire pork belly and local house-cured trout roe; then go on to Gulf crab fritter with Thai pepper, avocado, and Asian pear; followed by breast of duck with black trumpet mushrooms and sour cherry; then a cheese course of Jasper Hill Bayley Hayzen Blue from Vermont with pineapple, pears and Georgia pecans; and finish with an apple napoleon with cat's tongue cookies and caramel popcorn.
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 peddle eight different kinds of oysters from ice-filled metal baskets while diners take in the industrial-chic interiors along with their steak tartare or geoduck chowder. Renee Erickson, the chef and owner of Boat Street Cafe and Boat Street Pickles, embraces the artisanal, locavore ethos typical of the Pacific Northwest but is also heavily influenced by French cuisine, as evidenced in dishes like her duck rillettes, and she has created a menu of Francophile bar food to enjoy while you on a fancy cocktail.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Yank Sing, the popular dim sum restaurant in the financial district, was founded by Alice Chan in 1958. There are now two locations of this third-generation family-run restaurant, both creating almost 100 items a day to be rolled out into the dining rooms for diners to choose. Both locations are excellent, but some of our Chinese friends prefer this one, where on weekends, the crowd spills out into the Rincon Atrium. Any conversation about San Francisco's best dim sum is dangerous, but you can easily make a case that this is the city’s best. Either way, complimenting the merits of Yank Sing's xiao long bao is well-tread ground. Thin dumpling skin, pursed plump dumplings, a dash of vinegar, perfection. Wait, was that a xiao long bao haiku?
Wolfgang Puck helped invent California cuisine (and gave us California-style pizza) at Spago, pioneered Asian fusion food at Chinois on Main, and even figured out a way to produce decent airport food at his many Wolfgang Puck Express outlets, so we shouldn't be surprised that with Cut in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Puck has also reinvented the steakhouse. (There are now spin-offs in Las Vegas, London, and Singapore.) The traditional red leather booths and bucolic paintings have given way to a cool white interior by rationalist architect Richard Meier and a series of pieces by conceptual artist John Baldessari. In place of iceberg wedges and grilled swordfish, look for warm veal tongue with baby artichokes and roast Maine lobster with black truffle sabayon. Oh, and the steaks? Not the usual four or five choices, but a total of 17 cuts and places of origin are available, from Australian filet mignon to Illinois bone-in New York sirloin to genuine Japanese Wagyu rib-eye from Shiga Prefecture.
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Surprises are the name of the game at Komi, an upscale, modern Greek restaurant in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle. Chef Johnny Monis offers a tasting menu that changes regularly (currently $135 per person), but gives no clues as to what might be on it until diners arrive. A quick look at their website yields no clues either, although past dishes have included 100-layer beef tongue gyros, charred octopus with peaches, and goat wrapped in pita that earned rave reviews from Washingtonian Magazine and The Washington Post. If you like the idea of putting complete control of your dining experience in the hands of the chef — think Greek omakase — then you’ll like Komi.
Los Angeles is a city that thrives on food trucks and pop-ups, but sometimes a no-holds-barred fine dining experience is called for. Chef Michael Cimarusti, who opened this upscale eatery in 2005 and now holds two Michelin stars for his efforts, serves market tasting menus as well as an à la carte menu of carefully selected seafood from both coasts and beyond, prepared with great originality. Who else offers wild Japanese sardines with smoked tomatoes and piquillo peppers, Santa Barbara sea urchin with soft scrambled eggs and champagne beurre blanc, or wild Washington king salmon with red cabbage and Tahitian squash? Providence isn't for diners on a budget, but it’s definitely a great place for those looking to celebrate.
When chef Nobu Matsuhisa opened his eponymous restaurant along with pal Robert De Niro and restaurateur Drew Nieporent in New York’s TriBeCa neighborhood in 1994, there was no way he could have imagined that 20 years later he’d be running 28 affiliated restaurants around the world; including four Nobu-branded hotels with two more on the way. But there’s a reason why Nobu has become a household name across the globe, and a visit to the Michelin-starred New York flagship tells you all you need to know. The design by architect David Rockwell evokes the Japanese countryside while conveying excitement and energy, and the cuisine fuses classical Japanese with that of Peru and Argentina, where Nobu trained. The standout dishes; including yellowtail with jalapeno, lobster with wasabi pepper sauce, and black cod with miso, are nothing short of legendary.
When a restaurant is so venerable that it lands a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and Landmarks, you probably expect a classic menu that doesn’t rock the boat. But McCrady’s is anything but traditional, with an innovative menu that changes daily. Chef Sean Brock, whose popular Husk is #15 on this list, weaves touches of modernity into his definitely Southern-based cuisine; calico scallops with hominy and butter peas, pork belly with sunchokes and huckleberries, Grassroots Farms chicken with turnip and onion, and frozen grits parfait are examples. The bar has become known for its specialty pre-Prohibition-style cocktails.
The tight-knit city of Oxford, Miss. opened its arms to New Orleans-born chef John Currence when he launched City Grocery in 1992 and never let go. In 2013, Jesse Houston took over as chef de cuisine and has since taken his and Currence’s menu of down-home items to new levels of fine Southern cuisine. Snag a table on the second-floor balcony if it isn’t too warm outside and dine on Southern comfort favorites like muffaletta for lunch and expand your palate with red wine-braised beef cheeks, farro pilaf, and cumin-roasted carrots. Chef Currence’s latest projects include his recent cookbook Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey, and hosting the Adventures of The Big Bad Chef video series.
The ceaselessly inventive — hell, the ceaseless — Señor Andrés is the king of Spanish food (among other things) in America, bringing us authentic ingredients and preparations in the traditional mode but also giving us a made-in-America taste of avant-garde Spanish cooking as invented by his mentor, Ferran Adrià. é is a kind of sibling to Andrés' minibar (#57 on this list) in Washington, D.C. — though he has called it more conservative than that hotbed of creativity. That's "conservative" like truffle-flavored cotton candy, crispy chicken skin en escabeche, turbot with crispy bone marrow and coffee grounds, and cocoa paper with dried strawberries
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
Chef Josef Centeno’s Bäco Mercat in the Old Bank district of Los Angeles is funky and fresh restaurant that serves a menu spanning Western and Eastern-Mediterranean influences. Big plate specials including the likes of a whole-roasted New Zealand snapper, 16-ounce beef ribeye, bone-in lamb steak, confit half duck, and 32-ounce pork porterhouse, with an option of a fixed, family-style menu served to parties of 7 or more. But you’re going to have to try at least two signature dishes the first time you visit: The original bäco (a kind of flatbread sandwich) featured crispy pork belly and beef carnitas with caraway pepper, but they’re now made with pork, beef, poultry, seafood, and yes, vegetables. You may as well go directly to the big one though, “The Slayer,” which features pork belly, beef carnitas, mozzarella, and tomato, and if you want to go all the way, a fried egg. Up next is the “bäzole,” described by LA Weekly’s Amy Scattergood as “a sort of Vietnamese play on posole, engendered by the bäco,” the bäco being the “taco-gyro-pizza that the chef invented once for a staff meal” at his other restaurant Meson G.
Dylan and Jeni
“We are currently booking reservations six weeks in advance,” says the website of Brooklyn Fare, the intimate 18-seat restaurant which holds the only three-Michelin star rating in Brooklyn. The prix-fixe menu by Chef Cesar Ramirez is a truly elaborate affair featuring more than 20 small plates, mostly seafood. A self-taught chef with Mexican heritage, Ramirez’s cuisine combines French, Italian, and Japanese styles.
Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare
The more elaborate but immediate descendant of the original, groundbreaking Spago remains the flagship of the ever-growing Wolfgang Puck empire. Yes, it’s full of glamour and glitz, but 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–international fare cooked here under the direction of one of the most underrated chefs in America, executive chef Lee Hefter. Veal filet mignon tartare with smoked mascarpone, veal cheek risotto with spring garlic and garlic chives, whole roasted maitake mushrooms with melted leeks, Jidori chicken breast with chicken-leg "pastrami" and celery–mustard purée are examples of Hefter's fare.
Beverly Hills Spago
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 his 2008 New York Times top-10 establishment and 2013 Golden Spoons Florida Trend Award winner is: “Know Your Source.” Menus at Michael’s Genuine change daily, and it’s often been mere hours since the ingredients on your plate left the field or the water. The restaurant; for instance, procures its organic eggs from PNS Farms; home of supposedly the happiest chickens on earth. Heirloom tomatoes figure not only on the menu here but also as décor in the minimalist dining room. Such dishes as Spring Creek oysters with classic mignonette, duck confit with orange marmalade and frisée, and grilled Palmetto Creek pork chop with tomato chutney define the restaurant's motto of "Fresh, Simple, Pure."
Jackie Sayet/The Genuine Hospitality Group
It’s not easy to open an immensely successful restaurant from scratch in Los Angeles, but that’s exactly what chefs David Myers and Kuniko Yagi did when they opened this Century City hotspot in January 2013. The Silk Road-inspired restaurant is not only a great place to sip a craft cocktail and nosh on snacks like fried oysters and chili crab toast, it’s also an experience for all your senses. Myers (who rose to fame with Comme Ça and the Michelin-starred Sona) traveled Japan extensively before opening the restaurant where he fused the finest attributes of Japanese dining (the room is scented with hinoki, a Japanese cedar, and the patio resembles a Japanese garden) with the most fun aspects of American dining. Several of the dishes, including the hinoki-scented black cod with sweet potato and pistachio, coconut-curried mussels with sausage and cauliflower, and lobster roll with green curry and Thai basil, are already signature menu items.
Dylan and Jeni
Chef Donald Link is the latest in a long line of world-class chefs to hone his chops in New Orleans, incorporating the city’s flavors and vitality into his cooking. Link is also the man behind the now-legendary Cochon (#22). Herbsaint is his more upscale (yet still fun and accessible) modern bistro; French and Italian-inspired yet still classically Southern. Standout dishes include butter-poached Gulf tuna with pickled chilies and mint, jumbo shrimp with tasso-stewed collard greens and grits, and slow-cooked lamb neck with saffron fideo and tomato confit.
When chef Anna Klinger and husband Emiliano Coppa opened the Venetian-inspired Al di Là on Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue in 1998, it was located on a sleepy thoroughfare perhaps best known for its wide variety of bodegas, and most Manhattanites wouldn’t have even considered heading out to Brooklyn for a meal. But by the time then-New York Times critic Frank Bruni got around to giving the trattoria two stars in 2006, it was widely regarded to be the neighborhood’s best restaurant, packing in crowds every night and anchoring a burgeoning restaurant row on the now-thriving avenue. Klinger’s moderately priced menu of home-style antipasti, pastas, and braised and grilled meats rarely changes despite plenty of nightly specials, and that’s for a good reason: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Al Di La Trattoria
A Five-Diamond AAA Award-winning restaurant in both 2008 and 2009, CityZen, in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel is the place to go to celebrate or to see and be seen in D.C. Whether sitting with a view of the open kitchen, or next to the floor-to-ceiling windows dressed in rich, warm fabrics, diners will marvel at James Beard Award-winning chef Eric Ziebold’s talent as he serves up modern American cuisine with a sophisticated and creative touch. Maine lobster consommé with baby leeks à la grecque and lobster spaetzle, quail satay with persimmon marmalade and yuzu jam, and salt-baked Virginia beef with egg noodles and abalone mushrooms are among his no-nonsense specialties.
A "modern Israeli" restaurant in Philadelphia? Just what does that entail? The answer would be a melting pot of Middle Eastern and Central European cuisines, woven together with a fine hand into a feast of flavors. Zahav, which means “gold” in Hebrew, was selected as Philadelphia’s number one restaurant by Philadelphia Magazine in 2009. Settle into the warmly lit, casual dining room and start on the hummus with house-baked laffa flatbread or warm Turkish hummus with butter and grilled garlic. If you’re in the mood for small plates, Zahav offers chicken liver mousse, a soft-cooked egg with spice beef and cauliflower amongst other dishes. Move on to the duck kebab roasted with black garlic and served with grapes and pistachio, or the Middle Eastern specialty kofte “meatballs,” made with ground beef and lamb. Finish off your meal with traditional Israeli desserts like ma’amoul (a date tart with flavors of orange blossom and almond). Israeli Goldstar beer, imaginative cocktails, and one of the largest arrays of boutique Israeli wines outside the country itself complete the picture.
Located in The Ritz-Carlton Dallas, Fearing’s features modern Southwestern-American cuisine with a farm-to-table approach. Consider the Yoakum Wagyu beef and butter poached Gulf prawn with Texas olive oil, Grana Padano cheese, crispy capers, and pickled golden beets. With many dining venues on-site, diners can choose 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.
It’s a special kind of restaurant that you can walk into, sit down, and without looking at a menu just say to the people preparing your food, "Yes, please," — and know that every bite is going to send you searching for new superlatives. For sushi lovers, that’s exactly what Yasuda and its minimal blond-wood dining room represents. To say the fish is fresh just doesn’t do the place justice — for many, experiencing the taste and texture of seafood at Yasuda will set the bar for what freshness means. The restaurant's namesake and founder, Naomichi Yasuda, decamped to return to Japan in 2010, but the standards he established here haven't faltered. His hand-picked successor, Mitsuru Tamura, keeps that Yasuda philosophy alive.
Former New York Times critic Sam Sifton took Masa down to three stars from the four given to it by his predecessor, apparently at least in part because they made him wait outside when he showed up early, didn't explain all the dishes, and didn’t pay him much attention after dessert. That doesn't seem to have discouraged the high-rollers who crowd the sushi bar or — losing some of the immediacy of the experience — sit at one of the small tables. Masa's toro-stuffed maki rolls inspire lip-twitching and eye-rolling, and the toro with beluga caviar seems almost worth the price of admission; and what a price that is: The swanky Time Warner Center setting and elaborate omakase-only menu is accompanied by a high bar for entry. At $450 per person before tip or beverages, you're looking at a bill that can easily total more than $1,200 for two.
One of the more original restaurants on this list, The Catbird Seat dining room is an informal 32-seat, U-shaped counter that’s only open Wednesday through Saturday. Irish chef Trevor Moran, an alumnus of Noma in Copenhagen, is at the center of the action, preparing a meal as guests watch. Because the offerings change daily, there’s no set menu and diners don’t know what to expect until they arrive. Just to get you in the right frame of mind, think oak-aged duck with burnt pear and whiskey sour-infused cotton candy. The multi-course meal costs $100 and takes on average three to three-and-a-half hours to play out, while guests are encouraged to interact with the chef and discuss the meal being prepared for them. One thing is for certain; though, guests are in for a unique and memorable dining experience, and a meal that uses only the freshest seasonal ingredients.
In this little jewel box of a place which celebrated 15 years this past fall, chef Marc Vetri offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties off of a tasting menu (pappardelle with cockles and tardive, almond tortellini with white truffle, roasted capretto with stone milled polenta, and pistachio flan for dessert), served with precision and grace, as well as a wine cellar of over 2,500 wine bottles to choose from. Mario Batali has hailed the place as "possibly the best Italian restaurant on the East Coast." In September, the Vetri family opened up Pizzeria Vetri nearby and Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan called their pizza “the morsel of the year.”
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 Wednesday through Saturday and one dinner seating 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). The particulars change weekly, but just as an illustration of the range and imagination here, the house charcuterie plate might include foie gras bon-bon with sauternes gelée, chicken liver mousse with leaf lard cracker, steak tartare with brioche and quail egg, terrine of lamb with preserved lemon and pistachio, pork rillettes, and duck breast cured in Espelette pepper. Those who are lucky enough to snag a seat at the tables are sure to be treated like family (the best spot in the house, at the corner of the prep table in the center of the kitchen, only seats two).
Unpretentious, classic Southern dishes are key at downtown Charleston’s Hominy Grill, where chef/owner Robert Stehling serves up stone-ground grits, house-made sausages, and fried green tomatoes in a onetime barbershop. The classic 1950s diner signage, extra-comfortable wooden chairs, and seasonal desserts like persimmon pudding embody everything comfort food stands for.
Squire Fox Photography
Is Mission Chinese Food one of the most overhyped restaurants in America? If you want the opinion of the restaurant’s own Korean-born, Oklahoma-raised chef Danny Bowien, the answer is yes. But most fans of the San Francisco original and the currently shuttered second location in New York City’s Lower East Side would vehemently argue that the attention and praise are well-deserved. Some might even argue that Bowien — who has been praised for doing to Chinese food "what Led Zeppelin did to the blues," and is known to have flown his entire San Francisco kitchen staff to China to try the real thing — is just being humble and has picked up the mantle of New York’s other Korean-American sensation, David Chang. Bowlen's kung pao pastrami, cumin lamb breast, and riff on ma po tofu are just some of the signature dishes on a menu of what Bowien himself calls "Americanized Oriental food."
It was nearly five years ago when chef David Chang set New York’s culinary world aflame when he opened this revolutionary restaurant, and one can argue that the city’s restaurant scene hasn’t been the same since. A simple counter with a handful of stools and chefs preparing a constantly-changing menu in full view of the diners, the no-frills space had so many clamoring for a seat that they implemented an outrageous online-only reservations system that spawned its own black market. The most upscale and in-demand of Chang’s restaurants — which also includes several other Momofukus and Má Pêche — he’s decided to close the original restaurant and re-open several blocks away with a counter that seats 25 and four four-tops, and it’s one of the year’s most anticipated shuffles. We’re just hoping we’ll finally be able to snag a reservation.
“Molecular gastronomy" may be a buzzword, but a restaurant that takes an iconic dish and turns it into edible art is something to be recognized. With offerings like squash-roasted peanut soup with cockscomb and fig tobacco; milk braised pork collar with sunchokes, black sesame, and kaffir; and bartlett pear sorbet with honey-milk crisp and tarragon, Wylie Dufresne continues to prove himself one of our country's most imaginative and technically accomplished chefs.
The original Paris version of this restaurant, which merits three Michelin stars, is elegant and consistently wonderful. The Las Vegas clone (there is also one in Singapore) possesses two Michelin stars of its own, as well as the Forbes Travel Five Star Award, The AAA Five Diamond Award, and many others. The menu closely resembles the Parisian one and contains such Savoy modern classics as "colors of caviar," artichoke and black truffle soup, and salmon iceberg. A few years back, a writer for Gourmet ate the same food at the Paris and Las Vegas restaurants and found them pretty much equal in quality. Ironically, at the Las Vegas Guy Savoy, you can even see the Eiffel Tower out the window (the one at the Paris Hotel), which the Parisian Guy Savoy can't match.
Restaurant Guy Savoy Caesars Palace
A reservation at minibar is still very difficult to come by — you need to send them an email a couple of months ahead of time and keep your fingers crossed. Diners perch at two counters overlooking the kitchen, which The Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema called "suggestive of an operating theater when you factor in the chefs in their whites, bending over dishes manipulated by tweezers, tongs, liquid nitrogen and cloches galore." Expect a "molecular gastronomy" experience filled with culinary hat tricks — think edible rubber duckies, popcorn that smokes in your mouth, a churro made with veal tendon. Even with a price tag of $225 for 30 (mini) courses, it's a steal of a deal. The imaginative cuisine displayed at minibar scored chef José Andrés a 2011 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award. This year, Andrés opened the adjoining barmini, his “culinary cocktail lab” where more than 100 adventuresome cocktail creations adorn the menu and, according to Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema, is “home to some of the most fascinating liquids this city has ever sipped.”
Quince offers a refined, modern Italian and French-inspired menu. Located in a historic brick and timber building dating back to 1907 in San Francisco’s Jackson Square neighborhood, the Michelin-starred restaurant is both charming and elegant. Chef and owner Michael Tusk, who won the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Pacific, creates a dining experience rooted in his relationships with a tightly knit network of only the best Northern Californian food purveyors. Typical dishes include black cod, ibérico ham, Dirty Girl Farm leeks, and celeriac. After stints at elBulli and The Fat Duck, executive pastry chefs Alen Ramos and Carolyn Nugent came to Quince. Their bread and pastry programs helped contribute to the restaurant’s success and its achievement of three Michelin stars. Quince’s stylish, intimate setting provides the backdrop for either a prix fixe four-course dinner or a seasonally inspired tasting menu.
Sure, when you have been open forever and entertained stars of a high caliber such as Sinatra and Muhammad Ali, people are bound to treat you as a historical attraction. But behind this 100-year-old establishment, the old-school seafood house still boasts a massive menu. Should you make the pilgrimage, your order should be simple: stone crab claws (jumbos if available, nothing smaller than large) when they're in season, hash browns, and key lime pie. Can’t head down? Joe’s can now come to you.
Joe's Stone Crab
At this slightly fancier and more ambitious next-door cousin of his popular Frontera Grill, Rick Bayless serves irresistible Mexican fare of a kind not otherwise found outside some of the better restaurants of Mexico itself, if even there. Red snapper in "red ceviche" (cured with crimson hibiscus), frogs' leg tamal with cascabel chile, lamb in ancho-tamarind sauce, and cajeta crêpes with chocolate and plaintains are among vividly flavored attractions in this colorful, well-run dining room.
The big, slurp-worthy bowls of New York City’s best ramen draw customers back again and again to the East Village, to this original Manhattan location of one of Japan's best-known ramen chains (there is now a second location on the West Side). Sometimes you can see them sidling up to the bar to drown themselves in sake to make the wait at the glass-covered ramen bar at the front of the restaurant bearable. Once you do sit down… joy! There’s always the Shiromaru Hakata Classic, described as "the original silky 'tonkotsu' (pork) soup noodles topped with pork loin chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, menma [fermented bamboo shoots], red pickled ginger, and scallions." But the various limited-time-only specials are most often the fun way to go. A recent example is the Szechuan-style spicy tonkotsu ramen with black sesame sauce, topped with "niku-miso dame" [Japanese meat sauce], chashu pork, cabbage, cilantro, fragrant shrimp oil, and fresh lime.
Ippudo New York
When it opened, Marea was immediately acclaimed as one of the most original and consistently wonderful upscale Manhattan restaurants in recent memory. This very handsome establishment on Central Park South; in a sunny dining room that long housed San Domenico, specializes in exquisitely fresh fish and shellfish in Italian-inspired preparations by skilled chef and restaurateur Michael White. Try the crostini with lardo and sea urchin; which caused waves of buzz at the time and has since become one of the city’s "checklist" dishes or the fusilli with octopus and bone marrow.
Like Manresa, Gary Danko is another reader favorite from California making this list for the first time this year. Danko; whose classical training focuses on French, Mediterranean, and regional American cooking, has been receiving accolades from the likes of the James Beard Foundation, Zagat, Michelin, and Esquire since opening his eponymous San Francisco Wharf area restaurant in 1995. Choose from the three-, four-, or five-course prix-fixe menus and prepare for dishes like glazed oysters with Osetra caviar, salsify, and lettuce crean; horseradish-crusted salmon medallion with dilled cucumbers and mustard sauce; and seared fillet of beef with potato gratin, Swiss chard, cassis-glazed shallots, and Stilton butter. At Gary Danko, everything is expertly executed and everything has a purpose and place.
Restaurant Gary Danko
Canlis is a true Pacific Northwest landmark. It’s been open since 1950, serving 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. Canlis was revolutionary when it opened due to its stunning architecture and trailblazing menu of upscale Northwest cuisine (which founder Peter Canlis essentially invented), and it’s still blazing new trails while keeping the classics, such as the famous Canlis salad, on the menu. The menu offers both classic and contemporary dishes; for instance, Wagyu steak tartare, sautéed prawns, or grilled lamb loin in the first case; roasted cauliflower with maitake mushrooms and Champagne vinaigrette, hamachi sashimi with Granny Smith apple and serrano pepper, or 14-day dry-aged Muscovy duck breast for two in the second.
For years, we bought the myth that sushi was an inviolable tradition, understood only by the Japanese and impervious to modernization. Then Nobu Matsuhisa came along to disprove the latter — and American chefs like Tim Cushman at O Ya in Boston (see #36) and Tyson Cole at Uchi and Uchiko in Austin tossed both notions out like empty sake bottles. There's no telling what classicists would make of Cole's bigeye tuna with goat cheese, fuji apple, and pumpkin seed oil; tempura shrimp spring roll with Vietnamese fish sauce and grapes; or pork jowl with Brussels sprout kimchee, romaine, preserved lemon, and crème fraîche; but the hungry Austinites who crowd this rustic house-turned-restaurant obviously eat it all up.
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. Recent menus have included such creations as inverted fromage blanc tart with fennel and wheatgrass; grass-fed veal with chicories, caper berries, and Seville orange; and a buttermilk-ginger sorbet with epazote. Some of Coi’s many accolades include a two-star Michelin rating and the title of 58th best restaurant in the world according to San Pellegrino.
For almost 20 years, Il Buco has been one of New York City's most appealing Italian restaurants, serving unpretentious, savory food based on first-rate American and Italian ingredients. In late 2011, the proprietors opened this more casual sister restaurant — a loose translation of Alimentari & Vineria is "food shop and wine bar" — and it's so lively, with such vivid, hearty food, that it has all but overshadowed the original. Chef Justin Smillie, who refined his craft at Barbuto; among other places, fries baby artichokes and grills quail with the best of them, makes great pastas in-house (lasagnette with ragù Bolognese, plump Neapolitan-style schialatelli with octopus and spicy tomato sauce), and delights diners with everything from short rib and gorgonzola panini at lunchtime to razor clam ceviche with hearts of palm and spit-roasted rabbit with endive and Taggiasca olives at night.
With an atmosphere The New York Times' restaurant critic Pete Wells described as “like a Riviera home rented out to a rock band,” the NoMad continues to impress with its extensive menu that includes the legendary roast chicken for two, roasted duck with winter citrus, suckling pig confit with pears and cabbage, and rich sweetbreads. Esquire named NoMad’s bar as one of the best in the country, and there’s nothing quite like that 12-story rooftop view.
Sure, you can travel all the way upstate to Stone Barns to experience chef Dan Barber’s exquisite brand of farm-to-table cooking, but at its sister restaurant; located on a quaint and charming block just off Washington Square Park, the farm comes to you. There are few other restaurants in the city that sing the praises of super-fresh, super-seasonal produce and pasture-raised meats quite as reverently and stunningly as Blue Hill does — and for as long as it has; since 2000. A glance around the room at those who come to worship at Barber’s altar in various states of quiet contemplation should tell you all you need to know. Take a bite of the goose egg pasta with sea urchin, ginger, and black trumpet mushrooms; the Berkshire pig with sweet potato, miso, peanuts, and yellowfoot chanterelle mushrooms; or the braised hake with apple, fennel, soy beans, pine nuts, and clams, and you’ll find yourself at a loss for words as well.
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 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's Financial District, Michael Mina; 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; for instance, Morro Bay abalone with Japanese rice, cedar smoked apple, shiitake mushroom, and dashi broth.
Chef Suzanne Goin was nominated for the James Beard Outstanding Chef of the Year Award every year from 2008 to 2013 for her first endeavor, Lucques, which opened in 1998 and remains as good as ever. The restaurant shines with a warm dining room, an enchanting patio, and a menu of bright, full-flavored food (beluga lentil salad with avocado, shaved beets, watercress, cumin and garlic labneh; pork scaloppini with sweet potato, dandelion, crushed pepitas, dates and mascarpone), based on raw materials from sources "guided by principles of sustainability."
Rob Stark Photography
Fore Street's wood-roasted menu has been bringing diners in steadily since 1996. Locally harvested mussels, diver scallops, turnspit-roasted chicken and pork loin, marinated hanger steak, and other basics; accompanied by vegetables grown or foraged from nearby farms and fields are the staples of the seasonally-changing menu here. Chef Sam Hayward was a pioneer on locally derived, simply cooked restaurant fare at Fore Street. His restaurant family has now grown to include Street & Company, Standard Baking Company, Scales at the Public Market, and Two Fat Cats. All are located in Portland, while this farm-to-table location brings the freshest menu to the north side of town.
Like Thomas Keller's original Bouchon, near his landmark French Laundry (see #33 in the Napa Valley) the big, bustling Las Vegas version does a splendid job of emulating a Parisian bistro. Part of that has to do with the decorative tile floors, café lighting, brass and zinc accents, the black leather banquettes, and ladderback chairs, but it's even more a matter of the perfectly sourced and prepared, absolutely classic French bistro menu that ranges from oysters and mussels to foie gras hot or cold, or from croque madame to poulet rôti.
In the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, a frasca is a roadside farm restaurant, serving simple regional food. Frasca Food and Wine captures the spirit of these places while also championing the vast diversity of Colorado’s unique culinary resources. Owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have created a warm and inviting space that can accommodate a casual, impromptu dinner or an evening of fine dining, and offer a unique menu that includes salumi and cheeses along with entrées like Broken Arrow Ranch quail, kabocha squash, farro and crimini mushroom. Whatever you do, don’t miss the frico caldo, a crispy pancake of potatoes, onions, and Piave cheese — a Friulian specialty.
Frasca Food & Wine
With seasonally inspired food using locally sourced, sustainable ingredients; many of which come straight from the farm, this downtown Charleston, S.C. spot is a great place to eat well and clean. James Beard Award nominated chefs Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow offer a rotating menu of simple, locally grown and harvested cuisine. Think purée of rutabaga soup with granny smith apples, sauteed golden tilefish with Carolina Gold Rice grits, and Sea Island Ossabaw braised pork shoulder. This delicious restaurant has also nabbed a few accolades for its bar service, with whiskey a specialty.
Readers of The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in America have been asking, “Where’s Manresa?” since the inaugural list was first published in 2011. They’ll certainly be happy (or more likely, just ask, “What took so you long?”) to see chef David Kinch’s special Los Gatos restaurant land on the list and shoot up into the Top-40 this year. Located in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains since it opened in 2002, chef Kinch’s restaurant defies conventional culinary categorization. As Charles Bowden wrote a few years ago, “The restaurant press says he is cooking New California Cuisine or he is cooking French or he is cooking Catalan or he is farm-to-table…” but really the best way to describe him and his cuisine is to use one word: original. What to expect? There is a $185 tasting menu that uses products grown using biodynamic practices from Love Apple Gate Farms in Santa Cruz, and another menu that changes frequently. You’ll find the menu divided into some 55 simple words separated by virgules — “carrot / clams / duck / fromage blanc” — words that don’t betray even a hint of the vast landscapes of ingredients and flavors that appear during the course of a meal that’s thoughtful and experimental but not overwrought.
Michael David Rose
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, which has since transformed into a shop specializing in Thai-style noodles. In April 2012, he opened Pok Pok NY on Brooklyn’s off-the-beaten-path Columbia Street Waterfront, and it proved so popular that last year it was forced to move into bigger digs up the street — but his Portland original remains Ricker's definitive establishment.
Chef Tim Cushman brings innovative sushi and related new-Japanese fare 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. Cushman won the 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast. You can expect to enjoy dishes like balsamic chocolate kabayaki, claudio corallo raisin cocoa pulp, sip of aged sake and warm eel with thai basil, kabayaki, fresh kyoto sansho.
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 grilled quail wrapped in pancetta to duck al mattone.
Mario Batali’s flagship restaurant is a testament to his undying mission of keeping the food in his New York restaurants as close to Italy as possible. Whatever specialty ingredients aren’t imported from Italy are made at Babbo “as an Italian might in the Mid-Atlantic/Hudson region.” Although it’s difficult to get in without a reservation, it’s not utterly impossible. Arrive hungry, because the seven-course pasta menu is not for the faint of heart. Explore Italy by land and sea with dishes like grilled octopus in spicy limoncello vinaigrette, sea scallops, pig foot ‘Milanese,’ warm tripe ‘alla Parmigiana,’ and beef cheek ravioli.
Shellfish platters, pâté, salt cod beignets, steak frites, steamed mussels, escargots, 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. The watchword here; however, isn't "innovation." Bouchon is about traditional fare done right.
Thomas Keller Restaurant Group
You’ll find a homey setting offering approachable yet modern fare at this San Francisco eatery, popular since the day it opened in 2005. Run by chefs Nick Balla and Courtney Burns along with baker Chad Robertson, Bar Tartine is sophisticated but unpretentious. Chef Balla pickles, smokes, and bakes seasonal ingredients for his monthly menus and offers dishes like Brussels sprouts with trout roe alongside chicken in paprika sauce with buckwheat and collards. (Spring for the $65 multi-course “Friends and Family Menu”). The cozy setting, right off a bustling street in the Mission District, evokes the comfort of your own home, but the menu tells you you’re in for a fine dining experience. Tartine Bakery is the restaurant's sister establishment, so the bread basket is a must.
Most New York City restaurants would consider themselves lucky to even get a review in the New York 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. The culinary style might be called classic new American, which translates to such dishes as yellowfin tuna tartare with Japanese cucumber and sweet miso ginger vinaigrette, roasted red and yellow beed salad with feta cheese and tangerine, seared Hudson Valley foie gras with quince purée, and Niman Ranch pork chop with braised greenmarket kale.
Gotham Bar & Grill
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; widely 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 sea bass and artichoke en cocotte with truffled langoustine ravioli, grilled spiny lobster in green curry with coriander, and chaud-froid of sea urchin on fennel potato purée. The 16-course tasting menu is a truly memorable experience — as well it ought to be at $425 a head, wine not included.
Del Posto is the result of a collaboration between Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich, and Mario Batali. With these three big names banding together, the result is “the ultimate expression of what an Italian restaurant should be.” As a relative newcomer to the fine dining scene, Del Posto opened in 2010 in the Meatpacking District, and received a coveted four-star review from The New York Times, the first Italian restaurant to do so in nearly four decades. Enjoy gourmet modern twists on Italian classics like truffled carne cruda with grana padano & watercress buds, ricotta & egg yolk gnudi with black truffle, and the restaurant's famous 100-layer lasagna (less expensive and a bit easier to experience during lunch), before ending your meal with a chocolate ricotta tortina.
Come to Bern's and bask in the glory of excess. With seven different cuts of premium aged steak available in over 50 sizes and broiled over a variety of temperatures, you can be sure that there will be something for everyone in your party. Oh, and did we mention the 20 kinds of caviar on the menu, the two preparations of foie gras, the two kinds of steak tartare (one with truffles), oysters three ways, and the endless varieties of fish and shellfish? Don’t forget the 16 different cheeses; both domestic and imported, nearly 50 desserts; including gluten- and sugar-free varieties, served upstairs in a special dessert room, and the list of about 7,000 wines (5,500 of them red).
Amy Pezzicara Pezz Photo
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. His dishes also always incorporate the finest local food that the Gulf has to offer; for example, his roasted Gulf dorado with house cured lardo, crisp farro, and Swiss chard, or his Chappapeela Farms tête de cochon with crispy pig tail and house pickles.
ABC Kitchen is a celebration of the best ingredients that each season has to offer, all served in the classically elegant style for which Jean-Georges Vongerichten is widely known. Market-fresh dishes from chef Dan Kluger, like roasted carrot and avocado salad with crunchy seeds, sour cream, and citrus, stand alongside Vongerichten mainstays like pretzel-dusted 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 remains in the rotation for serious restaurant-goers in New York City.
Only three years after its opening, chef Grant Achatz's groundbreaking restaurant Next seems as if it has always been part of the culinary avant-garde — ironic for a restaurant whose entire prix-fixe concept changes every few months. There's nothing blasé about Next. You never know what's going to be placed before you — it could be chicken liquid croquettes (elBulli menu) or the world’s best mac and cheese (Childhood menu). Well, technically, it will be neither, given that they're from past menus and the menus don't repeat. But you get the idea. Next has paid homage to legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier, then it was a futuristic Thai menu, followed by Childhood; an homage to the now-closed elBulli, explorations of Sicily and Kyoto, "The Hunt,” and a vegan menu. And for 2014, there's been a steakhouse menu under the helm of chef Dave Beran.
Whatever it is, the food here is inventive and exciting without being gimmicky and the service flawless without being fawning. But good luck getting in. There's an online reservation system for buying "tickets," but you'll be joining 20,000 (yes, 20,000) other folks just as desperate and committed to scoring a table. If you get into Achatz's next-door cocktail lounge, The Aviary; in itself no small feat, there's a tiny chance that you might get a late table at Next. Or check Next's Facebook page. Most nights, they hold a table or two and sell them there. The catch? You have to already be in Chicago.
Self-taught chef Patrick O'Connell opened this restaurant in 1978 in what was originally a small-town garage 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. Menu items might include American osetra caviar with peekytoe crab and cucumber rillette, hot and cold foie gras with sauternes gelée and blood orange marmalade, pepper crusted tuna capped with seared duck foie gras on charred onions and burgundy butter sauce, and salty chocolate-caramel tart with olive oil ice cream. O'Connell's partnership with The Inn co-founder Reinhardt Lynch ended in 2007, but praise for this AAA Five Diamond Award-winning property has continued.
Zuni showcases San Francisco Mediterranean cooking at its best. Although award-winning chef-owner Judy Rodgers passed away in December of 2013, Chez Panisse alumnus Gilbert Pilgram continues to run the kitchen. The seasonal and organic ingredients are always impeccable and the fish and meats are sustainably raised. The house-made finocchiona salami with shaved fennel, Black Mission figs, and pistachio picada is a must. The whole roasted chicken with bread salad for two are among the emblematic dishes in this food-mad town, and the house-ground grass-fed burger on rosemary focaccia with aïoli and house-made pickles (lunch only) is epic.
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 Real Cajun cookbook. Inspired by Cajun and Creole culinary traditions from his grandparents, Link serves dishes like “fisherman’s style” oven-roasted gulf fish, and catfish courtbouillon.
The Publican shows you what restaurant design can be: This cavernous, high-ceilinged affair; filled with communal seats and warm hanging globes, makes you feel like you’ve simultaneously stepped into a contemporary fine dining establishment and a restaurant from a Charles Dickens novel. But under chefs Paul Kahan and Brian Huston, this self-described beer-focused restaurant in the West Loop is much more than ambiance and suds. Aged hams, rabbit pasta and pork confit are just some of the amazing delicacies you can enjoy, along with a large savory dessert menu to cap off the evening.
Stephanie Izard’s West Loop restaurant Girl & the Goat, (across the street from her other hot-spots Little Goat Diner and Little Goat Bread) is popular with chefs and locals alike. 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. Dishes like locally grown roasted beets, green beans, white anchovy, avocado creme fraiche and bread crumb are just part of the reason why Izard won the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef accolades in 2013.
Girl & the Goat
Under the direction of the ceaselessly inventive José Andrés, The Bazaar takes visitors on a wild culinary adventure, presenting old-world delicacies in a bold new way. Spanish food; either traditional or avant-garde, has no more fervent and eloquent champion in America than Andrés, proprietor of this multi-part restaurant and culinary theme park. Whether you choose the tasting menu at the semi-hidden SAAM, Ottoman carrot fritters or sea urchin and avocado steamed buns at Bar Centro, or the best jamón Ibérico in America at Rojo y Blanca — or, best of all, a combination of the traditional and the completely mad that is easily achieved here — you’ll have a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience.
Rojo James Merrell
What started off as a place to serve fried quail (California’s state bird) to the masses ended up as one of the hottest restaurants of 2013, even snagging the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant of the year. Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, the husband-and-wife team behind Provisions serve more than 30 small, clever plates via dim-sum style rolling carts. The fried quail; buttermilk-marinated and encrusted with bread and pepita crumbs, might be a signature here, but don’t overlook the section devoted entirely to pancakes, or the elegant, Asian-influenced desserts.
State Bird Provisions
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; one of the few restaurants left in New York where a jacket is required, his classic French technique bridges old and new worlds, eschews heavy sauces, and embraces the spice and flavors of Asian cuisine. The pre-fixe menu features an assortment of the chef’s signature dishes like the sesame-crusted foie gras with dried chilies. His signature Egg Caviar, a lightly scrambled egg topped with whipped cream and osetra caviar, is one of the city’s great bites of food.
Gramercy Tavern is among the finest of the new wave of classic American restaurants; remember that Tom Colicchio was founding partner and chef here before he left to open his own restaurants and become a TV star. The restaurant received the number two spot from us last year. With Danny Meyer running the show and Michael Anthony (who previously spent time at Daniel and helped Dan Barber develop his influential style at Blue Hill at Stone Barns) in control in the kitchen, the restaurant continues to excel at serving refined American cuisine without pretension. Anthony; inspired by the nearby Union Square Greenmarket, has become known for his simply prepared vegetable preparations. Dishes use produce to great effect; such as flounder with cabbage, leeks, olives, and oyster mushrooms; or pork loin and belly with navy beans, tasso, and kale. From the artwork to the lavish floral arrangements, and from the copper-and-candle glow to the reputation for flawless service, a meal at Gramercy Tavern is one you’re not likely to forget any time soon.
A Bourbon Street landmark, Galatoire’s has been serving classic creole, NOLA style cuisine for many generations. The immense menu has changed little over the past century-plus and is full of things like turtle soup au sherry, oysters en brochette, seafood okra gumbo, a variety of seasonal fish and shellfish, chicken Clemenceau, and black bottom pecan pie for dessert. Anyone can get good cooking here, but go with a regular if you can; that way you'll be guaranteed good service (regulars have their "own" waiters) and maybe a taste of something not on the menu.
Under the direction of James Beard Award-winning chef Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon lures diners to its communal tables for hearty, imaginative, locally sourced entrées; (hanger steak with pepperoni, pineapple, and jalapeno; coffee-roasted lamb shoulder with hazelnut endive gratin, and blood orange) and such standing-ovation-worthy desserts as crème brulee with yuzu and yogurt pot de crème, burnt honey meringue, and cinnamon rugelach, and foie gras profiteroles. If it's a slaw-slathered burger you crave, get there early because Rucker serves up precisely five per night.
With its minimalist interior and its highly imaginative menu executed by chef David Posey, Paul Kahan’s 1997-vintage Blackbird continues to please diners with always interesting but never quite outré creations; including steak tartare with rye berries, spicy radish, and hazelnuts; grilled octopus with parsnips, pomegranate, and toasted garlic; aged duck breast with dried parsley root and brussels sprouts; and grilled wagyu flatiron with charred cabbage, crispy onin, and roasted beef cream. Earthy and hearty, this is Midwestern modern cuisine par excellence.
Chef Sean Brock very well might be the ruling king of Southern cuisine which makes his Charleston restaurant, Husk, his throne. Named 2011’s Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit and located right in the heart of the Charleston’s historic and beautiful downtown, Husk celebrates heirloom indigenous Southern products like no other restaurant can: if it’s not Southern, they won’t cook with it, even olive oil. But that strict rule doesn’t hinder the restaurant at all; in fact, it’s the best thing about it – just try the slow-smoked sweet-and-sour Tennessee pork ribs, chicken and dumplings, or slow-cooked heritage pork and you’ll agree. And if you can’t make it to Charleston, a second outpost opened in Nashville last year.
Squire Fox Photography
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 and its "haute Creole" cuisine. Two of its alumni, it might be noted, are Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse — but with chef Tory McPhail at the ovens for over a decade, Commander’s Palace is still going strong. Come hungry and ready for such dishes as the foie gras and candied pecan beignet with foie gras infused café au lait or satsuma and Grand Marnier lacquered quail with bacon-braised Vidalie onions.
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. But if you’re looking for a signature dish you’re out of luck. This literal farm-to-table restaurant prepares reserved meals based largely on the day’s harvest. Most of what you eat here will have been grown, raised, and/or processed on the property, and the modern American food Barber creates from it is full of color and flavor. There’s a reason why he’s one of the most relevant chefs in the country right now.
Meals at this ever-evolving East Village hot spot have wowed critics and won faithful followers since the beginning, and no wonder. David 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). Chang continues to be the culinary cool kid while cementing his status as a top-tier chef by constantly expanding his empire, and everything he touches seems to turn to gold (his high-tech cocktail bar kicked off with Dave Arnold, Booker and Dax, is already ranked among the city’s finest). As an influence on younger chefs, as an animator of the downtown New York restaurant scene, and as a really good cook, Chang deserves a high spot on this list.
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 crispy pig head with short-grain rice, bulldog sauce, and soy egg; marrow bone with chimichurri and caramelized onions; and crispy sweetbreads with black sriracha and finger lime keep chefs and civilians alike coming back for more. Animal may be small, loud, and perpetually crowded, but it sets the standard for uncompromising all-American (which of course means multi-accented) straightforward cooking in the 2010s.
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo Portrait Animal
This very grown-up restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side; Daniel Boulud’s flagship, 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 while the menu changes daily. If you are lucky enough to score a reservation, you may sample such dishes as black truffle-stuffed Dover sole; Elysian Fields roasted lamb chops with vadouvan sauce; grilled artichoke, ricotta barbajuan, and fennel salad; and caramelized puff pastry, bourbon vanilla cream, lingonberries confiture, and almond florentine. (Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s interview with Daniel Boulud on cooking across continents.)
Bar with ppl by E. Laginel
The menu at Alinea can sometimes sound deceptively simple. Take the lobster with carrot and chamomile; for example. What shows up on the plate; however, is absolutely original and almost always dazzlingly good. Having successfully reinvented the way people look at reservations at Next with their innovative, nonrefundable online ticket system and reinterpreted cocktails, bar food, and bar experience with The Aviary, Grant Achatz and his partner Nick Kokonas have also intensified the attention they pay to Alinea. They installed a Next-style reservation system there and continue to push the envelope with how people think about restaurants. Meanwhile, Achatz consistently turns out some of the most imaginative and delicious contemporary (or modernist, if you will) cuisine in the country.
Celebrating more than 42 years in business, Chez Panisse is still going strong even after a devastating fire shut it down for three months last year. Sometimes it's hard to remember just how instrumental this place was in changing the American food scene. Before Chez Panisse, 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 Project, 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, but the truth is that her restaurant's food is still superb, both in the one-menu-a-night downstairs restaurant where the dishes tilt toward Italy and Provence — think white sea bass carpaccio with blood orange vinaigrette and shaved fennel, followed by spit-roasted pork shoulder with salmoriglio sauce and cannelini beans, and the lively, diversified upstairs Café.
In an elegant dining room overlooking Central Park in the Time Warner Center, Per Se upholds the standards set by Thomas Keller at The French Laundry; receiving an annual three-star rating from Michelin since 2006. As at the French Laundry, there are two $295 tasting menus, one of which is vegetarian but the Keller classic "oysters and pearls" is most definitely included in the non-vegetarian version. Here there is also a salon menu, with à la carte offerings including mascarpone enriched Yukon gold potago agnolotti with cipollini onion shoots and pea tendrils; and butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster with brussels sprouts, ruby red grapefruit, and smoked butternut squash purée. Chef Eli Kaimeh does Keller proud with his skillful interpretations of this most refined style of cooking.
Thomas Keller is a perfectionist, approaching contemporary American food with classical technique. His French Laundry, with its now-famous blue door, has established new standards for fine dining in this country. Two $295 nine-course tasting menus are devised each day (one traditional and one vegetarian), and no single ingredient is ever repeated throughout the meal. The classic "oysters and pearls," pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar, is a perennial favorite. While items like sautéed cod with tamarind-glazed eggplant and tomato chutney or Elysian Fields lamb with creamed corn, bacon, chanterelles, and padrón peppers might sound simple, the refinement with which they are presented are anything but. In 2012 The French Laundry received a coveted AAA Five Diamond Award, and it is perennially named one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World by San Pellegrino and Aqua Panna.
Like many of the finer things in life, Eleven Madison Park seems to get better with age. Although it opened to much fanfare and subsequent acclaim in 1998, it was Danny Meyer’s hiring of Swiss-born Daniel Humm to helm the kitchen in 2006 that 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 and three from Michelin — bought Eleven Madison from Meyer in 2011, in partnership with his front-of-house counterpart, Will Guidara, and didn’t miss a beat. The chef is firmly in control here: While Humm will tailor his single $225 multi-course tasting menu to accommodate allergies, dietary restrictions, and ingredient preferences, there is no à la carte selection or smaller menu available. The particulars of the dishes change frequently, but the technique is contemporary French and modernist. The ingredients are heavily New York-based, and the culinary traditions on which the food is based are often those of Gotham street or deli food, producing notably unique results.
This elegant seafood restaurant, headed by chef Eric Ripert, has topped many “best of” lists and has several accolades under its belt, including repeat four-star reviews from The New York Times (the first of them written only a few months of its opening), perfect food ratings in the Zagat guide from 2011 to 2013, and more James Beard Awards than any other restaurant in New York City. Ripert is an artist working with impeccable raw materials. The prix-fixe dinner here features a long list of delicacies from the sea, ranging from “almost raw” first courses to “lightly cooked” mains. Eat in the newly revamped modern dining room against a backdrop of painted waves and enjoy dishes like layers of thinly-pounded yellowfin tuna, foie gras, and toasted baguette with chives and olive oil; king fish sashimi with caviar in a light mariniére broth; baked snapper with charred green tomaotes and Baja-style shrimp sauce; or pan-roasted lobster with truffle salsify and red-wine sauce Américaine.