First came The Daily Meal's 101 Best Restaurants in America, then 101 Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World and 101 Best Restaurants in Europe. Now, The Daily Meal continues its culinary tour of the world with its first-ever roster of the 101 Best Restaurants in Asia.
It would have been easy to name 101 excellent restaurants in China alone, or in Japan, or Hong Kong, but we wanted to represent as wide a geographical area as possible, discovering lesser-known gems in other corners of Asia as well as recognizing the best establishments in more familiar places. Thus, our list includes restaurants in 11 countries — Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam — plus Hong Kong and Macau. China has the most entries, 28 in all.
We offer choices in 25 cities — not just capitals like Beijing, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo, but smaller municipalities, too, among them Danang (Vietnam), Unawatuna (Sri Lanka), and Bintan (Indonesia). We've included plenty of showplace dining rooms in grand hotels, but also places in unlikely locales, like two in Tokyo: Sushi Saito, a seven-seater in a parking garage, and Sukiyabashi Jiro, a celebrated 10-seat sushi bar down in the subway.
In choosing our 101 best, we called upon more than 50 experts who either live in Asia or spend time there frequently — restaurant critics, food and lifestyle writers, and bloggers with wide restaurant-going experience — supplemented by The Daily Meal’s well-traveled editorial staff, and asked them to help nominate a short list of 202 places, then evaluate the selection and vote for their favorites, country by country (meet The Daily Meal's panelists).
We further asked our panelists to vote by region in four categories: Cuisine, Style/Décor/Service, Value, and Don't Miss. From innovative menu options to plating and presentation to freshness, quality, and taste, panelists evaluated each restaurant’s cuisine and voted only for the restaurants which they believe to be extraordinary, whether showplaces for avant-garde culinary techniques or simple venues specializing in noodles or dumplings. They also rated the overall dining experience, from the restaurant’s interior design and dining room ambiance to the skill and efficiency of the service. In the Value category, panelists selected the restaurants that offer the best meals in each price category, defined as the price per person for a meal, food only: budget ($25 or less); moderate (between $25 and $100 — and yes, by Asian standards, that counts as moderate); and pricey but worth it for a splurge ($100 or more). Finally, we asked this question: What restaurant or restaurants should a visitor to each city in our survey absolutely not miss — which, that is, are essential to the culinary identity of each place?
Every restaurant, then, had the chance to be voted on up to four times in the survey. The percentage scores from each category were weighted. With 50 percent, the greatest weight was assigned to our "Cuisine" category. Our "Value" and "Style/Décor/Service" categories had equal weight with 19 percent each, and the remaining weight, or 12 percent, was assigned to "Don't Miss."
We considered restaurants offering the cuisines of their own regions, of course, but also those that serve the food from other parts of Asia (we found excellent Thai food at Baan Aarya in Indonesia, for instance, and excellent sushi at Sushi Oyama in Shanghai). And of course, we included a number of the great restaurants offering classic French, authentic Italian, imaginative East-West fusion, and other cuisines of the world. We did not discriminate according to location; no town, island, or enclave was off the table (see the entire 101 Best Restaurants in Asia list).
Four restaurants from The Daily Meal’s inaugural 101 Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World are also honored here, including three in Hong Kong — Felix at The Peninsula Hotel, Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons, and Man Wah at the Mandarin Oriental — along with Orient Express at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi.
The dining options in Asia today are seemingly endless, from street carts to night markets to cosmopolitan cafés to the domains of European and American celebrity chefs. This has by no means always been true. Sushi bars, for instance, barely existed before the 1920s, and really became ubiquitous around Japan — and then around the rest of Asia and the world — only after refrigerated shipping became common in the last third of the 20th century, allowing fresh fish of sushi quality to be sold almost everywhere.
In most Asian countries, in fact, there isn't a long tradition of restaurants in the modern Western sense — which, among other things, helps explain why there are so many European or fusion places on our list. Another factor, though, has been the rise of the so-called Four Asian Tigers — Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan — whose economies skyrocketed in the latter half of the 20th century, and the increasing Westernization (and accumulation of private wealth) in China, all of which helped create a customer base for restaurants offering sophisticated French or Italian dining. At the same time, provincial, often humble mom-and-pop places remain the norm in vast parts of Asia, and continue to provide some of the best food and most authentic flavors of their regions.
Arguably the most dramatically changed culinary landscape is that of China, which has the most restaurants on the list with 28, 21 of which are in Beijing. As the country opened up after 1989, chefs began to arrive from other countries, eager to serve the people in this vast new marketplace. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games only stimulated culinary creativity, and soon a who’s who of culinary luminaries, like Daniel Boulud and Joël Robuchon, were setting up shop in Beijing, Shanghai, and beyond. Today, it is possible to find not only great Chinese food in the country but also first-rate sushi and Thai and Vietnamese food, as well as representations of French, Italian, Spanish, and other European cuisines that are as good as anything anywhere in the world.
Any list like this one is bound to stir disagreements among discerning diners; even our own staff was divided on which restaurants should make the final cut.
After checking out The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in Asia, share your compliments and critiques in the comments section below — or on Twitter using the hashtag #bestrestaurants — and let us know what places you think should have been included, or should have been left out.
If you have dined at any of these restaurants, pin your favorite photos on The Daily Meal’s Eating & Dining Pinterest board.
Which restaurant made it to the top of the list? Its identity — and its signature dish — might just surprise you.
Lauren Mack, former Travel editor and Special Projects editor at The Daily Meal, lived and dined in Beijing and Taiwan for more than six years. Follow her on Twitter @lmack.
Travel editor Lauren Wilson (@ariellauren), editorial director Colman Andrews (@Colmanandrews), executive editor Arthur Bovino (@Arthur_Bovino), and The Daily Meal editorial staff contributed to 101 Best Restaurants in Asia.