It feels truer with each year that passes: It becomes more and more difficult to rank America’s best restaurants — and we say that having done it for half a decade. As interest in dining out increases, and more great chefs train younger good ones, fantastic food continues to spread across America. Exceptional culinary landscapes in big cities get better, and new and different dining scenes are born and in turn attract and inspire more greatness from a growing number of talented cooks. It makes trying to rank the country’s best restaurants all the more challenging, but also all the more worthwhile and intriguing.
“When one of Portland's best new restaurants opens across from one of its best dive bars, strange things happen,” The Oregonian critic Michael Russell noted in his 2012 “A” review of Ox (the paper’s restaurant of the year in 2013). One such thing was the sight, in Billy Ray’s Neighborhood Dive, of men in sports coats sipping drinks while waiting for a table at the no-reservations, Argentine-inspired Portland steakhouse on the other side of the street. Husband-and-wife chef team Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton (Food & Wine’s 2014 Best New Chefs, and nominees for a 2015 James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest) seem to have done everything right, melding inspiration from Argentina’s wood-fired grilling tradition with the culinary heritage of France, Spain, and Italy.
The menu is broken up into Entradas (starters), Asados (grilled items), Del Huerto (“from the garden”), and Braises and Roasts. Entradas include empanadas, bruschetta, and, for the more adventurous, spicy braised beef tripe and octopus or grilled lamb heart with charred leek purée. There are 11 grilled items, including rib-eye, short rib, lamb shoulder, and maple-brined pork loin; we could go on, but you should probably just order the asado Argentino for two, which includes short rib, chorizo, morcilla, skirt steak, and sweetbreads. “From the garden” is a fun menu heading for a list of dishes that includes hominy stew with braised pork belly, chiles, cilantro, and olive oil-fried duck egg, but that kind of gives you an idea of what you’re getting yourself into at Ox. How do you say no to Brussels sprouts "everything"-style with bagel seasoning, chive mascarpone, and smoked salmon roe, anyway?
Miami’s first Asian-inspired gastropub, Pubbelly is quickly becoming well-known across the country. The brainchild of Andreas Schreiner, Jose Mendin, and Sergio Navarro, this perpetually packed casual spot, located on the west end of Miami Beach, is not only one of the best, most creative restaurants in Miami, it’s also one of the most fun. Pâtés, duck and pork rillettes, terrines, sausages, and pickles are all made in-house, and round out a charmingly creative menu that changes daily, but always includes ramen and udon in ways you’ve never seen them before (like carbonara-inspired), a raw bar, dumplings with fillings like short rib and corn or pastrami and sauerkraut, and a wide selection of small plates for sharing. Check out the fried chicken with mustard miso, pork cheeks with feta gnudi and tzatziki, salt and pepper squid, veal brains “meuniere,” and “chopped” bone marrow with citrus gremolata and bacon marmalade. For the adventurous eater, no visit to Miami is complete without a visit to Pubbelly, or its sister restaurant (one of America's Best Asian Restaurants), Pubbelly Sushi (mmm, Buffalo-style rock shrimp tempura and goma soy paper with snow crab, ponzu, and clarified butter).
Jitlada, a storefront restaurant in Thai Town, has been an institution of the Los Angeles dining scene for decades, but you could argue that it gained critical mass after critic Jonathan Gold highlighted it in 2007. While it has always been known for doing all the standard Thai dishes very well, you have to credit southern Thai chef Suthiporn Sungkamee (“Tui”) and his sister Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong for introducing southern Thai specialties that, until a few years ago, could be found nowhere else in America. Try the kua kling (dry curry beef), khao yam (Songkhia-style rice salad tossed with dried shrimp, toasted coconut, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and a sweet sauce), and whatever else Jazz recommends.
Chef Michael Symon seemed bold when he founded Roast in Detroit’s refurbished Westin Book Cadillac hotel in 2008. Why open a high-end restaurant in a struggling city? It seemed like a risk for a celebrity chef. But Symon says he felt comfortable there, seeing Detroit as similar to Cleveland, where he opened his first restaurant almost 20 years ago. Plus, he has noted, “My dad is a Ford guy, so I was in Detroit a lot as a kid.” Unsurprisingly, Roast, which Symon describes as "a meat house — a steak house plus," has since garnered awards for best restaurant and best steakhouse. This is Iron Chef Symon we’re talking about, so the menu is a carnivore’s paradise. There’s a custom, six-foot-long grill for cooking steaks over mesquite and hardwood charcoal, and an open stainless steel rotisserie beside the dining room. Signature dishes include beef cheek pierogies with horseradish and mushrooms; roasted marrow with sea salt, oregano, capers, and chiles; "roast beast" (slow-roasted whole suckling pig, baby lamb, or goat) with seasonal garnishes; short ribs with Cheddar grits; smoked pork chops with polenta, pickled chiles, and barbeque onions. Of course, there are plenty of other tremendously prepared steaks and chops with delicious accents like filet mignon with crab béarnaise, bavette sirloin with Fresno yogurt and roasted peppers, ribeye with beef fat gremolata, and the porterhouse for two with shallot jus.
The Catbird Seat
One of this list’s more original restaurants, The Catbird Seat is an informal, 32-seat, U-shaped counter only open Wednesday through Saturday. Irish chef Trevor Moran (an alumnus of Noma in Copenhagen) is at the center of the action, preparing meals for watchful guests. Offerings change daily, there’s no set menu, and diners don’t know what to expect until they arrive. To get in the right frame of mind, think oak-aged duck with burnt pear and whiskey sour-infused cotton candy. The multi-course meal costs $115 per person (plus tax and a 20 percent service charge) and takes three to three-and-a-half hours to play out, during which guests are encouraged to interact with the chef and discuss the meal being prepared. One thing is certain: Guests are in for a unique dining experience featuring only the freshest seasonal ingredients.
Decades before the likes of Mario Batali and Michael White reimagined fine Italian dining, Tony Mantuano taught Chicagoans how to enjoy refined Italian fare at Spiaggia (“beach” in Italian). Mantuano has won countless accolades, including the 2005 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest, and was named Best Italian Restaurant in Chicago by The Daily Meal. Reopening after a redesign last year (its first since 1999), the restaurant has 50 percent more seats with views, a new lounge, and a floor-to-ceiling glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled wine room showcasing 1,700 of Spiaggia’s nearly 5,000 bottles. The new restaurant menu follows the traditional Italian courses of antipasto, pasta, secondi, and dessert, but with almost entirely new dishes (the potato gnocchi with ricotta did made the transition). One thing that hasn’t changed is Spiaggia’s ability to delight diners. Much of that can be credited to executive chef Chris Marchino, who serves mouthwatering fare like cut rye spaghetti with Taleggio, morels, chanterelles, and rosemary; chestnut soup with foie gras, farro, and pomegranate; and Slagel Farm suckling pig with preserved rhubarb, fennel, and Controne pepper. If you can’t make up your mind, there’s always the six-course tasting menu, including the famed gnocchi ($165 per person).
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 No. 24) and, in 2003, Tyson Cole at Uchi and Uchiko in Austin tossed these notions aside like empty sake bottles. There's no telling what classicists would make of Cole's hakujin roll with salmon, white asparagus, pear, and cauliflower, or machi cure with smoked baby yellowtail, yucca crisp, Asian pear, marcona almond, and garlic brittle, but the hungry visitors who crowd his Austin Uchi and the Uchi he opened in Houston in 2012 eat it all up. A new Uchi is set to open in Dallas this spring under the guidance of chef Nilton “Junior” Borges, Jr., who previously worked the line in New York City at Colicchio & Sons and was executive chef at Amali.
Known as the founding father of New World cuisine, chef Norman Van Aken — a member of The Daily Meal Council — is acclaimed for his fusion of Latin, Caribbean, and Asian flavors using traditional European techniques. At Norman’s in the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, guests can eat in the opulent dining room or on the restaurant’s outdoor terrace that overlooks the hotel’s lake, 18-hole Greg Norman-designed golf course, and lush gardens. (Norman’s was ranked No. 37 on The Daily Meal’s list of the Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World.) The menu changes according to availability of seasonal ingredients, with dishes such as yucca-stuffed crispy shrimp with sour orange mojo, habanero tartar salsa, and Nicaraguan slaw; fried green tomatoes with queso fresco and escabeche-spiced mayo; maple-glazed Kurobuta pork belly with preserved artichoke, celeriac purée, and sherry reduction; and Havana banana split with rum-flamed bananas, macadamia nut brittle, and vanilla bean ice cream.
Dylan + Jeni
Menus wider than your chest. The tile floor from “The Godfather.” Waiters... er, "captains" hired for pure theater. A vision for the upscaling of all of New York City's greatest Italian-American restaurants and a devotion to centralizing their cultures and atmospheric conventions. Carbone is a restaurant that New York City, with all its storied tradition of great Italian culture (think Mama Leone, Il Mulino, and Don Pepe), has been waiting for for decades. It just didn't know it.
At this joint venture between chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone and their partner, Jeff Zalaznick, pastas thrill. Consider the linguine vongole, the spaghetti puttanesca, and one of the best renditions of rigatoni vodka you’ll ever have (spicy, too!). The lobster fra diavolo, pork chop and peppers, and cherry pepper ribs are all fun. You have to appreciate a place that takes seriously the idea of upscaling Italian-American classics like chicken scarpariello and veal parm. And there are nice touches to end the meal: a modern art carrot cake and homemade limoncello, for example. All reasons why Carbone made The Daily Meal’s list of the Best Italian Restaurants in New York City. But the prices! Forgive the expression, but Mamma mia! A $58 veal parm (up from $54 not long ago) that serves one? Is that Italian?
Chef Russell Moore opened Camino with Allison Hopelain in 2008 after spending 20 years at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse (see No. 39) where he wrote the menu for the upstairs cafe for at least 12 years. He has brought the same ethos of fresh, local, and seasonal foods — and daily menus — to his endeavor. There are just three fires going in the kitchen at Camino, and so there are just three main courses, each the responsibility of a single cook every night. Think grilled duck breast and slow-cooked duck leg with farro, snap peas, grilled little gem lettuce, Seville orange, and almonds; wood oven-baked artichoke gratin with black kale, red lentils, mint, and an egg cooked by the fire; and grilled local ling cod with Savoy cabbage, turnips, cilantro, and pickled chile broth. The idea is for the cooks to maintain total control of everything cooked on the grill and in the wood-burning oven. That’s the kind of dedication that has made the restaurant a local favorite, Moore a semifinalist for James Beard’s Best Chef: West award. Oh, and when it comes to the check, Moore and Hopelain have taken a “No More Tips” approach. When you look at the prices, remember that the owners have factored in their employees’ living wages.
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 with co-owner Donato Poto in 2005 on the southern edge of Hollywood, serves market tasting menus as well as an à la carte listing of carefully selected seafood from both coasts and beyond, prepared with great originality. He holds two Michelin stars for his efforts. 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? At $150 for the complete market menu, $200 for the signature and seasonal menus, and $210 for the chef's menu, Providence isn't for diners on a budget, but it’s definitely a great place for those looking to celebrate.
Andrew Thomas Lee
Chef Ford Fry is a Houston native who graduated from the New England Culinary Institute. He has served as a fine-dining chef in Texas, Florida, California, and Colorado, but he chose Atlanta and its environs as the place to build his empire. And he’s done quite a job at that. It all started with JCT Kitchen & Bar, but the chef now has seven restaurants, and it’s The Optimist (named for a children’s dinghy), an exemplary seafood-centric spot in this landlocked city, headed by Fry along with executive chef Adam Evans, that most enchanted this year’s panelists. It’s a modern, roomy space that seats at least 180, with an impressive bar that serves a dozen different kinds of oysters, from New Brunswick Fancy Sweets to Washington Shigokus.
Standout dishes include the duck fat-poached swordfish with crispy pork belly, Florida strawberries, pickled red onion, and basil, and the beer-battered cod with crispy potatoes and malt vinegar aïoli. Of course, at this point, the basmati “fried rice” (smoked fish, curry, peanuts, cilantro, and egg) and the frothy she-crab soup with shrimp toast have become buzzed-about bellwethers. And then there’s the six-ounce, two-patty, skirt-steak-trimming burgers, ground with frozen butter and served with caramelized onions and tangy remoulade (available during lunch only).
If Houston’s dining scene is still a secret to culinary outsiders, then shame on them. The vibrancy of this city’s food world is thanks to chefs like Underbelly’s Chris Shepherd, who insisted on an in-house butcher shop in his first restaurant and who works with Houston’s finest ranchers and farmers to source the best possible products. This farm-to-table approach isn’t the only thing that makes it stand out in a sea of Houston dining options, though; the restaurant is dedicated to telling "the culinary story" of its city, reaching back all the way to its Creole roots (“Houston is the new American Creole city of the South,” Underbelly’s site explains). Expect dishes like shrimp and soured corn chowder with Benton’s bacon; red beans, rice, and pork loin; tamales “a la Xavi” with grapefruit salad; and family-style servings featuring offerings like smoked pork roast, slow-cooked pot roast, and Texas smoked brisket. No matter what, don’t miss the Korean braised goat and dumplings — it’s unforgettably good.
Topolobampo refers to the port with that name on the Gulf of California in northwestern Sinaloa, Mexico. 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 found outside some of the better restaurants of Mexico itself, if even there. It’s hard to believe that this Chicago institution is now more than 25 years old, especially since a redesign last year gave the restaurant a brand new feel, one that has critics falling in love with it all over again. Dishes are organized under eight categories (vibrant, bold, fresh, complex, ancient, enchanting, soulful, and luxurious), which patrons choose from to create their own three-, five- or seven-course tasting menus ($55, $90, and $120, respectively). What can you expect? Smoked scallop "taquitos" (vibrant), crispy torta with aged artisanal Blackberry Farm ham (bold), and "Chanfaina, 2.0," or seared foie gras, smoked tongue, and crispy sweetbreads (complex) are just a few of the enticing dishes recently on the menu. If you can’t decide, you can also opt for The Perfect Seven, a seven-course meal chosen by the chefs. You might want to ask them to include the carne asada, one of the restaurant’s beloved mainstays.
It seems you can blink and chef Michael Mina will have opened another restaurant. At last count, the Egyptian-born Mina owned 23 restaurants and bars in California, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Wyoming, and Florida. But he recently refocused on this, his San Francisco flagship, a restaurant that represents the reimagination of the upscale seafood restaurant (AQUA) that he helped design in 1991 at age 22, and is perhaps most famous for.
Once able to fit 144 tables, the revamped dining room at Michael Mina now features just 78, although it has a separate 25-seat private dining room. With the addition of noise reduction panels, a return to white tablecloths (they were abandoned in 2010), and a move to a prix-fixe-only menu for dinner ($95 for four courses, $165 for nine), the restaurant has taken a more intimate turn, with a more traditional fine dining feel (you can still order à la carte during lunch and from a pared down à la carte menu at the bar for dinner). Indeed, the chef has said he wants it “to be a four-star restaurant.”
Executive chef Ron Siegel's menu features a Japanese- and French-inspired take on the best American ingredients, which may mean you start off your meal with caviar, followed by Morro Bay abalone with braised pork, wasabi gel, and dashi; Stonington sea scallops with sugar snap peas; and black truffle risotto with Maine lobster, Meyer lemon, and Parmigiano-Reggiano foam. No matter what, you’re going to want to sample Mina’s most famous dishes: the lobster pot pie and ahi tuna tartare.
Since chef Corey Lee opened Benu after four years at The French Laundry (see No. 6), it has consistently been ranked one of the finest restaurants in the country. Lee is a rising star, and he continues to collect stars, too. In 2015, Michelin gave three to Benu, putting it on par with two of California’s most celebrated restaurants, Thomas Keller’s aforementioned St. Helena icon and Chris Kostow’s Restaurant at Meadowood (see No. 18). But unlike those wine country establishments, Benu is located in a historic building in the heart of San Francisco’s SOMA district.
Lee’s menus incorporate the best of Asian and American cuisine, combining them in thoughtful ways. To hear him discuss a recent source of inspiration for his upcoming cookbook, the Haenyeo of Jeju — women in their 60s, 70s, and 80s (the oldest was 87) who carry on a dying, centuries-old tradition of free-diving for seafood to provide for their families — is to understand the depth of consideration and feeling the chef puts into his work. On the plate, this all translates to a $228 tasting menu featuring dishes like thousand-year-old quail egg with potage and ginger; frog leg with mountain yam and celery; sea urchin with okra and nori; foie gras xiao long bao; and Ossetra caviar with winter melon and chicken cream.
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 family-style dinners served in an intimate atmosphere not much bigger than four or five of Portland’s famed food carts. Chef/owner Naomi Pomeroy accepts just enough reservations for two six-course dinner seatings (6:00 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.) Wednesday through Saturday, as well as two four-course brunch services and one dinner service every Sunday. Patrons dine at a pair of communal tables (the restaurant seats just 24), where they are served the prix fixe menu of the day (“substitutions politely declined”). The particulars change weekly (the menu for the upcoming week is posted each Tuesday), but, just as an illustration of the range and imagination here, the house charcuterie plate might include steak tartare with quail egg, foie gras bon bon with peanut shortbread, Calabrian chile pork sausage, and pork and duck pâté with green garlic.
Those 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). Those unable to get in can at least now go across the street to dull the pain at Expatriate, the cocktail lounge Pomeroy opened in 2013, where they can choose from a small menu divided into Biggie Smalls (think shrimp toast and James' Beard's onion and butter sandwich), Salad Days (samosa chaat and a "very spicy cucumber salad"), and Hungrier (tempura cod sandwich, Burmese coconut noodles, and Korean fried game hen).
This small, 30-seat restaurant, housed in the historic Erie City Iron Works building in Houston’s Warehouse District, is about as locally beloved a restaurant on this list as you can find. The chef, Houston native Justin Yu, staged in Europe and worked at the now closed Ubuntu in the Napa Valley before returning home to open Oxheart, where his philosophy is based on “Texas' best ingredients, cooked in a focused, creative way.” That translates to a choice of two six-course, $74 menus nightly, Thursday through Monday: a garden menu (think dried beets soaked in tangerine juice or radishes cooked different ways and served with lemon balm and dried potato skins) and a tasting menu featuring many of the same dishes but with a few meat additions, including sofrito of dried shellfish, steamed gulf crawfish, and smoked wild boar. Oxheart has been named the city’s best restaurant by the Houston Chronicle’s restaurant critic Alison Cook for two years running (she gave it four stars in 2012), and it’s one of the few and first restaurants that New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells has visited outside of New York City for an informal review. Keep in mind that, because there’s some serious draw, reservations can be difficult to obtain; they’re taken by phone between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Thursday through Monday, and can only be made for the current and following month
The past two years were tough ones for wunderkind Danny Bowien. The Lower East Side iteration of his San Francisco success Mission Chinese was shut down by the health department for sanitary violations (it has since reopened in a new location), he became involved in lawsuits with his landlord, and his Mexican endeavor, Mission Cantina, was met with a relative critical shrug. But meanwhile, the Korean-born, Oklahoma-raised chef’s original San Francisco Mission Chinese keeps plugging along, serving the kung pao pastrami, cumin lamb breast, and riff on ma po tofu that earned him praise for doing to Chinese food "what Led Zeppelin did to the blues.”
Ippudo New York
The big, slurp-worthy bowls of New York City’s best ramen draw customers back again and again to the East Village to visit the original Manhattan location of one of Japan's best-known ramen chains (there is now a second Ippudo on the West Side). You’ll probably want to sidle up to the bar and drown yourself in sake to make the wait (it can often be as long as two to three hours, especially during the winter) more bearable. But 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 often the best way to go. Speaking of best ways, there is a secret to cracking the Ippudo wait, but you have to be willing to dine solo. There’s usually no more than a five- to 15-minute wait for a seat at the counter or the community table. Hey, who needs conversation when there’s a bowl to slurp from?
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. It’s helmed by The Daily Meal’s 2014 American Chef of the Year Sean Brock: a risk-taker, a proponent of Southern tradition, and an advocate for modern technique. Brock represents American culinary pioneering in one of its hottest, oldest, and proudest culinary traditions, making McCrady’s and his two Husk locations (Nashville and Charleston; see No. 16) three of this country’s must-visit culinary destinations. The chef weaves touches of modernity into his definitely Southern-based cuisine (“If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door,” he has stated); take, for example, dishes like Benton’s Surry ham plate with Jimmy red corn crackers and popcorn mayonnaise; salad of sweet potato, smoked trout, fennel, dill, and buttermilk curd; and roasted snapper, brassica, red onion purée, and pickled clams.
The Jefferson Hotel has been a Richmond institution since opening in 1895, and Lemaire has been its culinary go-to since it opened in 1986, in the space that was originally the ladies’ parlor. Lemaire, named in honor of Thomas Jefferson’s White House maître d’hôtel (he is said to have introduced Americans to the art of cooking with wine), has been under the guidance of executive chef and native Virginian Walter Bundy since 2001. Lemaire’s stated philosophy is to offer “extraordinary Virginia ingredients in an affordable and delicious format,” featuring upscale Southern cuisine that honors traditions while providing a modern, fresh approach. Bundy, who once worked at The French Laundry, has transformed Lemaire from a place for special occasions to a more casual venue that allows guests to enjoy a fine-dining experience in a less formal setting, thanks to a six-month renovation and a reimagining of the restaurant’s mission.
Those extraordinary Virginia ingredients include Tom and Ann Gallivan’s Shooting Point Oysters, Jo and Rob’s Manakintowne Farms lettuces, Jamerson Farms rabbit, Byrd Mill grits, and Kite's Country Hams. Look for dishes like chicken-fried Chesapeake bay oysters; rum-scented jumbo sea scallops with parsnip-coconut ravioli, romanesco, chile oil, and blood orange butter; and coffee- and brown sugar-glazed pork loin chop with Anson Mills polenta, slab bacon, and bourbon jus. Keep an eye out for alligators on waiters’ ties, barstool upholstery, and even in the restaurant’s logo, a reference to the baby alligators that Richmonders wintering in Florida brought back with them to live in the marble pools in the Palm Court lobby, off of which Lemaire is located (the last alligator lived at the hotel until 1948).
Gary Danko, whose classical training focuses on French, Mediterranean, and regional American cooking, has received accolades from the likes of the James Beard Foundation, Michelin, Esquire, and Zagat since he opened his eponymous San Francisco wharf-area 75-seat restaurant in 1995. Choose from the three-, four-, or five-course prix fixe menus ($81, $99, and $117, respectively) and prepare for dishes like glazed oysters with Ossetra caviar, salsify, and lettuce cream; risotto with rock shrimp, Dungeness crab, shimeji mushrooms, and roasted butternut squash; and roasted quail stuffed with mushroom ragout, leeks, quinoa, and foie gras with fingerlings and porcini cream. At Gary Danko, everything is expertly executed and everything has a purpose and place.
Another decade, another New York Times three-star restaurant for restaurateur Drew Nieporent and Myriad Restaurant Group at 239 West Broadway, on the site of Montrachet, his first success in TriBeCa. What’s that? Montrachet is dead? Its successor, Corton is dead? Long live Bâtard! After opening in mid-2014 with Charlie Trotter and Gordon Ramsay alumnus Markus Glocker at the helm, bearing a name that means exactly what you think it does in French (OK, it also refers to a Burgundy vineyard), Bâtard has made an immediate impression on New York’s fine dining scene. It’s been enchanting reviewers and bloggers with contemporary American nouvelle cuisine, which they’re describing as being prepared with "a sniper's accuracy at the stove” — and at reasonable prices, too ($55 for two courses, $65 for three, and $75 for four). You’ll be the judge of that, but when you visit, you’ll want to try the octopus pastrami and the not-so-secret, perpetual off-the-menu special fried chicken schnitzel (yes, it’s a Drew Nieporent secret menu item).
There are restaurants at which you want to eat, there are restaurants situated in places you want to visit, and then there are restaurants at which you want to eat in places you never want to leave. The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena (see #18) and Blackberry Farm (see No. 50) are perhaps the best examples on this list, but not far off is the Pacific Northwest version: Willows Inn on Lummi Island (No. 14 on The Daily Meal's list of America's Top 50 US Bed-and-Breakfasts for Food) a five-minute ferry ride from the Washington coast and about two to two-and-a-half hours from both Vancouver and Seattle. At the helm is Washington-raised chef Blaine Wetzel, former chef de partie at Rene Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen. Seatings start at 6:30 p.m., and Wetzel serves seasonal, local fare during a tasting-menu experience that lasts as long as three hours — plenty of time to remember that the last (cash-only) ferry is at 12:10 a.m. (unless you want to beg for one of the Inn's few rooms, costing at least $230 a night and booked many months in advance). The trip to this, one of The Daily Meal’s Best Bed-and-Breakfasts for Food, is worth it, of course (you can only make a reservation two weeks in advance, by the way, though inn patrons do get first crack). The promise of salmon caught around the corner and cooked in the restaurant’s specialty smokehouse, seaweed gathered from the beach, and berries picked from its fields is hard to resist. Don’t even try.
Those obsessed with sushi watched the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi with fascination and envy directed toward the lucky diners. Patrons sit at the small bar in the tiny, three-Michelin-star restaurant run by Jiro Ono and tucked into a Tokyo subway station and marvel at the years his sons and apprentices took to master rice and egg custard. A similar scene of marvel and fascination is now taking place in New York City at Sushi Nakazawa, the West Village restaurant opened by restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone with Jiro’s apprentice Daisuke Nakazawa in late 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 for the show at the counter.
Australian-born chef Shaun Hergatt has been criticized by some writers and patrons for never having “exhibited much of an eye for real estate or the décor of his restaurants,” and that criticism has followed him to the Hotel Chandler and his newest endeavor, Juni (which its website tells us is Latin for “June,” the “height of the growing season” — though actually that would be Iunius). But restaurant-goers fixating on the uninteresting stretch of 31st Street in New York City's Flatiron District and the decor of what most Americans would consider a boutique hotel lobby should reality check themselves back to Shaun Hergatt’s food, which has never been in doubt. One could argue that the cuisine he produces is on par with that of Per Se (No. 8) Le Bernardin (No. 2), Daniel (No. 1), and Brooklyn Fare (No. 40), and any other of the most well-regarded restaurants in New York city. Case in point: the fun and fascinating canapés that delight with flavor, texture, and temperature. A flurry of menu descriptions reads like a puzzling mix of ingredients, koans, and non-sequiturs (coconut, “cherry ripe,” bitter chocolate; frog and the fava bean; sunchoke, black bass, perigord truffle; rabbit and the carrot), but words melt away as the dishes’ artful presentations, creativity, and flavors arrive.
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. Hidden away inside Andrés’ Jaleo in The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, é is a kind of sibling to Andrés' minibar (No. 54 on this list) in Washington, D.C. — though he says it’s 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 darling of the Los Angeles fine-dining scene, Trois Mec is a collaboration between celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre and Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, those Animal and Son of a Gun pioneers of nose-to-tail dining in Southern California. Trois Mec (an intentional misspelling of the French term for “three guys”) is one of the growing number of restaurants that sells tickets instead of offering reservations, so getting into this former strip mall pizzeria to sample the five-course menu ($75 per person, not including alcohol) can be a challenge (you’re going to have to be a registered user on the restaurant’s website). Tickets for the following two weeks are released every other Friday morning at 8:00 a.m. PDT, and often disappear within five minutes. When you do get in, however, expect to be treated to one of the most cutting-edge dinners in California — and perhaps even the country. What does that mean? In the past, dishes like Dungeness crab ceviche; butter-poached white asparagus from the Netherlands with chicken wing confit, English peas, and a dab of chicken liver mousse; and beef tenderloin with smoked peanut butter. Buckle up and enjoy.
Mike Lata’s The Ordinary, located in Charleston’s Upper King Design District, is anything but. Winner of The Daily Meal’s Best New Restaurant of 2013, The Ordinary is a temple to seafood inside a historic bank building. Seafood towers gleam with the bounty of East Coast waters. There is smoked king mackerel pâté, pickled white shrimp, peekytoe crab toast, diver scallop hushpuppies, and squid à la plancha. The oysters come raw, smoked, as sliders, shooters, fried, topped with beef tartare or caviar, or broiled with hotel butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano. But you’ll want to save room for some of the large plates, like slow-baked black bass with black trumpets, tempura beeliner snapper with citrus and olive, and steamed triggerfish with asparagus and Meyer mousseline. Keep an eye out for “The Ordinaries,” too — daily specials, available Tuesday through Sunday, that include a lobster roll, fish schnitzel, Caribbean fish stew, stuffed lobster, and Southern fish fry.
The famously peripatetic chef Peter Chang, known for his superior Szechuan cuisine and a propensity to disappear… er… move about in the American southeast, has been a little easier to find over the past five years since forming a business partnership with Gen Lee, a semi-retired Chinese chef. Indeed, the question has gone from, “Where is Peter Chang?” to “Which of his six (and soon to be seven) Virginia restaurants is the chef cooking at on any given day?” The quality is good at all of them, and the menus are almost identical. Peter Chang's China Cafe in Fredericksburg, neither the oldest nor the newest of his establishments, is a good place to start — but any of Chang's locations (also including Williamsburg, Charlottesville, Short Pump [Richmond], Arlington, and Virginia Beach, with Rockville soon to come), all in Virginia, will provide a similarly satisfying (and spicy) experience. Try Chang's famous scallion bubble pancakes with curry sauce, and/or the Sichuan-style dry-fried eggplant, spicy dan dan noodles, fried boneless whole fish with pine nuts, pigs’ feet stir-fried with dried chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, and most anything on the “Chefs’ Specialties” section of the menu.
The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons is a New York original, with a stunning, landmarked interior designed in 1959 by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. It caters to a faithful clientele of Gothamite high-rollers and power-lunchers, serving an American menu that offers few surprises but usually manages to satisfy everyone's tastes. Located in Park Avenue’s historic Seagram Building, this is the place to order things like Ossetra caviar with rösti potato, steak tartare prepared tableside, and chateaubriand with haricots verst and béarnaise sauce, then sit back and dine like a grown-up.
Under the direction of James Beard Award-winning chef Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon lures diners to its communal tables for hearty, imaginative dishes like Buffalo sweetbread pie with blue cheese ice cream, hot sauce butter, and celery; lamb shoulder crispy farro, chorizo, dried strawberries, and Treviso; manicotti with lemon pistachio ricotta, glazed chestnut, maitake, and saba; and seared foie gras crab rangoon with shiitake mushroom and lime marmalade. About to close in on its first decade, Le Pigeon has established three must-have dishes: beef cheek bourguignon served with Époisses risotto, oyster mushrooms, Dijon pickled onion, and sweet herbs; the Le Pigeon burger (one America’s best); and the foie gras profiteroles for dessert. But you may be best served by listening to the advice of The Oregonian’s restaurant critic Michael Russell, who recently advised readers to be sure to sit at the counter, where you’re likely to be served by Rucker. There, you’ll realize that “Individual recommendations are practically useless,” and discover that “A Le Pigeon meal properly lingered over is bound to include two or three of the best things you will eat that year.”
Highlands Bar & Grill
This legendary French-inspired restaurant was focusing on local and sustainable ingredients before anyone coined the phrase “locavore.” Highlands Bar & Grill put the Birmingham dining scene on the map when it opened in 1982, and chef and co-owner Frank Stitt (he runs it with his wife Pardis) has already been inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who's Who of Food & Beverage. The restaurant has been nominated for Outstanding Restaurant seven times. What to expect from a meal at Highlands? It’s sometimes best to hear it straight from the source: “We serve a daily changing menu informed by classic French technique, incorporating the foods of our Southern region. We love the ever-changing basket that each harvest allows, from the first springtime shad roe to the blue-green live and kickin' soft shell crabs that arrive a few weeks later. Summer's shell beans, tomatoes, okra, and watermelon bring a smile. The cooler weather game of venison and quail, root vegetables, and greens creates sustenance. Our dishes are prepared with respect and restraint to allow each ingredient's inherent goodness to shine through.”
True to its name, Everest towers head and shoulders above many of Chicago's other upscale restaurants — literally, from its perch on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange Building, and also gastronomically, through Alsatian-born chef Jean Joho's superlative French food. Indeed, the Chicago Tribune’s restaurant critic Phil Vettel recently called it the “best tall restaurant in Chicago” (though, as he notes, its view facing west is devoid of architectural interest — its private rooms are the ones with the city views). The menu changes to reflect the seasons, but chef Joho’s seven-course tasting gives a great overview of the restaurant’s range. A recent tasting menu included presskopf (headcheese) of pheasant, duck, and quail with truffle vinaigrette; New York State foie gras, pineapple quince, and Alsace spice cake; and line-caught cod with stuffed macaroni, salsify, and pinot noir jus. The 1,600-bottle wine list stuns almost as much as the views — above all because of its collection of great wines from Joho's home region of Alsace.
Chi Spacca (“cleaver” in Italian, thus the logo) heralds its Food & Wine description of being a “meat speakeasy” with good reason — it’s a great appellation. This, after all, is a Silverton-Batali-Bastianich restaurant where accompaniments like marinated baby artichokes and shishito fritti; insalate, including butter lettuces with lemon vinaigrette and burrata primavera with snap peas, carrots, and mint; and contorni like roasted cauliflower, flageolet beans, or Spacca potatoes are just breaths, sighs between bites from the rest of this meat-centric menu. “Kale and rucola apples with red walnuts and Piave” aren’t dirty words, because they’re followed by items under the macelleria section (that’s “butcher” to you) like lamb neck stracotto, Moorish lamb shoulder chop, beef and bone marrow pie, and tomahawk pork chop.
Vegetarians need not apply. To be clear, chef Chad Colby’s menu highlights a $210 50-ounce prime, dry-aged porterhouse bistecca Fiorentina and a 42-ounce, $175 prime, dry-aged bone-in New York costata alla Fiorentina. And according to the Los Angeles Times’ restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, the only reason why there isn’t an 80-ounce steak on the menu is “because it was pointed out that $350 was probably more than anybody was willing to spend on a piece of meat, no matter how spectacular, and that none of the tables in the restaurant seated enough people to actually finish the thing.” Despite all that, it would be unfair not to note that Chi Spacca isn’t about excess, but meat artistry. You could challenge yourself to discover someone more committed to the nuance and deliberation of charcuterie, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many equals to Chi Spacca’s approach.
Having conquered Spanish cuisine both traditional (Jaleo and his Pepe food truck) and avant-garde (The Bazaar, minibar, é), the cooking styles of the Eastern Mediterranean (Zaytinya), historical American fare (America Eats Tavern), and Mexican-Chinese (China Poblano), Puerto Rican-Spanish (Mi Casa) and Chinese-Peruvian (China Chilcano), Asian (Ku Noodle), what could the ceaselessly energetic José Andrés tackle next? Hmm. How about meat? At his latest Sin City venture, Bazaar Meat (in the SLS Las Vegas Hotel), the menu by The Daily Meal’s 2012 American Chef of the Year Andrés’ is full of Spanish flavors and signature bites like cotton candy foie gras, bagels and lox cone, and Ferran Adrià olives, as well as an extensive raw bar and "meat from the sea" (fish to you), but the focus is appropriately meaty. Behold the menu of carpaccio, tartare, cured meats, and, yes, serious beef rib steaks from California, Oregon, and Washington — including a chateaubriand from the Golden State's Brandt Beef — served with truffle sauce and pommes soufflés. Bazaar Meat, one of Las Vegas’ Best Steakhouses even if it was snubbed for a best new restaurant award by the James Beard Foundation this year, can provide all the meat you need when you're out on the town.
For more than 40 years, Piero Selvaggio's Santa Monica landmark Valentino has set the standard for Italian fine dining in America. He served real Italian pastas and things like radicchio and balsamic vinegar when they were exotic in this country; he absorbed the inspirations of the nuova cucina and modernized his menu without losing touch with the homeland; he survived earthquakes and economic downturns and the onslaught of new, hip places that could have pushed his restaurant into the Boring Old Standby category — but didn't. Today, he is increasingly turning back to Italian regional cooking — especially that of Sicily, where he comes from, and Sardinia, birthplace of chef Nico Chessa. Yes, you can have prosciutto and melon or spaghetti alla carbonara here, and they'll be impeccable, but why not try the crudita di pesce (Italian “Suchi” marinated with citrus and colatura di alici, a kind of anchovy syrup), the lasagne della nonna (grandmother's lasagna) with mushroom and duck ragù, or the veal ossobuco with risotto Milanese? The wine list is one of the largest and richest in America, and service at this, one of The Daily Meal’s Best Italian Restaurants in America, is perfect.
Rick who? At this point, founding chef Rick Tramonto’s departure from Tru is an afterthought. Five years in, and chef Anthony Martin has squarely answered any questions as to whether the restaurant is relevant to the Chicago dining scene. It is. It’s just the job of the rest of the country to catch up to what he’s doing. Tru’s cuisine is progressive French, and Martin has brought a more refined, technique-driven focus, perhaps because of his training under the legendary Joël Robuchon. There’s an extensive caviar program that boasts up to 10 hand-selected caviars, more than 1,500 choices from the wine cellar, and dishes from the $158 prix fixe menu that sound almost too good to share: encapsulated foie gras with Sicilian pistachio and blood orange; 72-hour braised Duroc pork belly with white bean and black truffle velouté; pearl pasta with aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, black truffle, and Black Forest ham; and beef ribeye, maitake mushroom, Tokyo turnip, and pickled mustard seed.
State Bird Provisions
What started off as a place to serve fried quail to the masses ended up as one of California’s hottest restaurants, even snagging a 2013 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant of the Year. Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, the husband-and-wife team behind State Bird Provisions, serve about 30 small, clever plates via dim sum-style rolling carts (a trend that reached beyond Chinatown restaurants to none other than David Chang’s Má Pêche in 2014). The fried quail (that is, the official state bird of California: California valley quail, known for its hardiness and adaptability), buttermilk-marinated and encrusted with bread and pepita crumbs, is the signature dish, but don’t overlook the section devoted entirely to pancakes and toast (ham mousse with kohlrabi toast and broccoli Cheddar pancake!).
Modern Israeli in Philadelphia? What does that entail? A melting pot of Middle Eastern and Central European cuisines, interwoven with a fine hand to create a feast of flavors by chef–owner Michael Solomonov (born in an Israeli town south of Tel Aviv called G'nei Yehudah, and raised in Pittsburgh). Settle into the warmly lit casual dining room at Zahav (“gold” in Hebrew) and start by ordering 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 crispy grape leaves with ground beef and tomato; grilled duck hearts with pickled green tomatoes, green matbucha (a Moroccan sauce of tomatos and peppers), and shabazi (a fiery Yemeni spice blend) onion rings; and crispy haloumi cheese with dates, pickled onion, walnuts, and Turkish Urfa chile flakes, among other dishes. Move on to the duck leg kebab with pistachio pilaf, pickled onions, and fig jam; kofte (ground beef and lamb) with peppers, carrots, and flageolet beans; and chicken shishlik and root vegetable tagine with Moroccan couscous and pickled mushrooms. Israeli Goldstar beer, imaginative cocktails, and one of the largest arrays of boutique Israeli wines outside of Israel complete the picture.
With its luminous contemporary-style interior, enhanced by vivid Indian art, and a varied menu that offers many familiar Indian flavors while avoiding cliché, Rasika is one of the most appealing restaurants in our nation's capital (well, technically two of its most appealing restaurants when you include the West End location). In addition to the expected tandoor oven, utilized for such dishes as chicken tikka, murgh mussalam, lamb chops, and salmon with Kashmiri chilies, the kitchen makes fantastic use of a traditional tawa, or griddle, to produce delights like pepper crab with onion, garlic, and ginger; sea bass with coconut, mint, and cilantro; and eggplant accompanied by spiced potato, olive oil, and peanut sauce. Breads include mint paratha, onion and sage, truffle naan, chile and olive oil naan, and goat cheese kulcha; the sigri (barbecue) menu boasts the likes of fresh mango shrimp with cashews, ginger, and chutney and paneer shashlik — marinated cottage cheese with onions and peppers.
In the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, a frasca is a roadside farm restaurant, serving simple regional food. Frasca Food & Wine captures the spirit of these venues 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 an impromptu dinner or an evening of fine dining. They offer a unique menu that includes salumi and cheeses along with entrées like Broken Arrow Ranch quail; gnocchi with Buckner Farm lamb sausage and broccolini; and raviolo of veal ossobuco, bone marrow, cipollini onion, and salsify. Just be sure that you don’t miss the frico caldo, a crispy pancake of potatoes, onions, and Piave cheese — a Friulian specialty.
Osteria Mozza is a really good restaurant. And no wonder, right? It only represents the teaming up of Nancy Silverton (whose La Brea Bakery changed the game for artisanal bread in America) and New York-based Italian-food moguls Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in a lively L.A. setting. There’s a mozzarella bar with some dozen options, including stracciatella, burricotta, burrata, smoked bufala, and mozzarella en panna; a menu that includes fantastic (and sometimes unusual) pasta (goat cheese ravioli with "five lilies," meaning five members of the allium family); fiorentini with tomatoes, guanciale, and pickled Fresno chiles; and squid ink chitarra freddi with Dungeness crab, sea urchin, and jalapeños), and main dishes ranging from grilled quail wrapped in pancetta with honey and sage to porcini-rubbed rib-eye bistecca. Is it unfair to give a fine-dining restaurant points for being fewer than 10 blocks from L.A.’s classic hot dog stand, Pink’s — not that you're likely to be hungry for a wiener after a meal here.
It’s hard to believe that just four years ago chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo were considered culinary renegades for showcasing 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. Despite (or because of) their reputation as extreme carnivores, Shook, Dotolo, and their restaurant Animal became mainstays of the American culinary scene, and their creations kept chefs and civilians coming back for more. At this point, Shook and Dotolo are practically part of Los Angeles old guard, with other endeavors, like Trois Mec (No. 73) and Son of a Gun, taking up some of their attention. But the small, loud, and perpetually crowded original that brought them fame still sets the standard for uncompromising, All-American (read: multi-accented), straightforward cooking. Where can you order veal brains with vadouvan, apricot purée, and carrots or a foie gras/loco moco/quail egg/Spam burger?
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. The original driving force behind ABC Kitchen, Dan Kluger, left in mid-2014 to work on his own projects, but chef de cuisine Karen Shu hasn’t missed a beat. Market-fresh dishes 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.
The tight-knit city of Oxford, Mississippi opened its arms to New Orleans-born chef John Currence when he launched City Grocery in 1992 and never let go. Snag a table on the second-floor balcony if it isn’t too warm outside and dine on Southern comfort favorites like shrimp and grits, hoppin’ john, and muffaletta (offered only at lunch, when you’ll struggle to decide between that, the burger, and the grilled bologna sandwich with roasted bell pepper and cabbage slaw), or indulge in delicious-sounding dishes like grilled lard-braised hangar steak, lamb neck posole, and spicy fried chicken thighs. Don’t forget that Currence has created the best of both worlds for himself, something that you’ll probably want to take advantage of when it comes time for a nightcap: a chef’s restaurant downstairs, and the kind of bar where a chef would want to hang out after work upstairs.
They really have tried to make it easier on everyone, but getting into minibar, where protean chef José Andrés channels Spanish avant-garde cuisine, is still difficult. The restaurant now accepts reservations on a seasonal basis (in three-month periods), with each season opening one month in advance. But you still need to send them an email a couple of months ahead of time and keep your fingers crossed. When you do get what is still essentially the reservation of a lifetime (let’s be honest here), you’ll perch at one of two counters that overlook 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 executed by executive sous-chef Johnny Spero and filled with culinary hat tricks — think edible rubber duckies, popcorn that smokes in your mouth, and a churro made with veal tendon. Even with a price tag of $250 for 25 to 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. In 2013, Andrés opened the adjoining barmini, his “culinary cocktail lab,” where more than 100 adventuresome cocktail creations adorn the menu. According to Sietsema, it is “home to some of the most fascinating liquids this city has ever sipped.”
Rob Stark Photography
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 around raw materials from sources "guided by principles of sustainability." This is one of those places that doesn't try to break new ground every day; it just gets everything right.
Like the fruit the restaurant is named for (kind of a cross between an apple and a pear), Quince’s menu is also a mixture, a refined blending of modern Italian and French-inspired fare. Located in a historic brick and timber building dating back to 1907 in San Francisco’s Jackson Square neighborhood, the recently redesigned, two-Michelin-starred restaurant is both charming and elegant (there’s a new entrance, private dining rooms, and a chef's counter). 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. Every night there are two tasting menus ($195 per person). The 9-course garden menu features vegetable-driven dishes highlighting the season’s produce (think “first of the season” peas or Monterey Bay abalone with fiddlehead ferns), among them some things grown on the restaurant’s roof-top garden. The Quince Menu (also 9 courses) is the chef’s expression of his innovation, which on a recent night meant dishes like La Belle Farm foie gras with green strawberry and pink peppercorn and golden ossetra caviar panna cotta with chive, egg yolk, and shallot. Those hoping to sample the food without splashing out on a tasting menu should visit the salon, where they can order à la carte.
There are chefs who represent a city to such a degree that it’s hard to picture them anywhere else. Along with Barbara Lynch, Lydia Shire, and Ming Tsai, there is maybe no other chef whose name is so synonymous with Boston as Ken Oringer. And while he has branched out to New York City with a Chelsea extension of his popular South End tapas spot Toro, if you want to experience vintage Oringer, you need to visit the restaurant that kicked off his reputation as one of the city’s most notable and respected chefs: Clio. Two tasting menus (five courses or nine) feature Oringer and Zach Watkins’ wildly inventive dishes. You might find combinations like a slow-cooked egg with togarashi chicharrónes or roasted beets with huckleberry, umeboshi, and boudin noir set down before you. A don’t-miss dish? The butter-basted lobster with yellowfoot chanterelles and sweet onion (you can order it off the à la carte menu). Speaking of don’t-miss, Oringer’s restaurant within a restaurant, Uni, helmed by chef Tony Messina, is regarded as one of the city’s best seafood spots. Tucked away in Clio’s lounge, this sashimi bar offers seafood from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market (they do a wonderful omakase), and late night ramen every Friday and Saturday.
The Barn at Blackberry Farm
The cuisine at The Barn at Blackberry Farm 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 4,200 acre-farm started by Kreis and Sandy Beall more than 30 years ago. Housed in a turn of the century bank-style barn located in the center of the FarmStead, this operation is helmed by executive chef Joseph Lenn. If ever there was an appropriate use of the term “farm-to-table” this is it. The Barn (think antique linens, custom chairs, and sterling silver — with gentlemen required to wear jackets) uses the estate’s produce and products in a dynamic menu of Smoky Mountain regional dishes with global flair like pear and Surryano ham salad with garden greens, rye crisp, and elderflower vinaigrette; wild Burgundy snails with ham hock broth, potato purée, parsley, lemon, and rye crisp; and braised pork cheek, baked peanuts, and Tennessee chow-chow. 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.
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 Sushi Yasuda and its minimalist blonde wood dining room represents. To say the fish is fresh at this Midtown East sushi temple just doesn’t do it 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 back to Japan in 2010, but the standards he established here haven't faltered. His hand-picked successor, Mitsuru Tamura, along with master sushi chef “Tatsu” Tatsuya Sekiguchi, keeps that Yasuda philosophy alive. So much so, in fact, that The Daily Meal named it among America’s top sushi spots, second only to Masa (see No. 23). Remember, following Japanese customs, Sushi Yasuda’s servers are compensated by their salary. Yasuda has led the way among the new “no gratuities” movement in America. No tipping here.
Since opening his Los Gatos restaurant Manresa (named for a city about an hour to the northwest of Barcelona) in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains in 2002, chef David Kinch has defied 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. Kinch suffered a huge blow in July 2014, when a two-alarm fire destroyed the kitchen and back-of-house area, necessitating a six-month renovation and $2 million to reopen. But reopen it did, and without much change to the kitchen’s original footprint. “When the fire happened, I always thought we were the best restaurant we ever were in 12 years,” Kinch told Inside Scoop SF. “So I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.” Unsurprisingly, Kinch has been looking forward to putting 2014 behind him, and he seems to be regaining momentum, opening his first spin-off, Manresa Bread, a block away. What to expect at the freshly reopened restaurant? A $198 tasting menu that uses products grown using biodynamic practices, and dishes featuring vast landscapes of ingredients and flavors that are thoughtful and experimental, but never overwrought.
Located in The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, Fearing’s features modern Southwestern-American cuisine with a farm-to-table approach. Indeed, along with Stephen Pyles and Robert Del Grande, chef Dean Fearing kind of wrote the book on modern Texan cooking (one of his latest cookbooks is literally called The Texas Food Bible). What does “modern Southwestern-American cuisine” mean? Barbecued shrimp taco with mango and pickled red onion; barbecued short rib enchilada with queso fundido; mesquite-grilled, bone-in rib-eye with West Texas mop sauce; and “Texas carpaccio,” Yoakum Wagyu beef and butter-poached Gulf prawn with Texas olive oil, Grana Padano, crispy capers, and pickled golden beets. With many dining venues on-site, diners can choose from anything 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; he’s almost always present. And make sure to order his signature tortilla soup.
What do you get when former Blue Hill at Stone Barns (No. 12) beverage director Thomas Carter pairs with a Uruguay-born chef who has worked with Argentinian grill-master Francis Mallmann and slow food icon Alice Waters, and at Isa and Il Buco? One of New York City’s hottest restaurants. This NoLita gem on East Houston features a relatively compact menu of shareable plates with a largely Mediterranean focus. Chef Ignacio Mattos’ food has been described as simple in appearance while simultaneously strange but right. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the advice he gave last year during an interview sounds like that of a culinary pioneer: do your own thing, undersell and overdeliver, stop overthinking everything, and drop acid. Okay, so he meant citrus and vinegar, but some of his philosophy does run counter to many current trends: ignore the seasons, cook the familiar, lose the tweezers, and win with bread. The execution at Estela won’t disappoint. Some of the chef’s most heralded dishes are his beef tartare with sunchoke and his mussels escabeche. For something heartier, try the pork with charred leeks and wheatberries or steak with creamed spinach. And you probably won’t want to miss the burrata with salsa verde and charred bread and the endive with walnuts, anchovy, and Ubriaco Rosso, which is what President Obama and his wife ordered on their visit in late 2014. Just don’t forget your credit card like he did. The wines can be pricey and the First Lady might not be there to bail you out.
Chef Barbara Lynch opened Menton in Boston’s trendy Fort Point neighborhood in 2010. Its four-course prix fixe ($95) and chef’s tasting ($155) menus quickly racked up “best” and “best new” accolades from the likes of Esquire and Bon Appétit magazines, along with a four-star review from the Boston Globe. So what do you do to improve the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant in Beantown, one which has to be considered among Boston’s most romantic? Late last year, chef Scott Jones introduced two different tasting menus. The “From Elements” menu explores dishes and pairings that the restaurant’s proprietors have enjoyed over the past year (they think of them as “emerging classics”), while “Into Evolution” is meant to focus on the future, allowing patrons the chance to experience the restaurant’s growth through the flavors and techniques that are currently exciting them. This is upscale dining at Boston’s best (keep in mind that they encourage business casual attire), where everything from the initial greeting to the last fleeting taste at the end of your meal is perfectly executed by the well-groomed team. It’s a meal you’ll no doubt remember, and perhaps want to discuss over a nightcap at Lynch’s excellent cocktail bar Drink — just a two-minute walk away.
True, John Besh has become a New Orleans institution, but he’s also still one of the most interesting (did you know he was a U.S. Marine?) and ambitious (9 restaurants and counting) chefs in the Crescent City today. The American menu at this splendid eatery, located in a historic 19th century French-Creole building in New Orleans’ Central Business District, 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 usually incorporate the finest local food that the Gulf has to offer; for example, roast pompano with Louisiana blue crab and charred Covey Rise cabbage and Two Run Farm's lamb with parsnip. And if delicious dishes like huitlacoche agnolotti with slow-roasted Sandy Hook rabbit and smoked chiles or crawfish étouffée with lemongrass and fermented pepper sound too heavy, you can always try August's $72 tasting of farmers' market vegetables, which features things like charred broccoli and cauliflower, roast onion and garlic soup, and grapefruit crémeux.
Gotham Bar & Grill
Most New York City restaurants would consider themselves lucky to even get a review in The New York Times. Since it opened in 1984, 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 over in 1985. The culinary style might be called classic new American, which translates to such dishes as yellowfin tuna tartare with Japanese cucumber, shiso, and sweet miso ginger vinaigrette; seared Hudson Valley foie gras with blood orange reduction and fennel pollen toasted golden raisin brioche; and Niman Ranch pork chop with braised greenmarket kale and sweet corn polenta. Want to hear a fun fact about Portale’s signature stacking style for plating food? The chef said it originated out of him trying to find ways to do more with less. “Rather than trying to cook a big piece of fish, I'd cut it into two thin pieces and then stack them.”
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. Fore Street is all about hearth, rustic charm, and a lack of artifice. The open kitchen center stage fascinates, its chefs behind a vast butcher block working the brick oven as open flames lick the meat that turns on a rotisserie, embers flying. Co-owner and chef Sam Hayward was a pioneer in locally derived, simply cooked restaurant fare at Fore Street. While this farm-to-table location brings the freshest menu to the north side of town, Hayward’s Portland restaurant family has grown to include Street & Company and Standard Baking Company, and there are plans for him to open a new seafood spot with restaurateur Dana Street on Portland's Maine Wharf this summer.
Zuni Cafe showcases San Francisco Mediterranean cooking at its best. Although award-winning chef-owner Judy Rodgers passed away in December of 2013, her partner, Gilbert Pilgram (a Chez Panisse alumnus), continues to run the place, with Rebecca Boice now in the kitchen. Zuni has been an iconic California restaurant for what feels like forever, so it may be easy to forget that when it opened in 1979, it was dedicated to authentic Mexican food. It’s amazing, then, to think that restaurant critic Michael Bauer could recently dine there and write that it feels original, even after 36 years, “Zuni was so ahead of its time that even in 2015 it feels like it could have opened last week.” The seasonal and organic ingredients are always impeccable, and the fish and meats are sustainably raised. The whole, brick-oven-roasted chicken for two with warm bread salad, scallions, garlic, and mustard greens is among the emblematic dishes (keep in mind it takes approximately an hour to prepare) 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.
Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare
“We are currently booking reservations six weeks in advance,” says the website of Brooklyn Fare, the intimate 18-seat restaurant that holds the only three-Michelin star rating in Brooklyn. The prix-fixe menu by Cesar Ramirez, a self-taught chef of Mexican heritage, is a truly elaborate affair featuring more than 20 small plates, mostly seafood, combining French, Italian, and Japanese styles. Be warned that the considerable work required to score a reservation and the $255 you’ll fork over (that doesn’t include tax, tip, or wine by the way) gets you a seat at the counter, but does not guarantee that you’ll finish your meal unless you acquiesce to all the chef’s rules. You enter the domain of a mercurial culinary diva who demands that customers refrain from note-taking, picture-taking, or cellphone use and who has been known to accuse guests of stealing tableware and to sneak up behind them if he thinks they’re using their phones. Still game? Formal business attire is required. Have fun!
Celebrating more than 40 years in business, Chez Panisse is still going strong even after a devastating fire shut it down for three months in 2013. Sometimes it's hard to remember just how instrumental this place was in changing the American food scene after opening in 1971. Before Chez Panisse, practically nobody in America served only fresh, local foods and wrote daily menus based around the season. Alice Waters, an organic-living pioneer, is also the founder of The Edible Schoolyard Project, a foundation that brings 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 cannellini beans — and the lively, diversified upstairs Café.
Gramercy Tavern is among the finest of the new wave of classic American restaurants; remember that Tom Colicchio was founding partner and chef before he left to open his own restaurants and become a TV star and MSNBC correspondent. 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 simple vegetable preparations. Dishes use produce to great effect, such as flounder, honeynut squash, Brussels sprouts, and pumpkin seeds; or Arctic char, cabbage, radish, and bacon. Having been tapped to become the executive chef at Untitled when it reopens in the spring at the new Whitney downtown, Anthony may find his attention less focused on Gramercy, but there’s no reason to doubt that his newly promoted chef de cuisine, Howard Kalachnikoff, will be able to carry on the restaurant’s tradition of excellence. Whether you sample the six-course seasonal or vegetable tasting menus in the dining room, or opt for a more casual, à la carte meal in The Tavern (where there’s a secret, off-the-menu burger during lunch), 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 anytime soon.
The Publican shows 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 out of a Charles Dickens novel. But under chefs Paul Kahan and Cosmo Goss (Brian Huston is branching out on his own), this self-described beer-focused restaurant in the West Loop is much more than ambiance and suds. Aged hams, crispy beef tongue with green goddess dressing, suckling pig with waxman potato, and ham chop "in hay" with rice soubise and spiced peanut are just some of the amazing delicacies you can enjoy, along with a large savory dessert menu to cap off the evening. Beware: the Slagel Family Farm spicy pork rinds are addictive.
Four Seasons Hotels and Resort
Wolfgang Puck helped invent California cuisine (and gave us California-style pizza) at Spago (No. 9), 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. Creamed spinach gets a fried organic egg and the hand-cut French fries come with black truffles and Parmigiano-Reggiano (for $31). Oh, and the steaks? Not the usual four or five choices, but a total of 16 cuts and places of origin are available, from Illinois and Nebraska corn-fed to Japanese 100% Wagyu beef from Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu. Don’t forget the eight sauces and seven "adds to the cuts" that include caramelized onions, Point Reyes blue cheese, French black truffles, fried egg, and bone marrow.
When chef Nobu Matsuhisa opened his eponymous restaurant 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 more than 20 years later he’d be running 32 affiliated restaurants around the world, as well as six Nobu-branded hotels, with one more, in Bahrain, 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 Nobu 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 the widely copied black cod with miso, are nothing short of legendary, but if you want to experience them where it all started in TriBeCa, you only have another year to do it. It was reported earlier this year that in 2016, the 9,000 square-foot flagship will be relocating from into a much larger 14,384 square-foot space in the former AT&T building in the heart of the Wall Street/World Trade Center area.
After years of hearing the refrain that “there’s no good Mexican food in New York,” New Yorkers now seem to have new Mexican places popping up everywhere, each purporting to be the Mexican-starved Gothamite’s salvation. Alex Stupak has taken several stabs at it; April Bloomfield too. Texas chefs like San Antonio’s Jesse Perez have started trying to bring the goods; there have been pop-ups; and now, even Tex-Mex is getting some traction (though it remains to be seen if it’s any good). Meanwhile, one of Mexico City’s most well-respected chefs has set up in the Flatiron District, so far with great success. Cosme represents chef Enrique Olvera’s return to New York (he attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park before returning home to open Pujol, one of the 50 best restaurants in the world according to San Pellegrino). But Cosme isn’t the Mexican that New York’s chefs play at, trying to “upscale” a cuisine whose essentials they’ve never mastered. Olvera has the chops to carry off dishes like uni tostada with avocado, bone marrow salsa, and cucumber and half lobster pibil with chorizo and black bean purée. And his duck carnitas — a whole bird cooked for days in ingredients that include Mexican Coke until it shreds easily into tender morsels — served with just-made warm tortillas is one of the great duck dishes in the city. True, it carries a $59 price tag, but it's enough for three or four.
Unpretentious, classic Southern dishes are key at downtown Charleston’s Hominy Grill, where chef/owner Robert Stehling serves stone-ground cheese grits (and deep fried grits!), house-made sausages, and fried green tomatoes (with ranch) in a one-time barbershop. The classic 1950s diner signage, extra-comfortable wooden chairs, and seasonal desserts like persimmon pudding embody everything comfort food stands for. Be sure to sample a few items from the part of the menu labeled “Charleston Classics,” where you’ll find dishes including she-crab soup with sherry, sautéed chicken livers with country ham gravy, catfish Creole, and chicken country captain. Speaking of chicken, supposedly, when chef Stehling first opened, he didn’t make that iconic dish fried chicken — he was worried about reinforcing the idea that that’s all Southern food is. Now he’s about to open Chick’s Fry House, a spot dedicated to pressure-cooker chicken, and at Hominy you can find a fried chicken basket with pickles and pepper relish among the appetizers, and a "fried chicken and smoked ribs" section that includes Charleston nasty biscuit with fried chicken breast, Cheddar, and sausage gravy; half-fried chicken with country ham gravy; your choice of two pieces of white or dark meat; and even a rib and chicken combo. Absence makes the heart cook fried chicken?
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 (Roland Terry and Pete Wimberley collaborated on an original design meant to echo Frank Lloyd Wright) 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 (romaine, bacon, mint, oregano, and Romano with a dressing of lemon, olive oil, and coddled egg), on the menu.
The restaurant's onetime chef Jason Franey, who left last fall to take over the kitchen at Restaurant 1883 in Monterey, called his cooking at Canlis "Comfort Geek" cuisine, defining that as “pertaining to a style of cuisine, namely, that which uses modern technique without drawing too much attention to itself or alienating the diner." That idea seems to have remained in place, with a menu offering both classic and contemporary dishes, among them Wagyu steak tartare and sautéed prawns, both based on Peter Canlis recipes; mahi mahi with bok choy, pineapple, and piquillo pepper; and 14-day dry-aged Muscovy duck breast for two. One of the side dishes is forest mushrooms with sherry, garlic, and thyme. Note that current co-owners Brian and Mark Canlis try to maintain the restaurant’s reputation as Seattle’s dressiest restaurant by requesting that men wear a suit or a sport coat.
As Mario Batali continues his reign atop the American culinary landscape, his flagship restaurant, Babbo, remains a New York essential. What can you say about it that hasn't been said? The pasta! That pork chop! Mario Batali is a genius! Well, sure, but the restaurant is a testament to his undying mission of keeping the food as close to Italy as possible. Whatever specialty ingredients aren’t imported from there are made at Babbo “as an Italian might in the Mid-Atlantic/Hudson region.” Although Babbo is nearly 20 years old (it opened in 1998), it’s still difficult to get a table. Not a surprise considering it would essentially be a four-star restaurant if former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni had liked Led Zeppelin a little more. But it’s not utterly impossible, especially if you don’t mind sitting at the bar. Either way, you’re going to want to arrive hungry, because the seven-course pasta menu is not for the faint of heart. Must-order dishes? Considering that the menu has become its own greatest hits list, that’s a tough call. You can explore Italy by land and sea with things like grilled octopus in spicy limoncello vinaigrette or pig foot milanese, but you’ll probably want to make sure you at least try the mint love letters with spicy lamb sausage; black spaghetti with rock shrimp, spicy salami Calabrese, and green chiles; and beef cheek ravioli.
Pêche demonstrates that chef Donald Link can glorify fish just as well as he does pork (principally at his celebrated Cochon). Named one of Bon Appétit’s Top 50 New Restaurants in 2013, and the home of James Beard Award winners for Best Chef South Ryan Prewitt and Stephen Stryjewski, the restaurant is centered around a coal-burning open hearth. The daily whole grilled fish — no matter what it is — is always a smart choice, but shrimp toast, smoked tuna dip, curried shrimp bisque, seafood gumbo, and crawfish with jalapeño capellini are all addictive. Classics like smothered catfish shouldn’t get overlooked, either, and you’d do well to just start out with a seafood platter.
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 at The Inn at Little Washington might include classics like American ossetra caviar with peekytoe crab and cucumber rillettes, napoleon of chilled Maine lobster with pommes Anna, and veal “Shenandoah” (prosciutto-wrapped loin with country ham ravioli and fontina); there are also vegetarian creations like apple rutabaga soup and cauliflower steak with yellow Indian curry, along with indulgences like hot and cold foie gras with sauternes gelée and quince marmalade. The Inn, a member of the Relais & Châteaux group, has a much-deserved AAA Five Diamond rating.
In this little jewel box of a place, now nearly 20 years old, chef Marc Vetri offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties, served only in the form of six-course, $155 tasting menus. Available items are listed under Di Pesce (fish), Di Verdure (vegetable), Di Terra (from the earth), and Dolce (dessert); chef de cuisine Adam Leonti will personalize the menu to your taste. You might end up with, for instance, seppia spaghetti with manila clams, poached Piemontese filetto with black trumpets, cauliflower sformato, ricotta gnocchi with goose ragù, almond tortellini with truffle sauce, and chocolate polenta soufflé for dessert. All is served with precision and grace, and there is a wine cellar of more than 2,500 bottles to choose from. Mario Batali has hailed Vetri as "possibly the best Italian restaurant on the East Coast."
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 at Momofuku Ssäm Bar offers bold, Asian-inspired flavors — like his duckaholic lunch (fried duck wings, duck dumpling pho, and rotisserie duck over rice) and popular bo ssäm dinner (slow-cooked pork shoulder, oysters, rice, kimchee, and sauces to be wrapped in bibb lettuce leaves). The classic bo ssäm is just one of three large-format meals now being served (booking one of these is the only way you can make a reservation at the restaurant), but after you’ve had one, you’ll want to collect them all. There’s also a large-format whole rotisserie duck (from Crescent Farms and stuffed with a duck and pork sausage under the skin, oh yeah) with chive pancakes, bibb lettuce, hoisin, duck scallion sauce, and crispy shallots. The chef’s newest large-format meal is dry-aged rib-eye with fries, Caesar salad, roasted garlic, condiments like dry-aged fat and brown butter roasting juices, red wine and shallot marmalade, béarnaise sauce, and bacon ketchup.
Chang has gone beyond kitchen cool kid to become a member of America’s culinary elite. He continues to cement this 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, and even his least successful menu item, his ssäm burritos, have made a lunchtime return). 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.
With an atmosphere The New York Times' restaurant critic Pete Wells described as “like a Riviera home rented out to a rock band,” chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara’s The NoMad continues to impress with its extensive menu that puts the “restaurant” back in “hotel restaurant.” The clubby but airy dining room features what has become a legendary New York dish — roast chicken for two with foie gras, black truffle, and brioche ($82) — not to forget delights like suckling pig with red endive and date confit or butter-poached lobster with black garlic. If you’re looking to get a taste of that famous chicken but aren’t quite ready to splash out, stop by for the more affordable $26 sandwich version served during brunch.
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, both traditional and avant-garde, has no more fervent and eloquent champion in America than Andrés, proprietor of the multi-part restaurant and culinary theme park housed in the Beverly Hills SLS Hotel. Whether you choose the tasting menu at the semi-hidden SAAM, comfort food with a twist at secluded sanctuary Tres (vermicelli mac and cheese cooked “like pudding”), Ottoman carrot fritters, 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.
Chef Tim Cushman brings innovative sushi and related new-Japanese fare to his menu with imagination and flair, 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. At this North End sanctuary, you can expect to enjoy dishes like hamachi with spicy banana pepper mousse; bluefin maguro with caramelized onions, foie gras ponzu, and crunchy gobo; and Okinawan braised pork with Boston baked heirloom rice beans, house-made kimchi, and soy maple. For a truly unforgettable O Ya experience, try to get a seat at the counter to watch the delicious food being created before you in what is definitely one of America’s three best sushi restaurants.
Former New York Times critic Sam Sifton took Masa down to three stars from the four given to it by his predecessor, apparently 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 have been known to 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.
A Bourbon Street landmark, Galatoire’s has been serving classic NOLA-style Creole cuisine for many generations. (It was opened by French immigrant Jean Galatoire in 1905 in a space that had been a restaurant since 1830.) The downstairs dining room is like a time warp, with high ceilings, slow-moving paddle fans, mirrors, black-and-white tiled floors, and brass coat hooks lining the walls all the way around the room (gentlemen must wear jackets after 5 p.m. and all day on Sunday). There’s an immense menu executed by chef Michael Sichel that 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. Whatever you do, be sure to order the most popular dish from their specialties menu (and most frequently requested recipe), the shrimp rémoulade, and also the legendary soufflé potatoes, which you have to try in order to understand just how special they are. These days, anyone can get good cooking here (you used to have to wait in line), 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.
With its minimalist interior and its highly imaginative menu, executed by chef Perry Hendrix, Paul Kahan’s 1997-vintage Blackbird (named for the French slang term for the merlot grape) continues to please diners with always interesting but never quite outré creations. Consider dry-aged steak tartare with smoked mushrooms, crispy grains, and cress; toasted pierogi with farmer's cheese, preserved egg, and kielbasa broth; and barbeque pork collar with rye streusel, Earl Grey tea, and prune. Earthy and hearty, this is Midwestern modern cuisine par excellence. For a great overview, opt for the $120 eight-course tasting menu, which includes desserts by Blackbird’s star pastry chef Dana Cree.
Sure, you can travel all the way upstate to Stone Barns to experience The Daily Meal’s 2013 American Chef of the Year 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 that have done it for as long (it opened in 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. Choose between the four-course tasting menu or opt for the farmer's feast, a six-course tasting inspired by the week's harvest. Take a bite of the tortellini with squash, ricotta, and chestnut; Stone Barns grass-fed lamb with twice-baked Jerusalem artichokes; this morning's farm egg with lobster and shelling beans; or black dirt carrot steak with squash "onion rings," bone marrow, bordelaise sauce, and creamed spinach, and you’ll find yourself at a loss for words as well.
The Restaurant at Meadowood
You have to marvel at Meadowood in Napa Valley, and at its chef, Chris Kostow. It was already a three-Michelin-starred restaurant when Kostow closed the place so that it could undergo a renovation under the direction of architect Howard Backen and designer George Federighi, one that stretched from the dining room to the kitchen. Kostow, one the country’s least-hyped, most amazing chefs, 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 individual 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 (and the chef's counter menu runs $500 per person), and if you want to truly enjoy the experience you should really stay at the adjacent luxury hotel, which will make the visit considerably more expensive but commensurately more wonderful. 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. Meadowood is good. Really, really good.
The original Paris version of this restaurant, which merits three Michelin stars, is elegant and consistently wonderful. The Las Vegas clone possesses two Michelin stars of its own (it’s also earned five stars from Forbes). The $290 menu closely resembles the €420 ($455 USD) Parisian one; both contain 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.
The Daily Meal’s 2014 American Chef of the Year, 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 Appétit, Husk, located right in the heart of the Charleston’s beautiful historic downtown (where Brock also runs McCrady’s — see No. 81), 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; Cheddar pimento with house-made benne (sesame) crackers and crispy country ham; Southern-fried chicken skins with hot sauce, honey, and scallions; and Kentuckyaki pig’s ear lettuce wraps, and you’ll agree. And if it’s more convenient, a second Husk outpost opened in Nashville in 2013.
After David Chang moved the noodle bar that launched his career, he filled its space in 2008 with Momofuku Ko (“son of”), a simple counter with a handful of stools and chefs preparing a constantly changing tasting menu in full view of the diners’ tasting menu spot. It made him even more famous. The no-frills space had so many clamoring for a seat that the restaurant implemented what seemed then like an outrageous online-only reservations system that spawned its own black market. Media culinary elite and curious diners started waking up early to furiously click on a possible Momofuku Ko reservation link before it disappeared. One can argue that the city, and the nation’s restaurant scene, hasn’t been the same since. But Chang decided to close the most upscale and in-demand of his restaurants to re-open several blocks away, where he has gained 10 seats around a black-walnut counter, a six-stool bar, five times the wine storage, and a private dining room. Diners hoping to enjoy the multi-course, two- to two-and-a-half-hour tasting helmed by Momofuku veteran chef Sean Gray, however, will find that reservations are just as tough to get as ever.
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 who created Bouchon Bistro in 1998 (four years after launching The French Laundry) 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, like year-round specials including poulet rôti roasted with English peas, garden lettuce, bacon lardons, and chicken jus; truite amandine with toasted almonds and beurre noisette; and gigot d’agneau with boulangère potatoes. The boudin blanc with potato purée and dried French plums is simply amazing.
Girl & the Goat
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 with green beans, white anchovies, avocado crème fraîche, and breadcrumbs; escargot ravioli with bacon and tamarind-miso sauce; and duck tongue, tuna, and black bean poke with crispy wontons and piri piri are just part of the reason why Top Chef’s Season Four winner Izard won the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef accolades in 2013.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
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 the year-round farm and educational non-profit center Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, established by David Rockefeller as a memorial to his wife. 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.
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 of course 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 sous-vide five-hour egg with roasted shiitakes, spiced truffle, and chicken cracklins; cast-iron seared foie gras with Bocage honeycomb, cornbread, pickled strawberries, and candied pistachios; or tangerine sorbet with a vanilla pastry cream, candied blood oranges, banana olive oil cake, tarragon, and lava salt.
Nearly five years after 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 prix fixe concept changes every four months. There's nothing blasé about Next. You never know what's going to be placed before you by Achatz and his star executive chef Dave Beran — it could be anything from chicken liquid croquettes (elBulli menu) to the world’s best mac and cheese (Childhood menu). Well, technically, it will be neither, given that they're from past menus and 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,” a vegan menu; tributes to the Bocuse d'Or, the Chicago Steakhouse, and the restaurant Trio where Achatz first set out on his own; an interpretation of modern Chinese; and now, “Bistro.” Upcoming 2015 menus include tapas and "terroir."
Whatever it is, Next’s food is inventive and exciting without being gimmicky; likewise, the service is flawless without being fawning. But good luck getting in. There's an online reservation system for buying "tickets," but you'll be joining some 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 be in Chicago already.
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 (with Puck's smoked-salmon "Jewish pizza" also served at the bar), 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, Dungeness crab risotto, and roasted half Jidori chicken with goat cheese, black truffles, and Yukon potato purée are examples of Hefter's fare.
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, (see No. 6) receiving an annual three-star rating from Michelin since 2006. As at The French Laundry, there are two tasting menus, one of which is vegetarian, but the Keller classic "oysters and pearls" is most definitely included in the non-vegetarian version (though the Per Se menus cost $310, while The French Laundry’s are a more affordable $295). Here, there is also a salon menu, with à la carte offerings including ricotta agnolotti, butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster, and 100-day dry-aged Snake River Farms’ beef tartare. Chef Eli Kaimeh does Keller proud with his skillful interpretations of this most refined style of cooking.
Although Eleven Madison Park 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 (more than once, most recently by Pete Wells) 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: 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.
Thomas Keller is a perfectionist who approaches 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 fillet of Pacific yellowtail, Elysian Fields lamb with Castelvetrano olives, and kettle garlic pudding 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.
Del Posto is the result of a collaboration between Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich, and Mario Batali. With these three big names banding together and partner and executive chef Mark Ladner at the helm, the result may be (as Del Posto's website proclaims) “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 New York's 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 modern twists on Italian classics like vitello tonnato, and the restaurant’s famous 100-layer lasagna, before ending your meal with melanzane e cioccolato (eggplant and chocolate) by pastry chef Brooks Headley
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 gentlemen are required to wear jackets, his classic French technique bridges old and new worlds, eschews heavy sauces, and embraces the spice and flavors of Asian cuisine. The prix fixe menu, executed by executive chef Mark Lapico, at Jean-Georges features an assortment of the chef’s signature dishes, like sesame-crusted foie gras with dried chilies. His signature “Egg Caviar,” a lightly scrambled egg topped with whipped cream and Ossetra caviar, is one of the city’s great bites of food.
The menu at Alinea can sometimes sound deceptively simple. Take "scallop with citrus aroma." What shows up on the plate is absolutely original and almost always dazzlingly good — it’s a dish plated with 14 textures. Having successfully reinvented the way people look at reservations at Next, with its innovative nonrefundable online ticket system, and reinterpreted cocktails, bar food, and the whole bar experience with The Aviary, Grant Achatz and his partner, Nick Kokonas, have also intensified the attention they pay to Alinea. Achatz consistently turns out some of the most imaginative and delicious contemporary (or modernist, if you will) cuisine in the country, and it's better than ever these days. In other words, if you’ve been, it’s time to go back.
Main Dining MGMGrand
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, Joël Robuchon maintains the highest standards under the guidance of chef Steve Benjamin. Everything is impeccable, from its superb service and impressive (and impressively pricey) wine list to such finely crafted dishes as beef châteaubriand and foie gras “Rossini" style with aged Port and carpaccio of foie gras and potatoes covered with black truffle shavings. The 16-course tasting menu is a truly memorable experience — as well it ought to be at $445 a head, wine not included.
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 four-course, $140 prix fixe dinner features a list of delicacies from the sea, ranging from “almost raw” first courses to “lightly cooked” mains to (if you insist) “upon request” dishes like duck, lamb, and filet mignon. Eat in Le Bernardin 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; warm king fish sashimi with caviar in a light marinière broth; and baked snapper with charred green tomatoes and Baja-style shrimp sauce.
A very grown-up restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Daniel Boulud’s flagship Daniel 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, and the menu changes daily. If you are lucky enough to score a reservation, you may sample dishes as part of a four-course $135 or seven-course $225 prix fixe menu under the watchful eye of executive chef Jean François Bruel. Slow-baked Jade Tiger abalone with endive, fingerling potatoes, and white sturgeon caviar; butter-poached halibut with braised artichoke, Tellicherry pepper, and sorrel cream; and glazed sweetbreads with potato gnocchi, Louisiana crayfish, sweet pea purée, cockscombs, and porcini are among the dishes you might be served.