101 Best Restaurants in America 2016
March 28, 2016
If you eat out in the U.S.A. and want the best dining experiences possible, this guide is for you
101 Best Restaurants in America for 2016
What makes a good restaurant a "best?" Food that's better than just good, of course. A dining room and a level of service that suit the quality of what's on the plate. A good wine list (which doesn't always mean an encyclopedic one), good beers and/or cocktails where appropriate. And then the less easily quantifiable stuff: personality, imagination (or intelligent commitment to a lack of same), consistency. For the sixth consecutive year, here are the 101 best restaurants in America.
#101 The Continental, Naples, Fla.
The blue-chip Florida Gulf community of Naples has no shortage of restaurants, at least a few of them owned by D'Amico and Partners, the Minneapolis-born restaurant development and management company. Their newest, opened in late 2014, is this stylishly raucous indoor-outdoor steakhouse, featuring Black Angus, Piedmontese, and both Australian and Japanese wagyu beef in assorted cuts, cooked perfectly, with sides that include the expected sautéed spinach and pommes frites, but also green and wax beans with prosciutto butter and almonds, potato gratin with serrano ham and Parmigiano, and poutine with duck and foie gras sausage. There's non-steak too, of course — things like appetizers of yellowtail carpaccio with jalapeños, "Joe Beef" baked oysters, grilled Colorado lamb rack, and a daily fresh sheet offering several varieties of fish and shellfish. Lively cocktails (the Wanna Shake Your Tree combines Florida vodka with sparkling wine, peach, and basil), a nice wine list, and live music nightly complete the package.
#100 Uchi, Austin
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 opened in Dallas last year, 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.
#99 Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.
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 with 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 of 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 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.”
#98 Naoe, Miami
For sushi-lovers, Naoe is a little slice of heaven in Miami. The sushi here would be right at home even at a high-end spot in Japan, and at this tiny, eight-seat temple to raw fish, you can let sushi master Kevin Cory, dubbed the "Omakase King," be your guide. The accolades for Naoe just keep piling up: five stars from Forbes Travel Guide, named one of the country’s best sushi restaurants by Travel + Leisure, a nomination for best new chef from Food & Wine, and so on (Ferran Adrià even called it “one of the best Japanese restaurants that I have been to outside of Japan, in the world”). If you can snag a reservation (only 16 guests are served each night), you’ll be presented with a selection of some of the freshest seafood imaginable, from both Japanese and local waters. There’s horse mackerel topped with fresh wasabi, fresh-roasted and basted eel, urchin-topped egg tofu, cured squid, Scottish salmon belly… the selection goes on and on, and by the time your meal is through, you may never look at sushi the same way again.
#97 Lucques, Los Angeles
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.
#96 Lemaire, Richmond, Va.
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), was under the guidance of native Virginian Walter Bundy from 2001 until early this year (he is working on a new restaurant of his own), but his place has been ably taken by Patrick Willis, who joined the Lemaire kitchen staff in 2009 and became executive sous-chef four years ago. 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. Under Bundy, the dining room transitioned from a more formal setting into a venue that allows guests to enjoy a fine-dining experience without the starch. Those aforementioned extraordinary Virginia ingredients include Tom and Ann Gallivan’s Shooting Point Oysters, Jo and Rob’s Manakintowne Farms lettuces, and Kite's Country Hams. Look for dishes like grilled shrimp tartine with chicory and green goddess dressing; free-range Joyce Farms chicken breast with country-style pole beans, white beech mushrooms, chicken liver "dirty" rice, and Boursin sauce; garlic- and rosemary-grilled beef tenderloin with buttermilk-chive mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, baby turnips, roasted chestnuts, and brandy-peppercorn veal jus; and maple créme brûlée with a snickerdoodle cookie — plus, of course, a selection of good Virginia cheeses with various accompaniments. 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).
#95 Peter Luger, Brooklyn
Yelp / Phillip T
When you sit down at your table at the perpetually packed Peter Luger, located in an off-the-beaten-path corner of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, don’t ask for a menu. Just order the tomato and onion salad, some thick-cut bacon, creamed spinach, hash browns, and the steak for two, a massive porterhouse, broiled under extreme heat before being sliced, briefly broiled again, and presented on a platter. Sure, the wait staff might be a bit gruff in this surprisingly casual German-styled old steakhouse that’s been here since 1887, but that’s all a part of the show. The star attraction, the steak, is among the best you’ll find in New York City. It’s dry-aged and butchered on-premises, and when it’s presented, in all its crusty, well-marbled, beefy glory, your jaw will drop. Use the house steak sauce to douse the onions and tomatoes (don’t let it anywhere near the steak), and be prepared to drop a wad of cash on the table before leaving — no credit cards accepted here, big spender.
#94 The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle
With a whimsical Lewis Carroll-inspired name for a pretty straightforward restaurant, The Walrus and the Carpenter is a six-year-old gem in the hip Ballard dining scene. At the raw bar, bearded men peddle eight different kinds of oysters from ice-filled metal baskets while diners take in the industrial-chic interiors along with their steak tartare or geoduck chowder. Renee Erickson, the chef and owner of Boat Street Cafe and Boat Street Pickles, embraces the artisanal, locavore ethos typical of the Pacific Northwest, but is also heavily influenced by French cuisine — as evidenced in dishes like her duck rillettes — and she has created a menu of Francophile bar food to enjoy while you on a fancy cocktail.
#93 Sushi Yasuda, New York City
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, 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. 15). 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.
#92 State Bird Provisions, San Francisco
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. 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!).
#91 Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica
This beach town "wine bar and seasonal kitchen," warmly but not exactly rustically furnished, is the preserve of chef Jeremy Fox, a veteran of Manresa in Los Gatos, the now-closed ultimate-vegetarian Ubuntu in Napa, and Daniel Patterson's Plum in Oakland. He has turned what began as a very good gastropub into a confident, idiosyncratic, vegetable-glorifying (but hardly vegetarian) restaurant that deserves to be ranked among the top eating places in L.A. Yes, the popular lavender-flavored almonds Fox served at Ubuntu are on the menu, and there are offerings like peas with pecorino and mint and garnet yams with green garlic butter and hazelnut dukkah, but then there's the pork terrine with chutney and mustard, the steak tartare with favas and yuzu, the hefty pork chop with polenta and strawberry–pine nut sofrito, and the really hefty dry-aged côte do boeuf for two with spring vegetables and chile butter. The room is always buzzing with diners who seem very happy indeed with such fare — though the well-curated wine list (AmByth Estate biodynamic viognier from Paso Robles, Tenuta San Francesco E'ISS from Campania, four vintages of Lebanon's elegant Château Musar…) doubtless has something to do with the contentment level.
#90 McCrady's, Charleston
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) 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.
#89 Al Di Là, Brooklyn
When chef Anna Klinger and husband Emiliano Coppa opened the Venetian-inspired Al di Là on Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue in 1998, it was located on a sleepy thoroughfare perhaps best known for its wide variety of bodegas, and most Manhattanites wouldn’t have even considered heading out to Brooklyn for a meal. But by the time then-New York Times critic Frank Bruni got around to giving the trattoria two stars in 2006, it was widely regarded to be the neighborhood’s best restaurant, packing in crowds every night and anchoring a burgeoning restaurant row on the now-thriving avenue. Klinger’s moderately priced menu of home-style antipasti, pastas, and braised and grilled meats rarely changes despite plenty of nightly specials, and that’s for a good reason: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
#88 Jitlada, Los Angeles
Yelp / A.R. P.
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.
#87 Republique, Los Angeles
Republique / Facebook
Walter Manzke, the chef–owner of this charming and sun-filled Los Angeles café, bakery, bar, and bistro (on the site of what was once Campanile and the original La Brea Bakery), spent two years working under star chef Joachim Splichal before working at some of the finest kitchens in Europe (including those of Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià). He then spent six and a half years at L.A.’s refined Patina before opening Republique with his wife Margarita (whose credits include Spago and a stint as sous-chef at Josiah Citrin’s Melisse) in 2013. The two chefs are turning out some spectacular and crave-worthy creations at Republique, including irresistible taleggio and potato beignets; Maine diver scallops with sunchokes, red flame grapes, bacon, and hazelnut-brown butter; bucatini with pork belly sausage, pig’s feet, and trips; dry-aged pork chop with roasted Fuji apple; and one of L.A.’s finest renditions of steak frites with Prime day-aged ribeye (seven, 14, or 32 ounces), served with roasted cauliflower, spinach, and bone marrow bordelaise.
#86 Blanca, Brooklyn
Say Roberta's is in the new class of restaurants that has fanned the flames of the Brooklyn vs. Manhattan debate, call it a great pizza joint, recall it as a frontrunner of the city's rooftop garden movement, and mention that Carlo Mirarchi was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine, and you'd still be selling it short. Roberta's is in Bushwick, six stops out of Manhattan on the L, and it's one of the city's best restaurants. But for something completely different, you’re going to want to score one of the 12 seats at Blanca, the hard-to-reserve, 25-course (or more) tasting menu spot squirreled away in a separate building behind the complex’s main dining room. The cuisine? It’s an indulgent turn through Mirarchi’s culinary mind. At turns a bite of raw fish will tempt you to compare to the best bite of omakase you’ve ever had; a thin slice of beautifully-marbled, duck egg yolk-dressed beef carpaccio that looks like it’s from your favorite steakhouse; and in between, incredibly delicious pasta courses. Last year, New York Times critic Pete Wells bumped its star rating from two to three, further cementing Mirarchi’s reputation as one of the great New York chefs.
#85 The Fearrington House, Pittsboro, NC
Fearrington Village, not far from Raleigh-Durham, is a residential compound, a cluster of shops, a farm, a spa, a wedding venue, and an elegant Relais & Châteaux inn with a first-rate restaurant. The kitchen is the preserve of British-born chef Colin Bedford, who joined the property in 2005 and has been executive chef since 2008. His cooking is fairly elaborate and his plates are, shall we say, artistic, but he works with local seasonal ingredients and the accents are sometimes as much Southern as they are French. There's something both homey and refined about his white bean and smoked bacon soup with melted onions and rosemary (and Parmigiano, apple, honey, and Brussels sprouts — see what we mean about elaborate?); he likes sweetness with his savory creations, like parsnips braised in golden syrup and buttermilk and served with ginger cake, pearl barley, prunes, and grapes, or brown-sugar-cured monkfish with parsnips and currants; his maple-glazed duck breast with sunchokes and blood orange goes earthy with hazelnuts, mushrooms, and collard greens. This is showy stuff, but somehow it all comes together very nicely. The handsome, opulently set dining rooms, the attentive service, and the serious wine list are all part of the recipe.
#84 Pok Pok, Portland, Ore.
When Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok in 2008, he took the Pacific Northwest, and many of the nation’s most devoted eaters, by storm with his uniquely refined approach to Southeast Asian street food. In fact, his Vietnamese-inspired chicken wings and boldly flavored array of house specialties are in such hot demand that Ricker opened a location dedicated specifically to wings in New York City, which later transformed into a shop specializing in Thai-style noodles before moving to Brooklyn. In April 2012, he opened Pok Pok NY on Brooklyn’s off-the-beaten-path Columbia Street Waterfront, and it proved so popular that last year it was forced to move into bigger digs up the street — but his Portland original remains Ricker's definitive establishment.
#83 Galatoire's, New Orleans
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 the 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.
#82 Vetri, Philadelphia
Yelp / April H
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."
#81 Rebelle, New York City
This Bowery newcomer might very well be the best French bistro in New York. Eschewing the traditional and tired French classics like duck à l’orange in favor of sophisticated chef-driven creations like chicken with potato, sorrel, and lemon preserve, chef Daniel Eddy and owners Patrick Cappiello and Branden McRill are showcasing everything that makes French cuisine the finest in the world while keeping nostalgia at bay. The menu at Rebelle is divided into four sections; we suggest you order one from each: Start with the leeks vinaigrette with soft boiled egg, Dijon, and leek ash; follow it up with white asparagus with black truffle and beurre blanc; then try a main course of duck cassoulet with white beans and watercress before finishing off your meal by sharing a traditional flaugnarde pruneaux with dates, walnuts, and cognac. Now this is what French cuisine is all about.
#80 The Optimist, Atlanta
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 11 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 Wesley True, 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, 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).
#79 Avec, Chicago
Paul Kahan’s no-reservations, Mediterranean-meets-Midwestern shared plates Chicago landmark, Avec has been in business since 2003, originally conceived as a wine bar. While wine is still one of the restaurant’s highlights (with 130 bottles priced between $20 and $90), this surprisingly affordable Certified Green restaurant has built its reputation on turning fresh local ingredients into unique interpretations of traditional Mediterranean fare. Chef Perry Hendrix (who took over for James Beard winner Koren Grieveson in 2010) is turning out small plates including whipped brandade with garlic bread and chives, burrata with smoked persimmons, and an $18 butcher’s steak with feta and chickpea hummus; large plates include duck egg pizza with pickled chiles, mozzarella, charred greens, and black garlic; wood oven paella with whole shrimp, chicken thigh confit, braised fennel, and tangerine aïoli; and slow-roasted pork shoulder with braised greens and smoked chorizo. Don’t skip the cheese plate for dessert.
#78 Gramercy Tavern, New York City
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. 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. 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.
#77 The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.
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, and housed in a turn of the century bank-style barn located in the center of the FarmStead, this operation is helmed by executive chef Cassidee Dabney. 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 Springer Mountain Chicken with Carolina Gold rice grits, broccolini, and roasted mushrooms; apple and duck heart salad with hop vinaigrette, candied pecans, crème fraiche, and sage; and hearth-roasted celery root with parsnip, cippolini onions, and mushrooms. And while the restaurant is a destination unto itself, topping off a weekend at the resort with a meal here can be one of life’s great experiences. Sam Beall, Kreis and Sandy’s son, took over management of the farm in 2000 and arguably turned it into the culinary destination it is today. He unexpectedly passed away earlier this year at age 39. His widow, Mary Celeste, now manages the inn.
#76 Oyster Club, Mystic, Conn.
As the name suggests, this small, coastal New England restaurant and bar is famous for its oysters. They’re shucked at the tiny raw bar, and the day’s offerings are scrawled on a driftwood chalkboard. With six draft beers, 200 wines by the bottle and 16 by the glass, a range of spirits focused on whiskey, and eight signature cocktails, The Oyster Club offers a tipple to suit all tastes. Chef James Wayman is plugged in to all the best producers in eastern Connecticut, and his handwritten, daily-changing, farm- and sea-to-table menu offers everything from 100-day dry-aged beef to pan-fried local smelts to the popular Beriah Lewis Farm beef burger (seared on cast iron and served with Grafton Cheddar, smoky bacon, black pepper aïoli, house pickles and a Farm to Hearth Bakery brioche bun with house-cut fries.) There's a nose-to-tail aspect to the cooking, too; recent offerings have included smoky pork liver mousse with pickled garlic and roasted pork and kidney sausage with burnt-bread aïoli and creamed dehydrated beets. Simpler fare, much of it wood-grilled, is served in summer months in an open-air Treehouse upstairs.
#75 Holeman & Finch Public House, Atlanta
This Atlanta must-visit serves one of the best burgers in America, some of the best fried chicken in America, and one of the best brunches in America, and we’ve ranked it as one of the best bars in America, but this year marks its first time on our ranking of the 101 best restaurants, period, in America. If the aforementioned accolades don’t make it clear, this restaurant, under the auspices of master chef Linton Hopkins, serves brilliant-yet-accessible creations that will keep you enthralled time and time again. Every meal here is an adventure: Keep it simple with some pimento cheese, Buffalo chicken skins, and a cheeseburger (made entirely from scratch and seriously one of the best you’ll ever have), or gourmet it up with a torchon of foie gras, veal sirloin with baby carrots and Romanesco, and stuffed quail with cornbread purée. Are you actually a fan of veal sweetbreads and veal brains? And what exactly is “Crunchy Lady,” anyway? You’ll just have to visit to find out.
#74 Spiaggia, Chicago
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 in 2014 (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 make the transition). One thing that hasn’t changed is Spiaggia’s ability to delight diners. Much of that can be credited to Mantuano and chef de cuisine Joe Flamm, who serves mouthwatering fare like ravioli with lobster, smoked trout roe, and tarragon; 45-day dry-aged rib eye with espresso hollandaise and bottarga; foie gras torchon with blueberry and black walnut; and their famed gnocchi with black truffle, ricotta, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. A six-course tasting menu is also available, for $125.
#73 Canlis, Seattle
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 two years ago 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 new chef Brady Williams at the helm (who came over from Roberta’s in Brooklyn last April), 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.
#72 The Modern, New York City
Given that this two Michelin-starred Danny Meyer restaurant is located within the renowned Museum of Modern Art in New York, it’s no wonder that design plays such a vital role here, both in the decor and on the plate. The restaurant is divided between the fine dining room and the bar room, which serves a completely different menu. Chef Abram Bissell’s menu is inspired by the cuisine of Alsace, but executed with a distinctly modern hand. The handcrafted cocktails, spiked with house-made liquors, and the notable wine program are also outstanding.
Opt for the three- ($138), four- ($158), or seven ($188)-course dinner in the dining room and you’ll quickly understand what makes this 11-year-old restaurant so special. Provencal white asparagus with a spring vegetable vinaigrette; potato gnocchi with black truffle and radish; cauliflower roasted in crab butter with almonds and tarragon; roasted lobster potage with pickled garlic and potatoes; blanquette of porcelet de lait; herb-crusted beef with bone marrow and baby leeks; and banana bread pudding with milk chocolate chantilly and chicory ice cream are just a handful of the brilliant, yet still delicious creations you might sample.
#71 Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, Colo.
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. Stuckey and Mackinnon-Patterson have a new restaurant in the works, slated to open in Denver by the end of the year, and it’s one of the year’s most anticipated openings.
#70 Fore Street, Portland, ME
Fore Street's wood-roasted specialties have 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, Standard Baking Company, and Scales on the waterfront, which opened in January.
#69 Bazaar Meat, Las Vegas
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), and 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.
#68 Ippudo, New York City
Yelp / Crystal H
The big, slurp-worthy bowls of America’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?
#67 Blackbird, Chicago
With its minimalist interior and its highly imaginative menu, executed by new chef de cuisine Ryan Pfeiffer, 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. Seared scallop with pickled grape, smoked ham, and buckwheat; salsify gnocchi with collard greens, mushroom broth, and chestnut; and roasted venison with currant, puntarelle, walnut, and licorice. Earthy and hearty, this is Midwestern modern cuisine par excellence. For a great overview, opt for the $115 10-course tasting menu, which includes desserts by pastry chef Nicole Guini.
#66 ABC Kitchen, New York City
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.
#65 Scampo, Boston
James Beard Award-winning chef Lydia Shire is one of Boston’s legendary chefs, and her restaurant, Scampo, is one of the best Italian restaurants you’ll ever dine at. While Italian at heart, Shire isn’t afraid to incorporate a tandoori oven or brick chicken au xeres into the mix, and the menu is fun and playful. Handmade breads come in seven varieties. There’s a full "mozzarella bar" with heirloom tomatoes and basil; prosciutto and warm black truffle gougère, black radish, and pineapple crema; beef carpaccio and fried artichokes; king crab; and warm burrata with carrot risotto in pastry (just opt for the mozzarella tasting, you know you want to). Spaghetti comes topped with cracklings and hot pepper and pizza is topped with white clam and bacon. Entrées include very crisp, slow-cooked half duck; veal scallopine with marsala fino and scamorza “puffs;” and Berkshire pork rack and crisped belly. It’s one of those menus where literally everything looks delicious… but we’ll be waiting for Friday night, when the special is roast suckling pig.
#64 Girl & the Goat, Chicago
Stephanie Izard’s West Loop restaurant Girl & the Goat (along with her other hot-spots Little Goat Diner and the just-opened Duck Duck Goat) 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.
#63 Quince, San Francisco
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 Quince 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 California food purveyors. Every night, the nine-course tasting menu ($198) 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 rooftop garden. Those hoping to sample the food without splashing out on a tasting menu should visit the salon, where they can order à la carte.
#62 Michael Mina, San Francisco
It seems you can blink and chef Michael Mina will have opened another restaurant. At last count, the Egyptian-born Mina owned 25 restaurants and bars in California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Washington (both State and D.C.), and Wyoming. But he recently refocused on this, his San Francisco flagship, a restaurant that represents the re-imagination 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 holds 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 (three courses for $125), the restaurant has taken a more intimate turn, with a more traditional fine dining feel. No matter what, you’re going to want to sample Mina’s most famous dishes: the lobster pot pie and ahi tuna tartare.
#61 Chi Spacca, Los Angeles
Chi Spacca (“he who cleaves” — in other words, "cleaver" — in Italian) has been called a “meat speakeasy” with good reason. At this Silverton-Batali-Bastianich restaurant, accompaniments like warm salted medjool dates and Puglia burrata and prosciutto are just sideshows for the rest of this meat-centric menu. Chef Ryan Denicola’s menu highlights a $220 50-ounce prime, dry-aged porterhouse bistecca fiorentina and a 36-ounce, $150 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.
#60 Topolobampo, Chicago
Topolobampo is named for a port city 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 a couple years ago 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? Scallop-black raspberry aguachile (vibrant), slow-cooked and grill-seared duck breast with a sauce of house-dried anchos and sour cherries (bold), and the legendary 28-day dry aged prime ribeye carne asada in mole negro (complex) are just a few of the enticing dishes recently on the menu. Bayless is also currently highlighting a seven-course “Mexico City 1491” themed menu, made entirely with pre-Columbian indigenous Mexican ingredients, for $120.
#59 Estela, New York City
What do you get when former Blue Hill at Stone Barns (No. 26) 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 features a relatively compact, rarely-changing 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. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the advice he gave in 2014 during an interview sounds like that of a culinary pioneer: Do your own thing, undersell and over-deliver, stop overthinking everything, and drop acid. OK, 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 cucumbers or steak with king trumpet mushrooms and taleggio. 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.
#58 Animal, Los Angeles
Yelp / Katie B
It’s hard to believe that just five 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. 33), Son of a Gun, Petit Trois, the French-Mexican daytime-only Trois Familia, and their new “California Italian” joint Jon & Vinny’s 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?
#57 The Catbird Seat, Nashville
One of this list’s more original restaurants, The Catbird Seat is an informal, 22-seat, U-shaped counter only open Wednesday through Saturday. Executive chef Ryan Poli (who took over for Noma vet Trevor Moran in January) 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. By all accounts, Poli hasn’t missed a beat, imbuing the menu with a little Japanese influence (think wakame bucatini with yuzu kosho and scallop jerky; sea urchin osetra caviar squash tart; and Bear Creek Farms strip loin with umami crust, shiso, and eggplant). The multi-course meal takes more than two 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.
#56 Norman's, Orlando
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; the $110 six-course tasting menu is currently featuring dishes including Thai-barbecued Lake Meadows poussin with warm ginger broth, Florida cobia with huitlacoche sponge cake, and smoked American bison with Okinawa sweet potato.
#55 Cochon, New Orleans
A serious cult favorite since it opened in 2006, Cochon is the domain of pork-loving chef Donald Link, proprietor of the popular Herbsaint and winner of a James Beard Award for his Real Cajun cookbook. Inspired by Cajun and Creole culinary traditions from his grandparents, Link serves dishes like “fisherman’s style” oven-roasted gulf fish, catfish courtbouillon, smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle, rabbit and dumplings, and the namesake cochon, slow-roasted Louisiana pig with turnips, cabbage, and cracklings.
#54 NoMad, New York City
Yelp / Wing C
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 ($89) — not to forget delights like suckling pig confit with cabbage, pears, and boudin noir; or butter-poached lobster with salsify and chestnuts. 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.
#53 RDG + Bar Annie, Houston
Robert Del Grande (the RDG of the restaurant's name) was one of the original "new Southwestern" or "modern Texas" chefs (another was his good friend and honky-tonk band mate Dean Fearing; see number 51), but his inspirations are international and his creations can have real refinement. Yes, there's tortilla soup (textbook) and a crab tostada with avocado relish, but the mushroom soup with truffle cream and huitlacoche duxelles tastes like something a hip "bistronomie" chef in Paris would prepare (if he had any idea what huitlacoche was); his scallops are perfectly cooked but brought down home with mashed potatoes, crispy kale, and buttermilk-lime dressing; his cinnamon-tinged pheasant luxuriates alongside oyster mushrooms, cipollini onions, and fried sage. And just so you remember that you're in Texas, there's wood-grilled rabbit with red mole sauce and a rabbit enchilada. The Bar Annie portion of the place offers such treats as Gulf crab dip with savory beignets, bacon-wrapped quail with smoked chile ranch dressing, and red chile beef nachos that may be the best interpretation of that ubiquitous indulgence you've ever tasted. Fairly priced wines by the glass and bottle, including a few Texas choices, are a plus.
#52 Bouley, New York City
Connecticut-born, French-trained David Bouley was the opening chef at the celebrated Montrachet in 1985 and opened his own first restaurant two years later. In the late '80s through the late '90s, his original Bouley was one of the undisputed upscale restaurant stars of New York City. He closed the place in 1997 and opened the more casual Bouley Bakery and an Austrian-inspired place called Danube. Danube has since transformed into one of the city's best Japanese restaurants, Brushstroke, and Bouley Bakery is gone — but a second (opened in 2008) Bouley, more elegant and ambitious than ever, now showcases its chef-owner's sophisticated, intelligent approach to modern French cuisine. Expect such plates as porcini flan with Dungeness crab and black truffle dashi, organic rabbit salad with riesling dressing and foie gras, grass-fed Canadian buffalo with kabocha squash gnocchi and glazed onions, and green apple tart with almond–black olive cream and Normandy cider. Expect, too, a chariot of house-baked breads, a chariot of cheeses in perfect condition, a wine list that largely skirts cliché (but doesn't offer very much with two-figure prices), and graceful service.
#51 Everest, Chicago
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 has 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 warm Maine lobster, white and green cauliflower, garden mache, and melfor vinaigrette; New York State foie gras with heirloom apple and red and yellow Belgian endive; and roasted Colorado rack of lamb with haricot tourangelle and thyme 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.
#50 Valentino, Santa Monica
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.
#49 Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham
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, a member of The Daily Meal Council (who 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.”
#48 Matsuhisa, Los Angeles
Yelp / Elvi T
As opposed to Nobu, which is owned by Nobu Matsuhisa and partners including Robert De Niro, Matsuhisa restaurants (in Beverly Hills, Aspen, Athens, and Mykonos) are all owned by the Matsuhisa family, and dining here is a completely different (if equally expensive) experience than dining at one of its more famous cousins. In Beverly Hills, the nearly 30-year old restaurant places more emphasis on perfectly prepared sushi than Nobu’s classic hot dishes. A stunningly expansive menu ranges from abalone and smelt egg sushi to octopus carpaccio, soba risotto, king crab claw tempura, and (in the ever-present Nobu nod to his Peruvian training), lamb chops with miso anticucho sauce. Their lunch is one of the city’s finest Japanese-style lunches; opt for the bento box.
#47 Night + Market Weho, West Hollywood, Calif.
Yelp / Winnie L
Prakas Yenbamroong's Talesai, which opened in 1982 on the Sunset Strip, was the first upscale Thai restaurant in Los Angeles — the capital of Thai dining in America — and probably in the country. Prakas's son Kris, born the same year at the restaurant, had planned to take over the place one day, but instead ended up opening this much more casual restaurant immediately next door in 2010, serving spicier, funkier food, more street fare than sit-down fodder. (There is now a second Night + Market to the east in Silverlake.) Some "Talesai classics" are served (filet mignon satay, spicy duck rolls, etc.) but the focus of Night + Market is spicy (no, we mean spicy), brightly flavored, uncompromising stuff like Chiang Rai-style larb (made with pork, pork liver, and pork blood), jackfruit salad with chiles and kaffir lime leaves, grilled fermented Isaan sausage with cabbage and bird's eye chiles, fatty pork belly braised in sweet Burmese curry with pickled garlic and ginger, and hot pot tom khar chicken soup, and shrimp-paste-seasoned rice with candied pork (are you sensing a theme here?) and shredded omelette — "pungent and delicious," as the menu says. This is Thai food unlike any other in the country, and while the surroundings are spare and the wine list small (though very well-chosen), Night + Market richly deserves to be honored as one of our 101 Best.
#46 Benu, San Francisco
Yelp / Dean C
Since chef Corey Lee opened Benu in the heart of San Francisco’s SOMA district after four years at The French Laundry (see No. 5), 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 2016, Michelin gave three to Benu, putting it on par with four of California’s most celebrated restaurants, Thomas Keller’s aforementioned St. Helena icon, Manresa, Saison, and Chris Kostow’s Restaurant at Meadowood.
Lee’s menus incorporate the best of Asian and American cuisine, combining them in thoughtful ways. On the plate, this all translates to a $248 tasting menu featuring dishes like thousand-year-old quail egg with potage and ginger; lobster coral xiao long bao; shrimp roe noodles with lettuce and roasted hen jus; and beef braised in pear with black trumpet mushrooms, mustard, and charred scallion.
#45 Bâtard, New York
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, as did the space's two earlier names), Bâtard 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 ($58 for two courses, $72 for three, and $82 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).
#44 Zuni Café, San Francisco
Yelp / Elle N
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 37 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.
#43 Shaya, New Orleans
Our 2015 Restaurant of the Year is the brainchild of chef Alon Shaya, who won a James Beard Award as the chef/partner of Besh’s Domenica. How, then, does a modern Israeli restaurant become one of the most buzzed-about hotspots in a city more known for jambalaya and po’boys than shakshuka? By serving simply terrific food, making the most of the freshest local ingredients. Shaya views Israeli cuisine as a melting pot of the traditional cuisines of North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Greece, and his menu reflects just that: Start your meal with fresh baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, matzo ball soup with slow-cooked duck and local greens, or Bulgarian lutenitsa (a roasted pepper and eggplant purée); follow it up with lamb ragù with crispy chickpeas, falafel with cabbage salad and cucumber tzatziki, or crispy halloumi with caramelized celery root and pomegranate. Or just stop in for a falafel sandwich or chicken schnitzel on sesame challah. Shaya and Besh should have two words for hungry New Orleanians: “You’re welcome.”
#42 Husk, Charleston
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 Charleston’s beautiful historic downtown (where Brock also runs McCrady’s — see No. 90), celebrates heirloom indigenous Southern products like no other restaurant can: If it’s not Southern, they won’t cook with it, not 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 cheese 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.
#41 Babbo, New York City
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.
#40 Gjelina, Venice, Calif.
Yelp / Eli G
The quintessential neighborhood restaurant, Gjelina, on the trendy Abbott Kinney Boulevard, has anchored the Venice restaurant scene as the neighborhood has turned from grimy to gourmet. Chef Travis Lett’s modern American cuisine is firmly rooted in the abundance of farmers market findings, and both the fire pit and wood-burning oven speak to the restaurants ardent rusticity, much like the typical patrons unshaven faces and shabbily artful outfits. Crispy, thin-crust pizzas and a roster of creatively prepared vegetable dishes reveal a minimalist sensibility that requires lots of attention to detail. As Lett said to the Los Angeles Times, "We're working really hard to not look like we're working really hard."
#39 Beast, Portland, Ore.
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 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).
#38 Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco
Yelp / Faust T
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 ($83, $101, and $119, 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.
#37 Zahav, Philadelphia
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 Yehuda, 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 tomatoes 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.
#36 Cafe Boulud, New York City
When Andrew Carmellini left his post — after six years — as opening chef at this stylish, polished French-with-international-accents establishment, on the site of overseer Daniel Boulud's original Restaurant Daniel (see number 3), some observers wondered if a new chef could keep up the quality. His successor, Bernard Chemel, did so, very nicely, but didn't stay long. His replacement, Gavin Kaysen, kept up the quality and added his own young-American twists to the menu. When Kaysen left in 2014 to open restaurants in his native Minneapolis, Aaron Bludorn, who had worked at the lamented Cyrus in Napa when it won its second Michelin star, came in and — guess what? — the place is as good as ever. Daniel Boulud obviously knows how to pick 'em. Bludorn can go traditional and do it well (pheasant terrine with house-made brioche, billi bi soup). He can evoke the season vividly (with, for instance, artichoke and frisée salad with fennel and Meyer lemon and Ora king salmon with favas and ramps), and he seems to have an instinctive touch with the foreign cuisines celebrated on the menu's "Le Voyage" section (currently, Senegal is honored, with things like grilled mackerel with tamarind, mango, and yucca, and lamb chops with peanut-based mafé sauce, pickled vegetables, and the grain called fonio). In the ever-changing upscale restaurant landscape of Manhattan, Café Boulud maintains an admirable consistency.
#35 Fearing's, Dallas
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 Daily Meal Council member Robert Del Grande, chef Dean Fearing (also a member of The Daily Meal Council) 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 ribeye 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.
#34 Cut, Los Angeles
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, with New York City on the horizon.) 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. 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 percent 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.
#33 Trois Mec, Los Angeles
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 (which loosely translates to “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 ($85 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.
#32 Momofuku Ko, New York City
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.
#31 August, New Orleans
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 (12 restaurants and counting) chefs in the Crescent City today. The American menu at this splendid eatery, located in a historic nineteenth-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 Belle River crawfish tartlet, potato crisp P&J oysters, and crispy Gulf snapper. A $97 tasting menu is available, as well as a $72 tasting of farmers market vegetables, which features things like green garlic soup with quail egg, caramelized fennel cappellacci, and slow-cooked butternut squash with truffle and smoked onion.
#30 Pêche, New Orleans
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.
#29 é by José Andrés, Las Vegas
Yelp / Isabella B
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. 16 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.
#28 Camino, Oakland, Calif.
Yelp / Megan M
Chef Russell Moore opened Camino with Allison Hopelain in 2008 after spending 20 years at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse (see No. 27) 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. Grilled pork leg, belly, and smoky sausage with farro, grilled Belgian endive, and horseradish; grilled king trumpet mushrooms with garbanzo beans, grilled cauliflower, snap peas, and poached egg; and wood oven-roasted whole rockfish with greens, new potatoes, and wild fennel. 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, and Moore a semifinalist for James Beard’s Best Chef: West award.
#27 Chez Panisse, Berkeley, Calif.
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.
#26 Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, NY
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.
#25 Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles
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 ribeye bistecca.
#24 O Ya, Boston
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 best sushi restaurants. And with a second sushi outpost (as well as a new Mediterranean-themed place, Covina) now open in New York, Cushman is sharing the love.
#23 Manresa, Los Gatos, Calif.
Since opening his three Michelin-starred 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.” His $235 tasting menu uses products grown using biodynamic practices, and dishes featuring vast landscapes of ingredients and flavors that are thoughtful and experimental, but never overwrought. Kinch also opened his first spin-off, Manresa Bread, a block away in early 2015, with a second branch coming soon in Los Altos.
#22 Gotham Bar & Grill, New York City
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.”
#21 Commander's Palace, New Orleans
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.
#20 The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va.
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.
#19 The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.
Yelp / Grace B
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 reexamined 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 $330 (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.
#18 Nobu, New York City
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 nine Nobu-branded hotels. 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 jalapeño, 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 have less than a year to do it. It was reported last year that in early 2017, 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.
#17 Next, Chicago
Nearly six 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, the restaurant Trio where Achatz first set out on his own; an interpretation of modern Chinese; Bistro; Tapas; Terroir; and currently, The Alps, focusing on the cuisine of the mountainous regions of Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland. Coming up? “Tour of South America” and “The French Laundry.”
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.
#16 Minibar, Washington, D.C.
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.”
#15 Masa, New York City
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 an astonishing $595 per person before beverages (they did away with tipping earlier this year), you're looking at a bill that can easily total more than $1,500 for two.
#14 Cosme, New York City
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 with restaurants like Javelina. 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, who we crowned the 2015 International Chef of the Year, 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 $69 price tag, but it's enough for three or four.
#13 Bazaar, Los Angeles
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.
#12 Per Se, New York City
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. 5) 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 $325, while The French Laundry’s are a more affordable $310). 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. While a recent New York Times review shocked the food world by bumping it down from four stars to two, chef Eli Kaimeh does Keller proud with his skillful interpretations of this most refined style of cooking, and we’re waiting with baited breath to see if the write-up results in any palpable changes.
#11 Del Posto, New York City
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. And if you’re gluten-free, don’t fret; every pasta dish is available with gluten-free pasta developed by Ladner himself.
#10 Jean Georges, New York City
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 chiles. 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.
#9 Spago, Los Angeles
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 — now on display in a sleek, semi-minimalist dining room, new in 2012 — 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; squid ink garganelli with Maine lobster, confit sweet onions, and bottarga; and roasted half Jidori chicken with goat cheese, black truffles, and Yukon potato purée are examples of Hefter's fare.
#8 Gabriel Kreuther, New York City
It's rare that a serious restaurant hits the ground running as successfully as Alsatian-born chef Gabriel Kreuther's eponymous establishment has managed. Kreuther cooked under fellow Alsatian Jean-Georges Vongerichten and then at Atelier in the Ritz-Carlton New York before earning attention and acclaim at The Modern, Danny Meyer's fine-dining-plus-casual-bar-food venue at the Museum of Modern Art. He left the last of these early in 2014 and last summer opened this place, a gorgeous dining room (in an unpromising-looking 42nd Street storefront), given a suggestion of rustic charm with massive timbers salvaged from a barn in Vermont and suffused with warm, soft light. Here, Kreuther crafts exquisite plates in a style that owes much to his native territory, much to the freedom of imagination a chef of any provenance in modern-day Manhattan enjoys, and much to his first-rate raw materials, whether they come from Long Island, Nova Scotia, or Hawaii. Dishes are presented with lapidary precision, sometimes almost sculptural on the plate, but the manipulations aren't visual indulgence: They help emphasize the contrasting flavors and textures of the food. At first, looking at the foie gras terrine and black truffle praline with muscat gelée and seven-grain toast, the diner may not discern which element of the dish is which; digging in, though, reveals all — the creamy duck liver, the earthy perfume of truffle, the sweetness of the gelée, the subtle crunch of the toast.
The parts of the sturgeon and sauerkraut tart with American caviar mousseline, which comes to the table in a halo of applewood smoke, are more immediately identifiable, but the ingredients blend into one complex, delicious bite after another. Halibut with celery root and hen of the woods mushrooms in riesling–cockle sauce; organic poussin with bread pudding, cardoons, black trumpet mushrooms, and licorice jus; a juxtaposition of chocolate mousse, blackberry gelée, and lemon verbena merinque — this is simply some of the best cooking in New York. There's a bar area with its own menu, too, a menu so varied and smart (Mangalitsa morcilla potato salad with parsnip purée, saffron gnocchetti with king crab, red-wine-braised tripe tratiné with Puy lentils) that it could anchor a first-class restaurant of its own. Service is skilled, and the wine list — though bereft of bargains — is very impressive, above all in the excellent vintages of Alsace.
#7 Restaurant Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
The original Paris version of this restaurant, which merits three Michelin stars, is elegant and consistently wonderful. The Las Vegas Guy Savoy 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 newer “Innovation Menu,” with dishes including Golden Osetra caviar with langoustine tartare and cauliflower Babaroise, will set you back $375. 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.
#6 L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas
The cooking is simply exquisite in this opulently furnished dining room in the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, currently the only three Michelin-star restaurant in the city. 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.
#5 The French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.
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 $310 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 Chatham Bay cod, sweet butter poached Stonington Maine lobster, and charcoal grilled Snake River Farms “calotte de boeuf” may sound simple enough, 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.
#4 Eleven Madison Park, New York City
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 $295 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.
#3 Daniel, New York City
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 superb, and the menu changes daily. If you are lucky enough to score a reservation, you may sample dishes as part of a four-course $142 or seven-course $234 prix fixe menu under the watchful eye of executive chef Jean-François Bruel. Long Island fluke with sea urchin, granny smith apple, seaweed crisp, and white sturgeon caviar; Scottish langoustines with fennel, ruby red grapefruit, and bergamot vinaigrette; quail and foie gras pithiviers with watercress salad, banyuls vinaigrette, and huckleberry jus; and High Plains buffalo “Rossini” with foie gras, spinach, and black truffle are among the dishes you might be served.
#2 Providence, Los Angeles
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 geoduck with radish and wasabi; Australian spanner crab with Royal Osetra caviar; or A5 wagyu with sweet potato, aged vinegar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano? At $115 for the four-course (or $180 for seven courses) signature and seasonal menu and $220 for the 12-course chef's menu, Providence isn't for diners on a budget. But making the jump from no. 91 on last year’s ranking to no. 2 in this year’s acknowledges how our panelists had given it short shrift in previous years and are taking a closer look. The impeccable service combined with the quality of the seafood and the lapidary perfection of the plates Cimarusti sends out makes it clear that this restaurant has few equals.
#1 Le Bernardin, New York City
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 after 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. A seven course, $180 Le Bernardin tasting and an eight-course, $215 Chef’s Tasting are also available. Eat in Le Bernardin’s recently revamped modern dining room against a backdrop of painted waves and enjoy dishes like layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna, Iberico ham “chutney,” sea beans, and lemon olive oil; warm king fish sashimi with caviar in a light marinière broth; grilled escolar and seared wagyu beef with fresh kimchi, Asian pear, and soy-citrus emulsion.