It feels truer with each year that passes: It becomes more and more difficult to rank America’s best restaurants — and we say that having done it for half a decade. As interest in dining out increases, and more great chefs train younger good ones, fantastic food continues to spread across America. Exceptional culinary landscapes in big cities get better, and new and different dining scenes are born and in turn attract and inspire more greatness from a growing number of talented cooks. It makes trying to rank the country’s best restaurants all the more challenging, but also all the more worthwhile and intriguing.
We have always believed that good food is good food, and so our first three 101s compared iconic pizza parlors and joints serving transcendent cheeseburgers with the lapidary perfection of a French Laundry or the genre-bending inventiveness of a Next. That said, as we watched the nation’s culinary scene improve, we concluded that, in fairness to both categories of restaurants, we should rank them in their own lists. Last year, for the first time, The Daily Meal's ranking of the 101 Best Restaurants in America was followed by a list of America’s 50 Best Casual Restaurants — the most amazing spots in the United States serving ribs, red hots, pizzas, burgers, tacos, and other less expensive (but no less mouthwatering) dishes. Watch for this year's successor to that list, as we tackle America’s 101 Best Casual Restaurants next month.
We drew up our first 101 list in 2011 by asking: Where did we, The Daily Meal’s editors, like to eat? Accounting for our mood, budget, and where we happen to be when we get hungry, how would we vote — not only with our critical faculties, but with our mouths and our wallets? Where would we send friends, or friends of friends? We ended up with a shortlist of 150 places, then argued, advocated, and cajoled each other on behalf of restaurants ranging from old-fashioned to avant-garde, ultra-casual to super-fancy. Then we invited an illustrious panel of judges (restaurant critics, food and lifestyle writers, and bloggers) from across America to help order restaurants via an anonymous survey and tallied results to assemble a ranked list.
Since that first year, we've expanded the voting pool to include our city editors, special contributors, members of The Daily Meal Council (excluding chefs) and a growing list of panelists who have agreed to participate in the ever-increasing number of "Best" surveys we conduct.
In 2012 and 2013 , we included previous winners and nominees in our ever-longer shortlist, along with suggestions from judges and readers, and in 2014, we took the added step of asking restaurant experts and critics across the country to submit nominations of their own, both locally and nationally. We ended up with more restaurants than ever to consider, some 590 (up from last year’s 430), from Maine to California, Washington to Florida, and everywhere in between.
As much as our list, and the process we use to arrive at it, has changed since 2011, one thing that hasn't changed, and won't, is that last question we asked ourselves the first year that we ranked this list: Which restaurants, old or new, adhering to tradition or cutting-edge, would you recommend to your friends, and trust that they could safely recommend in turn six degrees farther?
This year, like every year, the results of our survey were thought-provoking and potentially contentious. Evenly distributed across America? No way. While we try hard to represent a wide geographical spread, and as good as our overall food scene has become, there are "food towns" around the country — Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, both Portlands, San Francisco, and a few others, including (grumble away) New York City — where many of the best restaurants are congregated, often because talented chefs and restaurateurs from other regions gravitate to them. We realize that there are some 71 urban areas in the United States with populations of 500,000 and above, and though they’re full of restaurants, does every one of them have a few places that can really be compared with America’s best? Even now, probably not.As much as our list, and the process we use to arrive at it, has changed since 2011, one thing that hasn't changed, and won't, is the question we asked ourselves the first year that we ranked this list: Which restaurants, old or new, adhering to tradition or cutting-edge, would you recommend to your friends, and trust that they could safely recommend in turn six degrees farther?
As always, the question we’d encourage panelists (and readers) in areas that seem underrepresented to ask themselves is: Is the restaurant I love here something I’d recommend that people make a special trip to experience? The answer would be yes for most of the restaurants that made 2015’s 101 best list — one that includes every kind of restaurant you could imagine.
You may question the results, debate the order, or argue that we should replace a number of winners with restaurants you think are more deserving. With a list like this, it would be surprising if there weren’t disagreements. Indeed, there were places we pulled for ourselves that didn’t make the cut, and places we thought should have been higher or lower.
Please let us know what you think we missed or misranked — we do read your comments, even if we don’t always agree with them. And, as in years past, we plan to publish a follow-up with your opinions. If you turn us on to places we missed, so much the better.
We’re excited about our 2015 list of America’s best restaurants (you can view the complete list on the next page if you'd prefer not to view the slideshow). Their quality and the sheer diversity of menus and cuisines (not to mention the hundreds of other places that almost but didn’t quite make it) demonstrate that we live in an exciting time for food in America. As we’ve said year after year, there are truly exciting chefs all over our country — chefs raising the gastronomic bar to a level this country has never before seen. We salute the hard-working people who make dining out a rewarding adventure. We’d also like to thank our panelists for helping (check back for a full panelist list). You can be certain we will continue to sign up more trusted panelists and refine the process by which we make our selections. What will the 2016 101 installment bring? You’ll find out on The Daily Meal.
#101 Ox, Portland, Ore.
“When one of Portland's best new restaurants opens across from one of its best dive bars, strange things happen,” The Oregonian critic Michael Russell noted in his 2012 “A” review of Ox (the paper’s restaurant of the year in 2013). One such thing was the sight, in Billy Ray’s Neighborhood Dive, of men in sports coats sipping drinks while waiting for a table at the no-reservations, Argentine-inspired Portland steakhouse on the other side of the street. Husband-and-wife chef team Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton (Food & Wine’s 2014 Best New Chefs, and nominees for a 2015 James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest) seem to have done everything right, melding inspiration from Argentina’s wood-fired grilling tradition with the culinary heritage of France, Spain, and Italy.
The menu is broken up into Entradas (starters), Asados (grilled items), Del Huerto (“from the garden”), and Braises and Roasts. Entradas include empanadas, bruschetta, and, for the more adventurous, spicy braised beef tripe and octopus or grilled lamb heart with charred leek purée. There are 11 grilled items, including rib-eye, short rib, lamb shoulder, and maple-brined pork loin; we could go on, but you should probably just order the asado Argentino for two, which includes short rib, chorizo, morcilla, skirt steak, and sweetbreads. “From the garden” is a fun menu heading for a list of dishes that includes hominy stew with braised pork belly, chiles, cilantro, and olive oil-fried duck egg, but that kind of gives you an idea of what you’re getting yourself into at Ox. How do you say no to Brussels sprouts "everything" style with bagel seasoning, chive mascarpone, and smoked salmon roe, anyway?
#100 Pubbelly, Miami Beach
Miami’s first Asian-inspired gastropub, Pubbelly is quickly becoming well-known across the country. The brainchild of Andreas Schreiner, Jose Mendin, and Sergio Navarro, this perpetually packed casual spot, located on the west end of Miami Beach, is not only one of the best, most creative restaurants in Miami, it’s also one of the most fun. Pâtés, duck and pork rillettes, terrines, sausages, and pickles are all made in-house, and round out a charmingly creative menu that changes daily, but always includes ramen and udon in ways you’ve never seen them before (like carbonara-inspired), a raw bar, dumplings with fillings like short rib and corn or pastrami and sauerkraut, and a wide selection of small plates for sharing. Check out the fried chicken with mustard miso, pork cheeks with feta gnudi and tzatziki, salt and pepper squid, veal brains “meuniere,” and “chopped” bone marrow with citrus gremolata and bacon marmalade. For the adventurous eater, no visit to Miami is complete without a visit to Pubbelly, or its sister restaurant (one of America's Best Asian Restaurants), Pubbelly Sushi (mmm, Buffalo-style rock shrimp tempura and goma soy paper with snow crab, ponzu, and clarified butter).
101 Best Restaurants in America 2015