The 20 Best Restaurants in America for 2016

These restaurants aren’t just great, they’re legendary

The 20 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. All these restaurants don’t just fit the bill, they transcend it. We’re pleased to present the 20 best restaurants in America for 2016, pulled from our annual ranking of the 101 best.

#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.

#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. 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 seven 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 (tip included), 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 CenterPer 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.

#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 ($442 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.

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.