The Tribeca Grill, its website humbly notes, "was instrumental in helping put the TriBeCa neighborhood on the map." The vibe is clubby with a lively bar, and paintings by De Niro's father on the walls. Food is good if not particularly special: buffalo mozzarella salad, seared tuna, pierogi, grilled duck breast and pork chop — you get the idea.
SCORE: 64 (Food: 22, Décor: 21, Service: 21). Star power breaks the tie with DeVito South Beach.
NOTABLE FEATURES: The restaurant's roster of investors does read like an all-star cast: Bill Murray, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Lou Diamond Philips, Russell Simmons, Peter Max, Christopher Walken, and Harvey and Bob Weinstein.
Actor Danny DeVito teamed with David Manero to open an Italian chophouse called DeVito South Beach. Imported Venetian chandeliers, reclaimed Chicago brick walls, fireplaces, and Italian marble tables are counterbalanced with plasma TVs and a quintessential South Beach fixture, the DJ booth. You just may want to tip discreetly. Last year, DeVito paid $140,000 to 11 former employees to drop lawsuits claiming management ripped off their tips.
SCORE: 64 (Food: 21, Décor: 23, Service: 20)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Signatures include housemade burrata, porcini gnocchi, porcini Bolognese, porcini fritti, and the Global Steak Flight (Kobe from Japan and America, and Australian Wagyu).
"Da Coach is in the restaurant most evenings, greeting and acknowledging his many fans and customers," Ditka's site notes. But which one! Da Coach has three steakhouses, one in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Oakbrook. Even if Ditka isn't there, the menus are sprinkled with references to him: Coach's pot roast, Mike's salad (with nachos!), Coach's meatloaf stack, Mike's fries, the 30 oz. Bone-In “Ditka Cut,” and Coach's Prime Locker (prized steaks). If that's not enough, take a little bit of Ditka home. Buy Da Coach's clothing and accessories, specialty wines, and cigars.
SCORE: 64 (Food: 22, Décor: 21, Service: 21)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Ditka's has been featured by Wine Enthusiast as a Wine Friendly Restaurant of the Year. Highlights include the "Fullback Size" filet mignon with spinach and onion rings and "Da Pork Chop."
The original Dominick's, opened in 1948, was a Rat Pack spot. Today's incarnation takes a flier on that, touting "speakeasy tunes and lounge standards." The restaurant is owned by actress Rose McGowan with actress Laura Dern and musician Ben Harper as partners. Executive chef (and also co-owner) Brandon Boudet's menu is said to invoke "memories of simple Italian cuisine from the hearth of Little Italy," which savvy New Yorkers would say is a bad thing unless you're talking about media darling, Torrisi.
SCORE: 63 (Food: 21, Décor: 22, Service: 20)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Some of the more piquant items include: Italian wedding soup, meatball sandwich, wood-grilled burger with crispy speck, and the burrata and tomato mostarda.
Cafe Zoetrope is named for producer/director Francis Ford Coppola's production company, American Zoetrope. The self-described European-style café is located in San Francisco's historic Sentinel Building, offering "authentic Italian cuisine," which apparently consists of wood-fired pizzas, pastas, and rustic fare rounded out by muffalettas and chilaquiles.
NOTABLE FEATURES: The specialty, Caesar Salad, is "made daily with fresh egg yolk, created originally in this building at Caesar’s Grill in 1924."
The Waverly Inn in New York City's West Village is largely recognized not for its food, but for the star power that can often be found there. After all, the restaurant was reopened by Vanity Fair's editor-in-chief Graydon Carter, and the comings and goings of its famous patrons have been well-documented. John DeLucie, the chef who reopened the restaurant with Carter, has since moved on, but the exclusivity and American classics on the menu at this New York Magazine critic's pick remain.
SCORE: 62 (Food: 20, Décor: 22, Service: 20)
NOTABLE FEATURES: That's Michael Stipe! That's Lindsay Lohan! That's... Oy, it's New York. Everyone's someone.
The New York location didn't end up flying, but the three other Agos (Los Angeles, South Beach, Vegas) don't seem to be suffering. It doesn't hurt that the source of the restaurants' financial backing is Hollywood's A-list: actor and restaurateur Robert De Niro, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and directors Tony and Ridley Scott.
SCORE: 61 (Food: 21, Décor: 20, Service: 20)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Chef-owner Agostino Sciandri’s signature pizzas and bistecca alla Fiorentina.
Zoom in Park City, Utah is part of Robert Redford's Sundance Resort. The restaurant, which he opened in 1995, was once the Union Pacific railroad depot, containing freight, ticket offices, passenger baggage, wait rooms, and quarters for the station masters. It ceased functioning as a railroad station in '77 and the digs are a little more upscale and less transitory these days, but the main dining room still houses one of the scales used for weighing freight.
SCORE: 61 (Food: 20, Décor: 21, Service: 20)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Signature dishes on the menu not to miss include the baby back pork ribs with cornbread and poppyseed coleslaw, the warm jalapeño crab dip, macaroni and cheese, Mexican seafood ceviche, and spicy Buffalo onion rings.
"Who owns The Spotted Pig?" the restaurant's website coyly asks, answering with, "April Bloomfield, Ken Friedman, and some pals." A Gawker post back in 2007 was a little more specific. "Some pals" included: Mario Batali, Fatboy Slim, Jay Z, Bono, Michael Stipe, Michael Guido, and U2's longtime manager Paul McGuinness. The packed West Village gastro-pub is a critic's darling. Highlights include the chargrilled burger with Roquefort and shoestrings, sheep's milk ricotta gnudi with brown butter, and sage, and the deviled eggs.
SCORE: 60 (Food: 23, Décor: 19, Service: 18). A Gayot rating of 13/20 broke a Zagat tie with Gladys Knight's waffles. So did that "little" Michelin star.
NOTABLE FEATURES: The second floor used to be the restaurant's VIP area. Get thee to the third floor.
The singer/songwriter developed her chicken and waffles joint with Ron Winans and her son Shanga Hankerson, who continues the tradition. There are two branches of Gladys Knight & Ron Winan's Chicken And Waffles in Atlanta. Besides chicken and waffles, other menu fare includes barbecue turkey wings and Southern fare like smothered chicken, collard greens, and of course, grits.
SCORE: 60 (Food: 22, Décor: 19, Service: 19)
NOTABLE FEATURES: John Kessler of the Atlanta Journal Constitution is on the record as saying he "can never not order the 'Midnight Train' plate of four chicken wings and a waffle"
The legendary Dolphins football coach achieved perfection in 1972 with an undefeated season and Super Bowl trophy. His chain of Shula’s steakhouse, with pigskin menus and clubby steakhouse vibe, have done well too — there are more than 30 in the U.S. (roughly a third of them in Florida).
SCORE: 59.6 (an average of scores from restaurants in Chicago, Virginia, Miami, and Philadelphia)
NOTABLE FEATURES: For linebacker-sized appetites there's a food challenge with its own hall of fame: Shula's 48oz. Club. If you can tackle 100 Shula Cuts (a 48-ounce porterhouse) like Taft Parker did, the coach may even sit with you while you eat, and give you a football to commemorate the occasion.
Mother-daughter team, Myung Ja and Jenny Kwak do homestyle Korean cooking and barbecue on Carmine Street in New York City's West Village. Blackboard Eats noted that Do Hwa's pork ribs are so enchanting to one of the restaurant's investors, director Quentin Tarantino, that it "is now his unofficial home away from home whenever he’s in New York." Among other dishes recommended by New York Magazine at this critic's pick are dumplings, spicy pancakes, stews, sautés, and do-it-yourself tables with built-in grills.
SCORE: 58 (Food: 21, Décor: 18, Service: 19)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Mama’s pork ribs, kimchi mandu, bibimbop, and do hwa gui. Menu movie-poster covers are said to be shout-outs to Tarantino.
Two years ago, rapper Ludacris received glowing praise from Food & Wine's Kate Krader for Straits, his Sinagporean restaurant in Atlanta: "The recipes ... completely belong here — from tamarind beef to chili lobster, they’re spectacular." With favorable reviews and great buzz, there seemed to have been good reason to agree... until early this year, at least. There were reports in March that Straits failed its January health inspection.
SCORE: 55 (Food: 19, Décor: 19, Service: 17)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Kung Pao Lollipop, Tamarind Beef, Spare Ribs, Ahi Tuna Tower, Banana Blossom, Fuji Apple Shrimp, and Origami Sea Bass.
Unless you're filthy rich, or know someone, you're not likely to get into Rao's in East Harlem. But at Destino near the UN, you can get a glimpse of what you're missing (or not missing, to be honest) in a restaurant whose chef, Mario Curko is a Rao's alumn, and whose minority investor is non other than the Justin Timberlake of Southern Hospitality fame.
SCORE: 54 (Food: 19, Décor: 19, Service: 18)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Spaghetti carbonara, chicken cacciatore, veal Marsala, and a ceiling mural.
"The best thing at Justin Timberlake’s new restaurant comes in a box," former $25 and Under Times reviewer Peter Meehan wrote several years ago after visiting singer/actor/and now restaurateur Justin Timberlake's Southern Hospitality on New York's Upper East Side. He was, of course, punning on Timberlake's SNL skit while referring to the restaurant's baby back ribs. Since then, a second outpost opened, in Hell's Kitchen.
SCORE: 45 (Food: 16, Décor: 14, Service: 15)
NOTABLE FEATURES: If you believe Southern Hospitality's website, it's great for star-spotting, especially when looking for Lindsay Lohan.
Writers Sebastian Junger and Scott Anderson joined producer/director Nanette Burstein to open The Half King (named for an obscure 18th-century Seneca chief) in Chelsea about 11 years ago. Other literary pubs haven't fared nearly as well as this New York Magazine Critic's Pick. It serves well-priced bar and traditional Irish pub fare. There's a 30-foot bar, outdoor seating, garden, and late-night menu Monday to Saturday 'til 2 a.m.
SCORE: 43 (Food: 16, Décor: 13, Service: 14)
NOTABLE FEATURES: All wood used in the construction was said to have been salvaged from a 200 year-old barn in Pennsylvania. Funny menu items include the "Green Eggs and Ham" (two eggs any style with roasted ham and tomatilla salsa), and a Sometimes Pot Pie ("Sometimes it's chicken, sometimes it's rabbit, sometimes it's this, and sometimes it's that."
Los Angeles hasn't been known for Moroccan fare. That could change with Tagine in Beverly Hills, a restaurant where actor Ryan Gosling holds a major stake. Chef Abdessamad Benameur combines traditional recipes with contemporary French and Spanish twists. At last check there wasn't a Zagat rating, but good buzz, positive reviews, and its addition to Zagat's list of top celebrity-owned spots merits it honorable mention.
NOTABLE FEATURES: The seven-course tasting menu includes bastilla (phyllo with Cornish hen and saffron scrambled eggs), sea bass with Chermoula sauce, and lamb in honey sauce.
The country music star opened Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill in 2005 in Oklahoma City, Okla., (and in Tulsa). Others have since opened, but they've supposedly been licensed. Regardless, there are high ceilings, large neon beer bottles, and oversized pictures of Keith with his patriotic guitar held above his head. Food-wise, it's all about Tex-Mex and barbecue. Nachos, chips, and queso with salsa. Favorites on the menu include St. Louis ribs, chicken fried steak, meatloaf, and sandwiches made with cheese, steak, chicken, and fish.
SCORE: 51 (Food: 15, Décor: 17, Service: 19)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Calf fries (hand-breaded and deep fried with spicy, horseradish cocktail sauce), and the fried bologna sandwich (with barbecue sauce, Jack, Cheddar, lettuce, and tomato).
Eating out on the road, Yao Ming is said to be able to polish off entire Pappadeaux Platters consisting of fried shrimp, fried catfish fillet, blue crabcake, stuffed shrimp, stuffed crab, crawfish, extra shrimp and catfish, and French fries. Back in Houston he has taken matter into his own hands, opening Yao Restaurant & Bar, where you might have a better chance of seeing him now that he has retired.
Yao and his wife joined with friends, and local restaurant owners to create a large space serving Chinese and Chinese-American food. Lettuce wraps, peking dumplings, Kung Bao beef, it's all there.
SCORE: 56 (Food: 18, Décor: 20, Service: 18)
NOTABLE FEATURES: There's a full tea menu.
Indigo Girls' Emily Saliers Watershed has recevied significant praise. Dinner at the Decatur, Ga., joint consists of Southern classics, some tweaked by co-owner Chef Joe Truex. There are fried oysters, pimento cheese, and crawfish pies. Then grilled Heritage pork chop shows up with okra, tomato, peanuts, and bacon jam. Nice. Watershed has its own wine club, and serves a Southern afternoon tea that includes loose tea and snacks like cheese straws, toasted pecans, tea cakes, and curry shrimp sandwiche (Thu. to Sat., 3 to 5 p.m., $15 per person, reservations required.)
SCORE: 66 (Food: 24, Décor: 20, Service: 22)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Fried chicken is served Tuesday after 5:30 p.m., and is said to sell out fast. Other items of interest include the shrimp and crab burger, and the "BLT" banh mi (lunch), and during brunch: banana fritters, sausage gravy with buttermilk biscuits, and butter-poached shrimp.
While playing for the Seattle Supersonics in the late 1990’s, former NBA point guard, Gary Payton, became a co-owner of this authentic Southern spot. The menu is as fun to read as the food is to eat: Sho’Nuff Fried Green Tomatoes, Grandpa Walter Roast Pork Chop, Hoppin’ John Griddlejacks, and Down Home Mac and Cheese. Save room for dessert.
SCORE: 64 (Food: 24, Décor: 20, Service: 20)
NOTABLE FEATURES: The red velvet cake layered with cream cheese frosting is a winner.
"Ana Mandara — which refers to a 700-year-old legend and love story and translates to 'beautiful refuge' — is often referred to as 'the restaurant Don Johnson owns," noted the San Francisco Chronicle. "But the draw is executive chef Khai Duong's modern, sophisticated, French-influenced Vietnamese cuisine, not a potential celebrity sighting."
That may be the case, but if the food falters, the menu promises to entertain. Dishes like Heat of the Moment, Blissful Wonders, and Seductive Sirens, may make you think you made a wrong turn into a trashy romance novel, not a restaurant serving Chef Kahai Duong's modern Vietnamese cusine.
SCORE: 69 (Food: 22, Décor: 26, Service: 21)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Crispy lobster ravioli and the Ana Mandara cocktail (muddled fresh lemongrass and mint, citrus vodka, and house-made sweet and sour)
As Matt McCue noted in The Daily Meal's 10 Best Athlete-Owned Restaurants, "In Denver, John Elway is God." The former Bronco quarterback did what few legends have — won his second Super Bowl in '99, retired on top, and stayed retired. His foray into fine dining is equally successful. He co-owns two eponymous restaurants, one in the Ritz-Carlton downtown, the other in Cherry Creek. The steakhouse menu will please carnivores with a caveman’s appetite, but skirts standards to find creative appetizers and sides.
SCORE: 71 (Food: 24, Décor: 24, Service: 23)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Lamb chops dipped in green chili fondue, calamari tossed with stuffed olives and cherry peppers, and duck confit fried rice.
John Elway isn't the only successful athlete turned restaurateur — he's the first in a trio of sports stars with restaurants that top this list. Coming in at #2 is Michael Jordan's one sixtyblue (which actually topped The Daily Meal's 10 Best Athlete-Owned Restaurants). The Chicago champ's sleek neighborhood place offers a seasonal menu, and maybe the best deal in town.
SCORE: 75 (Food: 26, Décor: 24, Service: 25)
NOTABLE FEATURES: As contributor Matt McCue noted, on Wednesdays in the bar there is a fried chicken and Champagne dinner. It may sound like an odd pairing, but the bird comes with Asian pear slaw, potato wedges, and bubbly is Moncuit Blanc de Blanc. At $16, it’s a steal.
Skateboarding may not be considered the king of sports, but on this list at least, the restaurant's skateboarding celebrity investor reigns above all others. Tony Hawk's Market Restaurant and Bar in Del Mar, Calif., tops this list with a score of 77. That's in part because of the fresh, well-received California fare by Chef Carl Shcroeder (a protégé of Michael Mina and Bardley Ogden), a James Beard Foundation “California Chef of the Year.”
SCORE: 77 (Food: 29, Décor: 22, Service: 26)
NOTABLE FEATURES: Heirloom tomato and burrata salad with a white Cheddar Parmesan cheese stick; sweet white corn and creamy dill dressing; blue cheese soufflé with Santa Rosa plums, peach preserves, butter lettuce, and candied almonds.