The Daily Meal's 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2013 Slideshow
February 19, 2013
Break out your knife and fork, it’s time to dig into the country’s best restaurants
101) Lola, Cleveland
Watching Iron Chef Michael Symon compete (and rack up the wins) on Food Network and do his thing on The Chew, you very quickly get the sense that this Cleveland-born chef has the cooking chops to back up the air time. His flagship restaurant Lola (relocated from its original Tremont location to downtown Cleveland, and helmed by executive chef Joe Swan) is not a good restaurant, it’s a great one. You can expect the meat-centric fare that Symon is best-known for (bone marrow, beef cheek pierogi, venison, pork shank, you get the idea), but it’s all served with a delicate touch. Take for example, a fried pig’s ear and watermelon summer salad offered on a tasting menu a few years ago — memories still linger.
Click here to watch chef Michael Symon give The Daily Meal his advice on making potato chips.
100) Rasika, Washington, D.C.
With its luminous contemporary-style interior, enhanced by vivid Indian art, and varied menu that offers many familiar Indian flavors but avoids cliché, Rasika is one of the most appealing restaurants in our nation's capital. In addition to the expected tandoor oven (utilized for such dishes as swordfish tikka and tandoori salmon as well as more familiar offerings), the kitchen makes good use of a traditional tawa, or griddle, to produce delights like spiced potato and chickpea patties, shrimp–rice pancakes with tomato chutney, and griddled kidney beans with figs and vermicelli. Breads include mint paratha, truffle naan, and goat cheese kulcha, and the sigri (barbecue) preparations include fresh mango shrimp with cashews and ginger and paneer (cheese) brochettes with onions and peppers.
99) 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 in 2005 and now holds two Michelin stars for his efforts, serves market tasting menus as well as an à la carte menu of carefully selected seafood from both coasts and beyond, prepared with great originality (who else offers wild Japanese sardines with smoked tomatoes and piquillo peppers, Santa Barbara sea urchin with soft scrambled eggs and champagne beurre blanc, or wild Washington king salmon with red cabbage and Tahitian squash?). Providence isn't for diners on a budget, but it’s definitely a great place for those looking to celebrate.
98) Stella!, New Orleans
Stella!, in chef Scott Boswell’s own words, is a mix of "the elegance of French, the simplicity of Italian, combined with Asian flavors and bold Creole accents." That much mixing and matching of cuisines could be trouble for an inexperienced chef, but Boswell, a veteran of kitchens from Provence to Florence to Tokyo, takes on the challenge with gusto, and succeeds. With dishes like crispy veal sweetbreads, Korean barbecue, and poached flounder with blue crab, Stella! is a highlight of an already bustling culinary scene in New Orleans.
97) Benu, San Francisco
Since chef Corey Lee opened Benu after four years at The French Laundry, it has consistently been ranked one of the finest restaurants in the country, warranting two Michelin stars and a AAA Five Diamond Award this year. Lee’s menus incorporate the best of Asian and American cuisine, and combine the two styles in some truly brilliant, upscale ways. When whole steamed bass with crispy skin, shiitake mushrooms, broccolini, turnips, and mustard shares a menu with sea urchin tarte flambée and pork rib-eye in the style of baked ham, you know you’ve come to the right place.
96) The Four Seasons, New York City
The Four Seasons is a New York original, with a stunning, landmarked interior designed in 1959 by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, a faithful clientele of Gothamite high-rollers and power-lunchers, and an American menu that offers few surprises but usually manages to satisfy everyone's tastes. Located in Park Avenue’s historic Seagram Building, this is the place to order things like Dungeness crab salad, smoked salmon sliced tableside, grilled Dover sole, cassoulet, or crisp farmhouse duck, then sit back and dine like a grown-up.
95) minibar, Washington, D.C.
A reservation at minibar,recently relocated to Penn Quarter, is still very difficult to come by (you need to send them an email and keep your fingers crossed), even though it has doubled in size — from six seats to 12. Diners perch at two counters overlooking 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." Because it functions as a kind of test kitchen for his LA restaurant, The Bazaar (number 43 on this list) and its Miami counterpart, expect a dining experience filled with culinary hat tricks — cotton candy eel, popcorn that smokes in your mouth, a study of zucchini seeds. Even with a price tag of $225 for 30 (mini) courses, it's a steal of a deal. The imaginative cuisine scored chef José Andrés a 2011 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award (and helped him get named as The Daily Meal’s 2012 American Chef of the Year). And, oh yeah, the Obamas just celebrated Valentine’s Day there. (Soon to open next to minibar: barmini, which will do for cocktails what its sibling does for dinner.)
94) Fearing's, Dallas
Located in The Ritz-Carlton Dallas, Fearing’s features modern Southwestern-American cuisine with a farm-to-table approach (think crispy barbecued oysters with Jonah crab, bacon, and spinach, or antelope with cactus pear glaze, rabbit enchilada, and jicama slaw). Choose from one of the many dining venues on-site, 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 Dean Fearing himself, who is often present.
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 Yasuda and its minimal blond-wood dining room represents. To say the fish is fresh just doesn’t do the place justice — for many, experiencing the taste and texture of seafood at Yasuda will set the bar for what freshness means. As Yasuda’s website notes, "When someone sits down at his sushi bar, is moved by his fish and announces, 'I've never tasted anything like it,' Yasuda will matter-of-factly say, 'As usual, only one-quarter inch above average.' This is not false modesty. Rather, he is being precise. Yasuda understands that to always be a 'quarter inch' better than anyone else out there, to be not simply good but transcendent, is all-consuming. And it is that quarter-inch difference that drives Yasuda day-in and day-out." And while founder Naomichi Yasuda himself retired to allow the next generation to have its chance, his hand-picked successor, Mitsuru Tamura, keeps that Yasuda philosophy alive.
92) Woodshed Smokehouse, Fort Worth, Texas
High-energy Texas chef Tim Love's latest enterprise pays tribute to big animals and live fire. Beef, lamb, pork, goat, venison and other hooved game, assorted birds, seafood, and even sometimes vegetables are brought to cooked perfection with a variety of wood-fueled grills, ovens, and rotisseries (pecan, mesquite, hickory, and oak are burned). From crispy smoked Brussels sprouts and smoked beet and apple salad with goat cheese and toasted pecans to brisket-stuffed piquillo peppers, smoked turkey tamales, and classic smoked beef ribs, this is big food, in size, in flavor, in imagination. Truly serious eaters shouldn't miss the "dining with friends" options, including 16-hour smoked beef shin with fresh ricotta, chiles, smoked beans, and three-kale salad, or paella of mussels, clams, shrimp, rabbit-rattlesnake sausage, and game birds with fennel aïoli.
91) The Catbird Seat, Nashville, Tenn.
One of the more original restaurants on this list, The Catbird Seat dining room is an informal 32-seat, U-shaped counter that’s only open Wednesday through Saturday. Chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson are at the center of the action, preparing a meal as guests watch; because the offerings change daily, there’s no set menu and diners don’t know what to expect until they arrive. (Just to get you in the right frame of mind, think shiitake Cracker Jack, kimchee-wrapped cod, and beef with pho sauce.) The seven-course meal costs $100 and takes on average three to three-and-a-half hours to play out, and guests are encouraged to interact with the chefs and discuss the meal being prepared with them. One thing is for certain, though: guests are in for a unique and memorable dining experience, and a meal that uses only the freshest seasonal ingredients.
90) Underbelly, Houston
Houston’s dining scene may still be a secret to culinary outsiders, but it won't be for much longer — thanks to chefs like Chris Shepard. He insisted on an in-house butcher shop here in his first restaurant, and he works with Houston’s finest ranchers and farmers for the best possible product. Underbelly’s farm-to-table approach isn’t the only thing that makes it stand out in a sea of Houston restaurants, though; the restaurant is dedicated to telling "the culinary story" of its city, reaching back all the way to its Creole roots. Expect dishes like homemade charcuterie with pickles and toast, Vietnamese-style meatballs with gravy and a baguette, and grilled shrimp with Texas grapefruit and barrel-aged fish sauce.
89) Congress, Austin, Texas
At what is widely considered one of the finest restaurants in Austin, Congress executive chef David Bull — who made his mark at the city's Driskill Hotel — together with chef de cuisine Rebecca Meeker, creates a fresh three-course and seven-course menu every night of what can broadly be considered new American cuisine, but which also draws upon Japanese and Korean influences to highlight the quality of the ingredients. Diners are treated to a modern, airy space that doesn’t feel overly trendy, great cocktails, and a menu that, while constantly changing, can be relied upon to include some deeply comforting items like prime rib-eye cap with smoked beef fat potatoes, white Cheddar, pale ale, and mustard greens.
88) Canlis, Seattle
Canlis is a true Pacific Northwest landmark. It’s been open since 1950, and serves 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. The menu offers both classic and contemporary dishes — for instance, Wagyu steak tartare, the famous Canlis salad, or grilled king salmon in the first case, Dungeness crabcakes with crisped farro and lobster coral, hamachi sashimi with Braeburn apple and kuri squash, or grilled lamb chop with pulled-lamb "croquette" and piquillo pepper marmalade in the second.
87) The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.
The cuisine here is so emblematic that it has inspired a new category: Foothills Cuisine, a term that has actually been copyrighted. Truly farm-to-table, The Barn, which is nestled inside a luxury resort and functioning farm, uses the estate’s produce and products in a dynamic menu of Smoky Mountain regional dishes with a global flair, like grilled lamb loin with sweet potatoes, lamb merguez, peppers, arugula, 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.
86) Dahlia Lounge, Seattle
With roughly a dozen restaurants and bakeries in and around Seattle, Tom Douglas is one of the busiest chefs in the country — and his flagship Dahlia Lounge, opened in 1989, remains one of the region's best eating places. His seafood (curried clams with chickpeas, Neah Bay black cod with flageolets and smoked almonds, Hood Canal oyster stew, etc.) is impeccable, while his oxtail ravioli, chicken confit, and rotisserie-roast five-spice duck are authentically satisfying. The eclectic menu here mirrors the cultural diversity of Seattle, and the freshness and quality of the raw materials pay tribute to the gastronomical diversity of the Pacific Northwest.
85) Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, Las Vegas
When two-time James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Bartolotta, who'd made his name at Spiaggia in Chicago, was approached by Las Vegas hotelier and casino mogul Steve Wynn about opening a showplace restaurant at Wynn Las Vegas, he agreed on the condition that he could fly in the freshest possible fish and shellfish daily, directly from the Mediterranean. Wynn agreed — which is why, today, some of the freshest seafood it is possible to enjoy in America is found in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The choices in this cool, multi-level restaurant include not just the expected sea scallops, mussels, swordfish, and such, but also real Italian vongole (clams), Mediterranean spiny lobster, wild turbot, red mullet, and more. Of course, there's good meat and poultry and plenty of pasta, too (the simple homemade square-cut spaghetti with tomatoes and basil may sound boring, but is a must-have).
84) Al Forno, Providence, R.I.
On South Main Street in the heart of Providence, R.I., Al Forno offers a quintessential Italian dining experience for those who can’t afford the flight to Italy. Husband-and-wife owner-chefs George Germon and Johanne Killeen received the Insegna del Ristorante Italiano from the Italian government, a rare honor for Americans, attributable to their informed passion for pasta along with their invention of the grilled pizza. Their grilled pizza margarita, with fresh herbs, pomodoro, two cheeses, and extra-virgin olive oil, is probably their most notable pie and made The Daily Meal's list of the America's 35 Best Pizzas.
83) Jaleo, Las Vegas
After opening the original Jaleo in Washington, D.C., in 1993, chef José Andrés expanded to the suburbs of the city before turning his attention from Spanish cuisine to other cuisines like Mediterranean and Mexican and opening Jaleo in Sin City. As Spain's unofficial culinary ambassador for both traditional cooking and Ferran Adrià’s brand of avant-garde, Andrés keeps the Jaleo menu packed with traditional tapas and paellas (the best and most authentic in America, made on a wood-burning paella grill), using the finest ingredients and time-honored techniques with measured modern flourishes.
82) Michael's Genuine Food and Drink, Miami
According to Michael Schwartz, winner of the 2010 James Beard Award for Best Southern Chef, the most important thing you can take away from dining at his 2008 New York Times top 10 establishment is: Know Your Source. The restaurant procures its Old World rustic-breed chickens, for instance, from North Carolina's Joyce Foods, the only producer of Label Rouge poultry in the U.S. Heirloom tomatoes figure not only on the menu here (more than once), but also as décor in the minimalist dining room.
81) Fore Street, Portland, Maine
Sam Hayward was farm-to-table before farm-to-table was cool. A pioneer of the thriving Portland (Maine) dining scene, he continues to source the finest local, seasonal ingredients and treat them with respect, even if that respect does often involve exposing them to a hot wood fire. Fore Street's wood-roasted mussels, rotisserie pork loin, grilled marinated hanger steak, and chocolate peanut butter torte are among the most emblematic foods of modern-day Maine — but there are always fresh, glorious simply preparations of other foodstuffs according to the time of year, from local scallops and lamb to the best wild blueberries and heirloom apples.
80) The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.
You have to marvel at Meadowood in Napa Valley, Calif. And its chef Chris Kostow. It wasn’t good enough to helm a three-Michelin-starred restaurant — the whole thing had to undergo a renovation under the direction of architect Howard Backen and designer George Federighi, one that stretched from the dining room to the kitchen. New, superior equipment was installed along with an intimate chef’s counter, and then chef Kostow also re-examined his menus and reinvented the way he served his customers, coming up with a more curated experience for them, which the restaurant describes as "creating bespoke menus" — Kostow says he sits down the night before guests visit to write out menus for the next day’s 70 customers. You will have to lay out some coin for the experience — the nine- to 10-course tasting menu costs $225 (plus an additional $225 for wine pairings), but it’s well worth entrusting it and yourself to what has to be one the country’s least-hyped amazing chefs. The food? Modern American cuisine featuring masterful technique, and deft mixes of texture and flavor, alternately playful, straightforward, and serious.
79) City Grocery, Oxford, Miss.
New Orleans-born chef John Currence opened City Grocery in the tight-knit city of Oxford, Miss., in 1992, and since then it’s become the city’s standard-bearer for high-end (yet affordable) Southern cooking. Jesse Houston took over as chef de cuisine last year, and his and Currence’s menu of down-home items with an unexpected twist — like chicken leg confit with grilled broccoli, harissa, feta, and Marcona almonds; "lambsagna" with lamb ragù, preserved lemon, and mint; and smoked lamb belly roulade with confit Brussels sprouts and pepper jelly — is blazing new territory in the Southern culinary canon. If you can (and it’s not too hot out), snag a table on the second-floor balcony.
78) Al di Là, Brooklyn, N.Y.
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 (even though there are plenty of nightly specials), and that’s for a good reason: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
77) Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix
Bronx native Chris Bianco opened this Phoenix pizza spot almost 20 years ago and is still collecting accolades. Bianco was featured in a New York Times article, where he said, "There’s no mystery to my pizza. Sicilian oregano, organic flour, San Marzano tomatoes, purified water, mozzarella I learned to make at Mike’s Deli in the Bronx, sea salt, fresh yeast cake, and a little bit of yesterday’s dough. In the end great pizza, like anything else, is all about balance. It’s that simple." Says him! The restaurant serves not only addictive thin-crust pizzas, but also fantastic antipasto (involving wood-oven-roasted vegetables), perfect salads, and homemade country bread. Reservations are accepted only for six or more, so be prepared to wait (though the wait is slightly more bearable now that they’re open for lunch).
75) Hominy Grill, Charleston, S.C.
Unpretentious, classic Southern dishes are key at downtown Charleston’s Hominy Grill, where chef/owner Robert Stehling serves up stone-ground grits, house-made sausages, and fried green tomatoes in a onetime barbershop. The classic 1950s diner signage, extra-comfortable wooden chairs, and seasonal desserts like persimmon pudding embody everything comfort food stands for.
73) 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, locally sourced entrées (glazed pork shoulder with tuna cream risotto and trout roe; turkey with prosciutto, matzo balls, mushrooms, and sage) and such standing-ovation-worthy desserts as French toast waffle with banana, white chocolate mousse, and hot fudge, and foie gras profiteroles. If it's a slaw-slathered burger you crave, get there early because Rucker serves up precisely five per night.
72) Lucques, Los Angeles
Chef Suzanne Goin was nominated for the Outstanding Chef of the Year James Beard Award every year from 2008 to 2011 for her first endeavor, 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 (chickpea soup with ditalini pasta, bloomsdale spinach, and ricotta salata; Cape Cod clams with pancetta, turnip greens, vermouth, white beans, and aioli toast), based on raw materials from sources "guided by principles of sustainability."
71) Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas
Definitive Hill Country barbecue meat on butcher paper in a big barn of a place perfumed with wood smoke. The brisket is what it's all about, but there are also fans who drive for hours for the house-made sausages, including the impossibly juicy "regular" and the more complicated (but equally delicious) jalapeño cheese links. Side dishes include German potato salad and sauerkraut alongside the usual coleslaw and beans, a reference to Kreuz's Teutonic origins.
70) Joe's Stone Crab, Miami
"Eat at Joe's" may have been a running joke in classic Warner Bros. cartoons, but this 100-year-old establishment is a serious Miami institution. The old-school seafood house boasts a massive menu, but your order should be simple: stone crab claws (jumbos if available, nothing smaller than large) when they're in season, hash browns, and Key lime pie. And the crabs are able to regenerate their claws after they're removed, so it’s a completely sustainable operation.
69) McCrady's, Charleston, S.C.
McCrady’s is an establishment richly steeped in Charleston history, residing in a structure, built in 1778, that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Landmarks. Juxtaposed against the staid surroundings, the menu at McCrady’s is anything but traditional, though chef Sean Brock, who received the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast in 2010, weaves touches of Southern tradition into the otherwise highly modern cuisine. The bar has become known for its specialty pre-Prohibition-style cocktails. Brock’s other Charleston restaurant, Husk, came in at number 24 on this list.
68) Yardbird Southern Table and Bar, Miami
No one in his right mind would consider Miami the South, but Northern Florida-raised and Charleston-trained chef Jeff McInnis felt he needed to bring Southern cooking to the continental United States' southernmost state. The result is Yardbird, and it has received a lot of accolades since it opened last year. Most of the meals are served family-style and the bar is also Southern-influenced, with the majority of drinks made with bourbon. McInnis admits that the concept and execution is a little different for the area: "It's a simple concept, but it's not your typical Miami concept... We wanted to bring some real good Southern food to Miami and I don't think it's been done too successfully before." It was an approach that has been lauded and genuinely generally appreciated across the board, a success that he’ll be looking to replicate with his celebrated, 100-year-old fried chicken recipe when he launches the reported second outpost of Yardbird in Brooklyn, sometime in 2013.
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s interview with chef Jeff McInnis on Yardbird.
67) Tru, Chicago
The departure of founding chef Rick Tramonto for New Orleans left a few people wondering if new American restaurant Tru was still relevant to the Chicago dining scene, but Anthony Martin, who took over the helm as executive chef and partner in June 2010, has done a superb job of bringing his own style to the menu. While Tramonto’s dishes were often characterized as "playful," now Martin brings a more refined, technique-driven focus to items, thanks to his training under Joël Robuchon. Current menu items have a distinctive Japanese flair to them, including dishes like day boat scallop with hon shimeji mushrooms; golden tile fish with shiitake, yuzu, and togarashi; and Kobe beef with wasabi mustard.
66) Craigie on Main, Cambridge, Mass.
James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Maws’ Cambridge, Mass., restaurant doesn’t hold back, or leave anything behind for that matter. With a self-described "nose-to-tail, stem-to-root, and fin-to-gills" style, dishes like confit and roasted milk-fed pig’s head with Peking pancakes, spicy pumpkin sambal, and boudin noir-hoisin sauce have kept the restaurant in the spotlight year after year. In 2012 alone, the restaurant made Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 list as well as Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston list, and landed on Food & Wine’s list of the best burgers in the U.S.
65) Komi, Washington, D.C.
Surprises are the name of the game at Komi, an upscale, modern Greek restaurant in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle. Chef Johnny Monis offers a tasting menu that changes regularly (currently $135 per person), but gives no clues as to what might be on it until diners arrive. A quick look at their website yields no clues, either, although past dishes have included 100-layer beef tongue gyros, charred octopus with peaches, and goat wrapped in pita that earned rave reviews from Washingtonian Magazine and The Washington Post. If you like the idea of putting complete control of your dining experience in the hands of the chef — think Greek omakase — then you’ll like Komi.
64) State Bird Provisions, San Francisco
What started off as a place to serve fried quail (California’s state bird) to the masses has ended up as one of the hottest restaurants of 2012, as the husband-and-wife team behind Provisions, Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, serve more than 30 clever small plates via dim-sum style rolling carts. The fried quail, buttermilk-marinated and encrusted with bread and pepita crumbs, might be a signature here, but don’t overlook the section devoted entirely to pancakes, or the elegant, Asian-influenced desserts.
63) Clio, Boston
Chef Ken Oringer’s consistently impressive fare lands Clio on Boston Magazine’s lists of the best restaurants year after year. Oringer, one of the city’s most notable and respected chefs, serves up wildly inventive dishes including monkfish osso bucco and black licorice roasted Muscovy duck, while nodding to his forebears with items like truffle soup à la Paul Bocuse. Since its opening in 1997, Clio’s reputation has only continued to improve, and a 2012 makeover, which expanded the bar but kept the leopard-print carpet, assured its success for years to come.
62) O-Ya, Boston
Chef Tim Cushman brings innovative sushi and related new-Japanese fare (hamachi belly with yuzu soy marinated sea urchin, foie gras gyoza with pink peppercorns) to his menu with imagination and flair, serving these and other truly wonderful dishes, 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. It’s a treat (of course) to sit at the sushi bar, a vantage point for watching the chefs prepare what are often otherworldly looking treats. Cushman won the 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast.
61) Alan Wong's, Honolulu
When your restaurant essentially defines a cuisine, it’s a safe bet that you should keep on doing what you’re doing. Such is the case at Alan Wong’s, a Honolulu landmark where Wong’s high-end regional Hawaiian dishes, including butter-poached lobster with abalone, mushrooms, and green onion oil, and crispy won ton-wrapped ahi poke balls with avocado and wasabi sauce, have been making a culinary statement since 1995. And with a close relationship to Hawaii’s farmers and agricultural society, Wong’s Farmer Series dinners hit close to home for natives and tourists alike.
60) Bern's Steak House, Tampa, Fla.
Do not come to Bern's if you're a minimalist or a hipster or a vegan, and do not come if you're on a diet. Bern's is about wonderful excess. There are 20 kinds of caviar on the menu of this big, old-style, legendary establishment; also two preparations of foie gras, two kinds of steak tartare (one with truffles), oysters three ways, endless varieties of fish and shellfish, 16 different cheeses both domestic and imported, nearly 50 desserts (including gluten- and sugar-free varieties) — served upstairs in a special dessert room — and a list of about 7,000 wines (5,500 of them red). Oh, and did we mention steaks? Seven different cuts, in a total of 51 different sizes (from 6 ounces of filet mignon to 54 ounces of strip sirloin), broiled to eight different temperatures, from very rare ("no crust, cold and raw") to, gulp, well-done ("sturdy little crust, no color, no juice, dried out"). Come hungry.
58) 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 and Wine captures the spirit of these places 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 a casual, impromptu dinner or an evening of fine dining, and offer a unique menu that includes salumi and cheeses along with pastas like stuffed casoncelli and entrées like rabbit and veal top round with polenta and romanesco. Whatever you do, don’t miss the frico caldo, a crispy pancake of potatoes, onions, and Piave cheese — a Friulian specialty.
57) é by José Andrés, Las Vegas
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. é is a kind of sibling to Andrés' minibar (number 95 on this list) in Washington, D.C. — though he has called it 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…
56) Michael Mina, San Francisco
As the owner of 17 restaurants, Mina is one of the most successful chefs and restaurateurs in the country, but he's not a TV food star (yet) and he remains somewhat under the radar. He has become an important figure in the Las Vegas restaurant scene, but it’s his flagship restaurant in San Francisco's Financial District, Michael Mina, which was named as Esquire’s Best Restaurant of 2011, that gets the most praise for its Japanese- and French-inspired take on the best American ingredients — for instance, Monterey Bay abalone with Tokyo turnip, shiitakes, and miso broth or duck breast with huckleberries, Asian pear, and matsutake mushrooms.
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s Cook Taste Eat with chef Michael Mina.
54) Quince, San Francisco
Quince offers a refined and modern Italian- and French-inspired menu. Located in a historic building in San Francisco’s Jackson Square neighborhood, the Michelin-starred restaurant is both charming and elegant. Chef and owner Michael Tusk, who won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Pacific in 2011, creates a dining experience rooted in his relationships with a tightly knit network of only the best Northern Californian food purveyors. Typical dishes include risotto with Dungeness crab, Brussels sprouts, and Kaffir lime, and duck for two with turnip, bergamot, and wildflower honey. The restaurant’s stylish and intimate setting provides the backdrop for either a prix fixe four-course dinner or a seasonally inspired tasting menu.
53) Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, Brooklyn, N.Y.
You’d better learn how to behave at chef César Ramirez’s acclaimed Brooklyn restaurant. The chef, a David Bouley alum, has been known to kick out diners who don’t obey his prohibitions on note- and photo-taking, and to be kooky enough to actually warn them against stealing his tableware mid-service (swear on a stack of menus, it happened). Despite what many would describe as diva behavior, if you follow the rules (or become friendly enough that he'll let you break them, because that’s been known to happen, too), you’re in for a 20-plus-course treat prepared by a culinary artist in an intimate setting. Assuming you scored your reservation six weeks in advance just moments after they started taking reservations on Monday morning at 10:30 a.m., you can join the chef at the counter with 17 other guests in his kitchen. Through the seafood-centric tasting menu (which changes daily, $225 per person) you’ll be able to see firsthand how this Brooklyn establishment became the first New York City restaurant outside Manhattan to receive three Michelin stars.
52) Coi, San Francisco
Using carefully sourced ingredients, Coi chef Daniel Patterson serves thoughtful Northern California cuisine, balancing classical methods with modern techniques to create unusual and evocative experiences for diners. Recent menus have included such creations as inverted fromage blanc tart with fennel and wheatgrass; grass-fed veal with chicories, caper berries, and Seville orange; and buttermilk-ginger sorbet with epazote. Some of Coi’s many accolades include a two-star Michelin rating and the title of 58th best restaurant in the world according to San Pellegrino.
51) CUT, Los Angeles
Wolfgang Puck helped invent California cuisine (and gave us California-style pizza) at Spago, 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 he has also reinvented the steakhouse, with CUT in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (there are now spin-offs in Las Vegas, London, and Singapore). The traditional red leather booths and bucolic paintings have given way to a cool white interior by rationalist architect Richard Meier and a series of pieces by conceptual artist John Baldessari. In place of iceberg wedges and grilled swordfish, look for warm veal tongue with baby artichokes and roast Maine lobster with black truffle sabayon. Oh, and the steaks? Not the usual four or five choices, but a total of 17 cuts and places of origin, from Australian filet mignon to Illinois bone-in New York sirloin to genuine Japanese Wagyu rib-eye from Shiga Prefecture.
50) Next, Chicago
Only two years after its 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 entire prix-fixe concept changes every few months. There's nothing blasé about Next. You never know what's going to be placed before you — it could be chicken liquid croquettes (elBulli menu) or the world’s best mac and cheese (Childhood menu). Well, technically, it will be neither, given that they're from past menus and the menus don't repeat. But you get the idea. Under the helm of chef Dave Beran, Next paid homage to legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier; then it was a futuristic Thai menu; then Childhood; an homage to the now-closed elBulli; explorations of Sicily and Kyoto; and "The Hunt." Next up? The restaurant's first vegan menu, debuting in May, and a menu focusing on the Bocuse d'Or international cooking competition. Whatever it is, the food here is inventive and exciting without being gimmicky and the service flawless without being fawning. But good luck getting in. There's an online reservation system for buying "tickets," but you'll be joining 20,000 (yes, 20,000) other folk just as desperate and committed to scoring a table. If you get into Achatz's next-door cocktail lounge The Aviary (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 already be in Chicago.
49) Spago, Los Angeles
This more elaborate but immediate descendent of the original groundbreaking Spago remains the flagship of the ever-growing Wolfgang Puck empire. Yes, it’s full of glamour and glitz, but it nevertheless remains a place where food is taken very seriously. The famous Spago pizzas are available only for lunch, 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 executive chef Lee Hefter, one of the most underrated chefs in America. Veal filet mignon tartare with smoked mascarpone, veal cheek risotto with spring garlic and garlic chives, whole roasted maitake mushrooms with melted leeks, Jidori chicken breast with chicken-leg "pastrami" and celery–mustard purée… these are examples of Hefter's fare.
48) Di Fara, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Domenico DeMarco is somewhat of a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara in Midwood, Brooklyn, since 1964. Dom cooks up both New York and Sicilian-style pizza Wednesday through Sunday for hungry New Yorkers and tourists willing to wait in long lines and brave the free-for-all that is the Di Fara counter experience. Yes, you're better off getting a whole pie than throwing down money on the $5 slice. Yes, it's a trek (we’re talking 11 subway stops out of Manhattan on the Q train to Avenue J here), and sure, Dom goes through periods where the underside of the pizza can trend toward overdone, but when he's on, Di Fara can present a very strong case for making America's best pizza. If you want to understand why before you make the trip, check out the great video about Di Fara called The Best Thing I Ever Done.
47) Xi’An Famous Foods, Queens, N.Y.
From this original location as a small stall inside the basement food court of Flushing’s Golden Mall, Liang Pi's restaurant has expanded, with two additional locations in Manhattan and another in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. They're all good, but we still like this one the best. Named after, and serving the cuisine of, the capital of central China’s Shaanxi province, Xi'An features items like fiery, gamy "spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles," cold "spicy and tingly lamb face salad" (one of our all-time favorite dish names), stewed pork "burger" (actually just broth-soaked chopped pork inside a crispy bun), stewed oxtail, and various other items that you’re not likely to find on any other menu on the city — apart, of course, from those at other Xi'An locations.
46) Spiaggia, Chicago
Decades before the likes of Mario Batali and Michael White brought us the most recent wave of fine Italian dining, Tony Mantuano taught Chicagoans how to enjoy refined Italian fare at Spiaggia. Taking a cue from its name, which means "beach" in Italian, the food and décor at the restaurant are inspired by the coast. Mantuano has won countless accolades for his accomplishments here, including a James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest in 2005. He and the restaurant’s executive chef, Sarah Grueneberg, continue to delight diners with such fare as Pugliese burrata with golden Osetra caviar and potato crisps, squid ink spaghetti with Maine lobster and toasted breadcrumbs, and wood-roasted steelhead trout with honey mussels, black garlic, butter-roasted turnips, and Meyer lemon.
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s interview with chef Tony Mantuano on Spiaggia's 30th anniversary and what's next.
45) Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
The original Paris version of this restaurant, which merits three Michelin stars, is elegant and consistently wonderful. The Las Vegas clone (there is also one in Singapore) offers a menu that closely resembles the Parisian one, with such Savoy modern classics as "colors of caviar," artichoke and black truffle soup, and salmon iceberg. A few years back, a writer for Gourmetate the same food at the Paris and Las Vegas restaurants and found them pretty much equal in quality. And at the Las Vegas one, you can even see the Eiffel Tower out the window (the one at the Paris Hotel), which the Parisian Guy Savoy can't match.
44) Torrisi Italian Specialties, New York City
Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone saved turkey from Thanksgiving (is theirs the best turkey sandwich in America?) and made everyone rethink New York's Little Italy (and Italian-American food in general) when they launched their shoebox of a shop on Mulberry Street in 2010. The chefs recognized the untapped potential of Italian-American cuisine, showing that with love for the genre and attention to detail, it has nothing to do with the foil baking pans filled with chicken Francese and the plates of criminally congealed Marsala sauces peddled to tourists in Little Italy. (Sheep's milk gnocchi with chestnut ragù or halibut Francese with potatoes and bergamot, anyone?) Their meteoric rise on the New York City dining scene landed them Best New Chef accolades from Food & Wine last year. The fact that their tasting menu price has gone from $45 to $75 and the issue of their potentially indelicate superimposition of the name of their next restaurant — Carbone — over the iconic West Village Rocco sign that hung outside the previous tenant's door forever might put off some of Torrisi's original champions. And expansions like Parm (their next-door place with its more casual à la carte menu), their Yankee Stadium kiosk, and plans for two to three more restaurants show a healthy dose of ambition — but hey, the food’s still great and when it comes to empire-building, hey, whatsamattawiddat?
43) The Bazaar, Los Angeles
Spanish food, whether traditional or avant-garde, has no more fervent and eloquent champion in America than José Andrés, proprietor of this multi-part restaurant and culinary theme park. Whether you choose the multi-course tasting menu at the semi-hidden SAAM, Ottoman carrot fritters or 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, easily achieved here — you’ll have a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience (that is unless you also visit the South Beach location in Miami, which opened last summer).
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s At the Chef's Table with chef José Andrés.
42) La Taqueria, San Francisco
Naming San Francisco's "best tacos" is such a personal thing, it’s likely to start arguments, but La Taqueria seems to be one place that a large majority of the city and the rest of the nation can agree on. It's one of the Mission’s many casual Mexican joints, but at around $3.50 a taco, it's one of the more expensive ones. Still, the hugely popular tacos (carnitas, chorizo, lengua, etc.,) and rice-free burritos, especially the melt-in-your-mouth grilled carne asada version, keep the seat-yourself tables packed with an eclectic mix of diners, who come in droves before heading to the bars on weekend nights.
41) Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, New York City
For almost 20 years, Il Buco has been one of New York City's most appealing Italian restaurants, serving unpretentious, savory food based on first-rate American and Italian ingredients. About a year-and-a-half ago, the proprietors opened a more casual sister restaurant — the name means something like "food shop and wine bar" — and it's so lively, with such vivid, hearty food, that it has all but overshadowed the original. Chef Justin Smillie, who refined his craft at Barbuto, among other places, fries baby artichokes and grills quail with the best of them, makes great pastas in-house (lasagnette with ragù Bolognese, plump Neapolitan-style schialatelli with octopus and spicy tomato sauce), and delights diners with everything from shortrib and gorgonzola panini at lunchtime to razor clam ceviche with hearts of palm and spit-roasted rabbit with endive and Taggiasca olives at night.
40) Galatoire's, New Orleans
This is what you should know about Galatoire’s: The food is classic Creole, all-around New Orleans in style, and it’s not on your diet; the menu has changed little over the past century-plus and is full of things like turtle soup au sherry, crabmeat au gratin, and eggs Sardou (with creamed spinach, artichoke hearts, and hollandaise); and you’ll have a good time if you go in hungry — and a better time if you go in hungry with a regular at your side.
39) Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven, Conn.
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America's best pizza with any authority, you have to make a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven spot. What should you order at this checklist destination? Two words: clam pie. This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of them all (the founder, Frank Pepe, is generally accepted to have invented the clam pie, as well as the thin-crust New Haven style in general) — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated cheese atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.
38) Blackbird, Chicago
Chef-restaurateur Paul Kahan has gotten so much good press for his splendid Publican (number 35 on this list) that his 1997-vintage Blackbird, with its minimalist interior and its highly imaginative menu (executed by chef David Posey), sometimes gets left in the background. Not fair! Where else can your palate be simultaneously surprised and greatly pleased by such fare as toasted brown rice purée with smoked swordfish, radish, black cumin, and whipped schmaltz (chicken fat to you); wood-grilled sturgeon with shiitakes, onion noodles, persimmons, and buttermilk; or clove-rubbed elk loin with job's tears (a tropical grain), sunchokes, sharp Cheddar, and black trumpet mushrooms?
37) The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va.
Patrick O'Connell, self-taught as a chef, opened this restaurant in 1978 in what was originally a garage in a little town 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 might include American osetra caviar with peekytoe crab and cucumber rillette, aged Gouda macaroni and cheese with Virginia country ham, seared rare tuna with foie gras and preserved lemon purée, and salty chocolate-caramel tart with olive oil ice cream. O'Connell's partnership with The Inn co-founder Reinhardt Lynch ended in 2007, but praise for this Five Diamond Award-winning property has continued.
36) Ippudo, New York City
At last count, there were 43 Ippudo ramen shops run by Shigemi Kawahara (the self-described "Ramen King") throughout Japan, but New Yorkers still have only one— despite persistent rumors that a Midtown West location is in the works. That’s a problem. New Yorkers have become ramen-obsessed, and given Ippudo's reputation, there’s almost always a three-hour wait (!) —unless you get there at 5 p.m., right when they open for dinner. Worse, the hosts just generally seem annoyed and unhelpful. But these issues aside, the big slurp-worthy bowls of New York City’s best ramen draw customers back again and again (you see them sidling up to the bar to drown themselves in sake to make the wait at the glass-covered ramen bar at the front of the restaurant bearable). 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 most often the fun way to go. A recent one, the Szechuan-style spicy tonkotsu ramen with black sesame sauce, topped with "niku-miso dame" [Japanese meat sauce], chashu pork, cabbage, cilantro, fragrant shrimp oil, and fresh lime was delicious.
35) The Publican, Chicago
The James Beard design award-winning restaurant The Publican shows you what restaurant design can be: The cavernous, high-ceilinged affair, filled with communal seats and warm hanging globes, simultaneously makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a contemporary fine dining establishment and a restaurant in a Charles Dickens novel. But this self-described beer-focused restaurant in the West Loop, under chefs Paul Kahan and Brian Huston, is much more than ambiance and suds. Yes, there are potted rillettes, aged hams, beef heart tartare, boudin blanc, and porchetta, but there are also fresh oysters, halibut crudo, cured meats, and daily pickles. You sit (preferably at the 100-seat communal table), you drink, you eavesdrop on the people next to you, and on no account do you skip ordering the amazing spicy pork rinds.
34) 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 the intimate atmosphere. Chef-owner Naomi Pomeroy accepts just enough reservations for two dinner seatings Wednesday through Saturday and one dinner seating and two brunch seatings on Sunday. Guests dine at a pair of communal tables, where they are served the prix fixe menu of the day (no exceptions). The particulars change weekly, but just as an illustration of the range and imagination here, the house charcuterie plate might include foie gras bon-bon with sauternes gelée, chicken liver mousse with leaf lard cracker, steak tartare with brioche and quail egg, terrine of lamb with preserved lemon and pistachio, pork rillettes, and duck breast cured in Espelette pepper. Those who are 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).
33) Vetri, Philadelphia
In this little jewel box of a place, chef Marc Vetri offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties (saffron malloreddus with bone marrow and fennel, almond tortellini with white truffle, roasted baby goat with stone-milled polenta) served with precision and grace. No less an authority than Mario Batali has hailed the place as "possibly the best Italian restaurant on the East Coast."
32) WD-50, New York City
Say what you will about "molecular gastronomy," but you have to give it up to a restaurant that takes an iconic dish like eggs Benedict and reintroduces it to the plate as egg yolk cylinders with crispy cubes of molten hollandaise with dehydrated bacon. It's so pretty that you almost don't want to attack it with your fork — almost. Wylie Dufresne continues to prove himself one of our country's most imaginative and technically accomplished chefs, and a recent menu revamp that eliminated the à la carte option didn’t affect the restaurant's reputation in the least.
31) Marea, New York City
When it opened, Marea was immediately acclaimed as one of the most original and consistently wonderful upscale Manhattan restaurants in recent memory. This very handsome establishment on Central Park South, in a sunny dining room that long housed San Domenico, specializes in exquisitely fresh fish and shellfish in Italian-inspired preparations (including the crostini with lardo and sea urchin, which caused waves of buzz at the time and has since become one of the city’s "checklist" dishes, and fusilli with octopus and bone marrow) by skilled chef and restaurateur Michael White.
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s video on chef Michael White’s truffled scallops.
30) Bar Tartine, San Francisco
You’ll find a homey setting offering approachable yet modern fare at this San Francisco eatery. Run by James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Elizabeth Prueitt and baker Chad Robertson since 2005, Bar Tartine is sophisticated but unpretentious. Chef Nicolaus Balla pickles, smokes, and bakes seasonal ingredients for his monthly menus and offers dishes like beet and avocado salad alongside blood sausage with mushrooms. The cozy setting, right off a bustling street in the Mission District, evokes the comfort of your own home, but the menu tells you you’re in for a fine dining experience. Tartine Bakery is the restaurant's sister establishment, so the bread basket is a must.
29) Masa, New York City
Yelp/ Dave H.
Former New York Times critic Sam Sifton took Masa down to three stars from the four given to it by his predecessor, apparently at least 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 inspire lip-twitching and eye-rolling, and the toro with beluga caviar seems almost worth the price of admission. And what a price that is: The swanky Time Warner Center setting and elaborate omakase-only menu is accompanied by a high bar for entry. At $450 per person before tip or beverages, you're looking at a bill that can easily total more than $1,200 for two.
28) August, New Orleans
John Besh is one of the most interesting and ambitious chefs in the Crescent City today. The American menu at this splendid eatery 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 always incorporate the finest local food that the Gulf has to offer, for example his crispy Louisiana pompano with mirliton and sunchokes.
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s interview with chef John Besh.
27) Mission Chinese Food, San Francisco
Is Mission Chinese Food one of the most overhyped restaurants in America? If you want the opinion of the restaurant’s own Korean-born, Oklahoma-raised chef Danny Bowien, the answer is yes. But most fans of the San Francisco original and the tiny, perpetually packed second location in New York City’s Lower East Side would vehemently argue that the attention and praise are well-deserved. Some might even argue that Bowien (who has been praised for doing to Chinese food "what Led Zeppelin did to the blues," and is known to have flown his entire San Francisco kitchen staff to China to try the real thing) is just being humble and has picked up the mantle of New York’s other Korean-American sensation, David Chang. His kung pao pastrami, cumin lamb breast, and riff on ma po tofu are just some of the signature dishes on a menu of what Bowien himself calls "Americanized Oriental food."
26) Franklin BBQ, Austin, Texas
By 10 a.m. on a Friday there will be more than 90 people in line at this modest establishment, which traces its roots back to 2009 and a turquoise trailer. The 90 people who show in the next half-hour wait in vain; a waitress will tell them that there's just no barbecue left. So it goes at Franklin, where Aaron Franklin serves some of the best of Texas's greatest culinary claim to fame. The brisket, with its peppery exterior, falls apart as you pick it up. The turkey is what presidentially pardoned birds aspire to. The sausage snaps loudly when you slice it, juice splashing out and up... You've heard the buzz. You’ve seen Franklin on TV. You’ve heard his acolytes’ brisket gospel. It's not hype. It really is that good.
25) Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas
The cooking is simply exquisite in this opulently furnished dining room in the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. As the first restaurant opened in America by the famed, award-winning Robuchon, commonly considered the greatest of modern French chefs, it maintains the highest standards, from its superb service and impressive (and impressively pricey) wine list to such finely crafted dishes as truffled langoustine ravioli and French hen with roasted foie gras and confit potatoes for two. The 16-course tasting menu is a truly memorable experience — as well it ought to be at $425 a head, wine not included.
24) Husk, Charleston, S.C.
The first of two restaurants on this list from chef Sean Brock (the second is McCrady’s at number 69), Husk is known for its focus on regional Southern ingredients. The menu, which changes daily, is full of elevated down-home dishes, such as Southern-fried chicken skins, pan-fried bologna with house-made mustard and pickles, and Heritage pork with pit-cooked smoky beans, heirloom kale, and pot likker broth. The only thing more charming than the fact that much of their produce comes from a garden out back is that the chefs are known for personally delivering orders to diners. And the good news? A second Husk outpost is in the works in Nashville, Tenn., set to open this spring.
23) Bouchon Bistro, Yountville, Calif.
Shellfish platters, pâté, salt cod beignets, steak frites, steamed mussels, profiteroles, and other bistro basics are on the menu at this authentic-looking French bistro reimagined in the Napa Valley — and the fact that the man behind the place is Thomas Keller means that it’s all very, very good. The watchword here isn't "innovation;" Bouchon is about traditional fare done right.
22) Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles
Nancy Silverton, whose La Brea Bakery changed the game for artisanal bread in America, teams up here with New York-based Italian-food moguls Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in this lively urban restaurant, complete with a mozzarella bar, unusual pasta (calf’s brain ravioli, spaghetti with marinated white anchovies), and main dishes ranging from sea trout with lentils to sweetbreads piccata. In 2012, executive chef Matt Molina won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Pacific.
21) Gotham Bar and Grill, New York City
Most New York City restaurants would consider themselves lucky to even get a review in The Times. In the 29 years that it’s been around, 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 it over in 1985. You can argue about what other restaurants could better stand in for this Greenwich Village institution as the standard-bearer of American haute cuisine — yellowfin tuna tartare with miso–ginger vinaigrette, pheasant and foie gras terrine with black trumpet mushrooms and baby Chioggia beets, Skuna Bay salmon with caramelized fennel and Swiss chard and potato confit — but few would debate the merits of the classic dishes here or the restaurant's long-term commitment to innovation.
Click here to watch chef Alfred Portale’s tips for vegetarian entrées.
20) Animal, Los Angeles
At this ultimate haven for adventurous carnivores, chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have won a host of awards for their hearty, straightforward, and innovative cooking. Dishes like crispy pig head with salsa macho, crema, and avocado; oxtail poutine; and kung pao sweetbreads keep chefs and civilians alike coming back for more. With their second restaurant, Son of a Gun, which opened in 2011, and a new partnership with chef Ludo Lefebvre in the works, these two former outsiders have been fully accepted into the rotation of full-fledged culinary trendsetters.
19) Zuni Café, San Francisco
Zuni showcases San Francisco Mediterranean cooking at its best, with dishes from chef Judy Rodgers, and Chez Panisse alumnus Gilbert Pilgram in charge of the dining room. The oysters are always impeccable, the house-cured anchovies with celery, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Taggiasca olives and the whole roasted chicken with bread salad for two are among the emblematic dishes 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.
18) 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 to its "haute Creole" cuisine. Two of its alumni, it might be noted, are Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. It’s still going strong, now with chef Tory McPhail at the ovens. The gold standard of family-run restaurants, Commander's Palace offers a dining experience that could win you over on its Southern charm alone — but you'd be remiss to not order the turtle soup, practically synonymous with the place, or to try one of the over-the-top specialties from the menu section headed "Chef Tory's Playground." An example? Maine lobster and squash blossom relleno, described as "A cracklin' crusted squash blossom stuffed with poached lobster knuckles, butternut squash, Creole cream cheese, and charred chilies over smoked jalapeño crema."
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s interview about New Orleans cuisine with Commander’s Palace co-owner Ti Martin.
17) Per Se, New York City
This elegant dining room overlooking Central Park in the Time Warner Center remains an essential experience in New York, even for Sam Sifton, who chose the restaurant for his final review as The New York Times' restaurant critic — giving it four stars. Per Se upholds the standards set by Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, winning a James Beard Award in 2011 for Outstanding Service and receiving an annual three-star rating from Michelin since 2006. Eli Kaimeh took over as chef de cuisine in 2010 after Jonathan Benno left, and the transition was nothing short of seamless. The $295 chef's tasting menu ranges from the Keller classic "oysters and pearls" (made famous at his Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry) to poached pear and hibiscus financier, with everything from butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster with pommes Maxims to Red Cloud caraway spätzle with sunchokes and tomato marmalade along the way.
16) Del Posto, New York City
Having earned a coveted four-star rating in The New York Times (the first Italian restaurant to do so since 1974), Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali's temple of contemporary Italian fine dining ranks in a class of its own. In a space that is both luxurious and remarkably comfortable, executive chef Mark Ladner, with the help of pastry chef Brooks Headley, serves dishes that build on the classics with a true innovative spirit, and get this — they’ve created a database of videos showing how to make dishes at home. Specialties include "yesterday's 100-layer lasagna," native swordfish involtini with smoky cabbage and Arborio rice salad in Barolo sauce, and Sardinian lamb with Roman artichokes and saffron potatoes. And while the menu is quite expensive, their $39 prix fixe lunch menu is nothing short of a steal.
15) Chez Panisse, Berkeley, Calif.
Celebrating more than 40 years in business and still going strong, Chez Panisse was instrumental in changing the American food scene; before this restaurant, practically nobody in America served only fresh, local foods and wrote menus daily, according to the season. Alice Waters, an organic-living pioneer, is also the founder of The Edible Schoolyard Project, a foundation that is bringing healthy breakfasts and lunches to schools across the nation. It has become fashionable to criticize this culinary icon as irrelevant or pretentious, but the truth is that her restaurant's food is still superb, both in the one-menu-a-night downstairs restaurant (dishes tilt toward Italy and Provence) and the lively, diversified upstairs Café.
14) Alinea, Chicago
There's little question that Grant Achatz (The Daily Meal’s 2011 Chef of the Year for America), whose training includes stints with Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, and Ferran Adrià, deserves the title of America's most creative chef. As soon as you think there’s nowhere else to go,Achatz figures out that place and goes there. The menu at his Alinea can sometimes sound deceptively simple (lobster with carrot and chamomile), but what shows up on the plate is absolutely original and almost always dazzlingly good. Having successfully reinvented the way people look at reservations with their innovative online nonrefundable ticket system at Next (number 50 on this list) and reinterpreted cocktails, bar food, and the bar experience with The Aviary, Achatz and his partner Nick Kokonas have also intensified the attention they pay to Alinea. They installed a Next-style ticketing reservation system there, and continued to push the envelope with how people think about restaurants, by swapping their cooking with that of Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s Eleven Madison Park (number five on this list) in New York City for a week as part of a project they called 21st Century Limited — after the luxury train, the 20th Century Limited, that used to ply the tracks between New York and Chicago. What to expect next from a chef and restaurateur who serves squab "inspired by Miró," paints your table with dessert, and lists "Lamb……..?????............!!!!!!!!!!!!!" as a menu item? Hard to predict, but you’re going to want to be there when the food is brought out.
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s video on The Aviary’s cocktail magic.
13) Daniel, New York City
This very grown-up restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Daniel Boulud’s flagship, maintains standards of service and cuisine — French haute cuisine, very much an endangered species today — that hark back to an earlier era. But the cooking is up-to-date and really, really good. (Think duck terrine with red-wine-poached pears, oven-baked black sea bass with syrah sauce and bone-marrow-crusted sweet potato, and roasted Millbrook Farm venison loin with celery confit and sauce grand veneur.) It’s so good in fact, that President Obama has been known to drop in, and it remains one of only six Manhattan restaurants with four stars from The New York Times.
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s interview with Daniel Boulud on cooking across continents.
12) 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, his classic French technique bridges old and new worlds, eschews heavy sauces, and embraces the spice and flavors of Asian cuisine. His signature Egg Caviar, a lightly scrambled egg topped with whipped cream and osetra caviar, is one of the city’s great bites of food.
Click to watch the Daily Meal’s At the Chef’s Table interview with Jean Georges.
11) Shake Shack, New York City
If you haven’t had Shake Shack but think you love burgers, you don’t as much as you think you do. It’s one of America’s best fast-food burgers. Yes, better than In-N-Out, and yes, it has its own secret menu… kind of (it’s just called Danny Meyer’s hospitality philosophy). What started as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in 2001 has made history. In 2004, restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group won the bid to open a permanent kiosk in the park, and the lines, buzz, cult following, and even a somewhat begrudging review from The New York Times followed. What’s the big deal? Quality. And one of the juiciest cheeseburgers (100 percent all-natural Angus beef, no hormones, no antibiotics) you’ll ever find on a soft, grilled potato roll (ask for pickles and onions!). Then there’s the Shack-cago dog, which you could argue is the best Chicago-style hot dog outside of the Windy City. Frozen custards (a rotating list of flavors) are super smooth, thick, and creamy, and their "Concretes" (custard blended with mix-ins) are too much fun to be good for you. Shake Shack’s vigorous expansion program — Theatre District, Coral Gables, Abu Dhabi! — might disqualify it from The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurant list in the future, but this original location, though it has apparently spawned an empire, remains a classic.
10) 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 cookbook Real Cajun. Inspired by Cajun and Creole culinary traditions, Link serves dishes like roasted shrimp with hog jowls and Louisiana cochon (roast pig) with turnips, cabbage, and cracklins, as well as such non-porcine delights as fried alligator with chile garlic aïoli and rabbit with dumplings. Things are still on fire at this NOLA hot spot — chef Stephen Stryjewski won a 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South, and Link was named 2012 Restaurateur of the Year by the Louisiana Restaurant Association. Even Cochon Butcher, the hybrid meat market, sandwich shop, and wine bar located right next door, has lines out the door on the weekends.
9) Girl & the Goat, Chicago
It’s impossible to step inside Girl & the Goat, Stephanie Izard’s West Loop restaurant, popular with chefs and locals alike, and not feel the joy — 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. The best part about the restaurant, though, is how well-made every dish is, from locally sourced creations like wood-grilled broccoli with Rogue Creamery Smokey Bleu cheese and "spiced crispies" to such whimsical plates as escargot ravioli with bacon and tamarind-miso sauce. Her formula certainly seems to be working; in December 2012, Little Goat, her tribute to the classic diner, opened right across the street.
Click here to watch the Daily Meal’s interview with chef Stephanie Izard on her new book and cooking tips.
8) 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 this place that hasn't already been said? The pasta! That pork chop! Mario Batali is a genius! Rock music in a fine dining restaurant? Brilliant! At this longtime darling of the critics, after almost 15 years, you're still at the mercy of the reservation gods if you want to get in (but we’ve had some last-minute luck by closely monitoring their Twitter feed). Buona fortuna!
Click here to watch the Daily Meal’s interview with Mario Batali on China, Eataly and having a day job.
7) 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. Market-fresh dishes from chef Dan Kluger, like roasted carrot and avocado salad with crunchy seeds, sour cream, and citrus, stand alongside Vongerichten mainstays like pretzel-crusted 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 was awarded the recognition of Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation in 2011, and remains in the rotation for serious restaurant-goers in New York City.
6) Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
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 a year-round farm and educational center. Most of what you eat here will be grown, raised, and/or processed on the property, and Barber’s modern American food is full of color and flavor. There’s a reason why he’s one of the most relevant chefs in the country right now, and after seeing how he treats his ingredients you’ll understand exactly why.
Click here to watch The Daily Meal’s interview with chef Dan Barber.
5) Eleven Madison Park, New York City
Like many of the finest things in life, Eleven Madison Park is a restaurant that seems to get better with age. Although it 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 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 two aren't resting on their laurels, either; they did away with the minimalist "grid" menu in November 2012 and introduced a $195 multi-course tasting menu focused on the "extraordinary agricultural bounty of New York and on the centuries-old culinary traditions that have taken root here," according to the restaurant's website. As expected, it’s received rave reviews. They’ve also pushed culinary boundaries by taking part in a sold-out kitchen "swap" with Chicago’s Alinea (number 14 on this list). The Willem de Kooning quote on the front page of their website says it all: "I have to change to stay the same."
Click here to watch chef Daniel Humm react to winning his 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef.
4) Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York City
Meals at this ever-evolving East Village hot spot wowed former New York Times critic Frank Bruni into a praise-filled three-star review in 2008, and no wonder. David Chang's food offers bold, Asian-inspired flavors — like his duckaholic lunch and popular bo ssäm dinner (slow-cooked pork shoulder, oysters, rice, kimchee, and sauces to be wrapped in bibb lettuce leaves). Chang continues to be the culinary cool kid while cementing his status as a top-tier chef by constantly expanding his empire, and everything he touches seems to turn to gold (his high-tech cocktail bar with Dave Arnold, Booker and Dax, is already ranked among the city’s finest).
3) Le Bernardin, New York City
Think Le Bernardin and you think accolades: Michelin, The New York Times, James Beard Foundation (plus a recent entry into the AAA Five Diamond club). A super sleek renovation in 2011 gave it more than a fresh coat of paint; it livened up the entire space, and a leather-clad lounge replaced a formerly sleepy bar. This iconic restaurant isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and if cooking fish well is an art, then chef Eric Ripert is a Michelangelo; his contemporary French touch has led some to call his creations — among them thinly shaved geoduck with osetra caviar and wasabi-citrus mousseline and poached skate and warm oysters, Brussels sprouts-bacon mignonette, and Dijon mustard sherry emulsion — the world's best seafood.
2) 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 here 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 has become known for his simply prepared fish dishes in particular, such as flounder with cabbage, leeks, olives, and oyster mushrooms, as well as butternut squash custard with carrots and hazelnuts, and pork loin and belly with navy beans, tasso, and kale. 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 any time soon.
76) Zahav, Philadelphia
A "modern Israeli" restaurant in Philadelphia? Just what does that entail? A melting pot of Middle Eastern and Central European cuisines, woven together with a fine hand into a feast of flavors. Settle into the warmly lit casual dining room and start with hummus and house-baked laffa flatbread or persimmon salad with Bulgarian feta and olives or house-smoked sable with challah and fried egg, then sample ground lamb kebabs with pistachios and turnips, braised beef cheeks with chestnuts and pumpkin rice, or crispy branzino with braised chickpeas and okra. Finish your repast with almond semifreddo, cardamom-vanilla custard, or date and hazelnut rugelach. Israeli Goldstar beer, imaginative cocktails, and one of the largest arrays of boutique Israeli wines outside the country itself complete the picture.
74) SriPraPhai, Queens, N.Y.
Consistently lauded by critics and Yelpers alike as the most authentic Thai restaurant in New York (although newcomer Pok Pok Ny is right up there) SriPraPhai boasts a menu as large as its reputation, from papaya salad with dry shrimp and crushed peanuts to fried fish with green mango sauce by way of classic pad thai and sauted pork leg with chiles, garlic, and basil. Feeling overwhelmed by the spread? Ask a member of the friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff for a recommendation, but be forewarned: things may get spicy.
59) The NoMad, New York City
No restaurant thats opened in New York City within the past year has quite captured the publics attention as much as The NoMad, and the three-star review from The New York Times Pete Wells seems to solidify its reputation. The brainchild of Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, whose elegant Eleven Madison Park is number five on this year's list), The NoMad is larger, looser, and more accessible then EMP, but that doesnt mean that the food is any less mind-blowingly inventive; their whole-roasted chicken for two, with foie gras, black truffle, and brioche, has already become one of the city's must-try dishes. Dont forget to have a drink at the bar (Esquire named it one of the countrys best), and when its warm out, the 12th-floor NoMad Rooftop restaurant offers incredible views of the city below.
Click here to watch The Daily Meals video on The NoMads decor.
1) The French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.
How did a chef whose innovative restaurant in Manhattan failed and who headed west to cook in a downtown LA hotel suddenly emerge in the Napa Valley to create a restaurant to rival the great three-star establishments of rural France? Hard work and outsize talent, most probably. Taking over what had been a good but far simpler restaurant located in a turn-of-the-century stone building surrounded by gardens, chef Thomas Keller approached 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 $270 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, though, and while items like sautéed cod with tamarind-glazed eggplant and tomato chutney might sound simple, the techniques used are anything but. In 2012, Keller and The French Laundry received a coveted AAA Five Diamond Award, just another honor to add to the pile.
Click here to watch The Daily Meals At the Chefs Table interview with Chef Thomas Keller.
55) FIG, Charleston, S.C.
Relaxed and approachable, this downtown Charleston, S.C., gem serves seasonally inspired food using locally sourced, sustainable ingredients, many of which come straight from the farmer. Chef Mike Lata offers a rotating menu of simple yet refined classics like fish stew in cocotte and suckling pig confit with carrots, greens, and mustard jus, and also emphasizes some lesser-known seafood, like banded rudderfish with butterbeans, mint, lemon confit, and olives. The cuisine may appear to be simple at first glance, but with the freshest, highest-quality ingredients available, the food speaks for itself.