#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 L.A. 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, chef Thomas Keller approached contemporary American food with French technique and his French Laundry established new standards for fine dining in this country.
#2 Per Se, New York City
Having triumphed in California, Thomas Keller returned to New York with this elegant dining room overlooking Central Park in the Time-Warner Center. Per Se upholds the standards set by The French Laundry, and — despite the defection of longtime chef Jonathan Benno to open his own place (Lincoln) — it remains one of the outstanding dining experiences in the city.
#3 Le Bernardin, New York City
Think Le Bernardin and you think accolades: Michelin, The New York Times, James Beard. Is it a little stuffy? Sure. But if cooking fish well is an art, then Chef Eric Ripert is a master. His contemporary French touch has led some to call his creations the world's best seafood.
#4 Daniel, New York City
Daniel. This very grown-up restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side 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.
#5 Alinea, Chicago
There's little question that Grant Achatz, whose training includes stints with Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, and Ferran Adrià, deserves the title of America's most creative chef. The menu at his Alinea sounds deceptively simple ("Bass, black pepper, vanilla, lemon" or "Rabbit parfait rillette consommé), but what shows up on the plate is absolutely original and almost always dazzlingly good.
#6 Blue Hill Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
High-profile organo-loca-sustainavore Dan Barber has found the perfect home at Blue Hill Stone Barns, a beautiful restaurant in a bucolic but hard-working 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.
#7 Chez Panisse, Berkeley, Calif.
Chez Panisse is, of course, where it all started, four decades ago this year. Before Chez Panisse, practically nobody in America served only fresh local foods and wrote menus according to the season, if not the day. Practically nobody cared like Alice Waters and her associates did. It has become fashionable to criticize this culinary icon as (take your pick) tired, irrelevant, pretentious — but the truth is that the food is still superb, both in the one-menu-a-night downstairs restaurant and the lively, diversified upstairs Café. A must.
#8 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.
#9 Citronelle, Washington, D.C.
With his Santa Claus build, his amiable nature, and his obvious passion for his métier, Michel Richard sometimes looks like the happiest chef alive as he leans over a plate at Citronelle holding one of his imaginative, brilliantly executed specialties, smiling, putting on the finishing touches — a sight you can witness through the glass wall that encloses his sparkling kitchen at this D.C. classic. There are those who think Richard is the best contemporary French chef in America.
#10 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. His partnership with Inn co-founder Reinhardt Lynch ended in 2007, but praise for The Inn at Little Washington has continued.
#11 Masa, New York City
When Frank Bruni described his friend's reaction at biting into one of Masa's toro-stuffed maki rolls in his 2004 review in The New York Times — twitching lips and rolling eyes were involved — and awarded the restaurant four stars, he instantly put the restaurant on the map as the sushi spot in New York, if not the U.S. as a whole. The swanky Time-Warner Center setting and elaborate omakase-only menu is accompanied by a high bar for entry: the price. At $450 per person before tip, you're looking at a bill that can easily total more than $1,000 for two.
#12 Bern's Steak House, Tampa, Fla.
Quick, where will you find the restaurant with the biggest wine list in the world? That's right, Tampa, Fla. Founded in 1956 by the late Bern Laxer, Bern's Steak House is still a family-run restaurant, with Bern's son, David Laxer, at the helm. The wine list isn't the only draw here, of course. With some calling it the country's best steak house, the food isn't bad either.
#13 Peter Luger Steakhouse, Brooklyn, N.Y.
To say Peter Luger Steakhouse is a New York institution is an understatement. It has been doing steak since 1887. The menu is simple. Single steak, steak for two, steak for three, or steak for four. In other words, how many people are you going with? Okay, so there's a little more selection than that, but the point here is high-quality, expertly-prepared steak, along with the famous house sauce, sliced tomato and onion salad, and of course, the celebrated thick-cut bacon appetizer. Many imitators, one original.
#14 Katz's Delicatessen, New York City
"Send a salami to your boy in the army!" This Jewish kosher deli has been making converts with its salami — and pastrami and hot dogs and more since 1888. You go in, get a taste at the counter from one of the expert slicers like Eddie, and marvel at how great it is that a place like this exists. Then you dive into pickles and a huge pastrami sandwich with mustard and a big pricetag. It's worth it — it really is one of the only deli sandwiches a person needs in life. And the pastrami and eggs "made like the boss likes it," with eggs cooked on the hot dog grill to get that greasiness? Not many things better for breakfast. Just don't lose your ticket. You don't want to know what happens.
#21 Frank Pepe Pizzeria, New Haven, Conn. (tie)
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America's best pizza with any authority, you've got to make a pilgrimage tothis 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 — 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 (pictured). Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.
#29 Fonda San Miguel, Austin, Texas (tie)
In a town full of great Tex-Mex places, Fonda San Miguel stands out for its superbly made “interior Mexican” food, from tacos al pastor and spinach salad with toasted pasilla chiles and panela cheese to Gulf shrimp in chipotle cream sauce and crêpes filled with goat’s milk caramel.
#28 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.
#29 Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas (tie)
Serving Northern-style Thai food in a Sin City strip mall, Lotus of Siam has been nominated twice for a James Beard Award and has been called by more than one critic the best Thai restaurant in America. Chef/owner Saipin Chutima began her career at the age of five under her grandmother’s tutelage and cooks such inspired cuisine today as charbroiled prawns in tamarind sauce and kao soi-braised short ribs.
#31 Canlis, Seattle, Wash. (tie)
A Pacific Northwestern landmark, open since 1950, serving fresh, seasonal dishes that are more polished than cutting edge, in a rustic-modern space whose use of native wood and stone evokes forests and streams. The Dungeness crab cakes and Wagyu steak tartare are definitive, and the grilled king salmon is about as good as it get.
#21 Zuni Café, San Francisco (tie)
San Francisco Mediterranean cooking at its best from chef Judy Rodgers, with Chez Panisse alumnus Gilbert Pilgram now in charge of the dining room. The house-cured anchovies with celery, parmigiano, and Niçoise olives, the Petrale sole, and the whole roasted chicken with bread salad for two are among the emblematic dishes in this food-mad town.
#31 Cochon, New Orleans (tie)
A 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 2010 James Beard Award for his cookbook Real Cajun. Inspired by Cajun and Creole culinary traditions, Link serves up dishes like deep-fat-fried hog head cheese with field beans and ravigote 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 and dumplings.
#35 Coi, San Francisco (tie)
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.
#35 Spago, Beverly Hills, Calif. (tie)
This more elaborate but immediate descendent of the original groundbreaking Spago remains the flagship of the ever-growing Wolfgang Puck empire. Full of glamour and glitz, 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 fare cooked here under the direction of Executive Chef Lee Hefter, one of the most underrated chefs in America.
#37 Galatoire’s, New Orleans
This is what you should know about Galatoire’s: The food is classic Creole and 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, eggs Sardou (with creamed spinach, artichoke bottoms, and Hollandaise), and Louisiana seafood eggplant cake; and you’ll have a good time if you go hungry — and a better time if you go hungry with a regular at your side.
#38 Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas
Definitive Hill Country barbecue — meat on butcher paper — in a big barn of a place perfumed with woodsmoke.The brisket is what it’s all about, but there are also fans who drive for hours for the housemade sausages, including the impossibly delicious “regular” and the more complicated jalapeño cheese links. Side dishes include German potato salad and sauerkraut alongside the usual cole slaw and beans — a reference to Kreuz’s teutonic origins.
#19 The Bazaar, Los Angeles
Spanish food, whether traditional or avant-garde, has no more fervent and eloquent champion in America than José Andrès, proprietor of this multi-part restaurant and culinary theme park. Whether you choose to sample hot and cold foie soup with corn at Saam, Ottoman carrot fritters with apricot and pistachio sauce at Bar Centro, or the best jamón ibérico in America at Rojo y Blanco — or, best of all, a combination of the trad and the completely mad, easily achieved here — you’ll have a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience here.
#39 Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
At the top of his profession in Paris, with a well-deserved three Michelin stars, Savoy has translated the best in contemporary ingredient-based French cooking to the world’s most famous gambling mecca without missing a beat. The artichoke and black truffle soup, John Dory in seaweed butter, roasted duck with turnips, and other such extravagances will remind you why French chefs got so famous in the first place.
#40 L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, New York City (tie)
Multi-Michelin-starred Chef Joël Robuchon’s swanky restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel offers a peaceful solace from the noise and bustle of midtown Manhattan. A sleek, minimalist interior is the backdrop for executive chef Xavier Boyer’s classical French-inspired menu (the beef and foie gras burgers with caramelized bell peppers are a must).
#40 Casa Mono, New York City (tie)
Inspired by the Boqueria market in Barcelona (slightly before most of their compatriots had ever heard of the place), Mario Batali — who went to school in Spain and has a great love for the country’s cooking — and Chef Andy Nusser created this casual but superbly run Spanish and Spanish-ish establishment, bringing cod cheeks pil pil, tripe with chickpeas and blood sausage, squid with pork meatballs, and the like to a hip Manhattan clientele.
#40 The Hitching Post II, Buellton, Calif. (tie)
The “barbecue” tradition of Santa Maria, north of Santa Barbara, based not on long-smoked pork but on tri-tip steak, grilled on live oak, helps define the cooking of California’s Central Coast. This homey, always bustling place extends and improves the basic idiom, and adds a knockout wine list, full of vintages made by the proprietor and his neighbors.
#43 Cut, Beverly Hills, Calif. (tie)
Having helped invent California cuisine and given the world a whole new genre of Asian fusion cooking, Wolfgang Puck went on to redefine the great American steakhouse with Cut. The interior is hard-edged and edgy, and the menu leaves iceberg wedges and surf’n’turf far behind with Kobe steak sashimi, bone marrow flan, pan-roasted lobster with black truffle sabayon, and perfectly cooked steaks from Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Washington, Idaho, Australia, and New Zealand.
#43 The Four Seasons, New York City (tie)
A New York original, with a stunning interior designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, a faithful clientele of Gothamite high-rollers, and an American menu that offers few surprises but usually manages to satisfy everyone’s tastes. This is the place to order things like assorted cold seafood, smoked salmon carved tableside, grilled Dover sole, pheasant coq au vin, or crisp farmhouse duck, then sit back and dine like a grownup.
#45 CityZen, Washington, D.C. (tie)
A Five-Diamond AAA Award-winning restaurant in both 2008 and 2009, CityZen, in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and is the place to go to celebrate or to see and be seen in D.C. Whether sitting with a view of the open kitchen or next to floor-to-ceiling windows dressed in rich, warm fabrics, diners will marvel at James Beard Award-winning chef Eric Ziebold’s talent as he serves up modern American cuisine with a sophisticated and creative touch.
#45 Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles (tie)
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 inn, complete with mozzarella bar, unusual pasta (calf’s brain ravioli, spaghetti with marinated white anchovies), and main dishes ranging from sea trout with lentils to grilled pancetta-wrapped quail.
#47 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 guinea hen with roasted foie gras and braised potatoes. The 16-course tasting menu is a truly memorable experience — as well it ought to be at $385 a head, wine not included.
#48 Locanda Verde, New York City (tie)
Chef Andrew Carmellini’s rustic Italian tavern restaurant, located in the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, serves up delicious food from morning to late night. Don’t miss pastry chef Karen DeMasco’s delicious baked treats, or any of the pastas on the menu.
#48 Marea, New York City (tie)
One of the most original and consistently wonderful upscale Manhattan restaurant newcomers in recent memory, this very handsome restaurant on the site of the old San Domenico, specializes in exquisitely fresh fish and shellfish in Italian-inspired preparations (crostini with lardo and sea urchin!) by skilled chef Michael White.
#50 The Herbfarm, Seattle, Wash.
Located just outside of Seattle in a converted garage, The Herbfarm offers a seasonally-inspired dining experience that celebrates the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. Each unique, nine-course meal features the freshest ingredients from forest, farm, and sea, and is paired with five or six wines; the themed menus change with the season about every two weeks.
#51 Le Bec-Fin, Philadelphia (tie)
For several years now, there have been rumors that French chef Georges Perrier was going to close this Philadelphia classic, but so far it keeps going strong. The food is full of modern American touches (and top-quality regional ingredients) but the finesse of the cooking and the overall feeling of the place remain attractively French.
#33 Frasca, Boulder, Colo.
Taking its inspiration from Northern Italy's Friuli region, but using locally-sourced ingredients, including organic meats, Frasca proposes a menu ranging from imported and domestic salumi to unusual zlikrofi pasta (stuffed with musetto sausage) to beef short ribs two ways. Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, the co-owners, are currently producing their own Friulian wine — but the wine list in general is superb.
#34 Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, Ariz.
Since Serious Eats founder and pizza maven Ed Levine named the pie at Pizzeria Bianco the best pizza in America (a judgment he recently repeated inEvery Day with Rachael Ray), this desert classic has become a go-to destination for pizza fanatics. But Bronx-born owner Chris Bianco 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.)
#24 Joe's Stone Crab, Miami
"Eat at Joe's" may have been a running joke in classic Warner Bros. cartoons, but this almost 100-year-old establishment is a serious Miami institution. The old-school seafood house boasts a massive menu, but your order is simple: stone crab claws (jumbos if available, nothing smaller than large), hash browns, and Key lime pie.
#27 minibar, Washington, D.C.
At José Andres' D.C. restaurant Café Atlantico, the best seat in the house is at an entirely different eatery — the counter he has christened minibar. With only six bar seats, this restaurant within a restaurant is arguably the country's toughest reservation to score. Because it functions as a kind of test kitchen for his L.A. restaurant, Bazaar, expect a dining experience here 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 $120 for 30 (mini) courses, it's a steal of a deal. (Watch for Andres' large-scale "Minibar 2.0" later this year.)
#51 The Slanted Door, San Francisco (tie)
Charles Phan’s The Slanted Door serves a modern interpretation of classic Vietnamese street food, with a focus on locally-sourced, fresh ingredients. Located in an airy and relaxed new space in the Ferry Building, it has become a must for food-loving visitors; a meal here, overlooking San Francisco Bay, is not to be missed.
#53 Restaurant 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 betrays his love for, and understanding of, French, Italian, and high-level American cuisine, much of it interpreted with a New Orleans lilt.
#54 Lambert's Downtown Barbecue, Austin, Texas (tie)
Texas barbecue gets a new look at this friendly, casual, but gastronomically serious establishment. Crispy wild boar ribs with Cabrales blue cheese, oak-smoked brisket with brown sugar and coffee rub, cold-smoked rainbow trout, waffle fries with Spanish smoked red pepper — this is not your father’s ‘cue.
#54 o ya, Boston (tie)
Innovative sushi and related new-Japanese fare (hamachi sashimi with banana pepper mousse, venison tataki with porcini cream) are prepared here with imagination and flair by an American chef and served in an understated dining room to the accompaniment of a large choice of excellent sake or wine.
#54 Vetri, Philadelphia (tie)
A little jewel box of a place, where chef Marc Vetri offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties (foie gras pastrami with strawberry mostarda, almond ravioli with truffle fonduta, crisp-skinned roast baby goat), served with precision and grace.
#57 Fearing's, Dallas, Texas
Located at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas, Fearing’s features modern Southwestern-American cuisine with a farm-to-table approach. 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.
#58 Bouchon Bistro, Yountville, Calif.
Shellfish platters, foie gras terrine, 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.
#85 17th Street Bar & Grill, Murphysboro, Ill. (tie)
Legendary pitmaster Mike Mills turns out award-winning barbecue at this, his legendary original joint (he’s opened six other spots as well.) From serving as a captain on the Apple City BBQ team to having his food named the Best BBQ in America by Travel + Leisure, Mills has won nearly every award and accolade in the ‘cue business, and you'll know why if you sample his baby back ribs, barbecue pork shoulder, and just about anything else he serves.
#85 Hungry Mother, Boston (tie)
Combine a menu of seasonally driven dishes made with locally sourced ingredients with chef Barry Maiden’s classical French culinary training, add in his love of Southern comfort foods, and you have Hungry Mother. Husband and wife team Alon Munzer and Rachel Miller Munzer run the wine and liquor programs and front of the house, respectively, and they do it very well.
#87 Quinones at Bacchanalia, Atlanta
Consistently considered one of best restaurants in Atlanta, the dining room at Quinones, adjacent to the older and also acclaimed Bacchanalia, has only 11 tables. The menu, which changes daily, boasts a collection of dishes that mixes modern and classic Southern cuisine, with the results skillfully prepared.
#88 Animal, Los Angeles (tie)
At this ultimate haven for adventurous carnivores, chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have won a host of awards, among other things being included among Food & Wine's roster of Best New Chefs of 2009. Their cooking at Animal is hearty, straightforward, and innovative, and dishes like their foie-gras-spiked loco moco, oxtail poutine, and "Buffalo style" crispy pig's tail keep chefs and civilians alike coming back for more.
#88 Lucques, Los Angeles (tie)
Chef Suzanne Goin’s first restaurant remains as good as ever, with a warm dining room, an enchanting patio, and a menu of bright, full-flavored food (fried squid salad with red curry vinaigrette, slow-roasted lamb sirloin with parsnip purée), based on raw materials from sources “guided by principles of sustainability”.
#90 '21' Club, New York City (tie)
Okay, it’s not about the food. It’s about style, tradition, history, and the general feeling of well-being this ledendary, clubby establishment can engender. Classics like the chilled Senegalese soup, creamy chicken hash, “speakeasy” steak tartare and even the “21” burger (on a toasted Parker House roll) are dependably good.
#25 The Pit, Raleigh, N.C. (tie)
Barbecue is religion in the South, and without question, pitmaster Ed Mitchell is one of its patron saints. The legendary barbecue baron oversees this destination-worthy joint, specializing in North Carolina-style whole hog, pit-cooked 'cue. The word "authentic" should only be dispensed with caution when it comes to food, but Mitchell's generations-old family recipe is the real deal, widely regarded as the standard for its genre.
#90 Bar Masa, New York City (tie)
The casual counterpart to the restaurant at #11 on our list, Bar Masa is sushi master Masa Takayama’s slightly more economical spot next door. Unlike at Masa, where the only option is the omakase menu, the offerings at Bar Masa are à la carte, including a variety of upscale sushi and modern twists on Japanese street food. The “bar” in Bar Masa, incidentally, refers not to the sushi bar, but to the vast selection of sakes and cocktails available.
#90 Urasawa, Los Angeles (tie)
This Japanese culinary shrine, with a sushi bar and just enough room for ten diners nightly, located in a shopping center off of Rodeo Drive, might be called the West Coast version of New York City's Masa (see #11 on our list). That's not surprising: Not only did Urasawa chef-owner Hiroyuki Urasawa train under Masa Takayama before opening his eponymous restaurant here, but the spot previously housed Takayama’s Ginza Sushi-ko, where Masa made his reputation. Urasawa has a nearly 30-course omakase menu that changes daily, not to be missed.
#93 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 Naoimi Pomeroy accepts just enough reservations for two seatings on each day, plus an extra seating for Sunday brunch. Guests dine at a pair of communal tables, where they are served the prix fixe menu of the day (no exceptions). Those who are lucky enough to snag a seat at the tables are sure to be treated like family.
#94 Neptune Oyster Bar, Boston
Boston is known for its history, sense of tradition, and shellfish. That being known, it takes more than just any old seafood shack to keep Bostonians coming back for more. While the menu at Neptune Oyster Bar tends to lack in creativity, its greatness comes in the delivery of undeniably superb renditions of classic New England fare. Start with any of the 12 varieties of oysters from the bar, and follow up with the clam chowder and lobster roll for the perfect meal.
#95 Ad Hoc, Napa Valley, Calif. (tie)
Thomas Keller’s fourth showing on this list, Ad Hoc began as his opportunity to showcase the dishes that he grew up eating, presented in a warmer and more casual setting than fancy places like Per Se or The French Laundry provide. Ad Hoc started as a simple, temporary concept — an almost-pop-up with a single constantly changing four-course, family-style meal nightly, designed as a space-holder while Keller developed another restaurant here. Response was so positive, though, that Keller and his staff decided to make this one permanent. While the home-style menu is always sure to satisfy, the legendary buttermilk fried chicken served every Monday is the coveted specialty here.
#95 Lonesome Dove, Fort Worth, Texas (tie)
At the premier establishment from renowned cowboy-chef Tim Love, the culinary style is what Love calls “Urban Western Cuisine”. This translates to Texas-style meat and potatoes with an edge of sophistication. Located in the historic Stockyards District of Fort Worth, Lonesome Dove proposed a menu featuring large servings of protein — whole fish, cowboy steaks, roasted turkey, and a variety of wild game among them.
#97 L'Espalier, Boston
One of the pioneers of modern haute cuisine in Boston, chef-owner Frank McClelland has received a host of awards at L’Espalier. (Among other things, it was the first New England restaurant to receive four stars from The Boston Globe, back in 1996.) The food served at L’Espalier is focused around local and seasonal ingredients, with particularly good seafood, and the seasonal tasting menus, at $105 and $185, are well worth trying.
#25 Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York City (tie)
You hate to tell the cool kid that he's cool, but if you've eaten at Momofuku Ssäm Bar then you know — David Chang really is a culinary badass. Meals at this East Village hotspot wowed former New York Times critic Frank Bruni into a praise-filled three-star review in 2008, and no wonder. Chang's food offers bold, Asian-inspired flavors with rockstar attitude and everyone wants in on the action. The sweet, sweet porky action.
#99 Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham, Ala. (tie)
Christopher and Idie Hastings, the chef-owners of Hot and Hot Fish Club, located in a historic building on Birmingham’s Southside, pride themselves on crafting what they call “memory cuisine”, using simple ingredients to create dishes that trigger a sense of nostalgia in their diners. Fish is — no surprise — the specialty, but vegetables picked at the optimum point and top-quality meat and poultry are also treated with respect and skill.
#99 Rasika, Washington, D.C. (tie)
A native of Mumbai, India, chef Vikram Sunderam is known for taking Indian cuisine to new heights at Rasika. The menu is original, infusing traditional flavors into innovative and unexpected creations (sweetbreads with balsamic vinegar and spiced quinoa isn't exactly the usual Indian fare).
#97 Oklahoma Joe's, Kansas City, Kan.
After working the Kansas City competition barbecue circuit for years, resulting in eight Grand Championships, Jeff and Joy Stenney hooked up with smoker owner Joe Don Davidson to open their first barbecue joint. The restaurant resides in a building that also houses a gas station and convenience store. The signature item on the menu is the Smokie Joe, a sandwich filled with barbecued pork and beef and smothered in the famous Joe’s sauce.
#74 Arun’s, Chicago
Since 1985, Arun’s has offered refined, sophisticated Thai food, and earned a reputation as one of the top Thai restaurants in the country. Though the restaurant’s namesake, owner–chef Arun Sampanthavivat, is not classically trained, he has a master's touch in the kitchen, best experienced through his nightly seven-course, $65-per-person tasting menu.
#101 McCrady's, Charleston, S.C.
McCrady’s is an establishment richly steeped in Charleston history, residing in a structure, built in 1788, 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 Bock, 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.
#58 Bouchon Bistro, Yountville, California
Shellfish platters, fois gras terrine, 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.
#59 Hominy Grill, Charleston, S.C. (tie)
Located in downtown Charleston, Hominy Grill, located in a onetime barbershop, features chef/owner Robert Stehling's classic Lowcountry cooking, served with relaxed, at-home feel. Don’t miss his stone-ground grits, house-made sausage, or rich Southern-style desserts like buttermilk pie or butterscotch pudding.
#75 Incanto, San Francisco (tie)
At the forefront of the nose-to-tail trend, Incanto’s chef Chris Cosentino and owner Mark Pastore also carry the torch for sustainable dining and restaurant practices, like not serving bottled water and sourcing local and organic food for the daily changing Italian menu.
#59 Jitlada, Los Angeles (tie)
All the standard Thai dishes are done very well at this well-known storefront restaurant in Thai Town, but the southern Thai specialties, many of which are found nowhere else in America, are the real draw. Try the oxtail soup, crisp catfish salad, softshell crabs with yellow curry, sea bass with caramelized garlic, and whatever else proprietor Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong recommends — even the beef curry called khua kling Phat Lung, quite possibly the spiciest dish in L.A.
#18 Arthur Bryant's Barbeque, Kansas City, Mo.
There's a long line inside this fluorescent-lit, linoleum-floored barbecue joint, and you better know what you want when you get up to that glass window — or be able to figure it out fast — 'cause it's hot back there and they don't suffer fools lightly. But when you get that plate full of meat with those soft, square slices of white bread and sit down with a bottle of sauce and dig in, it's pretty much one of those meals you're always going to remember.
#61 Publican, Chicago
Located in downtown Chicago, Publican serves up a beer-focused menu in a rustic space reminiscent of a European beer hall. From farm-fresh pork to hand-selected fish and seafood preparations, each dish is simply prepared and beautifully presented; don’t miss their frites, touted as the best in town.
#62 Reef, Houston, Texas
Peer into Reef's buzzing open kitchen to watch renowned chef and devoted Houstonite Bryan Caswell expertly craft elegant, fresh seafood dishes that show his patrons the true meaning of Southern coastal culture. Caswell grew to fame under culinary greats like Charlie Palmer, Alfred Portale, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Thoughtful touches, such as presenting the lump crab lollipop with claw intact, express Caswell's devotion to the ocean.
#64 Osteria, Philadelphia
The more casual, trattoria-like offshoot of Vetri, Osteria is a big, lively place where the pizzas are terrific (try the octopus and smoked mozzarella) and the cooking is homey but first-rate, from veal liver ravioli with figs to rabbit stewed with pancetta over intensely flavored polenta.
#65 Al Forno, Providence, R.I.
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. They also, though, aim the culinary spotlight on Rhode Island's defining vegetables — corn, squash, beans, and tomatoes — prepared simply, with the authentic Italian panache one would expect of multiple James Beard honorees.
#75 Mustards Grill, Yountville, Calif. (tie)
Napa Valley winemakers crowd into the unpretentious Mustards Grill to sample Cindy Pawlcyn’s American-international cooking, encompassing everything from wild mushroom tamales to grilled Laotian-style quail to seafood tostadas to one of California’s best burgers.
#66 Eugene, Atlanta, Ga.
Eugene pays homage to those who grow the local produce they use right on the menu. The list typically includes around two dozen farms, dairies, and even elementary school gardens, and pays tribute to the ingredients by altering them as little as possible while making everything in the kitchen from scratch. Named as one of Food and Wine's Best Chefs of 2009, Linton Hopkins offers refined dishes, such as his wild mushroom tasting plate, that come from the ingenuously rustic roots he describes as "folkways meeting Escoffier."
#67 The Fearrington House Restaurant, Fearrington Village, N.C.
The Fearrington House Restaurant has kept its AAA Five Diamond rating for 16 years and is the only restaurant of its caliber to receive Green Certification from the Green Restaurant Association. Executive chef Colin Bedford offers a highly refined blend of classical French and New American cuisine, inspired by his commitment to environmental sustainability.
#75 Redd, Yountville, Calif. (tie)
Redd is known for both chef Richard Reddington’s unique global/American cuisine and pastry chef Nicole Plue’s award-winning desserts. Its pristine, modern dining room puts the focus on the food and sets the tone for Reddington’s thoughtful take on Napa dining.
#78 Boulevard, San Francisco (tie)
Boulevard is the perfect neighborhood eatery. It exudes the warm, relaxed San Franciscan ambience that marks many of the city’s best restaurants, but chef and owner Nancy Oakes aims high with her hearty but modern, sophisticated American cuisine.
#78 The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn. (tie)
The cuisine 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 uses the farm estate’s produce and products for a dynamic menu of Smoky Mountain regional dishes with a global flair.
#15 wd-50, New York City
Say what you will about so-called 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. And it's so pretty that you almost don't want to attack it with your fork — almost. At the helm here is Wylie Dufresne, one of the modern food world's founding culinary wizards. To dine at wd-50 is a promise of the unexpected, which is no small feat in this hard-to-impress town.
#78 Valentino, Los Angeles (tie)
Piero Selvaggio opened Valentino almost 40 years ago, when L.A. Italian dining meant spaghetti with red sauce and veal parmigiana, and he was in no small part responsible for changing how not just Calfornia but all of America looked at (and ate) the cooking of his native land. Sourcing the best products from both California and Italy, building a wine list (Italian and otherwise) that is one of the most comprehensive in the country, and serving both classic and imaginative Italian food with consummate skill, Selvaggio created an enduring gastronomic landmark.
#81 Radius, Boston
Chef and owner Michael Schlow has made a mark on Boston with his award-winning French-American food. Now a decade old, Radius still draws crowds looking for an urbane dining experience, from the lauded $19 burger to one of the rarefied five-course tasting menus.
#82 Michael Mina, San Francisco
As the owner of 18 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, Michael Mina, that gets the most praise, for his Japanese- and French-inflected take on preparing the best American ingredients.
#83 Everest, Chicago
True to its name, Everest towers head and shoulders above many of Chicago's other upscale restaurants — literally, from its perch on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange Buiilding, and also gastronomically, through Alsatian-born chef Jean Joho's superlative French food. The wine list is almost as stunning as the views — above all in its collection of great wines from Joho's home region of Alsace.
#84 Moto, Chicago
Diners at Moto should be prepared to eat anything from “trash” to a "Cuban cigar" — that is, with his sense of whimsy and cerebral molecular gastronomy, chef Homaro Cantu’s creative dishes have been known to fool his guests, leading to playful culinary optical illusions, like a flowerpot with edible dirt.
#16 Commander's Palace, New Orleans (tie)
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. The gold standard of family-run restaurants, Commander's 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.
#16 Babbo, New York City (tie)
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 more than 12 years, you're still at the mercy of the reservation gods if you want to get in — buona fortuna.
#20 Frontera Grill, Chicago
Celebrity chef Rick Bayless doesn't want for fans; dine at this Chicago-based Mexican restaurant of his and you'll have a good idea why. The local- and organic-championing chef has a true award winner on his hands here (it took home a James Beard for "Outstanding Restaurant" in 2007), serving real-deal South-of-the-border fare in a casual setting. (He takes the idiom upscale at his Topolobampo, just next door.)
#21 Clio, Boston
You can't talk about Boston's dining scene and not mention Chef Ken Oringer. At this branch of his growing empire, he does French fine dining proud, but plays by his own rules, producing impeccable, artistic plates with a focus on market-driven ingredients — a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the critical powers that be (just count how many "Best of" lists this place has graced). Clio's downstairs offshoot, Uni, by the way, is a popular hangout for local chefs.
#63 Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.
Under the direction of James Beard-nominated chef Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon lures diners to its communal tables for hearty, imaginative, locally-sourced entrées (chicken with spätzle, blue cheese, and walnuts) and such standing-ovation-worthy desserts as honey, bacon, and apricot cornbread with maple ice cream and foie gras profiteroles. If it's a slaw-slathered burger you crave, get there early because Rucker serves up precisely five per night.
#68 Fore Street, Portland, Maine
When chef Sam Hayward opened this brick-framed restaurant in 1996, nobody thought of Portland as a dining destination. He helped change that with his meticulous sourcing of fine local products and the menus that change daily based on what comes in. Wood-roasted mussels and grilled marinated hangar steak are among the items always available, but the seasonal treasures are always worth sampling.
#69 Michael's Genuine, Miami (tie)
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 this 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 (more than once), but as decor in the minimalist dining room.
#69 Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Va. (tie)
Behind the critical acclaim he has earned for the modern French cuisine at Restaurant Eve, chef/owner Cathal (pronounced CA-hull) Armstrong, a native Dubliner, has a simple philosophy: “Nature is perfect. Extract the flavor. Enhance it. Don’t take away from it.” In addition to the upscale cuisine in what Armstrong calls his Tasting Room, there's excellent but less formal fare, with multi-cultural influences, in the Bistro.
#72 Grand Sichuan International (9th Avenue), New York City (tie)
Chinese cooking in New York City was better and more diverse 25 years ago than it is today (many of the great older chefs who emigrated to America during the Cold War have retired, and the demand is too high in China itself today to encourage anyone to leave). That said, chef/restaurateur Xiaotu "John" Zhang's Grand Sichuan restaurants — of which the 9th Avenue branch is considered the best — are a bright spot on the local food scene. The cooking holds true to ancient roots but embraces the evolution of modern cuisine, redefining the familiar "take-out" that New Yorkers have come to love (and depend on) while suggesting a more vibrant future for Chinese food in America.
#69, L2O, Chicago (tie)
Although critically-acclaimed chef Laurent Gras no longer runs the kitchen, L2O's prix-fixe-only menu reigns on as one of the best in Chicago. Diners enjoy expertly-prepared seafood and sashimi of the highest quality, sourced from around the world. L2O's bread service, featuring anchovy rolls, bite-sized pain au lait and bacon-infused twists along with house-churned butter garners rave reviews from even the most carb-fearing.
#72 SriPraPhai, Queens, N.Y. (tie)
Consistently lauded by critics and Yelpers alike as the most authentic Thai restaurant in New York, SriPraPhai boasts a menu as large as its reputation. Feeling overwhelmed by the spread? Ask one of the friendly and knowlegable waitstaff for a recommendation, and be forewarned: Things may get spicy.