The best restaurant food

The post about fast food got me thinking about the best food period. Which means restaurants–none of you cook food that is as best as the best restaurants and you’re fooling yourself if you think you do.

For me, the best overall restaurant is probably The Palace Grill in Santa Barbara, CA. It’s a New Orleans cooking place, specializing in steaks and seafood. There are other places with slightly better food (although the Palace has really amazingly good food), but the Palace has amazing service, a great fun atmosphere, and is actually pretty reasonable in price.

The best food overall would probably have to go to Le Cirque, a French restaurant in Las Vegas (in the Bellagio hotel). It costs an arm and a leg, but it’s worth it. The desserts will make a man weep in front of his date. A close second would be Aureole, also in Las Vegas (I forget which hotel–the Mandalay?). If you pay enough, you can sit in a nearly private room off their swan pond, with two waiters who do nothing but serve your table. They literally stand in the corners and jump forward when anybody looks like they could possibly need, or even be thinking about potentially wanting, anything. It’s the most I have ever personally paid for a meal, though.

Locally, the best place is Nick & Stef’s steakhouse in downtown LA. Other people swear by Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s, or will tell you that the Water Grill has the best food in LA. They are all mistaken. Nick & Stef’s is where it’s at.

I have a few favorites; it’s hard to choose just one.

We ate at Babbo Enoteca for the first time on a recent trip to New York City, and it’s easily my new favorite. I mean, wow. Just wow. Easily the best Italian food I’ve ever had. We did the pasta tasting menu, which involves seven courses (they are small, but it’s still a whole lot of food), each paired with a different wine. Amazing. Like blowing a car payment on dinner, but still amazing.

Speaking of tasting menus, our local super grocery store, Wegmans, has a restaurant attached to their flagship store called “Tastings.” The food there is amazing, and they do frequent (several times a month) special tasting menus that are always spectacular.

I love the Bite, on Martha’s Vineyard, though it barely qualifies as a restaurant. It’s a ten by ten shack (basically just a kitchen; you eat outside at their single picnic table, or if that’s full, take your food down to the beach) just off the beach in Menemsha where they hand you fried seafood, made to order, through a sliding glass door. There are no waiters waiting to see to your every need, though they do have a friendly skunk who lives behind the shack. Also: best fried seafood ever.

The Vineyard has lots of restaurants on the other end of the scale, but my favorite is the Sweet Life Cafe. We usually only eat there once when we’re on vacation, because it’s pretty pricey. But the food is awesome.

I’ll second this one. The Palace is a really great place to eat, and it’s quite reasonable price-wise for the quality of food that you get.

I recently ate at Fogo de Chao, the new Brazilian steakhouse in LA, and it was absolutely fantastic. You pay $50 as a flat fee (drinks are extra), and that gives you unlimited access to the salad bar (which is gigantic and offers just about anything you can think of) and all-you-can-eat on the meat.

The way the meat works is you have a little cardboard disc at your place setting. One side’s red, one’s green. When you want meat, you flip it over to green, and the “meat gauchos” will come by with any number of meat types on skewers and slice off pieces for you until you turn that disc back over. This includes insanely tender filet, sausages of every kind, bacon-wrapped filet, barbecued chicken, prime rib, top sirloin, veal, pork roast, and the absolute best lamb I have ever tasted, bar none. Our group stayed for about four hours, eating then talking then drinking then eating some more. An expensive but delicious evening.

Obviously you’re probably not going here if you’re a vegetarian (although the salad bar is more than adequate for a full meal, as long as said veggie is not offended by the consumption of meat in front of them), but if you love being a carnivore, get your ass to Fogo de Chao. Currently there are only five locations in the US (LA, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta), but if you’re in one of those cities, goddamn is it worth the trip and the money.

Those are excellent choices for fine Vegas dining. Prime in the Bellagio is awesome for steaks.

Before the big hotel boom back in the 90s, the best gourmet eating in Vegas was Michael’s in the Barbary Coast. It still is one of the best. It’s not widely known, it’s mainly for big big time VIPs (from anywhere) and rich/famous folks. Le Cirque will give you a reservation if you ask for it unless it’s a weekend and you’ve waited too long. Michael’s might not ever give you a reservation, unless it’s the off-season. It’s only got 16 tables, and 3 of those are often combined for one in its back “banquet” room. Service is without peer: a Captain, two waiters, and a busboy per 5 tables. Meals can be up to nine courses and run you an easy hundred a person - not that anyone really pays, of course. The food is silly, Dover sole flown in daily, prime rib two inches thick. All the salads are made from scratch at your table. The owner of Coast Resorts, Michael Gaughan, is old school Vegas. He hand-picked Fred Bielek, the head chef, and told him to spare no expense and do whatever he wanted to make Michael’s (Mr. Gaughan is a big fan of naming eateries in his hotels after himself and his family) one of the best gourmets houses in the world. And it is.

I worked there as a busboy during high school. It was a pisser, you got yelled at for olive pits left on plates and water glasses with water more than one inch below the rim. I saw dozens of rich and famous folks (Charlie Sheen, Nicholas Cage, Andrew Dice Clay, Jerry Tarkanian, and quite a few Playboy Playmates).

The best dining experience I’ve ever had was at French Laundry in Yountville, CA. Pricey as all get out, but it was a special occasion and worth every penny. The menu was one of those 10 course deals where every course was a tiny little thing on your plate. Maybe two or three bites worth of food. But by the end of 10 courses and a couple of bottles of wine, the waiters just kept bringing little things for our table to try. I’ve never been so stuffed in my life. And each dish was fantastic.

That sort of restaurant (a “churrascaria” I think it’s called) has become pretty big out here in LA. I like it, but I don’t eat enough for it to be really worth it. Still, the Unending River of Meat is pretty fun.

A guy at work was telling me about this… he said reservations were done 3 months in advance, and filled up by 10am.

Babur’s, an Indian place in Toronto. Good service, curries that are spicy-hot but not so hot that you miss the flavor, reasonably priced.


I never thought I’d find a five-star restaurant in the middle of freaking Disney World, but there it is in the Grand Floridian: Victoria & Alberts. And it’s unbelievably good.

Menu changes day to day. Meal is a six-course prix fixe with optional wine pairing (pay for the wine pairing, you cheap bastard, it’s worth it). As others have noted, portions are small, but you’re stuffed when you finish. Reserve at least a month in advance. Service is impeccable, atmosphere is intimate.

It’s amusing that Disney has a restaurant that doesn’t allow kids (there is a daycare elsewhere in the hotel) and requires jackets for men, but there you go.

I aspire to eat there. This is #1 on my “places to eat before I die” list.

The original Joe’s Stone Crab in south Miami Beach. Not to be confused with all the “Joe’s Crab Shack” and such imitators.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that we went there with my cousin who’s a judge in Miami, is a regular at Joe’s, never has to wait in line and gets fussed over by the staff. BTW, their martini rates a best ever.

Are you serious? A good restaurant in Florida at all, much less at Disney World? Amazing.

Just a pedantic note: The only historically meaningful system of star ratings is that of the Michelin Guide, which goes up to three stars, and for which even a single star indicates an extremely good restaurant. Other star rating systems are mostly informal, without any particular regimen, and tend towards extreme inflation. For example, whatever association of hotels gives out their star ratings across the industry tends to give out an awful damn lot of them. The New York Times restaurant ratings are something of an exception, and seem to be intended to follow the Michelin Guide’s approach, i.e. only rarely giving out more than a single *, but naturally they rarely if ever rate restaurants outside New York City.

The only useful guide I’m aware of in the US is Zagat’s, and that’s only really accurate in New York City. In the NYC guide, a 25 generally indicates a very good restaurant indeed, but in the regional guides, for example for Boston region where I live, a 25 is more like a minimum score for a halfway-decent restaurant. However, it’s still a useful source of listings for random places you don’t know much about, as long as you keep the numeric inflation factor in mind.

In the greater Toronto area, I’ve enjoyed going to Terra which is a nice place for a special dinner. For seafood Chaido is wonderful. They have a regular menu, but it’s the specials that are the important thing to pay attention to as the dishes are made up from whatever fish is freshest that day.

Some random good restaurants I’ve eaten at:[ul][li]Tabla. In midtown New York. A sort of innovative nouvelle fusion sort of cuisine vaguely based on Indian, but good luck finding a Masala sauce or any standard dishes. Eat in the main restaurant, not the grill. Expensive.
[li]Julius Castle. In San Francisco. Haven’t eaten there lately, but they used to have great Italian food, then changed the menu completely to great French food. Though the food is good, what’s even better is the view, you should generally try to be seated just before sunset for a view of Alcatraz, the fog rolling in, etc. Just below Coit tower. Also expensive.
[li]New Mother India. In Waltham, Massachusetts. Best conventional (standard Punjabi) Indian food I’ve ever had when they are on top of their game. Unfortunately, a bit variable from day to day, but still generally very good. Fairly inexpensive.[/ul]
[/li]The best single meal I’ve ever had was in Spain, in, umm, Cordoba, I think, but unfortunately I forget the name of the restaurant now. They opened up the second floor for us because the first floor had just filled up, and an entire stafff of impeccably skilled waiters attended on our meal. They were both ubiquitous and almost invisible, so water and wine glasses were always filled, but you could never actually see any of them loitering around, they never gave their names, intruded on the meal, etc. like annoying American waiters always do. The food of course was superb. I also had great meals in Granada (El Churasco) and Sevilla (various now-forgotten restaurants) but couldn’t find anything edible in Barcelona.

Well, the point of the fast food thread was to hopefully mention places others could eat at but haven’t. So chain restaurants would be better.

But anyway, in Columbus, the Cameron Mitchell joints are all pretty good. I like Cap City the most because it’s close to where I live. Pretty cheap but extremely good. The Mad Greek in Whitehall serves damn good dolmadockia(no idea how to spell it). Damn good everything, actually.

Oh, and Nancy’s in Clintonville is great. There are 2 choices on the menu, everything is $5, and they run you out of the place as soon as you are done eating. It’s brilliant.

Allow me to follow your pedantry with even more pedantry as a former New Yorker:

Zagat’s is crap. Its ratings are based on reader survey forms, which gives it all the significance of an internet poll. They don’t even verify that participants in the survey have actualy eaten at the establishment they are rating. See here for more.

Zagat’s is dandy as a local restaurant index – I kept a copy in my desk when I worked in NYC for the sole purpose of referring to restaurant locations and reservation telephone numbers – but it is garbage as a a guide to quality, even in NYC.

The 5 stars (really, “5 diamonds”) I was alluding to were from the AAA guide, which is admittedly no Michelin guide, and which admittedly is far from comprehensive (The French Laundry doesn’t show up, for instance). But at least it’s written by people who have some idea what they’re talking about. As a guide goes, I’d trust it far more than Zagat’s.

The Zagats’ ratings are not highly reliable. But in NYC itself, with a rather large number of snobbish survey respondents, the numbers hold up somewhat better than elsewhere, where they are almost meaningless. There really aren’t that many restaurants in NYC with a 25+ rating.

I hope to go eat at French Laundry sometime, it sounds awesome!
In LA the best place I’ve ever eaten is Melisse, in Santa Monica. Its pretty damn pricey, but its worth every penny. Fantastic food and excellent service.

There’s also a traditional-only sushi bar I go to regularly in the valley, which is the best sushi I have ever eaten. Its damn expensive too, but worth it. Sushi Yotsuya on Ventura Blvd in Tarzana. The other nice thing is that despite the gourmet prices its not sniffy and pretentious like the “Sushi Nazi” in Studio City.

For less expensive good food in LA, I like Chloe in Playa Del Rey and Jiraffe in Santa Monica

I would swear the Chicago location doesn’t cost quite that much - more like $35. But I agree on every thing else you said about it. I stuffed myself to near explosion.

I’m all about A.O.C. in LA, it’s a small plates place with utterly fantastic food, great (and very knowledgeable) service and a truly awe inspiring wine list. A bit pricey, but well worth it…who knew Dates Wrapped in Bacon were the gastronomic equivalent of crack?