After analyzing six high-profile lists compiled by food experts, critics and diners, Business Insider has released what it contends is the authoritative ranking of America's 50 top restaurants. Spanning the country, with cuisines as varied as the landscape, the establishments have become must-visit places for serious dining-out fans. They've also become models for other restaurants aspiring to that level of success.
Here is an inside look at what makes them tick.
50. Next, Chicago
Blurring the line between dinner and theatre, Next offers an ever-changing prix fixe menu that centers on three different themes each year. In a similar fashion to a play, customers purchase season tickets in December which include a reservation for each of the three themed dinners. Led by Grant Achatz, Jenner Tomaska and Ed Tinoco, the team at Next pushes experimentation and presentation with each completely reinvented dining experience. In the past, Next has transported diners to Paris in 1906 and ancient Rome, as well as offered a touch of nostalgia with its childhood-themed menu. Its current theme, Hollywood!, includes dishes inspired by cinematic masterpieces including "The Godfather" and "Gone with the Wind."
49. Grace, Chicago
In just five years after opening, Grace has already garnered myriad awards, including a five-diamond award from AAA and a three-star Michelin rating for three consecutive years. The recognition has been a long time coming for owner Curtis Duffy. Before opening Grace, Duffy worked under Charlie Trotter, was the head chef at Avenues and served as Alinea’s chef de cuisine. The restaurant serves two separate eight- to 12-course prix fixe menus featuring micro-seasonal cuisine. The first, flora, is centered on vegetables, while fauna offers dishes that include seafood and protein. After finishing their meal, guests also have the option of taking a kitchen tour for a behind-the-scenes look.
48. Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, New York City
Originally hidden inside a grocery in Brooklyn, Chefs Table at Brooklyn Fare switched up its location earlier this year and is now housed in another of the grocery’s locations in Manhattan. The concept continues to impress in its new surroundings with an intimate three-and-a-half-hour meal that includes seasonal dishes inspired by Japanese cuisine with a French twist. While Chef’s Table’s new location still includes the original U-shaped, 18-seat counter around the kitchen, owner and chef Cesar Ramirez has installed additional tables that can accommodate another 18 guests. The concept has a strict no-phone, no-notes policy meant to encourage interaction between staff and the guests throughout the 20-course meal.
47. Kyu, Miami
Asian cuisine meets wood-fired American barbecue at Kyu. Pronounced “Q,” the menu is inspired around chef and co-owner Michael Lewis’ previous time working with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and at the Robata Grill at Zuma as well as his travels around Asia. Guests have the option to dine on a mix of hot and cold dishes including smoked wagyu beef brisket and tuna tartare. The restaurant also employs a string of sustainability initiatives including using a composter to manage waste and pledging to plant five trees for every tree it uses to fuel its grill.
46. Zuni Cafe, San Francisco
Zuni first opened its doors in 1978 and since then has evolved from serving simple Mexican cuisine using nothing more than a toaster oven, espresso machine and a kettle grill to one of the country’s most iconic restaurants. Today, Zuni’s menu centers more on French and Italian cuisine due to the decision by original owner Billy West to add Judy Rodgers as a partner in 1987. While the restaurant has multiple signature dishes, including its Caesar salad and oysters, its most famous dish may be the roast chicken for two. Created by Rodgers, who was inspired through her time living in France, the dish is prepared by roasting whole chickens in the restaurant’s wood-fired brick oven. Since being added to the menu the dish has amassed a fan following and has become a permanent fixture in San Francisco’s dining scene.
45. Acquerello, San Francisco
Named after the Italian word for “watercolor,” Acquerello has been serving high-end Italian cuisine for over two decades. The prix fixe and seasonal tastings menus feature dishes such as Ora King salmon and rabbit raviolo paired with a wine selection that includes both Italian and local bottles. Housed in a former chapel, the space offers guests an elegant and intimate retreat where wearing a jacket to dinner is commonplace.
44. Herbsaint, New Orleans
The connection between farmer and restaurant is highlighted at Herbsaint, which works with over 30 local farmers to supply ingredients for its menu of small and big plates. Inspired by his grandparents' Cajun and Southern cooking, chef and owner Donald Link offers a menu filled with traditional Southern dishes with a French and Italian twist, highlighted by chef de cuisine Rebecca Wilcomb’s European heritage. Along with rotating specials, Herbsaint offers an all-day menu with dishes such as Muscovy duck leg confit with dirty rice and citrus gastrique as well as Louisiana shrimp and fish cerviche with cucumbers and pepitas.
43. FIG, Charleston, S.C.
Founded in 2003, FIG, whose acronym stands for Food Is Good, was one of the pioneers in Charleston’s restaurant scene and remains beloved today, offering always-evolving dishes inspired by the surrounding low country. With a menu that changes constantly, the upscale neighborhood bistro relies on seasonal ingredients to accomplish chef Mike Lata and his partner Adam Nemirow’s philosophy of “[serving] honest, local ingredients, with informed service, in a comfortable setting.”
42. Roister, Chicago
Amid high-end restaurants Alinea and Next, Roister is Alinea Group’s lively, younger and more casual cousin. The space follows an open kitchen format whose centerpiece is an open fire hearth. Guests have the option of dining either in the dining room or surrounding the hearth in the kitchen. The menu features new American cuisine with dishes such as Spicy Cucumber Salad and Hearth Baked Lasagne. Those looking for a taste of Southern seafood can also reserve seats at the restaurant’s Highbrow, Low Country Boils served family-style in its basement.
41. Everest, Chicago
Located on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange, Michelin-starred Everest has been offering diners dinner and a view for 30 years. Guests can choose between a seven-course degustation menu, a seven-course vegetarian degustation menu or from three- and four-course prix fixe menus. Inspired by chef Jean Joho’s Alsace, France, heritage, the restaurant offers upscale French cuisine and includes a selection of 1,600 wines, with over 350 selections from the Alsace region.
40. Zahav, Philadelphia
Israeli-born chef Michael Solomonov launched Zahav in 2008, and has gone on to win multiple James Beard Awards. With Zahav (which means “gold” in Hebrew), he endeavored to bring some of Israel to Philadelphia, outfitting the space in golden limestone floors and walls and crafting a menu of small plates that reflect all of the influences on Israeli cuisine. The menu keeps it simple, and includes hummus with house-baked bread, small plates like watermelon salad and haloumi, and grilled offerings like lamb merguez, eggplant and branzino.
39. Babbo, New York City
Mario Batali set the standard for raucous fine dining when he opened Babbo in 1998. And Babbo’s success allowed Batali and partner, Joe Bastianich, to open a host of other concepts around the country, including the sprawling Italian market-eatery concept Eataly. Rather than getting wonky about creating classical Italian cuisine, Babbo’s dishes are prepared with a nod to America and the Hudson Valley. The restaurant features a center table in the dining room to allow for the theatrical carving of whole fish, veal shank and ribeye steak.
38. Pineapple and Pearls, Washington, D.C.
Heralded as “the country’s premier example of fine dining” by the Washington Post, Pineapple and Pearls is most known for its innovative 11-course tasting menus that are served by the chefs themselves. But the fine-dining restaurant also offers up a casual (though reservation-only) dining option of snacks, cocktails and wine on the patio. And, to maximize its real estate, the spot operates as a coffee bar (with pastries and simple sandwiches) in the mornings and early afternoons.
37. Aureole, New York City
For 29 years, this flagship of the Charlie Palmer Group has offered prix fixe or chef’s tasting menus. Recently, though, Palmer shook up the menu by promoting a new executive chef with a renewed focus on seasonal ingredients and light touches and without “a lot of pomp and circumstance,” he told Eater. Aureole also houses the Liberty Room, a more casual offshoot with walnut-topped tables and an etched-glass front bar.
36. Gotham Bar and Grill, New York City
This 23-year-old French brasserie serves classic dishes like duck breast with foie gras and Niman Ranch pork chops. But it keeps up with the times, offering a prix fixe lunch menu on weekdays, hiring an art curator to switch up the dining room displays and frequently updating the menu. The restaurant runs an online shop that sells branded chocolate bars, raw honey, 25-year balsamic vinegar and dry-aged New York strip steaks, as well as cookbooks written by the chef.
35. Marea, New York City
This Italian-seafood spot (the name means “tide” in Italian) has won virtually every restaurant accolade since it opened in 2009: James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant, two Michelin stars and a top rating from Zagat. In addition to fish and seafood, the restaurant is known for its housemade pasta and a wine list with more than 750 selections. The restaurant is part of Michael White’s expanding Altamarea Group, a restaurant conglomerate that employs some 1,000 people.
34. Peter Luger, New York City
Here’s a prime example of how a singularly focused concept can continue to thrive after a jaw-dropping 130 years. Peter Luger’s is known for its USDA-prime steaks, dry-aged on-site. The restaurant’s decor is simple, as are the sides that are served with the various cuts, allowing the beef to take center stage. The restaurant also runs an online butcher shop, selling dry-aged steaks, thick-cut bacon and Luger sauce.
33. Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, Colo.
Consumers are seeking out more region-specific dining experiences. And Frasca fits that trend, offering up not just Italian dishes but foods from a sub-Alpine region in northeast Italy called Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The 13-year-old restaurant has won James Beard Awards for its wine program and its chef. It is co-operated by a master sommelier and a chef, who met while working together at the French Laundry. The pair are slated to open Tavernetta this winter in Denver, an Italian concept that’s adjacent to the Kimpton Hotel near the booming Union Station development.
32. Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco
This Michelin-starred Fisherman’s Wharf mainstay endures after 17 years thanks in part to its commitment to elegant-yet-unpretentious dining (in a room that’s always adorned with fresh-cut flower arrangments). The all-prix fixe menus spotlight luxurious ingredients like salt-cured foie gras, Maine lobster and roast quail. Diners can choose their preferred number of courses (and corresponding price point). The restaurant is known for its luxe touches, including caviar service, a well-curated wine list and a well-stocked cheese cart.
31. Cafe Boulud, New York City
A reviewer once called Cafe Boulud “a neighborhood bistro for billionaires.” Despite steep prices, this Michelin-starred Daniel Boulud operation has stayed in business since 1998. The menu is decidedly French and largely inspired by the changing seasons, as well as global influences (there’s an entire menu section dedicated to “Le Voyage”). Despite its high-end pedigree, the restaurant caters to value-minded diners with a three-course, $45 prix fixe lunch offering and discounted rates for those booking events in the restaurant’s “salons prives.”
30. Spiaggia, Chicago
Critically acclaimed and award-winning Italian dining isn’t the only thing of note at Spiaggia, a Chicago fine-dining staple located in the heart of the Magnificent Mile downtown. The restaurant’s 700-bottle wine list has won numerous accolades and has consistently been named one of America’s 100 best wine restaurants by Wine Enthusiast. With a focus on Italian, the handpicked list from Spiaggia’s award-winning sommelier sets the restaurant apart. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a favorite spot of former Chicago resident and President Barack Obama.
29. The NoMad, New York City
Another one-two punch from an award-winning chef and restaurateur combo is NoMad. Chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara, the same team responsible for the Michelin three-star rated Eleven Madison Park, put a focus on high-end flourishes at NoMad, such as a whole roasted chicken served with foie gras, black truffle and chanterelles. The menu draws influence from Humm’s time spent in Switzerland, California and New York City, and is a more affordable and a la carte option for diners looking to taste Humm’s work without the lofty price tag of Eleven Madison Park, which is currently closed for renovations with plans to reopen this fall.
28. Le Coucou, New York City
An internationally acclaimed chef paired with an equally renowned restaurateur to open a classically French restaurant, the first stateside venture from chef Daniel Rose, at Le Coucou. The downtown French spot won big at the James Beard Awards, grabbing the Best New Restaurant win. And Stephen Starr, the restaurateur behind the project, won Outstanding Restaurateur at the ceremony in May. Le Coucou’s press page is a who’s who of prominent and well-regarded media, including a three-star review from The New York Times, representing a plethora of wins for a restaurant that only opened in June 2016.
27. Blackbird, Chicago
Opened in 1997, Blackbird is the fine-dining cornerstone of One Off Hospitality Group’s portfolio of critically acclaimed, award-winning establishments. Paul Kahan and team have crafted a Midwestern empire at One Off, with a focus on seasonal and local sourcing when possible in an unpretentious setting. Blackbird offers a relatively affordable $130 10-course tasting menu at dinner, and is one of the few Chicago fine-dining restaurants open for lunch as well, which includes a lunch-only prix fixe option of three courses for $25 per person.
26. Gabriel Kreuther, New York City
Esteemed James Beard Award-winning chef Gabriel Kreuther honed his skills at multiple high-profile establishments and nabbed many an award before opening his eponymous restaurant in June 2015. Serving up food infused with Kreuther’s classic French training and his Alsatian heritage, the menu offers a variety of dining options, from a more reasonable bar menu and multiple prix fixe price points, to the chef's carte-blanche menu that requires the entire table’s participation and costs $215 per person.
25. Oriole, Chicago
Earning two Michelin stars in its first year, along with such accolades as best new chef by Food & Wine and chef and restaurant of the year awards from multiple Chicago media outlets, landed this relatively new restaurant (Oriole opened in 2016) next to industry giants on this list. Chef Noah Sandoval offers up a tasting menu at the restaurant tucked away at the end of an alley in the bustling, growing West Loop neighborhood.