The restaurant fanatics who often set the trends have aired their picks of where to eat if you want to stay current. OpenTable's 100 Best Restaurants for Foodies list, based on 5 million reviews by restaurant customers, spotlights foodie favorites from 30 states and Washington, D.C., with California leading the pack with 17 concepts. Many of the concepts are fine-dining or upscale casual-dining restaurants, but the list contains a few surprises, from a cash-only BYOB Italian restaurant in Long Island to a Persian bistro in Florida. Here’s a look at some of the noteworthy foodie concepts, categorized by nine themes that emerged from the list.
Trend: Farm-to-table innovators
Since the heyday of Alice Waters, farm-to-table has become a cliche, in company with other tired phrases such as “small plates,” “family-style” and “chef-driven.” OpenTable’s most sophisticated users have likely seen their fair share of farm-to-table outposts, making the ones that made the list surefire standouts among the posers. Here’s how three farm-to-table and sea-to-table restaurants are winning over foodies.
Arethusa al Tavolo
Arethusa al Tavolo in Bantam, Conn., is a farm-to-table restaurant that highlights the products from Arethusa Farm Dairy in Litchfield, Conn. George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis are co-owners of both enterprises and just so happen to be president and vice president of shoe brand Manolo Blahnik in North and South America. To say that the cows at Arethusa Farm are treated humanely might be an understatement. The Boston Globe reported that each day the cows are washed with with Pantene Pro-V, blow-dried and given regular foot baths, and are kept in immaculate stalls. Signage in the barn reads, “Every cow in this barn is a lady, please treat her as such.”
OpenTable reviewers noted that the attention to detail—the duo say they learned from their shoe brand—continues into the kitchen. One user from the New York area mentioned that the whole staff pays the same tremendous attention to detail. Small gestures like a complimentary mini glass of milk and well-trained and knowledgeable servers gave this farm-to-table staple a sheen of authenticity.
Fishing with Dynamite
Fishing with Dynamite is a 33-seat oyster bar in Manhattan Beach, Calif. The menu is divided into “Old School” and “New School” selections, allowing for New England, Asian and Mediterranean interpretations of the dishes. Owner David LeFevre works directly with farms, and occasionally sends cooks and managers out to farms and boats to see where the product comes from, according to Eater Los Angeles.
Many OpenTable reviewers praised the comfortable, casual atmosphere of the restaurant. Skateboard trucks are fashioned into purse hooks and menu items like the “SS Minnow” and “Mothershucker” prove that restaurant doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Although the name of Artisanal in Banner Elk, N.C., is a little on the nose, OpenTable reviewers seem to think the seasonal eatery lives up to it. Co-owners Anita and Bill Greene open the restaurant from November to April to capitalize on the seasonality of their dishes. Wild-caught fish such as red snapper, swordfish and octopus is flown in daily from Hawaii to Maine.
OpenTable reviewers mentioned that the surrounding farms, mountains and signs of nature add to the credibility of the from-scratch sea-to-table restaurant.
Trend: Midsize markets
Whether to dodge rents or compete with less of a crowd, top-flight restaurateurs are forgoing traditional big-city dining meccas and moving into smaller markets. The foodie world has noticed. Here are a few restaurants in second-tier cities that have snagged particularly intense attention.
Townsend is one of seven foodie favorites located in Philadelphia—giving that city more restaurants on the list than any other urban location could boast, including New York City. In the last few years, Philly’s food scene has shaken its image as the place for cheesesteaks and pretzels and won esteem from the foodie community for options like Townsend’s contemporary French fare.
Townsend is a dinner-only, white tablecloth restaurant that focuses on the marriage of food, wine and seasonality, where guests can dine on traditionally prepared duck breast, monkfish and rabbit. This year, chef Townsend Wentz won Philly Magazine’s Best Chef award for his elevated style at both his namesake restaurant and his Italian concept A Mano. Wentz has cultivated a loyal team that doesn’t experience much turnover in the top ranks, according to Eater Philadelphia. "The team's expectations, goals, and commitment [are] the same across all staff, front and back,” he told the publication “Be the best, work with the best, and grow together. Succeed together."
Underground trattoria Sotto is not the only Cincinnati hotspot on OpenTable’s list. Fine-dining destination Orchids at Palm Court also made the ranking. Together the two restaurants make a case that the city’s culinary attractions boil down to more than just chili-topped spaghtetti. David Falk, chef and founder of Sotto, told the Cincinnati Business Courier that Cincinnati is caught up in a Midwest culinary renaissance.
The Italian restaurant is one cog in Boca Restaurant Group; Falk’s portfolio also includes namesake Boca and Mexican cantina Nada. Although OpenTable reviewers seem to appreciate the short rib pasta, doughnuts and wood grill, many reviewers mentioned top-notch service, annointing it a place for special occasions. One reviewer celebrating her anniversary noted how the manager was waiting for the couple when they arrived and told them everything would be taken care of even before they sat down. Falk celebrates the human connection of hospitality and rejects the idea that chef-owners need to be ego-driven jerks to their staff. “All over the world chefs are sowing the seeds of this revolution, taking back their kitchens, returning to honest food, bestowing love and gratitude with razor-sharp knives and scalding heat,” Falk penned in an Esquire blog. “A war is on the horizon and it will be won with kindness and passion and empathy, qualities that stand the test of time and put asses in seats.”
Although L’Opossum is the only Richmond, Va., eatery on the list, four other Virginia towns made the top 100: Woodbridge, Great Falls, Middleburg and Williamsburg, many of which spill out from Washington, D.C., which was named Bon Appetit’s 2016 restaurant city. L’Oppossum stands out from the rest of the listed Commonwealth restaurants in more ways than one.
The whimsical restaurant showcases upscale flair from chef-owner David Shannon’s own collection of knick knacks including Star Wars plates, stuffed opossums and punk rock paintings. The eccentricity and humor hits the menu as well with Coq au Morrocco, described as "a succulent young chicken's exotic journey from the rough trade markets of Marrakesh to the sublime discovery of savory cous-cous with harissa, raita & other forbidden carnal delights.” L’Oppossum’s OpenTable guests commented on the experiences the restaurant creates, such as spraying oysters Rockefeller with an atomizer tableside.
With 60% of restaurants shuttering in the first year, according to a study from Ohio State University, it’s notable if a concept remains open for a second year, let alone a 25th. These restaurants have stood the ultimate test of time and still rake in foodies from all over the country. Check out what OpenTable users continue to eat up, even after all these years.
Geronimo has been in the biz for 25 years, but this year, Santa Fe, N.M’s fine-dining mecca felt a blow when its chef and co-owner Eric DiStefano died suddenly. Next-in-command Chef de Cuisine Sllin Cruz filled in as executive chef, with the goal to deliver the dependability guests have come to expect over the past two decades. “The Geronimo style is more about consistency, because [of] the volume we do in fine dining,” owner Chris Harvey told the Santa Fe New Mexican. “We have people who fly here just to get the elk, and they want the same exact elk they had five years ago. We’re so focused on those consistencies.”
Despite the personnel change, Geronimo has managed to carry on like a well-oiled machine, according to OpenTable reviewers. One reviewer remarked that “everyone form the valet to the waiter” were pros.
Mama’s Fish House
Mama’s Fish House in Paia, Hawaii, started when Floyd and Doris Christenson blew into Maui aboard their sailboat in 1973. Since then, the couple has been churning out old Polynesian cuisine and fresh-caught fish to islanders and tourists alike. The couple pointed to local sourcing before it was cool, noting the names of the fishermen or women and where the fish had been caught. The Nov. 2 menu sports “Ahi caught by Joe Hobson ten miles off the Keanae coast, grilled in a ti leaf with papaya and coconut rice” for a cool $46.
Since restaurateur Paul Bruggemans opened Le Vallauris in 1973, the Palm Springs, Calif., restaurant has become something of a landmark. The French-Mediterranean restaurant capitalizes on the mild climate with a patio bar and courtyard, temperature-controlled with the help of a tree canopy and inconspicuous heating and cooling units. On the first page of OpenTable reviews for the restaurant, 16 out of 40 users directly mentioned the patio and many more remarked generally on the ambiance.
Though some reviewers found the restaurant somewhat stuck in yesteryear, those same hospitality touchpoints, such as a handwritten menu presented to each table on an easel, is part of the service that keeps guests coming back after more than 40 years.
Hospitality is a major factor for Goosefoot’s multiple appearances on this list, with many OpenTable users crediting “personable” and “gracious” owners Chris and Nina Nugent for their five-star reviews. The husband and wife duo act as the hosts, chefs and servers for the 24-seat fine-dining concept in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. Along with service, OpenTable users called out Goosefoot for its value. The multicourse tasting menus set diners back about $220, but the BYOB policy helps to ease the sticker shock for the Michelin-starred restaurant.
Lauded for its adventurous tasting menus, this fine-dining restaurant has been keeping Portland weird since it launched in 2000. Menus change often, but past options have included antelope heart tartare and a savory potato skin dessert. Foodies have two menus to choose from: a $165 chef’s tasting menu and a shorter $98 eight-course dinner.
The Trattoria’s consecutive appearances on this list show that not all foodie legends have to be fine-dining tasting-menu establishments. The 28-seat cash-only Long Island restaurant sits near a liquor store and a bait and tackle shop, but manages to attract New York City’s foodies (helped by a positive 2014 New York Times review) with its affordable Italian fare. The Trattoria offers a la carte lunch and dinner menus along with a few prix-fixe options ranging from $27 to $65. Customers are encouraged to bring their own wine.
Chef Gabriel Kreuther’s eponymous concept made the Fit for Foodies list just over a year after opening in New York City’s midtown area. Kreuther takes inspiration from traditional fine-dining concepts, offering a $142 four-course dinner menu with caviar and truffle supplements. The Michelin-starred concept balances the upscale dining area with a more casual bar that serves an a la carte menu of regional French foods such as tartes flambees and red wine-braised tripe gratine.
Zero Restaurant + Bar
This Charleston, S.C., concept earns points among OpenTable reviewers for its rustic yet elegant look, with a weathered brick exterior, a display kitchen that looks more like a home kitchen and a tree-shaded courtyard that can also be used for private events. The fine-dining restaurant, which launched in 2013 inside the Zero George boutique hotel, offers two tasting menu options—Omnivore and Herbivore—and occasionally hosts events such as holiday dinners and cooking classes.
Launched in 2012 in Raleigh, N.C., Bida Manda calls itself the first Laotian restaurant in the U.S. Siblings Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha base Bida Manda’s menu on the foods they grew up eating in Laos before they came to the U.S. as teenagers. The two aim to instill their love of Laos into Bida Manda’s staff; training materials include Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” episode on Laos and an essay by “Eat Pray Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert on a meal she had in Laos.
This Italian wine bar in Redondo Beach, Calif., serves a varied menu of Venetian fare for lunch and dinner, but it’s the generous happy hour menu that draws attention. The menu lists a range of meat, seafood and vegetable bites—including smoked swordfish, marinated scallops and prosciutto crostini—for $3 to $4, along with $10 prosecco cocktails and 20% off beer and wine.
Jacques Brasserie is the casual offshoot of L’Auberge Chez Francois, located on the fine-dining restaurant’s lower level. The Great Falls, Va., concept serves regional French fare for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch in an old-fashioned bistro setting frequented by an older foodie crowd (not all foodies are millennials!). The brasserie houses Bar Rouge, which serves a lengthy happy hour menu that’s available during the week as well as on weekends.
Girl & the Goat
It’s one of Chicago’s most popular eateries (it has over 6,300 OpenTable reviews and is tagged as one of the most-booked OpenTable restaurants), thanks to a menu of family-style dishes offered at various price points, starting at $8. The menu also mixes foodie-style items such as duck tongue and wood oven-roasted pig face with more approachable options, including roasted cauliflower and braised pork shank.
Market Restaurant + Bar
Market Restaurant + Bar in Del Mar, Calif., uses local and seasonal ingredients in every menu item, including its cocktails. Like the restaurant’s dinner menu, the cocktail selection changes daily to highlight the local produce that’s in season. Guests are also able to choose from a rotating wine list that is hand-picked to pair with the ever-changing menu. Those looking for a food pairing can order from Market’s bar menu, which features a selection of shared plates such as pork carnitas street tacos and yellowtail sashimi.
Highlands Bar and Grill
Launched in 1982, Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala., is separated into a main dining room and a less formal bar area where guests are able to order from the full dinner menu or enjoy a drink and appetizers before being led to their table. Highland’s cocktail list offers traditional cocktails as well as several faux options, all made with fresh-squeezed juices and housemade tinctures.
Uchi’s Dallas location is the third concept from chef Tyson Cole and features a menu comprising modern Japanese cuisine that incorporates local ingredients. Along with cocktails, beer and wine, the concept also offers over 15 types of sake to pair with the meal. Its happy hour, named sake social, runs daily from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and features small plates between $3-$6 with reduced-priced sake and wine.
Trend: Middle Eastern
Incorporating influences from Africa and Eastern Europe, Middle Eastern restaurants offer foodies a chance to indulge in an ethnic cuisine still emerging in the United States. Here are three concepts whose shareable Middle Eastern plates and wood-fired ovens keep foodies coming back for more.
Zahav in Philadelphia is the first restaurant launched by James Beard-award winning chef Michael Solomonov and his partner, Steve Cook. The menu, which draws influence from Solomonov’s Israeli background, is made up of small plates such as lamb and beef kofte grilled over coals and made-to-order luffa bread baked in a wood-fired taboon oven. The restaurant also has a happy hour featuring housemade drinks such as lemonnana, a minty lemonade drink made with bourbon.
Bha Bha Persian Bistro
Bha Bha Persian Bistro launched in Naples, Fla., in 1997. The concept offers self-described “Persian bistro” cuisine that combines traditional Persian fare with a modern American twist. Most menu items, such as the mango garlic shrimp and shireen polo with chargrilled chicken, are under $30.
Located in downtown New Orleans, Shaya’s menu pays homage to chef-owner Alon Shaya’s Israeli heritage and uses seasonal, local produce. The ever-evolving menu also incorporates cuisine influences from Africa, Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Greece. Most menu items are meant to be shared and are made using the restaurant’s wood-fired oven, such as a basket of homemade wood-fired pita that is brought to the table upon arrival.
The Fearrington House Restaurant
Located just outside Chapel Hill, N.C., The Fearrington House Restaurant offers guests a relaxing retreat in the countryside. Before the meal, diners are invited to tour the surrounding gardens or have an aperitif in the bar located on the front porch of the farmhouse. The seasonal menu incorporates ingredients from Fearrington’s own gardens as well as other local farms, and dinner is offered in a three- or four-course prix-fixe meal.
The Kitchen Restaurant
Over 20 years old, The Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento, Calif., provides guests with a dining experience intended to be reminiscent of dinner at home. The restaurant’s open-kitchen layout allows diners to watch every step of the meal being prepared from prepping to plating. The prix-fixe seven-course meal lasts a total of four hours and has a menu that changes based on available produce. Between the fourth and fifth courses, also known as acts, is an interactive intermission where guests are encouraged to get up and walk around the restaurant’s patio and kitchen to sample food at different stations and talk with the chefs.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards
After touring the vineyards, guests at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Santa Rosa, Calif., are able to enjoy a 1 1/2 hour multicourse meal and wine pairing led by a resident wine expert who guides guests through each of the courses. The meal includes five small dishes paired with select wines and is located in the winery’s tasting room with views of the surrounding vineyard.