Now this one is bound to earn some blowback. As a list, it's subjective, snobby, and heavily biased towards my own personal tastes, for obvious reasons. But wherever you might rank them, every one of these restaurants produces world-class food (and, it goes without saying, impeccable service, wine, etc.) Still, if an Indonesian potentate wanted a short list of where he should eat in America, this would be it.
I'm not sure what there is to say about The French Laundry that hasn't been said. It remains the definitive luxury restaurant experience in America, the standard by which all else is judged. If you want modernism, It's Alinea; if not, The French Laundry. End of story.
Chris Hastings, the chef and owner of this superb Birmingham restaurant, runs both the house and the kitchen with an effortless grace and brilliance worthy of this southern classic.
Avec and Publican have their fans, but for me Paul Kahan's best restaurant is still Blackbird, a quintessential modern Chicago restaurant that combines precision with big flavors and substantial food.
Whether you swoon for its 4 star food, or find it, as I do, somewhat over manicured, there is no question that this is one of the great restaurants in America. The room itself has a grandeur that is unmatched and the level of service is unparalelled. So is the price, so maybe come here on an expense account or with a wealthy uncle.
Sean Brock salutes simplicity at Husk, but it's at McCrady's that he made his name and still does his most ambitious work. A big, ambitious, amazing restaurant that serves some of the most imaginative cooking in America.
Though his more casual Cochon gets all the press, Donald Link's fine-dining restaurant, Herbsaint, is a towering accomplishment, a real monument to the flavors of New Orleans.
August is the crown jewel of New Orleans superchef John Besh's restaurant group, a formal American fine dining restaurant with French inflections and the spirit of the best haute creole cooking. The technique is perfect, the ingredients impeccable, and the best dishes totally timeless.
Here's the thing about FIG. It's not a modernist Mecca. It's not a champion of southern foodways. It's chef has seldom been seen on TV. But everything I've ever eaten here has been exquisitely simple and emphatic and absolutely perfect. So that has to count for something, right?
There are two schools of modernism in America: hi-tech and naturalist. Their apexes, respectively, are Alinea and Manresa. Every chef that pays homage to nature with exquisitely composed tributes to natural flavors, composed in harmony, is to some extent drawing from the spring of David Kinch's seminal work at his remote Los Gatos restaurant.
Say this for New York's sushi king -- he is at work behind the bar every day, and when you splurge on his omakase menu, it is the master himself who hands you each piece of magic.
This rustic temple to seasonal cookery in the old Rockefeller estate has been called the culinary Storm King, but really, it's closer to a local food holy site. It's unspeakably beautiful and the food is well worth the long ride, but there's a certain seriousness of purpose here that sort of take away the fun for me.
Alinea is, without question, the greatest modernist restaurant in America, and one of the best in the world. But is it the best restaurant in America, period? It's wildly expensive and a tasting there is a major, multi-hour ordeal, and you may not love everything equally. But in terms of sheer genius, drama, and breathtaking originality, it has no equal.
While claims that this is the French Laundry 2.0 may be overstated, there's no question that this Napa luxury restaurant, with a charismatic young chef and world-class cuisine, is a worthy peer of America's most famous restaurant.
L20 might be the most underrated restaurant in recent American culinary history. A four-star showpiece for the brilliant Laurent Gras originally, it's now helmed by Matthew Kirkley and is as good as, or better than ever. And yet it remains neglected on the short lists of the greatest American restaurants. Which is a mistake.
Known, rightly, as the city's most admired Italian restaurant, the secret of Marea is that Michael White's pastas, and not the restaurant's fish entrees. How could they not be anti-climactic after the "Sultan of Spaghetti's" signature dishes?
A tiny restaurant that is a giant in the culinary world, this nondescript storefront in a somewhat skeevy stretch of Folsom Street produces some of the most exquisitely conceived and executed food in the Bay Area.
With a young chef direct from The French Laundry -- where he ran the show for Thomas Keller, mind you -- this small but intensely original and refined Asian-American restaurant has established itself very quickly as one of the finest in America.
Michael Volttaggio's LA modernist restaurant is no regular tweezer restaurant: the chef has a powerful vision and and the technical mastery to express it with immense force and singularity. This is one of the best restaurants in America.
Paul Bartolotta's eponymous Vegas restaurant features wonderful, rustic Italian coastal cooking, but what makes it so unique is the seafood itself, which is flown in directly from the Adriatic every day -- and which includes some items not to be found anywhere else in the US.
Bryan Voltaggio's wildly original, elegant, modernist restaurant sits in an old townhouse on a quiet street in a remote Maryland town. But people come from all over to see his startling creations, and they are seldom disappointed.
The consensus pick as the greatest french chef in the world may have produced his greatest restaurant at this Vegas luxury establishment, whose astronomical prices are modest compared with the level of skill and imagination it shows.
The combination of flawless Japanese sush technique and the kind of fresh seafood available to coastal Maine is a potent one, and in Miyake, anyway, produces what amounts to a perfect restaurant.
Yes, CityZen produces somewhat old-fashioned food. Yes, it's in a hotel. Yes, its clientele tends to consist of fuddy-duddies. So what? This is some of the best classical French-styled cookery in America, with impeccable service to boot. Only a dope would neglect it for someplace trendier.
Some of the most exciting, inventive, and delicious food coming out of the South right now can be found at this small, informal, but very hard-to-get-into Nashville restaurant. Find a way. It's worth the trouble.