Here is a list of my all time favorite restaurants with a little description of why and some photos to show you what to expect. If you're wondering how I narrowed it down to 20, I'll tell you it was a very hard decision.
The reason I picked the below is because I love the food, the decor, the service, the atmosphere, and the vibe. I love places that are unique and one-of-a-kind. All of the places on the list are meals that I've had and remembered (and many times dreamt about) and some of them will be included on other guides as well. But this will give you an idea of the kind of places I'm into.
Are there any on your all time favorites that I should check out? Send me an email or comment below!
New York, New York
I lived in New York for over six years and have eaten at hundreds of restaurants, which makes it very hard to choose a favorite. But if I did, Carbone would be at the top of my list. In the heart of the Village, you’re instantly transported into what I believe “Old New York” to feel like. The menus are as big as the portions and you will not leave hungry. Don’t skip on the table-side Caesar salad, the meatballs or the Spicy Rigatoni Vodka. I seriously dream of this pasta! Reservations are hard to come by, but that’s New York and well worth the wait for the carbs alone.
Speaking of hard reservations, make sure to book your reservation at Sketch before your trip to London, as the prime times (especially high tea) can fill up quickly. And that’t eh time I suggest going. The aesthetic of the restaurant is pink, and even the servers are dressed to fit it. The high tea is one of my favorite things I did on a trip to London with my mom a few years ago. And don’t forget to go into the bathrooms- they are as Instagram-worthy as the main dining room.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is one of my favorite cities and I understand why there is so much hype around the food scene. At the top of my list for restaurants in Charleston is Husk. The restaurant serves Southern cuisine in a 19th century Victorian-era home. If you have time for only one dinner in Charleston, this would be my pick. Make sure you try the pig ear lettuce wraps (weird, I know, but trust me!) And after dinner, stop by The Bar at Husk next door for cocktails. And if you aren’t able to make it to Charleston, Husk now has a few other locations in Savannah, Nashville and Greenville.
New Orleans, Louisiana
There’s no shortage of amazing food in New Orleans, but Restaurant R’evolution was one of the most memorable ones on my last trip. The interior feels regal without being stuffy, and the food take a gastronomic approach to traditional Creole cuisine. All of the food I’ve eaten here has been amazing but the dish I’m still thinking about are the beer-battered crab beignets. You’ll thank me later. The meal will be memorable from start to finish, when they present your check in a vintage box filled with petit fors.
The Pink Door
The Pink Door is the cutest little restaurant on Post Alley at Pike Place Market. The restaurant has been around since 1981 and the Italian-American cuisine uses local ingredients from the nearby Pike Place Market. One of the other unique features about The Pink Door is that they feature nightly entertainment ranging from cabaret to jazz music.
Frenchie came highly recommended so my husband and I made reservations when we were in Paris for our first wedding anniversary and it did not disappoint. The restaurant in the 2nd Arr. included a 5-course tasting menu that was unique and delicious. They don’t present a menu so you don’t have to make any decisions (other than what you’ll be drinking) which I loved. The restaurant is very small and seats around 25 people total so reservations are definitely recommended (far in advance.) The restaurant group has a few other restaurants too, in case you can’t get in to Frenchie.
Girl and the Goat
Girl and the Goat is the first restaurant from Stephanie Izard, and remains to be as popular as ever. I included it as my pick for best dinner in my Chicago guide which you can read more about here
I stumbled upon Tiny Boxwoods for breakfast on a work trip to Houston and think it’s one of the cutest breakfast spots I’ve been to in the country. The quaint cafe is located in the middle of a nursery so you can enjoy your meal outside and then walk around the lush greenery when you finish. The group behind Tiny Boxwoods has expanded their portfolio to include Tiny’s No. 5, Tiny Boxwoods Austin, and two bakeries called Milk & Cookies, which I have no doubt are equally as charming and delicious.
Mamas Fish House
The food in all of Hawaii was right up my alley, and Mamas Fish House was no exception. Located in the little town of Paia in Maui, the food is fresh, authentic and fun. The fish comes right off the boat and the service is wonderful. The restaurant is filled with Polynesian decor and the outside is full of tiki torches which lead to sweeping ocean views. This was one of the most memorable meals we had on any of the islands during our trip.
Chiltern Firehouse is both a restaurant and a hotel in Marylebone, London, in a fire station that dates back to the 1880s. It was no surprise that I loved the restaurant, as it’s one of Andre Balazs’ properties and I’m a huge fan of The Mercer in New York and Chateau Marmont in LA.
Cane and Canoe
Cane & Canoe is the fine dining restaurant at the Montage Kapalua Bay in Maui and another one of the most picturesque meals I’ve had. The hotel is very private and unbelievably romantic. My husband and I actually watched someone propose a few tables away when we were there, which was so fun. The food is as fresh as can be, and the cocktail menu is incredible. Not that you can control the weather, but when we arrived it was a little rainy and overcast. I was bummed at first until I saw the purple cotton candy sky as we watched the sunset towards the end of our meal.
St. Elmo Steak House
Being from Indianapolis, there isn’t really a more iconic restaurant that I can think of than St. Elmo. There’s a reason that Peyton Manning mentioned St. Elmo in his retirement speech from football, as this was the restaurant he frequented after all of the Colts games (he had his own private elevator code) and where he even rumored to sign his first contract. My love of St. Elmo isn’t just because of Peyton (though that doesn’t hurt) but there are very few places as iconic as this is to Indianapolis. The most famous menu item is the St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail which has been served since 1902. Be sure to go upstairs to 1933 Lounge after dinner for cocktails.
New York, New York
Del Posto holds a special place in my heart, because Mark and I went with our friends visiting from DC for an engagement dinner. This is definitely a special occasion spot, as it’s a 5 or 8-course tasting menu but some of the most memorable dishes I’ve had in New York. The cuisine is Italian and the restaurant has won all kinds of awards, including a Michelin star. You feel the sense of luxury as soon as you enter the restaurant and you leave feeling full and extremely satisfied.
El Puerto is located in the Fairmont Mayakoba in Riviera Maya, where Mark and I spent a week following our wedding in Mexico. The Latin-Asian cuisine is a nice twist on traditional Mexican that most of the restaurants serve, and includes dim sum, antojitos and sushi. The also have a selection of over 100 sakes and tequilas, which pair perfectly with the meal. We loved all of the dishes but my favorites were the Bao Buns and the Miso Black Cod.
Montauk, New York
Scarpetta Beach is located in Gurney’s Montauk (which is one of my Top 20 favorite hotels) and one of my favorite restaurants in the Hamptons. They describe the restaurant as “Downtown Manhattan meets Montauk” and I couldn’t agree more. Scarpetta is an amazing Italian restaurant with multiple locations, and this location features a blend of their Italian classics plus fresh seafood and an extensive wine list. The restaurant is light and airy, and offers panoramic views of the ocean both indoors and outdoors on the patio. All of the Crudi options are to-die-for and the Lobster Tagliolini Nero can’t be missed.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is one of my favorite cities in the US and Curate was highly recommended on our first trip. Curate serves Spanish Tapas, and since I studied abroad in Spain, I couldn’t wait to try. I confidently would say this was the closest food I have had in the states to Spain. I love the idea of tapas because I’d always rather try several things on the menu than one entree (my husband is slowly getting on board with this idea after several years of attempts) and there wasn’t anything we ordered that we didn’t like. Some of my favorite dishes were the Patatas Bravas and the Gambas al Ajillo. Curate can be hard to get a reservation but they do accept walk-ins at their Vermuteria y Jamoneria Vermouth bar.
New York, New York
Freeman’s is located on Freeman Alley in the Lower East Side and you’ll fall in love with the restaurant before you event step in. It’s a little hard to find, but once you do, you’ll walk down the cutest little street into the inviting front door. The venue has Colonial tavern decor, but you instantly feel right at home. The must order starter is the Devils on Horseback and the entree not to miss is the Lobster.
Gjelina is located on Abbot Kinney in the heart of Venice and I try to eat there anytime I’m in that part of LA. I’ve been for dinner a few times and brunch once and each time, I continue to love it. If you can, try to sit outside in the back patio. For menu items, don’t miss the Charred Brussel Sprouts. My husband talked about them for almost two years and when we visited, they weren’t available. Bad news for us, but good news for you, as it looks like they are back on the menu. All of the pizzas and pasts that I’ve had have also been great, so you can’t go wrong. They also have GTA (Gjelina Take Away) if you want something quicker that you can take with you anytime of the day.
Pink Mamma is part of the Big Mamma Group and one of the most beautiful (and Instagram-worthy) restaurants I’ve ever been in. The multi-level space offers different charming decor on each floor, and no matter where your table is, you’ll won’t be disappointed. If you sit on the first floor, make sure to wander up the stairs and check out the other levels. The cuisine is more Italian than French, but definitely worth checking out (we had the Regina Instagram pizza- how suiting!) The restaurant is open for lunch, which I found few of the best ones were, so make sure to add it to your list.
Queens, New York
I may be biased since I lived in Queens the last few years of living in New York, but Long Island City has had a rise in the culinary scene, and definitely worth making the trip if you’re in the City. It’s hard to find Michelin star Mexican food in New York, and Casa Enrique has had one since 2014. Over five years later, it’s still hard at times to get a reservation, but we’ve walked in before and has success. The guacamole is wonderful and if you’ve never had Mole (dish from Puebla Mexico with peppers, almonds, sesame seeds and chocolate, amongst other spices) this is definitely the place to get it.