Dotty Griffith, dining editor and restaurant critic, Dallas Morning News
CLASSIC French Room Hotel Adolphus, 1321 Commerce St.; 214/742-8200; dinner for two from $45. In a neo-Baroque room, you get progressive American flavors such as miso-marinated Alaskan halibut and pan-seared Nassau black grouper wrapped in oven-dried tomatoes.
NEWCOMER The Mercury 11909 Preston Rd., Suite 1418; 972/960-7774; dinner for two $70. Pan-cultural food with a Mediterranean twist in a sleek L.A.-style setting. The pearl couscous with poached egg in truffle vinaigrette is one of the best dishes I've had-anywhere.
ETHNIC Nuevo Leon 2013 Greenville Ave.; 214/887-8148; dinner for two $30. People come to Dallas wanting Tex-Mex; here's Mex-Mex. The place is more elegant than your usual serape-and-paper-flower affair, and besides the standards, it does great norteño specialties, such as goat with guajillo sauce.
MEAT AND POTATOES If nothing defines Dallas quite like bone-in prime rib at Bob's Steak & Chop House, then consider this: Dallas ranks third in the country (after New York and Chicago) in beef consumption. Yet for every steak house (Pappas Bros. is great), there are three new sushi joints (try Chaya Sushi). Also big (and nowhere bigger): foie gras, sake bars, and cigar bars.
Muriel Stevens, restaurant critic, Las Vegas Sun
CLASSIC Palace Court Caesars Palace Hotel, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd.; 702/731-7110; dinner for two $110. Schmaltzy romance. The first restaurant to bring glamour to Vegas dining, it still sweeps you away with its updated French food-anything from simple grilled fish to elaborate Gallic concoctions. Start with a drink in the lounge and finish with soufflé (it's a real production).
NEWCOMER Picasso Bellagio Hotel, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/693-8105; tasting menus from $70 per person. Where else can you eat surrounded by fountains and $30 million worth of Picassos?Try the warm quail salad with sautéed artichokes and pine nuts, roasted scallops with corn flan and saffron sauce, or lamb with truffle crust.
ETHNIC Fortunes Rio Suite Hotel & Casino; 3700 W. Flamingo Rd.; 702/247-7923; dinner for two $90. Authentic Cantonese food for Chinese VIP's—businessmen and high rollers. The chef does a superb lemon chicken.
S. Irene Verbila, restaurant critic, Los Angeles Times
CLASSIC Campanile 624 S. La Brea Ave.; 323/938-1447; dinner for two $80. Somewhere between Spago and Chez Panisse, it defines California cuisine. The menu, with dishes like braised veal cheeks and rustic pear galette, is driven by the market and the seasons-and the wines are marvelous.
NEWCOMER Vincenti 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; 310/207-0127; dinner for two $90. Chef Gino Angelini worked in Rimini, and his food is true to Italy: you won't get more exquisite and interesting pasta in town. For the most adventurous experience, ask the chef to invent a meal; sit at the marble counter, hypnotized by the rotisserie, while you wait for it.
ETHNIC Charming Garden 111 N. Atlantic Blvd., Suite 351, Monterey Park, Calif.; 626/458-4508; dinner for two $30. Driving out to Monterey Park for Chinese is a very L.A. experience. At this small, impeccably designed Hunan place, the tiny appetizers and mushroom dishes are especially exciting.
Patricia Unterman, restaurant critic, San Francisco Examiner
CLASSIC Chez Panisse 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, Calif.; 510/548-5525; dinner for two $80-$140. Simple cooking with raw materials that are on the cutting edge. If a farmer's got a new kind of persimmon, Chez Panisse has it.
NEWCOMER Jardinière 300 Grove St.; 415/861-5555; dinner for two $90. Traci Des Jardins gives California produce classic> treatment. Seared scallops, mashed potatoes with truffle sauce, and Pacific grouper with celery-root confit are among the best dishes.
ETHNIC Shalimar 532 Jones St.; 415/928-0333; dinner for two $20. An off-the-wall Pakistani storefront with bad air, hideous lighting, and food that's fresh, alive, and sparkling. Go for tandoori specials and breads.
A SAN FRANCISCO FOOD DAY Start with an "Africano," a little glass of perfect espresso, at Café Greco in North Beach. Stroll around the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market and dote on the first produce of spring—asparagus, artichokes, peas. Go to Yak Sing for dim sum. Drive to Tomales Bay (about 1 1/2 hours out of town), buy three or four dozen briny Pacific oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co., and shuck them yourself on a picnic bench outside; then get a little cheese or dessert from Cowgirl Creamery. After a slow drive back to town, have a late dinner at Hawthorne Lane, a quintessentially modern San Francisco restaurant. Go for a nightcap at the upstairs bar of Le Colonial, which used to be Trader Vic's.
David Sarasohn, restaurant critic, Oregonian
CLASSIC Genoa 2832 S.E. Belmont St.; 503/238-1464; tasting menu $55 per person. A wonderful seven-course menu draws on Italian regional cuisines. Try the grilled porcini with ricotta crêpes or the tonnarelli with lobster sauce.
NEWCOMER Café Azul 112 N.W. Ninth St.; 503/525-4422; dinner for two $55. In the Pearl district—Portland's SoHo—the Azul is a wonderful sunny-yellow upscale Mexican bistro with industrial accents. The food has a similar twist: spot prawns and rock cod in salsa verde veracruzana, barbecued goat. End your meal with dessert tamales with brandied raisins.
ETHNIC Lemongrass 1705 N.E. Couch St.; 503/231-5780; dinner for two $40. The best ethnic food in the city is Southeast Asian, and at this remodeled house the Thai flavors are particularly vibrant and spicy.
Nancy Leson, restaurant critic, Seattle Times
CLASSIC Canlis 2576 Aurora Ave. N.; 206/283-3313; dinner for two $95. Imagine a Northwestern steak house-huge copper grill, silked-up waitresses, a distinctly regional menu, a timeless view of Lake Union, and lots of "Happy Birthday"s going on. Then tuck into grilled salmon with apple-cider butter or pear-shaped chicken stuffed with forest mushrooms, and finish with the chocolate lava cake.
NEWCOMER La Medusa 4857 Rainier Ave. S.; 206/723-2192; dinner for two $45. Sicilian peasant food and great thin-crust pizzas illuminated by votive candles and twinkly lights in a formerly funky area now being gentrified. Choose from salt cod fritters, Gorgonzola-and-arugula pizza, pasta with fresh sardines and raisins, and tagliarini with bottarga (salted and dried tuna roe).
ETHNIC Kingfish Café 602 19th Ave. E.; 206/320-8757; dinner for two $30. Can soul food be "ethnic"?Well, it is in Seattle! Done up in dark wood with old family pictures, this restaurant is run by three stunning sisters who give wonderful Southern food, such as buttermilk fried chicken and sweet-potato pecan pie, a modern spin.
John Heckathorn, editor and restaurant critic, Honolulu Magazine
CLASSIC Roy's 6600 Kalanianaole Hwy., Honolulu; 808/396-7697; dinner for two $80. Though Roy Yamaguchi has founded a food empire, you'll often find him in the kitchen of his original restaurant wearing a baseball cap. He still does East-West fusion better than anyone, and his cuisine is as real and deeply flavored as ever. Don't leave without having: nori-seared ahi with wasabi ogo seaweed; Maryland crab cakes with sesame butter sauce; miso-seared hamachi with black-bean dragon sauce; the melting chocolate soufflé.
NEWCOMER Sansei Seafood & Sushi Bar 115 Bay Dr., Kapalua, Maui; 808/669-6286; dinner for two $45. You've never been to a sushi bar like this: the Pacific Rim "tapas"—such as foie gras and nigiri sushi, Japanese BLT roll—will just kill you. And Maui's best chefs hang out here.
ETHNIC Oodles of Noodles 75-1027 Henry St., Kailua, Kona, Hawaii; 808/329-9222; lunch for two $30. A talented local chef, Amy Ferguson Ota, has put together this smart, unpretentious café on the Big Island. You'll get a world tour of noodles, from Italian pasta to a "new Hawaiian" take on tuna casserole, to Thai tamarind soup.