Italy: Dolce Vita in Rome
We love the Eternal City’s Berninis and Borrominis, but we’re even more smitten with Roma’s pastas and pecorinos. Our ultimate food day? Buon giorno! The breakfast cornetto—usually a plain dunk-into-caffè matter—reaches exalted heights at Cristalli di Zucchero (88 Via di San Teodoro; breakfast for two $6), right by the Bocca della Verità. The light-as-air pastry is filled with cherry jam or cream, and the cappuccino is perfection. Hop the metro to the Cipro stop, and hurry, please—the feathery pizza romana sells out in a flash at dime-size Pizzarium (pizza for two $25). Try the now-classic potato-topped pizza di patate—plus the fig-and-cured-pork combo.
Refire your appetite with a stroll through the handsome Prati district. Then go to L’Arcangelo (lunch for two $120) for sublime baccalà, roast lamb, and the definitive gnocchi all’amatriciana—every ingredient is fanatically sourced. Back in the centro storico’s former Jewish ghetto, time stands still (and so does the queue!) at Pasticceria Boccione (pastries for two $7), ruled by the brusque matriarchs of the Limentani clan. What is this plump flatbread with pine nuts and candied fruit? “Jewish pizza!” barks one of the dames from behind the counter. Supper is at Campo de’ Fiori’s Salumeria-Vineria Roscioli (21 Via dei Giubbonari; dinner for two $140), folded inside a chic deli. Start with smoked fish and puntarelle salad with anchovy dressing. Next, toothsome tonarelli cacio e pepe made with three types of pecorino and Malaysian pepper. Our buona notte: a fondue of dark Amedei chocolate. —Anya von Bremzen
Rome’s Best Gelato: Time for a sweet diversion. In Prati, Gelateria dei Gracchi has gained buzz as one of Italy’s best for its ingredient obsession. For more than a century, crowds have lined up at Giolitti, near the Pantheon, for seasonal fruit flavors, while the innovative Fatamorgana (9 Via Lago di Lesina) has surprising combos such as pimento-chocolate and celery-lime.
T+L Tip: Rome-based food writer Elizabeth Minchilli leads private walking tours of the city’s most delicious neighborhoods.
Japan: Tokyo Pub Crawl
Step into one of Tokyo’s countless izakaya—small bars with eclectic menus—and you’ll get an instant taste of the city’s unpolished, alluring nightlife, not to mention some of its most delicious food. Start in frenetic Shibuya at En (11F Toei Plaza, 1-24-12 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku; dinner for two $80), which has an extensive English menu. The small plates such as lotus-root kimpira and black-pepper chicken keep salarymen and hipsters alike coming back for more.
For an only-in-Tokyo experience, visit Shibuya’s Nonbei Yokocho (Drunkard’s Alley), along the train tracks, a warren of alleyways marked with glowing red lanterns. There are dozens of food-and-drink counters, but we love energetic Ms. Tama and her Korean- and Moroccan-inspired dishes at Kibi (1-25-9 Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya, Shibuya-ku; dinner for two $100).
A 15-minute walk away, the izakaya goes upscale at Maru (B1 Aoyama KT Building, 5-50-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; dinner for two $120), whose chef-owner Keiji Mori was trained in haute kaiseki cuisine. Try his Wagyu beef and silky, house-made tofu.
For an adventure, head to Shinjuku for Kabuto (1-2-11 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; snacks for two $40), which has for the past 64 years served only eel—and every part of it—char-grilled on skewers. A course of seven sticks is called hito-tori, and that’s what everyone orders. Nearby is Kanae (3-12-12 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; dinner for two $100), a nostalgic favorite with a long sake list, tender pork-stuffed cabbage rolls, and fried fugu (blowfish).
In Nogizaka, Uoshin (9-6-32 Akasaka, Minato-ku; dinner for two $100) is a rare izakaya with a sushi counter, but the shioyaki (salt-grilled) fish may be the best seafood you’ve ever eaten. —Mark Robinson
Where to Splurge
Japanese cuisine is elevated to an art form in the city’s best kaiseki and sushi restaurants. Below, two dining experiences that top our list.
Kanda: Chef Hiroyuki Kanda uses only the finest ingredients in his multicourse kaiseki dinners, which can include wakame seaweed and delicate preparations of Wagyu beef. 3-6-34 Motoazabu, Minato-ku; dinner for two $400.
Sushiso Masa: In a seven-seat dining room, sushi master Masakatsu Oka reveals the complexity of fish and shellfish using dozens of cuts and techniques—without repeating a single flavor or texture. B1, 4-1-15 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku; dinner for two $450.
T+L Tip: not all izakaya have English menus. so here’s our secret weapon: Jibbigo ($4.99), a downloadable, speech-to-speech voice translator app for your smart phone.
U.S.A.: Texas BBQ Drive
Smoky ribs, fork-tender brisket, big Texan skies. What are you waiting for? Here, a barbecue tour de force—with Austin as your base.
Day 1: Start 30 miles northeast of Austin at Opie’s BBQ (lunch for two $20), where the famous sweet-and-spicy baby back ribs require more than a few paper towels. If that’s breakfast, lunch is an hour away, at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (lunch for two $30), where you’ll order the signature two-inch-thick pork chop and brisket directly from the pit. Take a scenic hike up Enchanted Rock, then forge on to Fredricksburg for a dinner of pork in peach barbecue sauce at Sugar & Smoke (249 E. Main St.; dinner for two $35). Call it a night with a slice of coconut cream pie.
Day 2: South of Luckenbach, Maywald’s Sisterdale Smokehouse (1123 FM 1376, Sisterdale; lunch for two $25) is open every other weekend—arrive at noon for crisp smoked chicken and cuts of tender beef. Milt’s Pit BBQ (905 N. Old Hwy. 81, Kyle; lunch for two $20) is near razor-back Ranch Road 32—nicknamed “Devil’s Backbone”—and serves brisket with a midnight-black crust. From there, it’s a quick ride to Salt Lick Bar-B-Que (pictured; dinner for two $32), known for its brisket and beef ribs, served on oak-shaded patio tables.
Day 3: Line up at 10 a.m. with the other ’cue worshippers at Austin’s Franklin Barbecue (lunch for two $17), run by trailblazing pit master Aaron Franklin. His Tipsy Texan sandwich, with chopped beef and sausage, deserves the hype. But save room for Stiles Switch (6610 N. Lamar, Austin; dinner for two $25), where the pork links are flawless and the banana pudding is as authentic as it gets. —Daniel Vaughn
Secret’s in the Sauce: Devoted BBQ fans in Texas carry coolers for their leftovers—a challenge for those making their pilgrimage from afar. You can still bring some of that Lone Star flavor back: Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que sells jars of its secret-recipe sauces and rubs—as well as some of the best beef jerky in Texas. Salt Lick Bar-B-Que peddles its original and jalapeño sauces and its own rubs and salsas. If you love Opie’s sweet-and-spicy sauce, buy a bottle at the counter. Bonus: Cooper’s and Salt Lick sell their creations online.
T+L Tip: book a room at Austin’s Saint Cecilia (doubles from $275), a music-inspired retreat in a former Victorian manse, created by hip hotelier Liz Lambert.
Argentina: Buenos Aires Feast
Recoleta: Taste how Malbecs vary by region at marble-clad Vinoteca (Palacio Duhau, 1661 Avda. Alvear; tastings for two $120). Sommelier Fabio Masdeu matches labels from his 7,000-bottle cellar with cheeses made in the nearby town of Suipacha. A five-minute stroll away, your introduction to traditional Argentinean cuisine awaits at Fervor (dinner for two $70). Order the classic asado de tira, 14-inch, crosscut ribs dry-aged for 35 days.
Palermo: At the limestone-clad tasting room of Patagonian winery Bodega del Fin del Mundo (5673 Honduras; tastings for two $45), flights follow a single varietal through several vintages; pair them with enticing tapas such as beef carpaccio with capers. A few blocks south at La Cabrera (5099 Cabrera; dinner for two $60), waiters in berets serve gargantuan side dishes—squash; Andean potatoes—along with cuts of sizzling beef grilled with rosemary and thyme.
San Telmo: Year-old wine store and cantina Aldo’s (372 Moreno; 54-11/5291-2380; tastings for two $40) is staffed with no fewer than nine sommeliers. Join a Thursday tasting of wines exclusive to Aldo’s, such as SonVida Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Altamira winemaker Alejandro Vigil. Then make your way up the plaza-lined Calle Defensa to La Brigada (dinner for two $60). Ebullient owner Hugo Echavarrieta buys the free-range, alfalfa-fed beef from the Pampa Húmeda region himself: ask which cut is the day’s tastiest, and he’ll grill it up to perfection. —Colin Barraclough
Bringing Wine Home
Forget shipping wine back. In the U.S., an import license is needed for even a single bottle. Instead, ask an expert to pack your treasures and check them along with your luggage. Wine shop 0800-VINO delivers day or night, anywhere in the city, within the hour, while Recoleta’s Grand Cru wraps bottles in polystyrene confetti to limit shake. Claim the 15 percent tax rebate upon departure from Argentina, and declare your wine when you arrive. U.S. Customs allows up to one liter, and after that a duty of about $2 per bottle applies.
T+L Tip: stay in Recoleta at the new 30-room Mio (doubles from $270), owned by the Catena winemaking family—mini-bars are stocked with standout regional bottles.
France: Michelin Blowout
Driving north from Montpellier, the scenery shifts dramatically as the road veers upward through the cool air of the Massif Central, passing lush dairy farms and rolling landscapes. At the end of a long, vertical driveway, jutting out of the top of the hill, a modern glass structure seems to float over the surrounding valleys. Bras (Rte. de L’Aubrac, Laguiole; dinner for two $240; doubles from $355) is set on a high plateau surrounded by nothing but the green hills of the Aubrac. There are many ways to reach this spot, all of them long. All of them tiring. And all of them, as the Michelin Guide is prone to saying, worth the journey.
The Michelin Guide was created in 1900 to introduce France to the French, to direct them along a new web of roads and to les bonne tables in far-flung regions. While today’s Red Guide can feel like a tired old guard promoting fuddy-duddy favorites—outside of Europe, you might hardly glance at it—it still makes perfect sense in the country where it started.
France is a destination that rewards the long-distance traveler, the seeker of regional dishes and talented chefs in remote areas. And if there’s a place worth driving six or 12 or a hundred hours just for dinner, it would be the Michelin three-starred Bras, run by Sébastien Bras and his wife, Véronique. This is a restaurant worth building a whole itinerary around: beautiful food in a beautiful location that is exactly like nowhere else in the world. The cooking is confident, precise, delightful, and surprising. You ask about a sauce of fennel that is outrageously good. How? The secret, Véronique Bras says, is that her father-in-law, Michel, woke up at 4 a.m. to pick the fennel for lunch and will pick more before dinner. —Adam Sachs
Worth the Detour
Two other Michelin pilgrimages, from Paris-based travel company Purple Truffle.
Haute-Savoie Region: Fresh from receiving its third Michelin star, Flocons de Sel (dinner for two $260; doubles from $340) highlights local terroir (wild mushrooms; squab). Stay in the restaurant’s six-room chalet.
Basque Region: At Les Frères Ibarboure Table et Hostellerie (Bidart; dinner for two $210; doubles from $190), a father-and-son team is known as standard setters of Basque cuisine. Try their succulent Kintoa pig.
T+L Tip: Viamichelin.com lists restaurants by location, cuisine, and price range, and provides mapping tools with suggested detours along the way.