The mission and methodology behind a list that celebrates dining as much as it does the destination.

By Besha Rodell
August 20, 2019
From left: Cedric Angeles; Ériver Hijano

The. Whole. World.

I could barely believe my ears when the call came. The editors of Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure wanted one critic to travel the globe and come up with a list of the best restaurants in the world. They wanted that person to be me.

Of course I said yes — who wouldn’t? But it wasn’t for the reasons you might think. There are, of course, already lists, guidebooks, ratings, and awards. Some are chosen by groups of experts, others by voters around the world, still others by teams of inspectors. Each method has its pros and cons.

What this list celebrates is cuisine and culture, not rankings and numbers. To have the globe reduced to one expensive tasting menu after another is to miss out on a true taste of the world. What I want when I travel is a meal that teaches me something about a region’s people and their tastes and lives. That’s what this list is about.

For one person alone to compile such a list would be impossible. So, the editors asked a panel to nominate restaurants based on the intersection of food, travel, and culture. From a massive list, we narrowed the field and built an itinerary. Then I got on a plane. And then another. Over the course of four months, I dined, anonymously, at 81 restaurants in 24 countries across six continents. I flew 279 hours — I still have jet lag. From those meals, I chose the 30 restaurants that were the most thrilling, the most delicious, and that most immersed me in the culture of a place.

Illustrations by Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

The morning after arriving in South America, woozy from altitude sickness, I found myself in a car headed for the Andean countryside. I barely remember the drive, despite the breathtaking scenery. The lack of sleep and oxygen made me a dull facsimile of myself. Three hours later, everything changed. At Mil, the incredible restaurant high in the Andes, I was snapped out of my stupor and into a sharp and pleasurable focus. On the drive back to Cuzco, my heart swelled with the marvel of where I was, the improbability of being there, and the full realization of the vastness of the world and the immense privilege I had to experience it. I had similar moments at a food truck in Tijuana, Mexico, and at the worn counter of a seafood joint in San Francisco, where my weariness fell away and I was renewed.

This is what a great restaurant can do for a traveler: it can clarify and synthesize the place you’re in, wake you up to its wonder. That’s what I was looking for on this journey — dining experiences that fully embodied the glorious awe of travel. And whether you plan a crazy trip like mine to eat at all 30 of the places on our list or make a pilgrimage to dine at just one or two of them, I hope you feel the way I do: that you’ve experienced the breadth of the world.

The Culinary Panel

Meet our international panel of food- and drink-obsessed travelers.

Alex Atala, chef-owner, D.O.M., São Paulo, Brazil

Nyesha Arrington, chef, Los Angeles

Gabriela Cámara, chef-owner, Contramar, Mexico City; Cala, San Francisco

May Chow, chef-owner, Happy Paradise and Little Bao, Hong Kong

Chad Colby, chef-owner, Antico, Los Angeles

Nina Compton, chef-owner, Compère Lapin, New Orleans

Bill Esparza, cookbook author and food writer

Romy Gill, MBE, chef-owner, Romy’s Kitchen, Thornbury, England

Skye Gyngell, chef-owner, Spring, London

Soleil Ho, restaurant critic, San Francisco Chronicle

Federico de Cesare Viola & Laura Lazzaroni, editors, Food & Wine Italia

Howie Kahnfood writer

John Kessler, restaurant critic

Dieuveil Malonga, chef, Meza Malonga, Kigali, Rwanda

Angie Mar, chef-owner, Beatrice Inn, New York City

Luvo Ntezo, head sommelier, One&Only Cape Town

Enrique Olvera, chef-owner, Pujol, Mexico City; Cosme, New York City

Anne-Sophie Pic, chef-owner, Maison Pic, Valence, France

Rose Previte, owner, Maydan and Compass Rose, Washington, D.C.

David Prior, food and travel writer; director, Prior

Ruth Reichlfood writer

Marcus Samuelsson, co-owner and chef, Red Rooster, New York City

Gail SimmonsTop Chef judge; contributor, Food & Wine

Pierre Thiam, chef-owner, Nok by Alara, Lagos, Nigeria

Jiyun Jennifer Yoo, co-founder, Gotham Grove

Be sure to check out the list of 30 places that made our cut for the World's Best Restaurants.

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