17 Restaurants Worth Planning a Trip Around — and How to Get a Reservation
Maybe it’s an earthy soil soup that beckons from Tokyo or an edible cocktail in Chicago, a piquant shaving of sheep’s milk cheese in rural Tennessee or simply a fresh filet of snapper caught somewhere off the coast of Tulum. These spots should be on any culinary bucket-list.
French Laundry in Yountville, California
Thomas Keller continues to reinvent his nouvelle French tour de force, the first ever Bay Area restaurant to receive a third Michelin star in 2006. A new glass-sheathed kitchen is currently under construction, designed by Oslo-based firm Snøhetta, who pedestrianized Time Square in 2014. The $295 tasting menu is still one of the most revered experiences in the food world.
Tip: The restaurant reopened April 7, cooking out of a temp kitchen fashioned from shipping containers, so book now (707.944.2380) while there’s less demand and before the grand reopening next fall.
Astrid & Gastón in Lima, Peru
El Bulli and Mugaritz vet Diego Muñoz took the reigns at Gaston Acurio’s flagship after he hung up the apron last year. The passing of the torch, along with the relocation to Acurio’s new culinary campus Casa Moreyra in San Isidro, signals a new era for the restaurant. The tasting menu, developed at the on-site research and development lab, is conceptualized with ingredients from the botanical garden and will focus on the biodiverse region surrounding Lima—a shift from previous menus that focused on themed narratives—and will span everything from ceviche to guinea pig to alpaca.
Tip: Online reservations are accepted up to three months in advance. If it’s short notice, call and try to land a table at lunch.
Benu in San Francisco
David Chang called this homey Soma spot the best restaurant in America. For his Korean-and-Chinese-inspired tasting menu, former French Laundry chef de cuisine Corey Lee utilizes northern California’s seasonal bounty. The standout: the faux shark fin soup, made with dungeness crab and Jinhua ham custard, a childhood favorite from Lee’s early days in Seoul.
Tip: Since Michelin awarded Benu with its third star, demand for reservations has been even higher than normal. Book up to two months early on the website.
Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee
This farmhouse hotel’s setting on 4,200 bucolic acres in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains makes for magical lawnside dinners as the sunset lights pockets of mist aglow in tangerine hues. The apple-red Amish barn, a relic from the 18th century, is an equally special place to eat. Either way you’ll get homespun country staples made with ingredients from the working farm: organic eggs, heirloom vegetables, sheep’s milk cheese, even Saison beer produced at the new onsite brewery.
Tip: The best way to guarantee a reservation is to book a room and stay the night. Otherwise, call 30 days ahead and hope there’s space.
D.O.M. in Sáo Paulo
Historian-botanist-DJ-chef Alex Atala is often designated as the ambassador of South American cuisine, drawing the global spotlight below the equator by giving classics a haute sheen at his gastro temple to Brazilian flavors in Jardins. Research pilgrimages to the Amazon produce exotic embellishments to his colorful dishes, like priprioca, an aromatic root normally reserved for perfumes, or jambu, a leafy plant with numbing qualities that makes it a natural remedy for toothaches.
Tip: Months of advance planning is the only way to snag a reservation.
El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain
10,000 gastro tourists from 57 countries flocked to this century-old house an hour north of Barcelona in 2013. Run by the three Roca brothers, it’s an avant-garde masterpiece that will make even the most ardent El Bulli worshiper believe there is life after Adria in Spain. The elaborate degustation may feature pickled barnacles, braised shrimp with seawater and plankton sponge, or caramelized olives that arrive hanging on a bonsai tree.
Tip: Reservations come online at midnight on the first day of every month and are booked almost a year in advance. A Hail Mary option is to have your hotel concierge call the day of and pray for a last–minute cancelation.
Eleven Madison Park in NYC
Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s stately dining room is a throwback to white tablecloth fine dining, albeit with a modern execution. The service is legendary: the maître d' profiles guests with Google searches to prepare special flourishes once they arrive. Is the couple oenophiles? Is a chef coming in? Is the group celebrating a birthday? Wash down dishes like Pig’s bladder with celery root, Humm’s take on poulet en vessie, with a tableside cocktail from the roving Manhattan cart.
Tip: Reservations can be booked 28 days in advance, but walk-ins can usually score one of the five tables in the bar nook, where a limited menu (3-courses, $68) is offered.
Fat Duck in Berkshire, England
Heston Blumenthal put this small countryside village on the culinary map when he opened the molecular-focused Fat Duck in 1995. The flagship is in the midst of a six-month refurb and has popped up in Melbourne (50,000 people applied for 14,000 seats), but will return to England in July to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
Tip: At its apex, the restaurant was getting 30,000 calls a day. Call the reservation line as soon as it opens at 10 a.m. and be flexible—you’re more likely to get a table at lunch and with a group larger than two.
Minibar in Washington, D.C.
The José Andrés empire is expanding at a rapid clip (his partnership with SLS Hotels alone could fill any toque’s coiffeurs for life) but only one of his restaurants has the gravitas to draw the Obamas on Valentines Day—this 12-seat Penn Quarter chef’s table. His team puts on a molecular show, nimbly plating morsels on small plates with tweezers and topping them with foams. The attention to detail is matched at the adjoining Barmini, his cocktail lab with over 100 drinks.
Tip: Minibar recently joined Table8, an app that lets you pay for a last minute reservation. What’s another $50 when you’re shelling out $250 for 20-plus courses?
Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain
A small blue sign marked by a fork and knife directs you toward the road to Mugaritz in a sleepy San Sebastian village. Inside a converted farmhouse, Andoni Luis Aduriz pushes the envelope of what Basque Country cuisine can be. While Aduriz perennially changes his menu, one of his trademarks endures: the “edible stones,” small potatoes coated in clay.
Tip: Luis Aduriz has been known to joke about his empty dining room when he first opened in 1998. Now reservations fill up six months in advance and are made more difficult by the short window—the restaurant is only open from April to December. Fill out the online form and have flexible dates to get in sooner.
Noma in Copenhagen
A bucket-list meal for any gourmand worth their weight in moss. Hot off his ballyhooed pop-up at the Mandarin Oriental in Japan, René Redzepi returns to Denmark for another season of foraging at this New Nordic hotbed. It regained the top spot on Pellegrino’s list last year (after a much publicized Norovirus incident) and remains the gold standard for forward-thinking cooking.
Tip: Reservations open on the first Monday of every month and they average 20,000 calls a day. Refresh and redial are your only tools, but hey, someone has to win the lottery!
Pujol in Mexico City
Enrique Olvera single handedly proved that time-honored Mexican recipes could be given a contemporary spin and still stay true to their roots. Cosme, his stateside debut, may be the toast of New York at the moment, but his clean-lined Polanco flagship is still one of the most dynamic restaurants in the world. The elevated street snacks are alone worth a visit, like Olvera’s take on elote, which comes dusted in powdered chicatana ant and coffee, with costeño chile mayonnaise.
Tip: One of the most accessible reservations for a restaurant of this caliber: Open Table usually has open slots at prime times throughout the week.
Tickets in Barcelona
Didn’t make it to Ferran Adrià’s zeitgeist-altering El Bulli on the Costa Brava? His brother Albert’s theatrical tapas bar, which Ferran consults on, in Barca’s Eixample Esquerra district is a pretty sweet consolation prize. Ice cream carts serving cones of fish and chips, mini trees with cotton candy blossoms, and liquid olives; the Adrià brothers have pioneered a new genre—haute carnival.
Tip: Tables are let loose two months in advance every 24 hours at midnight. It’s possible to get them, but you have to be quick—they fill up in about ten minutes.
Hartwood in Tulum, Mexico
New York transplants Eric Werner and his wife Mya Henry exemplify Tulum’s sustainable spirit at their jungle-choked restaurant on the town’s main strip. Powered entirely by solar energy, Werner prepares nightly dinners over a wood-burning fire using organic Yucatán produce sourced from Milpas, or organic farms, and spear-caught fish.
Tip: Hartwood is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. The best bet to snag one of the 50 seats is to line up outside of the restaurant around 3 p.m. and wait to put your name down for later that night. To avoid the wait, come with a big group: reservations of eight or more people can be made via email.
Les Créations de Narisawa in Tokyo
Transcendent chef Yoshihiro Narisawa cut his teeth apprenticing under French giants like Joël Robuchon and Paul Bocuse in Paris, then returned to Tokyo where he set the standard for Gallic cooking executed with a Japanese precision (charcoal-crusted Wagyu beef marinated in leek, grilled squid with liquid nitrogen paprika ash, soil-based soup) at the Minato’s two-Michelin-starred Les Créations de Narisawa.
Tip: Online reservations open on the 1st of every month. The rules are strict, only allowing parties with two to four guests.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York
Dan Barber’s “Third Plate” philosophy is the next stage in the evolution of farm-to-table. It’s founded on the idea that ingredients should dictate menus, not the other way around. A reverse of reverse engineering that puts the full harvest on the plate. Here, there are no menus, just a chat with a server before an epicurean journey that travels through six categories: greenhouse, field, pasture, forest, farm, and cellar.
Tip: One of New York’s notoriously impossible reservations can be full for months. Call the day of and hope for a cancelation or be prepared to adapt your schedule to the few available times on Open Table. That usually means after 9 p.m. on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
Alinea in Chicago
Grant Achatz’s outside-the-box imagination earned this place three Michelin stars and a permanent spot near the top of every best restaurants list. And he still keeps things exciting at Alinea—a garden salad sprayed with salt-and-pepper water and presented in soil, green apple balloons, edible gelatinous cocktails—after a decade-long run in Lincoln Park.
Tip: Achatz is one of the godfathers of controversial restaurant ticketing systems. He releases them lottery-style two to three months in advance, but if you’re looking last minute, be sure to check Alinea’s Facebook page where they occasionally post same-day reservations.