Best Holiday Restaurants in the U.S.
Sentimental though it may sound, there’s an undeniable magic to the holidays. Restaurants like D.C.’s 1789 know just how to capture that spirit; they go all-out with garlands, lights, and holiday scenes that take days, or even more, to create. Many also embellish their menus during the holiday season, even drawing inspiration from other nations: the Feast of the Seven Fishes, on Christmas Eve, adopted from Italian-American tradition; Nochevieja, the Spanish New Year’s Eve, with customs like eating grapes for good fortune.
Some parts of the U.S. have their own deep-seated holiday traditions. In New Orleans, Christmas Eve means the feast of réveillon. But one night isn’t enough for Restaurant R’evolution, which serves a special prix fixe menu—with dishes like lobster nage and andouille bisque—all December long. In New York, meanwhile, the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without latkes. At midtown’s Toloache, chef Julian Medina honors his wife’s Jewish roots with a Mexican take on Hanukkah classics, including zucchini latkes with a tomatillo-apple salsa.
Read on for restaurants that capture the flavor of the holidays, whether through lavish tea spreads, Dickens-inspired dinners, or more contemporary festivities like a New Year’s party in Austin, Texas, fueled by street food and (obviously) champagne.
Gramercy Tavern, New York City
Famed restaurateur Danny Meyer’s elegant Flatiron restaurant transforms in the days following Thanksgiving, with intricate baubles strung from the ceiling, lush poinsettias throughout the restaurant, and lights and ornaments hung wherever possible. While Gramercy’s warm, gently lit interior and convivial service help the restaurant feel cozy no matter the season, the holiday décor only amplifies the spirit of cheer, which attracts lines down the block all through December. Winter dishes include squash and grain salad with mushrooms, sesame, and pecorino; and duck breast and confit with brussels sprouts, hazelnuts, and quince.
Restaurant R’evolution, New Orleans
Throughout much of the French-speaking world, Christmas Eve means réveillon, a true event of a meal that lasts for many merry hours on end. Many New Orleans restaurants commemorate the holiday, but Restaurant R’evolution does so all through December. Its prix fixe menu is modeled after an 18th-century Creole feast, with nods to chef John Folse’s own memories of childhood Louisiana réveillon dinners. Highlights include sweet potato and andouille bisque and poached gulf fish with lobster nage, root vegetable croquette, and preserved fennel. (The restaurant will serve still-more-elaborate réveillon menus on Christmas Eve and Day.) $72 per person.
The Bazaar by José Andrés, Los Angeles
While L.A. undoubtedly has more than its fair share of champagne-soaked New Year’s Eve parties, none has the culinary credentials of The Bazaar at SLS. (This being a modern Spanish restaurant, expect the bubbles to show up in cava form.) For the fifth year running, José Andrés’s Beverly Hills restaurant will throw a Spanish Masquerade with costumes, specialty cocktails, and a DJ. Given that the Spanish chef is a master of tapas (and quite literally wrote a book on them), expect beautifully styled nibbles passed throughout the night. General admission tickets are $225 per person; ticket sales end Dec. 25.
Most Michelin-starred restaurants content their guests with special menus and perhaps caviar and champagne on New Year’s Eve. But Acadia chef Ryan McCaskey ups the ante with full-on theme parties featuring stage sets and lighting—a raucous Moulin Rouge fete, “Forests of Maine” in honor of his home state, and, to ring in 2015, a 1920s supper club. Enter through a velvet tunnel with butlers serving tea sandwiches and wassail, a jazz band, and much more; a $25 after-party includes a buffet, drinks, and DJs. 5 p.m. seating $150 per person; 9 p.m. seating $250 per person.
Slightly North of Broad, Charleston, SC
Charleston’s stately homes never look better than when dressed up for the winter holidays. And Slightly North of Broad is just as tastefully decorated, with a tree presiding over the bar and wrapped presents throughout the dining room. Festive touches evolve throughout the season. Chef Russ Moore’s eggnog and holiday sugar cookies at Christmas Eve lunch, for instance, have become an annual tradition for some locals.
Whether or not you celebrate Hanukkah, it’s hard to deny the appeal of crisp-fried potato latkes—which is why chef Jason McClure of Sazerac creates an entire latke menu for the month of December. Past favorites reflect Sazerac’s quirky, Pan-American culinary style, including latke “sliders” with garlic aioli and caramelized onion on brioche buns; latkes with smoked salmon and crème fraîche; and an inventive take on the classic applesauce topping, with goat cheese and an apple and celery heart salad.
1789, Washington, D.C.
It’s hard to conceive of a more elaborately decorated restaurant than this D.C. holiday favorite, in a historic townhouse that dates back more than two centuries. It takes the general manager more than a week to create the six cozy dining rooms’ holiday scenes of trimmed trees, wreaths, garlands, lights, and antique toys. Carolers come through each night to serenade diners, who dress for the occasion (jackets are required). Christmas Eve dinner includes appropriately festive specials like foie gras torchon.
Fully decked out for the holidays, with every banister wrapped in garlands, white candles glowing on every surface, Tulio celebrates the season with its own twist on several Italian traditions. Chef Walter Pisano honors the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the meatless Christmas Eve meal, with a series of specials from shellfish to swordfish; for La Festa di San Silvestro, the New Year’s Eve celebration, every table receives an amuse-bouche of lentils and pork cotechino, as lentils are thought to symbolize good luck for the coming year.
Ned Ludd, Portland, OR
This rustic, farm-to-table restaurant feels inviting any time of year, but outdoes itself at Christmas, when staff set up living, locally foraged garlands and wreaths. For the fourth year running, Ned Ludd will celebrate Christmas Eve with A Very Dickens Christmas Dinner. The festive Britain-meets-Oregon dishes include celeriac-parsnip soup with goose confit and cranberry, beef roast with popovers, and figgy pudding with caramel and port. All this prepared without a stove—rather, with a wood-burning oven from the space’s previous incarnation as a pizzeria. $100 per person.
Domenica, New Orleans
Israeli-born chef Alon Shaya has won acclaim for his modern Italian cooking at Domenica. But this Chanukah, you’ll find him at his newer restaurant in New Orleans, Shaya, which serves up modern Israeli cuisine. This season's Chanukah menu features dishes like crispy potato latkes, and veal brisket schnitzel with persian cherries and spiced almond pesto. Hanukkah dinner is served at Shaya from Dec. 6 through 14, for $65 per person.
Game Creek Restaurant, Vail, CO
There are remote, romantic mountain chalets, and then there’s the Game Creek Restaurant, just below Eagle’s Nest and so off the grid there’s no road access; arriving for dinner requires a gondola ride and snowcat journey to its door. After you shake off the snow, the lodge’s roaring fires (and a stiff drink) seem all the more welcoming, and the restaurant’s hearty entrées, including elk and beef tenderloin, all the more appealing. It’s an idyllic and unforgettable place for a holiday meal—in the way only a true snowbound cabin could be.
Qui, Austin, TX
James Beard Award–winning chef Paul Qui is known for his mold-breaking, internationally influenced cooking. It’s a style also on display at his food truck East Side King—proving that ambitious cuisine can be served anywhere. But Qui is also known for its playfulness and energy, both reflected at the team’s New Year’s Eve party (beginning at 10:30 p.m., after a first dinner seating). The late-night crowd can expect live bands, a photo booth, a champagne bar and signature cocktails, and, when hunger strikes, favorites from the East Side King truck (like pork belly buns and a fried brussels sprout salad) on site. Price TBD.
Toloache, New York City
Only in New York could you imagine a Mexican-Jewish holiday mash-up menu. And that’s exactly what’s for dinner at Toloache, where chef Julian Medina honors his wife’s Jewish roots with heavily Mexican-inflected holiday specials. Over the eight days of Hanukkah (Dec. 16 through 14), he’ll serve dishes that combine Mexican culinary tradition with Hanukkah favorites. So expect your guacamole with smoked whitefish salad and zucchini latkes with a tomatillo-apple salsa.
Madrona Manor, Healdsburg, CA
Part pageant, part holiday feast, the Dickens Dinner series at Madrona Manor might not have you expecting refined fare—until you learn this 19th-century Sonoma County inn and restaurant has a Michelin star to its name. At 14 dinner performances throughout December, the Twelfth Night Singers, in full Victorian regalia, perform between courses of chef Jesse Mallgren’s holiday-inspired meal, which includes a seasonal Dungeness crab salad and a pumpkin risotto with shaved truffles. While there’s no chance of a white Christmas in northern California, the inn’s beyond-festive décor guarantees holiday cheer. $100–170 per person, depending on date.
Few cultures embrace the winter holidays as wholly as the Scandinavians, a logical coping mechanism given the degree of winter they experience. Fika, the acclaimed Nordic-inspired café-restaurant at the American Swedish Institute, celebrates with December Julbord dinners—essentially a Christmas smorgasbord with beloved dishes like Swedish Christmas ham, Jansson’s temptation (a classic potato gratin), and plenty of herring. Earlier in December, the institute holds a holiday market (Julmarknad) at which Fika will serve meatballs and hot glogg. Julbord meal $55 per person, $20 per child, children five and under free.
Palace Hotel, San Francisco
One of San Francisco’s most iconic hotels, the Palace is a stunner any time of year, but never more so than at the holidays. It makes a grand impression with a multistory Christmas tree towering in the lobby, unimaginably intricate gingerbread houses, and life-size nutcrackers presiding over the scene. Join the merrymaking with champagne brunches throughout December, still more lavish brunches on Christmas and New Year’s Day, and holiday high teas (as well as a Santa Claus Tea for the younger ones).
Mercat a la Planxa, Chicago
Each year at his Catalan tapas spot Mercat a la Planxa, chef Jose Garces serves a stellar Spanish-inspired New Year’s Eve dinner. This year, diners can expect anything from cured Spanish ham, to oysters with Israeli caviar, to braised oxtail with goatcheese.