Best Top Chef Restaurants
“Your Quickfire time starts now!” orders Padma Lakshmi—model, author, and Top Chef cohost. The chef’testants begin racing around the kitchen with pots of thick glaze, clear consommé, and (yes) hot mess, struggling to concoct brilliant culinary masterpieces in less than 45 minutes.
Fortunately, the succulent sous vide short ribs cooked up on the show might end up at a restaurant near you. Unlike America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, where finalists and winners seem to evaporate from the zeitgeist, Top Chef veterans tend to stick around the limelight. They take executive chef positions at hot-spot restaurants or open their own; and not surprisingly, these places usually get rave reviews.
The Top Chef sensation began in 2006 and has made an indelible mark on the culinary scene. Celebrity-chef judges like Tom Colicchio, Joël Robuchon, Eric Ripert, and Thomas Keller have only added to the show’s appeal. The show is even spawning spin-offs like Top Chef Masters (where celebrity chefs compete to benefit charities) and the upcoming Just Desserts (Top Chef for pastry chefs, cohosted by Food & Wine Magazine’s Gail Simmons).
And the show’s fans have tripped over themselves to eat at a restaurant helmed by a Top Chef alum. Says the show’s first-ever winner, Harold Dieterle, “Top Chef contestants have an accessible outlet for showing off their skills. They’re cooking at known restaurants, trying to open their own places, consulting. You can go have a meal and see what the chefs are doing.”
One option? Perilla, in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Here, the ever-humble Dieterle serves seasonal New American dishes along with his most-demanded signature, spicy duck meatballs (the same ones that got him flak from the judges during the show). And this fall, Dieterle will open a contemporary Thai spot called Kin Shop, nearby.
Across the country, you can sample the creative European cuisine from everyone’s favorite Season 5 villain (and finalist), eclectic Finnish/German chef Stefan Richter. Head to Stefan’s at LA Farm, in Los Angeles, for Kumamoto oysters with absinthe Jell-O or slow-braised pork cheek and caraway sausage with sauerkraut pretzel dumplings and beer sauce. You can also try more Cali-style (and less expensive) dishes at his new Santa Monica restaurant, Stefan’s on Montana.
As in the competition itself, restaurants helmed by Top Chef veterans emerge as winners and, well…nonwinners. Click through our slideshow to see our picks for the best of the bunch.
Perilla, New York
When Harold Dieterle created spicy duck meatballs for Top Chef, he admittedly got “sort of spanked.” Still, he dominated Season 1 and won the inaugural grand prize. And those same meatballs have become the most oft-demanded signature dish at his restaurant, Perilla. The cozy 18-table restaurant features Dieterle’s seasonal New American food, influenced by his Italian-American roots and time spent abroad in Thailand, Spain, and Mexico.
Don’t Miss: Dieterle is testing new waters, opening a contemporary Thai spot—Kin Shop—nearby this fall.
Girl & the Goat,Chicago
Season 4’s understated Stephanie Izard was in the bottom rankings of almost every Quickfire challenge, but she ultimately prevailed—as the first female Top Chef—with her pork- and seafood-heavy farm-to-table comfort food. She recently opened this New American restaurant in Chicago with a strong craft-brew menu. Diners come in search of farm-fresh menu items with bold flavor contrasts, East Asian accents, and a sense of humor, from Ham Frites (yup, French fries with homemade ham salt) to Crispy Pig Face with daikon, chimichurri, and baby arugula.
Don’t Miss: Won’t dine on swine? Opt for other signatures like smoked goat cheese pizza with tart-cherry soffrito, black kale, and ricotta.
The Restaurant at theSurf Lodge, Montauk, NY
Many viewers expected Season 2 finalist Sam Talbot to win the title of Top Chef (and by “viewers” we mean “women,” who swooned for the hunky, talented, sensitive-ponytail-boy). Afterward, the fan favorite cut his hair and, in 2008, became executive chef of this cool-kid Montauk spot. Drawing on his beach-centric North Carolina childhood and his summery surroundings, Talbot—between ocean dips—serves up daily-caught seafood at simple picnic tables.
Don’t Miss: Belly up to Talbot’s new Food Truck, parked just outside the hotel’s lobby, for out-of-this-world lobster rolls.
Throughout super-competitive Season 6, eventual winner Michael Voltaggio talked trash about finalist Kevin Gillespie and his “simple” food. But for Gillespie, simplicity is a conscious choice; he’s a believer in the Slow Food movement. That shows in his Atlanta restaurant, Woodfire Grill, where he was once sous chef. Since Gillespie took over as co-owner and executive chef, every evening is crowded like Saturday night.
Don’t Miss: Try drool-worthy dishes like wood-smoked Berkshire pork belly and lacquered quail with smoky greens, caramelized onion grits, pepper sauce, and pork skin.
VOLT, Frederick, MD
Season 6 runner-up (to his—ouch—brother) Bryan Voltaggio may be a bit uptight, but that translates to immaculately refined, super-innovative New American food. Two years ago, the Charlie Palmer protégé opened VOLT in a 19th-century mansion, where he serves dishes with unexpected Asian touches (like wasabi whitefish roe) and unusual flavor combinations (like arctic char with white asparagus risotto and rhubarb).
Don’t Miss: Table 21—the changing, 21-course tasting menu that is served in the chef’s kitchen and usually starts with signature prosciutto chips—is worth the yearlong (!) waiting list.
Stefan’s at LA Farm,Los Angeles
Stefan Richter was everyone’s favorite villain—and eclectic Finnish/German chef—on Season 5. Even though he didn’t win (he finished a finalist), Richter still contends that “everyone knows” it was really his season. Now his eponymous restaurant serves items ranging from Kumamoto oysters with absinthe Jell-O to slow-braised pork cheek and caraway sausage with sauerkraut pretzel dumplings and beer sauce.
Don’t Miss: His new restaurant, Stefan’s on Montana, is less expensive and more Cali-influenced, but still includes a few Euro-dishes, like braised beef shoulder goulash with egg-noodle spaetzle.
ROCCA Kitchen &Bar, Boston
Season 1 runner-up Tiffani Faison was full steam ahead from the onset with a take-no-prisoners attitude and a self-taught “food as art” cooking philosophy. She became executive chef of South End’s ROCCA earlier this year after proving her aptitude for the restaurant’s signature Ligurian cuisine. Now she’s developed her own seasonal menu with everything from raw fish crudos (like Cape scallop with grapefruit and horseradish) to, of course, house-made pastas.
Don’t Miss: An entire section of the menu is dedicated to Vegetables, Leaves & Grains. Try the sweet-hot marinated eggplant and crispy artichokes.
Not everyone—or, really, anyone—earns a nickname from Tom Colicchio, but finalist Casey Thompson was known as “Case” by Season 3’s end. Now the born-and-bred Texan helms the new Brownstone restaurant in Fort Worth, where her southern roots have a strong influence. On Thompson’s farm-fresh menu: Texas tomatoes with cream curds, mini chicken pot pies, venison sausage, and her grandmother’s fire-roasted biscuits.
Don’t Miss: Farm-to-shaker southern cocktails like the Tequila Berry Cobbler and the Serrano Celery Caipirinha.
Ajna Bar (née BuddhaBar), New York
Some viewers didn’t jive with Season 3 winner Hung Huynh’s aggressive, competitive style, but his skill level is undeniable. He brings knowledge of Vietnamese and French cooking to this Asian-fusion restaurant, where the menu includes the same seared Peking duck breast with foie gras that Huynh served in his season’s finale—and that celebrity chef Todd English called “Michelin three-star worthy.”
Don’t Miss: Huynh’s seafood—especially scallops—is also above par. After all, he did win the gold medal for best fish at the Bocuse d’Or USA.
Sure, Tom Colicchio was running restaurants before anyone heard of reality TV, but he has taken to the medium and become everyone’s favorite judge. And he backs up his blunt commentary with a dozen New American restaurants across the country: Craft and Colicchio & Sons in New York; various ’Wichcraft sandwich spots and small plate Craftbars from coast to coast; and CraftSteak in Las Vegas, which consistently wins praise even years after opening.
Don’t Miss: One of his 10 cuts of Kobe-style beef.