When Chef Nick Curtin first arrived in New York, he stumbled upon a West Village restaurant disguised as a town house. He had discovered tapas heaven—otherwise known as Alta restaurant—and has returned many times for the sangria and bacon-wrapped dates.
Everyone wants to know where to eat, but there’s no need to wander any further. Curtin is one of the 51 talented chefs who’ve clued us in—revealing favorite local haunts in each state and D.C. Their picks reflect the remarkable ethnic and cultural range of American cooking today. Looking for the best kimchi-fried-egg hot dog in Ohio? It’s here. How about beef-cheek bourguignonne in Oregon? We’ve got you covered.
Many of the chefs’ recommendations share a humble, hearty, no-fuss appeal. After all, the last thing a chef wants—after spending eight hours a day arranging microgreens on sea bass—is more haute cuisine. In Washington, for instance, chef Matt Dillon (of Sitka & Spruce) can’t get enough of the Japanese street snack takoyaki at Maneki, Seattle’s longest-running restaurant. “They’re like little donut holes filled with diced baby octopus, plus a bottom layer of barbecue sauce and a top layer of bonito flakes,” he says.
Personal service can also make the difference. Texas chef Bryan Caswell of Reef, in Houston, loves the atmosphere at the Indian-Pakistani restaurant Himalaya, where the chef, Kaiser Lashkari, provides personal suggestions to patrons, then takes their orders and cooks. “[Lashkari] makes a goat biryani that truly blows my mind.”
These chefs need not only mind-blowing food, but a restaurant that keeps up—literally—and food trucks are often just the convenient thing. In Boulder, CO, chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson (Frasca Food & Wine) refuels at Comida, a hot-pink vending truck that whips up Mexican street food such as braised beef short ribs and sweet potato mash.
Still hungry? We’ve barely scratched the surface. Read on for the best restaurants and dishes from coast to coast, brought to you by America’s celebrated chefs. —Nina Fedrizzi
Interviews by Francine Maroukian