1 Alinea (Chicago, Illinois)
The menu at Chicago’s three-Michelin-starred Alinea, which trailblazing chef Grant Achatz and business partner Nick Kokonas opened in 2005, can sometimes sound deceptively simple and opaque (“Contrast | Osetra, Sesame, Yogurt,” for example), but what shows up on the plate is guaranteed to be dazzlingly good and unlike anything you’ve ever tried before. Achatz consistently turns out some of the most imaginative and delicious modernist cuisine in the country — his goal is to completely rethink what a restaurant can be. At Alinea, you never quite know what you’re going to be served, but a paradigm-shifting experience is all but guaranteed. If you want to experience America’s best restaurant for yourself, keep in mind that it’s also one of America’s most expensive restaurants.
2 Eleven Madison Park (New York City, New York)
Eleven Madison Park opened in 1998, and with Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm in the kitchen since 2006, it’s become the very best restaurant in New York City. Humm and his team work their magic inside a soaring and elegant dining room overlooking Madison Square Park, where they serve an eight-to-10-course tasting menu with a modernist French twist. It changes daily, but Humm’s signature honey and lavender duck is always on offer. Reservations are extraordinarily difficult to get, but if you can snag one, this is easily one of the best restaurants in America for a special-occasion meal.
3 Atelier Crenn (San Francisco, California)
Courtesy of Atelier Crenn
There are only 22 seats and eight tables at James Beard Award-winning chef Dominique Crenn’s three-Michelin-starred flagship Atelier Crenn, where guests drop $345 on advance reservations in order to experience her acclaimed multi-course modernist tasting menu. This is some truly high-concept dining, yet it is not precious or pretentious. As of 2019, the restaurant is meat free, focusing only on sustainable, seasonal seafood and vegetables.
4 Le Bernardin (New York City, New York)
Courtesy of Le Bernardin
The elegant, seafood-focused Le Bernardin, which opened in 1986 and has been led by chef Eric Ripert since 1994, has more James Beard Awards than any other restaurant in New York City. Ripert is an artist working with impeccable raw materials. Eat in Le Bernardin’s modern dining room against a backdrop of painted waves and enjoy dishes from the chef’s tasting menu like warm langoustine with seaweed-mushroom salad and dashi broth; sauteed Dover sole with almonds, chanterelles and soy-lime emulsion; and barely cooked Faroe Islands salmon with black truffle pot-au-feu.
5 Inn at Little Washington (Washington, Virginia)
The Inn at Little Washington/Yelp
Self-taught chef Patrick O’Connell opened his Washington, Virginia, restaurant Inn at Little Washington in 1978, and it is ornate, eclectic, and one of America’s most romantic restaurants. He formed alliances with local farmers and artisanal producers long before it was fashionable and developed into a sophisticated modern American chef of the highest order. Menu items at The Inn at Little Washington might include a “sandwich” of pan-roasted quail with braised endive and huckleberries, green bean tartare with tomato vinaigrette, and a crispy Napoleon of chilled Maine lobster with caviar and spicy bloody mary coulis. O’Connell was awarded the 2019 James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Inn is the longest-tenured Forbes Five-Star restaurant in the world.
6 Joël Robuchon (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Courtesy MGM Resorts International
The opulent and ornate Joël Robuchon in the MGM Grand is about as fine-dining as fine-dining gets. Joël Robuchon was the first restaurant opened in America by the famed, award-winning Robuchon, and today the kitchen is run by chef Christophe de Lellis. Everything is impeccable, from its superb service and impressive (and impressively pricey) wine list to such finely crafted dishes as Le Caviar Imperial, a disc of king crab topped with an ample amount of osetra caviar atop a crustacean gelee dotted with cauliflower puree. Just be prepared to shell out — it’s one of the most expensive restaurants on Earth.
7 The Restaurant at Meadowood (St. Helena, California)
Courtesy of Restaurant at Meadowood
Chef Christopher Kostow’s three-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood is Napa Valley’s premier dining experience, serving a daily-changing tasting menu of simply prepared local, seasonal ingredients on the grounds of a sprawling luxury resort. Kostow’s team has built relationships with local artisans, growers and foragers and there’s also a 3.5-acre garden on-premises for growing produce. How’s the food, you ask? Expect modern American cuisine featuring masterful technique and deft mixes of texture and flavor — alternately playful, straightforward and serious.
8 The Barn at Blackberry Farm (Walland, Tennessee)
The cuisine at The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, is so influential that it has inspired a new category: Foothills Cuisine. The dining room here is about as upscale and romantic as it gets, and the menu from chef Casidee Dabney is part rugged, part refined and always inspired by the ingredients and foodways of the Smoky Mountains. A good representative of what’s on offer is a hearth fried farm egg with grilled broccolini, roasted mushrooms, crispy chicken skin and honey gastrique.
9 The French Laundry (Yountville, California)
Thomas Keller is a perfectionist who approaches contemporary American food with classical technique. His French Laundry in Napa Valley, with its now-famous blue door, has established new standards for fine dining in this country since opening in 1994. Like at its sister restaurant Per Se in New York, the two tasting menus (one vegetarian) change daily, but diners can always expect refined and elegant interpretations of the highest-quality-available ingredients. If you can spare the expense and are able to get a reservation, it’s one of the restaurants you absolutely need to visit.
10 Blue Hill at Stone Barns (Pocantico Hills, New York)
Legendary locavore Dan Barber has found the perfect home at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a beautiful restaurant on a year-round farm and education center in a tiny New York hamlet called Pocantico Hills that’s become a tourist attraction in its own right. This farm-to-table restaurant prepares meals based largely on the day’s harvest, served in a gorgeous and minimalist dining room with a vaulted ceiling, reclaimed wood floors, cream-colored walls, plenty of windows, well-spaced tables, hanging plants and white tablecloths. The serene and upscale dining room, the high-end cuisine and the pastoral setting combine to create one of the most picturesque and pastoral dining experiences in America.
11 The Willows Inn (Lummi Island, Washington)
Chef Blaine Wetzel has been at the helm of The Willows Inn on Washington’s remote Lummi Island (about 30 miles from the Canadian border) since 2010, and in that time he’s turned it into a true fine-dining locavore destination, showcasing the bounty of the small island, and has also taken over the circa-1910 inn the restaurant is connected to. There’s one seating nightly, and diners can expect a cavalcade of endlessly creative dishes served alongside bread (The Willows grows and mills its own wheat) with chicken pan drippings for dipping.
12 Manresa (Los Gatos, California)
Courtesy of Manresa
Since opening his three-Michelin-starred Los Gatos, California, restaurant Manresa in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains in 2002, chef David Kinch has defied conventional culinary categorization. The best way to describe him and his cuisine is to use one word: original. His $295 tasting menu uses local, seasonal products and changes daily, and dishes feature vast landscapes of ingredients and flavors that are thoughtful and experimental, but never overwrought.
13 Coi (San Francisco, California)
Chef Daniel Patterson is back in the kitchen at Coi, the restaurant he founded in 2006, and he’s once again serving creative, elegant daily-changing tasting menus. Patterson’s cooking defies categorization, but diners can expect seasonal, inspired creations like Dungeness crab and beef tendon soup with finger lime and pear, abalone wrapped in chicken broth and yuba, and inverted sheep’s milk fromage blanc tart with wheatgrass and anise.
14 Dialogue (Santa Monica, California)
Courtesy of Dialogue
Dialogue is an 18-seat restaurant and tasting counter from which chef Dave Beran and his team serve a seasonally inspired multi-course tasting menu. The market-driven menu changes on a near-daily basis depending on what’s fresh and in season, but Beran’s objective is to guide diners on a progression from the previous season, to the current, to the one ahead. Expect whimsically named dishes like “thoughts on oysters,” “three years of plums” and “onion, entirely…”
15 Girl & the Goat (Chicago, Illinois)
Girl and the Goat/Yelp
Stephanie Izard’s always-packed Chicago restaurant Girl & the Goat is a daily party where endlessly creative, boldly flavored, globally inspired family-style dishes comfortably walk the line between envelope-pushing and comfort food. Dishes like apple gjetost pierogis, milk braised pork pasta with kale and pickled persimmon, and confit goat belly with bourbon butter are just part of the reason why this place is one of the greats.
16 Quince (San Francisco, California)
At San Francisco’s three-Michelin-starred Quince, chef and owner Michael Tusk creates a dining experience rooted in his relationships with a tightly knit network of only the best Northern California food purveyors. Every night, the eight- to 10-course tasting menu features vegetable-driven dishes highlighting the season’s produce, much of which is grown on a Bolinas, California, organic farm exclusively for Tusk. Expect dishes like celtuce with kombu and finger lime, and lamb in diverse preparations with shelling bean, fennel and Jimmy Nardello pepper.
17 Daniel (New York City, New York)
Courtesy of Daniel
The flagship restaurant of the tireless Daniel Boulud, the stately and sophisticated Daniel has been serving seasonal, globally inspired modern French cuisine on New York City’s Upper East Side since 1993. In a succession of 28 to 30 dishes served in four courses, diners can expect delicate and ultra-luxe creations like squab consomme with port, foie gras, king oyster mushroom, pumpkin seeds and black truffle, and a tasting of Pennsylvania rabbit with green olives, braised leg ravioli and Brussels sprouts. The menu changes slightly every week, and it completely turns over with each season. There’s also a bar there that’s up there with America’s best cocktail bars.
18 Next (Chicago, Illinois)
Open since 2011, chef Grant Achatz’s groundbreaking restaurant Next serves a prix fixe menu with a theme that completely changes every four months. You never know what’s going to be placed before you — it could be anything from a classic ris de veau (Nouvelle Cuisine) to abalone with cucumber and red sea grapes (Kyoto menu). Well, technically, it will be neither, given that those dishes are from past menus. Whatever genre they set their sights on (2020 brings the cuisine of Tokyo, Mexico City and a tribute to England’s famed Fat Duck) isn’t just faithfully replicated, it’s usually improved upon.
19 Guy Savoy (Las Vegas, Nevada)
The Las Vegas version of Guy Savoy (the original is in Paris) is in Caesars Palace and is airy and modern. Both prix fixe and a la carte menus are available, showcasing signature dishes including Savoy’s famous artichoke and black truffle soup and a $125 plate of wild squab, pleasant, duck, foie gras and cabbage with light game jus that carries its own buckshot warning.
20 Per Se (New York City, New York)
In an elegant dining room overlooking New York City’s Central Park, Per Se upholds the standards set by Thomas Keller, earning it three Michelin stars. There are two tasting menus, a chef’s tasting menu and a vegetarian one, and both clock in at $355. Those menus change daily, but expect super-refined dishes like slow-cooked filet of Montauk John Dory with mousse de crevettes, wilted bok choy, pickled salsify and yuzu emulsion. One item that never leaves the menu? Keller’s famous “Oysters and Pearls,” with sabayon, tapioca, oysters and caviar.
21 Momofuku Ko (New York City, New York)
In 2008, chef David Chang opened a simple counter with a handful of stools and chefs preparing a constantly changing tasting menu inspired by the tradition of Japanese kaiseki in full view of the diners. Today, diners hoping to enjoy the multi-course, $255, two-and-a-half-hour, daily-changing tasting helmed by Momofuku veteran chef Sean Gray will thankfully find dishes that sound simple on the menu — “wagyu – foie gras,” “duck – celery root, calamansi,” “butternut squash – black truffle” — that are anything but simple in execution.