Dining is one of travel’s greatest joys for those who see the world through food. Epicures know that a city is best experienced through its freshest catch and that a beloved local haunt can stand in for an entire neighborhood.
An opulent Mediterranean spot in Miami comes with a storied past. A century-old icon in New Orleans’s French Quarter is just as known for live jazz as it is for signature shrimp. In Montana, a bucolic lodge serves up top-notch farm-to-table fare and epic Big Sky sunsets.
The menus, experiences, and photo-ops at these awe-inspiring places draw visitors from around the globe. Read on for a guide to 13 restaurants where dinner reservations may be booked before the flights.
Arnaud’s – New Orleans, LA
This century-old French Quarter restaurant right off of Bourbon Street has everything a Big Easy visitor wants: white-tablecloth service, an impeccably restored dining room, and some of the city’s best Creole hits. Hear live music in the Jazz Bistro, cozy up in the main dining room, or toast friends in the French 75 cocktail bar (which won the 2017 James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program). Order the signature shrimp Arnaud, marinated in tangy remoulade sauce, and oysters Bienville for the table—and, of course, a gin and Champagne cocktail for sipping.
River Cafe – Brooklyn, NY
Fine dining with all the frills best describes a meal at this MICHELIN-starred New American stunner. Nestled under the Brooklyn Bridge, the River Cafe has exuded elegance since 1977, thanks to crisp white tablecloths always adorned with fresh flowers and an ethereal fairy-lit garden—diners even have to adhere to a formal dress code. River Cafe’s outdoor patio is best saved for special occasions, so you can savor your celebratory meal and feast on Mediterranean sea bass with a wild shrimp crust or roasted Colorado rack of lamb while Manhattan’s iconic skyline glistens in the background.
Calissa – Watermill, NY
Billed as “Mykonos in the Hamptons,” Calissa is named for the brightest constellation in the summer sky—appropriate for this sweeping terrace and dazzling wedding venue. The menu takes inspiration from Greek delicacies, and includes chicken souvlaki with pita and tzatziki, Mediterranean mezze such as roasted eggplant with yogurt and sesame, and grilled octopus with fava, capers, and scallions. Mykonos’s Wine Spectator-winning wine list offers the largest selection of rosé in the Hamptons (yes, you read that right), and evening entertainment includes an ever-changing lineup of artists and entertainers, plus DJs every Friday and Saturday night.
Mama’s Fish House – Maui, HI
Mama’s Fish House might be a local Maui landmark, but it’s also high on the visitor list. Its tropical setting doesn’t hurt—a converted beach house in a coconut grove on a secluded beach. Neither does the open-air dining, with a view of windsurfers on the nearby shore. Fishermen venture out daily in small boats to catch mahi-mahi and ono, which are processed and served within 24 hours. To drive the point home, the fishermen are listed by name on the menu, along with where they caught the fish. Catches are served raw with lime and coconut milk, seared under caramelized onions and baby bok choy, or wrapped in ti leaves and grilled whole.
Yank Sing – Rincon Center – San Francisco, CA
Thin-skinned Shanghai soup dumplings and killer custard creams are some of the major draws at this MICHELIN Bib Gourmand recipient. But so is the restaurant’s history: Yank Sing is a third-generation family-owned spot (with two locations) that has fed San Franciscans small Cantonese dishes since 1958. Rolling carts continuously emerge from the kitchen at the restaurant’s Spear Street location, loaded with favorites such as pork and shrimp siu mai and pan-fried chicken buns. It all adds up to one of the country’s most historic and consistently best dim sum experiences.
One Duval – Pier House Resort & Spa – Key West, FL
Oceanfront deck, check. Sunset and sailboat views, check. Ever-changing menu with eclectic local accents, check and check. Under the leadership of Havana-born chef Maria Manso, this signature restaurant of The Pier House Resort & Spa has become a go-to destination for Key West visitors. The menu pays homage to flavors from the Caribbean and the Americas with dishes such as cream white conch chowder and plantain-crusted ahi tuna. Don’t leave without a taste of the key lime pie, which reviewers swear is among the island’s best.
Gallatin River Lodge Restaurant – Bozeman, MT
Don’t let this lodge’s bucolic backdrop fool you—its seasonal farm-to-table restaurant is world-class. Dinner is centered around what’s fresh and in season, so expect masa pan-fried trout with ponzu and finger limes in the summer, and elk in the fall and winter. Gallatin’s intimate dining room features sliding glass doors that offer a chance to spot wild deer in the surrounding pasture. An inviting selection of regional microbrews is best consumed at the edge of the trout pond during an epic Big Sky sunset.
Gianni’s at the Former Versace Mansion – Miami, FL
This South Beach hotspot—once the not-so-humble palazzo of famed fashion designer Gianni Versace—is the embodiment of opulence. Whether you dine by the iconic Italian mosaic pool made with golden tiles, the serene open-air courtyard, or in one of the ornate dining rooms, Gianni’s promises an elegant Italian-Mediterranean menu. Get creative with dishes such as octopus carpaccio, or keep it simple with the housemade spaghetti pomodoro. Consider capping off your extravagant meal with a golden margarita, the restaurant’s signature cocktail featuring 24-karat gold flakes.
Sierra Mar – Post Ranch Inn – Big Sur, CA
Sierra Mar is a diner’s dream perched on California’s rugged Central Coast. The bounty of Big Sur and its neighboring coastal communities get top billing here, whether it’s heirloom produce from the onsite garden in the chef’s Garden Harvest lunch or the beef tenderloin with potato galette and chanterelles for dinner. To all that, add an enclosed glass dining room with sweeping Pacific Ocean views and exquisite white-tablecloth service, and there’s no doubt why Sierra Mar is the ultimate postcard-perfect dining destination.
White Horse Tavern – Newport, RI
Via a red clapboard exterior, centuries-old pinewood flooring, and four towering fireplaces, this long-standing Newport icon offers diners a remarkable glimpse at 17th-century colonial America. The enduring tavern was once a gathering spot for the Rhode Island Colony’s General Assembly, city council, and criminal court. Today, it showcases the region’s artisan meats and produce in staples such as the duck Scotch egg, a soft-boiled egg wrapped in duck sausage and panko bread crumbs, and the beef Wellington with foie gras mousse, puff pastry, whipped potatoes, greens, and glazed carrots.
Providence – Los Angeles, CA
Providence’s two MICHELIN stars alone make it worth a visit. But visitors also add this acclaimed restaurant to their LA itineraries for its ultra sustainable menu, steered by James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Cimarusti. Providence serves some of the city’s freshest seafood, including prawns from Santa Barbara, wild-caught king salmon from Alaska, and farm-raised zero-input mussels and clams. When it comes to desserts, executive pastry chef Mac Daniel Dimla’s no-waste chocolate program means that every part of the cacao bean is used: Nibs and powder are turned into chocolate, creams, and cakes, while the husk gets transformed into a mellow tea—a soothing way to end an unforgettable meal.
Rodney Scott’s BBQ – Charleston, SC
Rodney Scott learned the traditional art of whole-hog barbecue as a kid in his family’s Hemingway, South Carolina restaurant. In 2017, he opened his own place in Charleston and Rodney Scott’s BBQ immediately earned recognition from Bon Appétit as one of the best new restaurants in the country—a year later, a James Beard Award followed, cementing its place as an American barbecue mainstay. What sets Scott’s food apart is the craft: Hardwood burned down to glowing embers, shoveled under meat, and regulated meticulously over hours. Start with the crowd-pleasing pork sandwich and coleslaw, then come back for the brisket. Ella’s banana pudding, named after Rodney’s mom, is a must.
The Grey – Savannah, GA
The Grey is housed in a former Greyhound bus terminal in downtown Savannah. Diners don’t need to hop on a silver bus to explore the South at this one-of-a-kind restaurant—they can do it by tasting what’s on their plates instead. James Beard Award winner chef-owner Mashama Bailey’s menu is a celebration of the chef’s Georgia roots—don’t skip the country captain chicken and red rice balls—and has continued to earn the restaurant a spot on several “best-of” lists every year, including nods from Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine.
Christabel Lobo is a food and travel writer based between Washington, D.C. and south India. Find her on Instagram @whereschristabel and Twitter @wheresbel.
Olivia Terenzio contributed to this guide.