Restaurants Actually Worth Your Time and Money
Serious Pie -- Seattle, WA
Chef Tom Douglas' pizza joint takes pizza seriously, yet not really. The atmosphere is relaxed, as you sit at long tables with other random people. But you don't care, and don't even have time to worry about awkward conversations with strangers because you're too busy eating the amazing pizza. Not since living back east have I had perfect pizza. Done. I'm converted. Sorry everyone else, Serious Pie is perfection. From classic margarita and clams casino pizzas to more inventive potato and romano cheese and exotic chanterelle mushroom and truffled cheese, you cannot go wrong. It's seriously perfect. And add some wine or beer on tap, it's excellent. The desserts leave more to be desired, but you won't care; you're there for the appetizers and pizza. Go now. If you don't live in Seattle or in NY/NJ/CT, then book a flight please and go this weekend. I'm serious.
If you don't believe me, then check out their website and then come talk to me. Perfect crust. Fresh ingredients. Heaven.
Salumi -- Seattle, WA
Pork store heaven. Mario Batali's father opened this fabulous salumeria where he showcases homemade dried meats and cheeses to your delight. He offers seasonal creations like lavender-infused salami in summer, so if you live in the area, check back often! But the food is just as good if not better than the dried and smoked stuff. Fig sandwiches with house-made prosciutto, porchata, meatball subs, and other various weekly pasta, soup, and salad specials are big in portion, fresh, and simply to die for. Check out my blog posting on our first trip to Salumi here.
And check out their website to order your own salamis, prosciuttos, and cheeses delivered straight to your house!
Piroshky Piroshky -- Pike Market, Seattle, WA
Fresh, hot, flaky, buttery pastry. Filled with everything from well-seasoned savory beef and onion to sharp cheddar and dill to cinnamon-apples. This places is pastry done right! The piroshky -- a Russian staple food using up leftover ingredients much as the pizza -- is a wonderful snack when visiting the famous Pike Market here in Seattle. It's a Must See, as the god Anthony Bourdain showed us. My personal favorite is the beef and onion. Get it. Ask diet questions later. Check out a mention of Pirosky Piroshky last year on my other blog when we first visited Seattle! Trajan's favorite!
Check out their website for menu offerings, time, and t-shirts. I've got one, do you?
Salish Lodge -- Snoqualmie, WA
There are only three reasons why you should go here if you're in town. (1) The view. (2) The brunch. (3) The tea. And if you can combine all three of them, you've got an awesome start to the day. The view is amazing -- the restaurant sits atop a huge waterfall -- so if you're planning a trip then try to make reservations for a window table. The brunch is delicious -- nothing spectacularly unusual, but the well-executed familiarity of omelets and pancakes is sometimes a lovely thing. And you must get the tea. Even if you don't drink tea, you will love it. My personal faves? The waffles with caramel-pear tea. To. Die. For.
Look here on their website to make a reservation. And don't forget your camera!
Voodoo Doughnuts -- Portland, OR
Perfect doughnuts. Best. Ever. But here's the deal: you gotta do the time and stand in line. Portland's operation is far superior to their Eugene one simply because Portland has a faster turn around. Meaning, more people = longer lines but fresher doughnuts. And fresher always tastes better. Read my blog posting on my Voodoo Experience. And yes, the magic certainly is in the hole.
Del Monico - Las Vegas, NV
It's been a while since I've gone here, but it's officially a Must Dine any time I'm in Las Vegas. Emeril's steakhouse offers aged steaks cooked to perfection, with simple and satisfying sides. It's steakhouse done right, and the best part is the service. They go out of their way to make you comfortable, at ease, and to enjoy your meal from the moment they greet you to the time you say goodbye. That alone is what distinguishes this steakhouse among others for me. From start to finish, the classic steakhouse menu will not disappoint you.
Check out their website for the menu, but bring a napkin first. I promise you will drool.
Gino's East Pizza - Chicago, IL
If you want to try authentic, Chicago-style pizza, then Gino's is your bet! Went here. Loved it. Need more. That's all I have to say. If you're in Chicago you absolutely must try it. Wait as long as you have to -- it will be worth it for a big slice of heaven. And get the sausage on the pizza. The curiosity that they can make sausage into a flat disk to perfectly fit the pizza is reason enough to go. Amazing.
Look at their website for more info! And send me a t-shirt!
Mediterranea Cafe - New Haven, CT
Love, love, LOVE this place. One of the first places I'd go to when I moved to New Haven, owner/chef Omar and his dad (seriously how cute is that) cook up super authentic Middle Eastern and Italian fare. The pizza is great, but in my opinion their strength lies in their Middle Eastern food. The falafel is perfect, the babaganouj is incredible, and the kebobs are delicious. But my all-time favorites which to this day I cannot find anywhere else executed as wonderfully as I did at Mediterranea, are the Moujaddarah and the Foul Mudammas. Anything on the menu is just wonderful and will shock you into a stratosphere of food happiness.
Check out the website for more info, live entertainment (!), and even hookah! The atmosphere is just as exciting as the food, and definitely a good night out with friends or a date!
Pepe's - New Haven, CT
In the great debate on who has the best pizza on the east coast, I'm going to bravely step out and say Pepe's. Yup -- my votes for Connecticut! Many people don't know this, but Connecticut has a style of pizza also -- the Napoletana. It's a thinner and crispier crust with only fresh ingredients (that would be fresh mozzarella folks) and it's to die for. It's the best. Sorry New York and Chicago, but my vote's for small but mighty Connecticut style!
If you're planning a trip to the east coast or live there now, it's worth the drive. But be prepared to stay in line! Andrew and I would even stay in line during the snow storm to get this pizza, and we weren't the only ones! Here's their website for more information.
Capriccio - Stamford, CT
Small but mighty, Capriccio made a statement in busy Stamford while we were living there and only got bigger since we've left. Serving up delicious made-to-order pizzas, calzones, panini (the BEST), and desserts (nutellino anyone?), they were our go-to cafe every single week. I simply love this place. I love how they do simple and honest food, and it's always good. We seriously went every single week, sometimes multiple times, and it never was bad. Not once did we have a shitty experience or unfriendly service. Love this place.
Check out their website for more info!
Barcelona -- West Hartford, CT
Love this restaurant. Serving up tapas (Spanish for "small plates") and killer pitchers of sangria, Barcelona is a wonderful place for a nice dinner or fun night out with friends. The food is authentic, perfectly executed and thoughtfully made by chef Adam Greenberg. They have other locations as well, so definitely check them out. But Adam's West Hartford one is the one I sampled and ate like a queen. Some of the best food and memories I've had.
And check out their website here.
The Rainbow - Los Angeles, CA
No, it's not a gay bar. It's actually a restaurant that used to be frequented by the 80s glam rock and rock n' roll elite in Los Angeles. You remember ... when living in L.A. was actually cool? The food is Italian influenced and pretty damn decent. My votes for must-haves are the stuffed mushrooms and pizza. The mushrooms for sure. But you're mostly going for ambiance here. Various autographed pictures and instruments of rock heroes gone by adorn the gaudy red and black leather booths and wood paneled rooms. Drink whiskey, get the mushrooms, and avoid eye contact. And maybe you'll even spot Sharon Osbourn and her son Jack at lunch like I did one time. Or Slash from Guns n Roses!
For more info, check out their website.
Mastro's - Newport Beach, CA
Most people can't believe I'm actually going to say this, but it's the best steak I've had in my life. Just barely edging out steakhouses in New York, Mastro's offers simply prepared steak with no frills or trills -- just an excellent cut of meat, seasoned perfectly with salt and pepper, perfectly cooked and hot on my plate. That's it. And that's all I want when I'm in the mood for steak. But add some lobster mashed potatoes to it and the best creamed spinach on God's green earth and now we're in business. Wine list is amazing, cocktails are classic and well done, and the staff is knowledgeable although a little cool on the personality side. Dress is typical California Caca-Casual (really people, can we dress up at least once?!) so shockingly, flip flops and polos are the staple along side the fake tits and orange hands reaching for more rolls. But the good news is the food is amazing so you won't even bother "people watching" more than once.
Check out their website for more info. And tell me when you're going so I can come too.
Sparks Steakhouse - NewYork, NY
Formerly my favorite steak house before it got dethroned by Mastro's, Spark's offers a gorgeous seasoned steak. That means more than just salt and pepper. And if you're into obscenely large lobsters (we're talking 5 pounders here!) then this is your place. Classic NY steak house decor dotted with men in pin-striped suits puffing on cigars with big-haired olive-skin ladies clad in sequin and long red nails clutching champagne flutes makes for the best people watching. And the fact mob boss Paul Castellano was gunned down right outside the front door adds to the mystique of this Italian hot spot. Go here. The food is great, the people are intriguing, and the service is perfect.
Check out their website for more info.
La Grenouille - New York, NY
Where I often refer to affectionately as where I popped my culinary cherry. La Grenoille is a French restaurant in Manhattan that we happened upon. It's amazing. Expensive, but life-changing. I can't even go into words, so you must save money and go there to be enlightened. It's pretentious, but in that classic stuffy French way which I think all of us need to experience. Because the food is amazing.
Check out their website.
Bottega - Yountville, CA
One word: ok, two: duck gnocchi. Read my detail post here and the lengths I would go through to enjoy a meal prepared by Michael Chiarello. Does he know? I wonder. Would he want to? Probably not.
Next time you're in Napa area check it out: website. And invite me. I shall dine with you!
Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen -- Downtown Disney, Anaheim, CA
Yes, I'm serious. Look, not all food has to be fancy schmanz. It just has to taste damn good and have a wonderful atmosphere. Check on both for Ralph Brennan's! Live jazz plus good food and drinks = fun times. And get the chocolate bread pudding and beneighs for dessert. Trust me.
For more info check out their website.