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America’s 38 Essential Restaurants

The bistros, pizzerias, steakhouses, and taco trucks that defined dining in 2017

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What are the restaurants that altogether define dining in America? For nearly four years, I’ve been chasing this consuming riddle around the country as Eater's national critic. There will never be an immutable answer, and that’s what makes eating across the nation so riveting. But this annual roadmap — the apex of my work, the result of 32 weeks of travel and over 500 meals in 36 cities — attempts to encapsulate our astonishing food culture at this moment.

As with the city-based Eater 38 maps upon which the list is patterned, restaurants rotate on and off gradually. Choosing which paragons to oust from the list is always agony. Eight remain from the original guide, published in January 2015, while a record 18 newcomers join the ranks in 2017.

In polarizing times, these places don’t just exemplify culinary excellence — they foster hospitality and pleasure and purpose in their communities. They show us who we are and who we can be. The roster includes a 24-seat destination for fiery Filipino dishes in Washington, D.C., a revolutionary steakhouse in Seattle, a Los Angeles kaiseki restaurant whose food uniquely marries intellect and emotion, and a New Orleans draw for finely calibrated Caribbean cuisine.

I’ve also named a Restaurant of the Year, an of-the-moment union of breathtaking design and rooted, spectacular cooking in one of the country’s most timeless towns — Savannah.

Among these national essentials, some are decades-old classics, while others represent the frontlines of culinary thinking and emerging cuisines (though all must be 18 months old to qualify). Taken together, they embody a definition of American dining that we can all savor.

America’s Essential Restaurants 2017

= an Eater Hall of Fame restaurant, on this list for three consecutive years

The 2016 list | The 2015 list | The 2014 list

Al Ameer, Dearborn, MI | ★ Alinea, Chicago, IL | Bad Saint, Washington, D.C. | Bateau, Seattle, WA | ★ Benu, San Francisco, CA | Bertha’s, Charleston, SC | ★ Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, NY | Cala, San Francisco, CA | Compère Lapin, New Orleans, LA | Le Coucou, New York City, NY | Dumpling Galaxy, New York City, NY | ★ Eventide Oyster Co., Portland, ME | ★ Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX | ★ Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, CO | The Grey, Savannah, GA | The Grocery, Charleston, SC | Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham, AL | Hugo’s, Houston, TX | ★ Kachka, Portland, OR | Mariscos Jalisco, Los Angeles, CA | Milktooth, Indianapolis, IN | Miller Union, Atlanta, GA | Mister Jiu’s, San Francisco, CA | Monteverde, Chicago, IL | Mud Hen Water, Honolulu, HI | n/naka, Los Angeles, CA | La Petite Grocery, New Orleans, LA | ★ Poole’s Downtown Diner, Raleigh, NC | ★ Prince’s Hot Chicken, Nashville, TN | Prune, New York City, NY | ★ The Publican, Chicago, IL | Republique, Los Angeles, CA | Willows Inn, Lummi Island, WA | Sally’s Apizza, New Haven, CT | Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis, MN | Sqirl, Los Angeles, CA | Staplehouse, Atlanta, GA | ★ Zahav, Philadelphia, PA

Restaurant of the Year

The Grey

Savannah, Georgia

Chef Mashama Bailey and the Grey
Sarah Kohut

Everything that it takes to propel an ambitious restaurant to greatness — a coherent vision, a distaste for complacency, and singular leadership — Mashama Bailey accomplishes at the Grey in Savannah, Georgia. The restaurant synthesizes much of what’s relevant about this moment in American dining: an amalgamation of global and regional flavors; a big-city chef making a seismic impact in a smaller town; and an acute awareness of, and reckoning with, complex racial, economic, and cultural histories. The Grey doesn’t trade in tasting menu extravaganzas or modernist shenanigans. It’s an unabashed stunner of a space, staffed with kind-hearted souls. Beyond that, the cooking bursts with utter humanity. Bailey’s food — curried roast chicken, melting leeks with country ham and curls of grassy tomme, lamb shoulder braised with Senegalese spices — speaks to love of the region and devotion to the craft. Read more about The Grey, 2017’s Restaurant of The Year ->

Meet the Newcomers

Soft-shell crab okuy

Bad Saint

Washington, D.C.

With a no-reservations policy and only 24 seats, Bad Saint compels people to camp out (or pay someone to wait, a booming business in D.C.) for several hours before it even opens to feast on the most exciting Filipino cooking in the country. The generous payoff for the wait: Tom Cunanan’s extraordinary interpretation of his home country’s cuisine, gleaned from his mother’s recipes and his own ingenuity. His dishes are narcotic in their potency. Tear into his take on ukoy, a giant sweet potato fritter nearly the size of a basketball, to find shrimp or soft-shell crabs enmeshed in its crunchy tangles. By the second sherry-laced cocktail, the hassle of getting in recedes entirely from memory. 3226 11th Street NW, Washington, D.C.,


Seattle, Washington

Renee Erickson may be most famous for her oyster bar the Walrus and the Carpenter, but Bateau is her magnum opus — a steakhouse that should change the way America thinks about one of its most codified dining experiences. The restaurant butchers whole cows, dry-ages its own steaks, and offers two dozen cuts written on chalkboards. When the few nightly orders of New York strips and rib-eyes are gone, they’re gone, and diners must explore lesser-known cuts that are as intensely pleasurable and often more affordable. Some chophouse signifiers carry over — the composed salads, the steak tartare, the insightfully curated wine list — but forget yesteryear’s burgundy booths and mahogany paneling: Erickson went for sunny, corner-bistro elegance. 1040 East Union St., Seattle, WA (206) 900-8699,

The bar at Bateau


Charleston, South Carolina

Bertha’s azure-blue building pops against its surroundings, a stretch of stark, coastal flatness in industrial North Charleston. Albertha Grant founded the restaurant in the early 1980s, and many of her specialties — meaty okra stew, tomato-stained red rice, creamy lima beans, and turkey prioleau (a sustaining rice dish available only on Tuesdays) — originate from the culinary traditions of the Gullah, former slaves who established themselves in Lowcountry hamlets and the nearby islands. Grant died in 2007, and her daughters Sharon Grant Coakley, Julie Grant, and Linda Pinckney now own this community polestar. 2332 Meeting Street Road, Charleston, SC (843) 554-6519


San Francisco

The flavors of California and Mexico, already inherently entwined, meld into a singular expression of place in the hands of Gabriela Cámara. Start with the tostadas. One version overlaid with trout and avocado recalls the famous tuna tostadas served at Cámara’s groundbreaking seafood restaurant, Contramar, in Mexico City. At Cala, she delves further into the medium, painting landscapes on crisp tortillas using Dungeness crab and avocado, or abalone with trout roe, or trumpet mushrooms with sea palm. In Mexico, mariscos are Cámara’s trademark; in the Bay Area, she flaunts her mastery of carne. Brunch in the light-filled restaurant showcases sumptuous carnitas; weekday lunchtime focuses on tacos ladled with chicken tinga or stewed pork. 149 Fell St., San Francisco, CA (415) 660-7701,

Cala’s aguachile

Biscuits at Compère Lapin

Compère Lapin

New Orleans

New Orleans’s centuries-old ties to the Caribbean come into modern focus on the menu of Nina Compton, who was born in St. Lucia. Her goat curry is a one-dish history lesson in the global spice routes, while local black drum is rubbed with tingling jerk seasoning and scorching conch croquettes are quelled with pickled pineapple tartar sauce. This is all an obvious departure from meunière-bathed Creole cuisine, but this is the NOLA restaurant I find myself most endorsing to friends. It’s also a favorite haunt for a drink; star bartender Abigail Gullo concocts beauts like Wry Smile, made with East India Sherry, Grand Poppy amaro, and rye whiskey. 535 Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans, LA, (504) 599-2119,

Inside Le Coucou

Le Coucou

New York City

With our recent captivations with regional American and far-flung global cuisines, it was only a matter of time before once-pervasive grand French returned to our restaurant lives. Stephen Starr’s Gallic fairytale Le Coucou — helmed by Daniel Rose, the Chicago-born chef who also oversees two restaurants in Paris — leads the French revival that’s currently surging across the country. The room’s high ceilings, whitewashed brick, and spiraling chandeliers embody a certain studied European elegance. Wallow in butter and cream and gamy meats, particularly in the forms of pike quenelles in lobster sauce and a duo of grilled squab and lobster fricassee over pureed potatoes. This is also the choice backdrop for a downtown New York power breakfast. 138 Lafayette Street, New York, NY, (212) 271-4252,

Dumpling hot pot

Dumpling Galaxy

Queens, New York

In Helen You’s spicy beef dumplings, grated ginger isn’t just a flavor — it’s a deliberate physical sensation, its juicy crunch a bolded exclamation point against the highly seasoned meat. You doesn’t compress the fillings, so the elements blend but never quite lose their distinctiveness; she knows ingredient textures the way Van Gogh knew the feel of spreading paint across a canvas with his fingers. The restaurant serves dozens of variations on jiaozi, the pleated dumplings You mastered during her childhood in northeastern China. They look homely, but they contain multitudes. Try the version with lamb and squash, and then the pork and chive, and then her impeccable har gau. Are there better soup dumplings in New York? I haven’t found them. 42-35 Main St, Flushing, NY, (212) 518-3265,

The Grocery’s soft shell crab tasting

The Grocery

Charleston, South Carolina

Kevin Johnson’s bustling haven in Charleston’s Upper King Street area doesn’t pull in the same national press as big-name darlings like FIG and Husk, but over the last six years, The Grocery has steadily bloomed into one of the city’s most remarkable and welcoming restaurants. This is the circa-right-now modern American menu, Lowcountry edition: delicata squash with pomegranate and herbed tahini-yogurt sauce; smoked mackerel flanked by crackers with everything-bagel seasoning; triggerfish over cornbread puree, bacon, and pickled mushrooms. Johnson’s biggest triumph is his ace treatment of seasonal delicacies, including sublime shad roe in early spring, followed a few weeks later by soft-shell crabs precisely fried or sauteed. His take on a seafood pilau (Charleston gold rice, field peas, fried fish, shrimp, and clams) delights year-round. 4 Cannon Street, Charleston, SC (843) 302-8825,

Poseidon tostada

Mariscos Jalisco

Los Angeles

If I could only eat a single taco in America for the rest of my days, it would be the taco dorado de camaron from Raul Ortega’s mariscos truck, which parks in LA’s Boyle Heights community. This five-bite wonder is the apotheosis of taco engineering. A corn tortilla seizes to crispness in the deep fryer so that it cradles spiced shrimp whose ends frizzle in the hot oil. The tacos come two to an order, splashed with salsa roja and covered with avocado slices. They scorch and cool, crunch and yield, zigzag with flavors and calm with their harmonies, all in microseconds. Other creations entice, including the mighty Poseidon — a mashup of aguachile and ceviche heaped on a tostada. But Ortega deserves immortality for his shrimp taco. 3040 E Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, (323) 528-6701

Roast duck with pancakes and cucumber
Kassie Borreson

Mister Jiu’s

San Francisco

In a storied, circa-1880s building in the nation’s oldest Chinatown, chef-owner Brandon Jew reinterprets the Cantonese cuisine of his youth and lays the footing for a fresh expression of Chinese-American gastronomy. There’s freewheeling joy in the mixing and matching of dishes — some that channel dim sum mainstays, a few generous meat or seafood platters for sharing, and many options that express Jew’s love of California abundance. Note his clever allusions to Bay Area culture, such as scallion pancakes that twang with the distinct taste of sourdough. The dining room, a beautiful tableau where midcentury modern themes meet Chinese banquet hall adornments, is nearly as striking as the iconic city view out the wall of windows. Read Bill’s full review of Mister Jiu’s. 28 Waverly Place, San Francisco, CA 415-857-9688,

Oxtail ragu with creste di gallo



Sarah Grueneberg opened her corner West Loop Italian haven in 2015; her pastas deliver plenty of primal comfort, but she brings exceptional skill and respectful imagination to the genre. She toys with classics in sneaky-brilliant ways. Her cacio e pepe, for example, includes the traditional pecorino Romano but also incorporates ricotta whey, which smoothes the textures and softens the saltiness. She brings full-throttle Italian-American gusto to her ragù alla Napoletana, a Vesuvius of soppressata meatballs, sausage, and pork shank over fusilli. Start with a plate of burrata and ham, or a crisp salad, or ’nduja arancini — but reserve most of your appetite for the uplifting pastas. 1020 West Madison Street, Chicago, IL

Baked Opah

Mud Hen Water


O‘ahu native Ed Kenney owns four Honolulu restaurants; Mud Hen Water is his literal chef d’oeuvre, a thrilling synthesis of traditional Hawaiian and adopted local foods, fused with his own innovations. Fresh coconut milk and smoky grilled octopus animate his take on squid lūʻau (made with a base of pureed taro leaves). Pa‘i‘ai (pounded, undiluted taro) arrive as smooth, dense cakes flavored with shoyu sugar and nori. Or try the dishes influenced by other cultures: chicken long rice, typically a soupy, Chinese-influenced rice noodle dish, reimagined into croquettes; mussels flecked with Portuguese sausage; and a wacky, feel-good creation of “loaded” baked bananas stuffed with coconut, bacon, peanuts, egg, and curry butter. Hawai‘i comprises an entire culinary universe, and no restaurant bridges its islands and worlds like this one. 3452 Waialae Avenue, Honolulu, HI, (808) 737-6000,

Maguro with beet puree


Los Angeles

Like watching a riveting play or studying a striking portrait, Niki Nakayama’s individualistic kaiseki meals stir up a wondrous, wordless sort of emotional resonance. Dishes marry Japanese and Californian cuisines, a direct reflection of Nakayama’s heritage and her Los Angeles upbringing. The progression of dishes segues through a breadth of cooking techniques and presentations: Fried Santa Barbara rockfish in tomatillo dashi, for example, might be followed by steamed uni and snow crab over taro root puree. Nakayama’s warm, devoted staff makes the evening, and the exquisite sake pairings, seamless. Securing a reservation is brutal: Check the restaurant’s website on Sundays at 10 a.m. (Pacific Time) for slots three months in advance. 3455 Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, (310) 836-6252,

Brunch spread


New York City

Plenty of our most influential chefs find their inspiration by conveying a heady sense of place. Gabrielle Hamilton has influenced a generation by cultivating a clear sense of self. Her diary-like menus express her appetites, memories, fantasies, and curiosities. Hamilton is an accomplished writer, but in the kitchen she is an equally gifted editor. She knows that a pheromone of rose water will transform a whole orange poached in simple syrup into something otherworldly, and that a garnish of fried chicken skin will lift soothing cream of chicken soup from the home stove to the restaurant table. Brunch, with its near-dozen bloody mary variations and its Dutch baby pancakes, is the tiny restaurant’s most famous meal. I prefer dinner, when you’re likely to see Ashley Merriman, Hamilton’s co-chef and wife, behind the line, and when the dessert lineup includes twisted nostalgias like creme de menthe parfait. 54 East First Street, New York, NY, (212) 677-6221,

Cream puffs


Los Angeles

Walter and Margarita Manzke built their ambitious collaboration into a benchmark for modern, all-day dining. Republique is a place to come for a celebratory dinner, to meet colleagues for lunch, or to swing by for coffee and stunning midday pastries while staring into your laptop. In the evening the kitchen turns out Californian-European pleasures: soft-scrambled eggs and uni on toast, foie gras au torchon with nectarine chutney, grilled octopus salad with melon and pistachios. Breakfast and lunch are equals to dinner, a rarity in American restaurants. After one too many of Margarita Manzke’s croissants and jam-filled doughnuts, veer to pork adobo fried rice or arroz caldo (a gingery, garlicky version of congee with pork and egg) that hearken to her Filipino heritage. Read Bill’s full review of Republique. 624 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA (310) 362-6115,

Sally’s Apizza

New Haven, Connecticut

Salvatore Consiglio opened his restaurant in 1938, three decades after Lombardi’s in Manhattan first began serving pizzas in America — and 13 years after Consiglio’s uncle, Frank Pepe, started his namesake operation on the next block over in New Haven’s Italian district. Even so, Sally’s feels like the nation’s ur-pizzeria. It’s gritty, cramped, and chaotically busy; a certain imperviousness drifts in the air like coal dust. It is also, without question, the finest of the town’s legendary pie shops. The crust (a definitive nexus of bready and crackery), the sauce (pure tomato tang), and the cheese (spare, and yet somehow ample) fuse into utter glory. Devouring the signature tomato pie with garlic and pecorino Romano is a sacrament. Consiglio’s children may soon sell the business, so go now while the recipes remain in the family’s practiced hands. 237 Wooster Street, New Haven, CT, (203) 624-5271,

Overhead view of two thin-crust, New Haven-style pizzas on white paper. They feature charred crust and a slight asymmetry. One has a simple tomato topping (no cheese), one is a white pizza with thinly sliced zucchini, onions, and basil.
Plain Italian Tomato Pie and the Garden Special



Chef Ryan Smith’s genius has been obvious from the moment Staplehouse opened in October 2015. His risky, layered, and highly aesthetic approach produces visions like barely warmed crabmeat encircling earthy-sweet sunflower custard, all covered in flowers and herbs. It’s easily Atlanta’s most accomplished cooking. The dining room holds 40 seats, and reservations are a challenge. Try showing up at 5:15 p.m. for a slot at the eight-seat bar, or at 7:15 p.m. when the first bar seating tends to turn over. The restaurant is a profound tribute to founding chef Ryan Hidinger, who passed away before he could open the restaurant, ultimately started by his widow Jen Hidinger, sister Kara Hidinger, and Smith, his brother-in law. 541 Edgewood Avenue Southeast, Atlanta, GA (404) 524-5005,

Clams with matcha

Returning Greats

= an Eater Hall of Fame restaurant, on this list for three consecutive years

Al Ameer, Dearborn, Michigan | Among the wealth of Dearborn’s Lebanese restaurants, Khalil Ammar and Zaki Hashem’s family enterprise excels in its always-fresh mezze and lush stuffed lamb. 12710 West Warren Avenue, Dearborn, MI (313) 582-8185,

Stuffed lamb at Al Ameer

Alinea, Chicago |The influence of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’s star restaurant and modernist playground can’t be overstated; their performative themes of surprise and mystery and culinary globalism paved the way for upstarts like Los Angeles’s Vespertine. 1723 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL, (312) 867-0110,

Benu, San Francisco | Mind-blowing precision and revelatory flavors define Corey Lee’s East-West tasting menu — the worthiest splurge among the Bay Area’s many high-end luminaries. 22 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA, (415) 685-4860,

Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, NY | A dining destination that is also an experiment, a laboratory, a learning center, and a model for the future of agriculture. I declared it the best restaurant in America last year. My opinion remains firm. Note: Meals here can last five hours or more, so Sunday lunch may be the most relaxing time to experience Dan Barber’s brilliance. Read Bill’s full review of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, NY, (914) 366-9606,

Eventide Oyster Co., Portland, ME | Local oysters with a side of kimchi ice, lobster rolls glossed in brown butter and lemon — Eventide leads the charge as the nation’s modern oyster bar. Boston just scored the restaurant’s second location. 86 Middle Street, Portland, ME, (207) 774-8538; 1321 Boylston Street, Boston, MA, (617) 545-1060,

Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX | The most famous barbecue restaurant in America deserves its celebrity; every omnivore should wade through the long (really long) line once to fathom Aaron Franklin’s smoky pyrotechnics. 900 East 11th Street, Austin, TX, (512) 653-1187, [Note: The restaurant is currently closed due to fire damage but aims to reopen mid-November.]

Frasca, Boulder, CO | Bobby Stuckey guides the most thoughtful service team in America; soulful northeastern Italian dishes and a profoundly deep wine list make for euphoric dinners. 1738 Pearl Street, Boulder, CO, (303) 442-6966,

The dining room at Highlands Bar & Grill

Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham, AL | Frank and Pardis Stitt set the standard for gracious dining, in the South and across the country; begin with marinated crab claws, conclude with Dolester Miles’s banana pudding with Swiss meringue. 2011 11th Avenue South, Birmingham, AL (205) 939-1400,

Hugo’s, Houston | Cabrito, carnitas, barbacoa, and carne asada typify the pleasures at Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught’s 15-year-old crown jewel, where the ambitious cooking shines even among Houston’s profusion of first-rate Mexican cuisines. 1600 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX (713) 524-7744,

Kachka, Portland, OR | Dumplings, cheesy khachapuri, caviar, and stellar vodka fuel the Belarusian-Georgian-Russian immersion course at Bonnie and Israel Morales’s groundbreaking restaurant. 720 SE Grand Avenue, Portland, OR, (503)235-0059,

Blackberry dutchbaby at Milktooth

Milktooth, Indianapolis | Jonathan Brooks’s postmodern diner rewires our notions of daytime Americana dining; for starters, no one puts more thought, skill, and imagination into the humble waffle. Read Bill’s full review of Milktooth. 534 Virginia Avenue, Indianapolis, IN (317) 986-5131,

Miller Union, Atlanta | South Georgia native Steven Satterfield bares the heart of his region in dishes like field pea and peanut salad or pan-roasted chicken with creamed rice. Co-owner and front-of-house maestro Neal McCarthy may be British, but he nails Southern hospitality. 999 Brady Avenue, Atlanta, GA (678) 733-8550,

La Petite Grocery, New Orleans | The apotheosis of the contemporary New Orleans restaurant, illustrated by a pitch-perfect Sazerac, a scorching stack of crab beignets, and a bowl of turtle Bolognese. 4238 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA (504) 891-3377,

Poole’s Downtown Diner, Raleigh, NC | The seat of Ashley Christensen’s empire effortlessly bonds Southern and French cuisines. The menu is always changing with the seasons, but the macaroni au gratin is forever. 426 S McDowell Street, Raleigh, NC, (919) 832-4477,

Macaroni au gratin at Poole’s

Prince’s Hot Chicken, Nashville, TN | The Nashville-style hot chicken obsession rages across the country, but its origin tracks directly to the family of André Prince Jeffries and her must-visit forerunner. 123 Ewing Drive, Nashville, TN, (615) 226-9442,

Publican, Chicago | Paul Kahan’s beer hall for the new millennium, where your saison or German pils arrives alongside beef tongue with fromage blanc or California sand dabs. 837 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL, (312) 733-9555,

Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis | At his versatile, handsome restaurant (yes, once a horse stable), Gavin Kaysen marries upper Midwest ingredients with a world of ideas — but he also keeps it close to home with comforts like fried cheese curds over creamed greens. 211 North First Street, Minneapolis, MN, (612) 224-9850,

Sqirl, Los Angeles | Jessica Koslow distills California sunshine into modern-age icons like sorrel rice bowls, ricotta toast with jams like mulberry or peach and lemon verbena, and freewheeling salads through which you could track the local micro-seasons. 720 North Virgil Avenue, Los Angeles, CA (323) 284-8147,

Willows Inn, Lummi Island, WA | Plan an overnight trip to this remote island, two hours and change from Seattle, for three square meals at the inn; the centerpiece is an astonishment of local bounty orchestrated nightly by chef Blaine Wetzel. Read Bill’s full review of Willows Inn. 2579 West Shore Drive, Lummi Island, WA 360.758.2620,

Zahav, Philadelphia | Israeli cuisine — the clearinghouse of the culinary Middle East — is trending in the United States, but the finest place still to relish its complexities (bright salads and transcendent hummus, for starters) is at the flagship of Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook. 237 St. James Place, Philadelphia, PA, (215) 625-8800,

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