Dinner Theater: 7 Restaurants with Great People-Watching

A great dining experience is the culmination of many key elements. From the quality of the food to the service, the setting, and, finally, one of the most important factors that can make or break a meal: the people. And it’s not just the people you intentionally choose to dine with that will affect your meal, but those others around you whose conversations you will inadvertently hear, whose fashions you will admire, whose names you may even learn. Welcome to the delicious sport of people-watching!

What makes a great people-watching restaurant? For me, it is all about diversity. I want to see people I don’t see in my home or on my phone, in my neighborhood, or at my workplace. I want my imagination teased as I play an unauthorized version of What’s My Line, guessing at their professions, aspirations, and passions. From around the nation, here are seven restaurants with great people-watching.

Betelnut Pejiu Wu, San Francisco, California
The extensive menu of Asian fusion cuisine at Betelnut Pejiu Wu (literally, “beer hall” in Chinese) will satisfy you to no end. But it’s the liveliness of the room itself that will make you feel at ease. At this happening Cow Hollow joint, the best of Asian street eats meets up with large mugs of cold beer that refresh and fortify. Expert tip: Grab a streetside table and observe San Francisco’s passers-by in all their fabulousness.

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Cascina Spinasse, Seattle, Washington
Sometimes great people-watching is the result of a positive shared experience. At Seattle’s Cascina Spinasse, you’ll be joined by foodies in search of culinary greatness (be prepared to hear a lot of “mmm” sounds). Here, in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, authentic Italian cuisine comes to life in an atmosphere that is classy yet cozy. Fans rave about both the great presentation of the oft-changing menu and the beauty of the quaint room. Drinks at Spinasse’s adjacent ARTUSI, a modern aperitivo bar, are not to be missed. [Photo Credit: Tom Barwick]

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Girl & The Goat, Chicago, Illinois
Top Chef winner and executive chef Stephanie Izard’s Girl & The Goat is the place to see and be seen in Chicago’s West Loop. Reservations are hard to come by, but patrons insist the culinary creations are well worth the intense OpenTable’ing. Choose from a wide array of seating choices in the warmth of spacious, wood-framed rooms from which you can enjoy contemporary American small plates, local craft beers, and wines from around the world. Look for Izard working her magic in the open kitchen — as well as for Chicago’s trendsetters who flock there to admire it. [Photo credit: Anthony Thalier]

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Le Cirque, Las Vegas, Nevada
If you’re looking for an interesting cross-section of the population, you can do much worse than visiting Las Vegas. And if you’re a high roller (or just want to eat like one), you’ll want to make the scene at Le Cirque. The festive dining room at restaurateur Sirio Maccioni’s AAA Five Diamond-rated restaurant is drenched in color and whimsy. This is opulent French cuisine at its best. It is also one of Las Vegas’s most treasured gastronomic destinations, so make sure you occasionally glance up from the stunning visions on your plate to see who is sharing the room with you.

No Va, Austin, Texas
Rainey Street is a popular historic district in downtown Austin known for its bungalow-style homes and businesses. No Va (Spanish for “It doesn’t go”), located in a renovated two-story house, is home to one of Austin’s most beloved happy hours. Whether you grab a booth or a seat on the upstairs balcony, you’ll have plenty of sights to take in along with your meal. The spaciousness of No Va and the light of the Austin sun will charm you as much as the wonderful people that help keep Austin weird.

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Headed to South by Southwest? Find Out What We’ve Got Brewing at #SXSW Job Market Booth 510!

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South by Southwest (SXSW) is where music, film, and technology meet against a backdrop of Austin’s influential dining scene. At OpenTable, we power the memorable dining experiences you’ll find in ATX — but that’s not all we’re doing there. This week, on March 13 and 14, you’re invited to meet us at the OpenTable SXSW pop-up, pour-over coffee cafe to learn about professional opportunities with OpenTable in San Francisco and around the world.

Visit us at SXSW Job Market stall 510 on the second floor of Austin’s JW Marriott on 110 E. 2nd Street on Friday and Saturday between 10AM-6PM. Our barista will serve you the perfect pour of complimentary drip-brewed coffee while you meet leaders representing different departments at OpenTable, including our talented engineering and design teams. You can also apply for openings in person, drop off your business card for a chance to win $500, and get all the delicious details about our one-of-a-kind #100opentables giveaway.

The SXSW Job Market is open to the public with free guest pass wristbands, available in advance or onsite at the event. Visit guestpass.sxsw.com for more information. SXSW badge and wristband holders do not need a guest pass to attend.

Can’t make it to SXSW? You can still apply to take a seat at our table at http://www.opentable.com/careers/.

The Duo Behind Dai Due in Austin Share Their Favorite Shareable Dish

t.j.fall2014(2)Dai Due opened in 2014, but its origins date back to 2006. The restaurant takes its name from the Italian adage, “Dai due regni di natura, piglia il cibo con misura,” which translates to “From the two kingdoms of nature, choose food with care.” Naturally, then, choosing food with care is the mantra at this popular Austin eatery and butcher shop specializing in the hyper local. Having built a solid reputation and loyal following over eight years as the Dai Due Supper Club and Farmers’ Market, the newish brick and mortar location in the Cherrywood neighborhood of Austin is keeping culinary couple Jesse Griffiths and Tamara Mayfield super busy. Happily, their dedication has paid off: Dai Due was just honored by the Austin Chronicle, being named First Plate Top 10s by both Brandon Watson and Virginia B. Wood and included on the Chronicle’s 2015 Top 100 Restaurants. Open six days a week, Dai Due occupies much of Griffiths and Mayfield’s time.

When they have time to cook at home together, Mayfield says, “It’s always roast chicken.” Together for a decade, she says that they also enjoy sharing a bottle of wine. “If we are doing wine, our favorite would be a bottle of Gigondas (that is what we were drinking when Jesse proposed at Chez Nous in Austin.).

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20 Culinary Questions with Editor Amy Strauss of Philadelphia’s The Town Dish

Amy Strauss Brooklyn FleaAmy Strauss is the Editor in Chief of TheTownDish.com, a network of sites focusing on the food and dining scene in the greater Philadelphia area including its sumptuous suburbs — and beyond! An OpenTable member since 2008, she lives in Downington, Pennsylvania, where she can enjoy the best of Philadelphia proper as well the amazing hyper-local fare being served in surrounding towns. You can share in her eating experiences by following her on Twitter at @amy_strauss.

1. What are some of the best qualities of the Philadelphia dining scene? Living in the Philly suburbs, I’m fork-deep between quick-tripping into my local (and booming!) food city to experience the newest restaurant or escaping into my immediate backyard to discover the next well-deserving-of-the-spotlight chef. There’s potential everywhere, and where the Philly food scene stands, it’s eclectic and bold; it’s welcoming and honest. I’ve been around the nation and, although I may be biased, Philly is the best food city.

2. Any restaurants at which you’re something of a regular? For a casual weeknight, I’m hitting the bar. In the suburbs at Station Taproom for first-rate pulled pork sandwiches and craft beer or Tired Hands Brewing Co. for a cheese plate and one-off sour beer, and in Philadelphia, Starr’s Fette Sau for smoky, tender brisket and sharp bourbon drinks. For a “special” occasion (can’t that count as every day?), BARSAVONA or Zahav.

3. If I come to the PHL, where must I dine? In the Philly suburbs, any of these will rock your palate and provide an unforgettable dining experience: Junto (elevated PA Dutch BYOB), Nectar (Asian fusion with locally sourced sensibilities), Avalon (rustic Italian), Majolica (inventive, modernized American BYOB), Restaurant Alba (refined Northern Italian), Amani’s BYOB (local-focused), Taqueria Feliz (hip Mexican), and Bolete Restaurant (farmhouse-inspired). In Philly city proper, Serpico, Sbraga (eat the fried game hen!), High Street on Market, Vernick Food & Drink, Petruce et al., Avance, and Stock.

4. Last best restaurant you dined at? Just last night, I visited Fitler Dining Room, the newest concept from the talented gang at Pub & Kitchen. The happy hour was exceptional, with small bites like a vertical heirloom tomato salad constructed on buttery brioche and dressed with Rogue Creamery Blue. Being a bar that’s strictly beer and wine, they get impressively creative with their limited cocktails. For example, the Campobello Retreat features white wine that’s infused to taste like gin (it does!) and is finished with a fragrant splash of elderflower liqueur. It’s sharp and fun; I immediately wanted another.

5. Restaurants you’d most like to try but have yet to — anywhere? Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt, Quealy Watson’s Hot Joy, and Noma.

6. Favorite city for dining outside your own? Since part of what we do is travel for food, here are my favorite Town Dish trip destinationsAustin, Texas for Qui, Olivia, and Franklin Barbecue;  San Francisco, California for Mission Street Chinese and Saison;  Chicago, Illinois for Blackbird, Girl & the Goat, Publican, Publican Quality Meats, and Pequod’s PizzaPortland, Maine (especially in summer!) for Central Provisions, Eventide Oyster Co., Pai Men Miyake, and David’s Opus 10Atlanta, Georgia for Abattoir, West Egg Cafe, and Cakes & Ale; and New York City (of course) for The Breslin, Momofuku, and Alder.

7. Destination dining cities you’d love to visit? Nashville! Seattle! Aspen! Charleston! San Diego!

8. What’s your overall favorite type of cuisine? There’s nothing more wholesome than rustic Italian, and few and far between are doing it by the book and significantly well. I’m also always surprised with what newcomer chefs are doing with mod-American cuisine, particularly those who are scouting local gardens and throwing together fresh ideas and compositions unlike those seen before (example: Ella’s American Bistro, Majolica).

9. Small shared plates, tasting menu or app/entrée dessert? Tasting menus — always a home run! It’s the best avenue to fully experience a chef’s skill sets and where they execute their most creative dishes.

10. Dish you can’t resist ordering when you see it on a menu? I’m 100% Pennsylvania Dutch, so its in my blood to never resist regionalized, classic foods of my heritage. If I spy elevated soft pretzels, house-made pickles, hand-cut egg noodles — I got to stick to my stick-to-your-ribs gun and consider them mine! Fork and Junto put forth killer interpretations of the classics. Snack-wise, you know if a chef’s throwing deviled eggs on their menu, they’re going to be good. Same goes for hand-cut pappardelle — I usually need that.

11. Have you ever done a bang bang (a la Louis C.K.)? If not, what’s the greatest # of courses you’ve eaten in one restaurant siting? Working as a food writer and reviewer, bang bangs are a regular part of your week! My current course max (at one restaurant) is 14 — but that’s not to say I threw in the napkin. I’d adventure into the 20s. Dare me!

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