Chefs love to eat out, but it can take a lot to impress them. However, when they are wowed, they don’t ever forget it. Here 11 chefs share their favorite meals of 2018 at restaurants on OpenTable that left them wanting more and what made it such a special experience. Read on and book your tables for the year ahead to dine like a chef.
Jeff Vucko of Travelle, Chicago, Illinois
“I recently went back to Proxi for the fifth time. Chef Andrew Zimmerman and his team are cranking out worldly street food with subtle twists that will blow your mind. They play with textures and there are flavor bombs at every turn. My favorite dishes were the fish collars with Thai garlic-chili sauce and tuna with ginger sorbet. Pastry chef Sarah Mispagel is a genius so you will end your meal on a high note every time.”
Todd Gray of Equinox, Washington, D.C.
“We’ve been to Mayahuel at least six times in the past year, which is pretty unusual for us. It’s a great neighborhood spot and they have a dog-friendly patio so we can bring the pups when the weather is nice. I love the ceviche, which has fresh shrimp, bay scallops, fresh lime juice, cilantro, serrano chile, corn, cucumber, avocado, and yellow corn tostadas. So good. My wife, Ellen, usually goes with the yuca frita and plantains. Of course, we get the queso for the table, as well as a pitcher of their killer margaritas. The owner is a great guy and the staff is always really accommodating. All around, a chill spot to hang out after a long week.”
Kathy Fang of Fang, San Francisco, California
“My recent dining experience at Angler was fantastic. The space has a great balance of refined luxury and rustic charm. You’ve got brick, open kitchens, and old-school seafood motifs, which are offset by refined modern chairs, tables, and tableware. The location is also a plus, as you have great views of the bay and the bridge. The cuisine is straightforward but complex at the same time. It’s a seafood-heavy restaurant, which reminds me of classic seafood and steakhouses. And yet every traditional item is presented in a new manner. It really stands out from the other new restaurants that have opened in San Francisco.”
Sriram Hariharan of Fyve, Arlington, Virginia
“Rasika West End is a shining jewel in the crown of D.C.’s finest restaurants, so it was the most natural choice to celebrate a family get-together with my in-laws. We gorged on their famous appetizers of palak chaat and crispy fried cauliflower spiced with curry leaves and black mustard seeds, along with mainstay dishes like smoky black lentils and stuffed baby sweet peppers in a traditional Indian tomato sauce. The level of refinement, complexity, and elegance was well matched with traditional techniques and authentic flavors. The more we enjoyed, the more we ordered – including a flavorful assortment of tandoori breads and many unique vegetable curries. The crescendo to this gourmet symphony was a round of desserts. Our favorite was their signature cardamom ice cream, which has a rich, smooth, velvety texture and just the right amount of green cardamom. It was great to meet the man behind this culinary gem, chef Vikram Sunderam, who stopped by the table and ensured that we had an amazing dining experience. We were in awe of this successful chef, who is still very humble at heart.”
Gabe Fenton of Bourbon Steak, Aventura, Florida
“My favorite meal recently was at Miami’s Ariete from chef Michael Beltran. We tried almost every dish on the menu. Highlights were the wood-grilled oyster with bone marrow butter and lemon; the smoked short rib pastrami-style with shaved vegetable Cesar; and the Frita Cubana with chorizo, spicy ketchup, onion, and papitas. We also had some of the cocktails from our recently departed AGM Rafael Vasquez, who looks amazing and refreshed in his new element as their director of operations.”
Peter Prime of Spark, Washington, D.C.
“I love the Michel Richard inspired short ribs at Unconventional Diner, which is overseen by Richard’s protégé, David Deshaies. Having worked for Michel myself, it brings back nostalgic memories of being in his kitchen. I also love David’s fried chicken with stellar hot sauce and the chicken pot pie.”
Leigh Omilinsky of Nico Osteria, Chicago, Illinois
“I ate at Marisol in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and absolutely loved it! I’m a big fan of chef Jason Hammel and chef de cuisine Sarah Rinkavage. The best part about their food, besides the sheer deliciousness of it, is that it’s all super seasonal, very thoughtful, and locally sourced. Marisol is interesting to me because the dining room blends seamlessly into the MCA’s first floor. It’s sleek and modern, just like the rest of the museum. We started our meal with the sunflower hummus with flaxseed crackers, which was so interesting and so good. We then had the fried quail with cashew butter and smoked date honey and the spaghetti squash salad with mushrooms. Again, everything was so thoughtful. I love spaghetti squash, but you hardly ever see it on menus. We then had the casoncelli pasta with eggplant and hazelnut. It was the perfect amount of pasta — and perfectly executed. We followed it with the whole trout a la plancha and the poached salmon with pumpkin broth. Considering my dining companion and I can eat an impressive amount of food, we absolutely ordered dessert, which was honey panna cotta with figs and a cherry chocolate ice cream cake.”
Sebastien Rondier of Brabo, Alexandria, Virginia
“One of the best meals I’ve ever had was at Lolinda in San Francisco; it is Argentinian food at its best. The reason I fell in love with the restaurant is that it makes me feel like I’m not in San Francisco. I enjoyed the Entraña, a 6-ounce skirt steak; the Gaucho, a 26-ounce prime bone-in ribeye steak; and the Hueso Asado, bone marrow with crostini, jicama, and chile de arbol jelly. All three dishes were beautifully prepared and bursting with flavor. Don’t get me started on the amazing tapas selection: escabeche, ceviche, a to-die-for ensalada de tomate, morcilla, and chorizo. The service was attentive and friendly. The evening came to end with tres leches cake with cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut, and two glasses of vintage port (Quinta do Vesuvio, Portugal 2001).”
Kevin Tien of Himitsu, Washington, D.C.
“I always look forward to going home to New Orleans to see my family, friends, and, most of all, the food that I grew up on and how much the dining scene in NOLA has evolved every time. Of course, there are always po’ boys, chargrilled oysters, sno-balls, and fried seafood galore, but this past trip I finally made it to Coquette. I’ve tried the past three trips to go, but something always made me miss it. Coquette was everything I imagined and more. The hostess was more than accommodating, though I was already late for my reservation, and even more accommodating when I told her my guest wouldn’t show up for at least another 30 minutes due to a delayed flight. They sat me right away and made sure to seat me at a large enough table because I told them I had been anticipating this meal for at least a year. I’m not much of a drinker, so I chose to go with a non-alcoholic mocktail of carrot and ginger. It was so good. I took one sip, then another, and another, and then it was gone before I had even placed an order for my meal. The beef sausage and broccoli was a clever riff on beef and broccoli with an oyster aioli, perfect to please this Cajun Asian. Their fall vegetable salad was amazing, featuring squash, cauliflower, broccoli, and zucchini. It inspired me to make a version of our own for Himitsu. But let me tell you about the beef short rib. I’ve eaten beef short ribs at many places, but this, this short rib makes you forget every other one you have ever eaten. After my first bite, I knew I was in love. The server came by and asked how everything was and all I could say is, “Do you know how f*%$king good this is? OMG!” Smoked for five hours, then braised for another 2 hours, it sits atop a green mole and is topped with crispy rice. It was the best dish I have eaten all year long. I went to bed that evening unable to sleep because all I could think about was how flawless my meal was. When I did fall asleep, I dreamt about it.”
Jake Addeo of Occidental Grill & Seafood, Washington, D.C.
“My wife Sara and I dined at the Inn at Little Washington for our 10th anniversary and it was truly spectacular in every way. Chef Patrick O’Connell is a legend, so I have wanted to eat at his restaurant since we moved to the Washington, D.C. area five years ago. The two amuse bouche were a wonderful way to begin: they gave us each a small, movie-style container of popcorn with white truffle oil and Parmigianino cheese, followed by a cream of lentil soup shooter with a small gougère on the side. The soup was incredibly flavorful and inspired me to add white lentils as a sauce to a dish I currently make at Occidental Grill & Seafood. For our meals, we chose two different tasting menus: “The Gastronaut’s Menu” and “Four Decades of Our Enduring Classics.” One of my dishes was king salmon poached in olive oil and served with leek fondue. Intensely flavorful, it went so well with a cider mousseline. My wife had a foie gras dish that was done as a Catalan custard, and we loved how it was caramelized to perfection. Another favorite dish was my young squab dish with foie gras and a caramelized endive, which was very well balanced. One of our favorite desserts was a pear-flavored cheesecake that was presented looking exactly like a fresh pear. Throughout the evening, we shared one bottle of wine, a Gewurztraminer from the Alsace, Domaine Weinbach Cuvee Theo, 2013. It was a great selection and paired well with everything, even the desserts. The service was spot on and memorable, in the best way, and the entire evening was simply phenomenal. Bonus: We were so lucky that chef O’Connell invited us into the kitchen for a tour and a chat. We took some great pictures and watched his overnight crew start to set up.”
Oliver Lange of Zuma, Miami, Florida
“Ferris in the MADE Hotel was excellent. Every dish we had was delicious, but I particularly loved the snow peas with poppy seeds, the blood sausage, the lobster toast, the Iberico katsu sandwich, and the forbidden rice. It’s clear they are using top-quality ingredients and there is real talent and passion in this kitchen. You can tell they take some risks by doing a few unconventional takes on classic dishes (such as the lobster toast), which pays off big-time in the end. I also tried Musar Jeune 2014, a red wine from Lebanon, which I never had before and now would order every time again. The space is cozy and informal but still feels very special. I love the warm lighting, open kitchen, and mix of tables and counters with high-top seating. The front of house staff is also awesome. They’re very knowledgeable and you can tell they love the food as well. All of the recommendations they gave were spot-on, and the hospitality was incredible. There’s a bonus: the MADE Hotel has a great rooftop bar, which I highly recommend for a nightcap.”
Have you been to any of these restaurants? Let us know in the comments or over on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.
Photo credits: Galdones Photography (Jeff Vucko); Len DePas (Sriram Hariharan); Rey Lopez (Jake Adeo); Alexa Bendek/Star Chefs (Leigh Omilinksky.