For those of us who live to eat, dining is one of travel’s greatest joys. How better to experience a new place than to taste its freshest catch, grilled right off the dock? To see a city’s Chinatown through its dim sum, or toast the neighborhood at a local dive bar? Or even — for the ultra-committed — to take a road trip or hop a plane for the meal of a lifetime?
As much of the continent lifts mask mandates and relaxes COVID-era restrictions, travel is once again on the summer agenda. And after a home-bound year, diners are ready to celebrate: OpenTable’s out-of-town bookings are creeping up toward their pre-pandemic levels.
For your summer travel inspiration, here’s a list of the top 12 destination restaurants around the U.S. and Canada. Read on for spots where menus draw folks from around the globe, picturesque settings beg for a photo-op — and where dinner reservations may be booked before the flights.
Arnaud’s (New Orleans, Louisiana)
This century-old French Quarter restaurant, located right off of Bourbon Street, has everything a visitor to the Big Easy wants: impeccable white-tablecloth service, a beautifully restored dining room, and some of the city’s best Creole favorites. 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 French 75 for sipping.
Calissa (Watermill, New York)
Billed as “Mykonos in the Hamptons,” Calissa is named for the brightest constellation in the summer sky — appropriate for this sweeping terrace and coveted wedding venue. The menu takes inspiration from Greek delicacies, including salt-crusted fish and Mediterranean mezze such as Santorinian hummus and octopus a la plancha. The Wine Spectator-awarded wine list offers the largest selection of rosé in the Hamptons (yes, you read that right), and evening entertainment includes Broadway Out East, an ever-changing lineup of artists and entertainers, plus DJs every Friday and Saturday night.
The Black Sheep (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Vegas has officially made a name for itself as a dining destination, thanks to celebrity chefs giving their names to fine-dining restaurants all along the Strip. The Black Sheep, located in a strip mall in the city’s southwest, is not that — but it has been making waves since opening in 2017. After winning numerous awards early on, including Eater Vegas’s Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year, chef Jamie Tran went on to compete on Top Chef in 2021. And The Black Sheep still dazzles, serving creative American-Vietnamese comfort food in a sleek, monochromatic space that’s a welcome trip off the Strip into the Vegas that only locals know. Not to be missed: Tran’s take on Nashville hot chicken, served on honey toast.
Dry Creek Kitchen (Healdsburg, California)
Helmed by renowned chef Charlie Palmer, this restaurant sits in the heart of Sonoma Valley on Healdsburg’s main square. Appropriately, Dry Creek Kitchen — named for the nearby Dry Creek Valley, one of the county’s top wine regions — celebrates all things locally grown and crafted: vegetables, cheese, and, of course, wine, with more than 600 Sonoma bottles in the cellar. Stretch out in the garden courtyard under a tea candle-lit trellis, and ask for the daily tasting menu with “neighborhood” food and wine pairings. Sample little gems lettuce topped with Point Reyes blue cheese, spiced Liberty Duck breasts, and more of the region’s specialties.
Counter Reformation (Palm Springs, California)
SoCal’s favorite getaway is famed for umbrella-topped drinks and pool cabanas, but these days the dining scene has just as much to draw visitors to the desert. This sophisticated, reservation-only wine bar, tucked away in the Parker Palm Springs hotel, boasts a list of eclectic wines by the glass (think Tannat from Uruguay and Basque Txakoli) plus next-level small plates, including caviar and quail egg on brioche toast and braised artichokes with boquerones and tapenade. With bar-only seating — there’s no dining room — get ready for the thrill of rubbing shoulders with strangers once again.
Jing (Aspen, Colorado)
If an “Asian fusion” descriptor makes you skeptical, don’t be. Led by longtime local chef Frank Lu, Jing has become a staple in this iconic ski town for Lu’s skillful blend of Chinese, Japanese, and southeast Asian favorites. Choose from a menu featuring whole roasted Peking duck, steaming shabu shabu, and dim sum, capped off by a full-service sushi and raw bar. (Pro tip: reserve those signature dishes ahead of time, because they often run out.) Fans note the warm, inviting vibe as a major draw, as well as the elegant outdoor patio — perfect for people-watching the rich and famous.
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House (Vancouver, Canada)
Named for a burly 19th-century seaman who landed in Vancouver and became one of the city’s favorite bartenders, this restaurant exemplifies the city’s warm, welcoming character. A horseshoe oyster bar sits center stage in the turn-of-the-century-inspired dining room, surrounded by cozy booths and flanked by 30-foot ceilings. No less than six unique dining spaces round out the experience, including a rooftop garden and mezzanine. Celebrity sightings and live piano music are big draws, but the food is the main event: fresh fish, thick chops, and premium oysters (and, they boast, some of the continent’s most expert shuckers).
L’Étoile (Edgartown, Massachusetts)
Inside a restored historic whaling captain’s house on Martha’s Vineyard, l’Étoile is one of the island’s top special-occasion restaurants. Chef-owned and -operated, its seasonal menus spotlight shellfish from the local waters and meats from island farms in dishes such as pan-seared foie gras and Menemsha lobster pappardelle. Kick off the evening with the restaurant’s classic “startini” (citrus vodka, lime, pomegranate, and prosecco) on the picturesque side porch, then sit down to dinner on the tented patio, where greenery and string lights make jaw-dropping photo backdrops.
Mama’s Fish House (Maui, Hawaii)
Mama’s Fish House is one of the top fine-dining restaurants not just in Maui, but also in the country. The tropical setting doesn’t hurt — it’s a converted beach house in a coconut grove on a secluded beach — plus plenty of 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. On the plate, 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.
The Pink Dinghy (Virginia Beach, Virginia)
Sandy coasts and a carefree vibe beg for a place to kick back with friends, and The Pink Dinghy is just that. A Latin American restaurant with Middle Eastern touches, tucked into a tiny cinder block building near the oceanfront, The Pink Dinghy opened with takeout service during pandemic lockdown and has quickly transformed into a community hub. Locals share small plates and sip natural wines, then stop into the market for a bottle to take home. At lunch, don’t miss the empanadas (red chili pork or soyrizo) and sandwiches (al pastor or spicy chicken). On the dinner menu, seafood standouts include marinated mussels, seared scallops, and octopus tacos.
One Duval (Key West, Florida)
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 must-stop destination for visitors to beautiful, offbeat Key West. The menu nods to flavors of the Caribbean and the Americas with dishes such as conch chowder, plantain-crusted ahi tuna, and black grouper with blue crab. Don’t leave without a taste of the key lime pie, which reviewers swear is among the island’s best.
Rodney Scott’s BBQ (Charleston, South Carolina)
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 immediately earned recognition from Bon Appetit as one of the best new restaurants in the country, and one year later, a James Beard Award followed. Here, what sets Scott’s food apart is the craft: hardwood burned down to glowing embers, shoveled under meat and regulated meticulously over smoky hours. Start with the pork sandwich (the “king of the menu”) and coleslaw, then come back for the brisket. Ella’s banana pudding, named for Rodney’s mom, is a must. This is an American barbecue mainstay.