The Absolute Best American Restaurants In The U.S.

If you're in the mood for steak frites, it's a pretty safe bet you'll find it at a French restaurant. If it's paella you seek, you can rest assured you'll find it at a Spanish place. But when you go to an American restaurant, what should you expect will be on the menu? After all, what Americans eat is a function of the many different parts of the world that their ancestors came from originally. Accordingly, the notion of American cuisine isn't so much about a type of food as a type of presentation — one delivering a synergy of "regionalism, standardization, and variety," as American anthropologist Paul Freedman put it in an interview with YaleNews.

What sets American cuisine "apart," Freedman explains, is "eclecticism and experimentation." In selecting the "absolute best" American restaurants in the U.S., we started from the already-rarified universe of those that currently possess anywhere from one to three Michelin stars. Our theory is that the Michelin Guide only confers stars on restaurants offering something so ineffably unique as to be deemed by its "inspectors" to be "worth a stop" (on your theoretical cross-country highway driving excursion), "worth a detour" (off said journey) or "worth a special journey" (all its own). 

Most restaurants will never earn a Michelin star, no matter how good they are, no matter how accomplished the chef. It's simply a very high bar. Of course, that only made it more difficult to choose these absolute best American restaurants in the U.S.

Quince - San Francisco

On the cutting edge of what might be described as "extremely contemporary American cuisine," San Francisco's Quince restaurant earned its third Michelin star in 2017, according to its website. But Quince had been around for considerably longer than that, having opened to glowing reviews in 2003 for its Northern California-sourced seasonal ingredients that chef Michael Tusk was approaching from a distinctly European angle (with references primarily to French and Italian cuisine), according to Visit California

As the years have gone by, Quince has continued to be celebrated even as it has gradually evolved from more "traditional cooking" to an increasingly eclectic and contemporary approach, per Michelin Guide. It's one that relies on "nature and getting outside," according to executive chef Michael Tusk, who owns Quince with his wife, Lindsay. "I'll go out and jot down a list of everything that I find to be special in that particular season," he explains to Visit California. Apparently, this helps inspire Tusk to come up with innovative cuisine that has a "story" to tell, although the flavor is always the first priority.  

Over the years, Tusk has also infused his cuisine with an increasingly Italian cuisine influence. The gestalt of Tusk's approach translates into creatively inspired trans-global offerings that pay homage to California-sourced ingredients. Think of the "black cod with Monterey Bay squid and saffron," and "tortelli pasta with celeriac, artichoke, and black truffle" (via Visit California). Not for nothing, Quince earned a place on our list of the absolute best Italian food in the U.S

Manresa - Los Gatos, California

Reflecting the ethos of chef David Kinch, who founded Manresa in 2002, the food at the longtime Bay Area destination is "cerebral and luxurious," according to the Michelin Guide, which gave it its third star in 2016, per Travel + Leisure. Also arising out of Kinch's "culinary philosophy," the menu is dictated almost entirely by Kinch's creative whims and Johnson & Wales-honed techniques, as applied to coastal California's abundant homegrown edible gifts (via Manresa website). "The nightly compositions are unknown until they arrive on the table (a souvenir copy of the menu will be handed to you at the end)," according to the Michelin Guide. In fact, the website's simple one-line take on Manresa's "menu" is as follows: "We offer a seasonal Chef's Tasting Menu offered at $325 per guest."

Expensive, yes, but as Michelin attests, worth a journey. And you never know if your trip to Manresa will involve Kinch trotting out an exquisite version of his own special recipe for "DIY Tater Tots." And if he does, you'll know it took 12 hours to make, as Eater points out. If Kinch's name sounds familiar, it might be because he was featured on the Anthony Bourdain-produced and -narrated "The Mind of a Chef," which for six seasons explored the way the minds of iconic chefs like Kinch work. 

SingleThread - Healdsburgh, California

"Exquisite barely begins to describe a meal at this Healdsburg jewel," says the Michelin Guide of SingleThread, a Japanese-influenced American farm-to-table restaurant that opened in 2016 and got its third star in 2018, via SingleThread Farms. Michelin adds: "The menu is acutely tuned to each micro-season in Sonoma County, thanks to the bounty provided by farmer and co-owner, Katina Connaughton" — Katina being the wife of chef Kyle Connaughton. Should you manage to score a reservation (a seemingly complicated feat, but worth it, according to Michelin), your dining experience will be "tuned" to your particular ... well, your every need, because Kyle Connaughton is an adherent of the Japanese philosophy of "omotenashi," which focuses on "anticipating a guest's every need."

With Kyle helming recipe and menu development and Katina running the farm, according to a profile in Michelin, SingleThread Farms is really just about as self-sustaining as a farm-to-table restaurant can be. Guests may even extend their stay, depending upon availability, by booking one of the minimalistic high-end rooms at the Inn on the premises. For those lucky few, SingleThread's kitchen supplies one of its luxe breakfasts, which include such selections as "perigord black truffle omelet with squash blossom and cowgirl creamery cheese served with tomato toast" and a "Japanese Breakfast" of "cedar roasted salmon, dashimaki tamago, yuzu kosho donabe rice, vegetable salad with sesame dressing, homemade tsukemono, miso soup, and fresh fruit."  

The Inn at Little Washington - Washington, Virginia

In 1978, a young caterer by the name of Patrick O'Connell, together with his partner, Reinhardt Lynch, bought an old garage in Washington, Virginia, a tiny unincorporated municipality about 60 miles from Washington, D.C., known by some as "little Washington" (via Great Chefs). The two turned this garage into a tiny restaurant that by the early 1980s had already been named one of "100 Best New Restaurants in America" by Esquire, according to the Inn's website. In fact, despite O'Connell's dearth of formal culinary education, he's managed to garner a ridiculous number of awards for himself and the Inn over the years, including the Inn's third Michelin star, earned in 2019.

O'Connell, who might have been an actor had his life gone according to his original plan, treats the Inn as a stage, and the dining experience as "performance art." However, as with all of the absolute best American restaurants on this list that have earned three Michelin stars, the "star" of the show is always the guest. With a constantly evolving selection of themed menus, the Inn offers an extensive selection of dishes that comprise an inspired riff on classic French cuisine, including a BLT-inspired amuse-bouche and truffle-infused steak tartare (tartare, despite global origins and a French name, is quintessentially American, according to The New York Times). Relying extensively on its network of local farmers and other suppliers, the Inn earned its first Michelin "Green Star" for sustainability in 2021.

Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare - New York City

Notwithstanding the name, Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare is located at Hudson Yards in Manhattan, inside one of the Brooklyn Fare grocery store chain's locations, according to the restaurant's website. Helmed by the self-taught Mexican-born chef César Ramirez, who prefers to consider himself as more of a "craftsman" than a chef — just like his mentor, the legendary David Bouley (via Gothamist), the restaurant has a "secret club" kind of vibe, if not a "Wizard of Oz" sensibility; it requires that one walk through a supermarket before entering the elegant, minimalist space. 

Like the menu for the very first American Thanksgiving, the Chef's Table's primarily small-dish tasting menu is composed predominantly of "fish and shellfish, with one or two meat courses and a variety of desserts" — and zero accommodations available if you can't (via allergy) or won't (via proclivity) eat this or that or the other thing. Although that may leave some feeling a bit unwelcome, it also reflects an essential "meticulousness" in Ramirez's approach to drawing out the "true essence" of whatever it is that is the central focus of any given dish, according to the Michelin Guide. And who can argue, really, when Ramirez's vision for Japanese-inspired American dishes that are prepared using French techniques and quintessentially American ingredients earned Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare its coveted three Michelin stars?

Eleven Madison Park - New York City

New York City's acclaimed Eleven Madison Park appears on this list of the absolute best American restaurants in the U.S. not for what it is doing currently (which we'll unpack in just a moment), but because of everything its Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm has been doing since taking over the kitchen in 2006, earning "raves" for his "painterly" presentations of duck, foie gras, suckling pig, and other meats, per NPR. It was under Humm's management and eventual ownership that 11MP received its third Michelin star. As the restaurant's website states, Humm's menu focuses on ingredients sourced from New York, and emphasizes "simplicity, purity, and seasonal flavors." All that remains true — despite that Humm made the controversial decision in 2021 to re-invent 11MP as an entirely plant-based dining destination. 

"There are many factors that drove our decision," Humm says in a letter that appears currently on the first page of the restaurant's website, but ultimately, Humm states that it came down to "becoming better stewards of our planet." It was a decision Humm announced just days before the latest Michelin guide came out, and it followed a long closure of the restaurant due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not everyone is enamored with Humm's decision, including Eater and The New York Times, both of which suggest Humm has a bit of honing to do before the Eleven Madison Park dining experience can really live up to its reputation (not to mention its $335 tasting menu price tag).

The Restaurant at Meadowood - St. Helena, California

"Ours is a modern American restaurant meant to speak to and positively impact the Napa Valley," says the three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood on the page of its website that is devoted to "ethos." Nevertheless, for the moment, The Restaurant at Meadowood has just completed several months of "positively impacting" various other geographic regions, including Ojai, Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Mexico City. We mean that quite literally. In fact, throughout 2021, The Restaurant at Meadowood has been operating as a sort of "touring company," making various monthlong or multi-month stops in each of those cities during which it operates in the kitchen of a restaurant partner. The reason is at once tragic and triumphant. 

Back in September 2020, the brick and mortar iteration of the St. Helena, California restaurant helmed by chef Christopher Kostow burned to the ground during Northern California's Glass Fire, according to Robb Report. "Determined to keep [his restaurant] alive," Kostow, who is the third-youngest chef ever to have received three Michelin stars, decided to take it on the road, albeit under the name "The Restaurant at ... Tour."  

After a successful multi-city tour in 2021, Kostow followed up with a Lunar New Year celebration at Kato in Los Angeles in early February 2022. The Restaurant at Meadowood is expected to reopen later this year, with a whole new "experimental" vibe, according to Robb Report. 

Moody Tongue - Chicago

We're not sure where else you can go to taste "Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner" brew, but you could do worse than seeking it out at Moody Tongue, a Chicago "culinary brewing" establishment that has a limited number of handcrafted bottles available at this very moment. But even if Moody Tongue were to run out before you make your way there, it's unlikely you'll remain disappointed for long. Moody Tongue is known for its "hyper-seasonal and creative menu" that comes "brilliantly matched with a virtuosic array of house-crafted brews," according to the Michelin Guide, which awarded Moody Tongue its second star in 2021 (via Chicago Sun-Times).

"Chef Jared Wentworth offers a tasting menu concept housed in the Moody Tongue brewery building," according to some of the Michelin inspector notes that went into the decision to upgrade Moody Tongue's rating last year (via Chicago Sun-Times). "Each course of the seasonal, ingredient-driven menu is paired with an equally creative beer of their own design, seamlessly woven into the kitchen's compositions." Unlike your typical craft brewery slash restaurant, Moody Tongue serves such unusual and creatively inspired courses as "gently poached Maine Lobster in spiced tomato water, followed by seared Hudson Valley foie gras with burnt peach dashi." With craft beer, of course. And for dessert, how about a nice dark chocolate cake adorned with toasted rye ice cream to "lift your spirits" (via Michelin)?

Oriole - Chicago

"Welcome to one of Chicago's greatest restaurants," the Michelin Guide begins its write-up of Oriole, which opened in Chicago's West Loop in 2016. Want to know how long it took Michelin's inspectors to concur that Oriole earned two Michelin stars, meaning it's "worth a detour" off your theoretical cross-country highway driving excursion? A mere seven months, according to Eater Chicago. Seating just 28 in its intimate dining room that features an open kitchen, Oriole is helmed by executive chef slash owner Noah Sandoval, a "former punk guitarist" (via Michelin), and his wife, Cara, a former frustrated art-school graduate who spent a decade in the banking industry before the "life-changing moment" that she met Noah, according to her Instagram page.

Perhaps not surprisingly then, Noah has referred to what he does as an "art-focused profession," according to an interview he gave to Michelin. Like Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, Oriole can be difficult to find — "hidden" as it is "down an alley-like street," according to the Oriole website, and accessible via freight elevator (via The Infatuation). And like Chef's Table, once you're inside Oriole, the experience is a fusion of American ingredients and sensibilities with global flavors and influences, including French, German, Italian, and Japanese. By way of example, look no further than the "caraway capellini with yeast and a heap of shaved white truffles," via Instagram. Oriole's elaborate tasting menu can be paired with either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages ("Oriole thinks of everything," the Michelin Guide points out).

Birdsong - San Francisco

One of the more whimsical of the absolute best American restaurants in the U.S., San Francisco's Birdsong restaurant likes to keep guests guessing, from the meaning of the name "Birdsong" (which may involve a "Grateful Dead song," per the Birdsong website) to what might appear on its $275 tasting menu of seasonal "heritage cuisine" on any given day. 

"All dishes are subject to change," the website specifies before teasing foodies with vague promises of main dishes such as "quail lacquered and smoked [and] served with grilled Parker House rolls" and creative desserts there's simply no way you could have ever known you wanted to try until you realized that "sea urchin cream puffs" served with "savory butterscotch" is actually a thing. Or at least at Birdsong, which keeps its focus on "ingredients and cooking methods of the Pacific Northwest," according to Culinary Agents

But we haven't even addressed what Birdsong's executive chef and owner Chris Bleidorn means by "heritage cuisine" (via Instagram), which is a seldom-used term that some interpret to mean "embracing and highlighting a culture through food" (via SheKnows). However, as used by Bleidhorn, the term refers to ancient cooking techniques such as cooking over an open fire and ingredients and recipes that "feel of the earth," as 7x7 puts it. "Live fire is of the essence" at Birdsong, notes Michelin, which gave the restaurant its first star the year it opened, 2019, and its second in 2020 (via SFist).

Blue Hill at Stone Barns - Pocantico Hills, New York

Blue Hill, housed deceptively elegantly in an old dairy barn in upstate New York, is the crown jewel of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, the restaurant's partner in sustainable farming and education (via USA Today). Founded in 2004, Blue Hill's chef is Dan Barber, who is known as much for his commitment to zero food waste (you won't want to miss Barber's unique perspective on spoiled milk) as he is for his creatively inspired and skillfully executed farm-to-table American tasting menu, according to the Michelin Guide, which awarded Blue Hill its two stars in 2020. 

"Meals begin with an onslaught of clever bites, mostly vegetables plucked from the property's greenhouses and working farm," Michelin notes. "The kitchen infuses even the most unlikely ingredients with magic, like zesty green gazpacho paired with surf clam and radicchio; or dry-aged golden beet 'steak' adorned with beef-studded jus." Also named one of the "World's Best 50 Restaurants" at least four times, according to USA Today, Blue Hill is a favorite among celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost, who celebrated their engagement there in 2019 (via Page Six).

One thing to note about Blue Hill at Stone Barns: Notwithstanding its country locale, it is not meant to be anything close to a casual dining experience. As its website notes, jackets are recommended, and shorts are not permitted.

Saison - San Francisco

The truth about San Francisco's Saison is that while it remains a two Michelin star-rated American dining destination, it has also gone through growing pains in the last couple of years. Long known as a "privileged playpen" of the "Bay Area's elite," via Michelin Guide, Saison lost its third Michelin star (which it had earned in 2014) in 2019, according to Robb Report — not that two Michelin stars is anything to sneeze at. Then, in 2019, Saison lost its then-executive chef, Laurent Gras, after less than two years. 

However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, any rumors about the supposed demise of Saison are greatly exaggerated, because the modern American restaurant, whose kitchen is now helmed by culinary director Paul Chung and chef de cuisine Richard Lee, is still in possession of those two stars, and it's also a member of the elite association of top global restaurants and inns, Relais & Châteaux

Best known for "redefining modern American cuisine by marrying the very best products in existence with the art of fire cooking," according to its website, Saison focuses primarily on "flawless seafood," including the fire-roasted scallop shown above, and seasonal ingredients sourced directly from "fisherman, hunters, gatherers, ranchers, and farmers." "We like to stay within the California coastal range and stay as local as possible," Chung told Cultured Mag last October, which means the menu is "constantly evolving" based on "accessibility rather than demand." 

Meadowsweet - New York City

Brooklyn, New York's Meadowsweet restaurant is known for its "contemporary American food with a Mediterranean current," as chef slash co-owner Polo Dobkin told the Village Voice in 2014. That was the year that Dobkin and his wife Stephanie Lempert — who is in charge of business operations — first opened the farm-to-table restaurant in what had previously been the location of the Michelin star-decorated restaurant, Dressler. Dobkin, who was educated at the French Culinary Institute, from which he graduated with honors, had been the executive chef at Dressler before a leasing dispute closed its doors, per the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). Apparently, the transition was smooth, with Meadowsweet earning its own first Michelin star the following year (per Meadowsweet's website).

Still holding onto that star, Meadowsweet sources its produce from a sustainable farm located in upstate New York that goes by the same name. "Preferring to let the ingredients speak for themselves, Dobkin emphasizes 'execution over elaboration' in his cuisine," according to ICE. Examples of Dobkin's work include "fried artichokes served with a tangle of bitter-spicy arugula in a creamy vinaigrette," which a Michelin inspector deemed "positively addictive," per the Michelin Guide, and "crisped black bass with a parsley root velouté," served "with a side of green apple cabbage, which is flecked with chunks of smoky bacon." 

Peter Luger Steakhouse - New York City

Certainly, you could find more glamourous American steakhouses than Peter Luger. But that might be part of the draw to this Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based "house" of Porterhouse (a highly coveted on-the-bone cut featuring deeply flavorful, highly marbled strip steak on one side of the bone and tender filet mignon on the other), which opened in 1989 and whose renowned side dishes are the original inspiration for all the standard steakhouse sides.

Luger's, as New Yorkers know it colloquially, earned its first Michelin star in 1984 for its "legendary steaks" served in a beer hall-style environment, by a brigade of "brusque" servers who are known for giving the side-eye to anyone having the audacity to order something from the menu that is not "steak," as Luger's calls its signature Maillard-crusted porterhouse. Moreover, don't even think about taking out a credit card at Luger's, which only accepts cash and its own credit card

For those for whom Luger's old-world charms feel irresistible, the steakhouse's Michelin star makes perfect sense. But not everyone agrees. The New York Times gave it zero stars in 2019, leaving some people wondering, "Is Luger's just hype?" Our verdict? As pointed out in the Michelin Guide, Peter Luger is a "veritable rite of passage" and still one of the absolute best American restaurants in the U.S.

Wolfgang Puck's CUT: Beverly Hills, California

Having considered the appeal of the iconic New York steakhouse, Peter Luger, it is time now to consider that of another superlative American steakhouse that made our list of absolutely best American restaurants in the U.S. No surprise, the one that we're thinking of — which is considerably more glamorous than Luger's (as if Luger's even cared) — is the original location of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's now-legendary CUT steakhouse, which has grown to seven locations across the U.S. 

Puck opened the original CUT, located at the Beverly Wilshire (a Four Seasons Hotel) in 2006 as a "sleek, contemporary steakhouse," according to Wolfgang Puck's website. CUT earned its first Michelin star just one year later and has continued to receive "top accolades" from noted food critics, including Esquire's vaunted food critic and historian, John Mariani. 

Although CUT has gone on to have years during which it did not get recognized by the Michelin Guide, it made its Michelin comeback in 2019 when it was once again awarded its coveted star, according to Michelin Guide, which calls it "bright," "modern," and "buzzing," and says boasts "hospitable servers" who are welcoming even when "you're dressed down." Spotlighting far more than just steak, CUT offers Maryland blue crab, Maine diver scallops, and Louisiana shrimp, along with Japanese beef, although Michelin's inspectors recommend you stick with the plentiful cuts from the U.S.  

Elizabeth - Chicago

Chicago's Elizabeth restaurant opens up its conversation with visitors to its website with the assertion that its American cuisine is "inspired by the natural world." Although that description may not sound unique among high-end farm-to-table restaurants, what is quite novel is Elizabeth's reference to its cuisine as "New Gatherer." What that seems to imply, and the value that it would appear to add is a focus on ingredients that are seasonal, sustainable, AND — to the extent possible — "forageable," according to Eater. Think of tea made from "hen of the woods mushrooms" served in "quaint espresso cups with a little cocoa nibs and chamomile in it," for example. 

Opened in 2012, with self-taught chef Iliana Regan at the helm, Elizabeth was named for Regan's beloved deceased sister (via Michelin) and immediately distinguished itself for its focus not on "luxury ingredients" but on "[taking] lost or forgotten foods and methods of preservation and [applying] them to our season's bounty, extracting new flavors, ideas, and presentations," as the restaurant website states. 

In 2020, after Regan decided to "step back from the restaurant," ownership passed to Tim Lacey, who brought on Ian Jones as executive chef. Both had been involved in Regan's earlier restaurant, Kitsune, and have stayed true to Regan's vision, according to Elizabeth's website. That being said, some of the highlights of the menu, which Michelin describes as a "parade of whimsical bites, snacks, and mains," include non-foraged foods such as "brined and soaked Ibérico pork" (via Michelin Guide).

Gramercy Tavern - New York City

Gramercy Tavern was founded in 1994 by restaurant wunderkind Danny Meyer in partnership with Tom Colicchio, the restaurant's first chef, and the one who helped make this New York City contemporary American restaurant one of the most famous in the U.S., according to a profile written by Michelin on the occasion of the one-star-ranked restaurant's 25th year in business, back in 2019. Colicchio was the only chef Grammercy Tavern ever had until 2006 when Colicchio left and Michael Anthony took his place as executive chef. 

"Chef Michael Anthony's ever-evolving seasonal menu showcases the restaurant's relationships with local farms and purveyors," the Gramercy Tavern website states. Anthony, himself, is the winner of numerous James Beard Awards (via James Beard Foundation), including two in connection with Grammercy Tavern: one for Outstanding Restaurant in 2008 and one for Best Chef NYC in 2012 (via New York Daily News). With Anthony at the kitchen's helm, Gramercy Tavern has continued its reign as one of the best restaurants in the U.S., American or otherwise. One thing to note in Gramercy Tavern's favor is that, at $158 per person, its tasting menu is priced significantly lower than that of many others in this elite category of "absolute best."