This region is as loaded with great food cities as a Milwaukee butter burger is with calories. Our culinary correspondents from across the Midwest (and nearby Southern cousins) rounded up the best fine-dining places, international eateries, and historic dives their homes have to offer. Ready for a belt-adjusting road trip?
With chef-driven eateries alongside decades-old haunts, this city has long been one of the best dining destinations in the country. Today, these 10 spots stand out among dozens of acclaimed restaurants there.
Signature Dish: Pizza
Chicago’s love of deep-dish ’za is well known. Gino’s East (multiple locations), Pizano’s (multiple locations), and Pequod’s (2207 N. Clybourn Ave., 773-327-1512) are great places to get a two-inch-thick pie. But the city also boasts several other versions. The square-cut, tavern-style pizzas are great at Vito & Nick’s (8433 S. Pulaski Rd., 773-735-2050). And the Chicago Tribune raves about the stuffed variety at The Art of Pizza (3033 N. Ashland Ave., 773-327-5600).
Alinea (Fine Dining)
1723 N. Halsted St., 312-867-0110
When you want to go big, chef Grant Achatz’s establishment is the place to drop $400 per person for dinner. The seasonal 18- to 22-course tasting menu includes delicious oddities such as the black-truffle explosion and edible, apple-flavored balloons. As the only restaurant in Chicago with three Michelin stars, Alinea requires reservations made months in advance.
Fat Rice (International)
2957 W. Diversey Ave., 773-661-9170
At this Logan Square joint, partners Adrienne Lo and James Beard Award–winning chef Abe Conlon have built a palace to Eastern comfort food that pays homage to the spice-route flavors of India and China. Don’t miss the piri piri chicken or the namesake arroz gordo, a paella-like dish loaded with curried chicken, spicy sausage, and chili prawns.
Giant (Contemporary American)
3209 W. Armitage Ave., 773-252-0997
Despite the name, this spot from heralded chef Jason Vincent only holds 45 seats. What’s giant are the flavors, especially those in the Jonah crab salad, pecan-smoked baby-back ribs, and housemade pastas. Partner Josh Perlman’s wine list focuses on Spain, Italy, and France, and is another big reason people love this place.
Lou Mitchell’s (Iconic Spot)
565 W. Jackson Blvd., 312-939-3111
This standby listed in the National Register of Historic Places has been around since 1923. The fifth-generation-owned diner serves only breakfast and lunch, when you can get fluffy pancakes, omelets, house-baked pastries and bread, juicy Angus burgers, and the “world’s best coffee.”
5020 N. Sheridan Rd., 773-728-5576
Around the corner from Little Saigon, this brunch spot full of outsider art offers a bevy of options, many organic, hormone-free, and vegetarian. Choose among Mexican chilaquiles, Danish aebleskivers, Belgian waffles, and vegetarian black-bean burgers while sipping a spicy Sriracha Bloody Mary.
Elske (Fine Dining)
1350 W. Randolph St., 312-733-1314
The husband-and-wife team of David (executive chef) and Anna (pastry chef) Posey is the creative force behind Michelin-starred Elske, which means “love” in Danish. In a gorgeously designed space on the west end of Randolph Street’s Restaurant Row, the duo produces minimalist, Danish-inspired American fare. Although dishes are offered à la carte, the $90 nine-course tasting menu is a great way to sample their work.
Manny’s Deli (Iconic Spot)
1141 S. Jefferson St., 312-939-2855
Manny’s, a 76-year-old Jewish deli, has served generations of immigrants alongside politicians and business leaders. Grab a tray and load it up with corned beef piled high on rye with a pickle spear. Add a potato latke or bowl of matzo-ball soup.
Redhot Ranch (Iconic Spot)
2072 N. Western Ave., 773-772-6020; 3057 N. Ashland Ave., 773-661-9377
In a city full of great hot-dog stands, Redhot is one of the best. The cash-only place stays open until 4 a.m. for late-night revelers. Get the Depression Dog (a beef frank garnished with mustard, onions, hot peppers, and green relish) or a thin griddled double cheeseburger—both come with hand-cut, double-fried French fries.
Green Door Tavern (Iconic Spot)
678 N. Orleans St., 312-664-5496
Open since 1921, this speakeasy once sold liquor for Al Capone’s rival Dean O’Banion. These days, the River North favorite serves burgers, corned beef, and fish and chips from brunch through late night in a space that looks like an antiques store.
Twin Anchors (Barbecue)
1655 N. Sedgwick St., 312-266-1616
The South Side hosts most of the best places for ’cue in Chicago, but this 87-year-old Old Town spot makes a case for the North. Over the decades, the zesty baby-back ribs here have earned regulars such as Frank Sinatra and Conan O’Brien. In the nautical-themed dive, the fried cod is also excellent.
Hoosier Ex-Pat Pick:
“Indy has its share of Italian-American trattorias, but Chicago’s Bruna’s Ristorante (2424 S. Oakley Ave., 773-254-5550) is in another league. Open since 1933, it’s on a block of Oakley Avenue that counts a couple of other Italian restaurants and a bar, but it still seems undiscovered. It does strictly the classics (I get the eggplant parmigiana or the Bolognese), and it’s where Italian men go to impress a date.” —Kirk Lanzone Terry
There’s some truth to the idea that Columbus is three to five years behind bigger cities when it comes to dining trends. But the number of risk-taking chefs and plant-based eateries is growing fast, buoyed by the city’s universities and expanding immigrant communities.
Signature Dish: Ice Cream
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (59 Spruce St.) continues to set the standard for artisanal ice cream, and its founder, Jeni Britton Bauer, goes by one name in these parts (much like Beyoncé). For paletas and other Mexican treats, Diamonds Ice Cream (5461 Bethel Sawmill Center, 614-718-2980) is your best bet. And at Mardi Gras Homemade Ice Cream (1947 Hard Rd., 614-766-2020), you’ll find Indian-inspired flavors like mango and kesar pista.
Veritas (Fine Dining)
11 W. Gay St., 614-745-3864
Chef/owner Joshua Dalton’s tasting menu is the city’s most ambitious. He combines classic techniques with modern playfulness—nowhere else in town will you find a dish combining the Norwegian cheese Gjetost with lychee and sumac. And the upstairs cocktail bar, The Citizens Trust, is a destination itself for drinks such as the Movie Marathon.
Momo Ghar (Tibetan)
1265 Morse Rd., 614-749-2901; 59 Spruce St., 614-495-6666
Phuntso Lama’s small counter in Saraga International Grocery, where dumplings are made by hand daily, sparked a momo craze in Columbus that continues unabated. Start with a bowl of jhol momo featuring aromatic red sauce. In 2017, the eatery added a second location in the North Market.
Lindey’s (Fine Dining)
169 E. Beck St., 614-228-4343
Located in the red-bricked neighborhood of German Village, Lindey’s may be the city’s most famous restaurant. Open since 1981, this Upper East Side–inspired, white-tablecloth spot is celebrated for its tony patio, primly dressed waitstaff, excellent happy hour, and reliable surf and turf.
Northstar Cafe (Contemporary American)
Quality ingredients are the hallmark of Northstar, a popular neighborhood spot for fresh salads, sandwiches, bowls, pizzas, and breakfasts. The Cloud Nine ricotta pancakes are a brunch standout, while the Northstar Burger is often hailed as the city’s best veggie version.
Ray Ray’s Hog Pit (Barbecue)
The best ’cue in town is served from James Anderson’s smoker. The succulent brisket and expertly smoked spare ribs—covered in spicy dry rub or slathered in housemade sauce—have earned mentions in Esquire, Food & Wine, and USA Today.
677 Parsons Ave., 614-947-1012
This southside restaurant opened last year, and is already a destination for elevated plant-based dining and expert craft cocktails. With minimalist decor, Comune tempts vegetarians and omnivores alike with offerings like a sweet-potato torta and Persian-style crispy rice.
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing (Gastropub)
215 N. Fourth St., 614-429-3936
Known for its food as much as its award-winning beers, Wolf’s Ridge was named the city’s No. 1 restaurant by Columbus Monthly magazine last year. Chef Seth Lassak’s contemporary American cuisine—always beautifully presented—ranges from a delicate carrot tartare to a decidedly un-dainty Tomahawk pork chop. The weekend brunch is excellent as well.
Pistacia Vera (Cafe & Bakery)
541 S. Third St., 614-220-9070; 59 Spruce St., 614-221-1001
Parisian-style pastries and desserts are the focus of this German Village cafe founded by siblings Spencer Budros and Anne Fletcher in 2004. Standouts include the buttery croissants, silky quiches, and colorful macarons. Save room for the show-stopping Chocolate Bombe.
The Refectory (Fine Dining)
1092 Bethel Rd., 614-451-9774
Chef Richard Blondin gives classic French entrées a modern twist at this restaurant housed inside a church that dates back to the mid-1800s. Whether you opt for dover sole served tableside or escargot terrine, be sure to peruse the world-class wine list.
This operation serves up outstanding smash burgers paired with salt-and-vinegar fries. The side hustle of talented chefs Matthew Heaggans and Catie Randazzo, Preston’s can be ordered from a food truck and two kitchens inside local bars.
The same rich agricultural history responsible for Kentucky bourbon provides Louisville chefs with ingredients for their kitchens. In recent years, they’ve become more creative with fare that honors Southern roots while taking inspiration from around the globe.
Signature Dish: Bourbon
Without bourbon, there is no Louisville. No visit to this Ohio River city is complete without a stop at one of its whiskey saloons. While even dive bars have dozens of bourbons on offer, head to the Silver Dollar (1761 Frankfort Ave.) in Clifton/Crescent Hill for the richest experience with Kentucky’s native spirit. Bartenders at this raucous spot inside a former fire station can guide novices and whiskey experts alike to a new favorite. Try a flight they’ll devise based on your palate, or go for an expertly crafted cocktail. Why not the city’s official drink, the Old Fashioned?
610 Magnolia (Fine Dining)
610 W. Magnolia Ave., 502-636-0783
The flagship restaurant of James Beard Award–winning chef Edward Lee, this is the place to splurge on fine dining. Located in a former carriage house in Old Louisville, 610 offers tasting menus that change weekly to showcase local produce (and its own greenhouse’s offerings).
Bar Vetti (Fine Dining)
800 S. 4th St., 502-883-3331
This sleek spot from Ryan Rogers, one of Louisville’s hottest restaurateurs, opened south of downtown in 2017, quickly garnering rave reviews for brilliant execution of a small roster of dishes including housemade pastas and the city’s best Caesar salad.
Decca (Fine Dining)
812 E. Market St., 502-749-8128
Top Chef alum Annie Pettry is a Louisville favorite for her delicate, yet striking, dishes. An emphasis on vegetables sets her apart in an often meat-forward town. Dine outside in the courtyard, or retreat to the Cellar Lounge for a wallet-friendly happy hour.
1001 Baxter Ave., 502-454-7075
This temple to beer inside a converted Victorian home in the bohemian Highlands pays as much attention to its food as its brews. Serving a mix of European and Southern fare, the tavern with a spectacular “gralegarten” is particularly famous for its biscuits with duck gravy.
Jack Fry’s (Iconic Spot)
1007 Bardstown Rd., 502-452-9244
An institution in Louisville, this Highlands restaurant is practically synonymous with classic, white-tablecloth dining. The intimate space serving seafood and pasta hasn’t changed in decades. Live jazz on the piano completes the feeling that you’re in a black-and-white film.
Mayan Café (International)
813 E. Market St., 502-566-0651
Before farm-to-table was de rigueur, chef Bruce Ucán was haunting Louisville farmers markets for ingredients to highlight in the Yucatán cuisine at his NuLu restaurant. Famous for its Tok-sel Lima Beans, Mayan Café also is celebrated for its grace in handling dietary restrictions.
1001 E. Washington St., 502-749-7856
This fast-casual newcomer in Butchertown has big ambitions. As a plant-based, organic eatery (with some omnivorous indulgences), it aims for sustainability. Along the way, the place puts out vibrant, colorful dishes on its rotating menu.
Ollie’s Trolley (Street Food)
978 S. 3rd St., 502-583-5214
One of only three remaining Ollie’s nationwide, this cash-only, carryout burger joint is an Old Louisville treasure. Join the crowds that flock here from around the city and grab a grease-spotted bag with a diet-busting Ollie Burger and Ollie Fries.
Shirley Mae’s Café (Iconic Spot)
802 S. Clay St., 502-589-5295
For old-school fried chicken (an ancient cast-iron skillet and lard are allegedly involved, but it’s a secret), look for the vintage “Whiskey By The Drink” sign in Smoketown and pull up a (possibly rickety) seat. In addition to the legendary chicken, Miss Shirley serves some mean housemade sides. The hot-water cornbread is memorable.
The Back Door (Late-Night Dive)
1250 Bardstown Rd., 502-451-0659
Every Louisvillian has a Back Door story. This dive bar/restaurant/pool hall tucked away at the back of a Highlands shopping plaza has some of the most generous pours in the city (and that’s saying something.) Soak up all that booze with the joint’s classic bar food while you create your own Back Door tale.
The city known for beer and brats has never been more chic. With almost a dozen restaurants that have been recognized as James Beard Award semifinalists or winners, it’s a dining scene with lots of changes brewing.
Signature Dish: Butter Burger
Roll up your sleeves. This delicacy gets messy. Just before the cook whisks your burger off the flat top, he tops it with a thick pat of butter, which quickly melts into clarified joy. Milwaukeeans claim the tasty mess was invented by Solly Salmon, founder of Solly’s Grille (4629 N. Port Washington Rd., 414-332-8808), in the 1930s. Today, Solly’s goes through many pounds of butter each week to feed the legions of visitors. But Hoosiers may be more familiar with the Sauk City, Wisconsin, chain that took this Badger State creation national: Culver’s.
Goodkind (Contemporary American)
2457 S. Wentworth Ave., 414-763-4706
The multiple owners of this place each bring something to the table. Chef Paul Zerkel’s handmade sausages rival those of the best butcher shops. Katie Rose’s cocktails measure up to those of any cocktail bar. And William Seidel stocks some of the best craft beer in the region.
Ristorante Bartolotta (Fine Dining)
7616 W. State St., 414-771-7910
Founded in 1993, this restaurant helped change the perception of Italian food from spaghetti and meatballs to housemade pasta with braised-duck ragu. Known for its expert execution of classic fare such as fried calamari, it also serves great seasonal items such as white truffles.
Sanford Restaurant (Fine Dining)
1547 N. Jackson St., 414-276-9608
Operated by James Beard Award–winning chef Justin Aprahamian, Sanford offers an ever-changing menu reflecting Aprahamian’s love of Wisconsin ingredients and his Armenian heritage.
Real Chili (Iconic Spot)
419 E. Wells St., 414-271-4042
A dive popular with the after-bar crowd, this place in Yankee Hill offers its signature product over beans, spaghetti, or both. The adventurous can add a little apple-cider vinegar and crushed chili flakes.
Kegel’s Inn (Iconic Spot)
5901 W. National Ave., 414-257-9999
People who come to Milwaukee with some knowledge of the city’s German roots might be dismayed to learn there aren’t many places that specialize in schnitzel and sauerbraten anymore. That’s what makes Kegel’s—which grew out of a 1920s speakeasy—such a treasure. The curved mahogany bar, stained glass, and murals create the perfect environment for a bowl of hasenpfeffer (rabbit stew).
Leon’s Frozen Custard (Iconic Spot)
3131 S. 27th St., 414-383-1784
This neon-wrapped drive-in on a busy street is a 1950s time warp. Milwaukee has no dearth of shops packing pints of frozen custard (which differs from ice cream in that it contains egg yolks), but Leon’s still wears the (cherry-topped) crown. Vanilla, chocolate, and butter pecan are available daily.
Zaffiro’s Pizza (Pizza)
1724 N. Farwell Ave., 414-289-8776
People debate whether there’s such a thing as Milwaukee-style pizza, but if it exists, Zaffiro’s is the place to get it. At this 65-year-old joint, crowds file in for slices of thin, Saltine-crisp pizza that still manage to support whatever toppings you put on them, even the decidedly anchovy-free “EBF (Everything But Fish).”
Three Brothers Restaurant (International)
2414 S. St. Clair St., 414-481-7530
Located in a 19th-century former Schlitz Brewing Co. building, this Serbian restaurant hasn’t changed much since its founding in 1956. Customers still pack the throwback dining room for dishes such as beef burek, chicken paprikash, and roast lamb.
Third Coast Provisions (Fine Dining)
724 N. Milwaukee St., 414-323-7434
This seafood destination serves oysters, crab, and—whenever possible—fish from the Great Lakes. In the marbled, gold-accented dining room, servers hustle around plates of lobster rolls and whole roasted fish to diners with expense accounts.
Bryant’s (Cocktail Bar)
1579 S. Ninth St., 414-383-2620
The city’s oldest bar remains the best place to get a drink. It’s so dark in the two-floor space that there’s no need to worry about that pasta-sauce stain on your shirt. There are no menus here. The ’tenders ask what you like (vodka, gin, whiskey; bitter or sweet) and go from there.
Hoosier Ex-Pat Pick:
“Old Fashioneds made with brandy are big in Wisconsin, and no place serves a better one than Story Hill BKC (5100 W. Bluemound Rd., 414-539-4424). It’s tucked in an old neighborhood near Miller Park. The family-style menu is heavy on local influences, with smoked fish chowder and a Wisconsin cheese plate. It’s everything I love about Milwaukee: friendly, inclusive, and they know their liquor.” —Therese Miclot
Helped along by waves of immigration, this former meatpacking capital and brewing powerhouse is in the midst of a cultural revival, much of it happening in the historic downtown neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine.
Signature Dish: Cincinnati Chili
We know what you’re thinking. But give this Mediterranean-spiced meat sauce atop spaghetti a chance anyway. Two million people supporting more than 200 parlors—particularly Pleasant Ridge—can’t be wrong. As an out-of-towner, you’ll want to start with a three-way. That’s noodles, meat, and cheese. With time, you might find that you prefer a four-way, with either beans or onions, or a five-way, with both. Cut, don’t twirl. Eat it like lasagna, not a bowl of Bolognese. Sprinkle the provided oyster crackers over the chili as you go to soak up the cumin-and-clove-spiked gravy. Use the house hot sauce liberally to cut the richness of the meat sauce and cheese. If you’re hungry, make it a coney dog. Pay at the cash register. Finish with a peppermint patty.
Avril-Bleh & Sons Meat Market (Iconic Spot)
33 E. Court St., 513-241-2433
The next best thing to scarfing down a Hamilton mettwurst—a smoked pork sausage spiked with mustard seed—at a cookout in Cincinnati is doing the same outside of Avril-Bleh, the city’s best butcher shop, stuffing sausage since 1894.
Bauer Farm Kitchen (Fine Dining)
435 Elm St., 513-621-8555
After generations of dormancy, seeds that German immigrants planted in the 1800s are sprouting in Cincinnati. First came the unlikely revival of their Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Then came Bauer Farm Kitchen, the city’s definitive German-American concept, serving sauerkraut balls, pork-cheek stroganoff, and 48-hour-tender sauerbraten brisket.
Findlay Market (Iconic Spot)
1801 Race St., 513-665-4839
Since 1852, Ohio’s oldest market has been feeding downtown Cincinnati. Today, locals line up for scrapple-like goetta sausage from Eckerlin Meats, hearth-baked breads from Blue Oven Bakery, and pours from Moerlein and other area favorites on tap at the Biergarten.
Longfellow (Happy Hour)
1233 Clay St., 513-549-0744
This is what happens when a D.C. punk who toured Europe with his band and worked behind a bar in Brooklyn marries a Cincinnatian and opens a neighborhood hangout in the most effortlessly cool quarter of Over-the-Rhine. Try the Shiso Painkiller and the Chips & Dip.
Mecklenburg Gardens (Brunch)
302 E. University Ave., 513-221-5353
There’s no bad time to drink a lager under the century-and-a-half-old vines at Mecklenburg, established in 1865. But the best time is 11 a.m. on the second Saturday of each month, when the place hosts a delectable all-you-can-eat sausage buffet.
Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar (Happy Hour)
629 Main St., 859-581-1777
Bourbon just tastes better on the other side of the Ohio River. In Covington, technically across the state line in Kentucky but only minutes from downtown Cincinnati, you can enjoy flights and cocktails that draw from a library of more than 600 whiskeys at this comfortable but sophisticated tavern.
Pleasant Ridge Chili (Iconic Spot)
6032 Montgomery Rd., 513-531-2365
In this city, chili plays the same role as bagels in New York or hot dogs in Chicago. It’s not just a novelty. It’s a cheap, quick, and satisfying everyday meal for the born-and-raised. Get yours with a side of the gravy fries at the delightfully retro Pleasant Ridge.
Please (Fine Dining)
1405 Clay St., 513-405-8859
This living room–sized restaurant is the Blue Hill of Over-the-Rhine, serving contemporary dishes that evoke Southern Ohio. Try the apple aebleskivers, heaped with caramel-colored Gjetost cheese in a tribute to the Queen City’s chili.
1910 Elm St., 513-381-1367
In the shell of the 19th-century Christian Moerlein bottling plant, Rhinegeist makes the beers that define 21st-century Cincinnati. The taproom is an airy industrial space with a rooftop patio that offers 360-degree views of downtown.
Sotto (Fine Dining)
118 E. 6th St., 513-977-6886
Candlelight flickers on brick in what was once La Normandie, a basement restaurant residing below Maisonette, a fine-dining landmark from 1949 to 2005. The tradition of chef-driven cuisine continues at Sotto, which serves rustic Italian fare such as al dente short-rib cappellacci swimming in Amish butter.
Hoosier Ex-Pat Pick:
“Having worked at Goose the Market when I lived in Indianapolis, I appreciate the thoughtfully curated selection of domestic cheese and charcuterie at The Rhined (1737 Elm St., 513-655-5938). They have a cheese club and lots of fun events, and you can enjoy a cheese flight or savory snacks at the shop or gather some other ingredients from the market for dinner.” —Bryan McKee
With dozens of new restaurants in the last five years, Music City’s dining scene has gone platinum. Today, Nashville offers everything from South Asian–American tasting menus to killer oyster bars to izakayas. Meanwhile, tried-and-true institutions keep the city’s culinary soul—farm-fresh ingredients, meat-and-threes, hot chicken, biscuits—firmly intact.
Signature Dish: Nashville Hot Chicken
This crunchy fried chicken rolled in a fiery, chile-based sauce has spread across the country, but Nashville remains a destination for the original. Supposedly, it began with a spurned lover who served the flaming fowl as revenge to her cheating man. He took the recipe and ran with it, founding Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. Prince’s is still, to many, the only place to get it. After a fire temporarily closed the last location, it now has an outpost south of town (5814 Nolensville Pike, 615-810-9388). The chicken is served in pieces over white bread with a dill-pickle topper. First-timers are strongly encouraged to go easy by ordering it mild or medium, but braver souls can tackle the XXX Hot for bragging rights.
City House (Fine Dining)
1222 4th Ave. N., 615-736-5838
James Beard Award–winner Tandy Wilson’s Germantown restaurant blends Italian technique with Southern ingredients. Hand-tossed wood-fired pizzas are topped with belly ham (and a sunny-side-up egg by choice), while a luscious lamb sugo is ladled over grits.
Henrietta Red (Fine Dining)
1200 4th Ave. N., 615-490-8042
Thanks to chef Julia Sullivan, who came up at Blue Hill at Stone Barns before returning home, Nashville now has a respectable oyster-bar program—as many as 15 varieties are on the list. More than that, her thoughtful, vegetable-driven menu is full of gems like mushroom steak and mussel toast.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen (Iconic Spot)
605 8th Ave. S., 615-256-4455
This lunch-only cafeteria delivers country cooking at its finest. Grab a tray and choose from specials like meatloaf, roast beef, or chicken and dumplings, plus a trio of sides. (The turnip greens and fried apples are particularly good.)
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (Barbecue)
Owner Pat Martin’s ’cue is West Tennessee–style whole hog, and the pits at his restaurants are constantly smoking. But the rest of this joint’s menu matters, too. Along with a platter of pig, go for the smoked wings, sausages, and sides like baked beans and deviled eggs.
Robert’s Western World (Iconic Spot)
416B Broadway, 615-244-9552
With one of the more modest neon signs on Broadway, Robert’s Western World stands out among the flashy, country star–affiliated honky-tonks for being a longtime local favorite. Old cowboy boots line the walls, and there’s cheap beer and a great fried-bologna sandwich on the menu.
The Catbird Seat (Fine Dining)
1711 Division St., 615-810-8200
No walls surround the kitchen at The Catbird Seat—just an intimate, 22-chair counter where diners sit like an audience around a stage. Under the helm of chefs Will Aghajanian and Liz Johnson, the multicourse tasting menu pushes culinary boundaries with dishes like baked potato aligot and sliced, barn-aged marlin belly.
Rolf and Daughters (Fine Dining)
700 Taylor St., 615-866-9897
At chef Phil Krajeck’s Germantown restaurant, you’ll find layers of flavors in their selection of small plates and housemade pastas—think hazelnut, nettle, and Thai basil tangled up with gemelli. Add to that a list of organic wines, a strong cocktail program, and an intimate, rustic space where the patio feels like a little slice of Europe.
Biscuit Love (Brunch)
Born from a food truck, Biscuit Love is a popular fast-casual brunch restaurant with three locations. Try the East Nasty, a fluffy buttermilk biscuit stuffed with fried chicken and sausage gravy. Or go biscuitless with the Colfax, a pile of cheese grits, braised beef, salsa, and two sunny-side-up eggs.
Tailor Nashville (Fine Dining)
1300 3rd Ave. N.
Four nights a week, chef Vivek Surti prepares eight- to 10-course tasting menus filled with ingredients reflecting his Indian heritage and Southern upbringing. Expect bright flavors with dishes like local trout with fennel and saffron over toasted rice.
Husk (Fine Dining)
37 Rutledge St., 615-256-6565
Chef Katie Coss uses mostly local ingredients to create her menu of fine Southern dishes, like shrimp and grits, stinging-nettle johnnycakes, and local charcuterie.
Hoosier Ex-Pat Pick:
“If you love the international spots on Lafayette Road in Indy, check out Chaatable (345 40th Ave. N., 615-383-1303). Featuring chef Maneet Chauhan’s funky take on Indian street food and a busy, bright decor, it always makes for a fun evening and offers plenty for vegetarians. Order appetizers (spiced trail mix, potato fritters) and sides (especially excellent parantha) then split an entrée. You’ll be stuffed and have delicious leftovers the next day.”—Joelle Smith-Borne
For centuries, the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers has been a hub of agriculture and commerce. It has seen the launch of the Lewis & Clark expedition and the birth of Budweiser. Today, that history and a new wave of culinary innovators make St. Louis one of the most interesting dining cities in America.
Signature Dish: Toasted Ravioli
According to local legend, St. Louis–style “toasted” ravioli (which is actually fried) started with a mistake. A mixed-up cook, the story goes, accidentally dropped fresh pasta into boiling oil, or confused oil for pasta water, somewhere in the Italian-American neighborhood called the Hill in the 1940s. Decades later, most t-rav joints follow a common formula: a crunchy breadcrumb crust, a sprinkling of parmesan, a smattering of chopped parsley, and a bowl of marinara for dipping. The best make the pasta from scratch, as at the unpretentious Greek-Italian Anthonino’s Taverna (2225 Macklind Ave., 314-773-4455).
Balkan Treat Box (International)
8103 Big Bend Blvd., Webster Groves, 314-733-5700
In the city with the largest Bosnian population outside Europe, Loryn Nalic and her husband, Edo, a Bosnian immigrant, have earned a following with a menu that spans the Balkans. You no longer have to track down their food truck to try their wood-fired somun flatbread with cévapi sausage and kajmak, a dairy spread.
Civil Life Brewing Co. (Beer)
3714 Holt Ave.
Ask a St. Louis brewer where to get a beer in the Gateway City—which competes only with Milwaukee for the title of America’s lager-brewing capital—and there’s a good chance you’ll hear about Civil Life. The cozy brewpub offers expert renditions of easy-drinking classics from British and German traditions.
Salume Beddu at Parker’s Table (Deli)
7118 Oakland Ave., Richmond Heights, 314-645-2050
Hailed by the Food Network, the charcuterie from Salume Beddu is some of the best in the country. They don’t have a storefront anymore, but you can still get their sandwiches—including a standout salami with soppressata, mustard, provolone, and fennel relish—at the specialty food-and-wine shop, Parker’s Table.
Sardella (Fine Dining)
7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314-773-7755
In 2005, 25-year-old chef Gerard Craft opened the game-changing, locally sourced restaurant Niche. A few years ago, in the name of progress, he rebranded the place Sardella, serving creative Italian-inspired fare with roots in Missouri. Try the hamachi crudo, a tribute to pasta alla puttanesca.
Imo’s Pizza (Iconic Spot)
The crust is thin and brittle, the sauce is usually sweet, and the cheese—Provel, a processed cousin to Velveeta—is butter-soft. That’s St. Louis–style pizza, one of the most controversial entries in the Midwestern pizza canon. Imo’s is the standard-bearer, with nearly a hundred stores that offer a convenient gateway to a local tradition.
Savage (Fine Dining)
2655 Ann Ave., 314-354-8488
In an intimate, stylish space that was previously the A&B Market—selling “Liquor, Meat, and Groceries,” per the sign still hanging over the door—chef Logan Ely serves experimental cuisine that might include a dollop of ultra-savory toasted yeast mousse or a drizzle of barbecue sauce made from parsnips caramelized for 90 days.
Smoki O’s (Iconic Spot)
1545 N. Broadway, 314-621-8180
If you want to try something distinctively St. Louis, order the “snoots” (grilled pig snouts) at Smoki O’s, which taste like the best-ever pork rinds—all salt, crunch, and crackle. This takeout joint also serves superlative ribs, pulled pork, and brisket, with a house sauce that tastes like a fruity, more complex cousin of the sticky-sweet glaze found in Kansas City.
Ted Drewes (Iconic Spot)
6726 Chippewa St., 314-481-2652
On summer nights, St. Louis residents crowd the fluorescent-lit pavement outside this 78-year-old purveyor of frozen treats. The custard milkshakes, called “concretes,” are so rich and dense that you can flip them upside down without losing your dessert.
Urban Chestnut at the Grove (Gastropub)
4465 Manchester Ave., 314-222-0143
The world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch, lures some of beer’s top talents to St. Louis. In 2010, two of AB’s seasoned employees—brewmaster Florian Kuplent and sales whiz David Wolfe—jumped the fence and opened this brewpub. The sausages and frites here live up to the beer.
Vicia (Fine Dining)
4260 Forest Park Ave., 314-553-9239
Developing a plant-centric menu is hard enough. Chef Michael Gallina has gone one step further and conjured deliciousness from tomato skins and carrot tops. At this critically acclaimed restaurant, no bit goes to waste. The evening tasting menu is the best way to take it all in, but you can do lunch for $50 or less.
Hoosier Ex-Pat Pick:
“I miss going to Renee’s in Broad Ripple back in the ’90s, and there’s a lot of that feel at Brasserie by Niche (4580 Laclede Ave., 314-454-0600) in Central West End. Their boeuf bourguignon is the best I’ve had, and the French doors that line the restaurant open to the street outside of the cafe.”—Rob Goodwin
As the Motor City emerges from hard times, a few diehard restaurants are paving the way for a foodie-culture explosion. New dining spots are taking advantage of the area’s abundant urban farms.
Signature Dish: The Coney Dog
It’s a locally made beef frankfurter swimming in a channel of beanless meat chili, topped with a scribble of yellow mustard and diced white onions, all nestled in a steamed bun. Any metro Detroit restaurant with “coney island” in the name (there are dozens) will serve you one, but the most famous are American and Lafayette downtown. Either commit to the inevitable shirt stain and lift the dog by the bun to take a bite, or daintily consume it with knife and fork. Either is fine. But the only acceptable libation to accompany it is Vernors Ginger Ale, a homegrown “pop” that any decent place will have on the soda gun.
Albena (Fine Dining)
1509 Broadway St.
This eatery opened last year inside the dreamy Siren Hotel and earned the Detroit Free Press’s Best New Restaurant award. With just eight seats and a nine-course prix fixe menu, the intimate destination offers a front-row seat for the preparation of its Instagram-worthy cuisine as well as face time with phenom chef Garrett Lipar.
American Coney Island/Lafayette Coney Island (Iconic Spot)
114/118 W. Lafayette St., 313-961-7758/313-964-8198 respectively
These two neighboring downtown spots have been competing for the Detroit’s Best Coney Dog title since 1924. For a hot dog smothered in chili, you can’t go wrong with either.
Buddy’s Pizza (Iconic Spot)
17125 Conant St., 313-892-9001
Home of the original Detroit-style pizza (a rectangular, deep-dish pie with crispy edges), Buddy’s has spread throughout the region. But the first outpost remains the best place to get it. Try one with an ice-cold Stroh’s and old-style pepperoni that curl around little pools of delectable grease.
Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles (Comfort Food)
19345 Livernois Ave., 313-861-0229
Long plagued by vacancy, Livernois Avenue is once again a hotspot thanks to pioneering entrepreneurs like former Detroit Lion Ron Bartell. His comfort-food emporium has become an anchor in the neighborhood, serving a range of gut bombs from biscuits and gravy to shrimp and grits. The Tender Love combo is a great place to start for those new to the chicken-and-waffle phenomenon.
Marrow (Fine Dining)
8044 Kercheval Ave., 313-652-0200
In West Village, local restaurateur Ping Ho’s spot pairs a butcher shop with a chic restaurant. As the name suggests, the menu specializes in making use of whole animals, although vegetarians will find plenty to like here. Build your own charcuterie board or go whole hog with the prix fixe Chef’s Selection.
San Morello (Fine Dining)
1400 Woodward Ave., 313-209-4700
Located in the world’s first Shinola Hotel (named for the famed Detroit-based watch purveyor), celebrity chef Andrew Carmellini’s restaurant is popular for its old-world Italian entrées such as rigatoni with Bolognese. But the “Southern Italian Dips,” especially the sheep’s-milk ricotta with hot honey and garlic, are essential appetizers.
Selden Standard (Fine Dining)
3921 2nd Ave., 313-438-5055
In Midtown, Selden Standard serves boozy brunches, power lunches, and elegant dinners. The contemporary American cuisine changes with the season to showcase produce from Detroit’s growing community of farmers. At brunch, the rotating sweet roll and pastry rarely disappoint. At dinner, the lamb ragu reappears regularly.
Shewolf Pastificio & Bar (Fine Dining)
438 Selden St., 313-315-3992
Reservations are recommended for a seat at Detroit’s newest Italian place, where servers expertly pair housemade pastas and sauces with selections from SheWolf’s enormous wine list. Located just steps from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Masonic Temple, the restaurant is a favorite for pre-entertainment sustenance.
2457 Russell St., 313-567-7879
An Eastern Market neighborhood mainstay, Supino makes huge New York–style pizzas that rival anything the Big Apple has to offer. Face-sized slices are available à la carte for your folded, paper plate–eating pleasure. The namesake pie—topped with roasted garlic, black olives, chili oil, ricotta, and mozzarella—is tough to beat.
2520 Michigan Ave., 313-855-2864
In the shadow of Detroit’s hulking train depot, this Thai-inspired oasis surprises diners with its adventurous cuisine. James Beard–nominated chef Brad Greenhill’s extensive travels throughout Thailand inform the ever-changing menu, which recently included mouth-watering short-rib eggrolls with shiitakes and Thai peppers.
Hoosier Ex-Pat Pick:
“Indy doesn’t quite have the barbecue institution that is Slows BBQ (2138 Michigan Ave., 313-962-9828) in Corktown, so I love to take friends there when they visit. The meat is super smoky, and the sauces at the table are all homemade and pay homage to regional American barbecue styles. They have a second location right near the old Detroit train station that Ford recently bought to refurbish.” —Dustin Swensson