The breakfast spaghetti at San Morello in Detroit. // Photo courtesy of San Morello

 

 

This story is republished from Resy.com, your source for restaurant bookings and discovery.

By Jon Bonné

“Dinner is a meeting place for the sharpest minds, the most heroic hearts, the most independent spirits” is how Balzac put it, and even if that was nearly two centuries ago, who are we to disagree?

That’s to say: A great meal is far more than the sum of its parts. It’s a chance to be thrilled for a couple of hours, to take delight in how a great cook sees pleasure in the world.  And in America today, there is so much opportunity to be excited by great cooking as never before — yes, after 15 months of pandemic and crisis for restaurants, and yes, in a time of great change. American cooking no longer needs to make apologies to anyone (take that, Balzac).

It’s important, though, to consider that fact through the prism of what it means to be a great restaurant today. Sure, American chefs have long had fancy cooking down. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Brilliance comes in many guises nowadays; great cuisine invokes the full range of American traditions. It could come in the form of a revolutionary reconsideration of Korean banchan in New York or the best of modern Mexican cooking making itself known in Los Angeles. It could be an homage to great Midwest pizza or a chill New Orleans dining room where you can experience the symbiosis of all that city’s many influences.

It’s why we don’t even like to talk anymore about “fine dining.” Instead, “great cooking” feels more appropriate today, reflecting the idea that both food and setting have evolved in American cuisine.

With all that in mind, we wanted to highlight 10 restaurants that we think prove our point. And there’s a twist: All are part of American Express’ latest benefit for premium card members: Global Dining Access by Resy. This new program not only highlights some of the best cooking across the country (and eventually beyond), it also can reward diners with exclusive access to those tables.

Moreover, we’ll be coming back to you each month with an updated list of 10. That habit might feel familiar if you know our Hit List — which has defined Resy since the very beginning. You can consider this our Hit List to the best of dining across the country — and the best of Global Dining Access. Each month, we’ll highlight can’t-miss tables from coast to coast — to enjoy whether you’re at home or on the road.

So let’s get to it. There’s Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ swank new Indian boîte in New York; Denver’s epic tribute to Israeli cooking from celebrated New Orleans chef Alon Shaya; unforgettable cocktails and unforgettably hedonistic vegan food in Atlanta; and much more. Dive into our debut Dining Access Hit List — and explore some of the most pleasurable cooking that America has to offer today.

1. SONA

NEW YORK | Flatiron

Although New York has never wanted for Indian restaurants, it often has been a struggle — in Manhattan especially — to get ones with ambitious cooking and ambitious décor. Even the legendary Tabla was ahead of its time. Which is why it’s a pleasure to see this collab between actress and author Priyanka Chopra Jonas, entrepreneur Maneesh Goyal, and restaurateur David Rabin (Lambs Club, the Skylark, etc).

A lot of influences are folded in here by chef Hari Nayak: Chopra Jonas’ longtime quest for great Indian cooking in New York; Goyal’s family history with restaurants in Houston (the India House butter chicken on the menu acknowledges that history), and even homage to Tabla’s Floyd Cardoz, with his Goan fish curry featured on the menu. Just as significant, though, is the gilded décor from Melissa Bowers, a tribute to Art Deco-era Mumbai, with perhaps a dash of Miami Beach in the mix. It helps Sona feel luxurious in all the right ways.

2. Mi Tocaya Antojería

CHICAGO | Logan Square

Chef Diana Davila is at the forefront of the new guard of Mexican American cuisine, and that perhaps shows itself best through the sheer diversity of her menu at Mi Tocaya, a standout in a city that has been pushing Mexican cooking forward for a while now. On the one hand, you might encounter a dish like her tamal of napa cabbage mixed with masa, accented with a mushroom escabeche and squash-blossom salsa, or her beef tongue in peanut-butter salsa. On the other, there’s something like the steak burrito, a nod to the best of Mexican American taquerias — and a dish we recently deemed one of Chicago’s new classics.

3. Compere Lapin

NEW ORLEANS | Warehouse District

Nina Compton has found wonderful ways to dovetail her Saint Lucian heritage with the foodways of New Orleans, already steeped as it is in Creole traditions. But neither of those references quite define the brilliance that has earned Compton accolades from the James Beard Foundation and many others.

Take, for instance, her scialatielli with shrimp and “rundown sauce,” which builds on a shrimp-shell base with coconut milk, lemongrass, and more — acknowledging not only tropical flavors but the city’s long Italian heritage in the form of that Amalfiesque pasta. Much the same with her Caribbean chop salad or dirty rice arancini. We’d never discourage you from comprehensively eating your way through New Orleans, but dining here does manage to distill so many of its inspirations into one remarkable meal.

4. ATOBOY

NEW YORK | NoMad

Junghyun and Ellia Park have risen to the top of New York’s realm of neo-Korean cuisine in part because of their tasting menu, Atomix. But their original restaurant, Atoboy, remains unique in how it redefined modern Korean American dining — namely because of the Parks’ ingenious reconception of banchan.

This doesn’t refer to the raft of small accompaniments, as Americans tend to think of them, but banchan’s original form — standalone dishes that together can compose a meal, like the current selection of galbi beef with broccoli di ciccio and Korean pear. A new $75 prix fixe also includes a bevy of smaller banchan on the side, including their now-famous lotus root. And, of course, the optional fried chicken add-on is a modern classic — and arguably non-optional.

5. Safta

DENVER | River North Art District

Speaking of New Orleans, one of many threads in its culinary fabric has been Alon Shaya’s renowned take on Israeli cooking — currently at Saba, but also having moved west to Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, where Shaya opened Safta in 2018. His thoughtful tweaks to classic dishes are equally on display here: pink peppercorns to accent the labneh; sunflower seeds dotting the Persian rice; laurel to add aromatic punch to harissa chicken. While Saba leans more into Gulf seafood, Safta counterpoints turf to the New Orleans surf, with more beef and lamb on display. This is the Front Range, after all.

6. Bar Vegan

ATLANTA | Ponce City Market

Pinky Cole made veganism downright sultry with her original Slutty Vegan, one of Atlanta’s biggest runaway hits in years.  She’s now extended that into Midtown, specifically to Ponce City Market, with Bar Vegan — which combines exuberant cocktails with a specifically Philly take on veganism from Derrick Hayes of Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks.

Which, if you were doubtful that you could swoon over a proper cheesesteak, but vegan, doubt no more. That’s probably why slots for dinner are in such notably short supply.

7. chi SPACCA

LOS ANGELES | Hollywood

Nancy Silverton has defined so much of how Los Angeles eats today — from her days at Spago and Campanile to the arrival, with Pizzeria Mozza, of epic pizza to SoCal. Amid all that, it can be easy to forget that she also brought the great Tuscan beef tradition to town as well, with Chi Spacca.

Bouncing back out of the pandemic, this homage to Italianate steakhouses is in full effect, whether you want to stay light (light?) with her pepper steak accented with green garlic, or go full in with a 50-ounce Florentine steak dry-aged by the West Coast meat maestros at Flannery Beef.

Pro tip: The burger, with fries and mint aioli on the side, remains one of the best in a town with a lot of contenders.

8. The Bazaar by José Andrés South Beach

MIAMI | South Beach

All love to L.A., but candidly, Miami feels like the city that was born to host José Andrés’ Bazaar — and Andrés has extended his Spanish purview in all the right ways here, folding in not only Latin American touches — conch fritters, Cuban-style chicken rubbed in black garlic — but also Singaporean ones (bao stuffed with lechon) as a way to link the two cities’ Art Deco vibes. There’s even a wink or two to Miami’s other influences. (The “bagels and lox” with salmon roe, ahem.) It all adds up to one of Andrés’ most playful projects, and one that leans into South Beach perfectly.

9. San Morello

DETROIT | Downtown

Andrew Carmellini added a big boost to Detroit’s Italian options when he opened San Morello in the Shinola Hotel in late 2018. But this was more than a big-deal New York chef (Locanda Verde) dropping into town — Carmellini is from the Midwest, namely Cleveland, and he and his partners brought a raft of quintessential options to Motor City, including fried chicken (Penny Red’s) and a great beer hall (the Brakeman).

The pastas faithfully echo Locanda Verde, in particular, Carmellini’s memorable mezze rigatoni with ragu, and his grandmother’s ravioli. But what’s unique here is the pizza, helping to complete that Midwest loop. Don’t miss the OG, which doubles the fire thanks to ‘nduja, pepperoni, and chiles.

10. Damian

LOS ANGELES | Arts District

It doesn’t matter if you are Enrique Olvera; L.A. is a tough town to impress with Mexican cooking. But Olvera aimed high, and hit the mark, aided by an unintentionally gradual rollout because of the pandemic, which allowed him and his team to start with the back-door taqueria Ditroit. (Want to win over Angelenos? You’d best start with tacos.)

Anyway, Damian is now in full effect, with head chef Chuy Cervantes turning out the sort of thoughtful and remarkable cooking that set apart New York’s Cosme and, of course, Pujol in Mexico City: a Dungeness crab gordita with Meyer lemon, for example; or the costillas enmolada, pork belly in a black mole served with tortillas, kimchi, and sriracha. And don’t miss beverage director Jun Kwon’s no-waste cocktail program.

As part of the American Express® family, Resy powers the world’s best restaurants and helps connect diners with the restaurants they love through its best-in-class reservations technology, insider content, and exclusive access and experiences.

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