The days of traveling to a new destination and wandering the streets in hopes of stumbling across a local gem of a restaurant are all but over. In our Brave New Internet-Savvy World, we meticulously plot out our vacation meals visa Facebook crowdsourcing, food-blog recommendations and Foursquare. But there is a better way.
Instead of asking your Facebook friends where to find the best food in town, just ask James Beard. The James Beard Foundation just announced its 2017 winners this week, and among the accolades doled out, were the best chefs in 10 U.S. regions.
Winners include long-time heavyweights to the restaurant biz and newcomers, and prices range from absolutely affordable to eating nothing but ramen for two weeks just to be able to pay for one dinner. Here are the best chefs in each region:
Best Chef, Great Lakes: Sarah Grueneberg | Monteverde | Chicago
Sarah Grueneberg’s first solo venture is an informal, communal pasta paradise. The former chef of Spiaggia has created a restaurant that’s one part traditional Italian, and one part noodle fantasyland, with the menu being divided by tipica (traditional) and atipca, which is where Gruenberg has her fun. Think Cacio Whey Pepe (as opposed to traditional cacio e pepe), where the sauce is made with cheese and whey instead of pasta water, resulting in a creamy, messy delight.
Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic: Greg Vernick | Vernick Food & Drink | Philadelphia
If there’s one word to describe the best chef in the Mid-Atlantic and his eponymous restaurant, it’s 'versatile.' Vernick Food & Drink might be most famous for his roast chicken (and his toast), but the restaurant could be equally praised for its seasonally inspired cocktail menu, crudo counter and pasta. The man and his restaurant are hard to define, but that means you pretty much can't go wrong no matter what you order.
Best Chef, Midwest: Kevin Nashan | Sidney Street Cafe | St. Louis
Sidney Street Cafe has been one of the best restaurants in St. Louis for the last 25 years, but this local institution reached new heights when Kevin Nashan took over seven years ago. A former chef at restaurants like Commander's Palace, Restaurant Daniel and even elBulli, Nashan has kept many of the old standbys, like the filet, on the menu, and added his own little touches, like foie gras. For a true Sidney Street experience, get the chef’s tasting menu, where no two diners get the same thing. Just hope you get the halibut plate, complete with uni bisque, clams, squid ink and crab.
Best Chef, New York City: Marco Canora | Hearth
Marco Canora, alumni of both Gramercy Tavern and Craft, learned under New York legends Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio, and has made a name for himself in his own right. His upscale East Village establishment, Hearth, is not your typical Italian restaurant. Yes, it’s still got classics like meatballs, gnocchi and risotto, but Canora focuses on ingredients that are as organic and healthy as possible. Most of the dishes are well-balanced, subtle and small, and intended to share: Think lamb tongue with mustard greens, kohlrabi, as well as warm asparagus with cured trout aioli.
Best Chef, Northeast: Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley | Eventide Oyster Co. | Portland, Maine
There’s nothing complex about Eventide Oyster Co., but everything they do, they do well. It’s the little things that take Eventide to the next level. For example, the horseradish, kim chee and pickled ginger ices you can get with your oysters. Or the fact that the famous lobster roll is dressed with homemade brown butter or homemade mayo. While the raw bar and crudo are the foundation of the menu, you’d be remiss not to go all out and get the New England Clam Bake, because what’s more New England than that?
Best Chef, Northwest: Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton | Ox | Portland, Ore.
Despite being all the way up in the Northwest corner of the country, Portland’s Ox might be the closest in the U.S. you’ll get to Buenos Aires. The husband-and-wife team's ode to Argentina’s art of wood-fired grilling is a mecca of meat, and the open kitchen turns out all the usual suspects: a wide variety of steaks and chops, as well as chorizo and fish. But Ox goes beyond the typical Argentinian asado, with dishes like cocoa-braised lamb shoulder, pan-roasted sea scallops and an impressive selection of charcuterie boards.
Best Chef, South: Rebecca Wilcomb | Herbsaint | New Orleans
Wilcomb serves modern French fare, as well as delicious housemade pasta, in a casually elegant environment. Highlights include lamb and mushroom lasagna and the Sicilian beef with anchovies and olives, as well as Louisiana shrimp with roasted chili grits, okra and mushrooms. But when in New Orleans, you really need to get the gumbo, and Herbsaint serves some of the best in the city, rotating between duck and andouille gumbo and chicken and andouille gumbo.
Best Chef, Southeast: Steven Satterfield | Miller Union | Atlanta
Steven Satterfield is no newbie to the James Beard awards; this is his fourth straight year in the running for Best Chef Southeast. And for good reason. Satterfield and Miller Union have earned praise for the chef’s ability to create magic out of simplicity. Miller Union specializes in a hyper-seasonal menu focusing on farm-fresh Georgia ingredients to create dishes that are both simple and profound, the most famous of which is probably the farm egg baked in celery cream. The ever-changing seasonal vegetable plate is also a must-try that embodies Satterfield's style.
Best Chef, Southwest: Hugo Ortega | Hugo’s | Houston
Of Hugo Ortega's multiple restaurants, his first restaurant, Hugo’s remains the flagship. Set in a beautiful historic building, Hugo’s is a temple of local Mexican cuisine, but this is no ordinary Tex-Mex fare. The most celebrated dish on the menu is the lamb barbacoa, marinated in chiles, onion, garlic and avocado leaves, and slow-roasted in agave skin. But Hugo’s has plenty of other options that will challenge your concept of what American Mexican food can be, like bacon-wrapped quail stuffed with chorizo, tomatillo salsa, butternut squash, ayocote beans and quinoa.
Best Chef, West: Corey Lee | Benu | San Francisco
If you want a meal at Benu, expect to pay the price: $285 for a tasting menu and probably a wait of up to two months. Winner of multiple James Beard awards and proud owner of three Michelin stars, Benu prides itself as much on its design as on its award-winning Asian/American fusion. Chef Corey Lee famously spent over a year just planning the idea of his restaurant, including the best purveyors, gardeners, designers and architects that he could find. The result is a seamless experience from the top down. The dishes on the tasting menu rotate, but current menu items include sea urchin marinated in fermented crab sauce; geoduck clam with pea leaf and green garlic broth; and Sea of Okhotsk sea cucumber, lobster and fermented pepper.