The Daily Meal compiled a list of the 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2012 which included restaurants being helmed by some of today's top chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Rick Bayless, and Jose Andres. We thought we'd cut to the chase, though and take you right to the top 15.
#1 Le Bernardin, New York City
Think Le Bernardin and you think accolades: Michelin, The New York Times, James Beard Foundation. Is it a little stuffy? Sure… But with a super sleek renovation recently completed and a lengthy new lease, this iconic restaurant isn't going anywhere. And if cooking fish well is an art, then chef Eric Ripert is a Michelangelo; his contemporary French touch has led some to call his creations the world's best seafood.
Photo Credit: Le Bernardin
#2 Alinea, Chicago
There's little question that Grant Achatz, whose training includes stints with Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, and Ferran Adrià, deserves the title of America's most creative chef. The menu at his Alinea sounds deceptively simple (bass with black pepper, vanilla, and lemon), but what shows up on the plate is absolutely original and almost always dazzlingly good. However, there are rumors going around that he and partner Nick Kokonas have plans to make some major changes to the Alinea concept, now that they've successfully launched two new ventures, Next and The Aviary.
Photo Credit: Alinea
#3 Chez Panisse, Berkeley, California
Celebrating 40 years in business and still going strong, Chez Panisse was instrumental in changing the American food scene; before this restaurant, practically nobody in America served only fresh local foods and wrote menus daily, according to the season. Alice Waters, an organic-living pioneer, is also the founder of The Edible Schoolyard, a foundation that is bringing healthy breakfasts and lunches to schools across the nation. It has become fashionable to criticize this culinary icon as irrelevant or pretentious, but the truth is that her restaurant's food is still superb, both in the one-menu-a-night downstairs restaurant and the lively, diversified upstairs Café.
Photo Credit: Arthur Bovino
#4 Eleven Madison Park, New York City
Like many of the finest things in life, Eleven Madison Park is a restaurant that seems to get better with age. Although it opened to much fanfare and subsequent acclaim in 1998, Danny Meyer's hiring of Swiss-born Daniel Humm to helm the kitchen in 2006 elevated the place to the level of the finest restaurants in the country. Humm - who has won such plaudits for the restaurant as four stars from The New York Times, three from Michelin, and a number 24 ranking on last year's Restaurant Magazine list of the world's 50 best restaurants - bought Eleven Madison from Meyer last year, in partnership with his front-of-house counterpart, Will Guidara, so standards aren't likely to fall.
Photo Credit: Eleven Madison Park
#5 French Laundry, Yountville, California
How did a chef whose innovative restaurant in Manhattan failed and who headed west to cook in a downtown L.A. hotel suddenly emerge in the Napa Valley to create a restaurant to rival the great three-star establishments of rural France? Hard work and outsize talent, most probably. Taking over what had been a good but far simpler restaurant, chef Thomas Keller approached contemporary American food with classical technique, and his French Laundry established new standards for fine dining in this country. In 2012, Keller and the French Laundry received a coveted AAA Five Diamond Award, just another honor to add to the pile.
Photo Credit: French Laundry
#6 Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles
Nancy Silverton, whose La Brea Bakery changed the game for artisanal bread in America, teams up here with New York-based Italian-food moguls Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in this lively urban restaurant, complete with a mozzarella bar, unusual pasta (calf's brain ravioli, spaghetti with marinated white anchovies), and main dishes ranging from sea trout with lentils to grilled pancetta-wrapped quail. In 2011, Mozza pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez was named a James Beard Award finalist.
Photo Credit: Osteria Mozza
#7 Per Se, New York City
This elegant dining room overlooking Central Park in the Time Warner Center remains a must-have experience in New York, even for Sam Sifton, who chose the restaurant for his final review as The New York Times' restaurant critic last year - giving it four stars. Per Se upholds the standards set by Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, winning a James Beard Award in 2011 for Outstanding Service and being named the 10th best restaurant in the world in this past year by Restaurant Magazine.
Photo Credit: Per Se
#8 Momofuku Ssäm, New York City
Meals at this East Village hot spot wowed former New York Times critic Frank Bruni into a praise-filled three-star review in 2008, and no wonder. Chang's food offers bold, Asian-inspired flavors - like his duckaholic lunch and popular bo ssäm dinner (slow-cooked pork shoulder, oysters, rice, kimchee, and sauces to be wrapped in bibb lettuce leaves). David Chang continues to be the culinary cool kid. With Lucky Peach (his new magazine) and lots of buzz around Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi, he has definitely done something right.
Photo Credit: Momofuku Ssäm
#9 Gramercy Tavern, New York City
Gramercy Tavern is among the finest of the new wave of classic American restaurants. With Danny Meyer running the show and Michael Anthony taking control in the kitchen, the restaurant continues to excel at serving refined American cuisine without pretension. Anthony has become known for his simply prepared fish dishes in particular, such as sea bass with spaghetti squash, walnuts, and sherry sauce. And let's not forget that this is the restaurant that helped to jumpstart Tom Colicchio's career; he was a founding partner with Meyer before eventually leaving to open his collection of Craft restaurants.
Photo Credit: Gramercy Tavern
#10 Citronelle, Washington, D.C
With his Santa Claus build, amiable nature, and obvious passion for his métier, Michel Richard sometimes looks like the happiest chef alive as he leans over a plate at Citronelle that holds one of his imaginative, brilliantly executed specialties, smiling and putting on the finishing touches — a sight you can witness through the glass wall that encloses his sparkling kitchen at this D.C. classic. Though Richard's other spots, Central and Meatballs, have gotten a lot of play in the last year, Citronelle remains a D.C. star.
Photo Credit: Citronelle
#11 L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, New York City
Multi-Michelin-starred chef Joël Robuchon's swanky restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel offers peaceful solace amidst the noise and bustle of midtown Manhattan. A sleek, minimalist interior is the backdrop for executive chef Xavier Boyer's classical, French-inspired menu. (The beef and foie gras burgers with caramelized bell peppers are a must.)
Photo Credit: L'Atelier-de-Joel-Robuchon
#12 Pok Pok, Portland, Oregon
When Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok in 2008, he took the Pacific Northwest (and many of the nation's most devoted eaters) by storm with his uniquely refined approach to Southeast Asian street food. In fact, his Vietnamese-inspired chicken wings and boldly flavored array of house specialties are in such hot demand that Ricker opened a location dedicated specifically to wings in New York City this year. To top it off, the James Beard Foundation named Ricker the best chef in the Northwest in 2011.
Photo Credit: Pok Pok
#13 Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
High-profile organo-loca-sustainavore Dan Barber has found the perfect home at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a beautiful restaurant in a bucolic but hardworking setting on a year-round farm and educational center. Most of what you eat here will be grown, raised, and/or processed on the property, and Barber's modern American food is full of color and flavor.
Photo Credit: Blue Hill at Stone Barns
#14 Babbo, New York City
While Mario Batali certainly made headlines this year, Babbo stayed a New York essential. What can you say about this place that hasn't already been said? The pasta! That pork chop! Mario Batali is a genius! Rock music in a fine dining restaurant? Brilliant! At this longtime darling of the critics, after almost 14 years, you're still at the mercy of the reservation gods if you want to get in - buona fortuna.
Photo Credit: Babbo
#15 Franklin Barbecue, Austin, Texas
By 10 a.m. on a Friday there will be more than 90 people in line at this modest new establishment. The 90 people who show in the next half hour wait in vain a waitress will tell them that there's just no barbecue left. So it goes at Franklin, where Aaron Franklin serves some of the best of Texas' greatest culinary claim to fame. The brisket, with its peppery exterior, falls apart as you pick it up. The turkey is what presidentially pardoned birds aspire to. The sausage snaps loudly when you slice it, juice splashing out and up... You've heard the buzz. It's not hype. It really is that good.
Photo Credit: Franklin Barbecue