My Top Ten Favorite Restaurants

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were sitting on the outdoor patio of a delicious new food spot within walking distance of our apartment (shout-out to Craft Urban of Geneva and their gluten-free cheese curds) when we started to brainstorm all of the best restaurants we’ve experienced in our brief eight years of marriage. You know a place is good when you can remember not only exactly what you ate and how it tasted, but can even recall small details about the ambiance and specific conversations you had with your server. We came up with some serious gems, and the goal of this post is to share those with you but also to hear some of YOUR favorite restaurants around the globe so we can add them to the running list on the note in my phone. Warning: some of these descriptions may cause your mouth to water. Do not read while hungry.

  1. St. Jacques French Cuisine (Raleigh, NC) – This diamond in the rough tucked away in a nondescript strip mall delivered the best tasting food I have ever put in my mouth. We indulged in escargot three ways, french onion soup, a cornucopia of freshly baked breads, roasted duck, and Beef Bourguignon. As I perused the menu Lauren glanced over at me and asked “Daniel… are you crying?” Yes, yes I was. I dream of the day I can go back to St. Jacques.

2. Mais Arepas (New Orleans, LA) – This Columbian restaurant within walking distance of the National WWII museum is one of two New Orleans’ restaurants to make my top ten list. The flavor combination of citrus pulled pork, sweet plantains, pickled red onion, and cotija cheese blends perfectly with the Guasacaca dipping sauce and mouth watering elotes.

3. Cafe Rumist (Istanbul, Turkey) – This quaint cafe nestled between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul is what stories are made of. The tortellini was so good that I went back the next night and ordered it again. We made friends with the owner and drank our weight in apple tea, on the house. Of all the treasures in Istanbul, this restaurant might be the one I remember most.

4. Brasa Rotisserie (Minneapolis, Minnesota) – The flavor combinations at Brasa are almost unmatched, especially at such an affordable price. This all gluten-free menu features a variety of creole dry rub roasted chicken and a medley of sauces that you will want to take home by the bottle. Garlic-citrus mojo. Cilantro lime ginger mayo. YUM.

5. Blue Oak BBQ (New Orleans) – Best. Chicken. Sandwich. On the planet. I first tasted it at the NOLA Fried Chicken Festival in August, and my taste buds were never the same. What a joy it was to learn that I lived within walking distance of this barbecue joint in Mid-City. My wallet took some hits, but I have no regrets. This sandwich was my last meal before we left New Orleans for good.

6. Chicago’s Pizza (Chicago, IL) – Chicago deep dish pizza is world famous. The cheese, the fresh ingredients, and crust. Most locals will say their favorite spot is either Giordano’s, or Lou Malnati’s, or Gino’s East… but they aren’t lucky enough to live with a celiac. The hands down BEST gluten free deep dish pizza in the entire city belongs to Chicago’s Pizza in the Lakeview neighborhood. Read the link I provided about how they crafted the perfect gluten free crust. Lauren and I will hop on the Metra and head into the city for this pizza at least four times a year, and it never disappoints.

7. Babylon (Raleigh, NC) – The instant you walk through the stone entryway lined with palm trees and imported foliage at this Moroccan inspired restaurant you feel as if you have been transported to another world. Lauren and I chatted with strangers while enjoying a drink in the courtyard as we nibbled on hummus and fresh pita. Our lamb chop entree was elegant. The entire experience felt like it was out of a movie.

8. Monell’s at the Manor (Nashville, TN) – My Nashville friends and family will probably kill me for only having one Nashville restaurant on my top ten, but alas, it is what it is. Don’t let this take away from the magnificence of the family style all you can eat southern cooking bombshell that is Monell’s. I am a huge fan of the “meat & three” style eateries and Monell’s includes all of the southern flavors and classic dishes you could want, with no limits.

9. Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen (Charlotte, NC) – This is the oddball of my list. I have eaten at every other restaurant on my list multiple times, but have eaten at Rooster’s only once. But once was enough for Lauren and I to taste the best cheese plate we have ever had. I have never had a carmelized aged gouda as decadent, and doubt I ever will. We sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen which gave us unique insight into the preparation of our food, and we have talked about this place for years.

10. Glen Prairie (Chicago, IL) – This farm to table Midwest style restaurant creates amazing flavors and dishes on their entirely gluten free menu. I eat something different every time and am always satisfied. My favorites have been the pork belly risotto, the Amish chicken, and the homemade meatloaf. The price point is right up our alley and is one more reason why Glen Prairie is one of our local staples.

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8 Responses to My Top Ten Favorite Restaurants

  1. Brandon S. says:

    ShanDong in Oakland, CA. Handmade noodle chow mein. Life altering noodles. It’s in a small restaurant In Oakland’s Chinatown that maybe seats 20. It’s incredible

    • Adding it to the list! I’ve gotta get back to the Bay soon. Thanks for sharing

    • Rondy Smith says:

      Speaking of the Bay area… I’ll have to find the name of an exquisite little Italian trattoria dad and I stumbled upon in Sausalito!! Another most memorable meal!! Brandon jogged my memory with the reference to noodles in a small place… a different kind of handmade pasta also in a tiny place with about 10 tables! We were seated in the window and watched the world go by as we ate unforgettable ravioli! Something exotic like pumpkin filled with truffle butter … yum, I can taste it now!!

  2. Ryan Norton says:

    If you ever find yourself in Savannah GA, you MUST check out Boar’s Head. My wife and I have been twice and have chosen to eat at Boar’s Head both times. They have AMAZING filets that will melt in your mouth topped with a traditional garlic butter. Pair it with their Praline Amber Ale (yes, its a praline amber ale, and its easily number 1 on my beer-of-choice list!) And you’re good to go! Definitely going to check out of some of these spots on your list as well!

    • I LOVE Savannah and have told Lauren I need to take her there! When we go, we will definitely check out Boar’s Head. That filet you described got me craving a good steak

      • Rondy Smith says:

        Elizabeth on 37th is the place to go in Savannah!! Had one of the most memorable meals of my life there circa 1989 before you were born! Pecan encrusted grouper with some amazing sauce that was to die for! You know I’m a grouper connoisseur! Homemade cinnamon ice cream on the fresh berry cobbler!! Went back this year With dad and it did not disappoint! Have sent Kyle & Emmy and other folk there and they rave! Upscale cuisine in a historic home.

  3. Rondy Smith says:

    Loved this! Died laughing at #1 cause I wasn’t sure if you were crying at all the delectable options or the prices 😂 French food is hard to beat! And now you live across the street from a French Bakery 🥰
    #6 I must confess I was skeptical about the gluten free deep dish but you were right! I almost prefer it now to all the others!!
    #8 I prefer the original Monell’s in Germantown and wish the manor was still the New Orleans Manor as it was for many years. You’ve missed the best restaurants in Nashville, but for a true meat and three lover I see why this one reigns supreme for you!
    #10 Glen Prairie! So glad dad and I have gotten to experience this one with you and Lauren a couple times! Truly special! But I also can’t believe Bien Trucha didn’t make the list? Such a fave!
    I MUST travel to Istanbul and find your little cafe you’ve reminisced about so often!! And you discovered your two NOLA faves after we visited so we missed out! “I’ll have to ponder a while to get a top 10 list! I’ve traveled 35 years with a foodie so this will be difficult!

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