In the food world, there is no greater endorsement of a restaurant than regular patronage, especially from those who work as professional cooks. If you spot a dining room that's packed with off-duty chefs, you've likely found the best restaurant in town. As with any other cook, famous chefs have restaurants where they love to eat. The only difference is that the presence of famous chefs can completely change a restaurant's fortunes.
The restaurants famous chefs love to eat in are not always the ultra-exclusive fine dining establishments that top The Michelin Guide every year. Some famous chefs prefer to dine in restaurants serving modest food that's honestly prepared and well-executed. Others favor roadside stalls that serve the cuisine of their home country. What all these establishments have in common, however, is that they put the food first. After all, great chefs love good food.
Exceptional recommendations don't come from sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor; they come from those who live and breathe cooking. As a result, eating where famous chefs love to eat means regular customers can happen upon some of the best restaurants around. Even if you're not in it for the food, there's always a chance you'll see a familiar face happily eating, a few tables down.
Pim Techamuanvivit: Jok Sam Yan (Bangkok, Thailand)
Pim Techamuanvivit's culinary career has been built upon her ability to successfully balance numerous, bold flavors in a single dish. This skill is fully demonstrated at her Michelin-starred, San Franciscan restaurant Kin Khao, and through her work at several other restaurants including Nahm, located in her home city of Bangkok.
Unsurprisingly, Techamuanvivit seeks similar nuance and intensity when dining out, an area where Bangkok's culinary scene excels. Although she is spoiled for choice, Techamuanvivit normally eats the same dish every time she arrives in Bangkok, congee from Jok Sam Yan.
After over 65 years in business, Jok Sam Yan is rightly viewed as one of Bangkok's eminent congee restaurants. Its version of the rice porridge carries an immense amount of flavor thanks to the use of richly flavored stocks and an abundance of powerful toppings. Techamuanvivit's favorite toppings are pork liver and a raw egg that's partly cooked by the congee's high temperature. She also adds green onions, ginger, and cilantro to her bowl. This is flavorsome, comforting food at its very best; it's not hard to see why Techamuanvivit eats at Jok Sam Yan at every opportunity.
Mashama Bailey: NaRobia's Grits And Gravy (Savannah, United States)
Mashama Bailey champions Southern cuisine at her lauded restaurant, The Grey. She does this by reimaging classics with a grace and vision not seen elsewhere in the United States. But The Grey is not the only restaurant in Savannah that flies the flag for Southern food and Bailey can often be found a couple of miles away, enjoying the classic dishes at another excellent Southern restaurant, NaRobia's Grits and Gravy.
When interviewed by USA Today about her favorite restaurants in Savannah, Bailey said: "At Narobia's, the beef liver and grits is purely classic. The gravy is homey and the liver is cooked perfectly." High praise from one of the most accomplished chefs in America. That being said, there is much more to NaRobia's than liver and grits.
One of the best dishes available at the restaurant is the crab stew, a generous serving that comes with an abundance of crab meat as well as several shrimp. Other highlights include incredibly fluffy homemade biscuits. NaRobia's also offers a much-celebrated version of French toast that's made from a family recipe.
Anthony Bourdain: St. John (London, England)
St. John is the restaurant that launched the nose-to-tail eating movement, first in the United Kingdom and then further afield. This style of cookery and its importance to society is still championed by St. John's proprietor Fergus Henderson, who said in a 2019 interview with The Financial Times: "My hope is that St John is an institution, in the good sense of the word. Like a chemist or a cinema, something you need. Feeding you, watering you and dining you."
Anthony Bourdain would have agreed with this statement. His love for both Henderson and the restaurant was well-known and based on their mutual adoration for using all parts of a butchered animal. Yet, it wasn't just St. John's ethos that had Bourdain waxing lyrical but also the food served by the restaurant. Dishes like Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad, Pheasant and Trotter Pie, and Kid Offal, Turnips, and Anchovy excited Bourdain so much as to turn him fanatical.
St. John remains popular to this day; the brand boasts three restaurants, three bakeries, and a winery. Despite these expansions, and a few failed ones to boot, St. John and Henderson remain genuinely committed to nose-to-tail eating. Such commitment to an ethos is rare in today's culinary world of trends, fads, and superfoods. It is, however, greatly appreciated by all who have had the fortune to dine in St. John, including the late Bourdain.
Vicky Lau: Howard's Gourmet (Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
Vicky Lau was raised in Hong Kong and went on to open Tate, a two Michelin-starred restaurant, in the city. The food at Tate is defined by an interaction between Chinese and French cuisine. Interestingly, one of Lau's favorite restaurants in Hong Kong, Howard's Gourmet, does not balance two different cuisines but commits itself to one, namely Chiu Chow, a cuisine from the Chaoshan region of China.
Chiu Chow cuisine features a lot of steamed and braised ingredients and only uses minimal amounts of heavily flavored sauces. As a result, the cuisine is often described as delicate, but this adjective fails to highlight how much flavor is present in traditional Chiu Chow dishes.
Thankfully, Howard's Gourmet succeeds where words fail; Lau's favorite dishes of hot-and-sour noodle soup and crispy pork knuckle exhibit the full scope of Chiu Chow cooking with intense natural flavors and enticing textures. Crab, a stalwart of Chiu Chow, also features on Howard's Gourmet's menu. In this instance, it is pan-fried and covered with seaweed. Such beautiful simplicity is yet another example of why Lau loves eating at Howard's Gourmet.
Ferran Adrià: Astrid Y Gastón (Lima, Peru)
As the mercurial talent behind the industry-altering restaurant El Bulli, Ferran Adrià is not an easy man to impress at the dinner table. However, the team at Astrid y Gastón, a fine dining restaurant located in Lima, managed to do just that, dazzling Adrià with their ability to respectfully combine Peruvian and Mediterranean cuisines.
Adrià is not alone in his admiration of Astrid y Gastón; the restaurant was previously ranked as the best restaurant in Latin America and has received numerous positive reviews. If fortunate enough to snag a table at the exclusive restaurant, diners can expect to enjoy exquisite Peruvian delicacies such as guinea pig tacos and ceviche as well as other specialties including beef cheeks. Drinks are prepared with just as much care as the food. Astrid y Gastón has a wine list that spans over 250 bottles. An array of cocktails are also served at the restaurant. To cap it off, the service at the restaurant is exemplary.
Siba Mtongana: Willoughby & Co. (Cape Town, South Africa)
Food Network star Siba Mtongana is a proud South African who's always willing to share her favorite restaurants located across the country. In Cape Town, Mtongana is quick to steer people towards Willoughby & Co., a restaurant in the Victoria Wharf shopping center. Mtongana claims this restaurant serves some of the best sushi in the city. She is also a big fan of Willoughby & Co. thanks to its laid-back atmosphere which allows all guests, including families, to be comfortable.
The array of sushi served at Willoughby & Co. is impressive. The menu includes classic nigiri made with tuna and salmon as well as Americanized takes on sushi including California rolls. Willoughby & Co. even serves a range of sashimi. All of the sushi offerings are impressive as one reviewer highlighted on TripAdvisor: "The sushi is great! Very fresh and high-quality fish. We had a few different sashimis and a couple of rolls... everything was way above average."
For those who don't like sushi, Mtongana recommends main courses, particularly the Ginger Beef. This is a 200 gram filet served alongside vegetable yakitori and ginger sauce. Again, this meal is masterfully prepared.
Yotam Ottolenghi: Mission Chinese Food (San Francisco, United States)
When asked by Condé Nast Traveller to list his favorite restaurants in San Francisco, eminent chef Yotam Ottolenghi wasted little time in naming Mission Chinese Food. Speaking of the restaurant he said: "Despite the too-cool-for-school style of the chef and diners, the food is deadly serious. The pork belly with soy-cured eggs and cucumber and tea-smoked eel rolls with pulled ham hock were our favorites. Massive flavours, all perfectly balanced."
As ever, Ottolenghi's taste is impeccable; Mission Chinese Food produces a singularly jaw-dropping take on Sichuan and Northern Chinese dishes that defy convention but inspire the palate. These creations come from the mind of chef and owner Danny Bowien, who received a James Beard Award for his work at Mission Chinese Food.
So good is Mission Chinese Food that Ottolenghi failed to mention several dishes which would be the highlight of most other restaurants. One example of this is the Kung Pao Pastrami, a dish that was good enough to send J.Kenji López-Alt wild with delight when he reviewed the restaurant. With praise from these two industry legends, Mission Chinese Food must be doing something right.
Julia Child: La Super-Rica Taqueria (Santa Barbara, United States)
While Julia Child was known for her love of French cooking, she frequently enjoyed the cuisines of other countries. As a Californian, Child had an especially soft spot for both Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine. Most people only became aware of this when Child named La Super-Rica Taqueria, a little-known establishment in Santa Barbara, as one of her favorite restaurants in the United States. Never one to do things by halves, Child made this statement on "Good Morning America." The restaurant has not had a quiet day since.
Today, people still queue up to visit La Super-Rica Taqueria and experience the food Child loved. The meals customers enjoy are made by the same man who cooked for Child back in the early 2000s, owner Isodoro Gonzalez. At Super-Rica, Gonzalez cooks a range of classic Mexican dishes including several different tacos and tamales. For the former, tortillas are made during service ensuring they are as fresh, flavorful, and texturally engaging as possible.
It's not all sunshine and rainbows, however. Some customers complain that the restaurant is not as authentic as other Mexican eateries in California. Others have suggested that several dishes lack flavor in order to suit American palates. But, for those who have been visiting the restaurant for decades, this unique style of food is what makes La Super-Rica Taqueria such an institution. As does the fact you can eat the same food Child loved for only a few dollars.
Kwame Onwuachi: Belinda's (Port Antonio, Jamaica)
Kwame Onwuachi is one of the most popular chefs in America thanks to the success of his New York City restaurant Tatiana. The restaurant features dishes drawn from and inspired by Onwuachi's life. Several of these dishes are inspired by countries in the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, where some members of Onwuachi's family are from.
While there are many eateries Onwuachi loves to visit in Jamaica, Belinda's, a small restaurant located on the banks of the Rio Grande, is one of his favorites. This restaurant is accessible via an hour-long raft ride and all food is cooked over a live fire fuelled by guava wood.
The menu at Belinda's changes daily but all guests can expect to enjoy a range of meat, fish, and vegetables that are produced in the local area. On his visit, Onwuachi enjoyed a traditional dish of curry goat. He described Belinda's version as the best he had ever tasted. Other specialties include curried chicken and a type of stew known as Crayfish Coconut Rundown. All are served alongside classic Jamaican sides like rice and peas as well as fried plantain.
Alain Ducasse: Tempura Matsu (Kyoto, Japan)
Legendary French chef Alain Ducasse has been involved in gastronomy since 1972. Over this time, Ducasse has done it all, boasting a culinary empire that's been awarded 21 Michelin stars. Ducasse has also seen it all. As with most famous chefs, travel forms a huge part of Ducasse's life and he has been to the world's gastronomic capitals many times. All of this means that Ducasse knows an excellent restaurant when he sees one.
Ducasse estimates that he's been to Japan around 150 times and eaten hundreds of meals there. One of his favorites came from a Kyoto restaurant called Tempura Matsu. He described the chef behind his experience in an interview with Condé Nast Traveller: "I went to a place called Tempura Matsu, run by a young chef called Shunichi Matsuno [...] his way of cooking is like an expression of the Japanese DNA with a French twist." Blending these two cuisines is a daunting task but one chef Matsuno is more than up to; Matsuno formerly trained under many incredible chefs including Grant Achatz and Ducasse himself.
At Tempura Matsu, Matsuno serves 10 courses in just over an hour, including wagyu topped with melted sea urchin and soba noodles flavored with matcha and finished with daikon. Few restaurants, both inside Japan and outside, can provide such a whirlwind of flavor.
Dominique Crenn: Le Comptoir Du Relais (Paris, France)
Chef Dominique Crenn might have made her home in San Francisco, but her heart remains French. So, it's no surprise that when she's in France Crenn seeks out the Frenchest of culinary institutions: the bistro. Crenn's preferred bistro is Le Comptoir du Relais, a tiny, classical restaurant that is now run by Bruno Doucet. Le Comptoir du Relais was originally founded by Yves Camdeborde, a chef whose reputation in the bistro world is unrivaled. In fact, many label Camdeborde as the chef of bistronomy.
Although he sold the restaurant to Doucet, Camdeborde's classic approach is still evident throughout the restaurant. Big flavors abound alongside a relaxed atmosphere as one reviewer highlighted on TripAdvisor: "A great place to taste the typical French Bistro gastronomy, yet with a relaxed ambience full of simplicity and sense of ease. I would highly recommend the pork belly (poitrine de cochon) on the menu." Doucet's nourishing and generous menu also features dishes like stews made with beef cheek and a version of salad niçoise. It's easy to see why French citizens like Crenn have such an affinity for the place.
Alice Waters: Semilla (Paris, France)
It was a trip to France that ignited Alice Waters' passion for farm-to-table cooking. Over 50 years later, the country's restaurants remain a great source of inspiration for her. On trips to the country, Waters was particularly struck after dining at Semilla, a restaurant that, much like Chez Panisse, prioritizes ingredients above all else.
The ethos behind Semilla comes from owners Juan Sanchez and Drew Harré. These two ensure that high-quality produce is used to make bright, bold dishes like Sea Bass Ceviche and Confit Lamb Shoulder with Beaufort Cheese. On Water's visits to the restaurant she enjoyed an array of soups and salads, but the standout dish was a seafood risotto. Waters claimed this was one of the best risottos she'd ever had. High praise that was justly earned.
Semilla is made even more enjoyable by having most dishes available in two different sizes: entier or demi. The option allows customers to sample dishes from across the menu; there is no small benefit when every dish tastes incredible.
Massimo Bottura: Al Convento (Cetara, Italy)
Massimo Bottura, chef at Osteria Francescana, loves Italian cuisine above all others. As a result, any chef who champions the cuisine and its regional variations gains his attention. Pasquale Torrente, chef at Al Convento, is one of the few who can match Bottura's dedication or zeal when it comes to championing local Italian cuisine and Bottura respects him for it, as he highlighted in an interview with Robb Report: "What I love about Pasquale Torrente is that he embraces his native southern flavors with boundless energy, a touch of folly, and a talent for turning the simplest of ingredients into heavenly bites."
Torrente is a fierce advocate for Cetara's most famous local ingredient, anchovies. To spotlight the fish, Torrente serves them seven different ways in a starter at his restaurant. Elsewhere on the menu, fried anchovies are stuffed with provolone cheese. Even spaghetti gets the anchovy treatment by being topped with Colatura di Alici, a fish sauce made from fermented anchovies.
Aside from anchovies, Torrente is also a dab hand at frying and pizza making. Consequently, both delicately fried foods and pizzas are available at Al Convento. Guests can choose to enjoy them in a beautiful, frescoed dining room or outside on a well-appointed terrace.
Clare Smyth: Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill (London, England)
During oyster season, Michelin-starred chef Clare Smyth likes to frequent Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill in London. This restaurant is, as Smyth states, an institution, serving over 1,000 oysters per day. These oysters are sourced from a mixture of British and Irish suppliers ensuring there is a wide range available in the restaurant on any given day. Dressed oysters can also be ordered; the Vietnamese option comes with a fish sauce and deep-fried shallots.
Other seafood classics make up the remainder of Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill's menu including Classic Fish Pie, Traditional Fish & Chips, and Royal Shellfish Platter. While they sound simple, these dishes are elevated to rarely-seen heights thanks to the skill of head chef and owner Richard Corrigan.
As a high-end seafood bar, Bentley's also boasts an impressive champagne and sparkling wine list with bottles stretching back to the mid-1990s. Such decadence does not come cheap but every aspect of the dining experience at Bentley's is so exquisite that few guests part with the money grudgingly.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.