Whether you’re traveling around the U.S., or just stuck in a rut going to the same home town eateries week after week — The Relevant Man has a few ideas to invigorate your inner culinary adventurist.
First off, fast food franchises have their place and time. I usually try to avoid those places and times in my life. But, it’s hard to beat fast food for a cheap, quick meal. So, it’s bound to “happen” to the best of us. It should NOT be your alternative when you just don't know what you want. There’s better option out there killer. Let’s plant some seeds for thought.
My first preferences are all about “small” and “local.” Checkout the latest foodie reviews online, or in your local publications. There are a lot of small, locally owned, progressive, boutique restaurants popping up all over the nation. They might only have six to twelve tables. And, often they might pop up in neighborhoods that aren’t exactly thriving. But many of them are worth the effort. And, with more and more young, progressive, entrepreneurial chefs opening their own kitchens, a lot of them have online booking options that make it really easy to get a table — even at the last minute.
My hometown, Pittsburgh is lucky to have a thriving boutique restaurant community with gems like Cure in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. But I don’t think that trend is unique to the ‘Burgh these days. We’ve found lots of wonderful, small eateries in towns all over the country like I SODI on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, NYC. In Miami we found NAOE Sushi on Brickell Key Drive, and OLA at Sanctuary down near South Beach.
Celebrity chef owned restaurants are better if the chef is actually in residence at the place. Chef Sarah Grueneberg’s Monte Verde in Chicago is a great example of a place where the chef is on site making a difference every day. Another great example is Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega in Napa.
It’s just not the same if a famous chef just slaps their name on the sign and claim that they’re the “executive chef.” Vegas is full of those, and (for the most part) they just aren’t as good.
Diners (or “dinors” as they’re called in some parts) should be small, locally owned, friendly, and simple. The best ones have a few standard lunch specialties' and serve a killer breakfast at any time of the day. They are NOT the large, franchise owned, tourist trap, food churners that I’ve seen in SFCA, DC and NYC. Those are over-priced posers.
High end chain steak houses are pretty much all the same. Ruth’s, Morton’s, Hyde Park, Eddie V’s, Capital Grill — they are very nice, very predictable, and serve very good food. So, if you absolutely can’t find a small local boutique restaurant that tickles your fancy, they’re an easy fallback.
We’ve found a lot fun places across the nation that have become points of destination in their respective cities. Places like my hometown Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh where they serve the famous strip district sandwiches piled with cole slaw and fries. Or Philly’s own steak and cheese shops like Pat’s King of Steaks. There’s San Diego’s Mariscos Mi Gusto Es food truck that’s pumping out killer fish tacos. In Asheville, NC we were pretty sure we in the wrong place when we literally found ourselves on “the other side of the tracks,” but we were glad we took the adventure because we loved the BBQ at 12 Bones Smokehouse. For fresh lobster, it’d be hard to beat a place like Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound in Bar Harbor, Maine. It was sad that Seattle’s beloved Paseo’s closed because it too was a special destination point and they made a Cuban sandwich that was worth the wait.
For very special ambiance there are places like Marine Room in La Jolla, CA where the ocean view is spectacular and the waves literally lap up to the building. Or, there’s the grand view of the valley from J&G Steakhouse at the Pheonician resort in Phoenix, Arizona.
The whole point here is that dining should be a life’s experience. If you’re just eating for sustenance, you’re missing out on one of the best things in life. So, check out some of these gems, or find your own. there are plenty of great options out there. You just need to find them.