I’ve had the good fortune to eat at some of the best restaurants around the world, from Michelin Star restaurants and one-of-a-kind dining experiences to small hole-in-the-wall spots with uncompromising local flavors. Doing so has helped me learn that what makes a dining experience truly unforgettable is a combination of ingredients, cooking expertise, presentation, the ambiance of the restaurant, and the restaurant’s uniqueness. Here are some of my all-time favorite fine dining experiences in alphabetical order with these criteria in mind.
Our meal at this farm-to-table Pacific Northwest restaurant overlooking Puget Sound last fall was one of the highlights of our visit. The incredibly fresh, hand-harvested ingredients, the atmosphere, the view of the sunset over Puget Sound, and the skillful preparation of our meal by Executive Chef Maggie Trujillo made for an unforgettable experience.
One of North America’s most celebrated experimental fine-dining dining experiences ranked as the 15th best restaurant in the world, and Chicago’s only 3 Michelin Star restaurant, Alinea blew us away with its inventive molecular gastronomy tasting menu creative presentation, unexpected flavors, and elegant atmosphere. They were able to accommodate our pescatarian diet and my gluten allergy with notice a week in advance, but they will not alter their menu for preferences. Book your table 2 months out; bookings open roughly 2 months in advance, but they fill up quickly. If you miss your reservation, join their waitlist or try the following month.
Located along Edinburgh Old Town’s Royal Mile, Angels with Bagpipes is one of Edinburgh’s top fine dining restaurants and one of the highest-rated restaurants in all of Scotland. Here we savored top-tier, hand-selected Scottish fare such as cured wild-caught salmon, mushroom and cream dishes, poached peaches, and so much more. When we dined here, we overlooked lovely Roxburgh Court and could hear bagpipes playing faintly in the distance outside, making it a truly iconic Scottish experience.
We heard about Boca’s chef and owner, David Falk, during our time in Rome, who’s famous the world over for his beautiful culinary adventures, fantastic plating, and meals that fascinate and please the senses like no other. Dishes like the Cappellacci di Giano and Spring Onion Ravioli, both of which could be made pescatarian and gluten-free, set the tone for a sophisticated evening in the Queen City.
If I had to pick my very favorite breakfasts I’ve ever eaten, I’d have to say that Charlotte Restaurant & Lounge inside the Lotte Hotel Seattle is in my top 3 of all-time best breakfast & brunch experiences. We savored some of the freshest, juiciest fruits we’ve ever had, the freshest seafood, and incredible plating at Charlotte, along with some of the very best service we’ve ever experienced, all while overlooking Seattle’s skyline.
Hinoki & The Bird seamlessly marries French & Japanese cuisine, creating a dining experience unlike any other. The food was exceptional, and the gorgeously intimate garden-esque dining area further elevated our meal. Dining by candlelight as the sunset, we savored fresh sashimi, Dungeness crab dumplings in black pepper sauce, miso whitefish, hinoki scented black cod, and roasted yam with crème fraîche, and we loved every bite of our meal. I think this is one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure of dining in.
I spent my summers on Mackinac Island growing up, and year after year, I looked forward to being able to once again eat at Jockey Club, one of Grand Hotel’s premiere restaurants. There’s something so serene about dining outside on Jockey Club’s patio, watching the sunset over the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge as the fresh lake breeze plays with our hair. Summer, in my mind, isn’t complete without dining at Jockey Club.
Kin Toh is a stunning luxury restaurant that serves modern Mayan food, built into the jungle canopy of Tulum, Mexico, overlooking the surrounding jungle & the Golf of Mexico. Every aspect of the restaurant’s wooden façade was crafted from the jungle brush leftover from when the restaurant was carved into the forest. Here, diners can sample elevated versions of traditional Mayan cuisine, like achlote tuna tacos, seared salmon, and almond textures, along with traditional cocktails. Scattered around the restaurant in the treetops are numerous hammocks, some private like the one we enjoyed, others meant to lounge, mix, and mingle with other guests. Dining here can be as private or public as you’d like for a fully customizable experience.
Syoka in Nara, Japan
Inside an old samurai house, Syoka is a place where guests can enjoy deconstructed sushi, something called te-ori sushi. When we dined here, we were presented with trays of sushi making accoutrements, such as salmon, tempura, miso paste, baked cod, ebi, ika, a variety of pickled vegetables, and sheets of seaweed called nori in which to wrap our ingredients. Creativity was the name of the game, and we loved sitting on the floor on tatami mats as we enjoyed our creations while the deer of Nara’s deer park wandered past the windows outside.
This year, we visited Northern Maine and dined at The Veranda inside The Balance Rock Inn for my birthday. Overlooking the waters and islands of the Atlantic Ocean, and with strong Nordic influences, The Veranda uses hyper-seasonal Maine ingredients, from the coast to the forests of Maine, allowing guests to sample the very best of Maine’s indigenous flavors, coaxed forth via chef Aaron Miles’ molecular gastronomy expertise.
Zero George Restaurant & Bar is one of the meals that has set the standard for fine dining for me, against which I compare all other places I eat, along with Alinea, Syoka, The Veranda, Kin Toh, and the other restaurants listed above. We savored the Multi-Course Chef’s Tasting Menu with Rare Wine Pairings, and it was a truly exquisite dining experience, unlike any other. I have literally had dreams about how delightful the meal was, where I’m holding hands again with my husband in the candlelight, as the sunsets over Charleston, while the warm breeze from the harbor and fresh scent of nearby Jasmine fill the air. Dining here is one of my favorite travel memories, and I hope to visit again someday soon.
Tell me about some of your favorite restaurants in the comments below.