In September, The New York Times released their Best Restaurant List of 2023. This list features 50 restaurants across the U.S. determined to be the best by dozens of critics, reporters, and editors. They searched the Nation, from the California coast to Rattlesnake Point in Florida.
The question on everyone’s mind in the restaurant industry is, how? With over 700,000 restaurants, how do you determine the best? Obviously, the big cities known for some of the top spots in the industry are represented.
These cities continue to appear on the Best Food Cities in the U.S. lists. Three showed up in Los Angeles, four in New York City, three in Philadelphia, and, surprisingly, only one in Seattle. Cities that ranked with two best restaurants include San Francisco, Denver, Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, Austin, Houston, and Portland, Oregon.
Here, we’re looking at a few of the cities that aren’t known (yet) as food capitals of America. These restaurants come from lesser-known areas. Let’s explore the clues that can answer the question as to how these restaurants drew the attention of The New York Times.
Juneau, Alaska – In Bocca al Lupo
Chef and commercial fisherman Beau Schooler has received six James Beard award nominations and announces his creative Alaskan specials on Instagram. On his Instagram posts, you’ll find unique pictures of food that’s beautiful and somewhat unrecognizable. Salmon reigns supreme, from wood-fired to glazed.
Kent, Connecticut – Ore Hill
This tasting menu, farm-to-table restaurant sources its produce, dairy, and meat from Rock Cobble Farm, a nearby 1,000-acre estate that previously belonged to philanthropist Anne Bass, who also rebuilt the restaurant in an 18th-century farmhouse. Each season, farmers, botanists, and cheesemakers work with the restaurant to create unique dishes and cocktails. It’s the quintessence of farm-to-table.
Caldwell, Idaho – Amano
Although raised in Orange County, California, Chef Salvador Alamilla stays true to his western Mexico, Michoacan roots, where he was born. The restaurant focuses on masa and mezcal experiences made by hand, ancestral cooking methods, and supporting indigenous communities.
The tortillas are made to order, ground in-house by hand with lava rock from heirloom Oaxacan corn. They feature 20 varieties of both tequila and mezcal, including artisanal producers.
Brooksville, Maine – Tinder Hearth
Next to Tim Semler and Lydia Moffet’s farmhouse sits several small buildings and a garden. Here, you’ll find a bakery and a pizza restaurant called Tinder Hearth. They use leavened wild yeast when they bake their 150 pizzas four nights a week in a wood-burning brick oven.
Their winter schedule includes Friday night pizza and Saturday brunch. Some of their unique toppings include pecorino, radicchio, burrata, garlic oil, peach, Calabrian chile honey, and hazelnut romesco.
Pine Plains, New York – Stissing House
This restaurant is located in one of the oldest taverns in America, dating back to 1782. Guests enjoy a feast in the oldest ballroom in America, under candlelight in the beamed barn, in the upstairs bar, or in the intimate Punchbowl.
Chef Clare de Boer took over in 2022, and the Stissing House was named one of the Nation’s best new eateries by the James Beard Foundation in 2023. Most of the dishes are cooked in the open kitchen’s wood-fired hearth and inspired by the simplicity of Shaker cooking.
McMinnville, Oregon – Okta
Okta is nestled in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It is true to the land surrounding it, delivering “a focused culinary experience that brings forth the hidden beauty of the region as it continuously reinvents itself.” Either someone on the staff is a writer, or they found a notable marketing firm.
Chef Matthew Lightner draws inspiration from the sustainable and regenerative Okta Farm and the region’s bounty, delivering a tasting menu influenced by the farm and the Pacific Northwest forests. Looking at their Instagram posts, you’ll notice as many pictures of the land and produce as the unique and beautifully prepared food.
The Common Ingredients to These Successful Restaurants
Do you see a common ingredient? If one exists, it would be their unique and true-to-their-roots concepts. From commercial fishermen to farmers, indigenous heritage, and focused intent on the land surrounding them, these restaurants honor the community, history, and land they call home.
And, as you can see, these now famous restaurants found their calling in some unique locations. You don’t need to be in the top 10 cities to get the attention of critics and food enthusiasts. A few other restaurants that made the list were in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Waitsburg, Washington; Falls Church, Virginia; and Wailuku, Hawaii.
At Emerging Concepts, we help restaurants and entertainment concepts find their next “big spot,” a place that calls to them. Then, we dig deep into data analysis, helping our clients determine the best of many options—the one that optimizes success and minimizes risk. To learn more about our process or to schedule a consultation, contact Emerging Concepts today.