Distinctive Restaurants of the Place (Bests of 2021)

Distinctive Restaurants of the Place (Bests of 2021)

Distinctive Restaurants of the Place (Bests of 2021)

You know what we mean when we say "place-y." These are the cafes, bistros, counters and tables that couldn't be anywhere else. The meals that feel like they speak to a city's distinct culture, its traditions or its future. Sometimes all three. It's the first reservation we make or the spot we never leave town without stopping at. We picked just one from each of our 21 city guides (including our upcoming Washington, D.C., volume). New, old, big, tiny-all these place-y places are the spots we return to again and again (and again). 

With a vision as forward-thinking as Atlanta itself, chef Ron Hsu conjures tasting menus at Lazy Betty that put familiar Southern ingredients in surprisingly playful and provocative platings. The Georgia Shrimp Causa still has one of our editor's minds spinning. WILDSAM ATLANTA

From editor in chief Taylor Bruce: "Austin is the center of the modern BBQ universe. What often surprises outsiders is the city's bonafides in Japanese cuisine (Uchi, Otoko, Ramen Tatsu-Ya). The last one is the brothy brainchild of Tatsu Aikawa. And it's his East Austin izakaya smokehouse Kemuri Tatsu-Ya that bottles the city's oft-applauded cultural special sauce. Kemuri's menu is whimsical (chili cheese takoyaki) and smartly lowbrow (a brisket-gouda riff on hot pockets); and the space and vibe is like a cosmic cowboy's late night in Tokyo, anchored by the best soundtrack in town." WILDSAM AUSTIN


Juliet brings all-day joy with sunny Mediterrean verve and wild-card Sunday supper menus while pushing the business side forward with profit-sharing for workers. WILDSAM BOSTON

Always a contender in NYC’s never-ending debate over who has the greatest slice of pizza, this pie palace has been a borough best since 1924. When we say "place-y," this dining room is exactly what we're talking about. WILDSAM BROOKLYN


Yes, we are longtime members of the ricotta gnocchi fan club at FIG, and we'll never say no to grilled oysters at Bowens Island, but when in Charleston, it's the styrofoam clamshell with fried chicken, greens, red rice and cornbread for us. WILDSAM CHARLESTON


Tomato-braised pork shank, soppressata meatballs, perfect fusilli—we'll eat anything if chef Sarah Grueneberg is at the helm. WILDSAM CHICAGO


With big, bright windows shining like a beacon atop Capitol Hill, Potager is where a plate of pasta or a pork tenderloin reminds the tired farm-to-table moniker and remind us why local sourcing matters. WILDSAM DENVER

Over the past couple (difficult) years, a frosted, cheerful-as-heck slice of cake has taken on new flavor and feeling, and Roses has one of the best there is. Especially when enjoyed with a glass of wine at the bar. WILDSAM DETROIT


It doesn't matter how high the number we draw at the counter, we'll always wait as long as it takes at this Venice Beach deli-bakery-sandwich-pizza counter combo. Balance out a rainbow-bright veggie sandwich with a tahini croissant. WILDSAM LOS ANGELES


Founded in 1888, or thereabouts, by two brothers, this bustling LES stalwart is both NYC’s oldest and best deli, thanks to its mountainous hand-sliced pastrami on rye. Bring cash and don’t let the line or rumors of its overrated status dissuade you. WILDSAM MANHATTAN

In a city as fast-changing as Nashville, chef Tandy Wilson's Southern-Italian spot already feels like a classic. WILDSAM NASHVILLE

From editor Hannah Hayes: "I could give a very long sermon about the distinct magic of New Orleans neighborhood bars and restaurants, the ones tucked into residential corners of town. But one of the best is Mosquito Supper Club. It would be enough that it’s inside a cottage with incredible service, oysters, cocktails and a twinkly courtyard, but it’s so much more. Chef-owner Melissa Martin (a Terrebonne Parish hero in the wake of Hurricane Ida) puts an entire community on a plate with her menus dedicated to Louisiana’s fishing villages (which we’re in danger of losing to climate change.) But what I appreciate most is that many of the recipes she serves here come by way of her mother’s kitchen, and that’s a very special thing to share." WILDSAM NOLA


Philadelphia has one of the most incredible international food scenes we've encountered, which includes nationally known hummus destination Zahav. Locals were quick to point out Suraya's fresh man'oushe, kebabs, turmeric rice and garden seating, and we're thankful they did. WILDSAM PHILADELPHIA


From senior editor Zach Dundas: "Sure, there's finer dining out here. But no place is more *Portland* than this corner store, remade with homespun ambition. Brisket and jerk chicken plates feed the family, the goods from local farms and makers feed grassroots culture. The salted chocolate chip cookies feed the soul." WILDSAM PORTLAND


From editor in chief Taylor Bruce: "In my humble opinion, barbecue gets too much hype in Texas. The possibly under-hyped table star in TX is the almighty enchilada plate. And this circa-1932 cornerstone of San Antonio cuisine is where to go for an elevated enchilada experience. (It's a real thing.) The mole xiqueño plate with shredded chicken is the play here. With chile con queso to start and the warm cinnamon churros to finish." WILDSAM SAN ANTONIO


A modern Cantonese restaurant that has become a proving ground for chefs since it opened in 2016. Brandon Jew, a San Francisco native, revamps dishes of his youth in the iconic former Four Seas banquet hall. WILDSAM SAN FRANCISCO


From editor Rebecca Worby: "Warm and welcoming, strung wall to wall with ristras and bright flags, and just a block from Santa Fe's central plaza, Pasqual's has always felt like the heart of the city to me. Step through the turquoise door and grab a community table seat for fresh spins on Mexican favorites and more, from mole enchiladas to trout hash." WILDSAM SANTA FE

The Hostess City's sea-change fine-dining flagship inside a former Greyhound bus station, circa 1938, helmed by chef Mashama Bailey, explores all of the region's diverse culinary influences, especially Gullah Geechee. WILDSAM SAVANNAH

We greatly admired the pivot this modernist, fine-dining landmark made during the hardest days of the pandemic from serving decidedly more casual burgers and to-go cocktails to more creative ventures, like drive-in movies and Canlis Community College, a livestreamed education platform. Much of the tuition from their 14,000 "students" went toward their waitstaff. WILDSAM SEATTLE

Sharing a building with artisan sausage, cheese and breadmakers gives this cozy cabin-y spot a major upperhand for their hyper-layered charcuterie boards. Still thinking about that bowl of wild-rice-and-ham soup. WILDSAM TWIN CITIES

The pan-Near Eastern menu connects the dots between familiar-by-now Mediterranean dishes to Eritrea and Iran—meanwhile capturing D.C.'s role as a global village. Cocktails lit up by tumeric, za'atar brine, rosewater. The kitchen's open-flame hearth in the alley entry adds intrigue. WILDSAM WASHINGTON D.C.