11 favorite restaurants
A new site, TheBesty, dedicated to helping people find great restaurants asked me for 10 of my favorite restaurants. Now this is hard for me, not because I don't have favorite restaurants, but because I have far too many of them. After much contemplation, I came up with the 10 restaurants listed below, plus a bonus restaurant. Most of my picks lean towards casual, but are distinctive for their excellent food and outstanding venues. Most of the restaurants are privately owned by people who love great, hand-crafted food.
Pirozzi in Corona del Mar, California
This new venture of Chef Alessandro Pirozzi is a gem. Everything is fabulous, including cheeses and antipasti di salumi, homemade meatballs, pizza, homemade pastas and an incredible elk chop. Truly spectacular food crafted with great skill and care. Make reservations well in advance, the secret is out and you have to plan in advance to get a table.
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Open Sesame Grill in Long Beach, California
This little restaurant has expanded to provide for their huge demand and now has three little rooms that are almost side-by-side. This is authentic Lebanese food made with fresh ingredients and a whole lot of love. Try their fried cauliflower, baba ghanoush, grilled halloumi and watermelon salad, fattoush and lamb chops. Thank you to Craig and Sue for introducing us to this great restaurant.
Shoreline Beach Café in Santa Barbara, California
Location, location, location and what better location than an oceanside table where you can wiggle your toes in the sand? The location is spectacular in a very casual way, and the food is solid, with good Mexican offerings. We usually go for breakfast and order their chilaquiles or chorizo and egg scramble, but lunch is also a treat, particularly when you are sitting in one of the beach seats with a cold beer in hand or one of their many local Santa Barbara wines. Shoreline serves until 8 pm in the summer and until sunset in the winter.
Big Sur Bakery in Big Sur, California
Located on Highway 1 in the middle of Big Sur, in a home that is nearing 100 years, this delightful restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything is made with extreme care and attention to detail. Be prepared to be blown away by the wonderful food served in this remote setting. We like sitting at the bar as opposed to a table. Turn off your cell phones and leave them in the car as the owners of this restaurant want you to turn-off and enjoy the experience.
Brown Sugar in Bondi Beach, Australia
My son Ryan who lives in Sydney introduced me to this restaurant. Owned by brother and sister team, Neil and Lianne Gottheiner, this is my favorite restaurant in Sydney. Brown sugar is ultra casual and tiny, but with big well-crafted food using only the freshest ingredients.
Icebergs in Bondi Beach
This iconic restaurant sits on a cliff overlooking Bondi Bay above Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club started by a group of lifeguards in 1929. While I have eaten dinner here, my favorite thing to do is to sit in the bar, order bar snacks and their terrific handcrafted cocktails. Lucky you if you get a window seat at sunset. The view of the surfers and swimmers is spectacular. On the pricey side.
Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong and now also in Singapore
Tim Ho Wan started as a hole-in-the-wall dim sum joint in Hong Kong, acquired a Michelin star along the way, and now has multiple locations in Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila. Plan to wait for your table, but the wait is worth it. Our favorite was their famous Baked bun with BBQ pork, but we also loved the steamed rice with beef and pan-fried egg, the poached vegetables and the vermicelli rolls stuffed with BBQ pork. Two people can almost spend $25 American there if you order something to drink and try really hard. Note, napkins are not part of the Dim Sum tradition in Hong Kong, so bring your own or eat daintily.
Nopi in London, England
Ottolenghi’s upscale restaurant in Soho. The upstairs is a bit more formal than the Ottolenghi delis in Islington or Nottinghill, but the food is every bit as fresh, seasonal and vibrant as we have come to expect from any Ottolenghi enterprise. The trick is to ask for a downstairs table next to the open kitchen. These seats are definitely more relaxed and family style. You are literally seated in the restaurant’s pantry, but you get a view into the kitchen, a chance to meet new people, and if you are lucky like we were, the wait staff might bring you extra dishes on the house. My second choice would be to sit at the bar.
La Vinya del Senor, in Barcelona Spain
This lovely wine bar is located across from the Santa Maria del Mar church in La Ribera. They have a fabulous location, a phenomenal wine selection, and tasty tapas. We wound up here every time we have gone to Barcelona. One of their tapas is a small platter of bite-size loaves of bread, drizzled with amazing olive oil and salt - so simple, but so amazing. A great place to purchase wine.
El Xanpanyet Tapas Bar, in Barcelona Spain
This family-owned tapas bar in the El Born district has been around since 1929. This is the real McCoy. There is a good chance you will see three generations behind the bar serving guests. Family members are recognizable by their very distinctive eyebrows. They are known for their cava, but locals and tourists come for the tapas and the atmosphere. If you go early you will see families with children loading up on an early evening snack. If you go later, plan on a line out the front door and standing room only. Like all traditional Spanish tapas bars, to calculate your bill they count your toothpicks at the end of the night to determine how much to charge you. BTW, this bar was mentioned in the novel Shadow of the Wind, a must read before traveling to Barcelona.
Bonus 11th restaurant pick
As I write this I am thinking about more and more restaurants to add. I tried to stop at 10, but I couldn't help but add my favorite restaurant in Maui.
Mala Ocean Tavern, in Lahaina, Maui
Located on the water at the far edge of Lahaina, Maui, this phenomenally located restaurant is Maui-casual (read shorts and flip-flops, aka "slippers" in Hawaii) and is definitely one of my favorites. Both their food and their cocktails are fabulous, fresh and inventive. The owner and staff are lovely and they have adopted a wonderful Hawaiian saying as their motto: "Practice Aloha," which pretty much translates to "Being a good and loving person and doing good and loving deeds." Thank you to my friends Carrie and Tom for introducing me to this wonderful restaurant. I truly hope you have the opportunity to try out some of these outstanding restaurants. If you do, please tell us about your experience there.