Knowing how to cook an appealing and satisfying meal makes finding a restaurant that can meet your standards and expectations one of life’s greatest pleasures. What then do chefs and cooks with sophisticated palates and culinary expertise look for in a restaurant? Their priorities may vary depending on where they have lived as well their individual cultures, personalities and experiences.
Chef Todd Richards knows precisely what he wants to experience whether dining out in the Atlanta area or in Chicago, New York City or San Francisco. The author of the critically-acclaimed cookbook, “Soul: A Chef’s Evolution in 150 Recipes.” Publisher’s Weekly, The Atlantic and several other publications included his cookbook among the best of 2018. Yet, his first priority in choosing a favorite restaurant might surprise you. “As a chef, most people would think I would focus only on food; but service is the most important aspect of dining,” says Richards.
The chef and owner of Richards’ Southern Fried in Atlanta also oversees two other award-winning restaurants as the culinary director of Jackmont Hospitality, award-winning One Flew South and Chicken + Beer at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He speaks from experience when he says teamwork between the cooks in the kitchen and the servers in the front of the house matters. “Most people will go to a restaurant with good food and excellent service; most will never go for excellent food and okay service.”
The two-time James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast graciously provided an extensive list of his favorite restaurants. Here are his answers to our questions about top dining choices, along with those of other successful chefs and culinary celebrities.
Favorite Places to Dine in Town: Chef Richards prefers to dine within three miles of his home when he is in Atlanta. He chooses comfortable, refined service over formal dining. His favorites consistently serve food that is delicious and as described on the menu. The chef’s top choices:
Spring Marietta – This is a small neighborhood restaurant serving seasonal and sustainable food featuring ingredients from local farmers and artisans.
Other in-town favorites include several restaurants on Atlanta magazine’s 2019 list of 75 Best Restaurants, among them Banshee, El Tesoro, Miller Union, Aix, Bacchanalia, Aria, Desta Ethiopian Kitchen, Bread & Butterfly and Ticonderoga Club.
Favorite Place to Dine Out of Town: Three categories determine where Chef Richards goes to eat when he visits restaurants away from home. He considers what the hottest place is currently, the food that he craves from his last visit, and the restaurant that feels familiar and provides comfort. Several award-winning establishments are on his list of favorites in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
Chicago – Girl & the Goat is the first place Chef Richards likes to dine when he arrives in the Windy City if he can get a reservation. Top Chef champion Stephanie Izard’s restaurant is one of the hardest places in America to book a table. A 2011 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant and a 2013 Best Chef: Great Lakes keep people lining up for Izard’s cuisine.
Todd also likes grabbing a bite at Calumet Fisheries, Kumiko, Big Jones, Lawry’s The Prime Rib and The Publican.
San Francisco – Chef Richards heads for Atelier Crenn just steps away from the San Francisco Bay. San Pellegrino named proprietor Dominique Crenn World’s Best Female Chef in 2016 and listed her as #35 on its list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2019. The three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn approaches cuisine as a craft while seeking inspiration from the community.
Other popular places Todd returns to when he is near the City by the Bay include Gary Danko, Leo’s Oyster Bar, Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery, Brown Estate Vineyards and Iron Horse Vineyards.
New York City – Cosme serves contemporary cuisine inspired by Mexican flavors and traditions. Chefs Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto-Innes also focus on celebrating local and seasonal ingredients from the Hudson Valley region. The restaurant in the Flatiron District received James Beard Award nominations for Best New Restaurant and Rising Star Chef in 2015. Cosme is No. 23 on the 2019 list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
GLYNIS & GERALD ALBRIGHT
Glynis is the president and CEO of Just Sweet Enough. Her online food product company distributes low-sugar, low-fat and low-salt desserts, as well as waffle and seasoning mixes, to thousands of customers nationwide. She holds a Ph.D. in Natural Health/Food Science. She researched and developed desserts and dog treats for people who want to consume less sugar and fewer calories but still enjoy something sweet. The conscientious cook behind Glynis’ Kitchen loves to dine out with her husband, award-winning jazz musician Gerald Albright. In May of 2018, he released his self-produced anniversary CD “30,” a collection of the favorite music he wrote over the past three decades.
Favorite Place to Dine in Town: Trestles Coastal Cuisine in Castle Rock, Colo., serves seafood and Southern-style cuisine.
Favorite Place to Dine Out of Town: The Albrights favorite dining spot away from home is Gladys’ Café in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
What Makes a Restaurant a Favorite: It must have a clean, comfortable atmosphere and smell good inside. The customer service needs to be exceptional and delivered with a pleasant and attentive attitude. The food has to not only taste good but be fresh and well presented. Consistency is a must because it is a turn off to return to a restaurant and find out your favorite dishes are no longer satisfying.
Chef and cookbook author Carla Hall attracted national attention with her lively personality and culinary talents while competing on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef.” The former model gained more fans and recognition on ABC-TV’s “The Chew,” as a food contributor on “GMA Day” and as a judge on Food Network shows. Hall’s passion for the culinary heritage of Black people and her expertise with foods from different cultures make her cookbooks best sellers. She served as a culinary ambassador for the Sweet Home Café at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Favorite Place to Dine in Town: Cielo Rojo is a fine-casual Mexican restaurant in Takoma Park, Md. that Chef Hall can walk to from her home in Washington, D.C.
Favorite Place to Dine Out of Town: A trip to Charleston gave Hall the opportunity to try out Sorghum & Salt. She says the food is delicious at the restaurant opened by chef Tres Jackson in 2017.
What Makes a Restaurant a Favorite: Chef Hall looks for different qualities in selecting hometown or out-of-town favorites. She prefers convenience, delicious food and a feeling of familiarity when dining at home. Carla looks for authentic food without pretentiousness when dining out away from home. Ingredients that are showcased and a great vibe at a restaurant let her leave the building feeling happy.
When the James Beard Foundation gave out two awards to Edouardo Jordan in 2018, it changed the landscape of national recognition for Black chefs. The Seattle restaurateur’s JuneBaby won Best New Restaurant, and he was named Best Chef: Northwest for Salare. In 2016, Jordan became the first African-American that Food & Wine selected as a Best New Chef. His exploration of Southern ingredients and food traditions at JuneBaby earned Jordan critical acclaim from food critics and national publications. Last December, Jordan opened his third establishment in the Ravenna neighborhood, Lucinda Grain Bar.
Favorite Places to Dine in Town: Chef Jordan’s favorite place to eat in Seattle is Manolin. The restaurant features seafood and vegetable-centric small plates. It’s old school, wood-fired grill wins praise from diners in a restaurant Conde Nast Traveler calls “a joyful space.” Edouardo is, of course, a loyal fan of his own restaurants and of Mamnoon, another favorite that serves modern Middle Eastern cuisines.
Favorite Place to Dine Out of Town: Unfortunately, Chef Jordan has visited so many places and eaten at too many out-of-town restaurants to list his preferences.
What Makes a Restaurant a Favorite: The ability to meet high standards with the food, the service and the atmosphere can make a restaurant a favorite for Jordan. However, it becomes an amazing experience when those qualities are enhanced by the company dining with him.
Model, writer and celebrity vegan chef Porsche Thomas is building a new audience of fans as a cohost of “New Soul Kitchen.” The show premiered on CLEO TV in March. Thomas and her cohost Jernard Wells present comfort food favorites from different perspectives that emphasize vegan and as well as traditional soul food flavors with fewer calories and less fat. The mother of twin boys hopes to attract more converts to plant-based eating by demonstrating how to make it easy and fun.
Favorite Place to Dine in Town: Porsche’s favorite restaurant to visit while at home in Los Angeles is Crossroads. The Mediterranean meals served at Crossroads give vegans, flexitarians, omnivores and meat eaters a place to dine together in a refined atmosphere.
Favorite Place to Dine Out of Town: When Thomas travels to New York City, she likes to eat at a place that “promises to entertain your soul as well as your palette.” Negril Village specializes in what some fans have dubbed “New York Savvy Caribbean Cuisine.”
What Makes a Restaurant a Favorite: Porsche loves restaurants that remain consistent in the quality of food and service. Few things are more disappointing to her as a diner than to return to a place she loves only to find it is no longer as good as it once was.
Before becoming a co-host on CLEO TV’s “New Soul Kitchen,” Chef Wells carved out a place for himself on Food Network. His exuberant personality and Southern cooking skills made him the runner-up on Food Network Star and a regular on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and other shows. The James Beard House invited Wells to prepare a “Southern Love Valentine” dinner in February of 2018. The husband, father of nine and bestselling cookbook author is known as the “Chef of Love.” Wells considers love to be an essential ingredient in meals that bring people together. His Le Chef Armour’s Haute Cuisine cooking sauces and spices are sold in more than 600 stores.
Favorite Places to Dine in Town: Chef Wells puts a popular brunch spot at the top of his favorite restaurants to dine at in his hometown. The Atlanta Breakfast Club is known for its peach cobbler French toast, chicken and waffles and other Southern breakfast favorites that win over locals and tourists.
Favorite Places to Dine Out of Town: There are four cities that Chef Wells travels to frequently enough to pick out restaurants he wants to visit again.
New York City – Jernard makes sure to stop at Melba’s in Harlem, a premier spot for comfort food.
Chicago – Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse tops his list of dining destinations on trips to this city on Lake Michigan.
Memphis – A visit to a neighboring Southern city calls for a classic New Orleans meal at Owen Brennan’s.
Los Angeles – A cross-country flight to Los Angeles lands Jernard at Harold & Belle’s for a taste of the Creole cuisine.
What Makes a Restaurant a Favorite: A restaurant must serve fantastic food to win Jernard’s patronage. However, the chef believes it takes more than a great tasting meal to keep customers coming back with today’s fierce culinary competition. Wells says a memorable dining experience begins with the way diners are greeted before they take their first bite of an expertly prepared dish. Lastly, a favorite restaurant must be consistent, with the service and the food remaining as impressive as the first time he dines there.
Visit the websites or social media pages of our chefs’ favorite restaurants to find out more about the places they go to for a satisfying meal, pleasing atmosphere and first-rate service.