Most people who like to eat out have a list of their favorite places. The question is, what makes a restaurant one that you want to return to again and again? How much do the quality, creativity and taste of the food matter when compared to the atmosphere and service?
We asked a few celebrity chefs to tell us about their favorite places to eat when they are at home or traveling out of town. You may have read about these exceptional culinary talents in Cuisine Noir Magazine articles and on the blog, The Culinary Scoop, over the years.
The answers they provided to our questions about their top choices of dining spots and what makes those restaurants their favorites might give our readers some ideas about where to go for exceptional food, attentive service and enjoyable surroundings.
GREG & SUBRINA COLLIER
As the 2018 Charlotteans of the Year, Greg and Subrina Collier are established restaurateurs with an expanding brand. They are working on opening Leah & Louise, a Memphis-inspired juke joint in Charlotte, N.C. The couple opened The Yolk Café in 2012, and it quickly became a popular destination for diners in the Rock Hill, S.C. area. They moved the café to Uptown in North Carolina in 2018, the same year The Yolk was named the best breakfast by Charlotte magazine. Greg became the first black chef from Charlotte to receive a James Beard nomination when he was included among the 2019 nominees for Best Chef: Southeast. He and Subrina are co-founders of Soul Food Sessions, a pop-up dinner series that celebrates people of color in the culinary world. Consolidated Coca-Cola sponsored a four-city tour of the dining experience.
Favorite Place to Dine in Town: Saigon Palace in Charlotte is a Vietnamese restaurant serving the Collier’s favorite bowl of Pho Hua.
Favorite Place to Dine Out-of-Town: Leonard’s Pit Barbecue in Memphis, Tenn. Greg makes a point of getting the BBQ and spaghetti combination plate whenever he visits his hometown.
What Makes a Restaurant a Favorite: The Colliers enjoy simple places that put the guest and food first. They also appreciate the craft required in doing something over and over with the knowledge that you are seeking that perfection that doesn’t exist.
In 2018, chef and restaurateur Nina Compton won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South, becoming the first black woman to receive the honor. The Caribbean and Southern food she serves at her restaurant Compère Lapin in New Orleans earned the St. Lucia native the recognition. Compton began receiving critical acclaim for her culinary talents before becoming the fan-favorite on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef: New Orleans.” She has earned critical acclaim from Food & Wine and numerous local and national publications. Her second New Orleans restaurant opened last year. Bywater American Bistro was named one of Eater’s 18 Best New Restaurants in America for 2018.
Favorite Place to Dine in Town: Chef Nina Compton can’t get enough of the South American and Spanish cuisine at Pêche Seafood Grill. She says the redfish for two is one of the reasons Donald Link’s restaurant is always packed with locals.
Favorite Place to Dine Out-of-Town: Macchialina in Miami Beach is where Compton goes for her favorite comfort dish of cavatelli with flavorful porchetta ragu and baby meatballs. She makes sure to stop at the rustic Italian restaurant for Michael Pirolo’s pasta whenever she is in town.
What Makes A Restaurant A Favorite: For Chef Compton, it is all about the food and the atmosphere. The chef wins her over when the thoughtfulness and attention given shines through in a dish. She loves restaurants that are welcoming and make her feel at home.
Chef JJ Johnson opened Field Trip NYC, his community-based dining experience in Harlem this year. His love of heirloom grains and global flavors got the attention of critics while Johnson was the executive chef at the Cecil. The James Beard Foundation chose him as a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2015. The cookbook Johnson co-authored with Alexander Smalls and Veronica Chambers, “Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day,” received a 2019 Book Award from the Foundation. Johnson joined TV One in January when his cooking show, “Just Eats with Chef JJ,” premiered on CLEO TV network.
Favorite Place to Dine in Town: The Michelin Star and James Beard award-winning restaurant Gotham Bar and Grill is Chef Johnson’s favorite place to eat. The restaurant in Greenwich Village has been impressing diners with innovative New American cuisine since 1984.
Favorite Place to Dine Out-of-Town: Chef Johnson’s favorite place to eat outside of New York City is a little less than 50 miles away in New Jersey. B2 Bistro + Bar Red Bank is known for serving the freshest locally sourced ingredients in creative dishes influenced by American and bistro-style cooking.
What Makes a Restaurant a Favorite: He is all about a restaurant that sets an atmosphere while providing tasty food, great ambiance and excellent customer service.
This talented baker won “The Great American Baking Show” by putting her law career on hold and flying to London to compete in Season 3 of the ABC-TV show. A controversy involving one of the judges prevented viewers from tuning into the entire cooking competition which was dropped after the first episode aired in December of 2017. Lomas continues to make the most of the media attention she received as a result of her victory by seeking new opportunities to bake on television. Her Foodie in New York blog lets her share her creations and stay in touch with fans. She is on the board of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Favorite Place to Dine in Town: A relaxed atmosphere and elevated comfort food make BLVD Bistro Vallery’s favorite place to dine in New York City. She loves the creamy grits at this Harlem restaurant owned by Carlos and Markisha Swepson.
Favorite Place to Dine Out-of-Town: When she travels to New Orleans Vallery prefers to dine on fresh chargrilled oysters from Smoking Oyster Catering Company. Chef Christopher Hayes makes oysters so delicious Vallery still dreams about them. Best of all, he brings his “mobile” kitchen to you and develops a relationship with his clients as they watch him prepare their food.
What Makes a Restaurant a Favorite: The ambiance and the service are among the first things Vallery notices when she walks into a restaurant. A place that does an excellent job taking care of her differentiates dining out from eating at home. The award-winning baker also enjoys innovative, thoughtful preparation of dishes. She gets excited about experiencing new flavor combinations and cooking techniques.
Chef Kwame Onwuachi is living proof of what it takes to rise from failure to accomplishment. His first restaurant venture in the nation’s capital closed after three months. Today, the creative force behind the award-winning Kith and Kin restaurant is racking up the accolades. The James Beard Foundation named Kwame Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2019. He is among the 10 Best New Chefs in the July 2019 issue of Food & Wine. Washingtonian magazine lists Kith and Kin among the 100 Very Best Restaurants in the D.C. area. The restaurant at the wharf on the D.C. riverfront serves cuisine that reflects the chef’s Nigerian, Jamaican and West African roots. His personal story made Onwuachi’s memoir, “Notes from a Young Black Chef,” a critically-acclaimed best-seller after its 2019 release. The chef, who also owns Philly Wing Fry sandwich shop in the District, is now preparing to be an executive producer on the film adaptation of his book. It will star Lakeith Stanfield best known for the award-winning movie “Get Out.”
Favorite Place to Dine at Home: Chef Onwuachi likes to dine at Los Hermanos in D.C. because the Dominican restaurant reminds him of being in the Bronx where he grew up.
Favorite Place to Dine Out-of-Town: When he goes back to New York City, Kwame heads for Fish Cheeks, a restaurant that he says has the best Thai food in the country right now.
What Makes a Restaurant a Favorite: Restaurants must have good food, excellent service and a bit of nostalgia for them to make Kwame’s list of favorites.
In July 2018, Jonny Rhodes and his wife Chana opened Indigo in the Houston neighborhood where the chef grew up. Few food critics would have predicted the restaurant would soon win accolades as one of the best in America. The 13-seat restaurant offers a tasting menu of neo-soul flavors served with lessons about the historical racism and oppression experienced by Africans, African-Americans and other Blacks. Food & Wine named Indigo among the 10 Best New Restaurants in the July issue, and Eater included the couple’s restaurant on its list of 16 Best New Restaurants in America 2019. Indigo also made the best restaurant lists of GQ magazine and Texas Monthly. Chef Rhodes takes diners on a journey through the cuisines of the African diaspora while educating them on the culinary contributions people of African descent have made to America and the world. Eater Houston named Jonny chef of the year in 2018. He is a James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year semifinalist this year and will bring his innovative, socially-conscious approach to dining to the James Beard House in August.
Favorite Place to Dine in Town: Huynh Restaurant in Houston’s East Downtown area is a favorite of the Rhodes and of food critics looking for authentic, home-style cooking. Chef Rhodes was still thinking about the duck salad a month after ordering one of his favorite dishes at Huynh.
Favorite Place to Dine Out-of-Town: New Orleans is the city and Parkway Bakery & Tavern is the place where Chef Rhodes likes to dine when he is away from home. He says the alligator gumbo is a must order at this restaurant in business since 1911.
What Makes a Restaurant a Favorite: Jonny looks for quality ingredients, standout flavors and outstanding service. He loves being greeted with a smile, and it makes a world of difference in his choice of where to eat out.
You can find out more about the favorite dining spots of these chefs by clicking on the names of the restaurants in this article.
Be sure to return to Cuisine Noir Magazine for survey results from six more celebrated chefs, including Todd Richards, Carla Hall and Edouardo Jordan.