In these social media–obsessed times, a restaurant's following is greatly enhanced by an eye-catching stream of photos updated on the regular. Even if the chef is acclaimed, turning out exquisite dishes that have diners reserving tables weeks in advance, it behooves the restaurant to capture those moments visually. They need to be glimpsed — and craved — by salivating gastronomes around the world. Showcasing the kitchen’s creations isn’t the only way to stand out. The most compelling photo streams will give plenty of attention to local purveyors, community events and other like-minded neighborhood joints, which all help underscore a restaurant’s distinctive, collaborative ethos. From a lauded San Francisco bakery to a New Orleans newcomer, here are eight colorful establishments from around the country with an impressive Instagram game — and a solid herd of followers to boot.
Even if Daniel Boulud alum Gavin Kaysen didn’t take the time to update thoughtful snaps to the Spoon and Stable account, the Minneapolis restaurant would surely still be one of the country’s most thrilling new hot spots. But he does, which means there is a bowl of ramen with a quivering egg, vibrant smoked sturgeon dusted with everything bagel crust and pistachio macarons to entice one into planning a Midwest getaway. Spirals of fresh cavatelli to soon be transformed into dinner and just-plucked radishes also illuminate the restaurant’s propensity for fresh ingredients.
“What is important to me about any social media is that we are extending our brand and what it means to be here, even if you are not here,” says Kaysen. “Let's face it, we are in the middle of the country. Minneapolis is not massive, so we need to show people what we are doing and what is around us. We need to give them a reason to not fly over us, but to stop, eat and experience how wonderful this city is.”
Chad Robertson — the esteemed front man of San Francisco favorite Tartine — and his team of passionate bakers are the folks driving the bakery’s dreamy Instagram account. While this naturally translates to images of knives immaculately slicing chocolate cake and spatulas dipping into bowls of creamy frosting, there are fun surprises along the way. A New York jaunt leads to a good-looking Israeli spread from Taïm, while a glimpse of the Rolling Stones’ circa-1969 album Let It Bleed (behold that awesome retro cake on the cover) also makes a cameo.
All of One Off Hospitality Group’s Chicago-based concepts are deservedly coveted dining experiences. Putting clever images in the spotlight only strengthens that appeal. Consider the pork-, shellfish- and beer-centric The Publican in Fulton Market. Yes, there is a platter of Slagel Family Farm chicken and fries and a pristine scoop of chocolate mousse atop a bed of cocoa crumbles. But there are also tangles of cuttlefish-ink pasta, vividly hued Thai and Turkish eggplants and all the fixings to make a bracing rye cocktail.
Sean Brock’s wildly popular Husk restaurants in Charleston and Nashville each have their own Instagram accounts. Both are good-looking, but the Nashville one has even more followers. Maybe it has something to do with those artful photos of deconstructed chicken pot pie and catfish nestled underneath kale, interspersed with pictorial odes to chestnut trees and farms where green beans are sourced. “It’s a living collection, or gallery, of everything Husk Nashville,” points out Kenny Lyons, the general manager who oversees the restaurant’s Instagram feed daily. “Spending time curating photos is worthwhile because it can often be the first experience a potential guest has with our food. If someone sees a really great one and thinks, ‘I have to have that,’ then we’ve succeeded.”
Even in the doldrums of winter, those frozen concoctions served at the Portland and LA outposts of Salt & Straw are inviting. As expected, freshly made ice cream is the star of its Instagram feed — whether it’s a vat of cinnamon-spiced apple and donut, a pint of Oregon peaches and walnuts or a simple scoop of ricotta layered with rose sabayon and rhubarb glass heaped upon a waffle. Community is also important to owners Kim and Tyler Malek, and so there are myriad shout-outs to the likes of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and the city’s new orange MAX line.
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo attract hordes of LA diners with their restaurants Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec and recent Fairfax arrival Jon & Vinny’s. Peruse Instagram and it’s clear why locals can’t get enough: slabs of butternut squash cheesecake strewn with pomegranate, hefty fried chicken sandwiches glistening in their gold-crusted glory and a puddle of soft-scrambled eggs cloaked in burrata and accompanied by grilled ciabatta.
No city’s restaurant landscape is more competitive than New York’s, so every photo should be a compelling one. Food writer and bon vivant Aaron Arizpe, aka @pocketfork, ensures none of those illuminated by Chefs Club by Food & Wine are duds. “Instagram epitomizes the mentality of ‘Show, don't tell.’ Our followers can feel like we're not just showing them a plate of food, we are inviting them into our kitchen to rub elbows with amazing chefs or even to hover above the stoves for a bird's-eye view of the action,” he explains. The roving chefs that hold court in the intimate studio leads to a slew of diverse photos, whether graceful spoonfuls of tuna tartare topped with wasabi tobiko, fleshy pink oyster mushrooms that resemble striking underwater creatures or towering habanero chicken wing tea sandwiches. Carrots blackening in a pot and an array of experimental cocktail ingredients add a jolt of glamour to behind-the-scenes minutiae.
Willa Jean opened just a few months ago, but the bakery, the latest venture in John Besh’s New Orleans empire, already has nearly 4,000 followers. It’s not surprising. Upon glimpsing Kelly Fields and Lisa White’s creations — crimped lamb pot pie, a mound of chicken and rice, gooey broccoli casserole and glazed donuts among them — the desire to hightail it to the Central Business District for such comforting, homespun grub is fierce.