Foodie Bucket List: 24 Must-Try Eateries

August 5, 2013
by Kelly Dobkin

The food-obsessed have "bucket lists" too, and they're stacked with top-rated restaurants from all around the world (plus some more under-the-radar gems). We asked chefs, Zagat staffers and you, our readers, for everyone's No. 1 must-visit bucket-list eatery. Read on to see the list, and let us know your dream-restaurant wish list in the comments.

Chef Marc Murphy of Chopped and of Ditch Plains and Landmarc in New York

“I loved the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and if I could visit any place in the world, I would go to sushi master Jiro Ono's restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, in Tokyo, Japan.”

Chef Ken Oringer of Clio, Uni and more in Boston

"Aronia de Takazawa in Tokyo is high on my list of places to visit. It's tiny, only about eight seats, and has a three-month waiting list. It's one of those places that truly is dinner as theater, and the food looks incredible - so creative and precise."

Chef Jose Garces of Amada and more in Philadelphia

"Hacienda Zuleta is a restaurant that has always been on my bucket list, and I was finally able to check it off my list just recently. It's a working farm, restaurant and hotel that's just a two-hour drive north of Quito, Ecuador. In addition to breeding cattle, growing their own produce, making their own cheese, and hosting a sustainable trout farm and ranch for horseback riding, they also serve their guests three incredible meals a day made entirely of ingredients harvested from the land. Being from Ecuador, I felt an intense spiritual connection to the land - visualizing my ancestors living here and working the land. But seeing all of these working parts come together to create something so amazing, special and unique is truly the experience of a lifetime for anyone."

Chef Levon Wallace of Proof on Main in Louisville, KY

"I consider myself to be a bit of a Francophile, but somehow, I've never even been to France. I imagine spending a few days at the Restaurant Bras in Laguiole would be something like a "foodie pilgrimage" leading up to this mind-blowing culinary experience. I would wake in the morning and walk the fields, smell the herbs in the garden, feed the chickens and finish the day with the highest statement of French cuisine. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Michel Bras cookbook, and he continues to be one of my main inspirations to this day."

Chef-Owner Glenn Harris of The Smith in NY

"Every week, the same time every Monday, like clockwork, my best friend and I are on the phone trying, pleading, hoping to score a seat at the counter of one of the hardest reservations to come by. This has been going on for months, if not longer, to no avail. So, today at the top of my "foodie bucket list" is the chef's table at Brooklyn Fare. I'm optimistic that one day in the near future I will sample the treats from that little Brooklyn kitchen. How lucky would I be to be able to scratch it off my list?"

Chefs Ray Tang and Jay Abrams of Presidio Social Club in San Francisco

Ray: "I've never been one to aspire to queue up for a bucket list. Too much expectation. My reverse "bucket list" is that I am very fortunate to have had lunch at Ugelsich in New Orleans before they retired, Sew Wah Inn for classic roasted squab in Hong Kong as a child with my dad, and Auberge d'Lile for an amazing lunch in Alsace. The first two restaurants are no more, and the last may never evoke the same feeling for me again. I know this is not good for marketing, but I have no envy for those who are in anticipation of fulfilling their lists."

Jay: "I would pick Le Chateaubriand in Paris. I think someone else quoted it the best by saying "imaginative neo-bistro with old-school sensibilities." If I could own or run any restaurant in the world, I think it would be this one. Casual fine dining at its best and is not outrageously priced. The guy can literally do anything he wants and play with anything. Awesome. His food is beautiful."

Annette, Zagat User

"Le Pigeon in Portland, OR, is worthy of a spot on your restaurant bucket list. My meal there was perfection, from the tender pigeon with liver toast to the slow-roasted duck with a duck heart casserole, and all the way down to the foie gras profiteroles with caramel and sea salt for dessert. A memorable meal, to say the least."

Executive Chef Chris Leahy of Lexington Brass in New York

"The restaurant that I need to go in my lifetime would be Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. The food they are serving is a nod to well-prepared, seasonal Southern-influenced food. The rooms and the setting are said to be amazing and really relaxing. I see myself chilling out in rocking chairs, having cocktails with my wife, looking out over the Smoky Mountains, eating some great charcuterie and watching my kids run around the grounds."

Chef-Owner Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa and Toro in Boston

"I've never been to St. John in London, and it's top of my list. I love the simplicity in Fergus Henderson's food and need to get there sooner than later. I actually just looked at flights and hotels recently and am waiting for the right time."

Corporate Pastry Chef Thiago Silva of EMM Group in New York

"I've been to Per Se, which was on my bucket list, and Le Bernardin is on my radar, but on top of that list is Alinea. If El Bulli was still around I think it would be on top of a lot of chefs' bucket lists. I was lucky enough to attend a speech by chef Albert Adrià. I was so inspired, and since that day, El Bulli was on top of my bucket list - until it closed. Alinea has moved to the top spot for me because I'm fascinated by that style of cooking."

Olga Boikess, Zagat Blogger in Washington, DC

"The centerpiece of a perfect day in San Francisco would be roast chicken for lunch at Zuni Cafe, the legendary Hayes Valley bistro. After working up an appetite at the Ferry Building market across town, I’d settle into a table near the lively bar in [Zuni's] sunny, big-windowed room. Armed with a favorite novel, some vino and a salad, I’d while away the hour-long wait until the lovely golden bird comes to the table, dripping its rich juices into a savory bread salad. The flavorful combo will keep me picking at it, long after I have my fill."

Executive Chef Thomas Weibull of Velvet Room and Redwood Room in San Francisco

"My number one pick would be Michel Bras in Laguiole, France. When I think of places I would love to eat, I think of chefs that had an impact on my thoughts on food, and Michel Bras is one of those chefs. To be located in the serene Laguiole, France, far from the modern world, where only the food and nature are the focus, that would be the way. Michel Bras is very cerebral in his method of composing dishes. They are based on purity - he has a way of elevating simple ingredients. The astounding part is he is a self-made man, learned his cooking from his mother and became one of those revered chefs that is known worldwide."

Simon Butler, Zagat Freelancer

"It’s hard to say what’s more thrilling at The Four Seasons restaurant: the sleek, iconic Pool Room - famous for its spare, spacious design incorporating the namesake aquatic oasis - or the idea that you’re grazing among New York’s preeminent movers and shakers. Yet the food’s just as splendid, a refined New American cuisine that sways modern while evoking a time of three-martini lunches and power deals. Never mind the price: Don Draper wouldn’t bat an eyelash. And though it may elevate heart rates for real human beings, consider what you get: epic Manhattan dining at a legendary Big Apple eatery. What more could you want from a bucket-list restaurant?"

Executive Chef Victor LaPlaca of Isola Trattoria & Crudo Bar in New York

"Absolutely Brooklyn Fare. This place is 100% about the food experience. No cell phones, no pictures. Just you and the food."

Chef Levi Mezick of Restaurant 1833 in San Francisco

“It would have to be Kikunoi. To experience the culture of Japan through such a temple of gastronomy would be amazing. It's so different from what I do and have done.”

Chef Ho Chee Boon of Hakkasan in Las Vegas

"I have always wanted to dine at Alinea by Grant Achatz in Chicago. He is incredibly well-respected by me and all of his other colleagues in the culinary industry. Chefs revere his passion, sheer creativity and deconstruction of classic flavors. As soon as I complete the opening of Hakkasan Beverly Hills in September, I am going there."

Chef Adam Tortosa of 1760 (opening this spring) in San Francisco

“Sushi in Japan. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just a small neighborhood spot where there is cold beer, good fish and a skilled chef.”

Executive Chef/Owner Alex Garcia of AG Kitchen and Amigos in New York

"I would love to have a meal at Naoe in Miami. Being back in Miami reminds me of where I started my culinary career. Chef Kevin Cory does a complete omakase menu of the best sushi this side of Japan. It only has eight seats, and you are at his mercy. I would have their infamous bento box, followed by the freshest nigiri - I hear the salmon belly is a standout. I'd have dinner with my friend chef Douglas Rodriguez, and we'd reminisce about our days in Miami at Yuca pioneering Nuevo Latino cuisine, while sipping some [artisanal] sake. That would be a great meal."

Executive Chef/Partner Eric Miller of Madison & Main in Sag Harbor, NY

"I have always wanted to go back to Bocuse in Lyon [in France] because to me, all great food comes from classical technique. There is nothing as good as sitting in front of his fireplace watching his staff roast lamb on a spit over a wood fire."

Chef Jeff Fitzgerald of Dio Deka, San Francisco

“No. 1 on my extensive bucket list is Asador Etxebarri in Northern Spain. The whole experience there seems singular to the restaurant and chef. I am enamored with open-fire cookery, so that is what draws me to Etxebarri. I’m hoping to go when I’m in Europe next year.”

Pitmaster Matt Fisher of Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue in Brooklyn, NY

Shopsins in the Essex Street Market. A New York City institution, a restaurant, a performance art experience, a high-wire act of ingenious comfort cookery, a spiritually cleansing moment, a menu as big as the phone book, no substitutions, no pictures, no parties more than four - no place else like it on earth.”

Chef Jonah Rhodehamel of Oliveto in Oakland, CA

“I think I'm supposed to mention a Spanish spot where I waited 8 years, 4 months and 16 days to get a reservation to dine on their a 47-course tasting menu or the sushi restaurant where I was 1 of 6 guests for the entire week, but unfortunately, I have had neither of these experiences. The places I think everyone should go to at least once are quite a bit more casual and won’t cost you more than your entire trip to dine there. Everyone should go to B and E in Hatch, New Mexico, for incredible green chile. Whether or not you like New Mexican food or even spicy food for that matter, tough it out and try their green chile. Alternatively, the red (and green chile for that matter) at Tomasita's in Santa Fe is another must-have. Tomasita is well-known, but the chile is still just as good and authentic as at B and E in Hatch.”

Head Chef/Co-Owner Suzette Gresham of Acquerello in San Francisco

"It’s a tie! I must go to both, Le Calandre in Padua and Osteria Francescana in Milano, Italy, or I will refuse to die peacefully."

Chef Bryan Ogden of Ogden's Hops & Harvest in Las Vegas

"I have been fortunate to eat at a lot of the great restaurants in Europe. And looking back, I regret the fact that I didn't make it a point to visit Bocuse. He is a true culinary legend, and many of the greats have passed through his kitchen. I would love to pay my respects and have the privilege to sit and dine in his restaurant."