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The Hardest Restaurants to Get Into in America

The Hardest Restaurants to Get Into in America

Want a quick reservation at one of these spots? Good luck

Thomas Keller's French Laundry and Per Se are both very tough reservations to snag.

Just about every town has some restaurants that aren’t easy to get into. You call on Tuesday, hoping for a table for two at 7 on Friday night, and are greeted with stifled laughter and the helpful information that there'll be something available at 5:30 three weeks hence. Well, that's normal for popular eateries — especially new ones — but some restaurants are so difficult to get into that it becomes part of their lore.

The Hardest Restaurants to Get Into in America Gallery

What makes for a tough table, exactly? The commonly accepted definition is a place that’s very difficult to get into at a reasonable dinner hour, say between 6 and 9 p.m. The Brooklyn hotspots that don’t accept reservations and force you to wait an hour on a Tuesday night may be tough tables (heck, even Shake Shack can be a tough table at prime time), but the toughest tables of all are the ones that do take reservations, but make those reservations incredibly difficult to come by.

While some restaurants invite you to call up to a year in advance to try your hand at securing a table, in order to add some order to the chaos, many of the most in-demand restaurants have set up ticketing systems, which force you to purchase a ticket to your meal as though you were going to the theatre. Sometimes reservations are more feasible at high-end restaurants that have a ticketing system; and some restaurants that were once nearly impossible to get into at all, like New York’s Eleven Madison Park and Las Vegas’ é by José Andrés, have actually become substantially easier to snag a table at (provided your dates are flexible) thanks to the use of ticketing system Tock.

Some of America’s toughest tables have ticketing systems that book up almost immediately, some are so clubby and exclusive that they’re virtually impenetrable for the average Joe, and some are just so in-demand that even calling months in advance doesn’t yield any results. If you want to dine at one of these mega-hotspots, well, good luck.

Additional reporting by Natasha Nyanin.


Share All sharing options for: The 38 Essential Restaurants of California

California, for those of us who live to eat, is everything. Its very name invokes a thousand different ingredients and dishes. Forty years ago, its chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, visionaries, and romantics began jolting this country from a canned-soup stupor into a Technicolor world of freshness. Yet it’s also the birthplace of the fast-food cheeseburger and Taco Bell, of fortune cookies and French dips and ranch dressing. The state shapes our dining culture — which is to say, our overall culture — more than ever. Cue, then, an impossible exercise: to identify California’s 38 most important and defining restaurants right this minute.

Previously, Eater’s “Regional 38” series pinpointed the crucial dining destinations in the South, New England, the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, and Texas. The project takes inspiration from our city sites’ 38 lists and our annual guide to the essential restaurants in America. California is more than a region unto itself: It’s a state of mind. The restaurants that best define how we think and feel about dining, within California’s borders and beyond, deserve to be singled out.

In total I’ve spent almost two months in California this year, including a recent month traipsing from San Diego to Sacramento, along the coastline and inland and then back again skimming the Pacific. Tacos, tostadas, shrimp Louis, dim sum, falafel, pho, kebabs, the supplest pastas, pastries filled with fruits so complex and ripe they left my brain addled, adobo and cornmeal waffles and fiery Sichuan stews and so many tasting menus: What emerged from all the gorging was an evolved definition of California cuisine.

Eating here isn’t simply about chasing the perfect peach. At its most optimistic, it’s about celebrating the fluidity and integrity of immigrant cooking, about creating and sustaining community. One skilled chef can painstakingly recreate her grandmother’s Shanghainese pork soup dumplings. Another westernizes hers with a filling of truffle and Parmesan and country ham. California shores up both approaches.

A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)

Given the blinding spotlight trained on California, any endeavor like this invites debate. Of course the fineries of Los Angeles and San Francisco dominate. They are, in my well-fed opinion, the two best dining cities in the country. Of course, with only 38 slots, some difficult omissions occurred. For one: no Thomas Keller restaurant? Correct. His influence is indelible and undeniable, but at this very moment I’d steer you, for example, to Benu and Meadowood before the French Laundry. We also reached an impasse in crowning one sushi restaurant among literal dozens of near-equals. But please, California sushi is sublime — start with the maps for sushi in LA, SF, and San Diego and go for it.

Among such an embarrassment — or, more accurately, a glory — of riches, I stand by our choice of powerhouses absolutely. Meet you in line at Mariscos Jalisco for spicy fried shrimp tacos add extra avocado to mine, please.

— Bill Addison, national critic


Share All sharing options for: The 38 Essential Restaurants of California

California, for those of us who live to eat, is everything. Its very name invokes a thousand different ingredients and dishes. Forty years ago, its chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, visionaries, and romantics began jolting this country from a canned-soup stupor into a Technicolor world of freshness. Yet it’s also the birthplace of the fast-food cheeseburger and Taco Bell, of fortune cookies and French dips and ranch dressing. The state shapes our dining culture — which is to say, our overall culture — more than ever. Cue, then, an impossible exercise: to identify California’s 38 most important and defining restaurants right this minute.

Previously, Eater’s “Regional 38” series pinpointed the crucial dining destinations in the South, New England, the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, and Texas. The project takes inspiration from our city sites’ 38 lists and our annual guide to the essential restaurants in America. California is more than a region unto itself: It’s a state of mind. The restaurants that best define how we think and feel about dining, within California’s borders and beyond, deserve to be singled out.

In total I’ve spent almost two months in California this year, including a recent month traipsing from San Diego to Sacramento, along the coastline and inland and then back again skimming the Pacific. Tacos, tostadas, shrimp Louis, dim sum, falafel, pho, kebabs, the supplest pastas, pastries filled with fruits so complex and ripe they left my brain addled, adobo and cornmeal waffles and fiery Sichuan stews and so many tasting menus: What emerged from all the gorging was an evolved definition of California cuisine.

Eating here isn’t simply about chasing the perfect peach. At its most optimistic, it’s about celebrating the fluidity and integrity of immigrant cooking, about creating and sustaining community. One skilled chef can painstakingly recreate her grandmother’s Shanghainese pork soup dumplings. Another westernizes hers with a filling of truffle and Parmesan and country ham. California shores up both approaches.

A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)

Given the blinding spotlight trained on California, any endeavor like this invites debate. Of course the fineries of Los Angeles and San Francisco dominate. They are, in my well-fed opinion, the two best dining cities in the country. Of course, with only 38 slots, some difficult omissions occurred. For one: no Thomas Keller restaurant? Correct. His influence is indelible and undeniable, but at this very moment I’d steer you, for example, to Benu and Meadowood before the French Laundry. We also reached an impasse in crowning one sushi restaurant among literal dozens of near-equals. But please, California sushi is sublime — start with the maps for sushi in LA, SF, and San Diego and go for it.

Among such an embarrassment — or, more accurately, a glory — of riches, I stand by our choice of powerhouses absolutely. Meet you in line at Mariscos Jalisco for spicy fried shrimp tacos add extra avocado to mine, please.

— Bill Addison, national critic


Share All sharing options for: The 38 Essential Restaurants of California

California, for those of us who live to eat, is everything. Its very name invokes a thousand different ingredients and dishes. Forty years ago, its chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, visionaries, and romantics began jolting this country from a canned-soup stupor into a Technicolor world of freshness. Yet it’s also the birthplace of the fast-food cheeseburger and Taco Bell, of fortune cookies and French dips and ranch dressing. The state shapes our dining culture — which is to say, our overall culture — more than ever. Cue, then, an impossible exercise: to identify California’s 38 most important and defining restaurants right this minute.

Previously, Eater’s “Regional 38” series pinpointed the crucial dining destinations in the South, New England, the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, and Texas. The project takes inspiration from our city sites’ 38 lists and our annual guide to the essential restaurants in America. California is more than a region unto itself: It’s a state of mind. The restaurants that best define how we think and feel about dining, within California’s borders and beyond, deserve to be singled out.

In total I’ve spent almost two months in California this year, including a recent month traipsing from San Diego to Sacramento, along the coastline and inland and then back again skimming the Pacific. Tacos, tostadas, shrimp Louis, dim sum, falafel, pho, kebabs, the supplest pastas, pastries filled with fruits so complex and ripe they left my brain addled, adobo and cornmeal waffles and fiery Sichuan stews and so many tasting menus: What emerged from all the gorging was an evolved definition of California cuisine.

Eating here isn’t simply about chasing the perfect peach. At its most optimistic, it’s about celebrating the fluidity and integrity of immigrant cooking, about creating and sustaining community. One skilled chef can painstakingly recreate her grandmother’s Shanghainese pork soup dumplings. Another westernizes hers with a filling of truffle and Parmesan and country ham. California shores up both approaches.

A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)

Given the blinding spotlight trained on California, any endeavor like this invites debate. Of course the fineries of Los Angeles and San Francisco dominate. They are, in my well-fed opinion, the two best dining cities in the country. Of course, with only 38 slots, some difficult omissions occurred. For one: no Thomas Keller restaurant? Correct. His influence is indelible and undeniable, but at this very moment I’d steer you, for example, to Benu and Meadowood before the French Laundry. We also reached an impasse in crowning one sushi restaurant among literal dozens of near-equals. But please, California sushi is sublime — start with the maps for sushi in LA, SF, and San Diego and go for it.

Among such an embarrassment — or, more accurately, a glory — of riches, I stand by our choice of powerhouses absolutely. Meet you in line at Mariscos Jalisco for spicy fried shrimp tacos add extra avocado to mine, please.

— Bill Addison, national critic


Share All sharing options for: The 38 Essential Restaurants of California

California, for those of us who live to eat, is everything. Its very name invokes a thousand different ingredients and dishes. Forty years ago, its chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, visionaries, and romantics began jolting this country from a canned-soup stupor into a Technicolor world of freshness. Yet it’s also the birthplace of the fast-food cheeseburger and Taco Bell, of fortune cookies and French dips and ranch dressing. The state shapes our dining culture — which is to say, our overall culture — more than ever. Cue, then, an impossible exercise: to identify California’s 38 most important and defining restaurants right this minute.

Previously, Eater’s “Regional 38” series pinpointed the crucial dining destinations in the South, New England, the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, and Texas. The project takes inspiration from our city sites’ 38 lists and our annual guide to the essential restaurants in America. California is more than a region unto itself: It’s a state of mind. The restaurants that best define how we think and feel about dining, within California’s borders and beyond, deserve to be singled out.

In total I’ve spent almost two months in California this year, including a recent month traipsing from San Diego to Sacramento, along the coastline and inland and then back again skimming the Pacific. Tacos, tostadas, shrimp Louis, dim sum, falafel, pho, kebabs, the supplest pastas, pastries filled with fruits so complex and ripe they left my brain addled, adobo and cornmeal waffles and fiery Sichuan stews and so many tasting menus: What emerged from all the gorging was an evolved definition of California cuisine.

Eating here isn’t simply about chasing the perfect peach. At its most optimistic, it’s about celebrating the fluidity and integrity of immigrant cooking, about creating and sustaining community. One skilled chef can painstakingly recreate her grandmother’s Shanghainese pork soup dumplings. Another westernizes hers with a filling of truffle and Parmesan and country ham. California shores up both approaches.

A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)

Given the blinding spotlight trained on California, any endeavor like this invites debate. Of course the fineries of Los Angeles and San Francisco dominate. They are, in my well-fed opinion, the two best dining cities in the country. Of course, with only 38 slots, some difficult omissions occurred. For one: no Thomas Keller restaurant? Correct. His influence is indelible and undeniable, but at this very moment I’d steer you, for example, to Benu and Meadowood before the French Laundry. We also reached an impasse in crowning one sushi restaurant among literal dozens of near-equals. But please, California sushi is sublime — start with the maps for sushi in LA, SF, and San Diego and go for it.

Among such an embarrassment — or, more accurately, a glory — of riches, I stand by our choice of powerhouses absolutely. Meet you in line at Mariscos Jalisco for spicy fried shrimp tacos add extra avocado to mine, please.

— Bill Addison, national critic


Share All sharing options for: The 38 Essential Restaurants of California

California, for those of us who live to eat, is everything. Its very name invokes a thousand different ingredients and dishes. Forty years ago, its chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, visionaries, and romantics began jolting this country from a canned-soup stupor into a Technicolor world of freshness. Yet it’s also the birthplace of the fast-food cheeseburger and Taco Bell, of fortune cookies and French dips and ranch dressing. The state shapes our dining culture — which is to say, our overall culture — more than ever. Cue, then, an impossible exercise: to identify California’s 38 most important and defining restaurants right this minute.

Previously, Eater’s “Regional 38” series pinpointed the crucial dining destinations in the South, New England, the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, and Texas. The project takes inspiration from our city sites’ 38 lists and our annual guide to the essential restaurants in America. California is more than a region unto itself: It’s a state of mind. The restaurants that best define how we think and feel about dining, within California’s borders and beyond, deserve to be singled out.

In total I’ve spent almost two months in California this year, including a recent month traipsing from San Diego to Sacramento, along the coastline and inland and then back again skimming the Pacific. Tacos, tostadas, shrimp Louis, dim sum, falafel, pho, kebabs, the supplest pastas, pastries filled with fruits so complex and ripe they left my brain addled, adobo and cornmeal waffles and fiery Sichuan stews and so many tasting menus: What emerged from all the gorging was an evolved definition of California cuisine.

Eating here isn’t simply about chasing the perfect peach. At its most optimistic, it’s about celebrating the fluidity and integrity of immigrant cooking, about creating and sustaining community. One skilled chef can painstakingly recreate her grandmother’s Shanghainese pork soup dumplings. Another westernizes hers with a filling of truffle and Parmesan and country ham. California shores up both approaches.

A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)

Given the blinding spotlight trained on California, any endeavor like this invites debate. Of course the fineries of Los Angeles and San Francisco dominate. They are, in my well-fed opinion, the two best dining cities in the country. Of course, with only 38 slots, some difficult omissions occurred. For one: no Thomas Keller restaurant? Correct. His influence is indelible and undeniable, but at this very moment I’d steer you, for example, to Benu and Meadowood before the French Laundry. We also reached an impasse in crowning one sushi restaurant among literal dozens of near-equals. But please, California sushi is sublime — start with the maps for sushi in LA, SF, and San Diego and go for it.

Among such an embarrassment — or, more accurately, a glory — of riches, I stand by our choice of powerhouses absolutely. Meet you in line at Mariscos Jalisco for spicy fried shrimp tacos add extra avocado to mine, please.

— Bill Addison, national critic


Share All sharing options for: The 38 Essential Restaurants of California

California, for those of us who live to eat, is everything. Its very name invokes a thousand different ingredients and dishes. Forty years ago, its chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, visionaries, and romantics began jolting this country from a canned-soup stupor into a Technicolor world of freshness. Yet it’s also the birthplace of the fast-food cheeseburger and Taco Bell, of fortune cookies and French dips and ranch dressing. The state shapes our dining culture — which is to say, our overall culture — more than ever. Cue, then, an impossible exercise: to identify California’s 38 most important and defining restaurants right this minute.

Previously, Eater’s “Regional 38” series pinpointed the crucial dining destinations in the South, New England, the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, and Texas. The project takes inspiration from our city sites’ 38 lists and our annual guide to the essential restaurants in America. California is more than a region unto itself: It’s a state of mind. The restaurants that best define how we think and feel about dining, within California’s borders and beyond, deserve to be singled out.

In total I’ve spent almost two months in California this year, including a recent month traipsing from San Diego to Sacramento, along the coastline and inland and then back again skimming the Pacific. Tacos, tostadas, shrimp Louis, dim sum, falafel, pho, kebabs, the supplest pastas, pastries filled with fruits so complex and ripe they left my brain addled, adobo and cornmeal waffles and fiery Sichuan stews and so many tasting menus: What emerged from all the gorging was an evolved definition of California cuisine.

Eating here isn’t simply about chasing the perfect peach. At its most optimistic, it’s about celebrating the fluidity and integrity of immigrant cooking, about creating and sustaining community. One skilled chef can painstakingly recreate her grandmother’s Shanghainese pork soup dumplings. Another westernizes hers with a filling of truffle and Parmesan and country ham. California shores up both approaches.

A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)

Given the blinding spotlight trained on California, any endeavor like this invites debate. Of course the fineries of Los Angeles and San Francisco dominate. They are, in my well-fed opinion, the two best dining cities in the country. Of course, with only 38 slots, some difficult omissions occurred. For one: no Thomas Keller restaurant? Correct. His influence is indelible and undeniable, but at this very moment I’d steer you, for example, to Benu and Meadowood before the French Laundry. We also reached an impasse in crowning one sushi restaurant among literal dozens of near-equals. But please, California sushi is sublime — start with the maps for sushi in LA, SF, and San Diego and go for it.

Among such an embarrassment — or, more accurately, a glory — of riches, I stand by our choice of powerhouses absolutely. Meet you in line at Mariscos Jalisco for spicy fried shrimp tacos add extra avocado to mine, please.

— Bill Addison, national critic


Share All sharing options for: The 38 Essential Restaurants of California

California, for those of us who live to eat, is everything. Its very name invokes a thousand different ingredients and dishes. Forty years ago, its chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, visionaries, and romantics began jolting this country from a canned-soup stupor into a Technicolor world of freshness. Yet it’s also the birthplace of the fast-food cheeseburger and Taco Bell, of fortune cookies and French dips and ranch dressing. The state shapes our dining culture — which is to say, our overall culture — more than ever. Cue, then, an impossible exercise: to identify California’s 38 most important and defining restaurants right this minute.

Previously, Eater’s “Regional 38” series pinpointed the crucial dining destinations in the South, New England, the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, and Texas. The project takes inspiration from our city sites’ 38 lists and our annual guide to the essential restaurants in America. California is more than a region unto itself: It’s a state of mind. The restaurants that best define how we think and feel about dining, within California’s borders and beyond, deserve to be singled out.

In total I’ve spent almost two months in California this year, including a recent month traipsing from San Diego to Sacramento, along the coastline and inland and then back again skimming the Pacific. Tacos, tostadas, shrimp Louis, dim sum, falafel, pho, kebabs, the supplest pastas, pastries filled with fruits so complex and ripe they left my brain addled, adobo and cornmeal waffles and fiery Sichuan stews and so many tasting menus: What emerged from all the gorging was an evolved definition of California cuisine.

Eating here isn’t simply about chasing the perfect peach. At its most optimistic, it’s about celebrating the fluidity and integrity of immigrant cooking, about creating and sustaining community. One skilled chef can painstakingly recreate her grandmother’s Shanghainese pork soup dumplings. Another westernizes hers with a filling of truffle and Parmesan and country ham. California shores up both approaches.

A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)

Given the blinding spotlight trained on California, any endeavor like this invites debate. Of course the fineries of Los Angeles and San Francisco dominate. They are, in my well-fed opinion, the two best dining cities in the country. Of course, with only 38 slots, some difficult omissions occurred. For one: no Thomas Keller restaurant? Correct. His influence is indelible and undeniable, but at this very moment I’d steer you, for example, to Benu and Meadowood before the French Laundry. We also reached an impasse in crowning one sushi restaurant among literal dozens of near-equals. But please, California sushi is sublime — start with the maps for sushi in LA, SF, and San Diego and go for it.

Among such an embarrassment — or, more accurately, a glory — of riches, I stand by our choice of powerhouses absolutely. Meet you in line at Mariscos Jalisco for spicy fried shrimp tacos add extra avocado to mine, please.

— Bill Addison, national critic


Share All sharing options for: The 38 Essential Restaurants of California

California, for those of us who live to eat, is everything. Its very name invokes a thousand different ingredients and dishes. Forty years ago, its chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, visionaries, and romantics began jolting this country from a canned-soup stupor into a Technicolor world of freshness. Yet it’s also the birthplace of the fast-food cheeseburger and Taco Bell, of fortune cookies and French dips and ranch dressing. The state shapes our dining culture — which is to say, our overall culture — more than ever. Cue, then, an impossible exercise: to identify California’s 38 most important and defining restaurants right this minute.

Previously, Eater’s “Regional 38” series pinpointed the crucial dining destinations in the South, New England, the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, and Texas. The project takes inspiration from our city sites’ 38 lists and our annual guide to the essential restaurants in America. California is more than a region unto itself: It’s a state of mind. The restaurants that best define how we think and feel about dining, within California’s borders and beyond, deserve to be singled out.

In total I’ve spent almost two months in California this year, including a recent month traipsing from San Diego to Sacramento, along the coastline and inland and then back again skimming the Pacific. Tacos, tostadas, shrimp Louis, dim sum, falafel, pho, kebabs, the supplest pastas, pastries filled with fruits so complex and ripe they left my brain addled, adobo and cornmeal waffles and fiery Sichuan stews and so many tasting menus: What emerged from all the gorging was an evolved definition of California cuisine.

Eating here isn’t simply about chasing the perfect peach. At its most optimistic, it’s about celebrating the fluidity and integrity of immigrant cooking, about creating and sustaining community. One skilled chef can painstakingly recreate her grandmother’s Shanghainese pork soup dumplings. Another westernizes hers with a filling of truffle and Parmesan and country ham. California shores up both approaches.

A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)

Given the blinding spotlight trained on California, any endeavor like this invites debate. Of course the fineries of Los Angeles and San Francisco dominate. They are, in my well-fed opinion, the two best dining cities in the country. Of course, with only 38 slots, some difficult omissions occurred. For one: no Thomas Keller restaurant? Correct. His influence is indelible and undeniable, but at this very moment I’d steer you, for example, to Benu and Meadowood before the French Laundry. We also reached an impasse in crowning one sushi restaurant among literal dozens of near-equals. But please, California sushi is sublime — start with the maps for sushi in LA, SF, and San Diego and go for it.

Among such an embarrassment — or, more accurately, a glory — of riches, I stand by our choice of powerhouses absolutely. Meet you in line at Mariscos Jalisco for spicy fried shrimp tacos add extra avocado to mine, please.

— Bill Addison, national critic


Share All sharing options for: The 38 Essential Restaurants of California

California, for those of us who live to eat, is everything. Its very name invokes a thousand different ingredients and dishes. Forty years ago, its chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, visionaries, and romantics began jolting this country from a canned-soup stupor into a Technicolor world of freshness. Yet it’s also the birthplace of the fast-food cheeseburger and Taco Bell, of fortune cookies and French dips and ranch dressing. The state shapes our dining culture — which is to say, our overall culture — more than ever. Cue, then, an impossible exercise: to identify California’s 38 most important and defining restaurants right this minute.

Previously, Eater’s “Regional 38” series pinpointed the crucial dining destinations in the South, New England, the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, and Texas. The project takes inspiration from our city sites’ 38 lists and our annual guide to the essential restaurants in America. California is more than a region unto itself: It’s a state of mind. The restaurants that best define how we think and feel about dining, within California’s borders and beyond, deserve to be singled out.

In total I’ve spent almost two months in California this year, including a recent month traipsing from San Diego to Sacramento, along the coastline and inland and then back again skimming the Pacific. Tacos, tostadas, shrimp Louis, dim sum, falafel, pho, kebabs, the supplest pastas, pastries filled with fruits so complex and ripe they left my brain addled, adobo and cornmeal waffles and fiery Sichuan stews and so many tasting menus: What emerged from all the gorging was an evolved definition of California cuisine.

Eating here isn’t simply about chasing the perfect peach. At its most optimistic, it’s about celebrating the fluidity and integrity of immigrant cooking, about creating and sustaining community. One skilled chef can painstakingly recreate her grandmother’s Shanghainese pork soup dumplings. Another westernizes hers with a filling of truffle and Parmesan and country ham. California shores up both approaches.

A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)

Given the blinding spotlight trained on California, any endeavor like this invites debate. Of course the fineries of Los Angeles and San Francisco dominate. They are, in my well-fed opinion, the two best dining cities in the country. Of course, with only 38 slots, some difficult omissions occurred. For one: no Thomas Keller restaurant? Correct. His influence is indelible and undeniable, but at this very moment I’d steer you, for example, to Benu and Meadowood before the French Laundry. We also reached an impasse in crowning one sushi restaurant among literal dozens of near-equals. But please, California sushi is sublime — start with the maps for sushi in LA, SF, and San Diego and go for it.

Among such an embarrassment — or, more accurately, a glory — of riches, I stand by our choice of powerhouses absolutely. Meet you in line at Mariscos Jalisco for spicy fried shrimp tacos add extra avocado to mine, please.

— Bill Addison, national critic


Share All sharing options for: The 38 Essential Restaurants of California

California, for those of us who live to eat, is everything. Its very name invokes a thousand different ingredients and dishes. Forty years ago, its chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs, activists, visionaries, and romantics began jolting this country from a canned-soup stupor into a Technicolor world of freshness. Yet it’s also the birthplace of the fast-food cheeseburger and Taco Bell, of fortune cookies and French dips and ranch dressing. The state shapes our dining culture — which is to say, our overall culture — more than ever. Cue, then, an impossible exercise: to identify California’s 38 most important and defining restaurants right this minute.

Previously, Eater’s “Regional 38” series pinpointed the crucial dining destinations in the South, New England, the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, and Texas. The project takes inspiration from our city sites’ 38 lists and our annual guide to the essential restaurants in America. California is more than a region unto itself: It’s a state of mind. The restaurants that best define how we think and feel about dining, within California’s borders and beyond, deserve to be singled out.

In total I’ve spent almost two months in California this year, including a recent month traipsing from San Diego to Sacramento, along the coastline and inland and then back again skimming the Pacific. Tacos, tostadas, shrimp Louis, dim sum, falafel, pho, kebabs, the supplest pastas, pastries filled with fruits so complex and ripe they left my brain addled, adobo and cornmeal waffles and fiery Sichuan stews and so many tasting menus: What emerged from all the gorging was an evolved definition of California cuisine.

Eating here isn’t simply about chasing the perfect peach. At its most optimistic, it’s about celebrating the fluidity and integrity of immigrant cooking, about creating and sustaining community. One skilled chef can painstakingly recreate her grandmother’s Shanghainese pork soup dumplings. Another westernizes hers with a filling of truffle and Parmesan and country ham. California shores up both approaches.

A lone palate couldn’t, and shouldn’t, compile a guide of this breadth. A dozen California writers joined me in agonizing over this list, including many of the staffers who run our Eater LA and Eater SF sites, led by Matthew Kang in Los Angeles and Ellen Fort in San Francisco. (Voices weighed in from Eater HQ in New York as well, because the open secret around the office is that half of us want to move to LA.)

Given the blinding spotlight trained on California, any endeavor like this invites debate. Of course the fineries of Los Angeles and San Francisco dominate. They are, in my well-fed opinion, the two best dining cities in the country. Of course, with only 38 slots, some difficult omissions occurred. For one: no Thomas Keller restaurant? Correct. His influence is indelible and undeniable, but at this very moment I’d steer you, for example, to Benu and Meadowood before the French Laundry. We also reached an impasse in crowning one sushi restaurant among literal dozens of near-equals. But please, California sushi is sublime — start with the maps for sushi in LA, SF, and San Diego and go for it.

Among such an embarrassment — or, more accurately, a glory — of riches, I stand by our choice of powerhouses absolutely. Meet you in line at Mariscos Jalisco for spicy fried shrimp tacos add extra avocado to mine, please.

— Bill Addison, national critic