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Sunny California is home to world-famous beaches, mountains, gardens, national parks, and wineries, and it also boasts having more Michelin starred restaurants than any other state, knocking New York off its long-standing top spot in 2019. It's no surprise as The Golden State is home to diverse climates, terrain, and ecosystems unlike anywhere else in the country and its chefs have a deep reverence for the ingredients they produce.
The Pacific Ocean's wild-caught seafood, Central California's acres upon acres of organic farms, Northern California's oysters and wines, and Southern California's artistic soul all make for a state that's full of culinary innovation, exploration, and most importantly, a dedication to preserving age-old practices and traditions that bring about the most beautiful, nourishing food to the table.
The following restaurants are among the best according to the Michelin Guide, critics, and chefs alike and will enhance any weekend getaway or monthlong escape from your snowy hometown offering the ultimate taste of California with each bite. From San Diego to San Francisco, all of these renowned dining destinations deserve a spot on your culinary bucket list.
Quince: San Francisco
This utterly elegant Pacific Avenue destination has evolved from traditional to contemporary California cuisine with Italian fair, thanks to the guidance of Chef Michael Tusk. Sourcing from a nearby 25-acre farm that is one of the oldest certified-organic farms around, this three-star Michelin restaurant also features a Michelin Green Star for Gastronomy and sustainability. The offerings changes with the seasons and the restaurant offers a rotating 8-10 course tasting menu and abbreviated four course menu, plus extra-special offerings for holiday celebrations, like Christmas Eve.
SingleThread is a farm, restaurant, and inn located in lush Napa Valley, and the three-star Michelin restaurant was also recently listed as one of the world's best. Husband and wife team Kyle and Katina Connaughton are inspired by Japanese hospitality and cuisine, paying tribute to Japan's ryokans, or inns, while featuring wine and hyper-local produce from the valley. Their 11-course menu is worthy of its own getaway: SingleThread is also home to an intimate five-room inn with a spectacular breakfast served up by Kyle. Like Quince, it also boasts a Michelin Green Star for gastronomy and sustainability.
Hayato: Los Angeles
Another celebration of Japanese culinary and hospitality traditions, L.A.'s Hayato goes even further to hold itself responsible to showcase the talents of potters, fishmongers, carpenters, kimono makers, tea masters, sake brewers, among others who help create this one of a kind dining experience deemed worthy of two Michelin stars. The restaurant offers only one seating per night with Chef Brandon Hayato Go at the helm, and each course is a work of art, representative of the Japanese tradition of kaiseki: a multi-course dinner experiences that highlights seasonal ingredients, small portions, big flavors, and artistic presentations.
Addison: San Diego
Located in the five-star Fairmont Grand Del Mar, Chef William Bradley's Addison offers a sophisticated take on California cuisine. As San Diego's only Michelin-starred restaurant (it boasts tw0), Addison is a must-visit dining destination for its nine-course dining experience that celebrates Southern California's rich culinary heritage and best ingredients. An extensive wine list that highlights the best offerings in the state only enhances an evening of exploring The Golden State through food and drink.
Dad's Luncheonette: Half Moon Bay
While vastly different from the sexy, Michelin-starred options listed above, Dad's Luncheonette is a Northern California institution and deserves a spot on any Greater Bay Area itinerary. The historic train caboose on scenic Highway 1 feels like a step back in time, and in the absolute best way. A small but mighty menu is a nod to the restaurant's dedication to making each item a fabulous experience for guests, whether they choose a burger on local bread or a memorable bowl of mac and cheese with chives and puffed rice—and it is a far cry from your neighborhood burger joint. These thoughtful, beautiful menu items are an example of the state's dedication to its craft at every level.
Campton Place: San Francisco
The namesake fine dining establishment inside Taj Campton Place offers a transportive culinary experience that blends old-world meets California practices with the flavors and soul of the Spice Route. Guests can enjoy an eclectic array of dishes from a four or six-course tasting menu, plus brilliant accompaniments from the acclaimed wine cellar's 1,500 top labels from around the world. It won't take long to discover how Chef Srijith Gopinathan has earned this place Michelin stars for nine years running and the restaurant currently has two. Incredibly elegant interiors inspired by the finest in India rounds out the Campton Place experience in providing a night for all the senses to remember.
Manresa: Los Gatos
David Kinch's Manresa sits outside of San Jose and attracts diners from around the world. The restaurant has earned three Michelin stars, however, it's anything but stuffy. Guests will be treated to incredibly thoughtful hospitality alongside innovative dishes in stylish digs for a unique fine dining experience. The night's menu remains unknown until menus are delivered to your table, so come with an open mind and prepare to be wowed with each course.
The French Laundry: Yountville
Few restaurants in California have achieved the level of fame and adoration that Thomas Keller's The French Laundry has, and Keller is the only American-born chef to have two three-Michelin starred restaurants. The charming two-story cottage has been a Scottish saloon, a French steam laundry, and now an exceptional representation of California's finest ingredients. The 20-year-old establishment is renowned for Keller's pairings of classic French techniques with local Northern California produce and dairy that is sure to inspire every guest who is lucky enough to snag a table and enjoy the chef's tasting menu. There's also a killer wine and spirits program.
This Melrose Avenue mainstay has been at the forefront of L.A.'s innovative dining scene for years now but manages to hold its spot as one of the top restaurants in California and the country. Chef Michael Cimarusti's kitchen is focused on providing a sustainability-driven, globally inspired fine dining experience and the well-trained team at the front of the house ensures every moment at Providence is sublime. Each artistically presented plate proves this place is certainly deserving of its two Michelin stars.
n/naka: Los Angeles
L.A.'s n/naka is front-and-center of the city's vibrant food scene as Chef Niki Nakayama has been a pioneer of the modern Japanese kaiseki tradition. There is also something special about the hotspot's hospitality, offering each guest a thoughtful dining experience. Nakayama's menu reflects the ever-changing rhythms of the earth and emphasizes the presentation of the freshest seasonal ingredients in their natural states. Two thirteen-course tasting menus are offered: Modern Kaiseki and Vegetarian Kaiseki, with the option to add wine and sake pairings for the ultimate meal.
Birdsong: San Francisco
Christopher Bleidorn's two Michelin-starred spot on Mission Street embodies the soul and spirit of California cuisine. Birdsong takes its responsibility to source, nourish, and delight seriously, bringing only the best ingredients to its kitchen and is dedicated to satisfying each guest for every moment of the three-hour tasting menu experience. But this place doesn't take itself too seriously: charming, rustic-inspired digs makes this place feel warm and inviting while a playful spirit is woven throughout the colors and flavor combinations of each course.
Vespertine: Los Angeles
From the creative vision of Chef Jordan Kahn, this Culver City dining establishment is a must-visit for the most discerning traveler and bon vivants of all kinds. The dining experience at Vespertine is intended to be multi-sensory and immersive through converging food, art, architecture, music, and sculpture. Dining here feels almost like stepping into the future from the ambiance to the aesthetic of each dish you are presented throughout the evening. Make sure to save room for a venture into the garden to enjoy delightful mignardises.
Sushi Ginza Onodera: Los Angeles
West Hollywood's Sushi Ginza Onodera is hidden amongst La Cienga Boulevard's high-end boutiques but stands as a darling jewel box in itself. The restaurant exudes Japanese elegance and attention to detail, which carries over to each ingredient. Sushi Ginza Onodera's seafood is among the highest quality in the world, and though the restaurant now has many locations, that quality is never sacrificed. The menu rotates seasonally and is served in the Japanese tradition of omakase, which translates to, "I leave it up to you," meaning the sophisticated guest trusts the chef to produce a spectacular array of dishes to the caliber they are anticipating. That is especially true at this two Michelin-starred spot.
Mélisse: Santa Monica
There are few better places to enjoy an intimate fine dining experience in Los Angeles than Mélisse, which is saying something. The two Michelin-starred institution seats just 14 and exudes romantic old-world charm from the elegant yet comfortable ambiance to the open kitchen and all its delicacies. A night at Mélisse lasts two-and-a-half hours with an eight-course tasting menus that highlights flavors from around the world while utilizing both classical and modern culinary techniques. Chef and owner Josiah Citrin is dedicated to sourcing Calfornia's best ingredients from San Diego to Napa Valley, and every bite allows guests to reap the benefits.
Zuni Café: San Francisco
Few restaurants around the country are as cherished as Market Street's Zuni Cafe. Since its opening in 1979, this two-story brick restaurant has been an inviting place for guests to dine and enjoy elegant yet comforting cuisine that now features Chez Panisse alum Chef Gilbert Pilgram at the helm. Local, seasonal ingredients are of the utmost importance at Zuni Cafe, and whether you choose to dine for brunch, lunch, dinner, or dessert, you'll find the freshest produce and most sustainable meats and seafood treated with exemplary care and a bit of French or Italian flair. Just a few bites in, and you will be clamoring to purchase the James Beard Award-winning restaurant's beloved cookbook.
Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch: St. Helena
Ted Laddie and Chris Hall's Long Meadow Ranch empire in Napa Valley is home to a working ranch that embraces full-circle farming, organic vineyards, wine estates and experiences, farmers market a charming cafe, and highly acclaimed restaurant for a truly immersive dining experience. It doesn't get much more local than the cuisine at Farmstead which highlights the ranch's talented chefs, farmers, cattle ranchers, winemakers, and restaurant managers for an authentic, impactful Napa Valley dining experience that embodies a rustic sophistication with each dish. You'll want to save at least half a day to explore all the wonders of this charming estate.
Harbor House: Elk
Few restaurants in California offer two-Michelin star cuisine and such sweeping Pacific Ocean views like Harbor House. Tucked away in the wilds of Mendocino County, Harbor House resides in the namesake inn and features an unforgettable 8-12 course tasting menu from widely acclaimed Chef Matthew Kammerer. The menu here rotates daily and with a foundation that focuses on seafood and vegetables cooked with fire, steam, and smoke. The inn's sustainably grown organic garden and farm provides the ultimate source of inspiration for Kammerer's take on California cuisine (well, besides the deep blue waters observed from the bluff). There's also a wine cellar that features nearly 3,000 bottles with an emphasis on French and California wineries for a truly luxurious dining experience nestled in the coziest spot in the county.
Chez Panisse: Berkeley
It's hard to fully express where California cuisine and American food as a whole would be without the influence of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. The 50-year old Bay Area institution reoriented the image of fine dining in America from fussy, overly sophisticated menus to allowing the freshest local and seasonal ingredients to speak for themselves through, eventually shifting focus from French to what is now considered Californian or New American-style cuisine. Her dedication to the slow food movement and seeing food as a tool for social change still reverberates in our nation's biggest conversations today. The restaurant has also produced many of today's top chefs, from Samin Nosrat to Dan Barber and is sure to continue to inspire for years to come with innovative, vegetable-forward dishes. While Chez Panisse has been closed since the onset of the pandemic, only serving takeaway dishes, the dining room will finally reopen in January 2022 with its nightly four-course menus.
PRESS: St. Helena
One of several Napa Valley mainstays on this list, PRESS is no exception to the area's dedication to detail, producing killer wine lists, and offering exceptional indulgences inspired by Chef Philip Tessier's passion to elevate the best of Napa Valley. It's a destination loved by local and international winemakers, vintners from around the world, and the neighborhood as a place to experience the best of California wine country through food, drink, and hospitality. Its bucolic setting only makes a night at PRESS even more experiential and representative of the heart and soul of Napa Valley: its terroir.
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