As if getting to grips with studies and finding out how to fit in on campus weren’t enough, the dreaded “freshman 15” phenomenon is yet another issue that first-year students have loaded onto their plates. In fact, how students load up their dinner plates is the very crux of the matter: fatty convenience foods like pizza, carbohydrate-heavy dorm meals and sugary energy drinks consumed in the dead of night are responsible in part for the weight gain.
However, as far as culinary treats go, there are considerably more delicious – and nutritious – options on hand, often as close as just a few blocks away from college grounds. This makes it exceptionally convenient for treating visiting family and friends to some of the finest cuisine available in the area – especially when they’re paying. With that thought in mind, we’ve compiled this list of the 50 best restaurants for college students and their parents. Bon appétit.
Six authoritative and up-to-date global and local lists were scrutinized in order to ascertain which restaurants are currently considered the finest in America. These restaurants could then only qualify for our list if they are located sufficiently close to one or more major institution of higher education. Further commendations, such as Michelin-star ratings and James Beard Foundation awards, were also taken into account, as these suggest a high quality of cuisine and/or service at that particular establishment.
The main sources referred to were:
OpenTable, “OpenTable Diners’ Choice 2013 Best Restaurants in America”
Zagat, “20 Top-Rated Restaurants Across America”
The Daily Meal, “101 Best Restaurants in America”
Gayot, “2014 Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S.”
GQ, “25 Best New Restaurants in America, 2014”
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants
James Beard Foundation Awards
50. Trois Mec – Los Angeles, California
Trois Mec is not your typical fine-dining experience. Situated in a small space previously occupied by a pizza joint, this French eating spot doesn’t do reservations. Instead, diners sign up as users, buy $75 tickets online two weeks before their dinner dates and, when they arrive, trust the chefs to deliver a delicious five-course meal – and delicious it will be, judging by the reviews. Los Angeles magazine awarded Trois Mec four stars in 2013, while The New York Times has singled out its Dutch “butter-poached white asparagus.” The “trois mec,” or “three guys,” behind the eatery are French chef Ludo Lefebvre and local innovators Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, who also co-own L.A. hotspot Animal. Trois Mec is located about 20 minutes from the University of California, Los Angeles.
49. Island Creek Oyster Bar – Boston, Massachusetts
Owners Skip Bennett and Garrett Harker and chef-cum-owner Jeremy Sewall have two objectives with Boston’s Island Creek Oyster Bar: providing first-class service and championing sustainability. Close ties have been fostered between the restaurant and the surrounding oyster farmers, to the point where some are even credited on the raw bar menu. This way, the farmer, chef and customer all know that a specific plate is as fresh, and as tasty, as it can be. Such plates include the restaurant’s signature steamed lobster or seafood casserole, while the chili-lime aioli-dressed crispy oyster sliders promise a real taste explosion. Island Creek Oyster Bar was named the city’s best seafood restaurant for 2013 by Boston magazine, and it’s just a three-minute walk from Boston University.
48. Pyramid Restaurant & Bar – Dallas, Texas
Classic plates of modern U.S. food available at Pyramid Restaurant & Bar in Dallas include a 32-ounce Niman Ranch rib eye steak and foie gras torchon. Executive chef Brian Armstrong emphasizes seasonal, fresh and local ingredients – with some sourced from as nearby as the restaurant’s roof. This attention to detail isn’t just evident in the food, either; Zagat has awarded Pyramid close to perfect scores for service and décor as well as its cuisine. Located inside the Fairmont Dallas Hotel, an approximately 15-minute drive from the University of Dallas, this could be an essential venue for a first-class student celebration.
47. The Publican – Chicago, Illinois
Terry Alexander, Eduard Seitan, Donnie Madia and executive chef Paul Kahan co-own Chicago’s The Publican, with Cosmo Goss serving as its chef de cuisine. Overseen by Kahan and Goss, the restaurant’s sustainably sourced menu proclaims to be “an homage to beer, pork and oysters.” It indeed boasts all three in abundance, but there are also farmhouse favorites like half chicken with summer sausage and fries, alongside a fine selection of international lagers. As well as its dining area, The Publican additionally features shared tables perfect for settling down at with a group of raucous friends and family, and as the restaurant is just 30 minutes’ walk from the University of Illinois at Chicago, it’s the perfect spot for students who are celebrating.
46. Gunshow – Atlanta, Georgia
Georgia State University students will score guaranteed cool points with their families and friends should they take them to nearby Gunshow on Garrett Street. Headed by Top Chef finalist and “fan favorite” Kevin Gillespie, the Atlanta-based restaurant features a rustic design showcasing bare floors and group-friendly tables. There’s also a quirky ordering system, with freshly prepared a la carte-priced dishes rolled out and offered up for diners to choose. The restaurant’s diverse, seasonal cuisine changes all the time, but previous popular fare has included squid ink tagliatelle and black truffle, beef short ribs served with pimento cheese and kimchee, and chorizo fundido with smoked mushroom. In 2014 GQ placed Gunshow seventh on its “25 Best New Restaurants in America” list.
45. Frasca Food and Wine – Boulder, Colorado
Frasca Food and Wine is owned by sommelier Bobby Stuckey and award-winning executive chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson. The pair specialize in cuisine inspired by the Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, with locally sourced ingredients used to deliver Friulian trademarks like frico caldo, a crispy pancake made with Piave cheese, potatoes and onions. Gayot, meanwhile, recommends the vanilla, peach and almond yogurt gelato, and the restaurant guide even included the eatery on its “2014 Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S.” list. In 2013 Frasca Food and Wine was also honored with a James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Wine Program” award – good news for University of Colorado Boulder students, given that the school is located just a few blocks to the south.
44. Zuni Café – San Francisco, California
Mention San Francisco’s Zuni Café and it won’t be long until somebody brings up the chicken. Whole roasted in a brick oven and served for two with a warm Tuscan bread salad, the chicken option is one of the few fixed dishes on an ever-changing menu here. Arguably just as renowned is the restaurant’s chocolate-packed Gâteau Victoire, but of course there are plenty of choices on owner-cum-chef Gilbert Pilgram’s regional French- and Italian-inspired menu. Having entered its fifth decade, Zuni Café certainly knows how to attract discerning diners, including those at the nearby University of San Francisco. After all, it ranked 23rd on The Daily Meal’s “101 Best Restaurants in America for 2014” list – so it’s certainly doing something right.
43. ABC Kitchen – New York City, New York
Fresh and sustainable American cuisine is the order of the day at New York City’s ABC Kitchen. Co-owned by Phil Suarez and Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, this high-end eatery has a seasonal menu that epitomizes the local-favoring “farm-to-table” scene, guaranteeing that all options are fresh, natural and organic. Overseen by chef de cuisine Karen Shu, ABC Kitchen’s impeccable dinner menu of pastas, pizzas and enticing entrées includes Akaushi (Japanese “red cow”) cheeseburgers and wood oven-roasted Maine lobster. ABC Kitchen’s commitment to sustainability is further reflected in its largely upcycled interior, which might have helped the establishment secure the 2011 James Beard Foundation award for “Best New Restaurant.” Conveniently, students from New York University can walk to ABC Kitchen in less than 15 minutes.
42. The Bazaar by José Andrés – Los Angeles, California
The official website for The Bazaar by José Andrés promises “a magical culinary experience,” while a Zagat review refers to the restaurant as a “culinary Disneyland.” The large 675-seat venue is divided into six individual spaces, plus a veranda and bar, all of which serve Spanish-flavored high-tech cuisine devised by Andrés. This game-changing spot is set within the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills, which makes it around five miles from the University of California, Los Angeles. Modern and time-honored tapas are available from the Rojo and Blanca tapas bars, sweet treats feature at the Patisserie, and a $150, 15-course tasting menu can be sampled in Saam, the restaurant’s private dining space. Prepare to be amazed.
41. Orsa & Winston – Los Angeles, California
According to a spring 2014 Gayot ranking, Orsa & Winston is one of the finest eateries in Los Angeles. The restaurant offers a purely fixed-price menu and is just a short ride from the University of Southern California. Whether students opt for the five-course $65 menu or the 20-plus-course $195 feast depends entirely on how hungry they are. Perhaps decisions will be swayed by whichever features chef-cum-owner Josef Centeno’s chicken liver mousse, which Gayot believes is nearly as tasty as foie gras. A relatively limited capacity of 40 means diners may have to wait in line, but this Italian- and Japanese-themed restaurant – named “after two little dogs” – makes it absolutely worth it.
40. Aria – Atlanta, Georgia
Gerry Klaskala is the owner and executive chef of Aria in Atlanta, and Brandon Hughes is his chef de cuisine. The cuisine in question is American with what the restaurant’s website describes as an “avant-garde” twist – and it’s a surprisingly affordable twist at that. Diners can expect to delight in trademark tastes like warm lobster cocktail, slow-roasted pork and braised beef short rib, while Aria’s excitingly creative dessert menu includes the restaurant’s ever-popular warm chocolate cheesecake, by executive pastry chef Kathryn King. Aria was one of Gayot’s 2014 picks for the finest cuisine in Atlanta, and with Emory University just a 15-minute drive up the road, students would be remiss not to place a reservation.
39. Del Posto – New York City, New York
Students at New York University are seemingly spoiled for choice when it comes to top-quality dining options. However, Del Posto on 10th Avenue offers something other Big Apple entries on this list do not: a modern twist on time-honored Italian food. Owned by Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich, Del Posto made history in 2010 as the first Italian restaurant in almost four decades to earn a four-star review from The New York Times. The newspaper’s glowing appraisal revealed that executive chef and partner Mark Ladner’s cuisine “bewilders and thrills,” while the Italian wine list was referred to as “enormous and comprehensive.” Del Posto’s 100-layer lasagna is among its most talked-about dishes, with other highlights include a traditional garganelli verdi and an appetizing-sounding butterscotch semifreddo.
38. Galatoire’s Restaurant – New Orleans, Louisiana
Galatoire’s Restaurant is only a 15-minute drive from both Tulane University and The University of New Orleans, and students at both schools should rank it high on their list of must-eat-there places. The New Orleans restaurant has been a Louisiana institution since 1905, and it celebrated its centenary with an “Outstanding Restaurant” award from the James Beard Foundation. Recent recognition saw Galatoire’s named in The New York Times magazine’s “10 of the World’s Greatest Old Dining Institutions” feature in 2013, while it ranked 15th on The Daily Meal’s “101 Best Restaurants in America for 2014” list. President Melvin Rodrigue and executive chef Michael Sichel’s Creole-French menu includes signature dishes such as turtle soup au sherry, seafood okra gumbo, and sweet potato cheesecake to finish.
37. State Bird Provisions – San Francisco, California
Having awarded this Californian dining room one of its sought-after stars, Michelin describes San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions as “quirky and winning.” Indeed, the distinctly unique eatery has made its name by serving top-quality fare in an inventive “dim sum style” – which essentially involves plates being wheeled around by suitably charming waiting staff. The “state bird” in question is California’s quail, and students from the nearby University of California, San Francisco will find it on the menu alongside dishes like halibut tartare, roast bone marrow and beef tongue. In 2013 married owners – and chef and pastry chef respectively – Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski saw State Bird Provisions named “Best New Restaurant” by the James Beard Foundation.
36. Husk – Charleston, South Carolina
David Howard’s Neighborhood Dining Group owns Husk in Charleston, South Carolina, and James Beard Foundation award-winning executive chef Sean Brock and chef de cuisine Travis Grimes take care of the kitchen. Brock’s kitchen mantra is simple: “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door.” This regional approach to ingredients has resulted in to-die-for Southern dishes such as glazed pig’s ear lettuce wraps, confit duck leg, and torn buttermilk biscuits paired with fresh South Carolina berries. Even Husk’s rustic, 1800s-built location is Southern through and through. What’s more, the College of Charleston is less than a ten-minute walk from Husk, while its Nashville, Tennessee sister restaurant is close to Vanderbilt and Belmont universities.
35. NoMad – New York City, New York
The pair behind three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park – restaurateur Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm – oversee dining options at New York City’s NoMad Hotel. Michelin describes the hotel’s dining room as doing “astonishing work” with its American- and European-inspired menu, which has helped earn the restaurant a coveted Michelin star. Standout dishes include succulent suckling pig, an exemplary whole-roasted chicken for two and foie gras torchon. And as if that weren’t enough, Michelin tells us the eatery’s decor as “fashionable,” while The New York Times has raved about its “extraordinary” cocktails. And for anyone who happens to be a Columbia University student, NoMad is less than 25 minutes from campus.
34. Bern’s Steak House – Tampa, Florida
Understandably, Bern’s Steak House in Tampa is serious about its steak. Bragging that its “beef is the most beautiful and most costly in America,” the eatery devotes four pages of its menu to steaks such as Chateaubriand, T-bone and porterhouse. There are seven types in total, including filet Mignon and Delmonico, all of which can be cut to diners’ preferred thicknesses. The cuts can also be broiled 32 different ways and get cooked for as little as four seconds. Moreover, such attention pays dividends, with owner David Laxer and chef de cuisine Habteab Hamde’s food in 2014 scoring 26 out of 30 with Zagat – where Bern’s is additionally listed as the most popular restaurant in the region. Meat-eaters from the nearby University of Tampa can prepare themselves for a treat.
33. Girl & the Goat – Chicago, Illinois
Chef Stephanie Izard won season four of Bravo reality show Top Chef in 2008. Then two years later she joined forces with co-owners Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz to open Girl & the Goat in Chicago. By 2013 Izard had scooped the James Beard Foundation award for “Best Chef: Great Lakes” – an accolade that should encourage University of Illinois at Chicago students to make the mere seven-minute drive from their school to the restaurant. Diners can expect a menu split into fish, meat and vegetable categories, although these feature crossover items as well. Options include tantalizing contemporary American dishes such as wood oven-roasted pig face, duck tongues and a flavorsome confit goat belly.
32. Restaurant Gary Danko – San Francisco, California
San Francisco’s Restaurant Gary Danko is part of the prestigious Relais & Chåteaux global hospitality fellowship, which means that it’s among an elite collection of over 500 luxury hotels and eateries based around the world. In 2014 international lifestyle, travel and dining guide Gayot named the establishment on its “Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S.” list, praising its atmosphere, beverage choices, service and “delightful” menu. The restaurant specializes in “modern and classic” cuisine, and signature dishes include foie gras, lamb loin and roasted lobster. Moreover, owner Gary Danko – who is considered one of the country’s most gifted chefs – offers a cheeseboard of up to 20 varieties every evening. The University of California, San Francisco is less than five miles from the Restaurant Gary Danko.
31. Nishino – Seattle, Washington
Chef Tatsu Nishino opened his eponymous restaurant in Seattle in 1995, and almost two decades later, it’s still turning out top-quality, highly-acclaimed Japanese cuisine. Nishino was ranked the city’s number one eatery for 2014 by Zagat and in the same year was also listed among the Seattle area’s top ten restaurants by Gayot. The original and inventive dishes helping Nishino achieve these impressive ratings include sweet shrimp selected live from the in-restaurant tank, toro tartare and caviar, and the establishment’s signature flame-grilled whole squid in soy, extra virgin olive oil and garlic. However, if visiting University of Washington students and their families can’t decide, there’s always the $65, book-in-advance omakase menu featuring the chef’s finest treats.
30. Gramercy Tavern – New York City, New York
A 14-minute stroll along Broadway will lead New York University students to the sublime Gramercy Tavern on 20th Street. Danny Meyer’s one-Michelin-starred restaurant has scooped six James Beard Foundation awards since 2000, including executive chef and partner Michael Anthony’s 2012 “Best Chef: New York City” prize. Anthony’s acclaimed modern American menu utilizes seasonal ingredients, mostly sourced from nearby Union Square Greenmarket, to create tasty fare like smoked Arctic char with radicchio and potato salad, and lamb loin with merguez. The main dining room offers fixed-price three-course dinners for $92 and $120 tasting menus – $102 for vegetarians – while there are also lunchtime à la carte choices for those attempting to stay within their student budget.
29. Il Terrazzo Carmine – Seattle, Washington
Seattle University students probably already know about Il Terrazzo Carmine, which is around a 20-minute walk from the school’s Capitol Hill campus. The restaurant has been dishing up incredible Italian cuisine for the past 30 years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In 2014 Gayot named the Smeraldo family establishment one of the ten best Italian eateries in Seattle, while Zagat has similarly honored its food and service with near-perfect scores. The restaurant’s executive chef is Juan Vega, whose lip-smacking meal options include rosemary oil essence-grilled rib veal chops with shoestring potatoes and arugula, and seafood ravioli.
28. Fountain Restaurant – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is around a five-minute drive from the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, home of the luxurious Fountain Restaurant. Diners can look out onto the magnificent Swann Memorial Fountain as they taste executive chef Rafael Gonzalez’s French-influenced cuisine – which also draws on his Cuban-American heritage. Standout dishes include the delectable filet of beef tenderloin served with cheddar grits, pencil asparagus, beef and horseradish reduction, pan-fried tomato and pickled turnip with celery leaf. The restaurant is on the formal side, so it’s definitely more suited to a refined celebration rather than a raucous family dinner – but the food, service and surroundings can’t be beaten. Indeed, Zagat rated Fountain Restaurant number one in Philadelphia for 2014 in all three of its criteria.
27. August – New Orleans, Louisiana
A striking 19th-century French-Creole exterior, an aesthetically stunning interior and locally sourced plates of modern French cuisine are three reasons for students from nearby Tulane University to bring their families to acclaimed New Orleans restaurant August. Owned by chef John Besh, who is assisted by executive chef Todd Pulsinelli, August is among The Big Easy’s must-try eateries. Indeed, it was rated by Gayot as one of the “2014 Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S.” and has twice been nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Restaurant” award. In particular, price-conscious Louisiana students should aim for August’s Friday lunchtime fixed-price menu, which Gayot says is a “steal” at $20.14, as it contains “all the polish of August’s evening feasts.” The grilled shrimp and the buttermilk pound cake sound especially tantalizing.
26. The Painted Lady – Newberg, Oregon
Students at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon are so close to The Painted Lady that it would be crazy for them not to try this contemporary American eating spot. The restaurant’s name is influenced by the architectural style which saw San Francisco houses painted with various bright colors, and The Painted Lady’s menu is appropriately striking. Dishes include prime New York steak with braised short ribs, and wild, slow-roasted salmon accompanied by braised leeks, romesco and cauliflower couscous. Co-owners Jessica Bagley and Allen Routt – the latter of whom is also the chef – have certainly been recognized for their colorful fare. Zagat, for example, awarded the eatery higher scores for food, service and décor than were given to any other restaurant in the Portland region in 2014.
25. Etch – Nashville, Tennessee
At the time of writing, Etch is Zagat’s number one-rated restaurant in the whole of Nashville, Tennessee. Owned by Doug Hogrefe and Paul Schramkowski, and helmed by executive chef Deb Paquette, Etch is less than two miles from Vanderbilt University and is a must-eat-there location for foodie students. The cuisine’s inspiration draws on influences from around the world, delivering big flavors regardless of choice – though the spiced venison served with sweet potato guava comes particularly recommended. As well as praising the eating spot’s food, Zagat rates Etch’s service and interiors highly – with the latter including a dramatic open kitchen that’s within reach of many diners. As a result, there’s ample opportunity to talk to the restaurant’s esteemed culinary team.
24. Canlis – Seattle, Washington
Canlis is a family affair. Originally opened in Seattle by Peter Canlis in 1950, it is today operated out of the same city by its founder’s grandsons Mark and Brian, with executive chef Jason Franey taking charge of the kitchen. Franey – a 2012, 2013 and 2014 nominee for the James Beard Foundation award for “Best Chef: Northwest” – has described the magnificent fare as “comfort geek,” or “easy-to-like, delicious food prepared and presented in contemporary ways.” With the establishment located less than a mile from Seattle Pacific University, discerning students can enjoy the family’s lauded “Canlis salad” of Romaine lettuce, Romano cheese, oregano and mint with coddled egg dressing, traditionally prepared tableside. Three courses at dinner cost $85.
23. Cochon – New Orleans, Louisiana
The French “cochon” translates as “pig,” and there’s certainly a great deal of pork on this Louisianan eatery’s menu: from smoked pork ribs and fried boudin to smoked ham hock and an oyster and bacon sandwich. There are vegetables, sides and seafood, too, but the pig is the real star – and that’s no bad thing. Co-owned by chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski, with Matthew Woodall as chef de cuisine, multi-award-winning Cochon is less than four miles from Loyola University New Orleans. Zagat gave its southern-style Cajun cuisine an impressive 27 out of 30 for 2014, while The New York Times has stated that discerning foodies will find the place “irresistible.” As for the average check, it comes to around $50 per person.
22. Roe – Portland, Oregon
Students at Portland State University will surely be tempted to cross the Willamette River for this one. Ranked third on GQ’s “25 Best New Restaurants in America, 2014” list, Roe was described by the magazine as “the understated restaurant of the year.” Understated because diners must walk through a larger restaurant to enter this modestly styled eatery, which seats around 30. Rather than going all-out on décor, chefs Patrick Schultz and Trent Pierce allow this Portland, Oregon eating spot’s food to do the talking, and its raw marlin, poached razor clams and crisp tobiko have certainly earned rave reviews. Meanwhile, the seven-course tasting menu, which comes in at $115, is according to GQ “one of the best bargains you’re going to find.”
21. Chez Panisse – Berkeley, California
In 2014 Time described Berkeley eatery Chez Panisse as “the most influential restaurant of its time,” heralding owner and executive chef Alice Waters as a “revolutionary” figure in contemporary American cuisine. The restaurant first opened in 1971, and according to Time, Waters’ mission is to “change the world through food.” Chez Panisse continues to serve tasty treats to this day – as evidenced by its fifth position on The Daily Meal’s “101 Best Restaurants in America for 2014” list. Chefs Jérôme Waag and Cal Peternell change the menu daily, offering sustainable and organic food that has included leg of lamb á la ficelle and shellfish with wild fennel and tomatoes. The University of California, Berkeley is just over a mile away.
20. Next – Chicago, Illinois
Next in Chicago is not an exclusively French, Japanese or Italian restaurant. In fact, it’s all three and more – but it’s only ever one at a given time. Dishes draw inspiration from early-20th-century Paris, post-war Sicily and even broader concepts such as childhood, but every three months everything changes. Patrons can’t just roll up unannounced, either – tickets are hard to come by, expensive and must be bought online – but superb food is a given. This is certainly suggested as much by a 2014 Zagat food rating of 29 out of 30 and a 2012-received “Best New Restaurant” award from the James Beard Foundation. Next is owned by chef Grant Achatz and his partner and patron Nick Kokonas, with Dave Beran in the role of executive chef, and the restaurant is little more than a mile from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
19. Animal – Los Angeles, California
It will come as little surprise that a restaurant named Animal is all about meat and decadence. However, diners may still be amazed by the variety of delicacies on offer, including everything from veal brain and fried rabbit legs to pig ear and crispy pig head. Owners and chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo clearly know what they’re doing, as critical acclaim for their dishes has seen the restaurant score highly among Los Angeles eateries, ranking eighth overall on The Daily Meal’s “101 Best Restaurants in America for 2014” list. Zagat, meanwhile, awarded Animal’s food 27 out of 30 for 2014, and The Wall Street Journal named it one of the “20 Great Modern Meateries” in 2013. Animal is just a 20-minute drive from the University of California, Los Angeles.
18. Blackbird – Chicago, Illinois
The Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law is less than a half-mile walk from modern American fine-dining eating spot Blackbird. Restaurant co-owners Donald J. Madia and Eduard Seitan have joined forces with executive chef and partner Paul Kahan to devise an acclaimed Midwestern-inspired menu featuring culinary pleasures like kombucha-glazed pork collar, aged duck breast and roasted veal sweetbreads – all in a cheerful, contemporary setting. Blackbird’s delectable cuisine has seen the restaurant hold a Michelin star since 2011, while in 2013 Kahan was honored with an “Outstanding Chef” award from the James Beard Foundation. With this in mind, why not get the family together in Chicago and splash out on Blackbird’s $120, eight-course taster menu? It’s going to be worth it.
17. Uchi – Austin, Texas
Sensational sushi restaurant Uchi is located just four miles from The University of Texas at Austin. Owned by executive chef Tyson Cole, Uchi has a menu that gained an almost perfect 2014 score of 29 out of 30 from Zagat. In fact, according to the site, Uchi is the top food choice in Austin, and the Asian-inspired eatery was even included on Zagat’s “20 Top-Rated Restaurants Across America” for 2014 list. Japanese seafood and regional ingredients, such as salmon and avocado or yellowtail and scallion, are used to create the restaurant’s makimono sushi rolls. Other items worth trying are the sear-it-yourself scallops from the hot menu and Atlantic salmon and Asian pear from the cold. Memorably, in 2013 The Huffington Post labeled Cole’s cuisine “the best sushi in America.”
16. Commander’s Palace – New Orleans, Louisiana
Executive chef Tory McPhail delivers “haute Creole” gastronomy just 20 minutes’ drive from the University of New Orleans’ main Lakefront campus. Commander’s Palace has been dishing up quality food since it opened way back in 1880, and current owners Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan must have been thrilled to see the establishment rank 11th on The Daily Meal’s “101 Best Restaurants in America for 2014” list. The menu is packed with locally sourced food – including herbs from as close as the restaurant’s roof – and Commander’s Palace’s signature dish is its acclaimed Foie Gras du Monde. According to Zagat in 2014, Commander’s Palace scored 28 out of 30 for food, service and décor, with the website also suggesting that it’s the city’s most popular culinary destination.
15. Momofuku Ssäm Bar – New York City, New York
Founder David Chang opened Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2004. Just two years later, he added the Momofuku Ssäm Bar on New York City’s Second Avenue. The popular eating spot is managed by Sara Jimenez, while Matthew Rudofker serves as Momofuku Ssäm Bar’s executive chef. Impressively, the restaurant ranked 64th on website The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ 2014 list of the top 100 global eateries. Located only a ten-minute walk from New York University, Momofuku Ssäm Bar’s standout American-Asian dishes are its “large format” whole rotisserie duck, slow-cooked bo ssäm pork shoulder and dry-aged rib eye. Diners have singled out the pork as “to die for,” and each shareable culinary delight comes with a range of mouthwatering sides – making dishes ideal for groups of visiting friends and family.
14. o ya – Boston, Massachusetts
It takes approximately ten minutes to reach o ya from both Boston University and the University of Massachusetts Boston, so students take note. This cozy Japanese eatery is owned by award-winning chef Tim Cushman and his sake sommelier wife Nancy. Their inspired menu features meticulously prepared chicken wing ballotine, which a The New York Times reviewer’s companion described by saying, “It’s like a chicken bone just melted in my mouth.” In case anyone needs further persuasion, o ya was in 2013 named the sixth-finest restaurant in the U.S. by OpenTable reviewers, while in 2014 The Daily Meal ranked it the country’s second-best Asian eatery.
13. qui – Austin, Texas
In 2014 qui in Austin was named America’s finest new eatery by GQ magazine. Notwithstanding its signature Filipino flavors, qui’s Asian-themed menu is equally influenced by its local Texan surroundings. Indeed, proprietor-cum-chef Paul Qui hails from the Philippines and is responsible for daring cross-cultural dishes such as dinuguan, a Filipino stew of pork’s blood served with less traditionally Filipino infusions like gnocchi and mushrooms. Other exotic-sounding highlights on qui’s seasonal menu include curry-style pasta and sea eel tacos. Such kitchen creativity helped Qui scoop the 2012 James Beard Foundation “Best Chef: Southwest” award, the same year that he won season nine of Bravo’s Top Chef reality series. The University of Texas at Austin, moreover, is just a five-minute drive away.
12. La Belle Vie – Minneapolis, Minnesota
“Good food is always personal,” states La Belle Vie, and the fact that the acclaimed Minneapolis eatery is only a ten-minute drive from the University of Minnesota is great news for students there with discerning taste buds. Indeed, Zagat rated both the service and food here with 2014 scores of 29 out of 30, while Gayot included the eating spot on its “2014 Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S.” list. Such praise is at least partly down to owner and executive chef Tim McKee’s delicious Mediterranean-French cuisine, with standout dishes including grilled dry-aged beef and dried apricot and pan-roasted poussin served with summer squash. Moreover, La Belle Vie’s fabulous food secured McKee the 2009 James Beard Foundation “Best Chef: Midwest” award – a prize for which he was also nominated in 2007 and 2008.
11. NAOE – Miami, Florida
Zagat placed Miami’s NAOE on its “20 Top-Rated Restaurants Across America” 2014 list, while in 2013 Forbes Travel Guide awarded the Florida eatery a five-star score. Executive chef and owner Kevin Cory is the “sushi master” behind the Japanese cuisine at this tiny diner, which only serves eight hungry customers at a time. Such an environment naturally allows for a more intimate feel, and customers can expect to be taken care of by service that’s almost as highly acclaimed as the food itself. Students from the University of Miami will want to take the 20-minute drive to NAOE for its bento boxes and a taste of the soy sauce-flavored ice cream.
10. Rasika – Washington, D.C.
Less than two miles from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., contemporary Indian restaurant Rasika serves up consistently excellent dishes – from tandoori lamb chops to honey-drizzled cod with dill – all of which can be accompanied by delicious Indian breads. The food is considered “extraordinary to perfection” by Zagat, with similar acclaim heaped upon the restaurant’s service. What The Washington Post has described as an “alluring” interior, meanwhile, includes a showcase open kitchen. This goes a long way to explaining the Ashok Bajaj-owned restaurant’s popularity, although it can’t hurt that an average check comes in at just $51 per person. Furthermore, executive chef Vikram Sunderam was recently deemed “Best Chef” in the Mid-Atlantic category at the 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards.
9. Bacchanalia – Atlanta, Georgia
Visitors to Bacchanalia in Atlanta are in for a treat. Proprietors and chefs Clifford Harrison and Anne Quatrano grow a wide selection of the restaurant’s ingredients on their own farm, making for an exceptionally fresh and seasonal menu. And if students from the nearby Georgia Institute of Technology can convince visiting family to obtain a reservation, for $85 they can expect to be served five courses of modern American cuisine that Gayot described as “distinguished and rich with detail.” Quatrano’s shortlisting for “Outstanding Chef” at the 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards – which also saw the restaurant as a semifinalist for “Outstanding Service” – provides further proof that it’s worth a trip.
8. Le Pigeon – Portland, Oregon
Gabriel Rucker, the executive chef and owner of Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon, has won two James Beard Foundation awards. The first came in 2011, for “Rising Star Chef of the Year,” while the second, “Best Chef: Northwest,” followed two years later. Furthermore, Zagat awarded Le Pigeon’s French-inspired menu a 2014 score of 28, firmly placing it in the “extraordinary to perfection” bracket. A look at the dinner menu reveals tempting dishes like foie gras and vadouvan curry terrine and beef cheek bourguignon, and the food is served in a picturesque space centered around a theatrical open kitchen. The restaurant is, moreover, just a six-minute drive from Portland State University, and as its Fearless Critic review puts it, “Yes, it’s as good as you’ve heard.”
7. Joël Robuchon Restaurant – Las Vegas, Nevada
The MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas hosts the Joël Robuchon Restaurant, an exquisite French eatery that’s extravagant to say the least. Executive chef Claude Le Tohic takes daily responsibility for what Zagat currently rates as the best food in Las Vegas. The present “menu degustation,” or tasting menu, will set diners back an eye-watering $425, but in return they will receive a remarkable 16 courses that take in the likes of truffled langoustine ravioli, beef rib eye and caramel chocolate mousse. Best of all, the sumptuously decorated restaurant is just over a mile and a half from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
6. Per Se – New York City, New York
Students and their families from nearby Fordham College at Lincoln Center should ignore the hubbub of shoppers at Time Warner Center and enter what The New York Times has called, quite simply, “the best restaurant in New York City.” Per Se is owned by celebrated chef Thomas Keller, and its kitchen, which excels in modern French-American cuisine, is run by Eli Kaimeh. Awarded three Michelin stars, the menu’s delights include trademark dish “Oysters and Pearls,” succulent lobster poached in butter, and a lip-smacking huckleberry sorbet. Lunchtime tasting menus start at $205, while the amazing views of Columbus Circle and Central Park only add to the experience.
5. Daniel – New York City, New York
Lucky students enrolled at Hunter College on New York City’s Upper East Side need only walk a few blocks for a multi-award-winning dining experience. Located on East 65th Street, Daniel is owned by chef Daniel Boulud and currently holds the highest Michelin rating of three stars. Executive chef Jean François Bruel is responsible for the plush restaurant’s exquisite modern French cuisine and the over 30-strong team behind it. Dinner could consist of mouthwatering delights such as squash ravioli followed by chorizo-wrapped swordfish, while a seven-course tasting session is available for the princely sum of $220.
4. Coi – San Francisco, California
Students of the University of San Francisco looking for a taste-bud treat should head for Coi, where owner and chef Daniel Patterson delivers a contemporary Californian menu that changes regularly, depending on locally available ingredients. Patterson was crowned “Best Chef: West” at the 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards, with highlights of his Coi cuisine including Dungeness crab and beef tendon soup, as well as Michelin-acclaimed spice cake. Michelin was similarly taken with Coi’s “flawless” service, awarding the establishment two stars in its most recent Guide, while Coi also earned a place on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014 list. The restaurant’s tranquil interior space gives it the perfect ambiance in which to enjoy the 12-course tasting menu, which starts at $145.
3. Alinea – Chicago, Illinois
Highly acclaimed Alinea in Chicago is owned by renowned chef Grant Achatz and businessman Nick Kokonas, with executive chef Mike Bagale taking care of the kitchen. The restaurant’s interior makes use of bold lighting changes to enhance the atmosphere in its dining rooms, while the dramatic, innovative food is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate. Better yet, students at the nearby Chicago campus of Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago both have just a short trip to sample the delights of this three-Michelin-starred setting. Alinea serves tasting menus of up to 22 courses, and standout dishes include lily bulb with distillation of lime caviar.
2. Eleven Madison Park – New York City, New York
In 2014 The World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranked Eleven Madison Park the fourth-finest eatery on the planet and the highest rated in the U.S. As well as holding three Michelin stars, the establishment has been labeled “among the most alluring and impressive restaurants in New York” by a four-star The New York Times review. Restaurateur Will Guidara and head chef Daniel Humm have produced a wonderfully balanced and exciting contemporary French menu, allowing diners to tuck into superbly poached lobster or luscious blue foot chicken – and all this in stunning art deco surroundings. A six-minute stroll will see students from the City University of New York’s Baruch College arrive at the doors, ready for the $225 tasting menu.
1. Le Bernardin – New York City, New York
New York City’s Le Bernardin claims that the “fish is the star of the plate,” and one glance at the restaurant’s lunch, dinner and tasting menus makes that abundantly clear. Chef and co-owner Eric Ripert delivers high-end French-style seafood with delectable dishes that the establishment describes as “almost raw,” “barely touched” and “lightly cooked.” The must-have plate from the three-Michelin-starred menu is pounded yellowfin tuna, served alongside foie gras and a toasted baguette. Moreover, the elegant dining space – named after an order of gourmand monks – is located less than a mile from the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and features dramatic ocean paintings and glistening metal decor. The fixed-price dinner menu comes in at $135.