In-the-know toques can help you eat your way through a city’s culinary scene for the first time or discover alternatives to your own hometown standbys. To glean some fresh perspective, Forbes Travel Guide sought advice from prominent chefs spanning from Los Angeles to London. Here are their picks for the must-have dish in their city:
Kevin Cory, Chef, Five-Star NAOE
“From November through mid-April, during the local Redland farming season of Miami, one must visit Knaus Berry Farm for their warm, gooey and steaming-fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon rolls. They also have U-pick strawberry and tomato fields. It’s a Miami tradition.”
Geoffrey Zakarian, Chef, Four-Star The Lambs Club
“I can’t get enough of the tuna wasabi tarts at BondSt in NYC. Truly unique and impossible to stop eating!
“Also at my restaurant, The Lambs Club, without a doubt the chicken paillard at lunch. Crispy and satisfying, a perfect lunch protein. Also, our own version of the classic Greek salad. Both are yummy.”
Chris Stam, Executive Chef, Forbes Travel Guide Recommended DB Bistro Moderne, New York
“Oysters. Being the original oyster-eating capital of the world, NYC has access to such a great variety. They were pocketed just below Long Island and the rocky shores of New England, which supply some of the freshest, and most tender oysters around.
“There are too many options for oysters in this city. But the best time to enjoy is late at night with either a glass of prosecco or cocktails. Balthazar never disappoints. A good oyster plate should have some lemons, mignonette and, if you like it, cocktail sauce. Nothing else is needed.”
Donatella Arpaia, Chef/Restaurateur, Prova Pizzabar
“I think a New York strip steak is iconic — my relatives from Italy always want to come and have steak in NYC! We have some of the best steakhouses, including Old Homestead.
“I also love our signature Prova Pizza with arugula, speck, fresh mozzarella and truffle oil at my restaurant, Prova Pizzabar.”
Mark Strausman, Executive Chef, Freds at Barneys New York Downtown
“A must have dish in New York would have to be pizza from Di Fara in Brooklyn. It’s amazing to watch the founder Domenico in action!
“A must-have dish at Freds at Barneys New York Downtown is the Jewish Boy from Queens, which is turkey with Russian dressing and coleslaw on an onion roll. I created it for the Freds Downtown opening and it’s a nod to the turkey sandwiches of my youth growing up in Queens.”
Jose Garces, Chef, Five-Star Volvér
“Chef Greg Vernick of Vernick Food & Drink is a master of layering flavors. Under the ‘raw’ section of the menu at Vernick, the striped jack with avocado and grilled jalapeño oil is an unbelievable evolution of flavors that unfolds with each bite.”
Michael Schulson, Chef/Restaurateur, Double Knot
“I prefer to go to quieter casual places that are off the beaten path. One of my favorite dishes is at Tio Pepe in Northeast Philadelphia. They have this amazing paella, which is unreal, and it’s even better because they have the best sangria I have ever had. The paella has tender pork and chicken with delicious house-made chorizo and perfectly cooked clams.”
Ford Fry, Chef, The Optimist
“There’s nothing worse than a bad croissant and nothing better than a really good croissant. If I had my choice to eat only one thing for breakfast every day, I’d pick The Little Tart’s ham and cheese croissant. They’re focused on making things right — starting with a fantastic croissant, then adding Gruyère and a high-quality, thin-shaved ham.”
Ryan McCaskey, Chef, Four-Star Acadia
“I’d say Pizano’s pizza. The cheese and toppings go right to the edge. The toppings are always a good amount. The crust is cornmeal and very buttery. The edges are crispy and flaky. After a long week of work, a perfect day off for me is getting a Pizano’s thin-crust pizza and hanging out at home. My go-to is sausage, black olive, garlic, mushroom, extra cheese!”
Juan Pablo Colubri, Executive Pastry Chef, Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Hakkasan Las Vegas
“I’m from Argentina, so I have a very high standard for good-quality meat. That being said, when I visited Yellowtail a little while ago, I was blown away by chef Akira Back’s braised Kobe beef short ribs. The beef absolutely melts in your mouth, and the sweetness of the teriyaki is perfectly balanced by the spicy puffed rice and vegetables. Combined with the beautiful ambiance and stunning views of the Bellagio fountains, Yellowtail is the place to be.”
Scott Hunnel, Executive Chef, Five-Star Victoria & Albert’s
“Crispy whole snapper. Snapper varieties are a ‘must-have fish’ that all of Florida is known for — like lobster from Maine! It’s on the menu at Tiffins at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Dusted with cornstarch and crisped up, it is served on black forbidden rice — finished with soy-shallot butter — som tam [green papaya salad] and fermented black bean butter sauce.”
Judy Joo, Chef/Owner, Jinjuu
“I’m a big fan of fellow female chef Chantelle Nicholson and her restaurant, Tredwells in Covent Garden, which specializes in modern British food. One of my favorite dishes is their signature dessert, the peanut butter pudding with dark chocolate sorbet. It’s a ‘real pud’ and also happens to be plant-based. It’s sinfully decadent combining peanuts, a warm pudding, salted caramel and a topped with a rich, dark chocolate sorbet.
Dan Maguire, Executive Chef, Four-Star Game Creek Restaurant
“On Vail Mountain, we have some of the best fine-dining options you will find in a resort community. An excellent crowd-pleaser is the pheasant pot pie at The 10th. With herb-roasted chicken and pheasant, winter vegetables, sage-vermouth cream, and topped with a puff pastry, the pot pie is a warm complement to a midday ski break at Vail.
“For visitors wanting to branch out, further down the Vail Valley in Edwards, Craftsman offers a fried chicken banh mi. It is an amazing and perfect iteration. The banh mi is a healthy portion of fried chicken served on a fresh brioche bun with housemade pâté, pickled carrots, sliced jalapeño, cilantro and soy caramel glaze. The first time I bit into it, I had to put the sandwich down, take a deep breath and truly thank the chef behind the counter for bringing it into my life. It’s that good.”
Matthew Padilla, Executive Chef, Five-Star The White Barn Restaurant
“My No. 1 would be the crab, scrambled egg and crab chili foam dish at Elda in Biddeford, which is just a few minutes away. Chef Bowman Brown has the most exciting restaurant in the area, in my opinion.
“Otherwise in Kennebunk, the carpetbagger sandwich at Pearl. It has roast beef and fried oysters on a fresh baguette and a pile of shoestring fries. It’s awesome but requires a day at the gym afterward.”
Patrick O’Connell, Chef, Five-Star The Inn at Little Washington
“A must-have dish in our city of Little Washington will certainly be one centered around the legendary morel mushrooms that pop out of the forest in the early spring here. If we get exactly the right amount of light rain followed by just enough sunshine, we’re blessed with a bountiful harvest of wild morels, which the local mountain people refer to as merkels. Some say the name is of German derivation — the Teutonic word for morel was merchel. Others insist that merkel is Southern for ‘miracle.’
“We use them in hundreds of different preparations, including omelets, pizzas, fettuccine and vegetarian ‘meatloaf.’ One of the most popular dishes now is potato gnocchi with morel mushrooms, country ham and asparagus tips.”
William Bradley, Executive Chef, Addison Restaurant
“While I don’t often dine out in San Diego, I appreciate what chef Trey Foshee is doing at Galaxy Taco — working with high-quality ingredients to craft memorable iterations of classic Mexican dishes. He’s known in particular for his tacos, which are served on tortillas that are made with masa they are grinding daily in house with heirloom Masienda corn. The grilled fish taco with molcajete salsa is a standout — and can be ordered with uni.”
Luis Flores, Chef, Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Chandlers Prime Steaks & Fine Seafood
“Boise has a rich, historic Basque Culture and Community. In the springtime, you can walk down the Basque Block and see and smell the paella pan on the fire filled with authentic Spanish ingredients. It’s one of my favorite meals in Boise.”
Vincent Celeste, Executive Chef, La Table Chateau
“I believe olive-oil-poached branzino with marble potatoes, asparagus and lobster-sherry emulsion and its preparation is important because Houston is overwhelmed with steakhouses. Our guests enjoy our daily fresh selection of fish, and poaching fish in olive oil is the best technique to experience the best flavors and textures of fresh fish.”
Xavier Boyer, Chef, Five-Star Gaddi’s
“I recommend Hong Kong-style milk tea and French toast from a local café, also know as the cha chaan teng. I like to visit local restaurants to embrace the culture when I start working in a new city, because it is important to know the taste and flavor that the local diners adore.”
Steve Benjamin, Executive Chef, Four-Star Jean-Georges Beverly Hills
“If I had to pick one must-have dish to eat, it would be my own pâté en croûte. It is a traditional dish from France that reminds me of home. I have prepared it occasionally throughout my career as a specialty dish.
“The dish is made with a meat — it can be chicken, pork, venison, foie gras, chicken liver — then cooked in a traditional dough with pistachio, and filled with gelée. It’s quite a unique dish and not one that most people in the U.S. are familiar with. I love to eat it with mustard and a light salad such as frisée or arugula, and enjoy it year-round.”