By Jim Ferri
One of the great pleasures of travel is the opportunity to sample new foods. In fact, in our poll last week we asked “What do you enjoy most when you travel about the USA?” and the opportunity to enjoy regional foods tied for second place.
Although I am certainly not an adventurous eater, I greatly enjoy good dining experiences. And since I travel quite a bit I’ve dined in many different restaurants of my choosing.
At some places I’ve been halfway through the meal and wondered why they hadn’t yet fired the chef. Others have surprised me with the quality of their food and the whole dining experience. And still others I’ve gone back to for a second meal, it was that good.
Here are 12 places scattered about the USA where I’d like to (or have) gone back for seconds. Each also provides a unique dining experience that goes beyond the quality of the food.
They range from a Mexican restaurant in Texas to an upscale hotel dining experience in Washington State, from a hidden over-the-top restaurant in Miami Beach to a hamburger joint in Idaho, even a meal served in a woman’s home on an Indian reservation in South Dakota…they were all unique experiences.
120 NE Russell Street
If you’re in Portland and looking for good tapas Toro Bravo is the place to go. Just think of little gems such as Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with bacon sherry cream, Basque Pipérade with duck egg & grilled bread, Fried Spanish Anchovies with fennel & lemon and a host of other offerings. This is a walk-in restaurant so they don’t take reservations for groups of less than seven. We got there a half-hour before opening and there was already a line, it’s that good.
San Antonio, Texas
218 Produce Row
Located just a few blocks from the San Antonio River Walk, 73-year old Mia Tierra is a wonderful place to go for classic Tex-Mex dishes. It’s also an experience hard to replicate, a gaudy, raucous Mexican restaurant complete with strolling musicians, festooned with Christmas lights and open 24-hours a day, 365 days per year.
New York, New York
2127 Broadway (at 74th St)
Tel: (212) 994-9555
What a place to eat – a restaurant in a supermarket where the chef sources your meal from the best products in the produce department and butcher shop. It’s not the ambiance that draws diners here – the décor is metal chairs and tables with butcher paper for tablecloths – but rather the food and the prices that set it apart from the other Upper West Side New York restaurants. Order a la carte or choose one of its three prix fixe menus ($28, $33 and $44). Their wines are a good buy also.
4 South Market Building
Tel: (617) 523-1300
Quincy Market, adjacent to historic Faneuil Hall, isn’t one restaurant but a gaggle of places to eat in a city that takes its food seriously. What’s wonderful about Quincy is the opportunity to just graze through countless food stands having a bite here, another over there, savoring everything from Polish sausages to lobster rolls. The whole place can be almost circus-like, especially in good weather when there’s no lack of talent performing on the streets outside.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
207 E Sherman Avenue
Who would think that a place that serves nothing but hamburgers (not even French fries), along with pie, ham sandwiches and egg sandwiches would be written up in The Wall Street Journal, Sunset and other publications? The burgers are plain but delicious and there’s usually a short wait. You know it has to be special when its small luncheonette-size counter is filled with couples in shorts and t-shirts sitting next to businessmen in dark suits.
New York, New York
Cafe Saborsky (in the Neue Galerie)
1048 Fifth Avenue (entrance is on 86th Street).
Tel: (212) 628-6200
Snuggled away in the Neue Galerie, a Museum for German and Austrian Art, this is a Viennese coffeehouse and restaurant that is really a bit of old Vienna in New York. Here you’ll actually feel you’ve stepped back into the Old World in a room with beautiful carved wooden walls with ornate moldings, the chandelier hanging in the center of the room, the small marble tables and fireplace mantel. I’ve been here several times for superb breakfasts and lunches.
Palm Court (in the Davenport Hotel)
10 South Post Street
Tel: (800) 899-1482
If you’re in Spokane and want a great dining experience head for the Palm Court restaurant at the Davenport Hotel. The great food and meticulous service notwithstanding, the décor and Old-World ambiance of the restaurant is incredible. Surrounded by the carved woodwork, a roaring fire and flowers cascading from huge vases, you’re soon feeling like royalty. It’s well worth a second (and third) visit.
Rib & Chop House
1367 Sheridan Avenue
What do you think of a restaurant where the owner comes over and offers to help when he senses you’re from out-of-town and have a longish wait for a table? And where the food is great, the service good and the price fair? Cody’s Rib & Chop House promotes itself as a sports bar but it’s not a raucous place. We stopped and looked at several other restaurants before we stumbled on this one. It was so good we came back a second time during our two-night stay in Cody.
Village Inn of Woodstock
41 Pleasant Street
Woodstock, VT 05091
Tel: (800) 722-4571
They only serve breakfast at the pleasant Village Inn of Woodstock so you’ll need to book a room to enjoy this wonderful culinary experience. In addition to eggs, yogurt and homemade granola, here you’re offered such daily specials as quiche with Vermont cheddar cheese and incredible blueberry pancakes. It’s enough to keep you fueled until dinnertime.
Miami Beach, Florida
1700 James Avenue
Tel: (305) 673-1010
You know a restaurant has to be special when it’s hidden behind high hedges and there are no signs advertising its presence. Casa Tua, where I was recently taken for a surprise birthday party, is that kind of place. Dine here and you’ll feel as if you’re dining in someone’s home, enjoying food and service that are both over-the-top. It’s not inexpensive but you’ll never forget the experience.
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota
PO Box 267
Manderson, SD 57756
Tel: (605) 867-1739
I recently had lunch in Bette’s Kitchen in the middle of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The great-granddaughter of Black Elk, a famous medicine man among the Lakota (Sioux) people, Bette cooks and serves a good buffet lunch of hamburgers, turkey burgers, fried chicken, grilled cheese, fish sandwiches, etc. in her home kitchen. The simple home meal is well seasoned by the austere beauty of the reservation about you.
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
107 W Jones Street
This restaurant is also known as Mrs. Wilkes’ Boarding House and it’s a gem. It features Southern home cooking at a price that can’t be beat, $18 (children $9) for an all-you-can-eat lunch of Southern fried chicken, sweet potato soufflé, black-eyed peas, etc. It’s only open 11am – 2pm Monday-Friday but be forewarned that the line forms early. I’ve made a detour off the Interstate to have lunch here a second time. And I’m certain there will be a third.