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California Restaurants

Hotel Photo
8022 West Third Street
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 653 6359

This pan-Mediterranean wine and food bar, which specializes in small plates, is the baby of Lucques chef Suzanne Goin. Taste the rustic pâtés and the lamb skewers with Feta salsa verde, and you'll know that sample sizes suit her just fine. The room is sleek, the long bar welcoming, and the staff knowledgeable and friendly. There are about 50 wines by the glass and many more by the bottle, nearly all of them well chosen. It's hard to get a bad pour here—and harder still to get reservations. Those who do—upscale foodies and deal-makers—call weeks ahead, especially for Fridays and Saturdays.

2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 771 2216

Trendy Marina District spot A16 has it all: great food; an extensive, well-chosen wine list; and a happening scene. The sleek, dark space, all concrete floors and cork walls, draws local singles, who pack the bar. And chef Liza Shaw's seasonal southern Italian dishes—such as pumpkin-ricotta gnocchi with pancetta and kale, and calamari with fiorelli pasta, fennel, and marjoram—score every time. But the real draw? Chewy-crusted pizza baked in a wood-burning oven. It can be hard to book a table, especially on weekends, so plan well ahead. —Updated by John Vlahides

Open Sundays through Thursdays 5 to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 5 to 10:30 pm.

Abbot's Pizza Company
1407 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 310 396 7334

With their delicate crusts and intriguing toppings—think Alfredo sauce, goat cheese, and portabella mushrooms—the pizzas at Abbot's are some of the best in the West. This bite-sized storefront's location—on the main drag in bohemian Venice—is an added bonus. Inside, rock music blasts from speakers, and convertibles, bicycles, and "Peace and Love" are advertised on a bulletin board. You can sit among the tattooed and pierced customers at a stainless-steel counter, but takeout is the big thing here. And why not, when Venice Beach beckons?

1722 Sacramento Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 567 5432

The beauty is in the details at elegant Acquerello, San Francisco's top contemporary Italian table. If you arrive wearing black, you'll be offered the option of a black napkin to avoid getting white lint on your clothing. Waiters move in perfect synchronicity, delivering plates in an effortless ballet, whisking them away unseen. But most impressive is the cooking. Flavors positively sprawl across the palate in such dishes as Parmesan boudino, a custardy Italian-style soufflé served with a seasonal garnish such as paper-thin fried-eggplant curlicues or the spring's first asparagus tenders. Lobster panzarotti, a variant of ravioli, is sauced with a lush lobster-stock reduction. The 65-page wine list is one of the best in the country for Barolo and Barbaresco, with 500 selections from Piedmont. A cheese cart stocked with rare Italian varieties rounds out the evening. Reservations are essential.—John Vlahides

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 5:30 to 9:30 pm.

5200 Grand Del Mar Way
San Diego , California
Tel: 858 314 1900

Addison is a destination dining room for serious foodies. Located in the fancy Grand Del Mar resort, the decor looks like something out of an ornate Italian estate (brocade chairs, carved stone columns, Venetian plaster walls). The food, on the other hand, is surprisingly simple. Chef William Bradley's elegant Mediterranean dishes include smoked short rib with red pepper confiture, roasted rack of lamb with a balsamic reduction, and a sumptuous peanut butter and chocolate terrine.—Audrey Davidow

Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 6 to 9 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 5:30 to 9 pm.

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington Street
Yountville , California
Tel: 707 944 2487

When Thomas Keller sent a memo to his staff on April 1, 2006, suggesting they take over a recently closed restaurant without any remodeling whatsoever, everyone thought it was an April Fool's joke. The idea was simple: a four-course set menu of American comfort cooking served family-style. The success was instant, and the only change made since day one has been to start accepting reservations. This is soul-soothing food, the place you eat on your second or third night in Napa, after you've had your fill of foie gras and puff pastry. The menu rotates based on the season and whatever's ripe in the restaurant's garden, and you don't know till you arrive what you'll be eating. The only constant is fried chicken every other Monday, when sides include biscuits and sausage gravy, and perhaps ratatouille made from squash picked that morning. Not everyone appreciates the raw simplicity of the place (wine comes in café glasses, not proper stemware), but remember that you are here for sustenance, not splash. And with such little adornment, your attention remains squarely where Keller wants it: on the plate. —John A. Vlahides

Open Thursdays through Mondays 5 to 10 pm, Sundays 10 am to 1 pm.

9543 Culver Boulevard
Culver City , California
Tel: 310 845 1700

Helmed by entertainment-biz caterer Akasha Richmond, this eco-friendly restaurant, bar, and bakery in Culver City serves healthy, surprisingly tasty, organic grub to members of L.A.'s growing green scene. Inside, the construction is sustainable, the appliances are energy-efficient, and the servers wear organic cotton T-shirts and Levi's Eco jeans. Standout entrées range from an earthy bowl of Punjabi Mung beans to a hearty slab of flatiron steak paired with organic fries. Belly up to the bar with the rest of the eco mafia for a signature cocktail mixed with organic lemon vodka, or order earth-conscious takeout from the counter: The containers are all biodegradable, and the cutlery is made from wheat.

Restaurant open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 11 pm, and Sundays 5 to 9 pm. Bakery open Mondays through Fridays 8 am to 5:30 pm, Saturdays 9 am to 5:30 pm.

Angelini Osterina
7313 Beverly Boulevard
West Hollywood , California
Tel: 323 297 0070

Gino Angelini's sophisticated comfort-food restaurant is where other chefs go when they're off duty—Mario Batali, for instance, tends to drop by when he's in town. It's not that Angelini's menu is particularly nouveau or showy—, but his takes on ordinary-sounding dishes use the highest-quality ingredients and are somehow transcendentally delicious. The menu includes antipasti, thin-crust pizzas, pastas, salads, and roasted meats; his lasagna Nonna Elvira—layers of spinach pasta with béchamel, buffalo mozzarella and Bolognese sauce—is sheer perfection. Angelini also runs La Terza in the newly redecorated Orlando hotel on Third, which is a little more formal (8384 W. Third St.; 323-782-8384).

Closed Mondays.

Hotel Photo
435 N. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 782 9225

This unassuming little spot, nestled between scruffy delis and bagel bakeries in the heart of L.A.'s kosher district, is full of pleasant surprises. For starters, there's the restaurant's all-out reverence for pork—think buttery braised pork shoulder or balsamic-glazed ribs—which even extends to a delicious chocolate crunch dessert topped off with crumbled bacon. Then there's the fact that this no-frills spot, with its wooden tables and apron-wearing bartender, just might be one of the few restaurants in L.A. where you'll find top-rate food served without a hint of attitude or fuss. Adventurous, delicious dishes include mustard-crusted sweetbreads; braised rabbit served on beans, carrots, and fennel; and poutine (french fries smothered in oxtail gravy and Vermont cheddar). Thanks to sommelier Erik Kelley, the wine selection is well edited and reasonably priced. But you're welcome to bring your own for a small corkage fee.

Open Sundays through Thursdays 6 to 11 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 6 pm to 2 am.

Apple Pan
10801 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 310 475 3585

Feeling nostalgic for a time gone by (and the low prices that went with it)? Head to this white clapboard shack, opened in 1947 and now surrounded by boxy storefronts that seem about to swallow it whole. Inside, wood paneling and red-and-white plaid wallpaper flank 26 counter seats, for which devoted fans are happy to wait. The rewards are ample, including steak burgers piled high with fixings (everything you'd expect, minus the tomato—they don't like them here) and hickory burgers drenched in barbecue sauce. Whatever you do, save room for the gooey homemade pie.

Closed Mondays.

Auberge du Soleil Restaurant
Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road
Rutherford , California
Tel: 800 348 5406 (toll-free)
Tel: 707 963 1211

Auberge du Soleil was a gastronomic pioneer when it opened in 1981, and it still serves the wine-country cuisine that it helped to invent. Chef Robert Curry draws on the cornucopia of fine produce cultivated in Napa Valley to turn out dishes such as pan-seared duck with wild mushrooms, pea tendrils, and cannelloni. The dining room is clubby and compact, lined with windows overlooking the terrace. But the best seats are outside on the terrace. On a clear night, you can see the glittering lights of San Francisco in the distance; daytime diners enjoy panoramic views of the olive groves and vineyards. For the ultimate in ambience, eat at sunset.

Open daily 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 to 9:30 pm.

2442 Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 662 2442

Maybe it's that the outside of Barbrix, located in hip Silver Lake, looks like a burnished version of the 1940s-era house it once was; or that owners Claudio Blotta and his wife, Adria Tennor, have a way of waving hi to every diner as if they've known them forever. But some say that the overwhelming success of this 50-seat wine bar has more to do with the fact that the neighborhood has long needed a spot that serves good food and affordable wine. Either way, as the sun set the other night, it seemed that half the community's residents began threading their way down the hill towards Barbrix as if by mass decree, primed to enjoy the clean, distinct flavors of chef Don Dickman's seasonal menu. We loved our small—but not still-hungry small—plates of delicate Sicilian veal meatballs; a Turkish salad of diced vegetables and tangy dabs of Greek yogurt; and grilled New Zealand lamp chops with mint pesto and eggplant purée. Blotta, whom locals know as the Argentine charmer from Campanile and La Terza, has a way with personal touches: He helped pour the cement in the front dining patio, showed the landscaper where to plant the lemon and olive saplings that will someday grow into fruiting trees, and made sure customers wouldn't have to spend more than $50 for a bottle of wine. "We want Barbrix to be a home away from home," beamed Blotta. "We had regulars the first week we opened."—Margy Rochlin, first published on

Open Sundays through Thursdays 6pm to 11pm, Fridays through Saturdays 6pm to 12am.

231 Center Street
Healdsburg , California
Tel: 707 431 0100

Thanks to the travertine floors and wooden walls of this converted red barn, the dining room can get a little noisy, but it's a happening spot for dinner, and its garden is one of the prettiest spaces in town. The frequently changing menu is organized by "taste profile." "Light" may include tuna poke with a pickled ginger–wasabi mousse; "Spicy" lists dishes like crispy grilled pork belly atop seared scallops; and "Comfort" (read: filling) is for dishes like pan-seared wild halibut with creamy cashew rice and tamarind sauce. The combinations are inventive, and the flavors big. The bar is a destination unto itself and hops nearly every night. Aside from an outstanding selection of Sonoma County vintages and a few European standouts, you'll also find unusual organic spirits, many of which are mixed with house-made syrups for some of wine country's best cocktails.

Open Wednesdays through Saturdays noon to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 11 pm, Sundays 11 am to 3 pm and 5:30 to 11 pm.

Hotel Photo
22 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 685 4860

Drawing on his time as chef du cuisine at Napa's famed French Laundry, chef Corey Lee showcases his culinary virtuosity in an elaborate 13-course tasting menu that masterfully blends Eastern and Western techniques. And big flavors come in delicate packages, such as a signature amuse-gueule that includes a flash-fried cigarette of eel wrapped in Moroccan feuille de brick (a nonbuttery filo) with a little spoonful of crème fraîche whipped with lime and salt for dipping. There's also an à la carte menu of dishes that intentionally run small—waiters call them appetizer-size—so diners may sample multiple flavor profiles. But it's not easy to create a cohesive culinary arc with three to four of them; better to opt for the tasting menu. Chef Lee places a premium on the sensory experience of the palate, but the dining room has an austere, almost too casual atmosphere. The chummy waiters, pop-rock soundtrack, and undraped blond-wood-edged tables (which look like high-end Ikea) simply don't match the caliber of the food.—John A. Vlahides

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 5:30 to 9:30 pm.

Hotel Photo
2030 Union Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 929 8855

Lipstick-red lacquer counters, rattan-backed chairs, and oscillating palm-frond fans lend a playful tiki-lounge-like atmosphere to this Marina District favorite. Not-to-miss items on the pan-Asian menu include melt-off-the-bone glazed ribs spiked with bits of Thai basil and melted garlic, and succulent pork dumplings with Szechuan peppercorn broth wrapped in fresh, translucent wrappers. You can offset the spiciness via the list of private-label beers and full-bar menu of fresh-fruit cocktails that come served in giant ceramic bowls. Sit at the counter to take in the drama of the kitchen; the clacking and flaming of woks are a fitting backdrop for the happening scene.—John A. Vlahides

Open Sundays through Thursdays 10:30 am to 11 pm and Fridays and Saturdays 11:30 am to midnight.

Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant
Highway 1 (half mile north of the Ventana Inn and Spa)
Big Sur , California
Tel: 831 667 0520

Hidden behind a gas station, this comfort food spot's only view is of a pretty cactus garden (and, okay, a big Shell sign pointing into the sky). But the old-school wooden architecture gives the place an unpretentious charm that mirrors a down-to-earth approach to cooking. Lunchtime pizzas come right out of the wood-burning oven; our favorite comes with chicken, pesto, and sausage. The dinner menu has five changing entrées, mostly grilled or wood-roasted free-range meats (the crispy-skinned, juicy roast chicken is a standout). The adjoining bakery serves to-go sandwiches worth stopping for, fresh-made bread, muffins, and old-fashioned jelly doughnuts.

Closed for dinner Sundays and Mondays.

Big Sur Roadhouse
Highway 1 (across from Ripplewood Resort)
Big Sur , California
Tel: 831 667 2264

If you've spent the day hiking and you'd rather not change clothes for dinner, head to this family-run roadhouse. There's not much in the way of decor: Plain wood tables, linoleum floors, and a small fireplace are about it. The Cal-Latino menu whipped up by young owners Marcus and Heather Foster, however, has spice to spare. Chips and fiery-hot homemade salsa hit the table as soon as you sit down; starters like calamari with pasilla-chile remoulade, and entrees like adobo-marinated steak with peppery potatoes and grilled onions keep the buzz going. Only beer and wine—no harder stuff—is served, but it hardly matters: A cold Corona makes the perfect chaser.

Closed Tuesdays.

450 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 930 9744

This place opened without signage, making it a bit tricky to track down, but word quickly spread and BLD (short for "breakfast, lunch, and dinner") soon became an L.A. favorite. Regulars love the exotic charcuterie plates, the construct-your-own-meal option from a mix-and-match protein and vegetable menu, and the to-die-for yellow cake slathered in chocolate butter cream. It's all served in a minimalist, loftlike atmosphere where T-shirt–clad writers are as welcome as Prada-decked execs—that rare sort of spot (especially in L.A.) that effortlessly straddles the divide between casual lunch and elegant date night. Thanks to the ricotta blueberry pancakes and brioche French toast, BLD is always popular for weekend brunch, but be prepared for the 20-minute wait.—Audrey Davidow

Open Sundays through Wednesdays 8 am to 10 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays 8 am to 11 pm.

710 Montgomery Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 982 2622

Regardless of what time of day you sit down at the Financial District tapas bar Bocadillos, Gerald Hirigoyen's menu provides just the right treat: baked eggs with chorizo and Manchego at 7 am, grilled ham and cheese bocadillos (small sandwiches) and amazing lamb burgers at noon, and sautéed pimientos de Padrón (green peppers popular in Spain) at 10 pm. There's a solid Cal-Med wine list and fun sodas like sugarcane cola, blackberry, and that retro favorite, Fresca. The brick walls, wood floors, intimate lighting, and jovial young crowd generate a warm vibe, and the prices are extremely reasonable for the caliber of cooking. But if you want to avoid the dining masses (no reservations here), go at off-hours, between regular mealtimes. —Updated by John Vlahides

Open Mondays through Wednesdays 7 am to 10 pm, Thursdays and Fridays 7 am to 10:30 pm, and Saturdays 5 to 10:30 pm.

6534 Washington Street
Yountville , California
Tel: 707 944 8037

An offshoot of the celebrated French Laundry, Bouchon is a classic French brasserie, right down to the mosaic tile floor, zinc bar imported from France, and red velvet banquettes. Likewise the cooking, from giant plateaux de fruits de mer (seafood platters) to succulent roast chicken to a perfect steak-frites. But more than anything, it's great fun to dine here—the room buzzes with activity, and you never know who might walk through the door, from famous vintners to Hollywood celebrities. Bouchon serves continuously all day, making it ideal for a late lunch. Though there's patio seating, the real excitement is in the dining room. If you're only in the mood for a snack, pop into the neighboring Bouchon Bakery for goodies or to gather picnic supplies, including sandwiches, pain au chocolat, and of course, crusty loaves of bread.

Open daily 11:30 am to 12:30 am.

9 W. Victoria Street
Santa Barbara , California
Tel: 805 730 1160

One meaning of the French word bouchon is wine cork, so it's no surprise that you can sample 40 Central Coast varietals by the glass at this cozy downtown restaurant. Chef/owner Mitchell Sjerven pairs wines with dishes using produce from the local farmers' market, meat and poultry purchased from neighboring micro-ranches, and lots of freshly caught fish. Offering a French-inspired take on California cuisine, Bouchon turns out starters such as pumpkin soup with chanterelle mushrooms and hearty entrées like venison loin with wild-chestnut puree and local organic arugula, or a bourbon- and maple-glazed duck served with a succotash of fava beans, apple-smoked bacon, and butternut squash, a menu favorite for nine years. Ask for a table on the patio or by the glassed-in kitchen, where you can see everything.

Open nightly at 5:30 pm.

Hotel Photo
235 N. Canon Drive
Beverly Hills
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 310 271 9910

The original Bouchon, just outside Napa, is a quaint, bustling bistro with a standing room–only bar and elbow-to-elbow seating. But Thomas Keller opted for a grander version for the Beverly Hills outpost of his famous Yountville eatery. Here, in the airy, high-ceilinged dining room, L.A. hotshots can't get enough of Keller's duck confit, terrine of foie gras, or sous-vide short ribs. Of course, there are plenty of bistro basics, too, like perfectly crisped fries and tiered seafood trays piled high from the raw bar. Downstairs, the more casual (read: less pricey) Bar Bouchon serves wines by the glass and small—but rich—plates of potted meats, charcuterie, and caviar. If you can't score a reservation, belly up to the curved zinc bar (imported directly from France) where the menu—and the doting service—is the same.—Audrey Davidow

Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10:30 pm.

106 Matheson Street
Healdsburg , California
Tel: 707 431 2962

This order-at-the-counter rustic trattoria on the Healdsburg town plaza is the perfect wine country lunch spot. Big antipasti platters of earthy salumi come served with sides such as a tangy beet salad, fresh figs, roasted garlic, pungent cheeses, and crusty bread—just right for the medium-bodied zinfandel you bought just up the road at Dry Creek Valley. Thin-crusted pizzas with toppings like you'd find in Italy (think prosciutto, arugula, and fontina), hearty sandwiches (the pork cheeks with roasted peppers and salsa verde is a standout), and salads (go for the tuna conserva) round out the menu. There are a handful of tables inside, but for maximum romance, sit outside in the sun-dappled shade of olive trees. Save room for the richly flavorful house-churned gelato. Bovolo is more of a lunch than dinner spot, due to its conservative closing hours, even on weekends.

Open Mondays and Tuesdays 9 am to 9 pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 9 am to 6 pm, and Fridays and Saturdays 9 am to 9 pm.

Brophy Bros. Restaurant & Clam Bar
119 Harbor Way
Santa Barbara , California
Tel: 805 966 4418

Action central on the harbor, this long-established seafood spot jumps all year, especially on weekends, when the wait for a table can be an hour or more (they'll give you a pager so you can wander around the marina; no reservations are taken). The biggest complaint here is the noise level, but no one gripes about the legendary Bloody Marys, clam chowder, or West Coast cioppino—California's interpretation of the Italian tomato-based stew filled with mussels, red snapper, and clams, topped with Parmesan cheese. In addition to a regular menu, there's a daily fresh-fish selection. For kicks, try an oyster shooter: a fresh bivalve served in a shot glass with cocktail sauce, Tabasco, and Parmesan cheese. The best seats are on the balcony overlooking the wharf.

Open Sundays through Thursdays 11 am to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11 am to 11 pm.

1638 Post Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 440 4959

While Asian fusion is starting to feel old-fashioned, the innovative Cal-French cuisine with a Japanese accent at Bushi-Tei seems decidedly nouveau. The Japantown restaurant serves intriguing creations that don't feel forced. To start, try big-eye tuna tartare with tobiko and wasabi crème fraîche, or seared foie gras atop pumpkin pot de crème. Plates include coq au vin with mushroom polenta and cress, and seared scallops with saffron-infused potato chowder. The cool interior matches the style of the food: Candlelight and paneled walls, made from 150-year-old wood sourced from Nagano, add warmth to the narrow space, which is dominated by an 18-foot glass communal table and floor-to-ceiling storefront windows. —Updated by John Vlahides

Open daily 11 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm.

Ca' Dario
37 E. Victoria Street
Santa Barbara , California
Tel: 805 884 9419

Old World ambience plus a chef from Lake Como add up to a perfect pasta experience. Dario Furlati has been rolling out gnocchi dough since he was a small boy in Italy, where he learned to cook from his two grandmothers. One taught him fish dishes and risotto, and the other shared her secrets for preparing poultry, biscuits, and gnocchi. Naturally, Grandma Ida's gnocchi is a signature dish, though it's served only on Thursday nights. Other favorites include the house ravioli with browned-butter sage sauce, and osso buco (braised veal shanks, paired with saffron risotto). Furlati goes over the top when it comes to specials, offering 12 each night.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm, Sundays 5 to 10 pm.

Café Chloe
721 9th Avenue
San Diego , California
Tel: 619 232 3242

Sitting proudly on a corner just down the street from the new PETCO ballpark, this tiny French spot, opened in December 2004, is the realization of the owners' dreams to create a neighborhood bistro that locals could call their own. Café Chloe serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between. The menu is a cross between dainty cuisine and comfort food in modest, European-sized portions: an ahi niçoise plate, steak frites, smoked trout cakes, and a macaroni, pancetta, and Gorgonzola gratin (three-cheese macaroni). With a sea of bistro-style chairs and small round tables packed inside the dining room and spilling out onto the sidewalk, it can feel a bit cramped at dinnertime.

624 S. La Brea
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 938 1447

In this monastery-like building that was once owned by Charlie Chaplin, chef-owner Mark Peel serves up top-notch rustic Mediterranean cooking. A perennial lunch favorite is the crisp baked chicken paillard flavored with lemon and garlic and served with mashed potatoes; a dinner standout is the prime rib, which comes with an olive tapenade, bitter greens, and flageolet beans. Peel keeps himself amused and challenged with nightly specials: on Wednesdays he offers special tasting menus based on that morning's finds at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market; Thursdays are grilled-cheese sandwich night, and Fridays feature wine and small-plate pairings. The adjacent La Brea Bakery (Peel and his ex-wife Nancy Silverton started the hugely successful bread company, now used by many L.A. restaurants) sells baked goods, cheeses, olives, and cured meats.

Closed for dinner on Sundays.

Cantinetta Luca
Dolores Street between Ocean and Seventh streets
Carmel-by-the-Sea , California
Tel: 831 625 6500

Breaking ranks with the intimate French restaurants that for decades have defined the Carmel dining scene, Luca serves stellar trattoria-style Italian cooking in a big, buzzing dining room. The salumi and pastas are made in-house (try the Bolognese) and make an ideal lunch while shopping downtown. But the best dishes come from the wood-fired oven: Try any of the crispy-thin pizzas or family-style meat and fish dishes, particularly the pan-roasted lemon-garlic chicken. Because the menu is so big and many of the dishes so appealing, it's easy to over-order. Take it easy: Portions are huge. The bar scene hops at sunset, when local luminaries show up to swill wine. If you're looking for a quiet dinner, Luca may not be a good fit, but the food is some of the best in town.

Open daily noon to 2:30 pm and 5 to 10 pm.

1212 Coast Village Road
Montecito , California
Tel: 805 969 8500

Cozy banquettes, sunflower-yellow walls, a brick fireplace, and live Spanish guitar music set the mood for tapas at this lively, family-friendly restaurant. Chef Onofre Zuniga serves Nuevo Latino cuisine (a blend of Mexican, Spanish, and South American flavors), and entrée favorites include paella valenciana (saffron rice mixed with chicken, clams, mussels, shrimp, and chorizo) and rock-shrimp soft tacos with papaya salsa and homemade tortillas. There's outside dining, and La Cavita, a private dining cottage and terrace, can be reserved for groups of up to 40 people. Bar specialties include mojitos, sangria, and hand-shaken margaritas made from blue-agave tequila.

Open Mondays through Fridays 11 am to 11 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 8 am to 11 pm.

339 N. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 951 0039

Marrakesh meets MOCA at this sleek French-Moroccan treasure. The design of the place is a breath of fresh harissa in a neighborhood not exactly known for novelty; the entryway is blue-lit and the small dining room's walls are decorated with colorful, futuristic-mod patterns. The crowd is refreshingly diverse (young, old, hip, not), and the room pulses with the hum of happy feasters. Many start their meals with tangy preserved-lemon dip, olives, and bread, before moving on to tagines, grilled merguez sausages with grilled onions and caperberries, and dorado stuffed with peppers and leeks. You know you're in for a serious treat when the chef makes couscous from scratch.

Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Chez Panisse Restaurant and Café
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley , California
Tel: 510 548 5525

When Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971, she sparked a "green" revolution that spread around the world. And though focusing on local, artisanal ingredients is now de rigueur in California and elsewhere, Waters is still the master. Her strictly limited (only one option per course) seasonal menu changes daily, so each visit is like dining at the home of a friend who happens to be an incredibly talented chef. One night, the entrée might be an oven-roasted veal chop with fresh herbs and spring vegetables; another, a dish of unadorned, pristine black figs might serve as petits fours. Warm, earth-toned decor adds to the sophisticated-homey feel, and a more casual upstairs café with an à la carte menu catches the overflow.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 6 to 10 pm. There are two seatings per night.

Chop House
262 South Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs , California
Tel: 760 320 4500

A longtime favorite of Clint Eastwood, this sexy candlelit steakhouse of cherrywood paneling and curved booths dishes out huge portions of beef, seafood, and lobster mashed potatoes. Try the grilled 14-ounce bone-in filet mignon and one of the signature London Fog cocktails (a mixture of gin and Pernod with a lemon twist). Advance reservations are recommended.

Dinner only.

Church & State
1850 Industrial Street
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 213 405 1434

Americans love the idea of a second chance, of watching someone persist until they get it right. So there's something especially thrilling about the successful rebooting of Church & State, a French bistro in downtown L.A. that opened to sullen reviews back in 2008. The place always had a great look—carnival lights, antique mirrors, brick floor, and a great location in the vintage Nabisco building—but it wasn't until the talented chef Walter Manzke (formerly of Bastide) arrived earlier this year that the food began to match the charming atmosphere. For lunch we had a moist, bacon-y roasted chicken à la Bourgeoise with pearl onions and carrots, and a croque-monsieur so light and fluffy it could have doubled as a tea sandwich. After a summer job at a cannery in Alaska many years ago, I thought I never wanted to see a shrimp again, but a plate of sweet Santa Barbara spot prawns, accompanied by garlic aïoli and topped with a handful of English peas and fresh wild arugula from Manzke's parents' garden, had me rethinking my boycott. The place was noisy, the tables full, the prices reasonable. Church & State is in a somewhat dicey neighborhood, but who doesn't want to support a comeback, especially in this town?—Margy Rochlin, first published on

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30am to 2:30pm and 6pm to 10pm, Fridays 11:30am to 2:30pm and 6pm to 11pm, Saturdays 5:30pm to 11pm, Sundays 5pm to 9pm.

Comme Ça
8479 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 782 1104

It's the classic L.A. dining conundrum. You want some good grub, but you don't feel like dropping an entire week's salary on some paparazzi-infested scene and the shirt you're wearing is too nice to waste on the IHOP. Comme Ça, a neighborhood brasserie courtesy of Sona chef David Myers, is Hollywood's happy medium. It's a chic French bistro with an easygoing vibe, and nothing on the menu—a flavorful potpourri of French favorites such as steak frites, coq au vin and duck confit—that will cost you more than $30. For maximum good times, let the bartender mix you a Dealer's Choice. Tell him the spirit of your choice and he'll whip up a potent surprise with his stash of fresh ingredients.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 to 11 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 5 pm to 12 am, Sundays 5 to 11 pm.

Copley's on Palm Canyon
621 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs , California
Tel: 760 327 9555

Cary Grant's former estate is now the home of this popular New American bistro. Award-winning chef Andrew Copley, who has tended the stoves at prestigious dining rooms around the world, gets high marks for his SoCal and Pacific Rim–inspired comfort food. Signature dishes include lobster pot pie, macadamia nut Australian barramundi, roasted butternut squash soup, prime New York steak in a shallot Cabernet reduction, and roasted tandoori breast of chicken filled with shrimp and mango. Grab a table on the delightful patio and watch the kitchen staff pick fresh herbs from the gardens.

Dinner only. Closed August and Mondays off-season (May to December).

Cora's Coffee Shop
1802 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica , California
Tel: 310 451 9562

Regulars were disturbed when longtime west-side restaurateur Bruce Marder bought this tiny coffee shop; it had remained virtually unchanged since its inception in the 1920s. But patrons needn't have worried, as the upscale comfort food on the new menu isn't all that much pricier than it was, —and it's much better. Breakfast here is worth making a trip for: The orange-infused blueberry pancakes, frittatas, huevos rancheros, and a delicious Caprese omelette are all stellar. There are salads and sandwiches at lunch, and dinner includes pastas and entrées. Service is so friendly you'll feel like a regular even before you become one.

The Counter
2901 Ocean Park Boulevard
Santa Monica , California
Tel: 310 399 8383

This mod-style diner in Santa Monica serves fun burgers with grown-up appeal. Choose a beer or wine chaser, customize the toppings to your liking, and get ready for a sloppy mess—you won't be able to resist overstuffing your burger with So-Cal options like sun-dried tomato vinaigrette and avocado. Kids get their due as well, with mini sliders, thick milkshakes, and great shoestring fries. (Adults: Dip yours in garlic aïoli.)

10100 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 310 279 4180

Angelenos love a buzzy restaurant almost as much as they love being celebrity sightings. Craft, star chef Tom Colicchio's 300-seat restaurant on the first floor of power agency CAA, delivers on both counts. The seasonal fare (bar and dining room menus change twice daily) offers an almost overwhelming selection that covers just about every conceivable category of foodstuff, including an entire section devoted to mushrooms (roasted Trompette Royale champignons, anyone?). Food is served family-style and servers do everything in their power to please. Sure, locals love to feel like they're getting a taste of New York sophistication, and that's certainly part of the draw at this chic Manhattan import, but the walk-in-only Craft Bar on the terrace, decked with canvas cabanas, fire pits, and agents trying to impress their clients, is pure Hollywood.—Audrey Davidow

Open Mondays through Thursdays from 5:30pm to 10pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30pm to 11pm, Sundays 5pm to 9pm.

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Beverly Wilshire Hotel
9500 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills , California
Tel: 310 276 8500

The steakhouse scene has been multiplying at a fast clip in L.A., but few are as exclusive—or pricey—as CUT. Chances are pretty good you'll be dining in the vicinity of A-listers, agents, and studio honchos, but celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck makes sure the beef is the star at this sleek Richard Meier–designed restaurant in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. All the steaks, including a fantastic Japanese Wagyu, are first seared over a hardwood and charcoal grill to seal in the juices, then finished in a 1,200-degree broiler for results that are indecently juicy. Sides are fairly standard—creamed spinach, potatoes gratin, tempura onion rings—and are served à la carte. You'll have to pay extra for the sauces, too, which seems a touch penurious given the markup on the meat. But just consider it the price of admission to this celeb-studded hangout.

Open daily 5:30 to 10 pm.

Le Mars Hôtel
29 North Street
Healdsburg , California
Tel: 707 433 3311

Helmed by chef Douglas Keane and owner/maître d' Nick Peyton (the team behind St. Helena's popular Market) the dining room at Cyrus has soaring vaulted ceilings and tables laid with the finest linens, silver, and crystal. The staff moves through the room as if in a ballet: A plate of canapés arrives first, followed by a glittering cart bearing Champagne and caviar, where roe is weighed on a scale counterbalanced by a single gold coin; then it's a round of amuse-gueules. At first it feels a bit over the top, but the service is performed with such tongue-in-cheek levity that it's absolutely charming. Guests design their own prix-fixe meal, choosing three to five courses off the French-Californian-Asian menu, which uses locally grown organic produce. Standouts include Thai marinated lobster with avocado and mango and tempura-battered mussels in a saffron-flavored broth. Let the sommelier suggest wines from a smart list of lesser-known local and international vintages. If you can't secure a table, stop by for some of California's best cocktails, made with local herbs, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and top-shelf spirits, including vodka from Napa's Charbay Winery & Distillery.

Open daily 5 to 9:30 pm.

Dan Tana's
9071 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood , California
Tel: 310 275 9444

With its old-school Italian waiters, red leather booths, and checkered tablecloths, Dan Tana's ought to be just another Rat Pack–themed tourist trap. But somehow, this local landmark, serving martinis and red sauce since 1964, remains one of a kind. A baby Drew Barrymore had her diaper changed in one of the booths. The Eagles wrote the lyrics to "Best of My Love" here. Phil Spector left a $500 tip the night he allegedly committed murder. These days, hungry stars and starlets are known to drop in for a steak or the chicken parmigiana.

Don Dae Gam
1145 South Western Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 373 0700

Don Dae Gam, a brand-new offshoot of L.A.'s esteemed beef-centered Park's Barbeque, is a restaurant that takes the original's reputation for grilled prime-meat selections and focuses that same level of attention on the pig. Located in a Koreatown strip mall and patterned after the pork-and-soju joints that are the latest rage in Seoul, Don Dae Gam is all about lean pork neck meat, marinated deboned pork ribs, ribbons of pork belly, and pork intestine (spiced just seconds before hitting the grill, it's so delicious it should be given a different name so as not to be passed over by the innards-phobic). You cook your meats on gas-powered charcoal braziers set into the small, round tables that somehow give the place an air of late-night cafe cheeriness. (Long tables for larger parties dot a separate room.) A Combo #1—three types of pork for grilling, a nightly selection of banchan (customary little side dishes), kimchi jigae (a bubbling, bright red stew), and a choice of soju or beer—costs $39.99 and can feed two to three people. "There are so many all-you-can-eat places in Koreatown right now, but they don't serve high quality," says owner Jenny Kim. "That's who I'm targeting."—Margy Rochlin, first published on

Dry Creek Kitchen
317 Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg , California
Tel: 707 431 0330

If you're loath to surrender high heels and urban style just because you're in ag country, you'll appreciate celeb chef Charlie Palmer's Sonoma County outpost, Dry Creek Kitchen at Hotel Healdsburg. The architectural elements—vaulted ceilings, towering columns, and a wall of windows overlooking the town plaza—look out of place in this small town of white picket fences, but they set a dramatic backdrop for a night out. Palmer is usually at New York's Aureole, so instead the stoves are manned by Chef de Cuisine Michael Ellis, whose rich, hearty comfort cooking often relies on heavy ingredients such as pork bellies, fatty cheeses, and foie gras. Otherwise, if it's in season right now, it's on the menu. Most ingredients are sourced from within Sonoma County, arguably America's finest growing region for heirloom meats and produce and artisanal cheeses. Even the wine list includes only Sonoma vintages, and there's no corkage fee for Sonoma County wines (two bottle maximum). Menu standouts include California lamb two ways: a mustard-crusted double chop and a lumpia (think giant egg roll) of ground lamb. One complaint: The staff is young and inexperienced—when Michelin awarded Dry Creek one star, it did so on culinary merit alone. If polished service is as important as great food, choose Cyrus instead.

El Agave Tequileria
2304 San Diego Avenue
San Diego , California
Tel: 619 220 0692

If you're looking for bottomless baskets of chips and salsa and enchiladas swimming in cheese, look elsewhere. El Agave serves delicately and artistically prepared fine Mexican nouvelle cuisine (dinner for two will run upwards of $60). Ask for fresh corn tortillas for dipping with the rich and creamy Sopa de Cilantro, a fresh cilantro Mexico City soup. Moles are what they do best here—try the Mole Rosa de Taxco, pink cream sauce over a moist chicken breast. There's also a menu of more than 1,700 tequilas (the most extensive collection in the U.S.). Most are fine sipping tequilas, though, so it'd be a travesty to have one made into a blended margarita.

El Dorado Kitchen
405 First Street West
Sonoma , California
Tel: 707 996 3030

At the El Dorado Hotel's surprisingly sceney restaurant (located in low-key Sonoma), large parties gather at a communal table fashioned out of wood from a 200-year-old Vermont bridge, while couples huddle at candlelit tables around the periphery. The kitchen of chef Ryan Fancher, previously at Thomas Keller's French Laundry and the Auberge du Soleil, turns out Mediterranean-meets-California dishes (lamb loin roulade with saffron potatoes, artichokes, olives, and rosemary; a risotto topped with white truffle foam) that are available à la carte or in a six-course tasting menu.

21 W. Victoria Street
Santa Barbara , California
Tel: 805 564 7100

This low-lit restaurant in a 19th-century house feels a bit like a wine cellar, with its brick walls and archways. But its hidden nooks, fireplace room, private dining area, and patio cabanas also create the perfect venue for an intimate meal. Formerly owned by Kevin Costner, the restaurant is now run by Michelle Mastrangelo, with chef Ron True, former chef of Gramercy Tavern in New York, cooking the cuisine du jour. Try the Limo Ride, a $55 chef's tasting menu (six courses), or sample from the raw bar. Alternatively, order the free-range Uruguayan filet mignon or the carpaccio of beef on a bed of arugula with truffle vinaigrette and shaved Parmesan. The lounge serves a bar menu until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Specialty drinks include a tiramisu martini (Godiva chocolate liqueur, crème de cacao, Frangelico) and a Cosmo-piphany, a variation on the cosmopolitan made with mango juice.

Open daily 5:30 to 10:30 pm.

Farmhouse Inn
7871 River Road
Forestville , California
Tel: 707 887 3300

Sonoma County's Farmhouse Inn looks and feels like a classic New England country inn with a sunny clapboard exterior, big whitewashed porch, and a dining room simply adorned with wrought-iron chandeliers, ladder-back chairs, and filigree-patterned carpet. The menu mirrors the decor: Expect accessible New American dishes impeccably prepared without unnecessary pretense. The chef is a whiz with game meats. His signature dish is rabbit three ways: confit of leg, bacon-wrapped loin, and a perfectly chined rack. Other dishes reflect the seasons; in late summer, you might find soft-shell crab with an updated version of creamed corn, or feather-light fried squash blossoms stuffed with brandade. Service is spot-on: Here, you'll never have to endure the disappointment of learning that an appealing dish has sold out; once something is gone, the maî'tre d' reprints the menus for arriving diners. The wine list includes a terrific selection of half bottles, as well as some compelling New World and European labels, but be careful—the winding drive home will require your full attention.

Open Mondays and Thursdays through Sundays 5:30 to 8:30 pm (last seating).

Ferry Building Marketplace

The iconic whitewashed Ferry Building, standing proud at the water's edge behind a row of statuesque palms, is a sight in itself. Situated on a sunny patch of the Embarcadero, this sweeping, huge building opened in 1898 as a water-transportation hub for the city, but these days it's a foodie mecca. Weekdays, it draws Financial District types for lunch on the patio at MarketBar and arty freelancers skateboarding or chowing down at Gott's Roadside, a 1950s-style all-natural burger joint that also serves nouveau diner food like pistachio-espresso milk shakes. Locals come for loaves straight from the oven at Acme Bread, one of the best bakeries in the Bay Area; succulent, locally harvested oysters from Hog Island Oyster Company; and artisanal cakes from Miette, a tiny pâtisserie selling exquisite macaroons and cannelés (their candy shop in Hayes Valley is likewise a local favorite). Saturday mornings are prime time to shop for farmstead cheeses, heirloom tomatoes, homemade jams, herbs, and flowers at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (open Tuesdays and Saturdays year-round, Thursdays and Sundays seasonally). The focus is, of course, on local, seasonal, and sustainable produce, with hard-to-find fare like wild nettles, fresh lavender, and free-range eggs in shades of mint and baby blue.

Fleur de Lys
777 Sutter Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 673 7779

French is the language of romance and cuisine, and Fleur de Lys is fluent in both. Open 45 years and counting, this is the last of the great Continental restaurants, and it's looking younger than ever. After a fire in 2001, the restaurant was completely renovated, with rich red fabrics, a dazzling crystal chandelier, and cozy alcoves. The canopied dining room now resembles a tent at Versailles, an appropriately regal setting for chef Hubert Keller. His menu is priced by the number of courses chosen, letting you create your own dégustation menu. Perhaps a tasting of foie gras, followed by roasted squab with truffles and a sweet ginger and Sauternes sauce. Or—and it's not often that these words occupy the same phrase—the Vegetarian Feast.

Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 6 to 9:30 pm, Fridays 5:30 to 10:30 pm, and Saturdays 6 to 10:30 pm.

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Flour + Water
2401 Harrison Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 826 7000

Few San Francisco restaurants better typify farm-to-table cooking than Flour + Water, in the once-gritty, now-gentrified Mission District. The kitchen receives an entire pig every Tuesday—as well as a handful of small-game meats such as rabbit—and the chefs make use of the entire animal, making trotters, sausages, and fabulous salumi. Antipasti may include California sardines flash-fried in an elegantly light batter, served with a salty-tangy anchovy aïoli, while speck and balsamic-braised-radicchio pizzas are baked in a wood-fired oven that blisters the tender-to-the-tooth, thin crust with smoky bits of char; whole wheat strozzapreti comes tossed with hunks of perfectly cooked, licorice-hued anise-braised rabbit. The vibe is likewise dynamic and fresh, with linen dish towels serving as napkins on the exposed walnut tables. The restaurant is small, so it's best to book at least a week ahead, or expect a wait. Thankfully Flour + Water serves dinner until 11 pm weeknights and midnight weekends—a rarity in early-to-bed San Francisco. —John A. Vlahides

Open Sundays through Wednesdays 5:30 to 11 pm and Thursdays through Saturdays 5:30 pm to midnight.

Flying Fish Grill
Mission Street at Seventh Avenue
Carmel-by-the-Sea , California
Tel: 831 625 1962

Seafood's the thing at this tiny Cal-Asian spot, down a flight of stairs from street level. The space feels Japanese, with low ceilings and lots of dark wood, but the menu goes further: Beyond the usual seared ahi tuna and tempura you'll find almond-crusted sea bass with a rock-shrimp stir-fry (the house specialty) and steamed halibut cooked in parchment with Chinese spices. The fact that owner Kenny Fukumoto works the floor every night means the service is terrific—a rarity in this resort town.

Food Trucks
Los Angeles , California

L.A.'s roving food trucks are popping up all over the city—from Hollywood to Malibu—and are proving to be a big hit with foodies and night owls looking for tasty dishes for only a few bucks. Twitter has played a major role in helping Angelenos track down the latest on the mobile gastronomic scene (when we don't give an exact location, check Twitter to see where these trucks will be on any given day). Here's a guide to our current food-truck favorites.

Kogi serves Asian-Mexican fusion. The Korean BBQ short-rib taco and kimchi quesadilla are so good, people don't mind standing in line for over an hour.

Dosatruck's amazing South Indian street food with a twist is prepared by Brooklyn-born chef Leena Deneroff. Try the masala fries with tomato chutney.

FishLips is located outside the chic shopping mall Malibu Lumber Yard, where two sushi chefs slice up your favorite California, spicy tuna, and rainbow rolls.

Flying Pig Truck has been a trial run of sorts for Cordon Bleu grads Joe Kim and James Seitz's Asian/Pacific Rim-meets-French restaurant (scheduled to open in 2010).

Border Grill's taco truck sports a similar design motif as Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger's upscale Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica. Their award-winning tamales are also on board.

Baby's Badass Burgers has made its name for gourmet burgers served up from a hot pink truck by even hotter women in sexy uniforms. Order the half-pound Cougar with aged beef.

Let's Be Frank parks in Culver City across from the old Helms Building. The delicious hot dogs are grass-fed, organic beef—and guilt-free.

Dogtown Dogs also serves gourmet dogs, but offerings here include a "trailer trash dog," with chili and crushed Fritos.

The Grilled Cheese Truck usually parks by the Brig in balmy Venice. Chef David Danhi's Harvest Melt with roasted butternut squash, sautéed leeks, and agave syrup is typical of the tasty combos on offer.

The Buttermilk Truck, a 1950s comfort food diner, is also a regular at the Brig most nights. Try the chicken and waffles, one of its big crowd-pleasers.

Green Truck, which runs on vegetable oil rather than gas, is where to go for all things organic, gluten-free, and veggie. Try the meatless burger on a toasted whole-wheat bun with goat's milk feta and tomatoes.—Carole Dixon

9411 Culver Boulevard
Culver City , California
Tel: 310 839 6800

Culver City is one of those up-and-coming L.A. neighborhoods that always scores points for its buzzy galleries, cool artists' lofts, and newfound luster. But until Fraîche opened its doors in early 2007, few Angelenos were really willing schlep over to this small city just south of Beverly Hills. It's an appealingly casual, open space with large windows and a welcoming patio lit with twinkling lights. Chef Jason Travi, a Spago alum, turns out Mediterranean-influenced dishes like lamb stew with ricotta gnocchi and Kurobuta pork chop with potato and chive puree, while his wife, Miho (the two met in the kitchen at Spago), handles breads and desserts. Best of all, the restaurant's away-from-the-fray location means you'll shell out only half of what a similar meal would cost a few miles up the freeway.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 6:30 to 11 pm, Sundays 6 to 10:30 pm. Bar open daily until 1 am.

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3870 17th Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 621 3870

After a rapid rise in the San Francisco restaurant world, culminating in the Michelin-starred Fifth Floor, Melissa Perello took a break. But she's back in a big way with her 46-seat Frances, in the Castro. Admirer Gabriela Cámara says, "It's extraordinary food in a casual restaurant, cooked by people who obviously know all about fine dining." The modern Californian menu changes weekly and might include bacon beignets with maple crème fraîche or lamb with butter beans, artichokes, and olives. The thoughtful wine list includes a house red and white; blended by sommelier Paul Einbund and wine maker Marco Cappelli, it's priced at $1 an ounce (entrées, $18-$25).

Must eat: If they are on the menu, the sardines.

Chef Melissa Perello's favorite new restaurant: Corey Lee's Benu, San Francisco

French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville , California
Tel: 707 944 2380

At this culinary mecca, perfectionist chef Thomas Keller coaxes otherworldly flavors and textures from familiar ingredients. His famous salmon tartare "ice cream cone" is the first clue that there's alchemy in the kitchen, and the subsequent parade of nine courses confirms it. Service is flawless, and the pace is languorous—allow at least three hours. The French Laundry has won almost every award a restaurant can get, which accounts for the strict reservations policy: You have to call at least two months prior to the day you want to dine. The wine list is possibly the best in the region, but don't finish all those little pours or you won't remember what you ate. If you can't score a reservation but still want to try Keller's cooking, either book a table at his brasserie, Bouchon, or at Ad Hoc, an informal eatery serving his favorite comfort-food dishes at far more affordable prices.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 5:30 to 9 pm, Fridays through Sundays 11 am to 1 pm and 5:30 to 9 pm.

Gary Danko
800 North Point Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 749 2060

Gary Danko is the city's favorite culinary son; his restaurant is both a serious dining destination and a local favorite that's convivial, never stuffy. The intimate rooms, adorned with well-chosen artwork, natural woods, and flattering spot lighting, exude a warm, neighborhood vibe. But the menu, which combines French, Californian, and Mediterranean elements, indicates a more expansive vision. Principal ingredients such as foie gras, roasted lobster, and farm-raised lamb change accompaniments with the seasons: Summer brings cherries and chanterelles; winter, earthy truffles and root vegetables. Add details like the restaurant's custom-built cheese refrigerators and the professional yet friendly service, and you have a dining experience that works on every level and appeals to everyone from casual diners to New York food snobs.

Open daily 5:30 to 10 pm.

George's at the Cove
1250 Prospect Street
La Jolla
San Diego , California
Tel: 858 454 4244

Reopened in February 2007 after a gut renovation, the dining room (now called George's California Modern) at this three-level place set blissfully on the ocean is regarded by many as San Diego's best restaurant. Chef Trey Foshee was an enthusiastic pioneer of the move to patronize local farmers and producers, as evidenced by the freshness of his inventions such as Peking-style duck breast with ginger-coconut rice, sugar snap peas, and rhubarb-fennel salad. One floor up, the soigné George's Bar serves a full menu with its cocktails, while the casual Ocean Terrace bistro does ceviches, tacos, and "George's Signature Soup" (smoked chicken, broccoli, and black bean), followed by the likes of Thai curry, marinated skirt steak, and grilled mahimahi. At every level, it's an institution, but a worthy—verging on unmissable—one.

Gott's Roadside
933 Main Street
St. Helena , California
Tel: 707 963 3486

The quintessential 1950s hamburger stand, Gott's is a great family pit stop in Napa Valley with picnic tables on a big, grassy lawn. The menu is full of kid-pleasing standbys (cheeseburgers, fries, milkshakes, and hot dogs), but there are also gourmet variations like raw ahi burgers with ginger-wasabi mayonnaise, and white pistachio milkshakes. Wash the meal down with Roto—a locally made, unsweetened red soda that's slightly bitter and vaguely citrusy. Gott's is no secret; expect huge waits on summer weekends. If you don't have the patience, but still want to try the burgers, there's a second location at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Open daily 10:30 am to 10 pm in summer; 10:30 am to 9 pm in winter.

Building A, Fort Mason
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 771 6222

This vegetarian favorite eschews the common practice of trying to make tofu taste like meat. Instead, expect a satisfyingly rich combination of textures and flavors, like an artichoke and sunchoke gratin, layered like a mini-lasagna, with Fromage Blanc custard and tomato coulis. A quirky list of mostly local, biodynamic wines skews more toward Sonoma and Mendocino than Napa, a subtle revelation of the San Francisco locavore's food politics. Though the dining room's redwood-burl fixtures and excessive use of beige feel dated, it occupies a knockout location jutting into San Francisco Bay with a wall of windows overlooking the yacht harbor, framed by the Golden Gate Bridge. If you're bicycling through Fort Mason and the surrounding Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Greens also operates a to-go counter, where you can pick up sandwiches and salads. —John A. Vlahides

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 11:45 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 9 pm, Sundays 10:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 to 9 pm.

6703 Melrose Boulevard
Hollywood , California
Tel: 323 935 2977

The minimalist decor featured in the second, much larger Hatfield's space does nothing to distract from Quinn and Karen Hatfield's innovative American cuisine—and that's a good thing. The Hatfields (he's the chef, she does desserts) honed their skills in the kitchens of Spago, Jean Georges, Bouley, and Gramercy Tavern; here, their ever-changing menu emphasizes local fresh ingredients and slow cooking. Appetizer choices might include smoked trout with apple and avocado in a grainy mustard dressing; entrées might be along the lines of past dishes such as duck with creamy Bengali rice and roasted porcini, and Arctic char with Dijon-infused sweet potatoes. For dessert, you might choose a chocolate ganache tarte with espresso cream or a baked lemon-custard tartlet with a wild huckleberry compote.—Updated by Audrey Davidow

Open Mondays through Thursdays 6 to 10 pm, Fridays 6 to 10:30 pm, Saturdays 5:30 to 10:30 pm, and Sundays 5:30 to 10 pm.

8385 Beverly Boulevard
West Hollywood , California
Tel: 323 653 0470

Hollywood up-and-comers head down from the Hills for quality sashimi and bargain prices at this poor man's Matsuhisa. They compete with twentysomething shoppers from the nearby Beverly Center and serious sushi lovers for a seat in the minuscule space (we're talking ten tables), where Chef Hiroji Obayashi delights with exciting daily specials such as black cod teriyaki and grilled oysters with ginger sauce. The place is too noisy and bright to be sexy, but then again, darkness would not inspire confidence in a restaurant serving raw fish.

Hog Island Oyster Company
20215 State Route 1
Marshall , California
Tel: 415 663 9218

Hog Island Oyster Company is not strictly a restaurant, but rather an outdoor shack on Marin's Tomales Bay, built right next to the beds where the oysters grow (it might be the only shack you'll ever visit where reservations are essential, though). They don't sell anything else (except lemons), so bring your own wine, and maybe some charcoal for the grills. Oysters are plucked from the troughs—varieties range from Kumamotos to Hog Island's own Sweetwaters—and handed to you on a cafeteria tray. There's a shucker attached so that you can open them yourself. Settle in at one of the outdoor picnic tables and savor the briny flavor of the freshest mollusks you've ever gulped down. (If you can't get out of town, you'll have to content yourself with visiting Hog Island's smaller location in San Francisco's Ferry Building.)

Open daily 9 am to 5 pm.

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Huckleberry Cafe & Bakery
1014 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 310 451 2311

Jonesing for a homey café? Head to Huckleberry, where everything on the menu—from the doughnuts to the O.J.—is made fresh in-house. The Santa Monica café feeds comfort-food cravings with a seasonally driven, locally sourced twist. Swing by for breakfast (the prosciutto-stuffed croissants and maple-bacon biscuits are dangerous), lunch (hello, warm turkey-meatball sandwich), or an after-school snack (grilled Nutella sammies) in colorful surroundings. If sweets are your thing, the bustling bakery counter sells decadent éclairs, salted caramels, blueberry cornmeal cake, and more. Wash it all down with a creamy vanilla latte (and yes, the vanilla syrup is homemade, too).—Audrey Davidow

Open Tuesdays through Fridays 8 am to 7 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 8 am to 5 pm.

Hungry Cat
1134 Chapala
Santa Barbara , California
Tel: 805 884 4701

Owned by husband and wife team David Lentz and Suzanne Goin (who also own the original Hollywood version of Hungry Cat in addition to L.A.'s favorite small-plates joint, A.O.C.), this bistro is something of an upscale seafood shack for foodies. The menu offers a raw seafood bar, excellent cocktails, and seafood specialties from local waters, including the elusive Santa Barbara spot prawn and sea urchin. Drinks could be a little stiffer and the portions a little larger, but the food itself, from the fresh-caught monkfish to the piled-high onion rings, is sublime.

Open Tuesdays and Wednesdays 5 to 11 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays 5 pm to midnight, and Sundays 10:30 am to 10 pm.

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The Hungry Cat
1535 N. Vine Street
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 462 2155

Revitalized Hollywood has its share of nightclubs, burger joints, and Thai restaurants. But until the Hungry Cat opened in 2004, the neighborhood lacked a casual yet seriously good seafood spot. This pet project of married chefs Suzanne Goin (Lucques, A.O.C.) and David Lentz (formerly Opaline) fills the void with small plates from the sea. With its industrial room, tiny open kitchen, and gutsy fare, it's quickly become a favorite with family brunchers, young couples, and off-duty chefs. You'll be tempted to order everything on the menu, from the oyster chowder to the halibut cheeks with morels and grits to the addictive lobster roll. Can you hear the sound of a metropolis purring?

1550 Church Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 641 4500

If Incanto was in your neighborhood, you might eat there several times a week. The vaulted stone ceilings and blond wood furniture create a feeling of casual comfort. The ever-changing Cal-Ital menu is short but always seems to have just what you want: house-cured olives with salumi, a creamy bowl of polenta, or seasonal vegetables dressed in a veil of olive oil and lemon. But what Incanto does best is meat; they call it "whole beast" dining. Think Atkins goes Italian, with lots of fresh-from-the-garden veggies—you can even order an entire shank of beef, provided you call a week ahead. The wine list is lovingly crafted to show off the breadth and depth of Italy's enological bounty. So go ahead: Order that second bottle of Brunello di Montalcino and make yourself at home.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Sundays and Mondays 5:30 to 9:30 pm, Wednesdays through Saturdays 5:30 to 10 pm.

The Ivy
113 N. Robertson Boulevard
West Hollywood , California
Tel: 310 274 8303

More stage than restaurant, this is where the stars go when they want to be seen making deals, making friends, or breaking up. Paparazzi have permanent posts outside, ready to capture our celebrity friends after a grueling day of shopping at nearby boutiques. Cutesy decor—ruffly curtains, girly flower prints—serves as proof that money can't buy taste, so ask to sit outside, which is where the action is anyway. The menu—bland American comfort food like burgers, salads, and crab cakes—can seem as much of an afterthought as one of J. Lo's marriages.

Jai Yun
680 Clay Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 981 7438

This San Francisco Chinese mainstay may have improved its ambiance by moving from its old spot on Pacific Avenue, but Jai Yun's eccentric service remains the same. The chef, Nei Chia Ji, speaks almost no English, and you get whatever he decides to make that day, ordering by price. At lunch, you'll do well for $20, but at dinner, the minimum is $55 a person, cash only, and reservations are now required. But you'll forget all these aggravations when the food arrives—an endless stream of epicurean tidbits, including wisps of jellyfish, crispy orange-scented beef, and glistening stir-fried eggplant. Most banquets on this scale would leave you groaning, but Jai Yun's fresh, delicate cuisine will send you out into the night deliciously sated rather than stupefied.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 6:30 to 9:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 6:30 to 9:30 pm.

300 Grove Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 861 5555

Jardinière is the epitome of fine dining, San Francisco–style: polished in front, organic-sustainable in back. The beautiful split-level Art Deco room features velvet drapes and a sparkling domed ceiling, while the kitchen relies on ecologically minded suppliers to produce its California-French cuisine. Dine happily, knowing your duck confit with candied kumquats (a succulent harmony of gamy-salty-sweet) was sustainably produced. If you can't commit to a full meal (or can't score a table), cozy up in J Lounge, a small alcove adjacent to the U-shaped bar with modern sofas and deep armchairs ideal for sampling bar bites and concoctions like the absinthe daiquiri (a mix of rhum agricole, fresh lime, and locally produced absinthe). Note: This is the most popular pre- and post-theater spot in town. To avoid the crush, book a time when the curtain's up. —Updated by John Vlahides

Opens daily at 5 pm.

196 S. Indian Canyon Drive
Palm Springs , California
Tel: 760 778 0017

Austrian-born chef-owner Johannes Bacher delivers delicious new twists on home-country classics at this blond-wood bistro that's at the top of every concierge's list. Bacher's most popular dish is the Wiener schnitzel, but escargots in garlic-herb butter, a lobster, shrimp, and scallop ménage à trois, and veal scaloppine with Gruyère cheese Spaetzle are also faves. A hip waitstaff, outstanding wine list, and high-flying prices bring some big-city taste to this reemerging destination.

Dinner only. Closed Mondays.

Josie Restaurant
2424 Pico Boulevard
Santa Monica , California
Tel: 310 581 9888

Josie might not be on every Angeleno's speed dial, but it deserves to be—especially when a quiet, refined celebration is in order. Namesake Josie Le Balch, one of L.A.'s most talented chefs, turns out what might be called "California Market Meets New American" cuisine in a quiet, cosseting French-country room. Decor and service are understated—votives flicker, crumbs are gracefully swept from white tablecloths, confident servers know the food inside and out. Some of Le Balch's signature dishes include blood orange, arugula, and burrata salad; "Campfire Trout" cooked in a cast-iron pan with green beans and lemongrass nage; and salt-crusted chicken with sweet-and-sour shallots. Pastry chef Jonna Jensen sweetens the deal with transcendent versions of strudels, crumbles, and bananas Foster. A memorable evening is all but assured.

Hotel Photo
11777 San Vicente Boulevard
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 310 207 8744

The Philippe Starck design of this packed new west-side restaurant can seem overwhelming at first; between the white leather couches, the shelves of gold-painted water pistols, and the giant photo close-ups of a woman's face (here a huge set of lips, there a mural-sized eyebrow), you might be distracted enough to forget about food. Still, once you've acclimatized, you'll find chef Katsuya Uechi's menu as dependably good as the one at his original, still-popular Studio City restaurant, Katsuya. The cuisine here is definitely the California version of Japanese; the sushi bar serves up choices like yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, and the entrées include garlic-rubbed seared tuna with baby spinach salad. The kitchen's coal-fired robata grill turns out meat dishes—steak, duck breast—that are seared and crispy outside and succulently juicy inside.

L'Auberge Carmel
Monte Verde at Seventh Avenue
Carmel-by-the-Sea , California
Tel: 831 624 8578

Chef Christophe Grosjean took over the reigns from Walter Manzke in 2008, but the culinary wizardry that made L'Auberge one of the Central Coast's top tables remains. Some say that the food is even better now. Grosjean's technique is firmly rooted in French technique but tempered by a California sensibility and a lush earthiness that plays on the seasons. Heady Asian perfumes make cameos here and there, as in a corn soup with scallops, Thai curry, and tapioca pearls. The cooking has a lush earthiness that plays on the seasons. Main courses may include Sonoma duck with huckleberries, chanterelles, and gnocchi; or pork loin with glazed pork belly, Fuji apples, and hazelnuts. Light eaters beware: your only choices here are the chef's dégustation ($150) or a multi-course prix fixe with choices (starting at $69). If the white-glove silver service in the tiny main dining room seems too forced for low-key Carmel, try the bistro menu in the clubby room next door. And if you just can't bear to leave after dinner, book a room at the adjoining inn.

Open daily noon to 2:30 pm and 5 to 10 pm.

La Bicyclette
Seventh Avenue and Dolores Street
Carmel-by-the-Sea , California
Tel: 831 622 9899

Styled after a French country café, La Bicyclette serves hearty European comfort food in a tiny 30-seat dining room, perfect for a romantic evening without any pretense. Meals are presented family style at heavy pinewood tables; plan to share. The three-course menu begins with a seasonal salad, perhaps heirloom tomatoes with blood-orange vinaigrette, followed by a copper tureen of soup for the table to share. Entrées may include pan-roasted chicken or a simple filet mignon with gorgonzola sauce. Chocolate mousse is the house-specialty dessert and comes in a big bowl with two spoons. The wine list is huge; the grands vins are stored at the sister restaurant, Casanova, and when you order one, the waiter hops on a vintage bicycle parked out front and rides up the street to fetch it—hence the name of the restaurant. The food doesn't break any new ground, but dinner won't break the bank, either: Three courses run about $30.

Open daily 11:30 am to 10 pm.

Langer's Deli
704 S. Alvarado Street
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 213 483 8050

Matzo ball soup, half-sour pickles, fluorescent lighting, Formica tabletops…if it wasn't for the view of MacArthur Park, you might swear you were in a deli on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Providing a taste of home for many a transplanted New Yorker, Langer's specializes in perfectly peppery, tangy pastrami that outshines even that of its L.A. rival, the equally colorful Canter's Deli. Don't judge Langer's for its unsavory neighborhood: Just go early, order the pastrami on rye with coleslaw and Russian dressing, and savor the East Coast experience.

Las Casuelas Terrazza
222 S. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs , California
Tel: 760 325 2794

It's crowded, noisy, and always a party at this south-of-the-border chain on the Palm Springs main strip. Patty Delgado Service and her husband, Ric Service, do a brisk business at their converted 1920s hacienda, decorated with wall murals, chandeliers, and ethnic furnishings. Get a table on the terrace and kick back with a gargantuan margarita, better-than-average Mexican fare, and live music. Excellent people-watching, too.

Lunch and dinner daily.

Las Olas
2655 South Coast Highway 101
Cardiff-by-the-Sea , California
Tel: 760 942 1860

Located across the street from the Pacific's crashing surf, this ultrapopular restaurant is aptly named—Las Olas means "the waves" in Spanish. It was founded in 1981 by a pair of surfers, and was one of the first restaurants to bring fish tacos to San Diego (now arguably the city's official entrée). They come either broiled or batter-fried (go with fried) and are served with guacamole, yogurt, salsa, and cabbage. There's also plenty of chips and salsa, decadent Mexican classics such as chile relleno burritos stuffed with cheese and charbroiled chicken, and a wide range of healthy selections. Las Olas is a favorite of locals and tourists alike, so it's always busy. Your best bet is to have a late dinner and take a stroll on the beach afterwards.

La Super-Rica Taqueria
622 N. Milpas Street (corner of Alphonse Street)
Santa Barbara , California
Tel: 805 963 4940

Super-Rica is one of Santa Barbara's most cherished spots, even though it's on the fringe side of town and basically just a white taco stand with turquoise trim, a walk-up window, a tent-covered dining area, and white plastic chairs. It was a favorite of Julia Child, who spent her last years in Santa Barbara. Handmade tortillas form the basis of the menu, which includes tacos, taquitos, chilaquiles, tamales, and a variety of sopes. The food is fresh, made right in front of you, and so good that loyal Super-Rica fans will drive up from Los Angeles just for tacos and the tamal de verduras, a vegetarian tamale made of chayote, cheese, corn, zucchini, potato, chile strips, and tomato with a cream sauce. There's always a daily special, such as chile poblano stuffed with cheese and beef, chicken, or pork.

Open Thursdays through Tuesdays 11 am to 9 pm.

La Toque
1314 McKinstry St.
Napa , California
Tel: 707 257 5157

If you couldn't score a reservation at the French Laundry, take heart: Chef Ken Frank's Gallic cooking at La Toque, a Michelin-star restaurant, stands toe to toe with the fare at America's top tables. Not only is Frank a master saucier, he also has a knack for eking out great depth from common foods, in part because he uses only the very best artisanal ingredients. Rooted squarely in the French culinary tradition, the chef plays off the classics but gives them a smart, fresh spin. Expect dishes like twice-cooked pork confit, and ribeye steak two ways (braised and stuffed into ravioli, and roasted and served with sautéed porcini mushrooms and Rutherford cabernet reduction). Though you can dine à la carte, savvy gourmands order the five-course prix-fixe menu. At $98 a head, it's a bargain in pricey Napa. The decor is austere and elegant, with well-spaced tables, one enormous flower arrangement, and a roaring fireplace anchoring the room. (It's tempting to request the table by the fire, but it often gets too warm.) Wine director Scott Tracy is a magician, selecting spot-on pairings from a list that pays appropriate respect to local wineries while also trotting out a huge selection of French grands crus, including no fewer than five vintages from the venerable Château Latour.

Open Wednesdays through Sundays 5:30 to 9:30 pm.

Le Vallauris
385 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way
Palm Springs , California
Tel: 760 325 5059

For more than 30 years, chef-owner Paul Bruggemans has fed Hollywood royalty—Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck and so on—with his trademark French cuisine. Be prepared to spend a small fortune for such delicacies as foie gras, cured duck breast salad, rack of lamb, veal chop, or the popular seared whitefish with mustard sauce. For high rollers, there's the $85 Russian caviar appetizer or the $70 grilled rib eye. Daily specials are scribbled on a chalkboard at the landmark Roberson House, built in 1924 and now filled with Flemish tapestries and Louis XV furnishings. There's also a lovely patio shaded by ficus trees.

Lunch and dinner. Closed July and August.

Literati II
12081 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 310 479 3400

Decorated with photos of literary lions like Kurt Vonnegut, this small restaurant on a busy Brentwood corner is the new home of chef Chris Kidder (formerly chef de cuisine at Campanile) and his wife, Kimberly Sklar (former pastry chef at A.O.C.). The Mediterranean menu emphasizes fresh ingredients: Try the bouillabaisse that uses only Pacific seafood—mussels, shrimp, crab claws, and whatever else is the best that day. The salads are terrific, and a big favorite is the vegetable fritto misto, using seasonal vegetables (in the autumn it might include baby artichokes and zucchini). Servings are generous, and Sklar's desserts, including the popular seven-layer chocolate cake, are worth saving some room for.

Lotería Grill
Farmers Market, Stall 322
6333 W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 930 2211

Sitting at the colorful counter of this stall in the open-air Los Angeles Farmers Market, you can watch little old ladies make their rounds from butcher to bakery, wooden shopping carts in tow. With its rumpled charm, the Market is a required destination for anyone looking for a taste of historic Hollywood, and Lotería adds a bit of Mexican spice. Handmade tortillas are stuffed with earthy chicken mole or spicy roasted corn and zucchini, and dishes like tortilla soup and potato tacos are cheap and authentic.

Madrona Manor
1001 Westside Road
Healdsburg , California
Tel: 800 258 4003 (toll-free)
Tel: 707 433 4231

High on a hill shaded by century-old trees, inside an 1881 mansion dripping with gingerbread detail, Madrona Manor is the sort of place where you drop a ring in a Champagne glass. The look of the 22-room hotel is period Victorian, with cut-crystal chandeliers, patterned wallpaper, and carved mahogany furniture original to the house, yet the food is entirely contemporary. Chef Jesse Mallgren employs occasional theatrical flourishes, which go well with the ornate surroundings, such as using nitrogen to flash-freeze elements of a dish for a zingy interplay of hot and cold. To wit, a Nitro Caprese salad combines drops of icy tomato juice with warm mozzarella foam and just-picked tomatoes from the estate's garden. Each course is paired with a different home-baked bread, along with house-churned butter. The tasting menu best showcases the chef's artistry, ending with ice cream churned tableside. On warm nights, request a table on the veranda, overlooking the formal flowering gardens.—John A. Vlahides

Open Wednesdays through Sundays 6 to 9 pm.

Bernardus Lodge
415 Carmel Valley Road
Carmel Valley , California
Tel: 888 648 9463

The long-running star of the Monterey Peninsula's food scene, Marinus uses ingredients from the backyard (the adjacent inn grows much of its own produce) or from organic growers just down the road. Seasonality is the chef's watchword. Mesquite- and oak-grilled prime beef (the house specialty), game meats, and just-picked vegetables figure prominently on the French-California menu, although chef Cal Stamenov frequently changes the choice of dishes. Service is formal but never stuffy, and tables are spread well apart from one another (unlike at other area restaurants). The encyclopedic wine list features some exceptional vintages, including many from Bernardus, the restaurant's sister winery. The dining space, with its vaulted wooden ceilings, massive wood tables, and roaring limestone fireplace, manages to feel expansive and cozy at the same time.

Open daily 6 pm to 10 pm.

1347 Main Street
St. Helena , California

When you've had it with elaborate meals, go for the comfort food at Market in Napa Valley. The diverse New American menu changes according to the availability of seasonal produce, but a dish like buttermilk fried chicken and fried green tomatoes with spicy romesco sauce is a good example of what you'll have to look forward to. Portions are huge, yet light eaters can still do well with seasonal soups like corn chowder or chilled cucumber, and a big selection of composed salads, including a seasonal watermelon and heirloom tomato salad with arugula, fennel, and spicy almonds. The building dates back to the 19th century, with rough rock walls complemented by leather banquettes, white tablecloths, and a gorgeous vintage back bar from the ballroom of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The bartender muddles cocktails to order, and the wine list includes many remarkably well-priced bottles—the markup never exceeds $14. Best of all, you won't break the bank on your meal, either: Every entree costs less than $20.

Open daily 10:30 am to 11 pm.

Meadowood Napa Valley Restaurant
Meadowood Napa Valley
900 Meadowood Lane
St. Helena
Tel: 707 967 1712

Revamped in 2006, the Restaurant at Meadowood is the new benchmark for culinary excellence. The menu plays off the seasons. In summer, you might find an English-pea gazpacho with fennel ice, squab-and-lobster salad served warm with melted Savoy spinach, or grass-fed beef with avocado mousseline and smoked-grape gastrique; many dishes include vegetables and olives grown right on the property. The high-ceilinged room is simply adorned with whitewashed beadboard walls, oversize tables with lots of elbow room, two-toned textured linens, and big windows with views of the surrounding hills. The culinary craftsmanship is spot-on: Order quail, and it comes completely deboned—no small feat with these tiny birds. The sommelier is one of the best in the business; his California-heavy list includes many mid-price vintages and a whopping 30 pages of cabernets. If you're a serious foodie, put this restaurant at the top of your list.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 5:30 to 10 pm.

Medjool Restaurant and Lounge
2522 Mission Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 550 9055

An adventurous spot for cocktails and dinner with the funky Mission District crowd, Medjool has an impressively high-ceilinged red and saffron dining room and a rooftop terrace with gorgeous views of downtown and the Golden Gate Bridge. The slightly overpriced menu is divided into North African, southern European, and Middle Eastern dishes. But it's the small plates that really shine, like the crunchy sumac-dusted fried calamari with aïoli or the marinated shrimp with spicy tomato jam. On weeknights, Medjool attracts the city's boho jet-setters, but steer clear on weekends, when suburban crowds move in. —Updated by John Vlahides

Open Sundays through Wednesdays 5:30 to 10 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays 5:30 to 11 pm.

Hotel Photo
Michael Mina
252 California Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 397 9222

In 2010, chef Michael Mina moved his namesake restaurant from the St. Francis hotel to the Financial District space formerly occupied by Aqua, the eatery where Mina first made his name. He completely reinvented the menu, and the space. Gone are the twice-draped linens, fancy crystal, and hotel-plate silver. In their place is a Japanese aesthetic with exposed walnut tables and just a few massive sprays of tree branches arcing to the ceiling of the cavernous dining room. Mina still incorporates luxury ingredients, though, such as foie gras, lobster, and caviar, but there's more playfulness on the new à la carte menu. Cauliflower soup comes with tiny grilled-cheese-sandwich triangles and his signature lobster potpie is now served deconstructed and spiced with aromatic cardamom and bits of persimmon that enhance the meat's savory-sweet richness. The bar is swank spot for a drink and a crab BLT or foie gras PB&J.—John A. Vlahides

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Saturdays 5:30 to 10:30 pm, and Sundays 5:30 to 10 pm.

Kintetsu Building
1737 Post Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 922 0337

Located in one of Japantown's quirky malls, Mifune draws crowds not for its decor—red and black Formica tables are about the extent of it—but for authentic noodles at rock-bottom prices. Served on lacquered trays with pickled vegetables and an assortment of dipping sauces, the soba, ramen, and udon all have that perfect al dente bite of freshly made pasta. Order them hot, in a comforting broth enriched with miso or shaved bonito, or cold, sprinkled with hijiki seaweed. Either way, you'll get a meal that's traditional and delicious.

Open daily 11 am to 9:30 pm.

Montrio Bistro
414 Calle Principal
Monterey , California
Tel: 831 648 8880

Formerly the Monterey firehouse, Montrio is the sexiest dining room on the peninsula, with cool metal sculptures, high ceilings, and a good-looking crowd of bon vivants hanging around the always-lively bar. The ambitious New American menu is extensive and diverse, with dishes—Caesar salad, crab cakes, steak, and salmon—prepared with imaginative if sometimes heavy flourishes. (The sides, like Cheddar cheese–jalapeño corn bread and foie gras–truffle french fries, easily overpower the more delicate mains.) Service is erratic, tables are close together, and the decibel level climbs high on busy nights, but the energy here is undeniably appealing.

Musso & Frank Grill
6667 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 467 7788

Hollywood history infuses every red leather booth and surly waiter at this old-time steak house. Catering to all walks of celebrity life since 1919, it still packs in locals. Some criticize the old-fashioned food, but it's well worth the visit if you follow these rules: (1) Brave the fluorescent glare of the bar for a predinner martini—still the best in Los Angeles; (2) Ask to sit in the smaller, more dimly lit dining room when you're ready to eat; (3) Order simply—New York strip steak and braised short ribs are flawlessly executed classics.

Closed Sundays and Mondays.

777 G Street
San Diego , California
Tel: 619 446 0002

Inventive upmarket twists on pub grub are the hallmark of this downtown gastropub. Deviled eggs get dressed up with pink salt and artichoke mousse, popcorn is flavored with truffle butter, and corn dogs come with chipotle aïoli. But devotees insist that burgers and beer are the only real choice: The menu offers a number of gourmet takes on the humble patty, including the Neighborhood Burger (with caramelized onion, Gruyère cheese, and pepper greens), the spicy Cajun burger (with pickled cucumber salad and jalapeño mayo), and the 777 (named for the eatery's East Village address), topped with baby spinach, plum tomato confit, and béarnaise sauce. The tap list, which includes over two dozen local, domestic and imported craft brews, is impressive and constantly evolving. If beer isn't your thing, try the "other malt," a frothy Tahitian vanilla bean milkshake thickened with bits of New York cheesecake.—Audrey Davidow

Open daily noon to midnight.

Nepenthe & Café Kevah
48501 Highway 1 (29 miles south of Carmel)
Big Sur , California
Tel: 831 667 2345

Perched 800 feet above the Pacific on a spectacular promontory (once owned—at separate times—by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth), this place has been a major tourist draw since it opened in 1949. The view is far more dramatic than anything else here: The dining room is casual and utilitarian, with an open-truss ceiling and lots of crowded tables, and the food is standard and overpriced (burgers and sandwiches at lunch, steaks at dinnertime). The vistas from the wall of windows, though, are truly showstopping—and if you'd rather avoid the clamorous main dining room, you can grab lunch downstairs at Café Kevah, an order-at-the-counter outdoor café with the same views as the main room. The adjoining gift shop has an unexpectedly good selection of regional books and home furnishings.

Nepenthe open daily 11:30 am to 10 pm. Café Kevah open March through the first week of January 9 am to 3:30 pm.

560 Divisadero Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 864 8463

Wildly popular Nopa draws the city's youthful bon vivants for its rustic-urban cooking and inventive cocktails. The kitchen sources the best of northern California's organic produce and meats to create simple dishes that let the fresh-from-the-farm ingredients shine. Think clean and bright contemporary comfort foods, such as thick-cut grilled pork chops with lentils, sautéed chard, and mustard-seed vinaigrette, or a simple rotisserie herbed chicken with roasted squash, hazelnuts, and sherry-sautéed onions. The cavernous dining room gets crowded and loud, but if you book an upstairs mezzanine table, you'll have extra elbow room and a bird's-eye view of the action downstairs. Some find the prices steep for such simple cooking, but perfect ingredients don't come cheap. —John Vlahides

Open daily 5 pm to 1 am.

Oakville Grocery
7856 St. Helena Highway (Hwy. 29)
Oakville , California
Tel: 707 944 8802

Call ahead to this artisanal food shop for a gourmet box lunch, complete with focaccia sandwich (choose from ten varieties); pasta salad; olive-and-cornichon garnish; and a homemade cookie. Or better yet, stop in to browse for picnic fixings, including local cheeses, mustards, hearth breads, charcuterie meats, and smoked fish. The space has the feel of a rustic country store, with creaky wooden floors, floor-to-ceiling shelves, and large baskets to hold your purchases. The location, right on Highway 29 in Oakville, makes this an ideal stopover when you're heading north through Napa Valley toward St. Helena from downtown Napa or Yountville; but if you're headed south in heavy weekend traffic, it's next to impossible to turn left into the driveway. There's a second location in Healdsburg (124 Matheson St.; 707-433-3200). If crowds (and high prices) turn you off, skip Oakville Grocery in favor of the rough-around-the-edges but oh-so-authentic Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Co. in St. Helena.

Open daily 9 am to 6 pm.

Opal Restaurant and Bar
1325 State Street
Santa Barbara , California
Tel: 805 966 9676

The always-packed Opal is known for its eclectic world-influenced cuisine and extensive wine list, with 300 vintages and 30 wines served by the glass. The bar does specialty martinis, such as the Perfect 10 (half Absolut, half Tanqueray Ten) and a mandarin-ginger cosmopolitan, and stocks more than 35 varieties of vodka. For starters, order the shredded phyllo-wrapped tiger prawns flash-fried and served with a coconut-curry dipping sauce. Signature entrées include the warm seafood salad (a mix of prawns, scallops, ahi tuna, and salmon served on baby spinach and salad greens) and the herb-grilled filet mignon served with whipped truffle-buttered Yukon potatoes and a wild-mushroom cream sauce laced with port and marsala.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 to 11 pm, and Sundays 5 to 10 pm.

Hotel Photo
Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 297 0100

This Italian love child of Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton is just what you'd expect a duo of star chefs to dish up: dazzling, ambitious, and perhaps a wee bit overhyped. The menu, a Tuscan odyssey of cheese, pasta, seafood, and meat, is terrific, but average schmoes should expect to dine at 5:30 or 10 pm unless they belly up to the restaurant's no-reservations mozzarella bar, where Silverton can often be found preparing bite-size masterpieces of bacon-sprinkled burrata or a grilled cheese panino with salami and chile peppers. Next door, the restaurant's more humble cousin, Pizzeria Mozza, offers a comparatively casual vibe, where specials are scribbled on a blackboard and rustic brick ovens turn out spectacular pies with unexpected toppings like squash blossoms and burrata or egg and guanciale (a.k.a. pig's cheeks). A take-out pizzeria has also been added to the growing Mozza empire, along with a cooking school, so now you can take Batali's secrets home with you.—Audrey Davidow

Open Mondays through Fridays 5 to 11 pm, Saturdays 5 to 10 pm.

701 Lighthouse Avenue
Pacific Grove , California
Tel: 831 655 3311

Chef Ted Walter and his wife, Cindy, have stacked up an impressive number of awards for their humble little restaurant in Pacific Grove, the seaside town just northwest of Monterey. You'll find hearty meat dishes like rack of lamb and duck confit on their menu, but their real passion is—yes—fish. Sustainably caught fish, to be exact, expertly seasoned and subtly flavored. A sure bet is the sole served with a pancetta-portobello vinaigrette—or, in crab season, the Caribbean-style bouillabaisse. The casual, welcoming dining room, with butcher paper–covered tables set close together, makes you feel like you're at a big dinner party.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
141 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 213 972 3331

When Frank Gehry's magnificent concert hall opened in October 2003, it brought a new sense of excitement to Los Angeles. And it wasn't just because of the architecture, or even the music—it was also that Patina, one of the city's most luxurious restaurants, moved into the building from its previous Hollywood location. Soaring ceilings provide the elegant backdrop for chef Joachim Splichal's signature California-French creations—olive-oil-poached squab with radicchio risotto and Madeira foam is one standout. Diners can also opt for an all-seafood or game tasting menu.

1015 Battery Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 391 2555

Named after a traditional Basque stew of ham, egg, peppers, and onions (of which it serves a fine rendition), Piperade is a bit like its namesake: a little French, a little Spanish, and all good. With its rustic-chic decor (wooden floors, bold art, and a singles-jammed communal table), the place somehow manages to be both cozy and hip. The wine list, with categories like "Bordelaise types," is approachable and fun, and the shareable menu features simple, hearty dishes like bacalao (cod fritters) and a warm terrine of sheep's milk cheese and ham.

Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 3 pm and 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Saturdays 5:30 to 10:30 pm.

Pizza Azzurro
1400 Second Street
Napa , California
Tel: 707 255 5552

When your stomach (or wallet) says "no more" to all the rich Napa food, join the locals at Pizza Azzurro. The straightforward menu lists the usual margherita (tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil), but if you're craving vegetables, order the spinach manciata, a tender pizza crust piled high with raw spinach and red peppers and drizzled with lemon vinaigrette. If you're not in the mood for pizza, the restaurant has a terrific selection of pastas and meal-size salads (order the justly popular, garlicky Caesar). Beer, from an extensive selection, makes a good accompaniment to the pies. Best of all, the dishes are light and healthful, and the dining room clean and simple—the perfect antidote to a surfeit of foie gras and grandiose design.

Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 9 pm, Saturdays 5 to 9 pm.

Point Loma Seafood
2805 Emerson Street
San Diego , California
Tel: 619 223 1109

Right on the waterfront near Shelter Island marina, Point Loma Seafoods has been a San Diego tradition since opening in 1963. Part fish market, part restaurant, when it's busy (pretty much every day) it can be a bit of a free-for-all. There's no waitstaff, so muscle your way toward the big glass cases of fish to order clam sandwiches, smoked fish salad, fried shrimp plates, and the like. When your food is up, eat on the picnic tables in their "dining room," or better yet, find a spot outside and watch the fish being brought up from the trawlers docked just outside the front door.

Hotel Photo
5955 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 460 4170

Michael Cimarusti made his name transforming the downtown—and rather pedestrian— Water Grill into an acclaimed restaurant. Now in his own venue in an airy, modern space near Paramount Studios, he continues to turn out some of the best seafood in the city. Start with an appetizer of Japanese kanpachi (a kind of yellowtail) in a truffle vinaigrette, or Dungeness crab with mango, pickled red jalapeño, and cilantro; then follow up with the Japanese tai snapper with a fresh tomato compote, or Tasmanian sea trout served with apple butter and parsnip purée. At lunch, there's a fabulous, smoky bacon-infused take on that New England staple, lovingly called "clam chowda." The restaurant's spare decor reinforces the sea theme with ceramic wall hangings that look like rising air bubbles and candleholders resembling delicate spines of coral.

1701 Octavia Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 775 8500

Husband-and-wife team Michael and Lindsay Tusk have created a jewel with their swank downtown restaurant, Quince. The two met at Oliveto—he was in the kitchen, she was in the dining room—where they picked up much of their restaurant sensibilities. Now Lindsay manages the elegantly austere dining room, which she designed and decorated with cream walls, white leather armchairs, and simple chandeliers. It's the perfect setting for Michael's seasonal Italian and French cooking. Pastas are handmade, and just about everything else is culled from nearby farms. Devotion to the perfect product is so complete that dessert could very well be simply a plate of local strawberries and grapes. Book well ahead.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Mondays through Thursdays 5:30 to 10 pm, Fridays through Sundays 5 to 10 pm.

R & G Lounge
631 Kearny Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 982 7877

The look is pure Chinatown: neon signs and fish tanks in the ground-floor bar, Chinese characters and red tassels in the upstairs and downstairs dining rooms. But the crowd—everyone from families and tourists to local chefs and Asian celebrities—knows that the Hong Kong-style cooking at R & G is far from ordinary. The fresh, impeccably prepared seafood includes head-on, peel-your-own salt-and-pepper shrimp and whole, deep-fried garlic crab—the best way to sample the Bay Area's famed crustaceans. For a real San Francisco treat, call 24 hours ahead and order the house special, chicken stuffed with sticky rice and then deep-fried whole.

Open daily 11:30 am to 9:30 pm.

6480 Washington Street
Yountville , California
Tel: 707 944 2222

When you want to don high heels and rock your new Marc Jacobs dress, book a table at Redd. On most nights, a who's who of the local wine industry gathers to feast on Euro-Cal-Asian concoctions such as pan-seared John Dory fish with jasmine rice and saffron curry nage, and spring lamb braised and roasted with mascarpone polenta. The wine list is interesting for its "featured discoveries"—lesser-known picks from around the world—and its extensive selection of half bottles. But you won't find any bargains: Prices skew high. The minimalist-chic dining room is sexy and austere, with wide-open sight lines. But despite a recent upgrade in the ceiling tiles, the room is l-o-u-d. If shouting across the table bothers you, sit outside on the terrace.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm, Sundays 5:30 to 10 pm.

Red O
8155 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles
United States
Tel: 323 655 5009

Rick Bayless is often credited with changing the face of Mexican food in America—and hungry Chicagoans still line up for his creamy pumpkin mole and deep-fried churros. His latest venture, however, was met with a fair amount of skepticism: Angelenos are reluctant to pay for white-tablecloth Mexican when there's ample (and delicious) street food to be had. But even diehards admit that the food at Red O sings, whether it's the sopes—fried tortillas with raised edges, topped with pork belly and short ribs—or the goat cheese caramel and bacon atop soft-serve ice cream (entrées, $14-$32).

Must eat: Tinga poblana, a tender duo of pork shoulder and belly with homemade chorizo and smoky chipotle sauce.

Chef Rick Bayless's favorite new restaurant: José Manuel Baños's Pitiona, Oaxaca

875 Prospect Street
La Jolla
San Diego , California
Tel: 858 551 5252

Chef Stephen Window, already beloved for bringing Asian-ish "tapas" to SoCal, further raised his restaurant's popularity with the unveiling of a full sushi bar in 2005. Try miso-marinated hamachi with shaved bonito or the Roppongi Roll of shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado, spicy tuna, and black tobiko. At the main restaurant, those tapas still rule the roost: Polynesian crab stack with ginger-lime dressing; Chinese pot stickers and crispy onion rings with wasabi aïoli are perennial favorites. There are also bento boxes at lunchtime and bigger dishes at night, several of which are not remotely Asian (boneless beef short ribs with honey-mustard glaze and buttermilk mashed potatoes).

Sapp Coffee House
5183 Hollywood Boulevard
East Hollywood
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 665 1035

Tucked away in a dingy Thai Town strip mall, Sapp Coffee House is one of those authentic lunchrooms that draws everyone from Hollywood foodies to Thai locals for generous portions, low prices, and some of the best Thai noodles around. (Sapp also counts Anthony Bourdain as one of its fans.) Sapp's famous boat noodles are delicate rice noodles served in a potent, spicy broth laden with all manner of meat (order "the works" and the dish even comes with tripe and liver). The bright-green jade noodles are piled high with barbecued pork, crispy duck, crab, and cilantro. Want to break a sweat? Try the fresh spicy squid or the catfish with curry. The decor—bright yellow walls and rickety wooden chairs—is far from swanky, but Sapp, as you might have guessed, is all about the food. Bring cash; credit cards are not accepted.—Audrey Davidow

Open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays through Sundays 7 am to 8:30 pm.

Hotel Photo
611 Fifth Avenue
Market Street
San Diego , California
Tel: 619 233 7327

The handsome Searsucker, a 7,000-square-foot space in the Gaslamp District, is filled with mismatched chairs, unfinished wood tables, rope chandeliers, and cowhides aplenty. The crowd is a combination of creatives, suits, and pre-partiers. San Diego celeb chef Brian Malarkey—one third of a dream team that includes boldface designer Thomas Schoos and local nightlife czar James Brennan—mans the exhibition kitchen and serves up SoCal dishes such as short ribs, goat cheese dumplings, and fig-flanked Baja scallops. Looking to class up the hair of the dog? The bourbon-loaded "man-mosa" served during Sunday brunch is a cure-all.—Audrey Davidow

Open Mondays through Wednesdays 11:30 am to 2 pm, Thursdays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 6 to 10 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 6 to 11 pm, Saturdays 6 to 11 pm, and Sundays 9 am to 2 pm and 6 to 10 pm.

Sierra Mar
Post Ranch Inn
47900 Highway 1
Big Sur , California
Tel: 831 667 2800

Jutting off a 1,200-foot cliff above the Pacific, Sierra Mar's dining room looks like something out of a James Bond film—all glass, slate, and wood, and swirling sea to the horizon. The visuals are tough competition, but chef Craig von Foerster's daily-changing Euro-Cal menu ain't too shabby, either. His choices have included Thai-spiced prawns with green-papaya salad, a trio of foie gras, and saffron seafood soup (a California adaptation of the Provençal classic). A few dishes can be on the overwhelming side—the flavors of a rib-eye steak with Cambazola cheese and onion compote, for example, seem to be fighting each other—so when in doubt, order light. For maximum romance, book a corner window table, come just before sunset, and ask for the superb reserve wine list. Oh, and book a room at the adjoining Post Ranch Inn, while you're at it.

Si Gol
487 N. Western Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 467 0100

Korean barbecue is an L.A. tradition, and this no-frills storefront serves some of the city's best. Walk through the door, and you're greeted by the smell of sizzling meat and smoking charcoal, along with the reassuring sight of numerous Korean patrons. On a grill at the table, you cook your own meats, from thinly sliced beef to pork marinated in garlic and sesame oil. But it's the freshly made seasoning pastes and first-rate kimchi that set this place apart. And being your own short-order cook has its benefits: Dinner costs around $15.

Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 861 8032

Now in its third location, trendy contemporary Vietnamese spot Slanted Door has found a suitably swank home in the northeast corner of the Ferry Building. The vast, modern glass-and-steel space has sweeping views of the bay and is always packed with posh diners ogling each other. Chef Charles Phan's menu is a blend of Asian street food and traditional Vietnamese dishes, with offerings such as barbecued Willis Ranch pork ribs basted in a sticky-sweet honey and hoisin sauce, or a brick oven–roasted whole fish of the day with a spicy ginger sauce. The wine list features numerous rieslings and other dry, floral wines that pair perfectly with the heady Asian flavors. Book way ahead or try for one of the 20 walk-in spots. To avoid feeling rushed through your meal, reserve a table at the last seating of lunch or dinner—with such spectacular views, you'll want to linger.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open daily 11 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm.

401 N. La Cienega Boulevard
West Hollywood , California
Tel: 310 659 7708

You'll find some of the most creative New American food in Los Angeles in Sona. In a city where body-consciousness warps into fear of butter, salt, and flavor, Sona is all about no-holds-barred seasonings and unexpected combinations that somehow work: roasted squash soup with herbed Spaetzle and chai foam; wild salmon paired with braised oxtail; hot chocolate beignets. The menu is constantly changing—all the more reason to become a regular at this futuristic, sparsely decorated gem.

Spago Beverly Hills
176 N. Canon Drive
Beverly Hills , California
Tel: 310 385 0880

Even after all these years, Wolfgang Puck's home base is still an amazing experience. Sure, the culinary star is everywhere but the kitchen—writing books, appearing on television, opening outposts—but the quality of the food never seems to suffer. Following in the California-cuisine footsteps of his boss, chef Lee Hefter serves simple dishes transformed, like lobster with a sprightly, fresh asparagus purée, as well as Puck classics such as the always-fabulous salmon-and-crème fraîche pizza. Ask to sit on the festive patio, filled with glamorous diners and twinkling strands of lights.

701 W. Baristo Road
Palm Springs , California
Tel: 760 327 3446

Swiss-born Urs Balmer's hearty Euro-Pac-rim cooking has everyone loosening their belts. The James Beard award–winning chef dazzles patrons at this elegant Dodd Mitchell–designed space with a calories-be-damned menu: a 20-ounce prime rib eye, rack of lamb, fried coconut shrimp, and molten chocolate cake. Wash down dinner with a fine Californian, French, or Italian vintage from the 4,000-bottle wine cellar.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

1058 Valencia Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 643 5000

Chef-owner Bruce Binn—a veteran of such S.F. mainstays as Citizen Cake and the Slow Club—describes the look of his Mission District eatery Spork as looking like a "sexy Greyhound bus station." We'd say it's more like a fast-food outlet viewed through Champagne goggles: Set at a see-and-be-seen corner in a spiffed-up 1960s-vintage KFC, Spork gives a nod to the location's greasy spoon past with stainless steel sporks and orange plasticlipped coffee pots in lieu of water pitchers. Slick banquettes, modern accents, and vintage gas-station signage make the place inviting to local hipsters, all hungry for revved-up comfort food like steak stroganoff and juicy burgers. The wine list is appropriately short and reasonably priced, and while there are only a few desserts, each is simple and delicious.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Mondays through Thursdays 6 to 10 pm, Fridays 6 to 11 pm, Saturdays 5:30 to 10:30 pm, and Sundays 11 am to 2 pm and 5:30 to 9 pm.

1911 Fillmore Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 771 7779

The ancient initials emblazoned on Rome's manhole covers and imperial landmarks popped up on trendy Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights, in the form of a bustling osteria. SPQR quickly made a name for itself serving tasty Cal-Italian food and expert wine pairings, but some loyalists got fed up with the notoriously long waits. Problem solved: As of October 2009, the restaurant finally takes reservations for tables in its buzzing, narrow space. Start with cold, hot, or fried antipasti—don't miss the griddled local calamari with salsa verde—then choose between such dishes as ricotta ravioli with lamb's quarters and fontina, and braised oxtail with polenta. Monday nights bring mainly neighborhood locals and provide the best glimpse into the lives of twentysomething Pac Heights hedonists.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Mondays through Wednesdays 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays 11 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 11 pm, and Sundays 11 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm.

3640 Sacramento Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 931 5100

Nearly three years in the making, Spruce is a large designed-to-the-hilt joint that feels like it's straight out of a Williams-Sonoma Home catalog. Enter beneath an arched portico to an opulent soaring space where chocolate mohair walls, buttery leather seating, and dim lamps set the mood. The menu is stuffed with incredibly rich fare—foie gras with grape gelée, veal sweetbreads, sliced potatoes cooked in duck fat, and buttered Maine lobster. The clientele, though, is up to the challenge: The dining room is a showcase for affluent socialites in Chanel, while the marble-topped bar and lounge is packed with Laurel Heights fashion mavens gossiping over after-work cocktails.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 to 10 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 to 11 pm, Saturdays 5 to 11 pm, and Sundays 5 to 10 pm.

Stokes Restaurant & Bar
500 Hartnell Street
Monterey , California
Tel: 831 373 1110

Located in a historic 1833 adobe house with thick plaster walls, quarry-tile floors, and wood-beamed ceilings, Stokes is the handsomest dining room in Monterey. Chef Brandon Miller's Mediterranean-style cooking leans primarily toward France and Italy with a daily menu that focuses on seasonal produce—organically grown, of course—and regional seafood. He cures his own salumi; when you see sausage on the menu, order it. In summer you might find duck prosciutto on melon, drizzled with a balsamic reduction, or fried green tomatoes with horseradish rémoulade. Typical entrées include duck breast with root vegetables and a tangy pomegranate sauce. From fall through spring, look for pasta with clams and sausages. At lunch, go for any of the pizzas from the wood-fired oven. Some dishes overreach, but in a town known for fish and chips, we applaud Stokes for taking some culinary risks. On a cold night, book a table by the fire in the lounge or Captain's room; otherwise, reserve one of the comfy booths in the newer, window-lined main dining room.

Open daily at 5:30 pm.

742 North Highland Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 203 0500

In the 1980s, I lived within walking distance of the pocket-sized City Cafe. Owned by Two Hot Tamales' Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, it was a delicious, welcoming place where you might find the two chef/owners in the back alley grilling meat on a cast-iron hibachi because there wasn't room in their itty-bitty kitchen. STREET, Feniger's first Milliken-less project, captures the same warmth and culinary excitement in its menu, which reads like a world tour of street food. There are Egyptian koshary (spiced rice, lentils, and pasta alongside stewed collard greens), delectable puffs of potato, sweet chutney, and sprouted beans known as panni poori, and a Vietnamese dish of fresh corn wok-cooked with spring onions and bits of pork belly. Thai Bites turn out to be rounds of raw collard green leaves that you smear with tamarind paste and sprinkle with bird chiles, peanuts, and toasted coconut, then eat like a quickie roll-up. Outdoors, there's a two-tiered dining patio with a fire pit and a window offering a peek into a bustling kitchen that, thirty-plus years later, isn't much bigger than City's was.—Margy Rochlin, first published on

Open Mondays through Saturdays noon to 10pm, Sundays 11am to 10pm.

Swan Oyster Depot
1517 Polk Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 673 1101

Opened in 1912, Swan Oyster Depot isn't a restaurant, it's a landmark. Today, the fifth generation is behind the original marble counter, and the ground rules remain unchanged. Except for the rich, creamy clam chowder, everything here is served cold. "Cooking" means tossing shrimp salad with Louie dressing (sort of a homemade Thousand Island), shucking oysters, or cracking crab (ask Frank to make you the special Dijon-butter-mayo sauce for dipping). The stools at the long, narrow counter fill up during the lunch hour, so try to get there before or after noon. But be warned, the owners close when they sell out. '

Open Mondays through Saturdays 8 am to 5:30 pm.

Taco San Buena Taco Truck
2598 Harrison Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 559 6127

No culinary tour of San Francisco would be complete without a visit to a taquería—they're everywhere around town, and locals have all sorts of opinions about who makes the best tacos and burritos. For al pastor (marinated grilled pork) and carnitas (a sort of confit of pork), you'd be hard-pressed to do better than the gleaming stainless-steel taco truck at the corner of Harrison and 22nd streets in the Mission. Choose between simple tacos of grilled meat topped with onion, cilantro, and salsa or burritos stuffed with meat, rice, beans, and optional guacamole, sour cream, and cheese. This place is the real deal, and local Mexican families line up every day for these and other succulent meats, including a perfectly stewed, tender lengua (tongue, best served with mild salsa, not hot) and other innards, such as brain and cheek meat. If you're squeamish, order the grilled chicken. The food comes on a paper plate, but fear not: You can sit down indoors at the neighboring Mis Antojitos restaurant (which owns the truck) and round out the meal with a cold bottle of beer. If you're downtown, look for two other lunchtime-only taco trucks operated by the same family, one at Sansome and Pacific streets, the other at the corner of Sansome and Bush.—John Vlahides

Open daily 9 am to 10 pm.

Tacos Garcia
Adjacent to Pancha's of Yountville
6764 Washington Street
Yountville , California
Tel: 707 980 4896

Tacos Garcia is a humble food truck that parks outside the bar Pancha's of Yountville and serves simple, earthy eats with zero fuss, in stark counterpoint to Yountville's splashy restaurants. And it's a lot less expensive as well: Burritos will set you back about $5, tacos just $1.50. Top standouts include the lengua (tongue) burritos and suadero (beef shoulder) tacos, but you can also find grilled chicken to satisfy the less adventurous. Take your tacos to one of two nearby parks: There's one opposite the Vintage Inn, and another at the top of Washington Street, next to the Napa Valley Lodge.—John A. Vlahides

Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 487 2600

The queue moves as slowly as a Cold War–era breadline, and you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere to sit, but the cakes, pastries, and cookies at Tartine are worth the hassle. The James Beard Foundation thinks so, too: In 2008, co-owners Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson together won the coveted award of Outstanding Pastry Chef. The bakery uses organic ingredients wherever possible and local milk and eggs. In addition to baked goods, Tartine sells hot pressed sandwiches, such as soppressata and fontina with broccoli rabe pesto. The staff may be prone to hauteur, but who cares, when the frangipane-stuffed croissants are this sublime? If you can't find a table, head to nearby Dolores Park (at 18th and Dolores streets).—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Mondays 8 am to 7 pm, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 7:30 am to 7 pm, Thursdays and Fridays 7:30 am to 8 pm, Saturdays 8 am to 8 pm, and Sundays 9 am to 8 pm.

The Tasting Kitchen
1633 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice , California
Tel: 310 392 6644

The way Venice's A.K. Restaurant Bar + Grill rapidly morphed into The Tasting Kitchen feels like something you'd see on a cooking reality show: Which restaurant works better within these walls? The former was a good-looking Scandinavian bistro that never seemed like a good fit for the Abbot Kinney area. The latter is the brainchild of chef Casey Lane (from clarklewis in Portland, Oregon), who was given the opportunity to take over A.K. and make it his own—in roughly six days. Just how Lane and his team of fellow twentysomethings managed to alter the vibe of the room so completely without so much as changing the light fixtures is difficult to pinpoint. It might have something to do with the bill of fare, where appetizers and entrées are written out in tight, cramped handwriting, and a back-page wine list that borders on charmingly obscure. Then there's the focused simplicity of Lane's food: buttery Umbrian lentils; grilled bread smeared with fromage blanc and balsamic-roasted figs; a salad of heirloom lettuce lightly dressed with lemon, olive oil, and salt; a plate of blanched green beans with a few transparent slices of prosciutto and a milky round of burrata; a perfectly medium-rare steak rough-sliced and served with balsamic fingerling potatoes. Lane moved his wife and children to Los Angeles, which should help squelch a persistent blogosphere rumor that The Tasting Kitchen is a guerilla-style experiment master-planned to have an eight-week life span before vanishing into the ether. But what to make of the ominous black number stenciled on the front of the menu that changes daily to reflect how long Tasting Kitchen has been in operation? "That's to keep us on track," says floor manager Maxwell Leer, "and to remind us every day of where we are."—Margy Rochlin, first published on

11648 San Vicente Blvd.
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 310 806 6464

Suzanne Goin and sommelier Carolyn Styne—the team behind L.A.'s Lucques and AOC restaurants—say they never thought of opening a third place in upscale Brentwood. But something caught their collective eye in a shuttered Hamburger Hamlet space. First, they broke the big corner property into sections, creating a sage-colored dining room in back, a bar in the middle (the original sky-high Hamlet atrium), and a "larder" in front with an in-house bakery and deli case selling take-out versions of Goin's greatest hits, like bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with parmesan. Although "Hamburger Hamlet" is still emblazoned on the valet sign, Tavern's kitchen is already going in full gear. Our starters—a spring vegetable salad with creamy Burrata, olives, and Meyer lemon; duck sausage with pancetta, frisée, and kumquat marmalade; and roasted asparagus with polenta, thinly shaved pecorino, and a Tavern riff on a Scotch egg, soft-cooked and crisply fried—were devoured in a breath. And if there is anything that can beat Goin's breadcrumb-covered, mustardy Devil's chicken thighs with braised leeks for sheer comfy deliciousness, please send it my way.—Margy Rochlin, first published on

Open daily 8am to 9:30pm.

Town Hall
342 Howard Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 908 3900

The menu at Town Hall is a lively mix that chef-owners Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal, the brothers behind the stoves at Postrio, call "New Orleans meets New England." Dishes may include barbecued shrimp with spicy Worcestershire sauce and garlic herb toast, and roasted duck with toasted wild rice and gingersnap gravy. The renovated 1907 warehouse gets packed (and incredibly loud) for lunch and dinner, filling even the last seats at the bar and communal table.—Updated by John Vlahides

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 11 pm, Saturdays 5:30 to 11 pm, and Sundays 5:30 to 10 pm.

Trattoria Mollie
1250 Coast Village Road
Montecito , California
Tel: 805 565 9381

The Ethiopian born, Rome-trained Mollie Ahlstrand earned her cooking stripes at Arturo's, a favorite of the late Pope John Paul II's. Now she's plating up divine dishes in her eponymous Montecito trattoria, which has earned an equally elevated following. One of her biggest fans, Oprah, loved the turkey meatballs so much that she featured them on her TV show. Besides the homemade fresh pasta Bolognese and those turkey meatballs (entrées $22–$28), Mollie is known for her margherita pizza with layers of mozzarella, basil, and tomato, her addictive ciabatta, and creamy vanilla bean, chocolate, and coffee gelatos.

Open Tuesdays through Sundays 7:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm.

Tyler's Burgers
149 South Indian Canyon Drive
Palm Springs , California
Tel: 760 325 2990

A welcome alternative to the country club fare served at many desert dining destinations, this popular burger joint dishes up the best patties in town, if not the country. But it's only open for lunch so be prepared to wait, especially for a seat on the packed patio. It's hard to tell which is thicker, the juicy patties made with fresh, top-grade beef or the malted chocolate shakes. If the decision involves too much guilt, Suzanne Somers is a regular and has created her own signature bunless version. There's also a veggie option, and tasty homemade sides such as the crunchy coleslaw doused in a peppery cream sauce. Cash only.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 11 am to 4 pm.

Umami Burger
850 South La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles , California
Tel: 323 931 3000

The first time I went to Umami Burger it was six weeks old, which is irritating because that meant I had lost five weeks and six days of eating at L.A.'s newest best hamburger joint. The complicated flavors in the titular Umami burger, a weighty round of freshly ground flap meat, juicy grilled mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, and a crispy parmesan tuile, are impressive. But it doesn't floor me with that why-didn't-I-meet-you-sooner? longing the way the delectably smoky Triple Pork burger, made of ground pork, chorizo, bacon, and aged Manchego, does. I am now equally attached to the Mideast burger, a Sonoma lamb patty with harissa-honey sauce and shallots cooked in red wine, and the just-spicy-enough Hatch burger topped with four types of chopped green chiles. The owner, Adam Fleischman, has instructed his employees to be coy about the harder-to-identify ingredients he uses to achieve the flavor-enriching fifth taste in his food known as umami. "It's secret," our server kept repeating. But the appeal of hand-cut, triple-cooked fries and malt liquor-tempura onion rings served with homemade ketchup and roasted garlic aïoli is deliciously obvious.—Margy Rochlin, first published on

Open Mondays through Saturdays 11am to 10pm, Sundays 11am to 9pm.

Hotel Photo
1044 Wall Street
La Jolla
San Diego , California
Tel: 858 952 1736

From cured salamis and hand-cut pastas to churned ice cream and fresh-fruit cocktails, just about everything at this laid-back star of La Jolla's dining scene is made in-house. Sourcing from the cream of local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, chef Ryan Johnston fills his menu with the best local ingredients: Our faves include the charcuterie (the duck prosciutto is addictive), the crispy chorizo date fritters, the charred bone marrow and buttermilk-fried sweetbreads, and the gnocchi in a brown-butter cream sauce. The vibe is friendly and unpretentious, with modern minimal decor (tall ceilings, spare walls, and low-hanging lightbulbs). Meals are served in cozy bowls perfect for sharing or rustically displayed on cutting boards with waxed paper.—Audrey Davidow

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 9:30 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 10 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 10 pm, and Sundays 10 am to 5 pm.

Wine Cask
813 Anacapa Street
Santa Barbara , California
Tel: 805 966 9463

On the historic El Paseo courtyard, the Wine Cask occupies part of an early-20th-century building that was once home to the De la Guerras, descendants of the Presidio commander. Originally known as the Gold Room, the restaurant still has the original stone fireplace carved with the family crest, and hand-painted beamed ceilings. It's no wonder so many vintners and oenophiles come here—there's a 50-page wine list and 20 vintages available by the glass, and a sommelier on hand to help pair that perfect wine with the bistro-style Californian cuisine and impressive cheese menu featuring European and California cheeses. Sunday and Monday nights, they serve a six-course prix-fixe dinner ($100 with paired wines; $65 without wine), but it must be ordered by the entire table. The menu changes seasonally, depending on what local produce is available. Among appetizers, there's a Hawaiian escolar with avocado, poached watermelon, and yuzu sauce, and a three-cheese tomato tart. Signature entrées: grilled Kobe beef top sirloin in black-truffle sauce alongside local baby root vegetables and wild king salmon in a smoky muscat crème with beluga lentils, baby fennel, porcini mushrooms, and cipollini onions. If you like the wine you had with dinner, you can pick up a bottle next door at the Wine Cask store.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 9 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10 pm, Saturdays 5:30 to 10 pm, and Sundays 5:30 to 9 pm.

Yank Sing
One Rincon Center
101 Spear Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 957 9300

One of the city's best dim sum parlors is neither in Chinatown nor the Richmond District but rather in SoMa's unlikely and soulless Rincon Center. Run by the same family for three generations, this restaurant serves up a seemingly endless array of delicious tidbits, such as snow-pea-shoot dumplings and lotus leaves stuffed with sticky rice and Chinese sausage. In addition to traditional dishes such as won tons and pot stickers, the chef offers "the Creative Collection," with inventive options that might include chicken curry in an avocado half, or lamb dumplings with mint. However full you are, don't miss the fresh-baked custard tarts.

Open Mondays through Fridays 11 am to 3 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 10 am to 4 pm.

Zazu Restaurant & Farm
3535 Guerneville Road
Santa Rosa , California
Tel: 707 523 4814

Husband-and-wife team John Stewart and Duskie Estes have created a little Shangri-la in western County Sonoma with their country-style Italian roadhouse. In the tradition of cucina rustica, simply made dishes let the top-notch ingredients speak for themselves. And what ingredients they are. Taking the farm-to-table, seasonal-regional trend to new heights, Stewart breeds heirloom pigs for his succulent house-made salumi and bacon; Estes raises chickens on scraps of leftover Zazu cornbread and uses the eggs in homemade pasta. Produce (organic, of course) comes from the outdoor garden, where guests can even pick their own salads, if they like. If you can't score one of the copper-topped tables in the plank-floored dining room, snag a seat at the counter and rub shoulders with local winemakers. On Sundays, there's an excellent farm brunch that incorporates fresh eggs and house-made bacon—a true California locavore experience.—John A. Vlahides

Open Wednesdays through Mondays from 5:30 pm, Sundays 9 am to 2:30 pm.

Zin American Wine Bistro
198 S. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs , California
Tel: 760 322 6300

This storefront bistro, named after the popular grape, is a real find on fast-food-heavy Palm Canyon Drive. Belgian chef Nicolas Klontz turns out exceedingly good dishes from his homeland, including steamed mussels, pommes frites, and signature escargots with garlic-Zinfandel butter. He also excels at international comfort food, including buttermilk fried chicken, ribs, the Zin burger, and apple pie. Desserts are also top-flight, especially the banana cream pie napoleon and the chèvre cheesecake with crème fraîche and balsamic-infused raspberries. Wines are handpicked by the chefs exclusively from small producers, and the list highlights, of course, Zinfandel and other American wines.

Dinner only.

Zuni Café
1658 Market Street
San Francisco , California
Tel: 415 552 2522

Officially, the food's called Mediterranean, but the menu of burgers, raw oysters, and Caesar salad is pure California. Opened over two decades ago by chef/owner Judy Rodgers (an original member of the Alice Waters farm-to-table school), Zuni Café has become an icon of West Coast cuisine. Multiple expansions have given the sunny space a topsy-turvy feel, but that's just part of the charm. The must-eat here is wood oven–roasted chicken, all smoky, golden-crisp skin and succulent meat, portioned for two and served with a bread salad.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 11:30 am to midnight, Sundays 11 am to 11 pm.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.