The best restaurants command a significant price for their dishes. But, there are no absolutes when choosing a top restaurant. Although high ratings can be the mark of a great restaurant, not all ratings are created equal. The New York Times rates on a scale of four stars, while others rate on a scale of five or 10. The highly regarded Michelin Guide awards a maximum of three stars, but even one Michelin star is typically considered more valuable than five from most other sources.
The restaurants on this list — described as "five-star" for lack of another universal term — are all either established destination restaurants, notable players in highly competitive markets or rising regional favorites. The prices quoted are for a multi-course prix-fixe or tasting menu, where available. Click through to see luxurious meals only the rich can afford.
Price: $175 to $385 per person
Parents might tell children not to play with their food, but for many chefs that's exactly how new dishes are created. Chicago's highly regarded Alinea provides a perfect example of this.
Founder Grant Achatz and current executive chef Mike Bagale practice a style of cooking known as molecular gastronomy, using high-tech equipment and techniques to create magical, fanciful dishes. Expect the food to look, feel and taste like nothing you've ever seen before.
Achatz and Kokonas took the unusual step of gutting the restaurant shortly after its 10th anniversary and completely revamping it. The relaunched restaurant, informally referred to as “Alinea 2.0,” has kept its three Michelin stars and reputation for staggeringly imaginative food and service. Guests can choose a 10- to 14-course tasting menu for $175 to $225 per person, a 16- to 18-course menu for $295 to $345 per person or a private, immersive experience for $385 per person.
Location: New York City
Price: $98 to $155 per person
Here's one restaurant you can afford — if you can budget for the rich life.
Aquavit is in its third decade as a mainstay on the New York scene, first gaining national attention in the 90s under Swedish-Ethiopian chef Marcus Samuelsson. Its interpretations of Swedish cuisine have changed — more fusion-oriented under Samuelsson, more New Nordic under his successors — but it remains a top-rated Scandinavian restaurant in the U.S.
The Michelin Guide awarded Aquavit its first star in 2013 and 2014, then awarded a second star in 2015 when Emma Bengtsson took over as executive chef. This was a landmark achievement, making her only the second female chef in the U.S. to preside over a two-star restaurant.
Bengtsson, who grew up in a small Swedish fishing village, focuses the menu tightly on its Old Country roots. Expect lots of seafood and sub-Arctic ingredients, all delivered with a light touch that modernizes and elevates the traditional Scandinavian flavors. Diners have the option of a tasting menu for $98 per person, a seasonal tasting menu for $125 per person or the chef's tasting menu for $155 per person.
Location: San Francisco
Price: $315 per person
Chef Dominique Crenn is a native of Versailles, the town where the last French kings gratified their appetites in one of the world's most luxurious palaces. Fine dining has changed in the centuries since the French Revolution, but Crenn's deceptively simple-looking dishes require a degree of elaborate preparation that her predecessors would recognize in a heartbeat.
Her restaurant, Atelier Crenn, creates a deliberately multisensory experience with each dish corresponding to a line on the poetically written tasting menu. The ingredients are not necessarily unusual, but their preparation and presentation decidedly are. The finished dishes blend jewel-like cookery with rustic elements such as wildflowers, leaves and evergreen boughs.
Crenn's unusual artistry has garnered her tremendous acclaim within the culinary community. Michelin awarded her two stars in 2012, making her Atelier the first two-star restaurant in the U.S. with a female chef, and Diners Club named it one of the world's 50 best restaurants.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Location: Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
Price: $238 per person
New York's two Blue Hills restaurants are among the top contenders in the farm-to-table movement. Executive chef and co-founder Dan Barber draws much of the raw material — and inspiration — for his award-winning menus from a Massachusetts farm of the same name, which has been in his family since his grandmother's day.
The restaurant at the Stone Barns, just 30 miles outside of New York City, is situated on a working farm and overlooks the fields and pastures where many of its menu items begin. The restaurant's website displays which ingredients are currently being grown, harvested, foraged or cured on-site. The food, served as a "grazing, pecking and rooting" tasting menu, is consciously designed to showcase the freshness and flavors of the ingredients.
Chef Barber's ambitions go well beyond his own restaurants; he's a prolific speaker and writer on the subject of sustainable agriculture. He shares his perspective frequently in interviews, and at greater length in an episode of the Netflix series, "Chef's Table."
Location: Los Gatos, Calif.
Price: $255 per person
Manresa's 2015 was a lot better than its 2014. The Bay-area restaurant suffered a serious fire and was shut down for the second half of 2014, but it reopened on the last day of the year with a renewed sense of purpose. The time off seemed to have rejuvenated executive chef David Kinch and his staff, and the accolades for his already-revered restaurant have only grown.
The Michelin Guide rewarded Manresa in 2016 with a long-awaited promotion from two stars to three, an honor local food lovers have been expecting for years. French magazine Le Chef weighed in as well, naming Kinch one of just eight American chefs in its 2016 list of the world's top 100 chefs.
Kinch was at the forefront of the now-hot trend of putting vegetables front and center, placing vegetables at the heart of his menu from the restaurant's earliest days in 2002. There is no set menu at Manresa. Instead, dishes are constructed from whatever is freshest and most seasonal on a daily basis. The only constants are world-class creativity and chef Kinch's impeccable technique.
Eleven Madison Park
Location: New York City
Price: $295 per person
Headed by executive chef/co-owner Daniel Humm and chef de cuisine Dmitri Magi, Eleven Madison Park is one of the most-acclaimed restaurants in one of the world's greatest food destinations, New York City. It holds three Michelin stars, and in 2016 held the No. 3 spot on San Pellegrino's list of the world's top 50 restaurants.
The food here is visually striking, beautifully executed and remarkably flavorful, and the service — also crucial to a three-star Michelin rating — is impeccably smooth. The same menu is served at both lunch and dinner.
Whichever sitting you opt for, don't make any plans for the next few hours. The courses come at a leisurely pace, so you can do full justice to each one. Even for a meal that costs just under $300 per person, Eleven Madison Park is a relative bargain when you consider the price includes both tax and gratuity. Eleven Madison Park is one of many restaurants that are doing away with tipping.
Location: Los Angeles
Price: $120 to $250 per person
Here's one for your vacation in Los Angeles. Southern California has no shortage of noteworthy chefs and restaurants. One of the finest is Providence, where executive chef Michael Cimarusti and his kitchen are responsible for some of the finest seafood available anywhere in the country.
Chef Cimarusti's style combines classic French technique with occasional hints of Asian refinement, but what really sets him apart from his peers is his commitment to sustainability. Cimarusti's aquatic ingredients are all wild-caught and sustainably harvested, and often consist of species — vermilion rockfish, for one — that are otherwise little used.
The menu shows a commitment to maritime sustainability and a sheer virtuosity in preparing the food. The dinner menu consists of multiple tasting menus, each delivering a series of impeccably flavorful small courses. The dining room's vibe is SoCal casual, but the food and service are world-class and have earned Providence two Michelin stars.
Location: Sacramento, Calif.
Price: $135 per person
California's state capital is better known for politics and history than fine dining, but for the past quarter century, The Kitchen has done its best to change that. Randall Selland and wife Nancy Zimmer opened the restaurant in 1991, when its prix-fixe menu and especially its boisterous, interactive service — dinner as performance art, with the chef as emcee — were new and immediately appealing.
Selland stepped aside as chef in 2005. Current executive chef Kelly McCown is a veteran with a long history in fine restaurants, many of them Michelin-starred, and has both the experience and proven creativity to keep the landmark venue fresh and relevant.
The Kitchen was named one of Open Table's top 100 restaurants in America for 2016, based on guest reviews, and Wine Enthusiast named it one of the top 100 restaurants for wine. The prix-fixe tasting menu is $135 per person before taxes and service charge, with wine available by the glass or in-house or reserve flights to accompany the meal.
Price: $50 to $55 per person
Here's one spot to enjoy a luxurious meal for less. Alex Seidel, the skilled executive chef at Denver's Fruition restaurant, explicitly avoids the pretense of fine dining in favor of a more relaxed, comfort-driven attitude.
Chef Seidel's philosophy is to buy good ingredients and treat them simply, and his elevated comfort food works on every level. The dishes — bistro-style "bavette" steak, lamb loin, monkfish — are mostly familiar, but of excellent quality and beautifully executed.
Food & Wine named Seidel one of its Best New Chefs in 2010, and he's a perennial semifinalist and 2016 finalist in the James Beard Awards' Best Chef Southwest category. The Zagat dining guide calls Fruition Denver's best restaurant for 2016, as well. There is no prix-fixe menu here, but most combinations of appetizer, entree and dessert will cost just $50 to $55 per person.
Frasca Food and Wine
Location: Boulder, Colo.
Price: $78 to $105 per person
Frasca Food and Wine, a high-end Italian restaurant and wine bar, has been a mainstay of the Boulder dining scene since it opened in 2004. It's co-owned by award-winning master sommelier Bobby Stuckey and executive chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, who met while working for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.
Frasca celebrates the relatively little-known cuisine of Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. It's arguably the most diverse of Italy's cuisines, incorporating culinary cues from neighboring Austria and the former Yugoslavian states as well as Venice, the regional hub. Frasca's food is rustic but refined, drawing on good-quality seafood as well as locally produced meats and fresh produce.
You can opt for a four-course prix-fixe meal for $78 or the full seven-course "friulano tradizionale" tasting menu, which weighs in at a relatively modest $105 per person. Matching it with a flight of wines for an additional $95 is also a bargain, considering that the restaurant is owned by a master sommelier and has a superb cellar.
Location: Bethlehem, Pa.
Price: $60 per person
Although New York and San Francisco are uncommonly rich in fine restaurants, great dining can be found in unexpected places and makes lesser-known destinations worth the road trip. One example is Bolete, located in a former stagecoach inn in the historic steel town of Bethlehem, Pa.
It's owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of chef Lee Chizmar — a native of the area — and Massachusetts-born Erin Shea, who met while working at Boston's acclaimed Great Bay restaurant. The food is proudly farm-to-table, emphasizing locally grown and foraged ingredients, with a healthy dose of fresh seafood. Chef Chizmar's special affinity for mushrooms is evident in the restaurant's name and on the menu.
Critics and food-lovers have blazed a trail to the unpretentious restaurant since its 2008 opening, and Chizmar and Shea have received plenty of love from both. In 2015 Chizmar was a James Beard Award semifinalist, and in 2016 Open Table declared Bolete one of its 100 Best Restaurants for Foodies. The restaurant doesn't offer a prix-fixe option or tasting menu, but a mid-priced appetizer, entree and dessert ordered a la carte will add up to about $60 per person.
Location: Flowery Branch, Ga.
Price: $50 to $60 per person
Generations of American chefs came of age, professionally, while trying to replicate the fine dining traditions of Europe here at home. In the past few decades attitudes have changed, and now many of the best and brightest prefer to apply those refined techniques to the re-invention of classic American culinary styles.
The South has one of the country's strongest regional cuisines, and Antebellum — in a small town northeast of Atlanta — is a powerful argument for refreshing the tradition. Owned and operated by chef Nicholas St. Clair and wife Alison, Antebellum takes longtime favorites such as pork belly, fried green tomatoes and country fried steak in unexpected but entirely delicious directions.
The food brilliantly blends sophistication and comfort, drawing diners from the greater Atlanta area who come to enjoy the stellar food and small-town ambiance. That enthusiastic feedback earned Antebellum a place on Open Table's 100 Best Restaurants for Foodies in 2016. There's no prix-fixe or tasting menu at Antebellum, but an appetizer, entree and dessert ordered a la carte averages $50 to $60 per person.
Location: New York City
Price: $150 to $220 per person
The original Le Bernardin opened in Paris in 1972 and gained its third Michelin star in 1980. The New York location opened in 1986 to great anticipation, immediately earning three Michelin stars and four stars from The New York Times. The restaurant has maintained that level of excellence since its opening day under the guidance of founding chef Gilbert Le Coze, his protege Eric Ripert and now the current executive chef Eric Gestel.
Le Bernardin has a simple and unwavering focus on being the very best seafood restaurant there is. The fish and shellfish are of the highest quality and responsibly sourced, and their natural flavors are brought out by the simple, skillful, uncluttered presentation of each dish.
The four-course prix-fixe menu at $150 per person is memorable, but the restaurant also offers two tasting menus: the "Le Bernardin Tasting" at $180 per person and the "Chef's Tasting" at $220 per person.
Location: Providence, R.I.
Price: $50 per person
Chef Benjamin Sukle and wife Heidi opened Oberlin in 2016, and it was named one of the year's 10 best new restaurants by Bon Appetit magazine. It's the kind of attention that should push Sukle, already a two-time James Beard Award nominee, into the national limelight.
The food at Oberlin is built around the freshest of local seafood, often rarely used species, purchased directly from local fishermen. Sukle prepares the dishes in classic-but-modern Italian style, with unexpected ingredients such as sunchokes popping up alongside the house-made pasta.
Standouts include the whole roasted fish — the variety changes seasonally — and the raw fish, a longstanding if little-known Italian tradition paired logically, if unconventionally, with a fine selection of sake. There's no tasting menu here, but five courses are an outright bargain at an average of about $50 per person.
Location: Berkeley, Calif.
Price: $75 to $125 per person
For serious foodies, a trip to Chez Panisse is more than a night out: It's a pilgrimage to the place where American fine dining found its rebirth. Founded in 1971 by Alice Waters, then a feckless 27-year-old without restaurant experience, Chez Panisse was ground zero for the concept of basing a menu around fresh, local and sustainable ingredients.
This was nothing new for European chefs, but in the United States of the early 1970s it was a revelation. Aside from the restaurant's focus on quality ingredients, Chez Panisse brought a fresh and very American perspective to classic European dishes and techniques, reinterpreting and often completely reworking them.
Over the years Waters has shared the Chez Panisse limelight with a number of talented chefs — currently Cal Peternell and Amy Dencier — who have kept the menus fresh and modern. The prix-fixe menu changes nightly, at prices ranging from $75 per person on Mondays to $125 per person on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Location: New York City
Price: $158 to $208 per person
If your interest in the culinary arts is matched by your interest in other art forms, The Modern might already be on your bucket list. Located in New York City's Museum of Modern Art, the restaurant is set among sculptured masterworks in an open-air garden. Executive chef Abram Bissell delivers modern fine dining with superb flavor and visual appeal.
The menu is offered on a prix fixe basis, with your choice of four courses at $158 per person or eight courses at $208 per person. The more casual Bar Room offers a simpler but still striking a la carte menu. The Modern's cellar is the stuff of legend, with a master sommelier presiding over a list of 3,000 individual wines.
The restaurant holds two Michelin stars, and its wine cellar earned it a Grand Award from Wine Spectator in 2016. The Modern is also part of Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group and, like the company's other restaurants, no longer accepts tips.
Price: $235 per person
Chicago is not only one of the most expensive tourist destinations, it's also home to a premiere restaurant known as Grace.
Relatively few restaurants begin life with two Michelin stars, especially outside of major culinary centers such as New York or Paris. One of those few is Grace, opened in 2012 by chef Curtis Duffy and general manager Michael Muser. In 2015 Grace took the next step, joining Alinea as Chicago's only other restaurant with three Michelin stars, a ranking it still holds.
The restaurant's immediate success owes a great deal to chef Duffy's years in the kitchens of Chicago's leading restaurants — Charlie Trotter's, Trio and Alinea — but his food is distinctly his own. His "micro-seasonal" menus change frequently, as new ingredients come into season and reach their peak of flavor and freshness.
The menu takes the form of two exquisite tasting menus — the all-vegetarian "Flora" and more conventional "Fauna," which includes meats and seafood. Each comes as a succession of small, beautiful and occasionally interactive dishes, notable for their unusual combinations of ingredients and flavors. Either tasting menu costs $235 per person.
Location: Las Vegas
Price: $435 per person
If you want to experience the full, no-holds-barred experience of a Michelin three-star restaurant with a legendary chef at the helm, you don't need to fly to Paris or another of Europe's great capitals. Instead, buy a ticket to Las Vegas and make reservations at Joël Robuchon's namesake restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
For food lovers, Robuchon stands out even among his peers, the very finest chefs in the world. And, despite the number of high-profile chefs in Las Vegas, his venue at the MGM Grand is currently the only one in Sin City with three Michelin stars.
The restaurant's designers built an Art Deco Parisian townhouse right inside the hotel, and everything — from the tableware to the personalized menus — is equally opulent. Then there's the food, a procession of courses executed with a combination of vivid imagination and surgical precision. At over $400 per person, it's an unquestionably extravagant meal, but still less than the cost of a trip to Paris.
Price: $98 to $208 per person
Boston has its share of high-end restaurants, but for decades its standard-bearer has been L'Espalier. Opened in 1978, this fine dining establishment's signature marriage of New England ingredients and French technique continues to appeal to local and visiting diners.
Longtime chef and proprietor Frank McClelland and chef de cuisine Matthew Delisle aren't the only stars here. Maitre d' Louis Risoli is also a fromager, curating the restaurant's cheese selection. Tea sommelier Cynthia Gold provides tea pairings for diners and works with the kitchen and bar staff to incorporate tea into L'Espalier's dishes and cocktails.
The restaurant underwent a significant makeover in late 2016, refreshing itself physically with a new wine bar in its salon space and replacing the long-standing three-course prix-fixe menu with tasting menus. You can get five courses for $98, eight courses for $118 — with vegetarian options — or a freewheeling chef's tasting menu at $208 per person.
The Willows Inn
Location: Lummi Island, Wash.
Price: $195 per person
The Willows Inn is almost as far north and as far west as it's possible to get in the Pacific Northwest. It's a tiny seaside hotel located on Lummi Island, just south of the Canadian border and only accessible by ferry. Since 2012 it has become one of the West Coast's hottest culinary destinations, thanks to chef Blaine Wetzel.
A Washington native, Wetzel came to the Willows after working for chef Rene Redzepi at Copenhagen's Noma, frequently hailed as the best restaurant in the world. Wetzel brought home Redzepi's passion for foraging wild ingredients, and Willows' menu is drawn largely from the island's woods and waters. Much of the rest comes from the Inn's own farm, or from partnerships with other local growers.
The food itself is deceptively simple, keeping its focus on the quality of the ingredients, with an ever-changing tasting menu at $195 per person. The surroundings are also spectacular, and it's worth spending a night at the inn to enjoy the island's peaceful vibe.
Erna’s Elderberry House
Location: Oakhurst, Calif.
Price: $112 per person
New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne's 1987 review of Erna's Elderberry House called it "one of the most elegant and stylish restaurants in the nation," and it remains well worth a trek into the mountains. It's nestled in the Sierras in the community of Oakhurst, just south of Yosemite.
Vienna-born owner Erna Kubin-Clanin opened the restaurant in 1984 and later created a boutique hotel, Chateau du Sureau, to complement it. The food is modern, pairing Provencal style with local ingredients and an Old-World level of service. The five-course prix-fixe menu is $112.
Given its natural setting, the beauty of the property itself, the quality of the food and the proximity to Yosemite, Erna's works as either a culinary destination in its own right or as a memorable part of a larger California vacation.