Pre-Covid, I was a person who piled work trips on vacations on weekend getaways until I was exhausted and honestly just missed being home. I traveled almost frenetically—like one day there’d be a travel-shortage and I needed to stockpile the experiences.
Now, the shortage has arrived, and I feel a little like an animal that’s been storing up for hibernation. As it turns out, I may just have enough memory nuts stored for this quarantine winter. (I took that metaphor too far, didn’t I?)
So, as I find myself often daydreaming about travels I’ve taken, I thought I’d share some fun memories—and maybe a little inspiration for your next trip (once those things happen again). And, because for me, the most fun memories are always the ones around a table, I’ve created a list of my top ten favorite restaurant experiences ever.
Now, to set some parameters: These are not necessarily the restaurants with the best food—that goes to fancy pants places that everyone already knows about. These are not the craziest restaurant experiences I’ve ever had—that goes to a Thai restaurant run by a crazy Scotsman on a remote hiking path in Panama and a commune cafeteria in the Arizona desert. They’re also not the most exclusive—anytime I’ve been anywhere like that, I’m too distracted trying to spot a celebrity to actually enjoy the experience. And, finally, they’re strictly restaurants, not dining events, otherwise Outstanding in the Field would sweep the category. Ok, now, here we go:
Zsa Zsa Bistro, Rio de Janeiro
It’s been almost a decade since my visits to this bohemian restaurant in Rio’s beachy Ipanema neighborhood, but I still think about its fresh seafood tapas and innovative cocktails. It’s impossible to fully paint the picture of its atmosphere, but imagine flickering candlelight, a cosmopolitan creative crowd, open windows with a salty breeze, and poetry scrawled on the walls.
I see this stunning spot sometimes in movies or magazines. If you Google image it, you’ll understand why it’s impossible to miss—especially those bathroom pods. The restaurant is Michelin-starred and feels like an Instagrammer’s visual fantasy life, but it lives up to the hype. It’s the only one of Mourad Mazouz’s restaurants I’ve been to, but Momo (London) and 404 (Paris) are on my list.
Podere Concori, Tuscany
At this tiny biodynamic vineyard outside of Barga, Italy a friendly donkey named Pietro greets visitors. Lunch on the sunny patio is prepared by the winemaker’s wife and includes vegetables from their garden alongside fresh breads, cheeses, and cured meats from the nearby village—all paired with amazing wines. It’s like a dream. (If Tuscany is too far, Scribe in Sonoma offers another incredible lunch/tasting experience.)
Norma’s at The Parker, Palm Springs
If you’re into design at all, this hotel is a must-visit. And if you’re into brunch, then indulge in a decadent one on this restaurant’s airy terrace. You could splurge on the Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata for $2,000. But if you have a normal human’s bank account, I recommend the donuts with lemon custard followed by an afternoon napping in one of the hammocks around the perfectly manicured grounds.
This is the only spot on this list I just stumbled across without research. I was in Mallorca for a friend’s wedding (at this other insanely cool dining destination), and on our way to the beach one day we happened to walk by this colorful waterside restaurant in Porto Cristo. We ordered a ridiculous amount of salty snacks and cold wine, and spent the best lazy afternoon on its charming patio overlooking seaside cliffs.
Chat ‘N’ Chill, Exuma Bahamas
I’ve been lucky enough (through my job) to go to some super nice restaurants in the Caribbean—the truffle croque monsieur at Cheval Blanc in St. Barts will forever be in my food memory hall of fame—but my favorite island spots are always the most low key. The best way to experience Chat ‘N’ Chill is to order a cold Kalik beer at the bar, then head to the seaside conch shack for the citrusy Bahamian conch salad—and watch it be made fresh, straight from the shell.
Bar Vendome, Paris
I realize that picking the Paris Ritz for this list feels a little obvious, but I couldn’t leave this gorgeous conservatory-style restaurant off. Tucked just inside the famed opulent hotel, this sunlit terrace is the perfect escape from the city’s crowds. Personally, I can’t afford more than a glass of wine here, but there are amazing complimentary snacks with the $40 glass and isn’t it worth it just to hang out at a place once frequented by Ernest Hemingway and Coco Chanel?
Cumpanio, San Miguel de Allende
There are like 18 restaurants I’d recommend in San Miguel—including another breakfast spot called Lavanda Cafe that serves the lavender lattes of my dreams—but this little European-style bakery is my favorite. We discovered it on the first day of my first trip to San Miguel and have returned at least half a dozen times since—primarily for the perfectly sweet almond croissant. I would (and will) return to Mexico just for a morning in this bakery.
Coqui Coqui, Tulum
There are more famous restaurants in Tulum (see Hartwood). And this small beachside hotel in Tulum’s jungle is actually known for its luxe perfumes (you know, just like you’d expect in a Mexican jungle). But I really loved its restaurant where the hotel’s minimalist design is reflected in simple beautiful dishes—everything here just feels so thoughtful and well-curated. (Interestingly, this was another place where lunch was followed by an on-site hammock nap. I sense a trend.)
Restaurant Bobby Chinn, Hanoi
I pushed this one to the end because it’s the only restaurant on the list that’s no longer open. But I wanted to include it because you can still go to Bobby Chinn’s restaurant in London and because its crazy mix of international flavors and ingredients (from a New Zealand-born French-trained chef living in Vietnam) really did make this one of my favorite dining experiences ever. We spent hours here, indulging in tapas fusions before retreating to its lounge for Egyptian shisha and French wine. Still around or not, it’ll always be one of my favorites.