10 Restaurants to Try Before You Die

By: Debra Ronca

Which restaurants are on your bucket list? See more pictures about dining out.

Did you know there's a restaurant that's served smoldering leaves? And that you can eat fine French cuisine at the top of the Eiffel Tower? And that "debris" is the word one restaurant uses to describe the ham bits floating in its gravy?

If you're a foodie, then you've probably created a bucket list of restaurants you'd like to visit in your lifetime. And we think the following 10 should be on your list. Whether you're salivating for po' boy sandwiches, hot dogs, oysters, sushi or lemon pepper chicken, at least one of these world-famous eateries is bound to suit your fancy.


That is, if you can get a table.

10: The French Laundry

Located in the Napa Valley, Calif., The French Laundry has twice been named "Best Restaurant in the World" by Restaurant Magazine. Owner Thomas Keller oversees this French eatery, where a meal for one person costs a fixed price of $250 -- and that doesn't include the cost of wine (which you'll want to sample). Each meal is an amazing nine courses, and is specially selected each day.

Aside from its exquisite food, French Laundry is known for its impeccable service and beautiful decor. The stone building is more than a century old and did indeed once house an actual laundry. Across the road from the restaurant, you'll find the elaborate gardens from which your meal's ingredients were harvested.


Sample Menu Items

  • Oyster and pearls (pearl tapioca with oysters and caviar)
  • Duck foie gras with white honey, huckleberry relish, celery and "graham cracker"
  • Asparagus "en feuille de brick," hen egg omelette, crème fraîche and herbs

9: Katz's Delicatessen

Katz's Deli on the Lower East Side of New York City was founded in 1888 by a Russian immigrant family. Because it lacked proper refrigeration, Katz's relied on its smoking, curing and pickling expertise for its sandwich offerings. Frequenting the deli soon became a way of life for neighborhood residents and it still is today.

The deli prides itself on its pastrami, brisket and corned beef. People flock from all over the world to try the meat from Katz's -- you can even send a Katz's salami to a soldier overseas. Piled ridiculously high with meat, each sandwich can feed several people, and that's not even counting the famous side pickles. Besides its food, Katz's is also known for its celebrity clientele. It was featured in the movies "When Harry Met Sally" and "Donnie Brasco."


Sample Menu Items

  • Tongue sandwich
  • Dry cured corned beef sandwich
  • Matzo ball soup

8: Le Jules Verne

Located 406.8 feet (125 meters) up in the air on top of the Eiffel Tower is Alain Ducasse's Parisian restaurant Le Jules Verne. The eatery-on-high serves traditional French food with the signature style of Ducasse, who holds 15 prestigious Michelin stars across his various restaurants.

Given its location, this is an upscale dining experience that costs upward of $200. Here's one interesting fact about Le Jules Verne: Because of its location at the top of the Eiffel Tower, everything -- including all kitchen equipment -- needed to be carefully weighed so that the balance of the structure wasn't upset by any added pounds. Ducasse wound up building a second kitchen under the tower, where most of the food is prepped and then whisked up to the top in a temperature-controlled lift, where it's then cooked to order.


Sample Menu Items

  • Pumpkin velouté with black truffle, with fresh chestnut
  • Roasted imperial prawns, sautéed green vegetables, light broth of bacon
  • Sautéed veal sweetbread, celeriac/potato/walnut

7: Sukiyabashi Jiro

Acclaimed food writer and personality Anthony Bourdain lists this Tokyo sushi eatery as one of his favorite restaurants ever, and even calls it possibly "the best sushi on earth." Although the sushi is on the pricey side, the restaurant itself is humble. Located in the basement of an old Tokyo building, Sukiyabashi doesn't accept credit cards and it doesn't even have a menu.

Instead, for the past 50 years, Chef Jiro has focused his energy on providing the best fresh, precisely-cut sushi to his customers. Bourdain writes that every piece of fish is served at precisely the right temperature, and even the rice and seaweed are of the highest quality.


6: Hot Doug's

A Chicago institution, Hot Doug's is one of the most famous hot dog stands in the world. Its alternate name is the Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium. However, saying that Hot Doug's is just a hot dog stand is like saying that Mario Batali's Babbo is just spaghetti joint.

Of course Hot Doug's offers the typical Chicago-style hot dog -- water-simmered or steamed all beef dog on a poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, chopped onions, pickle relish, dill pickle, tomato wedges, pickled peppers and celery salt. But Hot Doug's takes encased meats a step further. It offers dozens of variations on the encased-meat-in-a-bun concept, including a sausage topped with foie gras. And on weekends, the fries are boiled in duck fat. Be prepared to wait in line.


Sample Menu Items

  • Bacon and cheddar elk sausage with roasted garlic dijonnaise and cheese-stuffed hot peppers
  • Spicy beef hot link with Coca-Cola BBQ sauce and mantoro cheese
  • Brandy-infused smoked portuguese chorizo with smoked paprika mustard and sheep's milk baskeriu cheese

5: Noma

In 2010, this Danish restaurant was named "Best Restaurant in the World" by voters in the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Chef René Redzepi made a name for himself by reinventing Nordic food. Described as "cold weather cuisine" and a "homage to soil and sea," Noma also holds two Michelin stars. A meal will run you about $250 per person.

Redzepi famously refuses to use any imported food, including olive oil, and even often requires his chefs to forage for food in the forests around the Copenhagen restaurant. If you eat at Noma, you may be unfamiliar with many of the ingredients in the dishes, since Redzepi uses foods local to the Nordic region.


Sample Menu Items

  • Buttered langoustine on a hot rock
  • Pike perch with unripe elderberries
  • Baby carrots from Denmark, served with edible "soil" made from malt, hazelnuts and beer, with a cream herb emulsion

4: Rao's

Rao's restaurant in East Harlem opened in the late 1800s and is one of the most famous restaurants in New York. Rao's specializes in Neapolitan Italian fare and is legendary for being one of the most difficult restaurants in the world to get into. Rao's has just 10 tables, one seating per night, and isn't open on weekends. The eatery is so beloved and has been around for so long that its tables are passed down family-to-family, neighbor-to-neighbor, and you simply can't get one unless you know someone. No reservations are accepted.

Even so, its reviews are rapturous and the restaurant was recently featured on the TV show "Top Chef." Rao's also sells its sauce and pastas online, so you can taste Rao's at home. If you're in New York and think you can't live without a visit to Rao's, try the bar for a quick drink, instead.


3: Alinea

Located in Chicago, Alinea is listed among the top 50 restaurants in the world and No. 1 in North America. Chef Grant Achatz opened the restaurant in 2005, and it quickly became known for its quirky and inventive fare. The $140 to $200, 28-course meal at Alinea takes about five hours to eat. And don't be surprised if servers use tweezers to arrange your meal on your plate, offer you instructions on which item you should eat first and how long you should hold it in your mouth, or serve you smoldering leaves, according to The New York Times.

Chef Achatz battled tongue cancer in 2008, and temporarily lost his sense of taste. Happily, he is healthy today and his taste has returned.


Sample Menu Items

  • Olive oil lollipops
  • Ravioli with liquid-truffle filling
  • Deconstructed peanut butter and jelly sandwich

2: Momofuku Ko

Momofuko translates to "lucky peach" in English, and you'll be a lucky peach indeed to get table at this New York eatery helmed by David Chang. The restaurant has just 12 seats, and the only way to get a reservation is to go online and submit a request at exactly 10 a.m. six days before you want to eat there. Usually all 12 seats are taken in just a few seconds. You can try every day, if you like, and you just might score a seat.

The food at Momofuko Ko is Japanese/American nouveau. A 10-course meal is about $125, which is a good deal by New York standards. There are no waiters, there's no decor on the plain walls, and there's no printed menu. Diners sit at a bar, Japanese-style.


Sample Menu Items

  • Candy-sized English muffin slathered with salty pork fat
  • Soft-cooked smoked egg with caviar, sweet-potato vinegar, and a pile of crunchy, nickel-size potato chips
  • Cereal milk panna cotta

1: Mother's

Established in 1938, Mother's is one of the most enduring restaurants in New Orleans. The charm of this place lies in its humble beginnings and history. It was owned by the same family up until 1986, when it was purchased by Jerry Amato. The eatery offers up signature New Orleans fare like jambalaya and shrimp creole, but the real draw of Mother's is the po' boy sandwich.

When you order a po' boy at Mother's, make sure to order it with "debris," the term the restaurant uses to describe the pieces of a roast or ham that fall into the gravy. Loved by the working-class, tourists and celebrities alike, Mother's always has a line out the door. Food is served up cafeteria-style without pretense, and you get a huge sandwich for the price.

For more on food and travel, check out the links on the next page.

Sample Menu Items

  • The "Ferdi Special" -- baked ham, roast beef, debris, gravy, with cabbage, pickles, mayo, and mustard, all piled into a length of crisp-crusted bread
  • Roast beef po' boy with debris
  • Seafood platter with soft shell crab

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "A Hot Doug's Primer." The Local Tourist. March 8, 2010. (March 16, 2011) http://www.thelocaltourist.com/blog/irving-parkavondale/hot-dougs-primer
  • "Alinea." Frommer's. 2011. (March 16, 2011) http://www.frommers.com/destinations/chicago/D57172.html
  • Bourdain, Anthony. "13 Places to Eat Before You Die." Men's Health. 2010. (March 16, 2011) http://www.menshealth.com/bestfoods/food_features/13_Places_to_Eat_Before_You_Die.php
  • Bruni, Frank. "Momofuku Ko." New York Times. May 7, 2008. (March 16, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/07/dining/reviews/07rest.html
  • Dupleix, Jill. "Fine Dining Up the Eiffel Tower." The Sunday Times. Feb. 16, 2008. (March 16, 2011) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/destinations/france/article3370246.ece
  • "Grant Achatz: The Chef Who Lost His Sense Of Taste." NPR.org. March 3, 2011. (March 16, 2011) http://www.npr.org/2011/03/03/134195812/grant-achatz-the-chef-who-lost-his-sense-of-taste
  • "Our Story." Katz's Deli. 2011. (March 16, 2011) http://www.katzdeli.com/presentation.html
  • Porter, Carrie. "Denmark's Noma Named Best Restaurant in the World." ABC News. April 27, 2010. (March 16, 2011) http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/denmarks-noma-named-best-restaurant-world/story?id=10487815
  • "Soyouwanna Get Into Rao's?" Soyouwanna.com. 2010. (March 16, 2011) http://www.soyouwanna.com/soyouwanna-raos-1489.html
  • Tedmanson, Sophie. "Fat Duck demoted as Danish restaurant Noma named best in the world." The Sunday Times. April 27, 2010. (March 16, 2011) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/article7109117.ece
  • "Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants - French Laundry." SFGate. 2011. (March 16, 2011) http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/listings/restaurants/venuetop2010?vid=181618
  • "Top Chefs Tokyo." Top Chefs and Food Trends. Dec. 3, 2008. (March 16, 2011) http://topchefs.blogspot.com/2008/12/top-chefs-tokyo.html
  • Walden ten Bosch, Aydrean. "7 Most Mouth-Watering Hot Dogs Stands in America." Crispy Nuggets. March 7, 2011. (March 16, 2011) http://crispynuggets.com/top-lists/7-most-mouth-watering-hot-dog-stands-in-america