Foodies or not, we can all recognize an extraordinary meal when we have it. The atmosphere is one-of-a-kind, the cocktails and wine perfectly paired to plates that excite and stimulate not only the tastebuds but our senses of sight and smell, too. A dinner doesn’t have to feature oysters and chocolate to act as an aphrodisiac—though they don’t hurt. It’s as much about the place and, of course, the company. When many people think of bucket-list restaurants French Laundry is the first one that comes to mind.
But it's not the only game in town. In that spirit, here are 13 other mind-blowing dining experiences ripe for a proposal, honeymoon, or anniversary that are absolutely worth the trip.
Addison at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, California
Nicknamed the French Laundry of SoCal, special is just one word that describes the elegant experience of an hours-long prix fixe in this sophisticated Relais & Chateaux dining room, where tables are spaced so generously you’ll feel like the only ones there, toasting your Krug Champagne. Chef William Bradley’s cuisine has earned the restaurant AAA’s Five Diamond award alongside the respect of gastronomes who come for 10 show-stopping dishes served with a well choreographed flourish—think sake-cured kampachi, melt-in-your-mouth mascarpone agnolotti and coffee-roasted canard.
Even the in-between bread “courses” will blow you away. When you leave, buzzing (ideally heading to a stately room at the five-star hotel down the driveway), it’s with treats and a beautifully printed menu, complete with pairings. addisondelmar.com
The highly creative chef of this 12-year-old Chicago institution (remodeled last year) is known for provoking and innovating through his edible creations, which come in seasonally driven tasting menus that range from a whopping 18 to 22 courses. One of just a dozen U.S. restaurants to earn three Michelin stars, its dishes are fanciful, stunning and pretty much guarantee sparks will be flying, both between your utensils and each other. alinearestaurant.com
The Lost Kitchen, Freedom, Maine
New American may seem like a buzzword these days, but it’s for good reason. The cuisine being created in Maine’s tiny Lost Kitchen, virtually in the middle of nowhere, is so spectacular that it’s become a destination—and a tough reservation get. In 24 hours there were 10,000-plus calls, leaving the 40-seat eatery (with just one seating a night) fully booked through the end of the year. If you can’t make it in and still crave a taste of her refined, homey cooking—which always includes oysters—chef Erin French’s cookbook, The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine,” is out now.
Corazon de Tierra, Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico
For those in Southern California, Baja’s wine country is a very doable—slightly adventurous—drive, and one couples seeking vibrant, fresh food should absolutely make. There is nothing about Corazon de Tierra that isn’t beautiful, set in the middle of a farm with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at sunflowers and vivid textiles on seating at big wooden tables. The open kitchen hides nothing, least of which the fact that everything served—they have amazing spins on colorful vegetables that would make even the most hardcore carnivore forget about meat—is either from right on the property or with a couple dozen miles (think fish from Ensenada on the nearby coast and quail from a few kilometers away).
For what you get it’s an amazing value, too, especially when paying in Pesos. corazondetierra.com
A landmark of Seattle, this classic fine-dining destination has bene open since the ‘50s, and keeps getting better and better with each decade. The setting is as beautiful as the dishes: it overlooks Lake Union and the Cascades and is contained in a refurbished mid-century home. Despite its heritage, the food is wholly modern, with one holdout from more than half a century ago—the iconic salad—that is featured alongside plenty of protein (like steak tartare, salmon, squab and prawns) cooked in exciting, flavorful ways.
Outstanding In the Field
If you’re traveling for a memorable meal, you might as well make it an event. That’s no question of that with Outstanding in the Field, a traveling dinner party that takes over jaw-droopingly gorgeous spaces and farms around the country for five-hour meals prepared by guest chefs, completely outside. The adults-only affair is comprehensive, including tours of the grounds, wine pairings and multiple courses aimed at challenging and exciting adventurous eaters. outstandinginthefield.com
Blue Hill at Stone Farms, New York
The renowned and award-winning restaurant offers such a magical experience diners flock from far and wide just to experience it. Open more than a decade, the eatery on a beautiful farm in Westchester County is as buzzy and bucolic a destination as ever, surprising dressed up diners each night with plates of food—changing on a monthly basis with themes like Compost, and Hybrid Vigor—that represent the best of what was just picked in the fields and at nearby markets. bluehillfarm.com
Studio at the Montage | Laguna Beach, California
It’s hard to beat the beachside setting at this picturesque Laguna Beach showpiece, but the food puts up quite a fight. It’s the perfect place for romance—or a proposal—and offers couples the opportunity to do their own thing, in a way, as in one with the regular tasting menu and the other trying the new vegetarian tasting menu, or a blend of both for a total of six scrumptious courses (think crimson beet tartare for one, and sautéed Hudson Valley foie gras for another). In addition to cooking with ingredients grown in the 1,000 square foot garden, chef Craig Strong works with a forager, too.
Don’t miss the cheese. montagehotels.com
Sushi Sho at The Ritz-Carlton Residences | Waikiki Beach, Hawaii
For a taste of the artistry of one of Tokyo’s most sought after and influential sushi chefs, Keiji Nakazawa, it’s not necessary to go all the way to Japan. In less than half the distance fish lovers can go on a mission to Oahu’s most exclusive, intimate omakase-style sushi restaurant, with just 10 seats. Two seatings per evening mean reservations are in high demand, but for good reason when you taste his masterful meal, which plays with temperatures and seasoning for a playful presentation that will stick with you.
SingleThread Farm | Healdsburg, California
What better place to be romantic than in the restaurant that’s a passionate collaboration between a chef husband and farmer wife in Sonoma? Those who dine on 11 creative and hyperlocal courses at their rustic-chic place always leave happier than when they arrived. Guests don’t need to go far, either, since there are five beautifully crafted guest rooms just upstairs. singlethreadfarms.com
Inn at Dos Brisas | Chappell Hill, Texas
With the stamp of approval from Relais & Chateaux and a 42-acre USDA-certified organic farm, it’s easy to believe this restaurant in the Texas foothills is the place for a fantastic meal. It’s even cuter that the chef (formerly of Little Nell in Aspen) works alongside his wife, who runs the innovative beverage program. Dishes skew veggie-centric, playing off the huge bounty of heirloom fruits and super seasonal veggies that are picked just steps away. Make it a weekend with a stay at the inn and farm tour, cooking class or cocktail lessons, too.
Don’t miss the farm-to-room service that means your morning Bloody Mary uses heirloom tomatoes from the garden, and omelets are made from the on-property chickens. dosbrisas.com
Beast | Portland, Oregon
With a name like Beast, it’s not hard to imagine the focus of the cuisine at this Portland restaurant, but James Beard Award winning chef Naomi Pomeroy does have a vegetarian dinner series, too. Whatever your dietary persuasions, a sense of adventure and fun are important things to bring along with your appetite. Cozy up to long communal tables for the ultimate feast featuring ever-changing things like fennel-brined pork loin, burrata with verjus-marinated peaches and kombu-cured scallop bonito.
Acre | San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
Los Cabos is filled with amazing comida, but it’s the hip, fairly new-to-the-scene Acre restaurant—set on an expansive farm filled with mango trees—that’s got people traveling beyond the resort options. The cuisine is incredibly fresh, from the produce to the fish (think charred octopus, Baja style fish tacos and whole roasted hen), and vibrant in color and taste, while the setting couldn’t be more idyllic and charming. And the cocktails (get the Herb Smoked Negroni with mezcal). You can even sleep in a treehouse afterward, only enhancing the dreamy quality of the whole experience.