NEVER ENDING STORY
America's Favorite Restaurants
We've asked you a few times to tell us about your favorite restaurants, and nearly 600 of you of have responded. It's always tough to narrow down the list, but here's our updated, always-changing take on where to eat like a local, from sea to shining sea. (Keep telling us about your favorites, and we'll keep improving our list.)
SCHWA in Chicago, Ill.
It's rare to find a restaurant that offers great experimental food with no attitude, but that's exactly what you get at Schwa. Everything about the place tells you the food is the main event: The space is small, the decor is bare bones, and the tasting menu—which is the only menu—is served by the chefs, not waiters. In fact, this restaurant pays so much attention to the food that it doesn't even have drinks on the menu; customers bring their own wine or beer. Information: 1466 N. Ashland Ave., 773/252-1466, schwarestaurant.com, three-course menu $55, closed Sun. and Mon. Charlie Baase, Chicago, Ill.
NORTH END CAFE in Louisville, Ky.
The most difficult thing about dining there is choosing which meal to eat. If you go for breakfast, you can savor the house-smoked trout hash. But that means you'd miss the rosemary roasted chicken and dumplings for lunch. Then there's dinner, when you have the option of tapas or an entrée (maybe grilled salmon over Parmesan risotto). Of course, you could just stay for all three meals. Information: 1722 Frankfort Ave., 502/896-8770, northendcafe.com, entrées from $10, closed Mon. Cynthia Birkhead, Bardstown, Ky.
UNION STREET in Detroit, Mich.
There are lots of options at Union Street—pastas, sandwiches, salads—but you could be forgiven for never ordering anything but the calamari. The tender squid is julienned, marinated, dusted with seasoned flour, flash fried, and then dressed with a lemon beurre blanc, basil, capers, red onions, and tomatoes. Order extra bread and refuse to give up the bowl until you've mopped up every last drop of sauce. (Ask for the sauce "the old way"—the new version of the dish doesn't come with enough.) Information: 4145 Woodward Ave., 313/831-3965, unionstreetdetroit.com, entrées from $13. Adrien Kant, Cincinnati, Ohio
THE AMERICAN RESTAURANT in Kansas City, Mo.
Well aware that it has one of the best locations in the city—in Crown Center, with views overlooking downtown and the surrounding area—the American Restaurant has oriented most of its tables toward the big glass walls. At night, the lights are dazzling; around Christmas, they're breathtaking. The restaurant could probably get away with preparing mediocre food for its contemporary American menu, but it wouldn't dare. Information: 200 E. 25th St., 816/545-8001, theamericankc.com, entrées from $17, closed Sun. Brenda Tatro, Kansas City, Kans.
CAFÉ BLEU in Las Vegas, Nev.
In the Semmerlin area, Café Bleu is run by Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Except for the executive chef, the entire staff—from the chefs to the servers—is made up of students. The ever-changing menu includes the kind of high-end cuisine you'd expect from the Venetian or the Four Seasons, but at a fraction of the price. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, and it's quite popular; you'll want to reserve well in advance. Information: 1451 Center Crossing Rd., 702/851-5322, vegasculinary.com/onsite_restaurant.asp, entrées from $7, closed Sat.–Mon. Carol A. Shields, Las Vegas, Nev.
DE LORENZO'S TOMATO PIES in Trenton, N.J.
What's tomato pie, you ask? To those in the know (i.e., anyone from Trenton), it's the best darn pizza you'll ever eat: a thin crust topped with tomato sauce, high-quality olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese. Within seconds of coming out of the oven, the pie is on your table, still bubbling, the crust slightly charred. De Lorenzo's is in a converted row house in the Chambersburg neighborhood. In the main room, there are several booths and a pizza oven. The back room—once the owner's living room—has a few more tables. If you're a Mets fan, you're in luck: During baseball season, the game is always on the restaurant's TV. Information: 530 Hudson St., 609/695-9534, delorenzostomatopies.com, pizza from $12, cash only, closed Mon.–Wed. J. Costigan, Trenton, N.J.
Stewart's in Tuckerton, N.J.
There are three ways to experience this '50s-style drive-in. Take a little boat down Tuckerton Creek, dock in the back of the restaurant, and hang out at one of the canopy-shaded picnic tables; drive up and have your meal delivered on a tray that hangs precariously on your car-window frame; or walk through downtown Tuckerton and take a seat at one of the counter stools. No matter where you are, you'll enjoy a view of Tuckerton Lake and the Tuckerton Seaport. Stewart's makes the most incredible milkshakes—thick, creamy, and expertly blended. Order your favorite flavor with a pork roll sandwich. Information: 102 W. Main St., 609/489-1696, pork roll from $3.75, cash only, open Apr.–Oct. Janet Mihalic, Hermosa Beach, Calif.