First developed in 1900, the original Michelin Guide was produced to help drivers find trusted, high-caliber amenities—like restaurants—along various routes in each state. By 1926, the guide progressed to rating restaurants of exceptional quality with stars. Michelin Guides are still published and you can get them for yourself here. Today, earning one, two, or three Michelin stars is among the highest honors an eatery can attain. Here is a look at some of the top Michelin-star restaurants in the USA to add to your epicurean bucket list. Many of these exceptional venues are already reopened while others offer at-home kits and to-go offerings.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with meals for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, we believe in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. Wander With Wonder contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, we may earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. We thank you for your help — it is what keeps Wander With Wonder bringing you great content.
Le Bernardin, Manhattan
For many, neither this contemporary Manhattan culinary darling (a Michelin three-star winner several years running) nor its iconic chef needs an introduction. Le Bernardin, helmed by multi-year James Beard Award winner, popular Top Chef guest judge, and frequent guest star on dear friend Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and No Reservations Eric Ripert, is a seen-and-be-seen hotspot.
Le Bernadin specializes in seafood prepared using modern French techniques. Dishes feature globally inspired ingredients, with several specifically infused with an Asian flair. Through the end of 2021, the now-reopened Le Bernardin will donate $5 for every guest who dines with them directly to their long-time charity partner City Harvest, the city’s largest and first food rescue organization.
Alinea, a semi-hidden restaurant in Chicago, is the Windy City's only three-star Michelin winner. It also holds a coveted Forbes Five Star Award winner. The restaurant, described by even the most discerning of critics as mind-bending molecular gastronomy, is headed by Chef Grant Achatz. Chef Achatz honed his skill at Thomas Keller’s legendary French Laundry and Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago before launching Alinea in 2005.
Nothing is as it seems at this world-renowned Michelin-star restaurant. In fact, using the term “avant-garde” to describe the dishes doesn’t even begin to do them justice. Expect the unexpected with every course when you go down this culinary rabbit hole. And yes, the restaurant is fully open to the most daring of diners. Enter at the risk of being blown away with a truly out-of-the-box experience.
You can check out all of the Chicago-based Michelin-star restaurants in the current Michelin Red Guide to Chicago:
The Inn at Little Washington, Virginia
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia—in a small town named Washington—The Inn at Little Washington is Virginia's only Michelin-star restaurant. While it may be in a small town, there is nothing small about the talent of James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award winner Patrick O’Connell, proprietor and executive chef at this three-star darling.
Offering six-plus course tasting menus, expect dishes that celebrate the marriage of French and American cuisines with precision and elegance. We’re glad this one is back open because the wildly decorated dining rooms are half the fun. Think fringe-lined lampshades and whimsical ceiling décor one might expect at a high-end eatery owned by the Mad Hatter.
Although Washington, Virginia is a 90-minute drive west of Washington, DC, it is included in the Michelin Guide to Washington, DC. You can get your copy of the guide to the best restaurants in the nation's capital here:
Manresa, Los Gatos, California
Remember when farm-to-table menus first became “a thing?” Among the pioneers of the concept—and reasons for its success across North America—is Chef David Finch. As Executive Chef at Manresa, he focuses on showcasing the best of northern California’s bounty. Manresa, located in Los Gatos just outside of San Francisco, is a three-Michelin star honoree. All of the kitchen’s produce comes from nearby farms and gardens, and there are copious fresh seafood options given the proximity to the Pacific Ocean.
Manresa should be re-opening soon, but in the meantime, the chef is operating an elevated family meal kit option Wednesday through Sunday for fans and new guests alike.
You can find all of California's Michelin-star restaurants in the California edition of the Michelin Red Guide:
Vespertine, Culver City, California
Located in Culver City, which is less than 10 miles north of Los Angeles, two-Michelin star winner Vespertine is a trip. Well, trippy! Chef Jordan Kahn—who like Achatz worked at French Laundry and even did a stint under Achatz at Alinea—describes Vespertine as a futuristic menagerie of food, art, architecture, music, and sculpture, all coming at the guest at the same time to create a purposeful sensory overload.
The dishes are ever-changing and aim to disrupt one’s notion of a dining experience, often with exceedingly winning results. Plans are in place for re-opening soon, but in the meantime, the venue is offering “Vespertine – At Home,” a multi-course kit carefully considered and designed specifically to create a cohesive evening combining food and drink, cooking, object, sound, and scent. Vespertine hopes to take its ethos right to your home.
Two-Michelin star award winner Smyth is a progressive American eatery in the heart of Chicago. Smyth is under the leadership of Chef John B. Shields, who also worked under Achatz at Alinea. Unlike Alinea and Vespertine, Shields doesn’t go full throttle into the culinary unknown, instead, he plays with inventive technique while still letting several elevated takes on more classic dishes into the dining room during a typical service.
Smyth's tasting menus are unique in that they don’t change weekly, monthly, or even seasonally, but daily—and sometimes from table to table. Now re-opened, splurge on the two-and-a-half-hour tasting menu inspired by John’s journey through Smyth County in Virginia. There are alcohol-free and pairing versions of this experience, but we recommend going for the “mega” option. Trust us…it is next level.
Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, New York
A long-time Michelin three-star honoree, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare in New York is a stunner of gastronomical proportions. The restaurant marries the best of French and Japanese techniques and ingredients. The tasting menu generally includes 15 to 16 dishes and changes seasonally. There is a heavy focus on fresh seafood and shellfish, but it just makes the wait for the meat and dessert courses—if that is more your culinary preference as it is mine—all the more exciting. Wine and sake pairings are available for an added charge. Oh, and they do not make accommodations for those with seafood food allergies, vegetarians, or vegans, so steer clear if that is an issue.
If you want more great Michelin-star restaurants in New York City, you can check out the current Michelin guide:
Baumé, Palo Alto, California
Located between San Francisco and San Jose in northern California’s Palo Alto, Baumé is a small but mighty modern eatery that uses precise French techniques. The 1,500-square-foot two-star Michelin winner features only five tables and two staff: Chef Bruno Chemel and his wife Christine, a sommelier.
Chemel offers an eight-to-nine course menu inspired by his own culinary memories from working at acclaimed eateries as well as both attending and teaching at culinary schools across New York, Paris, Tokyo, and San Francisco. He also blends in colors, seasonal ingredients, and the latest in culinary design.
The dining room is back open now, but reservations are very limited. There is also a pretty luxe to-go option available on Saturdays, but you must pre-order in advance. A final note: they do not allow children under age 12 inside the venue. And if 12 or over, the child must get the tasting menu. No chicken fingers or plain noodles with butter are served here.
Many people long to visit the great restaurants of Europe, often not realizing there are some great Michelin-star restaurants in the USA. We hope you enjoying adding a few of these to your culinary bucket list. Be sure to read more on Wander about other great restaurants.