For some, going to a restaurant is all about the food. For others, the excitement is tied to the experience. If the place has a gimmick, a mini-golf course out back or a waitstaff that belts out showtunes, that just makes the appetizers all the more appetizing.
For us, the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. While great food engages your eyes, nose, tastebuds and stomach, eating it in a standout environment stimulates your mind and soul as well. All in all, it’s the perfect meal — and it looks way cooler on Instagram.
With that in mind, below are a list of amazing restaurants from coast to coast that will get your mouth watering, your anticipation building, and make you feel like you’ve found the perfect intersection of setting and sustenance. What do the restaurants on this list all have in common other than a killer vibe and delicious food? Answer: They are managing their restaurant facilities with Ecotrak. Check out 13 of our most Instagramable restaurants. How many have you visited?
Sexy Fish (Miami)
The motto of this Florida hot spot is “looks as good as it tastes,” and you’d be hard pressed to find food as visually appealing as their Crispy Duck & Watermelon salad with pomegranate, Golden Fish & Crispy Caviar, Beef Tartare with Perigon Truffle or Busby Berkeley-like arrangements of sashimi, gyoza and tempura for days. Surrender yourself to the allure of the omakase, and Sexy Fish’s highly-trained chefs will leave you walking on air.
But if you can turn your gaze away from the table long enough, you’ll be captivated by what has been called “Miami’s most opulent dining room,” fueled with eye-popping artwork by artist Damien Hirst, Frank Gehry-designed fish lamps, and interiors designed to evoke ocean motifs and mid-century brasseries.
As the evening begins, order yourself a theatrical cocktail like the “Smoke & Peppercorn” (pink peppercorn-infused mezcal and sancho pepper tequila), the “Raspberry & Yogurt” (a Grey Goose punch) or “Pumpkin & Spice” (pumpkin and chai cordial with gin, served in a coral-inspired glass) and prepare yourself for something even showier. Mermaid dancers bring “Sexy” back alongside famed DJs and other out-of-this-world showstoppers. Plug into the wind and percussion instruments transporting patrons on an underwater musical adventure, and as the champagne and tequila flows, you’ll be hooked.
Kassi Beach House (Las Vegas)
In the Gambling Capital of the World, there are so many dining options that it’s easy to get lost. But this Italian coastal alternative, located inside the Virgin Hotels, is no roll of the dice.
The vibe here is the equivalent of attending a celebration at the most amazing beach house you’ve only seen in movies. The dress code is bikinis and trunks, signature punch bowls serve communal cocktails for the table, and it’s all steps from the pool (and reservation-only daybeds), under a disco ball with a thumping musical beat.
The interior is a stunning mix of wood and wicker, boasting huge wraparound booths and walls of ornate ceramics. The daily brunch is a place to see and be seen, as you sip bottomless rose and try a truffle pizza. In the evening, family-style meals, tomahawk steaks and made-in-house pastas are counterbalanced with bottles of wine, negronis and Japanese penicillin.
Imagine yourself and five of your besties, sharing a poolside daybed and sipping Subtropic slushies. What’s the Italian word for paradise?
Belles (Venice, CA)
Tiki culture dates all the way back to the 1920s, when South Pacific-tinged dreams of escape first took hold of American culture. Embracing that mindset but stripping away the kitsch, Belles Beach House boasts island vibes and open-wood slats that let a cool breeze blow across one of the best cheeseburgers in town. Then, of course, there are the drinks.
Slip into a flowered booth and sip on a “Heat Stroke” (tequila, passion fruit, mango and smoked cayenne salt), a “Watermelon Mezcal Margarita” or “Seven samurai” (Japanese whiskey, lemon, sour apple, pear and ginger). Feeling social? Get your cocktail of choice in a punch bowl, and watch new friends flock to your table.
Look up from your drink and take note of the one-of-a-kind tiki totem lamps smiling back at you. Thankfully, it isn’t considered impolite to not offer them some of your Lobster Hand Rolls, Butterfly Branzino or Char Siu Pork Ribs with a pineapple glaze. Tiki is a way of life … and sitting in this slice of surfer nirvana, overlooking the Venice Beach boardwalk, another fresh-pressed drink with tequila will get you right where you need to be.
True Food Kitchen (Nationwide)
Employing freshness, seasonality and the principles of Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet as its foundations, True Foods has taken a lifestyle once out of reach for most Americans and spread it across 17 states — and growing. Describing their menu as “Fundamentally based on science,” True Food believes that better food leads to better lives, but don’t think such focus on sourcing, sustainability and nutrition robs the food (or their dining rooms) of flavor.
Walking into a True Kitchen, the first thing you notice is that the guests, the dining room and the kitchen have all blended into one ecosystem. It underlines the notion that we’re all on this mission together. The bright, airy restaurant is surrounded by produce and productivity, as culinary experts prepare bright, colorful dishes with potent ingredients like turmeric, broccolini and bok choi. And don’t sleep on the scratch bar, juicing fresh ingredients and preparing syrups for brunch cocktails like the Watermelon Mimosa.
To underline the mentality of a healthy body being in alignment with a healthy mind, True Food Kitchens have been known to offer yoga classes. So stretch your body — and your palate — at a True Food near you.
The Eveleigh (West Hollywood)
The best restaurants are expertly paired with their location, like a great wine and cheese. Look no further than Eveleigh, a country comfort restaurant that opened in its inviting, homey residence about a dozen years ago but feels like it’s been there since the structure was built upon an orchard in 1923. Brunching off the Sunset Strip, as the California sunshine pours through olive tree branches and onto your Dungeness Crab Pasta, you’ll feel perfectly paired as well.
A vine-covered pergola welcomes diners to the outside patio. Indoors, a dining room every bit as bright frames a bartender, working hard on your next favorite cocktail. Whether you want to try a “Negroni Chupacabra” (mezcal, aperitivo, vermouth and prickly pear), “Inbetween Days” (vodka, vermouth, grapefruit, thyme, lemon and soda) or a “Unicorn Juice” slushie, you can’t go wrong.
The Eveleigh really comes to life, however, for large groups gathered around the communal table for 15 (nestled under a retractable, open air roof) or the back patio with a view of the city. Grab some friends, share some sips, and you might find yourselves debating whether The Everleigh is prettier during the day or at night.
Ocean Prime (Nationwide)
When chef Cameron Mitchell was growing up in Ohio, he used to sit at his mother’s kitchen table and dream of opening elegant fine dining restaurants from coast to coast. Now, his Ocean Prime restaurants are serving up steaks, seafood and cocktails in 18 stunning dining rooms from Beverly Hills to Boston.
Every Ocean Prime feels like its own art gallery, but rather than impressionist paintings on the walls, everyone is oohing and aahing at the Twin Lobster Tails, Colorado Lamb Chops or mouthwatering sides like Black Truffle Mac & Cheese. In Beverly Hills, the massive booths envelop you while you marvel at walls of immaculately-arranged wine bottles. Dallas has smokey slatted windows and a modern outdoor firepit. From the jellyfish-like lamps in Indianapolis to the magnificent coral in Philly, each location seems intent on one-upping the others in opulence.
At the center of it all, however, is Mitchell’s meticulously-orchestrated menu. Taken together, the experience is a spectacle that thrills you from the inside out —it’s enough to make any mother proud.
Arguably the progenitors of modern art-is-everywhere dining, master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi and design maestro Philippe Starck have spent a decade launching stunning locations from Hollywood to Manhattan. Each is a reflection of its location, from the chill vibes of Brentwood to pulsating South Beach, whose location in SLS South Beach boasts a Tower Penthouse designed by Lenny Kravitz and featuring unique, curated dishes and vintage vinyl.
In New York, diners congregate under Japanese uchiwa fans while devouring Chef Katsuya’s signature Baked Crab Handrolls. In the Bahamas, traditional Japanese cuisine is mixed with California style surrounded by dangling chandeliers and striking art. In Hollywood, servers shout “irashaimase!” before you get to work sipping a “Burning Mandarin” and nibbling on Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna in their black-and-gold dining room.
Whether sitting in the sushi bar or holding court in a dining room made to see and be seen, Katsuya has spent a decade as the gold standard.
Ella Mia (Worldwide)
To some, coffee is a necessity. To others, it’s a ritual.
Pay your respects to the most sacred of beans in these sophisticated, contemporary spaces that couldn’t be further removed from your grandpa’s coffee shop. Whether you’re in Doha or Dubai, New York or London, you’re bound to have your eyes opened — and not just by the caffeine.
Each EllaMia has a clean, distinctive look marked by brightness and warmth. Glass cases display amazing pastries, including tarts and cakes. Sip on a Rainbow Latte, enjoy it with a slice of Fig & Rose cake, and wonder if this might just be Willie Wonka for grown-ups.
Mendocino Farms (Western US)
When you’re looking for sandwiches, salads and other foodie faves that are fast — but most decidedly not fast food — look for the blue cow.
Since 2005, this rapidly-growing chain (mostly throughout California, now expanding into Texas) has been the go-to for lunchtime treats like the Sweet Heat Crispy Thai Chicken Sandwich, Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Reuben and Pork Belly Banh Mi (with a vegan version, for those so inclined). But the “Soulful Salads,” with ingredients like avocado, quinoa, grape tomatoes, pink lady beets and Impossible chorizo, are delicious enough to make you forget you’re eating so healthy.
If you catch their seasonal specials at the right time, you might be able to snag the delectable Oaxacan Potato Salad or mouthwatering Thai Watermelon & Cucumber Salad. Enjoy it all in a clean, bright dining room with whimsical details like foosball tables, turf-lined seats, and cows on the wall. Most locations also have a children’s play area, so you can enjoy a Chimichurri Steak & Sashito Bowl while your little critters enjoy time on the farm.
Modern Times Brewery (Anaheim)
The OC’s “Leisuretown” aims to be a permanent block party, and anchoring it all is Modern Times — the collection of brewers, coffee roasters and culinary experts who formed a Justice League-like cadre of flavor in 2013, opening a brewery and tasting room in Point Loma.
This, their fourth location, is also the most off-the-wall. A combination brewery, restaurant, café and swim club, the property is anchored by a serene swimming area whose stated mission is to put visitors “in a dimension of epic and abiding chillness.” Bringing the leisure to Leisuretown, a brightly-colored pop art bar houses 70 brews and ciders on tap, house-roasted coffees and an extensive wine list.
Their 100 percent plant-based menu includes no-brainers like avocado toast and corn fritters, but also outside-the-box dishes like “Fuegolote” (fried corn on the cob with house-made tajin) and the “Munchwrap” (Impossible taco mix, queso and more in a flour tortilla). Swing by their mini-mart for some “sexy merchandise,” order a flight, and find yourself a sun lounger by the pool. Instant glimpses for The Gram.
Elephante (Santa Monica)
Who doesn’t dream about owning a beach house, enjoying pitchers of cool drinks and amazing food? Dream no more; just get to Elephante at sunset.
Patrons of this rooftop bar and restaurant enjoy a Southern Mediterranean chill without needing to board a plane. The flavors of Italy inspired hand-crafted cocktails like “The Book Thief” (nosotros respado, cocchi rosa, lime, honey, peach and allspice), “Golden Hour” (bourbon, apple, lemon, vanilla and cinnamon bitters) and a “Coconut Negroni” keep things cool. Enjoy one (or three) with some Polenta & Mushrooms, Diver Scallops or a family-style Veal Milanese for the perfect evening.
The real show here, however, is on par with any band or DJ you could hope to hire. Every evening, the patio is packed with onlookers, watching the one-of-a-kind Southern California sunset into the Pacific Ocean. At Elephante, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
The Happiest Hour (New York)
Cartoon palm trees, flamingo tchotchkes, whimsical drinks, diner-style food and a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack — what could be happier? This New York hotspot opens weeknights at 5pm and keeps the happy hour vibes going all night long, and there’s no better place to unwind after a hard day at the office.
Grab some co-workers and order up a bunch of Mac + Cheese Bites, Loaded Tater Tots or Extra Crispy Wings for the table. Then design your own “mule kick,” “pineapple express” or “ice cuba” — just pick your spirit, and they’ll happily pour. If a cocktail pitcher or bucket o’ beer is more your style, there are no judgements here.
Perhaps the most “must try,” however, is the so-called “Happiest Burger.” Zagat ranked it as one of the hottest burgers in NYC, Thrillist called it “absolutely delicious,” BlackBook described it as “impossibly mouthwatering” and a national burger critic ranked it among the best burgers in America. At the Happiest Hour, this amalgam of burger, bun and bliss shines even brighter than the disco ball hanging from the ceiling.
First, we got nightclub bowling alleys, then nightclub axe-throwing and driving ranges, and now comes a similarly beloved pastime receiving a 21st century update: Mini-golf.
Meet Puttshack, a fast-expanding chain that brings food, drinks and fun to a game now going decidedly high-tech. Faster than you can scream “Holey Moley,” you’ll be hooked on this version of putt-putt, powered by “Trackaballs” with sensors in them that allow the game to keep score for you: A hole in one is worth 50 points, 5 swings is worth 25, if you need more than 10, well, the game mercifully stops counting. There are hazard traps that threaten to rob you of points, Supertubes that can give your ball an express lane to glory, and themed holes like “Prize Wheel” (where a “Price is Right”-like wheel can win you pizza), “Beer Pong” (hit your ball in the “Freshman” cup for a Supertube hole-in-one) or “Ring of Fire” (are you enough of a daredevil to try and knock your ball through the hoop?).
Sip a beer while you take your swings, then adjourn for some world class cuisine that couldn’t be further from amusement food. Flatbread Pizzas, Empanadas, Rendang Bao Buns and Tuscanu Pork Porchetta sandwiches might make you feel like you’re eating in a fancy restaurant, even if you are within eyeshot of a sign that reads: “Oh my God, Becky, look at her putt.”
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