My 10 Favorite Restaurants of 2011

I was privileged to dine out at a lot of great restaurants in 2011 due to my travels around the country. My friends often turn to me for restaurant recommendations, and I don’t think it is because I eat out more than others. But I do research where I choose to eat, and most often I turn to the Yelp application on my phone for assistance. I am not a food snob, but I resist chains as much as possible. Why eat at a chain when you can support a local business with better food, and often with locally grown ingredients? I admit to a penchant for aesthetically beautiful or trendy places, and I suppose the places I like are more fit for singles or young professionals than families. But I also like the occasional dive or cafe too, as the title of this blog indicates.

Here are my 10 favorite restaurants of 2011:

10. Thai Tom, Seattle, University Avenue. A university dive with the most original and authentic Thai I’ve ever experienced.

9. Purple, Seattle. Wine pairings, excellent information on each wine, and an incredible presentation and atmosphere in downtown Seattle.

8. Sensu, Indianapolis, Downtown. Trendy, beautiful and innovative Asian fusion.

7. Red Square, Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay. Russian cuisine, an array of Russian vodkas, an ice room, and a beautiful Russian inspired interior.

6. Vintage Enoteca, Los Angeles, Hollywood. A neighborhood restaurant a block from my place offers an impressive wine list, homemade fennel sausage, small plates and wonderful desserts.

5. Fig and Olive, Los Angeles, West Hollywood. The glass interiors, trees and light alone make the Mediterranean menu all the more delightful. Where Obama chose to eat on his recent visit to LA.

4. Locanda Veneta, Los Angeles, West Hollywood. There are many excellent Italian restaurants in LA, and this one had never shown up on my radar screen until a friend recommended it. It’s my new favorite. Charming, warm and authentically Italian.

3. Cleo, Los Angeles, Hollywood. Excellent service, an amazing Mediterreanean inspired menu, a fun time, and some of the best food I’ve had all year. SBE continues to impress in the LA market.

2. Skillet Diner, Seattle, Capitol Hill. I was walking around Capitol Hill and spotted this diner with a huge line, and I knew I had to experience it. I’m so glad that I did. Excellent drinks, creative comfort food and large portions.

1. 13 Coins, Seattle, Sea-Tac. A friend from Seattle recommended this diner near the airport, and I was skeptical that an airport restaurant could be this good. I also never expected a diner to be so beautiful. The hard woods, the bar chairs, the portions, and the vast menu creates a “Wow!” experience every time. It is one of the oldest restaurants in Seattle, and everything about this place is tremendous.

I made it a point to find the best burger in Los Angeles this year. I settled on one of the first ones I tried, and it is still the best: Spago of Beverly Hills. Only available on the lunch menu, the burger features a perfect meat blend and the charcoal grilled taste that I consider the hallmark of a great burger. Runners up: Fraiche in Culver City and Comme Ca in West Hollywood.

Favorite Breakfast of 2011: Grub, Hollywood. Maple syrup dipped bacon with fennel seeds. Need I say more?

Favorite Bar of 2011: Vesper Bar, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Every drink is original, has fresh ingredients, and made right in front of you. Ask for my friend and award winning mixologist Chris.

Favorite Hotel Experience of 2011: The Omni Severan Hotel, Downtown Indianapolis.

For all of my reviews, check out my Yelp profile here.

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