1. NOMA, COPENHAGEN, DENMARK
Named as the best restaurant in the world by the S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna list, Noma tops my list for sheer bravery and originality. Chicken skin on rye flatbread started off the canapés. As we were in Scandinavia, this was followed by smoked cheese and jewel-toned roe. This came with a pickled, smoked quail egg on a bed of still-steaming hay. Most memorable to us were raw radishes in a pot with “soil” made of crunchy malt, beer, and crumbled hazelnut with sheep
2. LA CUCHARA DE SAN TELMO, SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN
My favorite tapas bar in the world is in the culinary capital of Spain, San Sebastian. Chefs behind the bar seem more like rock stars than cooks, as they whip up tapas that defy convention. I will never forget their foie gras with pear poached in sherry—such an indulgence! The menu changes often, based on the chefs’ moods and the fresh produce of the day, but they are all on display on a small blackboard behind the bar. Order them all as soon as you get there as everything goes quickly. Do not dare take a break to catch your breath or you’ll be sorry.
3. LUNG KING HEEN, HONG KONG
Dim sum is elevated to an art form at this luxe Hong Kong restaurant that boasts amazing service and a stellar harbor view. Cantonese classics using the finest oils and other choice ingredients are done just right. It offers the best baked pork bun I’ve ever tasted. I love how the sommelier lights a candle before decanting your wine. What for? I don’t care. It surely makes the wine more special.
4. LA BOLA, MADRID, SPAIN
Fans of cocido, take note. This place has the best there is, bar none. Dine with royalty and truck drivers in this restaurant that opened in 1870. It serves the caldo first with fideos, followed by the hearty stew with tomato sauce, peppers, and boiled vegetables on the side. Sarap with a capital S.
5. MANSARDA, ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
It’s all about the ambiance here but thankfully, it also has good food to match. The great thing here is you don’t have to eat Russian food as it serves delicious pizzas, salads, sushi, and pasta alongside a killer borscht. True to the party atmosphere that rocks cosmopolitan Russia, you can enjoy the views of St. Isaac’s Cathedral over a drink or two while its resident DJ spins the latest sounds.
6. TORIGIN GINZA, TOKYO, JAPAN
It’s hard to pick a favorite in Japan as even the freebie samples in the food halls of department stores have an intriguing fare. I like this Ginza eatery for yakitori and kamameshi cooked by experts who’ve been doing it for years. Have some Wow chicken balls, gingko nuts, and chicken wings over a round of sake or Asahi.
7. RISTORANTE AL 34, ROME, ITALY
Being just a short distance from the famed Spanish Steps makes this casual restaurant an easy to find favorite for weary tourists. But do not fret, the food here is far from touristy—consistent, spot-on, and the service is fast and friendly. I would start with antipasti and fritto misto, feast over osso buco, bacon and truffle pasta, or its squid ink pasta and finish with an unforgettable chocolate panna cotta.
8. BAR MUT, BARCELONA, SPAIN
The menu featured on the blackboards is changed daily so it’s never the same experience. This place is popular among the locals so try to come early in the evening and snag a seat at the bar. If you chance upon the cochinillo, get it served with caramelized onions. You must have the mushroom risotto served on a slate tile and the carpaccio of eggs with shoestring potatoes.
9. VAGENENDE, PARIS, FRANCE
This is an old school belle époque traditional French restaurant on the Left Bank, which embodies the true spirit of Paris. The decor alone is worth a visit. This is where to enjoy classics such as onion soup, and les fruits de mer (ask the server for what he recommends among the oysters, escargots, shrimp, langoustines). The sole meuniere is a must.
10. CRYSTAL JADE LA MIAN XIAO LONG BAO, HONG KONG
This is the high point for my foodie family’s every Hong Kong trip. Its delicious xiao long bao and tantan mien are cheap but great. This is the perfect antidote when you have shopped too much and need to recharge your batteries, without draining your wallet. This fabulous place is no secret though so you must come for late lunch or early dinner if you want to avoid the lines.