In certain restaurants, the act of waiting for a table is like an appetizer in itself. Not all of these places have three Michelin stars, but they all certainly carry their own share of accolades and notoriety, be it for their crazy food concoctions or their crazy waiting lists — and often it's for both.
The Internet provides a myriad of tips on how to get seated at one of these establishments, but here’s our advice: book a reservation before you book a plane ticket. Here are nine of the world’s toughest restaurants at which to reserve a table.
Our approach to finding the restaurants on this list was pretty hands-on: we simply went to the restaurant’s websites and checked for the next available tables. How did we know which restaurants to call? We perused our 101 Best Lists in America, Asia, Europe, and Latin America and did some additional research on restaurants with famously long waits. Perhaps you did not know this, but restaurants described as the “best” are not necessarily the same as the restaurants that are most difficult to reserve, though there is a lot of crossover. Nevertheless, the waits on this list aren’t only due to sparse seating or questionable infrastructure (one place only takes reservations over the phone): the food is pretty darn excellent.
A few destinations, like Chicago and Spain’s Catalonia region, are host to multiple restaurants on this list. You’ll find that there is a surprising lack of restaurants in Paris or the United Kingdom on this list, but that is because the main contenders — Yam'Tcha in Paris and The Fat Duck in Bray — are temporarily closed for renovation or relocation. You’ll also be surprised at the absence of New York City institution Rao’s, where you can only secure a table if you either very famous or friends of the owners. Due to this level of exclusivity, we concluded that Rao’s is more of a dinner club than a restaurant. That’s good news for you, because it means that, as hard as the restaurants on this list are to get into, they all actually want you there. It is not impossible.
We refrained from ranking these restaurants, because the waiting times are often variable, and getting lucky is certainly not unheard of. Even fully booked restaurants like Next and Tickets offer last minute seating, not unlike a Broadway play. Another way experiencing these restaurants is not unlike a Broadway play? Each of them offers a unique and dazzling culinary experience.
1. Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare - Brooklyn, NY
Tucked away in the back of a high-end supermarket, chef Cesar Ramirez hosts 18 lucky reservation-getters every evening around his kitchen counter space — which also happens to be the only restaurant in Brooklyn with three Michelin stars. Reservations must be made six weeks in advance, and you have to call in at 10:30 a.m. on Monday to book seats; let’s hope you’re one of the callers that actually gets through, because you don’t want to miss this 20 plus-course meal that relies heavily on shellfish.
2. El Celler de Can Roca - Girona, Spain
Named number one in S. Pellegrino's The World's 50 Best Restaurants in 2013 (it fell to number two last year) and No. 5 in our list of the 101 Best Restaurants in 2014, the three brothers (chef Joan, pastry chef Jordi, and wine expert Josep) behind El Celler de Can Roca are as influenced by "molecular gastronomy" as they are by their parents’ cooking. You can only make your reservation within 11 months of the day you try to reserve a table, but look at the calendar on their online booking system and you’ll be met with numbers with crosses over them over and over again. You’ll want to get on this waiting list; with dishes like "surf and turf" of sardines and pork jowl with sardine-bone broth and dines and pork jowl with sardine-bone broth and suckling pig sauce and desserts like a paper-thin sugar-blown "apple" filled with apple foam placed atop caramel ice cream, it is well worth the wait.
3. The French Laundry - Yountville, Calif.
Thomas Keller’s legendary restaurant sits in a building that is 115 years old, and that’s about how long it will take for you to get a table here. Just kidding! It’s only a measly two months. There’s a reason for its popularity: Anthony Bourdain calls it “the best restaurant in the world. Period.” With a nine-course chef’s tasting menu and a nine-course vegetable tasting — no ingredients are used more than once — we believe him.
4. Next - Chicago
If you want to get a ticket — yes, you have to get a ticket — to Grant Achatz's Next in Chicago, you’ll have to pay for the meal in advance, a full season ahead. The ever-changing menus have themes ideal for travel lovers, like “Paris 1900” and “Tour of Thailand,” the latter of which made the website shut down because so many people attempted to purchase tickets at the same time.
5. Noma - Cophenhagen, Denmark
Google “the best restaurant in the world” and Noma, the Danish harborside restaurant stocked with excellent food that stays close to its Nordic terrain, will figure prominently in your search — even though it only has two Michelin stars. On the 6th of every month, eager diners wait by Noma’s online portal to book a table a minimum of three months ahead. Why? It’s a rare thing to see a menu item featuring green shoots as the main component of a meal and scallops as a marinade — and an even rarer thing to make it taste good.
See more of the world's toughest tables.
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