Where 17 Top Chefs Eat When They’re Off Duty

Scroll through to see where top chefs can be found enjoying their favorite meals.
Kaitlyn Flannagan for Observer

Chef Dan Churchill

There is a little Italian restaurant in Melbourne known as Pellegrini’s. If you're looking for fine elaborate Italian cuisine, this is not what you come to this pasta bar for. If you want to meet your long lost Nonna, have her cook for you, and enjoy an honest meal that has been served on the bar tops since 1954—you have arrived.

With a wooden board indicating the menu, a glass cabinet for sweets, cakes and Italian fare, it's absolute family comfort at its finest. There's also a nonnegotiable coffee to finish your meal, in true Italian style. Of course it comes as an espresso.

It takes me back to Italy, from the hosts speaking Italian to having a bowl of pasta placed in front of you, with no concern for presentation. My go-to's are rigatone and spaghetti saltati, but to be honest they are all comfort goodness.

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Chef Ali LaRaia, The Sosta

My go-to is Trattoria nelle Vigne in Diano d’Alba, Italy. Translating to "trattoria on the vineyard," this stunning restaurant full of high exposed beams and floor to ceiling windows has my favorite expression of local Piemontese cuisine. It's a chef’s menu and you hope that the staples will end up on your table. Some of the best dishes I have ever eaten have been at this restaurant, along with their nebbiolo, dolcetto and barbera, all grown right outside.

Order the hazelnut purée over anchovies, the beef tartare with pickled mushrooms and melted lardo over fried bread. All are equally life changing.

Mikey Pozarik

Chef Gabriel Kennedy, Creative Culinary Director of The Little Beet

I find myself frequenting Suzume in Williamsburg. The restaurant is intimate and always has great food, good tunes and high vibes. The menu is limited, but has everything I find myself craving on a regular basis.

 

I always order chilled cucumber noodles with charred mackerel and watercress as well as the baby bok choy and pea shoot salad. It's crisp, fresh, umami, multi-textured, simple, pure and delicious.

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Chef Timothy Hollingsworth, Otium

My favorite restaurant is Tokyo's Nodaiwa, a true artisanal grilled eel house that has been around for five generations. The second you walk in and see women dressed in proper kimonos you know you are about to try some traditionally prepared eel.

The must-haves are both unaju (eel over rice) and shirayaki (grilled eel with no sauce). You should order à la carte instead of the course menu. Una-maki (a rolled omelet with eel inside) is incredible. This place does not try to do too much, it sticks to one thing and does it expertly and traditionally. It is truly simple yet unique and delicious meal.

Courtesy Otium

Chef Zachary Engel, Shaya

When I lived in Philly, I went to Koch's Deli about once a week. It's a Jewish-Russian deli right by the University of Pennsylvania. It's owned by two Israelis, Rami and Ezra. The owners are really nice and always giving me samples while they build my order.

They make my two favorite sandwiches in the world. One is their Jewish Hoagie; it's like an Italian hoagie but with kosher beef cold cuts. The other is a sandwich they make especially for me and my best friend, who used to live around the corner. It's sweet mun-chee cheese melted on pastrami with sliced tomatoes and thousand island dressing on a hoagie roll. Then they top it with Russian-style potato salad.

When I'm visiting my in-laws in Philadelphia, I head to Koch's on my way to the airport to bring it back to New Orleans.

Randy Schmidt

Chef John Nguyen, Hanoi House

My favorite restaurant is Pho 79 in Orange County. We’ve been going there since we were small, and this location was one of the original pho restaurants that popped up in Orange County. It’s been there forever and the pho is still as good as I remember.

I normally get the brisket and oxtail combination with extra fat on the side. It enhances the bowl of noodles and takes it to the next level.

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Chef Michael White, Osteria Morini and Ai Fiori

One of my favorite restaurants is Ibu Oka in Ubud. They make this dish called Babi Guling. It's jasmine rice topped with delicious crispy pork skin, sausages and even more crispy fried pork. You have to get there early because they sell out of the crispy pork skin extremely quickly.

Chef Kelly Fields, Willa Jean

My local go-to in New Orleans is Turkey and the Wolf. Damn good food with zero fuss and zero ego. I always order the collard green melt and save room for any of the fun soft serve desserts they're slinging.

Every time I'm in New York, I have to go to Lilia in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Being introduced to Chef Missy Robbins's food at Lilia was a revelation and offered a ray of hope in a place I didn't know it was missing. It's been far too long since I've fully celebrated a chef's confidence to be true to simple ingredients and tried-and-true techniques, and Missy sets the bar higher than ever before. Go hungry, order any and all of the pasta and everything coming off the wood burning grill.

Gabrielle Geiselman

Chef Michael Lomonaco, Porter House Bar and Grill and Center Bar

In Rome, my favorite restaurant is Sora Lella, a comfortable, family run restaurant where the delicious food and superb wine list is matched only by the warm greeting that the chef and his father, brothers and sister extend to everyone. I start with cacio e pepe and have the roast of the day.

In Paris, my favorite is Allard, long beloved on the Left Bank and now saved by Alain Ducasse who has restored it to its historic glory.

At home in NYC my favorite comfortably delicious French bistros is Quatorze Bis. A glass of Syrah and I am good 'til next time.

Noah Fecks
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Chef Manish Mehrotra, Indian Accent

My favorite restaurant is Mathias Dahlgren in Stockholm, Sweden. I always order the mushroom tasting menu paired with local artisan beers. Truffle pizza is also a must-have.

Courtesy Manish Mehrotra

Chef Ashton Keefe, TV Food Stylist

My favorite spot where I head after a long night in the kitchen is Dante on McDougal. You can find me at the bar around 10 p.m., sipping a perfectly made Manhattan and relaxing over a plate of steak tartare. Steak tartare has always been my treat meal after a long day of cooking for others. It just feels fancy and wonderful.

If it’s an off night, I belly up to the bar at Charlie Bird and sip their excellently priced wine list with girlfriends, as Charlie (the bartender, not the name of the restaurant) plays the best soundtrack in New York.

Courtesy Ashton Keefe

Ricky Arias, Dinnertable

My favorite restaurant is conveniently located five blocks away from my apartment in Brooklyn. Roman's is an Italian restaurant with a changing, seasonally driven menu, which is a great pull for me because its keeps things exciting. The quality of products, the driven simplicity, amazing service and (most importantly) great wine list make this my favorite restaurant.

Start out with a big salad and sparkling wine. Pasta course is a must here. Then a large plate. In terms of wine, the employees are knowledgeable and can guide you through some awesome wine.

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Chef Richard Hales, Bird & Bone

My local Miami favorite is El Mago De Las Fritas. My six-year-old, Violet, and I love to sit at the counter and watch them cook our double Cuban frita to order.

We get the Saturday only specials, chicharrones and ajiaco soup, plus several ham croquetas, café con leche and a killer hot dog called Mago Magic Dog.

Richard Hales

Chef Simone Falco, Rossopomodoro

My go-to restaurant is Esca in New York. I love the crudo, specifically the salmon roe. The chef, Dave Pasternack, cures it in house and finishes it with lemon and a fresh Sardinian olive oil.

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Chef Lisabet Summa, Co-Owner of Big Time Restaurant Group

I love Terzo in Minneapolis. The pastas are all amazing, as are the starters and the desserts. I found it by accident when visiting my parents in the Twin Cities. It's a small sliver of a space with great people running the front, a wine selection where there isn't a loser on the list, and inventive, modern Italian cuisine with a personal twist. Their chef is Geoffrey Stout and this kid knows how to cook; he can be seen in the small kitchen through the window, running the service.

Another favorite in Minneapolis is FIKA at the American Swedish Institute. I was blown away by the food. As soon as I got home I made their coconut and carrot soup with fresh herbs, before I forgot the flavor profile. I like simple food, cooked with lots of technique and excellent service. This museum café has it all and it's a hidden gem with a beautiful outdoor setting, when its not too cold.

Christopher Summa, TBC Media Lab
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Chef David Bouhadana, Sushi by Bou

My favorite restaurant is Umi No Ie in the East Village.

I've been going there regularly for over eight years. It's a great place for solo dining and my order is always Shōchū on the rocks, then sake with a side of Orion beer, potato salad, crispy pork gyoza, yaki tamago (rolled omelette), udon soup and karage (fried chicken). It's open late, so you can find me there around 1 a.m., at least once a week.

Courtesy David Bouhadana

Chef Blake Malatesta, Partner at MIA Kitchen + Bar

I have a particular fondness for the BBQ eel with spelt, onions, and carpione sorbet at Metamorfosi, in the outskirts of Rome.

The dish is an exquisite combination of hot and cold, savory and sweet, with the soft and crisp textures.

Courtesy Chef Blake Malatesta

Everyone has that one restaurant they can’t live without—the one you Instagram from so incessantly, people ask if you live there. It’s the place you wouldn’t mind eating at, every day for the rest of your life. The Observer chatted with some of our favorite chefs to find out their go-to obsessions, ranging from eel in Tokyo to truffle pizza in Stockholm.

For some, there’s nothing quite like an authentic spaghetti experience, whether it’s in Rome or Minneapolis. The Sosta’s Ali LaRaia sings the praises of Trattoria nelle Vigne in Diano d’Alba, Italy, for their beef tartare; Australian chef and fitness coach Dan Churchill always stops at at Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar in Melbourne. Chef Blake Malatesta of MIA Kitchen + Bar goes to Rome for spelt and sorbet at Metamorfosi. Lisabet Summa, a co-owner of Louie Bossi’s and Big City Tavern, heads to Minneapolis for pasta.

Others venture a bit farther from home for the meal of their dreams. Timothy Hollingsworth, a James Beard Award winner who was formerly at The French Laundry and is now at Otium, favors Tokyo’s Nodaiwa, an artisanal grilled eel house that has been around for five generations. Shaya chef Zachary Engel, who was recently named named Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, ventures to Philadelphia for deli. However, the Miami-based chef Richard Hales doesn’t have to go far for Cuban frita.

Scroll through to see what to order at these chefs’ favorite off-the-beaten-path restaurants.

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