Best Once-in-a-Lifetime Meal in Every State
It's not very often we harp on once-in-a-lifetime meals, because they are just that, something that you would truly only be able to experience once in a lifetime. While there are plenty of affordable local gems and expensive chef's table dining experiences to be found around the country, finding that true once-in-a-lifetime experience—a restaurant with meals that are actually worth traveling for—can prove a little more challenging.
We've searched online reviews and publications for extraordinary dishes and interesting food joints that you should go off and find all around the country. Plus, while some of these options are lavish and exquisite with months-long waiting lists or hours-long lines to be seated, others are just hole-in-the-wall restaurants that deserve just as much praise as their high-end counterparts. Read on for the best once-in-a-lifetime meals in every state.
ALABAMA: The Bright Star in Bessemer
The Bright Star is the oldest family-owned restaurant in Alabama and has been open since 1907. The restaurant specializes in Greek-style steaks and seafood, southern comfort classics, and deep-fried everything. Reviews for the restaurant include a lot of repetitions of the word "excellent," including this one from Tripadvisor.com "Excellent food, excellent service, The ribeye steak was excellent. Cheesecake was excellent. Will be back really soon"
ALASKA: Tordrillo Mountain Lodge in Judd Lake
Each June Tordrillo Mountain Lodge invites guests to take part in fly-fishing under the midnight sun for Alaskan king salmon. After you've caught your fish the chef at the lodge prepares it to eat for you as you wine and dine on other Alaskan delicacies. You will never experience that anywhere else.
ARIZONA: Cafe Monarch in Scottsdale
Cafe Monarch is located in Old Town Scottsdale and has been listed as one of the top 25 best restaurants in America. The multi-course menu is ever-changing and highlights local cuisines and the season, but could feature roasted cauliflower soup, coffee-crusted venison, and an optional $500 caviar tasting. One reviewer said, "We have been fortunate to have dined here twice. It is perfection from all facets; food; atmosphere, attention to detail, and amazing service. This establishment equals the finest European Michelin restaurants we have visited."
ARKANSAS: Jones' Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna
While it may not be fancy, Jones' Bar-B-Q Diner is worth a visit for a taste of true history. The restaurant serves just one thing, a barbecued pulled pork BBQ sandwich on Wonder Bread. But you'll be steeped in history as you dine at the oldest Black-owned restaurant in the country. Sidelined by a fire in early 2021, the local gem-turned national sensation—it even has a James Beard award—is back up and running.
CALIFORNIA: Nobu in Los Angeles
Nobu is one of the hardest reservations to get in California and with good reason. The chefs are making authentic Japanese cuisine with some of the freshest fish around. One standout dish is the famous black cod that's marinated for days in a miso-based marinade, then cooked to perfection. One recent diner said, "Absolutely life-changing experience and best dinner we've ever had. We did the chefs' 9-course omakase and what a lovely and whimsical adventure it was. Each dish was thoughtfully prepared, intricate, and unique."
COLORADO: The Fort in Morrison
The Fort is an award-winning restaurant in Morrison, Colorado. The fine-dining menu specializes in unique game meat like elk, buffalo, and quail, which guests can try all together on The Fort Game Plate. Other menu favorites include roasted bison marrow bones and rocky mountain oysters.
CONNECTICUT: Union League Cafe in New Haven
Union League Cafe is like a step back in time to an old-world Parisian cafe. Guests can choose from a chef's tasting menu or an a la carte menu with dishes like charred octopus and blue cheese-crusted filet. "This restaurant exceeded expectations on so many levels," said one reviewer. "The modernized French preparations are amazing." Don't skip the soufflé of the day for dessert.
DELAWARE: The Dog House in New Castle
Guests at The Dog House feel like they've been transported back to the 1950s, and can often be seen lining up for a chance to sit at the cramped counter to eat a hotdog and pay only with cash. Each hotdog is laid into a freshly baked hoagie roll. If hot dogs aren't your thing then consider one of the cheesesteaks, which are also a local favorite. One reviewer gushed, "This place is no frills but so damn good. Counter service is what your gonna get. Consistency is what they serve."
FLORIDA: Little Palm Island Resort and Spa in Little Torch Key
Little Palm Island Resort and Spa is a private island resort with an exclusive dinner out on an actual sandbar. The five-course menu features delightful bites like caviar along with whatever else Chef Brendan Mica and his team can get their hands on.
GEORGIA: Canoe in Atlanta
Tucked away on the shores of the Chattahoochee River you'll find Canoe. The restaurant is known for its serene waterside location as well as its upscale American menu. Dishes change seasonally, but a fan favorite is the duck and beef burger that's topped with a sunny side egg, spinach, and pickled onions, and served with truffle fries. A repeat diner sang the praises of this restaurant, "It's been my 10th visit at Canoe. Again and again, Canoe won my vote to be the best restaurant in Atlanta."
HAWAII: 53 By The Sea in Honolulu
53 By The Sea has panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows that line the exterior of the restaurant. The menu is filled with seasonal, locally grown ingredients, delicacies from the nearby oceans, and hand-cut meats. If you can't get to this place for one of the best sunsets in Waikiki, head there for a once-in-a-lifetime brunch.
IDAHO: Beverly's in Coeur d'Alene
Beverly's is known for its take on Northwest cuisine. Signature dishes at the restaurant include potato-crusted Alaskan halibut and filet mignon with a morel mushroom-peppercorn sauce. Before dinner, consider taking the 4:30 PM wine cellar tour and tasting. "It NEVER disappoints," said one reviewer, "An exceptional, fine dinner house, with a spectacular lake view from the 7th floor of the hotel. It has the largest wine vaults and selection in all of the Northwest. This is an extraordinary restaurant, with a creative and luxurious menu."
ILLINOIS: Smyth in Chicago
Smyth in Chicago is a two-Michelin starred restaurant, where the focus is on the bounty of the ocean. Each night the restaurant serves guests a two-and-a-half-hour meal that ranges anywhere from $240 to $265. One reviewer gushed, "What an experience. You don't go here to eat, you will experience flavors, ambiance, service from a top level. You will feel special"
INDIANA: Artisan in Elkhart
Artisan is a AAA Four Diamond Award-winning restaurant, where farm-to-table dishes are the star. The menu is filled with steakhouse classics like ribeye and garlic mashed potato, along with more modern dishes like miso sea bass with jasmine rice and lotus root. Reviewers cannot say enough great things about this restaurant, including "I was expecting it to be amazing from what friends had said about it…but it was above and beyond everything I expected."
IOWA: Bluff Lake Catfish Farm
At Bluff Lake Catfish Farm you can dine with a view of the waterfall that gushes into Bluff Lake. The beautiful scenery is only topped by the crispy fried catfish that you'll see coming out of the kitchen to just about every table. But, good luck finding it, says one reviewer, "This is 'somewhere in Iowa' because you won't be discovering it without hearing about it and being told how to get to it."
KANSAS: Fedeli's in Topeka
You don't often think of elevated dining and Kansas going together, but at Fedeli's, you're getting just that. The modern Italian restaurant with handmade pasta is located in downtown Topeka and offers everything from house-cured charcuterie to fresh seafood and nightly gnocchi specials. Reviewers heaped praise on the restaurant, one writing, "Food was just excellent. Very delicious with generous portions. Food exceeded our expectations. Very good value as well."
KENTUCKY: Matt Winn's Steakhouse in Louisville
Matt Winn's Steakhouse is located on the sixth floor of Churchill Downs, where each table has an incredible view out to the horse track where the Kentucky Derby is held each year. Guests can choose from over 100 rare bourbons to start their meal, and move onto a seafood cart, which boasts all types of delicacies from the sea. "Amazing experience from beginning to end. There is nowhere else in the surrounding area at this level. If you haven't tried it, you're missing out," said one reviewer.
LOUISIANA: Brennan's in New Orleans
Step back in time at Brennan's, which has been a New Orleans staple since 1946. This is the restaurant that invented Bananas Foster, which is still prepared tableside 75 years later. As one reviewer said, "Every bit of charm is poured out when you enter this restaurant! The service complimented the ambiance, with a piano playing in the background."
MAINE: Walkers Maine in York
Walkers Maine is a warm and welcoming restaurant where the cozy environment is only outshined by the food. The menu has a wide range of food including lumpia, ceviche with Maine flounder, and wood-fired pork chops with jambalaya. One reviewer raved, "From beginning to end, this place is at the top of its game. The ambiance, staff, food… all on point. I've eaten in amazing places all around the world, this place has earned its place at the top."
MARYLAND: Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore
Baltimore is home to Alma Cocina Latina, where Venezuelan cuisine is the star. The restaurant is serving everything from traditional arepas for an appetizer to whole fried branzino with mango salad as an entree. "I highly, highly recommend Alma Cocina if you're looking for delicious cocktails and Latin food with a modern, unexpected twist… Run, don't walk, and get yourself a flavorful, unique meal you won't regret," said one smitten reviewer.
MASSACHUSETTS: Newburyport Rear Range Lighthouse
Have a private dinner for two overlooking the harbor and the quaint towns nearby at the Newburyport Rear Range Lighthouse. The top of the lighthouse has been transformed into a small dining room that can be rented out for up to four people, and meals brought in by local chefs and favorite restaurants.
MICHIGAN: The Whitney in Detroit
The Whitney is a historic Victorian mansion turned restaurant that also happens to be haunted. The four-course menu is filled with American classics like Beef Wellington, lobster bisque, and bread pudding. One reviewer said, "The service was excellent, food was great, and the overall experience was unique and delightful! We had a ball!"
MINNESOTA: Kaiseki Furukawa in Minneapolis
Kaiseki Furukawa is a modern Japanese kitchen and bar where diners are treated to a multi-course meal each night. Each ten-course seasonal tasting is done at the second-floor chef's tasting counter, where you can wine and dine in an intimate setting. One diner confessed to being emotionally moved by the experience, saying "This was such a beautiful experience that was so special I almost got a little emotional. This is Japanese cuisine at its finest that's worth saving up for for a special occasion."
MISSISSIPPI: Vestige in Ocean Springs
Vestige is known for its ever-changing chef's tasting menu. The menu is filled with American and Japanese fusion food made with locally-sourced, sustainable ingredients. One reviewer called it a "foodie's dream" saying, "We had the Chef's prepared menu and were blown away with every course, the dishes were Michelin star quality in every way. Do not miss this place!"
MISSOURI: The Lucky Accomplice in St. Louis
St. Louis is where you'll find The Lucky Accomplice. The restaurant is known for its high-end dining menu without the stuffiness of many high-end restaurants. The Roasted Pork Collar served with shishito salsa macha and tomatillos is said to be a guest favorite on the menu. One reviewer raved about some other items as well, saying "This place nailed it! The food, service and feel of it is really awesome. We enjoyed our meal there so much – our favorites being the mushroom plate and gnudi. OMG. I am dreaming of them still."
MONTANA: Cafe Kandahar in Whitefish
Since 1983 Cafe Kandahar has been serving the best in fine dining and seasonal ingredients to the people of Montana, constructing the menu on the concept of "thoughtfully constructed cuisine." Some favorite dishes at the restaurant include the pork belly with rhubarb and candied ginger and bison tenderloin with mushrooms and blue cheese. One reviewer couldn't get over the place saying, "I rarely give reviews, but two months later and I still bring up this meal to my husband, including specific dishes and wines paired with it. If available, please get the Forest Mushrooms, Madeira Crème, Montana Chevre, Thyme Pastry. It was heavenly."
NEBRASKA: Ole's Big Game Steakhouse in Paxton
For eight decades Ole's Big Game Steakhouse has been the place to be in Nebraska. The quirky restaurant serves basic bar fare like burgers and sandwiches, but you're really coming here for the delightfully weird decor like a full-sized polar bear in a glass case and a giraffe that peers over tables. "This place was absolutely fabulous, stopped for a bite during a road trip and was absolutely impressed!! Super super cool place and the food was fabulous! Try the prime rib sandwich you will not be disappointed," gushed one reviewer.
NEVADA: Blackout in Las Vegas
Dine in the dark at Blackout in Las Vegas, where a seven-course meal will be served to you in complete darkness. The only people who are able to see in this restaurant are the servers who are all wearing night-vision goggles. "This is a truly unique experience. If you're a foodie, like taking risks and trying new things then this is the place for you." said one reviewer.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train in Woodstock
Take a two-hour train journey on the Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train and enjoy a five-course meal while you take in the sights and sounds of everything going on around you. The menu includes dishes like creole shrimp cakes and butternut squash ravioli. "Just like times of old! Fabulous waitstaff! Delectable food!! Accommodation for special dietary needs!!! Definitely a do-again adventure," raved one diner.
NEW JERSEY: Aarzu in Freehold
Since 2016 Aarzu has been serving modern, elevated Indian food in Freehold. The restaurant serves everything from smoked quail eggs and duck tacos, to beetroot tikki with goat cheese and chicken tikka with smoked tomatoes. If you love Indian food you have to try this place according to this reviewer, "This is my absolutely favorite Indian restaurant in NJ. I've come here multiple times and every single time the food has been exceptional. Over the years I've brought many of our friends here and every single one of them has loved it."
NEW MEXICO:Tia Sophia's in Santa Fe
Tia Sophia's is said to be the birthplace of the breakfast burrito so that automatically makes it a must-visit. The restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch so be sure to get there early. But be careful when ordering because as the menu states, Tia Sophia's isn't responsible for too hot chiles in your meal. Diners love it, one saying, "What a treat! Tia's hit the mark in the only 3 categories that matter: Great food, terrific location, and friendly, efficient service."
NEW YORK: Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a true farm-to-table dining experience in the middle of the Hudson Valley. Chef Dan Barber heads a team that coaxes the best of the land for a truly memorable meal like no other. Presented in multiple courses, no two meals are ever alike and the service is top-notch. "What an incredible experience," said one reviewer, "I wish we came earlier to explore the grounds and farms where all the magic happens."
NORTH CAROLINA: Artisanal in Banner Elk
One restaurant that's not to be missed in North Carolina is Artisanal. The restaurant is open seasonally from early May through October and works with a local organic farm to curate ingredients for dishes. Each of the three-course menus is curated based on what's available each night and can change through the season. You'll need to have somewhat of a sense of adventure to eat here, but it's worth it for the impeccable experience. "Banner Elk is already the cutest little town but this restaurant makes it so so amazing. It's the best farm to fresh table restaurant I've been to thus far. Nothing but raving things to say. I wish I could give it more than 5 stars," raved a satisfied customer.
NORTH DAKOTA: The Toasted Frog in Grand Forks
Sometimes bar food is just what you need, and at the Toasted Frog they are serving up elevated bar food with a twist. The menu is filled with things like fried pickles that are wrapped with Havarti cheese instead of breaded, elk burgers with caramelized onion aioli, and wood-fired pizza topped with beef tips and gorgonzola cheese. "Amazing staff! Pickles are the best I have ever had! Never had an Elk burger, decided to try it and was not disappointed. Highly recommended," gushed one reviewer.
OHIO: Ghostwriter Public House in Johnstown
American classics and seasonal ingredients are the highlights at Ghostwriter Public House. Once you step inside you'll feel like you've stepped back in time to a bygone era without cell phones and emails. The menu is filled with delicious bites like deviled eggs with pickle relish and bacon, passionfruit and honey glazed chicken sandwiches, and steak fries with black garlic steak sauce. "Absolutely amazing. Beautiful cozy atmosphere and incredibly good food all for a reasonable price. The food is very high quality and always has been cooked to perfection every time I go," said one reviewer.
Nonesuch is a small, 22-seat restaurant that thrives on its tasting menu experience. The ten-course meal uses ingredients from the farms and prairies around the state to create elevated dishes that diners can't seem to get enough of. "Seriously one of my favorite experiences in OKC. Not only is it a unique dining experience but the food itself looks like art. I love that ingredients are actually local and hand-picked from the chefs. This is the type of food you eat slowly in order to savor and get the full flavors of everything," gushed one guest.
OREGON: The Painted Lady
Located in Newberg, The Painted Lady specializes in French-American cuisine with tasting menus and wine pairings. Dishes on the current tasting menu include tomato sorbet with basil oil and balsamic gel, butternut squash agnolotti, and a miso custard with shrimp and pickled red onions. One diner said everything was superb, "Truly one of the best meals I've ever had anywhere (and I've traveled the world)."
PENNSYLVANIA: Altius in Pittsburgh
Altius is a AAA Four Diamond Award-winning restaurant in Pittsburgh, where guests dine on seasonal American cuisine, with a stunning view of the city. The menu ranges in style from southern spicy she-crab bisque to modern-American Chilean sea bass with smoked gouda purple potato puree. "The view was epic. Amazing customer service and we had a wonderful sommelier who recommended a great wine. It's worth the cost overall. We will be back," said one satisfied customer.
RHODE ISLAND: Los Andes in Providence
Los Andes is a Peruvian restaurant in the heart of Providence. The restaurant is known for its lobster paella, seafood ceviche, and Peruvian fried seafood that's served with fried yucca and plantain chips. Reviewers call it "out of this world" and "a taste of paradise" and rave about the large portions and unique flavors.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Zero Restaurant and Bar in Charleston
Zero Restaurant and Bar in Charleston brings together seasonal American cuisine and precise technique to make dishes sing. The restaurant has a multi-course tasting menu for guests to enjoy, and each week there are onsite cooking classes led by Executive Chef Vinson Petrillo. A reviewer compared it to the best restaurant in the world saying, "The tasty menu shows off Chef Petrillo's skills and compares favorably with the quality of French Laundry and Eleven Madison (as well as London's Launceston and George V)."
SOUTH DAKOTA: Skogen Kitchen in Custer
While traveling through Custer be sure to stop in at Skogen Kitchen. The restaurant serves globally-inspired fare with a focus on local ingredients. Some favorite menu items include fried chicken steamed buns, housemade ravioli stuffed with housemade ricotta cheese, and roasted beef cheeks with spinach and manchego cheese. "This is a very fine dining experience without being pretentious. The wine list and dessert wine/port selections were excellent. The food was amazing, it was an overall excellent experience," gushed one reviewer.
TENNESSEE: The Rabbit Hole at Henley's in Nashville
Themed after Alice in Wonderland, The Rabbit Hole allows diners to go deep into the kitchen at Henley's to do a tasting dinner inspired by the local farmers and food artisans of Tennessee. No two menus are the same, so you could go back again and again to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience multiple times. One guest explains, "We took a trip down the Rabbit Hole and it was indescribably delicious! This is definitely a trip worth taking! You enter the chef's table through a bookcase door that leaves those seated in the dining room reeling with wonder."
TEXAS: Emmer and Rye in Austin
Emmer and Rye serves farm-to-table cuisine with a menu that changes daily based on what's available. The carbon-neutral restaurant serves a variety of modern dishes like summer squash with green mole, smoked cheddar, and black garlic ice cream with chocolate, orange, and tomato. "Easily top 5 meal of my life, maybe even #1. Food is sublime and the staff are all knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and wonderful people," raved one diner.
UTAH: Franck's Restaurant in Holladay
Franck's Restaurant whips up French-American food in an unpretentious setting. The high-end menu features dishes like Beets a l' Orange with goat cheese, Tamari-Glazed Korbuta Pork Loin, and Chocolate Hazelnut Pie with bourbon gelato. "This chef is incredible. The service is second to none. Our favorite place for sure," said one diner.
VERMONT: A Single Pebble in Burlington
It's rare to find a table-service Chinese restaurant that's still making everything by hand, including dumplings and soups, but that's exactly what A Single Pebble is doing. Everything on the menu is served family style, but if you want a more elevated experience consider the chef's tasting dinner. The restaurant has been featured on national TV shows and has been named one of the best Chinese restaurants in the country. "I was blown away by the food – even though I read the reviews and they were glowing," said one customer.
VIRGINIA: Three Blacksmiths in Sperryville
Three Blacksmiths is known for its tasting menu that changes weekly. The restaurant is a warm and inviting space where you'll dine on a five-course meal, with dishes like lobster and burrata raviolo and lamb with olive brined turnips. Reviewers call it "extraordinary" and "one of the best dinners I've ever had."
WASHINGTON: Archipelago in Seattle
Archipelago is a small restaurant where most ingredients are sourced from BIPOC and woman-led small farms, producers, and small businesses in the area. The tasting menu consists of nine to 12 courses with a focus on seasonal ingredients which are transformed into American-Filipino fusion food. This reviewer was blown away, stating "No surprise they have 35 5-star reviews to date. I'm from Jersey City and spend many, many weekends eating in NYC. I've experienced a decent amount of fine dining, tasting menu, and curated experiences…never have I experience quite something like this."
WEST VIRGINIA: The Oak in Pipestem
Casual fine dining is the name of the game at The Oak. The restaurant overlooks the fertile farmland of the area, while guests dine on dishes like rainbow trout with brown butter and lemon, and dry-aged filet mignon with morel mushroom compound butter. "We loved everything about this place. The food the atmosphere and the friendly owners, by far the best in the area. Ask about the history of the place and the 600-year-old Oak tree visible from all the picture windows in the dining room," suggests one reviewer.
WISCONSIN: Three Three Five in in Green Bay
Three Three Five is a modern American restaurant where the chefs work with local purveyors to create stunning dishes. Because of the ever-changing menu, you won't know what's actually available until you walk through the doors and sit down, which is part of the fun.
WYOMING: The Coop in Gillette
The Coop is known for everything chicken, from fried chicken gizzards to whole roasted chickens. While it might seem like a hole-in-the-wall place, locals swear it's the best chicken you'll ever have. "This is listed as a chicken rotisserie place, but it is so much more than that! Scratch made South American dishes with lots of flavor and great attention to detail," says one satisfied customer.
A previous version of this article was originally published in December 2021.