Favorite Vacation Restaurants


As a foodie, I’m always on the lookout for a great bite to eat. Although, it seems this task gets harder the further I get from home as the restaurants grow increasingly unfamiliar. With picks from across the nation, here are my recommendations for travelers seeking some delicious nourishment.

Mama’s Fish House Restaurant and Inn
Maui, Hawaii
No one has ever asked me what I’d like to eat for my last meal on earth, but I’m ready with an answer. It is the indescribably perfect Mama’s mahi mahi stuffed with lobster and crab and baked in a macadamia nut crust. Trust me, it’s heaven on earth. Then I would wash down all this deliciousness with the most booze-forward mai tai I’ve ever had. (They say it’s Trader Vic’s recipe, he’s the guy most credited with mixing up the much copied tropical concoction.)

The restaurant/beach shack sits on a picture postcard setting on Maui’s North Shore. I suggest you go early evening to catch one of the best sunsets you’ll ever see. Aloha.

799 Poho Pl.
Paia, Maui, HI

Harbor View Café. Photo courtesy of Harbor View Café.

Harbor View Café. Photo courtesy of Harbor View Café.

Harbor View Café
Lake Pepin, Wisconsin
In my book, there’s nothing quite as spirit lifting as a good meandering drive on the weekend, so long as there’s a worthwhile payoff. Whether it’s summer or fall when the leaves are turning, Harbor View Café fulfills that requirement. The cozy and unassuming Cape Cod vibe instantly makes a person feel welcome. An eclectic menu with plenty of fresh fish, meat and, yes, vegetarian offerings can always be counted on for a satisfying meal. You’ll want to save room for desert which is worth every decadent bite.

314 First St.
Pepin, WI

Gunflint Tavern
Grand Marais, Minnesota
This place is one of our must-stops anytime we visit the North Shore and Gunflint trail. Originally we stopped in because of the great view of the Grand Marais harbor, but the food and people keep us coming back. Lots of craft beers and wines and kick ass Bloody Mary’s are the perfect companions to the nice assortment of fresh food offerings. A favorite of mine is the walleye filet…marinated in chardonnay and lemon and baked to perfection. Kurt’s fav is the award winning vegetarian chili which is served with guacamole, sour cream and blue corn chips.

111 W Wisconsin St.
Grand Marais, MN

The Loeb Boat House
Central Park, New York
Sure, it’s one of New York’s best-known tourist attractions, but the Boat House somehow manages to maintain its own identity in one of the best-known parks in the world. Long a favorite of movie and television directors (Sex And The City fans will recognize this as the spot where Big and Carrie fell into the water), I love it mainly because it provides a charming oasis of calm from the crazy pace of the city. And it is an ideal spot to sip a cocktail and munch on something while enjoying the picturesque setting. And, yes, you can even rent a boat here. Reservations are a good idea.

E 72nd St. and 5th Ave.
New York, NY

San Francisco, California
I grew up near San Francisco and this is my family’s favorite occasion restaurant. When you step into the grand Belle Epoque appointed dining room with sweeping views of the water and Bay Bridge, it really feels like you are some place special. And for good reason; the historical building that houses Boulevard is the only local structure to survive the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

Then there is the food. The kitchen is headed by Northern California culinary royalty Nancy Oakes who says, “We don’t think for a minute that we’ve invented a new cuisine or discovered a new approach to cooking, only a never ending quest for what’s delicious.” I’ve never gone wrong with server recommendations. Extensive champagne and wine lists. Expensive but worth splurging for.

1 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA

Rams Gate Winery. Photo courtesy of Rams Gate Winery

Rams Gate Winery. Photo courtesy of Rams Gate Winery

Rams Gate Winery
Sonoma, California
Kurt recently introduced me to this relatively new kid on the wine and culinary block in California’s original wine country, the Napa-Sonoma Valley. Opened in 2011, Rams Gate, with its reclaimed wood and modern design (think Restoration Hardware inspired), looks like the kind of place I’d want my home and winery to look like if I lived here. Okay, I have a vivid imagination.

Perched on a hill overlooking vineyards and a sweeping vista of the picturesque Sonoma Valley, it offers a unique experience for visitors. Whether you want to tour the winery, do a tasting, or have a picnic by the pond on the grounds, they can make it happen. And while not a restaurant with a full menu, you can buy delicious food pairings to go with the wine.

28700 Arnold Dr.
Sonoma, California

Central Michel Richard
Washington, D.C.
You don’t have to be politically connected to get a table at this popular D.C. eatery, but you just might see a few of Washington’s glitterati here. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise; the location is perfect, the food is great, and so are the cocktails.

Acclaimed French Chef Michel Richard’s menu offers new and fresh twists on classic American favorites. For example, the burger has a base of tomato confit topped by grade-A beef with crunchy potato tuiles, bacon and cheddar. (Easily one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten.) Along with comfort food favorites, there are also fresh fish entrées and a generous array of veggies and salads. Don’t worry if you didn’t make a reservation and the place is packed, head to the bar; it’s the same menu.

1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C.

Coco Pazzo Italian Restaurant
Chicago, Illinois
In a city that has no shortage of world-class food choices, it’s difficult to stand out, yet this place does.

Located in the River North area of downtown, the welcome begins as you take in some of the inviting smells in the inviting loft space. Close your eyes, inhale, and you’ll think you’re in Tuscany. Of course, that’s the whole idea!

All of the pasta is homemade. Standouts include pappardelle wild boar ragù and the antipasto bar, which could be a meal by itself. Attentive servers are terrific at not only explaining the menu, but they are also particularly adept at helping expand your culinary horizons.

300 W. Hubbard St.
Chicago, Il

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