Even though more and more people are eating at home due to the economic crunch, dedicated foodies still make their weekend treks to the city’s best restaurants for a memorable gastronomic experience. That is, if they can get a table or a reservation. If you live in a big, cosmopolitan city like New York, Miami or Los Angeles, then you’ve probably experienced having to wait a certain period to get a table at the hottest ticket in town.
Some restaurants make it easy for guests to reserve a table for their special days or weekends. A simple phone call or a quick online reservation booking is usually enough to secure a table in most restaurants or if you’re a regular patron of an establishment, you may already have a table waiting for you with a server that knows your name.
The restaurants in this list however, may require more effort if you want to try out their much-raved about menu. In fact, determination is an absolute requirement if you want to get a table in one of these celebrated restaurants.
Spending hours upon hours trying to get past the busy tone is not unusual for those who’ve attempted to get in touch with someone to book a table. There are even entries in this list who only take reservations at specific times per day, making the reservation process even more challenging.
But for those who persevered and never stopped trying, they were rewarded with some of the most fêted dishes in the culinary world. If you’re the adventurous foodie who wants to be able to say that you’ve dined in some of the world’s most famous and infamous restaurants, this list will give you a good idea of which places you should be targeting on your next culinary excursion.
Here is a list of the most renowned restaurants in the world with the longest reservation lists.
10 Schwa in Chicago, Illinois: three weeks lead time
Schwa is owned by Michael Carlson and serves contemporary American cuisine that emphasizes food as art. There are only 26 seats in this restaurant and the food is delivered to the diners straight from the kitchen without being handled by servers and wait staff. Schwa has one Michelin star.
Molecular gastronomy is the key theme of the restaurant though the interior takes a more minimalistic motif. Guests have the option to pay $55 for a three course-meal or $110 eight to ten-course taster menu.
Reservations are required and walk-ins will be turned away even in the face of a half empty restaurant. It’s a typical complaint that phones aren’t answered, calls aren’t returned and the voice mail inbox is always full. The average lead time is three weeks though it is not uncommon for Schwa to cancel reservations even if you’re just 90 minutes away from your scheduled booking.
9 Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo, Japan: one month lead time
Sukiyabashi Jiro has become like a holy grail for foodies all over the world. Jiro is regarded as one of the world’s most famous and celebrated sushi masters which makes his humble Michelin 3-star restaurant a tourist destination for foodies visiting Tokyo. The restaurant can only seat 10 people at a time. Dinner service promptly starts at 7PM and if you’re unable to show up for your reservation, you have to pay a ¥15,000 (about $150) no-show fee.
The restaurant only accepts reservations through a hotel’s concierge and you’ll need to have a Japanese friend or guide call the hotel to make the reservation on your behalf. Once your reservation is considered, you’ll need to have your Japanese contact deliver ¥20,000 (about $200) to Jiro himself to confirm the reservation. If you schedule your reservation months in advance, you may be able to be approved by Jiro without the need for Japanese connections.
As of mid November 2013, Sukibayashi Jiro is fully booked until the end of December. They will continue accepting reservations from December 1 onwards for January bookings.
8 Yam’Tcha in Paris, France: one month lead time
This unique restaurant combines French and Chinese cuisine with an impressive selection of teas and wine that is paired with each course for an additional price. Yam’Tcha’s Paris location only seats a maximum of 20. The restaurant has one Michelin star.
Guests have the option to pay €60 (about $80) for a four course meal or €100 (around $135) for a six course tasting meal and they can add an additional €10 (or $14) for tea pairing.
Reservations are not required but walk-ins find it nearly impossible to get a table. Hopeful foodies are recommended to call the restaurant from 10AM to 3PM and again at 7PM to 10:30PM from Tuesdays to Saturdays. The restaurant is closed for lunch on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. Reservations are accepted on the first Friday of the month for tables for the following month. So if you’re trying to get a table for May 2014, you need to call to make the reservation on April 4, 2014.
7 minibar by Jose Andres in Washington D.C.: two months lead time
Foodies all over the country rejoiced when minibar by José Andrés reopened with more tables in November of last year. Unfortunately, a bigger seating capacity has not alleviated the wait times that patrons have to endure to make a reservation. The venue has expanded from only six seats to 12.
Lucky guests are treated to over 20 courses which will be served in a little over two hours. The food served is a fusion of sorts. A strong Asian theme is complemented by uncommon prep and cooking techniques. The food is prepared in front of the diners while they enjoy cocktails and aperitifs. The going rate for a meal at minibar is $225 per person.
Since reopening, minibar has also changed its reservation booking method. Hopefuls are now only required to send an e-mail with their preferred dates, number of party and preferred seating time. You can only reserve for the following times: 6 to 6:30PM or 8:30 to 9PM. The reservation system operates by seasons. For example, the Fall/Winter season is from September 3 to December 30 and reservations for that season will begin on July 1st. For the Spring/Summer season, reservations begin on December 1st.
6 The French Laundry in Yountville, California: two months lead time
As the name suggests, French Laundry is restaurant serving the best contemporary French cuisine and is owned and operated by head chef Thomas Keller. It is located in Napa Valley and it sits on a building that is included in the National Register of Historic Places. French Laundry has three Michelin stars and was named the Best Restaurant in the Americas from 2005-2008. The restaurant can seat only 60 guests at a time.
The restaurant follows a pris fixe format. The current price per person is $270 and diners can expect a nine course tasting menu that is offered only twice a day and all ingredients are only used once a service.
There are two ways to make a reservation at French Laundry: online and by phone. Reservations must be made two months in advance. The restaurant uses OpenTable for its online reservations and they only release two tables per day for a party of four and a party of two.
The phone lines open at 1PM Eastern Time but hundreds have experienced receiving a busy tone as early as an hour before the lines are officially opened. Another option will be to ask your hotel’s concierge to attempt to make a reservation on your behalf. Again, there is no guarantee that they will be able to successfully get you a table on your preferred dates. If you have an American Express card, you can also ask their concierge to try and secure a reservation for you.
5 The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, UK: two months lead time
This three Michelin star restaurant sits in a quiet 16th century building and serves up unique molecular gastronomy dishes like the Egg and Bacon Ice Cream. The Fat Duck has a 40 seating capacity and a nine-course tasting menu costs £195 (about $316) per person. The restaurant is open from Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Reservations have to be made two months in advance and can be made online through their booking system or by phone. New tables are released online every 10PM daily and the reservation lines are open from Mondays to Fridays between 11AM and 2PM. If you are unable to secure a table on your preferred dates, you can request to be put on the waiting list and a Fat Duck representative will get in touch with you if they can give you a table.
4 Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark: three months lead time
Noma is a two star Michelin restaurant owned by Claus Meyer and head chef René Redzepi. They serve Nordic food that tells a story with dishes like “The Hen and the Egg”. The food is locally sourced and “foraged”. Menus change regularly as the restaurant serves up seasonal ingredients creatively prepared and constructed Noma-style.
Eating at Noma can run your bill up to €400 (or $544) per person. This price includes wine pairings for a 20+ course meal.
Reservations can be done through phone or online using their booking system. There is a three month lead time to get a table and reservations only open during the 6th of every month. So on the 6th of December, you can already make a reservation for March of 2014.
Stay on your toes though, Noma reports receiving over 20,000 calls on reservation day so consider yourself extremely lucky if your call goes through and you get to reserve a table for yourself.
3 El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain: 11 months lead time
El Celler de Can Roca is owned and operated by three Roca brothers. It has been hailed as the world’s best restaurant for 2013 which makes it extra impossible to land a table on a random night, certainly understandable for an establishment with only a 45-people seating capacity.
The brothers use molecular gastronomy techniques in preparing and cooking their food. The ingredients for the dishes are locally sourced and the chefs combine traditional flavors with creative cooking techniques and unique food presentation.
El Celler de Can Roca requires an astounding 11 month lead for reservations, a two month jump from the previous nine months lead time before they were dubbed as the best restaurant in the world. At the first of every month, the restaurant accepts reservations for eleven months ahead. So if you call on December 1st, they’ll be accepting reservations for November 2014. And FYI, they are already fully booked until April 2014 for both lunch and dinner.
The restaurant only accepts reservations through phone but you’ll need to be patient in getting through the very busy line.
2 Talula’s Table in Philadelphia, PA: one year lead time
Talula’s Table is only six years old but it’s already one of the most popular restaurants in the country. The restaurant only serves organic ingredients that are locally sourced. A five-course dinner meal costs $50 but guests can come in daily to enjoy a regular lunch menu. People can also come in to do a bit of market shopping for gourmet food. Check their website for the different dishes included in the menu.
The set dinner is served at 7PM from Tuesdays to Sundays and reservations are done online and menus change every month. You’ll need to reserve exactly a year in advance. For example, if you call on December 1, 2013, your reservation will be for December 1, 2014. Their website announces reservation cancellations so be sure to check their site regularly.
1 Rao’s; New York City (limited)
Rao’s have been serving southern Italian cuisine since it was established in 1896 by Charles Rao. The current owner Frank Pelligrino has been nicknamed " Frankie No" referring to his response to a reservation request. The restaurant is open from Mondays to Saturdays from 10AM to 10PM.
The restaurant has an intimate ambiance and the menu is filled with Italian classics. Guests are greeted by name upon entering the restaurant. A dinner will typically cost over $100 per guest but if you ask the rare few who get the opportunity to dine at this exclusive restaurant, they will tell you that every penny was well worth it.
Securing a table at Rao’s is not a matter of diligently calling up the restaurant every day until you speak with a human. As a matter of fact, Rao’s do not have a booking phone line nor do they have an online reservations system. Over time it has been established that the regulars of Rao’s have semi-permanent reservations and if they will be absent for a certain date, they offer the reservation to their friends and those friends get to bring their friends. Common guests dining at this restaurant will include top celebrities such as Woody Allen , politicians such as Bill Clinton, you will surely be dining among the most affluent of crowds. Reservations to this restaurant are paid for a year in advance and can cost $1,000 and $25,000 annually for a table of four.
Bottom line, Rao’s is more like a semi-private club and to get a taste of Rao’s cuisine at Rao’s, you’ll need to know someone on the inside who can get you in.