I'll go just about anywhere for a good meal. Based on nothing more than wisps of rumors gathered third-hand, I've eagerly made my way to sterile strip malls, seedy boardwalks, decaying industrial districtswherever. That doesn't mean, though, that I'm only happy eating in crummy surroundings. When I find a great restaurant in a part of the country that's worth the trip all on its own, I feel like a little kid who's tricked his mother and father into paying his allowance twice.
The five restaurants praised on the following pages offer that sweet sensation of double-dipping. Each exploits its location to the fullest, right down to using prime regional ingredients. Manka's, in Inverness, California, crafts thoughtful, delightful menus in the idyllic natural wonderland known as the Point Reyes peninsula. The Rocky Mountains loom over Valhalla, an unusually civilized ski-country dining room in Park City, Utah. A ferry ride leads to a waterside spot in the San Juan Islands, Washington, where chef Christina Reid-Orchid turns Pacific Northwest ingredients into unpretentious and delicious meals. Not only does Christina's have amazing views, but it's on the second floor of a gas station. A gas station! Sounds like my kind of place.