New York Citywd-50 There are plenty of reasons not to like wd-50. The pre-opening hype was overwhelming, and the food (oysters pounded into a thin sheet) sounds weird. But chef Wylie Dufresne (an F&W Best New Chef 2001) is shockingly inventive. And when an idea workslike the oysters, served with dried olives and pistachio creamit's brilliant. Best dishes Linguine-like squid with melon, ham and paprika yogurt; seared beef with a bone marrow tart. The space A renovated bodega with an industrial look. The banquettes' upholstery was inspired by one of Dufresne's old ties (50 Clinton St.; 212-477-2900). Kate Krader
San FranciscoPiperade At this Basque bistro, Gerald Hirigoyen (an F&W Best New Chef 1994) has created something truly compelling. Hirigoyen is from Basque country, and his attachment to the region expresses itself in his exuberant food. Best dishes Warm sheep's milk cheese and cured ham terrine; pipérade, made with green peppers, tomatoes, garlic and Espelette peppers. The space Softly lit, with wood-beamed ceilings and exposed brick (1015 Battery St.; 415-391-2555). Michele Repine
PhiladelphiaSalt After taking pictures of Philadelphia stalwart Le Bec-Fin for a magazine, photographer David Fields decided to open his own place, Salt. Chef Vernon Morales, formerly of Manhattan's Daniel, has developed a Spanish-inflected menu that's delicious and modern. Best dishes Mackerel tartare with beet gelée; jasmine-scented lamb with olive-caramel sauce. The space Cozy and minimalist, with a wall-mounted steel fireplace (253 S. 20th St.; 215-545-1990). K.K.
Los AngelesBastide L.A. hasn't seen many new places like Bastide lately. It's fancy French in a town that goes for casual Californian, and it's closed on weekends. Thanks, though, to chef Alain Giraud's exquisite modern French cooking and co-owner Joe Pytka's insane infusion of cash, Bastide is a hit. Best dishes Melon wrapped around Muscat aspic and crab; lavender-infused chicken. The space Paris designer Andrée Putman used beaded curtains to carve out intimate rooms in a cottage (8475 Melrose Pl.; 323-651-5950). Brad Johnson
BostonUpStairs on the Square This reincarnation of the beloved UpStairs at the Pudding, a former Harvard social club, features two restaurants and two top female chefs: Susan Regis and Amanda Lydon. Regis, formerly at Biba, oversees the Monday Club Bar, decorated with gilt, emerald suede and chandeliers galore. Lydon (an F&W Best New Chef 2000) runs the fancier, lipstick-pink Soirée Room. Best dishes Monday Club Bar: Crisp oxtail and caramelized parsnip salad. Soirée Room: Halibut with Maine-crab-stuffed zucchini flowers (91 Winthrop St., Cambridge; 617-864-1933). Mat Schaffer
ChicagoPili.Pili If there's one kind of restaurant that seems to lack focus, it's pan-Mediterranean. So it's a fabulous surprise to find a pan-Mediterranean establishment that's become so good so quickly. Chef François de Mélogue, a Chicago native with roots in the south of France, consulted his 1,500-title cookbook library to research the menu, which includes Provençal classics (some of which use a chile called pili-pili) but goes far beyond. Best dishes Bourride, a Provençal seafood stew; fideuà, a Catalan mix of noodles, monkfish, clams and saffron. The space Evocative of an Italian palazzo, with high ceilings, stone floors and cream-and-eggplant walls (230 W. Kinzie St.; 312-464-9988). Lisa Futterman
Solera It took a single trip to Barcelona to convince Tim McKee (an F&W Best New Chef 1997) and his business partner Josh Thoma that McKee's next restaurant should be Spanish. After many more trans-Atlantic journeys, they opened Solera with a selection of 40-plus tapas and more than three dozen sherriesone of the largest sherry lists in the U.S. Best dishes Cold-smoked cod with black-olive oil; pork ribs with spicy paprika sauce. The space The convivial front bar area has Gaudíesque blown-glass fixtures and a curved mosaic tapas bar; the dining rooms are more sedate (900 Hennepin Ave.; 612-338-0062). K.K.
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Chef-of-the-century Joël Robuchon has reinvented the French restaurant, dispensing with everything from hard-to-get reservations (L'Atelier doesn't take any) to conventional tables and chairs (diners sit on oversize red stools at a round bar). While the restaurant serves some of Robuchon's most famous dishes, many of the newer items on the menu are heavily influenced by Spain. JR himself might wander by to see how you're enjoying your meal. Best dishes Robuchon's classic langoustines en papillote; among his new concoctions, gazpacho with crunchy golden croutons. The space Modernist black-and-red with the feel of a lively bistro (5 rue de Montalembert; 011-33-1-42-22-56-56). Patricia Wells
Zaytinya Washington has countless ethnic restaurants with good food but no style. Zaytinya offers something new: a light, pretty space with an excellent meze menu from chef José Andrés, an alumnus of Spain's seminal El Bulli, with dishes from Greece, Turkey and Lebanon. It's one of the only spots in town where debates revolve around fashion designers, not tax cuts. Best dishes Havuç köftesi, fritters made with carrots, apricots and pine nuts; light tzatziki, the cucumber-yogurt dip (701 Ninth St. NW; 202-638-0800). Lily Barberio
LondonTom Aikens At 26, Tom Aikens already had two Michelin stars; then he disappeared from the London restaurant scene to cook for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Now Aikens is back with his own space, in Chelsea, offering a dining experience that's almost perfect, from the room andthe service to the bread basket. Best of all is his food, inspired by Gascony and then lightened with savory and sweet jellies. He's also generous, adding complimentary dishes that go miles beyond the standard amuse bouche. Best dishes Cured foie-gras terrine; rabbit confit with Sauternes jelly. The space Small, chic and minimalist; it was created by Anouska Hempel, the British designer known for painting her Amsterdam hotel 26 shades of white (43 Elystan St.; 011-44-207-584-2003). Jessica Palmer