These Are the World’s Best Restaurants: North America, South America, Africa and Middle East
One anonymous critic traveled the world to give you 30 reasons to book a trip now.
For the first time ever, Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine have partnered on an ambitious and exciting new platform — curated by one anonymous critic, who journeyed around the world to discover the best restaurants that travelers must visit right now. As much about the destinations as it is about the food, this list aims to reflect the most vibrant aspects of each location it represents, capturing dining experiences that fully express the culture of each country, city, or region.
The list was curated by James Beard Award-winning writer Besha Rodell, who has been reporting on food and culture for almost two decades, in multiple cities and across two continents. Currently the dining critic for the New York Time’s Australia bureau, Rodell accepted recommendations from a global panel of experts across the hospitality and restaurant industries made up of our own editors and 22 noteworthy culinary personalities.
Over four months, she visited 81 restaurants in 24 countries and across six continents, stayed in 37 hotels, spent 279 hours in the air, and traveled more than 100,000 miles to arrive at the list of 30 restaurants. To read more about how our critic chose the list, check out the explanation of our methodology.
Here, we are publishing a portion of this collaborative project between Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine.
Alfonsina, Oaxaca, Mexico
Even my Oaxacan cab driver was unsure as we inched down the road, which had gone from paved to unpaved to dusty dirt track.
We were on the outskirts of a neighborhood called San Juan Bautista la Raya, near the airport. The cabbie rolled down his window and asked a young woman on a bicycle who was passing by. “Hay un restaurante aquí?”
“Sí!” she said brightly, pointing up the road. “Alfonsina!”
“Alfonsina,” the cab driver said to me. “Is it famous?”
“Not yet,” I said.
But it should be. Run by chef Jorge León and his mother, Elvia León Hernández, Alfonsina tastes like both the history and the future of Oaxacan cuisine. Located in the bottom floor of the León family home, about 20 minutes outside of the city center, the setting is as personal as dining can be. When you arrive, you sit on a patio next to a tree where chickens roost and warble loudly. A family member brings you the agua of the day, perhaps flavored with fresh mango or passion fruit.
León began as a dishwasher at Casa Oaxaca, the well-known (and fantastic) restaurant in the center of Oaxaca City, before graduating to cooking. He then spent five years at Pujol in Mexico City. His mother was already cooking for the neighborhood, making tortillas by hand on a wood-fired clay comal, and she continues to do so in a long room that is part dining area, part kitchen. Alfonsina is the name of Hernández’s mother, León’s grandmother. When León returned from Mexico City, he began offering a five-course lunch.
On the day I visited, men from the neighborhood were finishing up lunch, taking a stack of Hernández’s warm, freshly made tortillas with them when they left. They were replaced by an international group there for a birthday party, having heard about León’s cooking through well-connected friends in the food world.
My five-course lunch had elements of deep tradition passed down through the family and elements of striking modernity. It began with a tostada topped with raw slices of corvina, sautéed mushrooms, and crispy sticks of leek. Next came a white mole—traditionally served at weddings—made from cauliflower and fresh corn kernels and topped with sautéed shrimp and a pile of delicate squash blossoms. Huauzontle, a wild green with an earthy, herbaceous flavor, is dipped in a light tempura batter and fried then laid delicately over fresh cheese and a sauce León calls “salsa macha,” the greenest sauce I’ve ever seen or tasted.
Hernández’s gorgeous, supple tortillas are served with a pool of brick-red mole, topped with a swirl of julienned and pickled nopales. There is so much depth to this food, in the corn-rich tortillas, in the dusky mole, in the righteous and hallowed combination of the two.
Alfonsina exemplifies what makes Mexico perhaps the most exciting place in the world to eat in 2019. Tradition is honored at the same time that newness is allowed to flourish. The wisdom of the mother is treated with the same respect as the ambition of the son. Together, they create something unique to this place and this time. Something extraordinary.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Tarrytown NY, USA
There is a moment during your meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns when a trio of parsnips might arrive at the table, slathered in beef tallow and strung up on something that looks like a medieval torture device. As they swing from their strings, a cook or server will explain that parsnips are usually picked young to avoid woodiness, but these parsnips have been left in the ground—the ground just beyond the large windows of the restaurant—for a full 18 months, being allowed to freeze and thaw and freeze again. They are then dipped in beef tallow and allowed to dry age for a week, mellowing out their woodiness and developing their sugars, before being pressed with similarly treated carrots and served as parsnip and carrot “steak.”
Who would think of such a thing? Who would take the year and a half to work this experiment, figure out the best use for huge woody parsnips, design a process for dry aging something that usually gets chopped roughly and thrown into a stew? Chef Dan Barber, that’s who.
There are many moments like this during a meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the Barber family’s restaurant in an old dairy barn on former Rockefeller land in Pocantico Hills, New York. At one point, your server will invite you to stand up and follow him or her out of the dining room, through some doors and into an alcove filled with sacks of flour. You are about to get a lesson—about grain, about the growing and milling of wheat, about the density and flavor of various flours—delivered by an engaging employee who is bread-obsessed. You are instructed to sample the bread, along with “single-udder butter,” the udder belonging to a cow named Alice.
This restaurant shares its grounds with a not-for-profit farm and learning center, but dining here these days gives you the sense that Blue Hill at Stone Barns’ most important function is as a laboratory. Barber is the mad scientist, transforming vegetables and meats and grains from their known states into new forms of being. And you are his test subject, sampling dishes such as beet jerky, beet tartare, and “radicchio that wanted to be an artichoke.” (It really does look like an artichoke!)
If all of this sounds rather cerebral, well, it is. But the folks at Blue Hill at Stone Barns never forget that you are here for pleasure, and the theater of the swinging parsnips is part of the grand show. This restaurant may be an ever-evolving experiment, but it is also—still, 15 years on—one of the most delightful dining experiences around. bluehillfarm.com
Jose Enrique, San Juan, Puerto Rico
When Jose Enrique opened his eponymous restaurant in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Santurce neighborhood in 2007, it quickly gained a following for the chef’s fresh takes on Puerto Rican cooking. The space was tiny, the menu was written on a whiteboard, and there was often a line out the door.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria took the roof and windows off of his restaurant, but that didn’t stop Enrique from immediately setting up to cook—with a generator—for the community. When José Andrés and World Central Kitchen arrived to provide meals to those affected by the storm, it was at Enrique’s restaurant where he first set up shop—until the need became so great that Andrés had to find a bigger kitchen.
Enrique eventually rebuilt and reopened, but now he’s claimed a bigger kitchen for himself. In July of this year the restaurant relocated to the beach, where it resides among the oceanfront hotels in a sleek mid-century-inspired space. The walls and floors are white, the accents gold and teak—it’s quite a departure from the riotously colorful building where he started. Compared to the old restaurant, this one is practically sprawling, and the offerings of the day are now printed elegantly on paper menus rather than handwritten on a whiteboard. What hasn’t changed is Enrique’s dedication to making food that’s as local as possible, from the ingredients to the dishes that showcase the exuberant cuisine of the island.
A lovely seafood cocktail was made with fat hunks of lobster on the day I dined at the white marble bar and served with tiny, fresh, hot arepas that provided a crispy, oily counterpart to the cool seafood. Morcilla, blood sausage, is perfectly spiced, bold yet comforting and eminently snackable. The mofongo has a beautifully crunchy edge that gives way to a center of soft and savory mashed plantains with just enough garlic to make the dish sing. Ask the bartender for a drink recommendation and she’ll whip up something with rum and passion fruit and a hint of tamarind—exactly what you want when sitting a stone’s throw from the bright blue Caribbean, eating food this vibrant.
The wonder of this restaurant is Enrique’s dedication to the traditions of this island, its people, and its food. He has an immense capacity for taking the heartiest of dishes and giving it elegance and nuance without robbing it of any of its brawn or soul.
His is a remarkable talent, and it’s led to a remarkable restaurant. joseenriquepr.com
Mariscos Ruben, Tijuana, Mexico
“In a week of fantastic eating, this is the place I remember most,” said one of our panelists when nominating Mariscos Ruben, a food truck in Tijuana, Mexico. “[It] stands out as one of the most memorable meals and the best seafood I have had in a long time,” said another. Notice a theme here? There is a lot of incredible street food in Tijuana and throughout Mexico and so many places to eat stunningly fresh seafood along the Baja coast. But something about Mariscos Ruben leaves an impression, one that has inspired great chefs and created countless swooning memories for visitors.
Owned and operated for 30 years by chef Mirtha Rodriguez, the specialty here is Sonoran-style seafood, and the main problem you’ll have is deciding what to order. Marlin tacos are filled with rosy, freshly smoked fish, then doused in creamy sauce and topped with shredded cabbage. Various aguachiles are available, depending on the fresh seafood of the day: If crab claws are on offer, do not miss out. Giant clams get a topping of queso blanco and are then wrapped in foil and cooked on the grill for a clams au gratin dish unlike any you’ve ever had.
If you’ve never experienced a true salsa epiphany, this is the place to change that—the salsa bar here is a thing of wonder, full of concoctions that are bold but elegant, complex but harmonious. Their texture is often almost creamy, with flavors that range from deep and nutty and smoky to bright and tropical.
Seating is under an awning between the truck and a grill that gives off the scent of sizzling fish and mesquite wood. Customers crowd in to eat side by side—locals on lunch breaks, groups on food tours, and hungry travelers from all over the world. Many chefs have been influenced by the Rodriguezes: Javier Plascencia, who has a small empire in the region, has cited Mariscos Ruben as inspiration for his restaurant Erizo; L.A.’s Walter Manzke gave credit to the truck as muse for the ceviche bar he installed in his Mexican restaurant Petty Cash.
It is wildly impressive that this family-run food truck could be so significant to so many people, but it’s also unsurprising. When you cook with this much heart and skill, you’re bound to make an impression.
N/Naka, Los Angeles, California, USA
I said it the first time I ate at n/naka more than five years ago, and I’ll say it again now: Meals at Niki Nakayama’s small, elegant restaurant unfold like poetry, flavors and dishes acting as phrases and stanzas in one long, lyrical, and utterly profound experience.
Nakayama was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles but spent years in Japan training in the art of kaiseki, the traditional, multi-course Japanese style of dining that focuses on seasonality and ritual. In 2011 she opened n/naka in an unmarked building on an unremarkable stretch of road in Palms, a mostly residential neighborhood in West Los Angeles. There, along with her sous chef and wife Carole Iida-Nakayama, Nakayama presents an intensely personal version of kaiseki, one that is almost as Californian as it is Japanese.
Over 12 courses, diners move through a series of complex dishes that showcase seasonal Southern Californian ingredients assembled in elaborate and beautiful combinations. Raw wild sea bream comes curled on the plate, intertwined with celtuce, Jade Beauty green tomato, buddha’s hand citron, and hibiscus and begonia flowers, and seasoned lightly with ume ponzu. Traditional sashimi is followed by a grilled dish of Spanish mackerel with kelp and black garlic oil, then a steamed dish of sweet shrimp with Santa Barbara uni.
Nakayama and her staff practice omotenashi, a style of service that places empathy above all else. N/naka exudes a quiet welcome that touches every aspect of the meal, from when you’re greeted by name at the door to the moment just before you leave when Nakayama appears at your table to sincerely thank you for visiting.
Almost all of the restaurants selected for this list are highly representative of their locations, a way of tasting the true nature of a place through its dining. So why, in Los Angeles, choose a restaurant that looks to Japan for much of its inspiration?
Because L.A.’s greatest asset is its diversity and its cultivation of culture that blurs the lines of influence and origin and arrives at something wholly new. N/naka is not a restaurant that would exist anywhere else: a chef born in Southern California but trained in Japan, working in a format traditionally reserved for men, growing her own produce and paying homage to the incredible edible bounty that’s possible in this specific part of the world. n-naka.com
Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco, California, USA
Dining at Swan Oyster Depot is like taking part in a boisterous family meal—if the family is the entire city of San Francisco (along with its many enthusiastic out-of-town guests). The camaraderie starts while waiting outside, where you will spend long enough to strike up conversation with your fellow-line standers. Once seated at the century-old counter inside, facing a wall plastered with vintage memorabilia, your stool will be close enough to your neighbors that friendliness is the only option.
The actual family at the heart of this operation are the Sanciminos, who bought Swan three generations ago from its original owners. It’s likely that a member of the Sancimino tribe will act as your affable guide once you’re seated, explaining your options and offering advice and encouragement. You can order from the hand-lettered and illustrated menu on the wall, or probe deeper to find out what else is available that day. My advice is to come with an appetite and go for all of the above: A dozen oysters to start, followed by the not-so-secret (but not on the menu) plate of “Sicilian sashimi”—slices of the freshest fish and seafood of the day, doused in olive oil and cracked pepper. Then turn to the classic crab salad, a thing of minimalist/maximalist beauty: a generous pile of sweet crab meat over shredded lettuce. If San Francisco is wallowing in its trademark damp weather, I’d throw in a cup of warming, creamy clam chowder.
The food at Swan Oyster Depot is practically perfect, mainly thanks to its simplicity. The Sancimino family serves tasty things from the ocean, at peak freshness, with very little adornment. But the real product they traffic in is joy: the joy of that seafood, yes, but also the joy of friendship and camaraderie and family; the joy of eating somewhere and feeling like part of a community; the joy of experiencing the humanity of a city and its people. What could be more delicious than that? swanoysterdepot.us
The Grey, Savannah, Georgia, USA
Is there another restaurant in America as handsome as The Grey? Savannah’s former Greyhound station, which opened in 1938, has been painstakingly restored and transformed. The front bar and back dining room are both dreams of art deco design, all polished metal and geometric shapes and buttery leather. In the dining room, the numbers for the bus departure gates still indicate where passengers once boarded.
While history provides much of the inspiration for this glorious design, it also provides a deeper context to the restaurant, what is being served there, and who is doing the cooking. When the bus station opened it was a segregated space. In The Grey we see that space reclaimed.
In fact, what has elevated the restaurant to another level entirely is its chef, Mashama Bailey. Bailey spent part of her childhood in Savannah before moving to New York City at age 11. And she’s taken her own family history, combined it with the tangled history of Southern food, and added the influences of her time training in France, her life in New York, and the legendary chef Edna Lewis. The results are stunning.
Foie gras and grits could devolve into a parody of Southern excess in another cook’s hands. In Bailey’s it is luxuriant and soulful, mainly because these are the best grits you are ever likely to eat: thick and rich and brightened by mostarda and red wine gravy. You could put almost anything on top of them and have a winning dish—the perfectly seared lobe of foie gras is almost comically lavish.
Bailey is telling stories with this cooking, choosing ingredients not just for their deliciousness but also for their cultural importance. The staple ingredients of historic African American foodways are highlighted and celebrated in almost every dish. Ragu is made with field peas and sweet corn; a rosy duck breast comes with loquat butter and sugarcane gastrique, highlighting the historical ties between the sugar industry and slavery.
It’s this amalgamation of factors that earns The Grey a spot on this list: its ability to revitalize the foodways of this part of the world, put them into a modern but thoughtful context, and deliver them in a space that is not only beautiful but full of historical resonance. If there’s one restaurant that will help you understand the South as it was, as it is today, and what it is becoming, The Grey is that place. thegreyrestaurant.com
Mil, Moray, Peru
There’s one main reason that people fly into Cuzco, Peru, brave the extreme altitude, and venture through the Sacred Valley of the Andes mountains: Machu Picchu, the Incan ruins that are high on any true adventurer’s bucket list. Now there’s another reason to make that trek.
Perched on the edge of Moray, another ancient Incan archaeological site, Mil is a true destination restaurant. To get there, you need to fly to Cuzco, then drive an hour and a half into the Sacred Valley—the restaurant itself is over 11,800 feet above sea level. Moray’s stone concentric circles were likely used for agricultural experimentation by the Incas, and it is their agrarian legacy—plus the agriculture of the entire Andean countryside—that inspires chef Virgilio Martínez’s menu and ethos.
Martínez is no stranger to greatness. His restaurant Central in Lima has already won him numerous accolades. But Mil is an achievement on another level altogether.
Built around a stone courtyard, Mil is sparsely decorated with strung-up dried native herbs and simple wooden furniture, allowing the dramatic mountain light streaming in through the windows to provide the dining room’s tranquil mood. The menu is served as a series of eight “moments,” all featuring the bounty of Peru’s various ecosystems.
The “plateau” course arrives in a flurry of small dishes: local leaves and lettuces sprinkled with elderberry flowers; dusty-pink lamb tartare slightly sweetened with cabuya nectar; a cream made from custard apples.
One course, “diversity of corn,” demonstrates the wildly different flavors inherent to different varieties of corn; another course, “Central Andes,” does the same for potatoes. By the time you get to dessert you may have rethought your relationship to fava beans and quinoa, as well as tasted new kinds of deliciousness you never knew possible. The meal finishes with a dish showcasing the chocolate they make on-site, which was undoubtedly the best chocolate I have ever tasted.
Food here is presented beautifully on simple but stunning tableware. There are no unnecessary theatrics; this is one of the least pretentious restaurants I visited, despite its incredibly high level of ambition. What you are left with, upon departing Mil, is a deep sense of calm—along with a profound appreciation for Peruvian history, cuisine and culture. milcentro.pe
La Mar, Lima, Peru
La Mar is the type of restaurant you should go to with a bunch of friends, order a wildly inappropriate amount of food, drink three more cocktails than intended, and stay hours longer than you’d planned. Andrés Rodríguez’s daytime-only temple to fresh seafood and bright Peruvian flavors is a place for celebrations, even if all you’re celebrating is the honor of being in Lima on a Tuesday afternoon.
The large triangular-shaped room bustles with groups partaking in just these types of celebrations. The long bar is packed with couples making tough decisions about what to order from the extensive menu, while a swarm of bartenders whir and shake and swizzle behind the stick. The pisco sour here is great, but you’d be foolish to miss out on the more creative cocktails—this is one of the best drink lists I’ve encountered.
At its heart, La Mar is a restaurant dedicated to raw seafood: piles of piquant ceviche, beautiful plates of tiraditos, and creative appetizers using whatever fish is freshest that day plus mangrove cockles and lobes of sea urchin. It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite—which is why you should bring a crowd and sample it all—but to me, the tiraditos were the absolute standout. Months later, I was still dreaming about the deep pink sea trout with avocado; quinoa; and tangy leche de tigre, the spicy, citrusy marinade.
Enormous grilled and fried whole fish are also available, and you can even order a grilled whole octopus if you’re really here to party. There are no reservations, and La Mar is massively popular, so be prepared to wait … and wait. It is, of course, 100% worth it. lamarcebicheria.com
Mani, São Paulo, Brazil
Brazil is everything you imagine it to be: vibrant, leafy, sensual, lush. No establishment captures that buoyant, colorful spirit better than Maní, Helena Rizzo’s fantastic restaurant in São Paulo’s artsy Jardim Paulistano neighborhood. The walls are splashed with art, and the patio’s filtered light casts exactly the right glow on the happy, stylish patrons. This is a deeply fun place to eat.
Rizzo worked in some of Europe’s most celebrated kitchens—El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, Sadler in Italy—before returning to her home country of Brazil to open Maní in 2006. Her cooking combines local ingredients with European techniques. Her food continues the celebration of all things vivid—you might start with her take on a ceviche featuring cashew fruit and cachaça and topped with a granita made from cajuína, a nonalcoholic beverage made from cashew apple juice. Quenching and bright, it sets the stage for the riot of flavor to come. Plump crayfish top a chilled deep-purple soup made from jaboticaba—a fruit that tastes like a cross between a grape and a particularly sweet plum—punctuated by pickled cauliflower and amburana nuts. The smoky grilled octopus comes with a paste made from rocoto peppers, along with corn, okra, red onions, and a peanut vinaigrette. Housemade hot sauce, which accompanies the catch of the day, is thrilling in its laser-like piquancy and spice, with vinegary, floral undertones.
Brazil’s food scene is bursting with talent; there were multiple restaurants in São Paulo alone that comfortably could have been featured on this list. But Maní is so unapologetic in its tropical exuberance, so focused on pure delicious pleasure that I would readily fly halfway around the world to revisit it. manimanioca.com.br
Africa + Middle East
4Roomed The Restaurant, Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town has no lack of high-end, European- and Asian-influenced restaurants. Some of them are very good. There are wineries in the nearby wine regions where you can have lunch overlooking vineyards, eating food that might lead you to believe you’re in California or France. But Cape Town is not in America or Europe. It’s in Africa. 4Roomed The Restaurant makes no secret of that fact—what’s celebrated here is the food and culture of Africa, and South Africa in particular.
Located in the Khayelitsha township, about a 30-minute drive from the center of Cape Town, the restaurant’s name is an homage to the four-roomed houses in which chef Abigail Mbalo-Mokoena grew up, where multiple families cohabitated and a communal culture of hospitality prevailed. Mbalo-Mokoena and her staff express that culture beautifully; the chef is intent on attracting tourists and locals alike, to invigorate the economy and community of the township.
Mbalo-Mokoena runs several dining concepts, including pop-up dinners and a food truck. Her eight-course shareable feast at the restaurant is fantastic, and at about $18 per person, it’s an incredible value.
First comes a wave of salads and vegetable dishes, like pap (similar to polenta) scented with nutmeg and topped with bisto, a rich and sweet tomato relish. A refined version of umngqusho, a staple south African dish made with samp—large, dehulled kernels of maize—is here cooked with coconut cream and tarragon.
Next comes a deeply flavored vegetable curry, chicken cooked with fennel, and tender sous vide beef topped with arugula and caramelized onion. Dessert often includes a burnt sugar component—a wink to Mbalo-Mokoena’s run as a contestant on MasterChef South Africa, where she was eliminated over burnt sugar.
I ate many good meals in and around Cape Town. But 4Roomed The Restaurant is unique—it’s an experience I could not have had anywhere else. 4roomedekasiculture.com
El Soussi, Beirut, Lebanon
El Soussi is not in a fashionable part of Beirut; the dining room is as basic as they come. But this is also one of the most welcoming restaurants I visited, despite the language barrier, and where I felt as though I was experiencing the warm, generous heart of the city.
It is a given that Lebanese breakfast is superior to most other kinds of breakfast—who wants cornflakes when you can have fatteh? At El Soussi, a famed morning spot, Raji Kebbe fills a bowl with crisp pita bread, spoons warm stewed chickpeas over top, then covers it in a blanket of tart yogurt. The final touch is a crown of sizzling pine nuts, cooked in lamb fat with gobs of garlic.
The bread becomes moistened but retains much of its crunch, the crispy pine nuts and garlic zap the other ingredients with flavor, and the chickpeas provide a comforting, creamy texture.
There are also salads, plus hummus topped with meat or ful (stewed fava beans), which may be the best hummus you’ve ever eaten. Chicken livers are cooked with onions, and the eggs with awarma, aka lamb confit, are not to be missed.
Kebbe has been cooking in the L-shaped nook of a kitchen in his modest storefront for 43 years. His warmth and energy as he mans the single open flame are part of why El Soussi is legendary. If I could choose to eat breakfast at one restaurant every day for the rest of my life, this would be that restaurant. facebook.com/elsoussiresto
Le Wine Chambre, Johannesburg, South Africa
Some restaurants exude magic, an enigmatic mixture of excitement, hospitality, and very good things on the plate and in the glass. That’s the feeling at Le Wine Chambre in Johannesburg. Jazz wafts from the speakers, the crowd murmurs and exclaims over cocktails and wine glasses, and the gregarious host drifts from table to table chatting and recommending things to taste and sip. There are many places where you can explore the exciting world of South African wines, but I’m not sure there is any that deliver as much magic as this place.
Opened in 2017 by engineer and oenophile Walter Melato, a black wine professional in an industry long dominated by white South Africans, Le Wine Chambre is a joyous celebration of the vinous bounty of this country. The space is a temple to wine: There’s a glassed-in room with bottles stretching to the ceiling, and around 25 wines are available by the glass on any given day.
Zimbabwean chef Harold Saidi cooks a tapas menu that is international in its scope, and one of the most exciting things about Le Wine Chambre is seeing South African wines paired with African dishes. Chicken livers sautéed in piri piri sauce are bright and spicy and fantastic with the recommended Riesling, and a Chardonnay from Stellenbosch was thrilling with a grilled kingklip with lemon butter.
For all the wealth of restaurants and wineries in South Africa, there actually aren’t that many places that find a way to match the food of the region with the wines now being produced there. Le Wine Chambre does that and so much more—it provides a place where wine, food, and culture bloom into a specifically South African experience. lwcillovo.com
The Ruined Garden, Fez, Morocco
The Medina of Fez, or Fez El-Bali, is a maze of hidden delights, ornate thousand-year-old palaces and mosques, and homes that only reveal their intricate beauty once you’ve stepped in through doors off narrow alleyways. Right near the center of the oldest part of the walled city is The Ruined Garden.
There’s an enchanted feeling as soon as you step into the courtyard that houses the restaurant. Lush greenery drapes over the worn tile floor and mismatched tables; lights strung through the foliage twinkle above. The scent of saffron, cinnamon, and stewing meats wafts from the open kitchen.
That saffron is front and center in a vegetable tagine that mixes flavors and textures beautifully. Smoked eggplant comes with a creamy cheese pâté and a swoop of local honey. Make sure you order the house specialty of fragrant, slow-cooked, spit-roasted lamb mechoui in advance.
Fez is home to luxe hotels, modern restaurants, and rooftop bars where you can sit and take in the incredible scenery while listening to the evening prayers drift across the city at sunset. But eating at The Ruined Garden was like being welcomed into someone’s home and being treated—and fed—like a valued family friend. ruinedgarden.com
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