In between cooking up hot spots, Zakarian became a judge on Food Network's 'Chopped' and won season four of 'The Next Iron Chef, Super Chefs' on the Food Network. Accomplished, indeed. Here are Geoffrey's five favorite restaurants:
Bern's Steakhouse - Tampa, FL - "There is only one reason to go to Bern's: the wine list. The only place in the U.S. to find such depth, breadth and value within one list."
Masa - New York, NY - "I have only dined here once, but the meal I experienced was incredibly memorable. Never in a meal have I learned something during every single course. Masa is a true master technician."
Bottega - Yountville, CA - "This Napa restaurant by Michael Chiarello has it right. Expert cooking with a casual, approachable ambiance. I can't wait to return."
Bartolatta - Las Vegas, NV - "Paul [Bartolotta] is just so incredibly committed to the fish and his product -- you can taste his dedication in the food."
Balthazar - New York, NY - "I go here for the best seafood plateau in New York. To me, there is nothing more enjoyable than enjoying some rose and eating through three tiers of raw and chilled seafood. The setting helps -- Keith McNally has transplanted the perfectly worn in Francophile hustle and bustle."
After honing his craft for seven years at Daniel Boulud's flagship French restaurant, Ansel went on to open his own bakery in New York's South Village in 2011. It's quickly become the highest ranked bakery in the U.S. according to Zagat 2013.
Here are Dominique's five favorite restaurants:
Salumeria Rosi - New York, NY - "The Pontormo salad wins me over every time. The crispy bits of warm Pancetta and soft scrambled egg slightly wilt the greens that are dressed in a vinaigrette. I think about that dish all the time -- the simplicity of it all, and yet how hard it is to carry out perfectly. Every great restaurant needs a dish like that."
15 East - New York, NY - "I'm always told by my Instagram followers that I eat a whole lot of sushi. And at 15 East, Chef Masa serves up some of the best and most generous sea urchin from Hokkaido that I've ever tasted."
Picca - Los Angeles, CA - "Peruvian cuisine absolutely intrigues me with the type of flavors they serve up. Something my taste buds are not very used to. Here, their causas -- these types of tiny sushi-like bites that come on top of whipped potato -- sounded strange to me at first, but are the perfect two bites of flavor. Braised ox tongue, a nice pan-fried egg to break over your steak, and ceviches soaking in perfect leche de tigre."
Blue Hill at Stone Barn - Tarrytown, NY - "I try to visit Stone Barn at least once a year to taste the amazing dishes based on the best ingredients. Something as simple as a toasted brioche is made with wheat grown on the premises and a selection of butters with the name of the cow attached. A vacation in a meal, every time."
Daniel - New York, NY - "I worked at Daniel for close to 7 years, and you'd think I had enough of the food. But every year for Thanksgiving, I go back. It's home to me, and I know there's a very dedicated and talented team there before everything."
Or maybe it's because she grew up as the daughter of an esteemed cookbook editor. Either way, here are Alex's five favorite restaurants:
Hearth Restaurant - New York, NY - "I love this homey mom 'n' pop. It's Italian with great American ingredients. I am obsessed with the veal meatballs, the snapper crudo and all the seasonal dishes Marco Canora cooks up. One of my all-time and (longtime) favorites."
Hinoki & the Bird - Los Angeles, CA - "From chefs Kuniko Yagi and David Myers. Love this place. Love the kale and the lobster roll. The desserts are refreshing. The cocktails ... addictive (and strong!). It feels like a blend of Cali and Japan, in the best way."
Hominy Grill - Charleston, SC - "This little joint serves up amazing shrimp and grits and biscuits. I love the way the food is a menu of classic "give the people what they want" dishes made so carefully and lovingly. I love the homey feeling too."
La Belle Vie - Minneapolis, MN - "This place has old-school elegance and a sterling staff that makes me want to go back time and time again. The setting is stunning. Something as simple as a mixed green salad becomes something else in a restaurant like this. The food simply has so much flavor. Desserts are irresistible too."
Al Forno - Providence, RI - "This is a classic pick for a reason. This pizza, the pasta, the salads. Dynamite. The desserts are so good -- especially the fruit crostadas. This restaurant also rides the line between elegant and fancy perfectly."
As Zimmern himself told us, "From Manresa to Meadowood and Eleven Madison Park, from Per Se to Alinea and Next, I have a serious love for fine dining restaurants ... So it's ironic that I spend most of my time in hot pursuit of far simpler meals, far off anyone's radar screen."
Here are five virtually unknown restaurants that should be on your list of must-go-to joints:
Martha Lou's Kitchen - Charleston, SC - "Sean Brock turned me onto this tiny little 'meat and 3' cafe that makes the best butter beans I have ever tasted. From smothered pork chops to fried chicken, this is the place to get your southern comfort food groove on. Set aside a half hour, order, sit, relax and in short order, your tray will arrive in the quaint living room set up in the small building on the edge of town. The first bite will have you transported back to your happy place, trust me. Save room for pie."
To Hyang - San Francisco, CA - "Korean grandmother food never tasted so good. Steamed pork belly, thinly sliced and wrapped around spicy oyster salad. Braised ox tails in a sweet and salty broth with root vegetables that would be the envy of any NYC grand cafe. Some of the best fish head soup or fried croaker you will ever taste...Don't walk, run to this place. It will blow your mind."
Legal Beans BBQ - Jersey City, NJ - "Almost 10-percent of Jersey City's population is Filipino. And with more than 40,000 new Filipino immigrants arriving in the U.S. every year, Jersey City's Pinoy population is growing, dynamic and still very tied to the traditions and tastes of their homeland. Thankfully for you, that means getting some of the best spit roasted whole pigs, cooked Cebu style, rubbed with vinegar and stuffed with herbs and cooked over hot coal. The portions are hefty, the sides are amazing (Pinoy slaw, diniguan, rice, etc.) and the lechon is some of the best you will ever taste, lovingly hand tended by the owner, Mimi Escudero. Make friends with her, it's worth it."
Gaku - San Jose, CA - "In San Jose, ethnic dining options are immense. Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican and a host of other communities have created large population bases and waves of new immigration continue to keep the food as honest and authentic as it is 'back home'. Gaku is an amazing little izikaya, a small oasis of a joint with a diverse small plate menu and a large range of beer and sake options. At Gaku, they specialize in cooking yakitori over traditional charcoal, serving some of the best raw fish preparations I have eaten in years and offering up creative mash-ups of NorCal and Japanese cuisines. The baby octopus salad, grilled chicken organs and sashimi plates are worth the drive from anywhere."
Rohkat Kosher Bakery - Queens, NY - "This Rego Park bakery might be my favorite find in decades of culinary exploration. Two storefronts on the same block, owned by the same family of bakers, expats from Bukharian communities in present day Uzebkistan. The thin oversized sheet of matzoh-like flat bread are works of art. Dense loaves of leavened breads are decorated by hand, meat pies and vegetable pies are served at the store 50 feet down the street, served hot out of the clay oven resembling a tandoor. This is some of the most expressive and personal food you will find anywhere and in spite of its simplicity, will keep you coming back for more."