From mouth-watering fried chicken spots to Michelin-starred dining rooms, top restaurants run by celebrity chefs dot the Golden State. And even if you don’t know these culinary stars from the TV shows and appearances that have made them famous, you can taste the delicious results of their unique cooking styles. Explore establishments every foodie should have on his or her list—and maybe even spot a chef celeb overseeing the service—at these California hot spots.
1. Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, Yountville
He may not have his own TV show, but Chef Keller’s fame is almost unsurpassed in the culinary world based on the brilliance of his food and the quality of his dining experience. With three Michelin stars, The French Laundry in Napa Valley is a full-on event. The tasting menu is sublime, with seasonal dishes as well as Keller’s signature “oysters and pearls” (oysters and caviar in sabayon). If you can’t snag a reservation (tables fill up months in advance), visit Keller’s more casual spots: Bouchon Bistro, Ad Hoc + Addendum, and La Calenda.
2. Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, Berkeley
The first woman to win the James Beard Award in 1992, Waters is known as the visionary chef who ushered in the concept of “slow food” with her focus on hyper-local ingredients. Opened in 1971, her well-established Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, remains as delightful as ever. Try the tasting menu in the chic and cozy downstairs dining room or the à la carte options at the more casual upstairs cafe. All offerings change daily and feature fruits, vegetables, and herbs plucked fresh from nearby farms and gardens.
3. Tanya Holland at Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland
Chef Holland is a culinary star with multiple cookbooks and TV appearances to her name, but in her hometown of Oakland, she’s an A-list celebrity. The owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen not only has a key to the city but an official day in her honor. That’s all thanks to Holland’s creative approach to modern soul food—and her signature fried chicken—which helped to put Oakland on the map as a foodie destination. Try a taste of greatness by nabbing a table and digging into flaky biscuits, cheesy grits, and cornmeal waffles.
4. Chris Cosentino at Acacia House, St. Helena
High-energy and immensely creative, Cosentino has won accolades, including Top Chef Masters, with an outside-the-box approach to classic dishes. His St. Helena establishment Acacia House offers a menu full of seasonal, elevated comfort-food in a stately 1907 farmhouse with a wraparound porch. The menu is ever-changing, but if you see the Liberty Farms Duck Breast as an option, get it. Their croque monsieur paired with creamy tomato soup with basil is meal not soon forgotten as well.
5. Dominique Crenn at Atelier Crenn, San Francisco
Crenn’s birds nest of a restaurant is one of San Francisco’s most exclusive spots with a handful of tables and a famously steep price tag. But if you’re lucky enough to snag a table, you’re in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As the only female chef in the U.S. with three Michelin stars, Crenn is famous for breaking boundaries. Author of the bestselling memoir Rebel Chef, Crenn made history in 2019 by removing all meat from the menus of Atelier Crenn, Petit Crenn, and Bar Crenn. Don’t worry, you won’t miss a thing.
6. Mourad Lahlou at Aziza, San Francisco
Raised in Marrakesh, Lahlou first came to the Bay Area to study economics, but he missed his native cuisine so much he shifted careers. Lahlou’s passion earned him an Iron Chef America win, and in 2010, his restaurant Aziza became the first in the U.S. to earn a Michelin star for Moroccan fare. After a long closure, Aziza recently reopened with an elegant new space and menu. Don’t miss the chicken confit basteeya and hand-rolled couscous. Lahlou’s second San Fran restaurant Mourad serves similarly delicious dishes.
7. Michael Mina at Michael Mina Restaurant, San Francisco
Diners may recognize Egyptian-born Michael Mina from his appearances on shows like Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s his outstanding fusion dishes that make him a true star. Mina has a total of 20 restaurants throughout the country, but this super swanky, Michelin-starred San Francisco establishment is his flagship, and the only one serving “Middleterranean” cuisine: Middle Eastern food with a Mediterranean twist. The five-course tasting menu at Michael Mina features dishes like strip steak with pomegranate and smoked sweet potatoes.
8, 9. Sue Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken at Border Grill, Los Angeles
These two chefs and lifelong collaborators have been feeding fans in Los Angeles for nearly 40 years. Buzzy and bright, The Border Grill’s central location is in Downtown L.A., but you can also sample Feniger and Milliken’s flavorful offerings at Socalo in Santa Monica, as well as their food truck. The business partners appeared on more than 300 episodes of one of the Food Network’s first shows, Too Hot Tamales, where they helped to introduce American viewers to regional Mexican dishes like panuchos, tinga, and caldo.
10. Wolfgang Puck at Spago, Beverly Hills
Charismatic Austrian-born Puck fused chef and celebrity before the era of Food Network mega-stars. Puck launched Spago back in 1982, and the restaurant still wows packed tables with an ever-changing, eight-course tasting menu. Head to the olive tree-dotted patio to watch the Hollywood elite, while trying the classic smoked salmon pizza topped with roe. This Beverly Hills hotspot is Puck’s flagship, but you can also taste the chef’s signature style at Chinois in Santa Monica and CUT Beverly Hills.
11. Curtis Stone at Maude Restaurant, Beverly Hills
Stone boasts a laundry list of television credits including Iron Chef America, Top Chef, Take Home Chef, and more. The Australian native’s flagship Maude puts the wonders of wine front and center. Every four months, the fixed-price menu shifts focus to reflect a different wine region around the world. This creative effort, coupled with mind-bending cuisine, won Stone his first Michelin Star in 2019. Fun fact: Both Maude and its sister restaurant/butchery Gwen are named after two of the chef’s “grannies.”
12. Richard Blais at Juniper & Ivy, San Diego
In 2011, Richard Blais won top honors on Top Chef All Stars—not bad for a chef who started as a McDonald’s fry cook. Get a taste of the whimsical dishes that garnered Blais his win at Juniper & Ivy in San Diego. Think tomato and burrata salad with strawberries, shaved fennel, and green goddess snow. Blais’ other SoCal venture is the opposite of fancy. Crack Shack, which has multiple locations in California, specializes in fried chicken sandwiches and cocktails.
13. Brian Malarkey at Herb & Wood, San Diego
This seafood-centric chef made his first national TV appearance as a finalist on Top Chef: Miami and has gone on to become a prolific restaurateur. Malarkey opened and subsequently sold his popular Searsucker and Herringbone before starting fresh with Herb & Wood. The San Diego restaurant named one of America’s “10 Best” by USA Today focuses on flame-cooked dishes like roasted Baja shrimp and pizzas served in a rustic, vaulted-ceiling dining room. Start here or try one of Malarkey’s other hip SoCal spots.