There's a time and a place to splurge on fine dining. For every other meal, a pile of chicken parmesan, a fresh pastry and a coffee, or a steaming plate of enchiladas will more than do the trick. Here are TripSavvy's favorite casual dining destinations for 2018.
Cafés & Bistros
Lucile's Creole Cafe: Denver, Colo. — featured in The Best Brunches in Denver
Lucile’s Creole Cafe isn’t fancy, but it has been a local favorite since 1980. Expect a long line to get in, but trust us — the homey atmosphere and tasty Creole breakfast and lunch is worth it. Try shrimp and grits or pan-fried trout, and wrap it up with authentic beignets (French donuts smothered in powdered sugar) and chicory coffee. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into New Orleans, complete with Zydeco music and Mardi Gras-style decor throughout. You’ll find several Lucile locations in Colorado, including the original in a Victorian house in downtown Boulder.
- Cafe Falco: Montreal, Canada — featured in Great Coffee Shops in Montreal
- Bouldin Creek Cafe: Austin, Texas— featured in The Best Breakfast Tacos in Austin
- Cafe del Volcan: — featured in Shanghai's Best Cafes & Coffee Houses
- Crave: Louisville, Ky. — featured in The Top Frankfort Ave. Restaurants
- Bunna Cafe: Brooklyn, N.Y. — featured in Plant-Based Meals in NYC
- Cafe Prima Pasta: Miami, Fla. — featured in The Best Italian Restaurants in Miami
- Hinge Cafe: Philadelphia, Pa. — featured in The Best Breakfasts in Philadelphia
Gaia Italian Cafe: New York, N.Y. — featured in The Best BYOB Restaurants in Manhattan
True New York gems might not win New York Times starred ratings or breathless coverage on food websites — they just offer consistently wonderful food and inviting service. Such is the case with this Lower East Side mainstay, a tiny and much-loved spot where the hours are odd (the kitchen closing by 8pm most nights of the week) and the menu is extensive. Expect beautifully composed panini, pastas that differ every night of the week, and fresh, lavish salads. And while prices are reasonable to begin with, the restaurant’s BYOB policy — a rarity in New York — mean it’s possible to enjoy a lavish meal at a comparable steal.
- River Cafe: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico — featured in The Best Restaurants in Puerto Vallarta
- St. Germain Bistro & Cafe: San Juan, Puerto Rico— featured in Great Lunch Restaurants in San Juan
- Grove Cafe and Market: Albuquerque, N.M. — featured in Dog-Friendly Restaurants in Albuquerque
- Kitchen Table Bistro: Richmond, Vt. — featured in Vermont's Best Farm-to-Plate Restaurants
- Victory Garden Cafe: Queens, N.Y. — featured in NYC Restaurants for Thanksgiving
- Café Olimpico: Montreal, Canada — featured in The Best Sports Bars in Montreal
Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro: Milwaukee, Wis. — featured in Milwaukee's Best Brunches
On the eastern edge of Lake Park overlooking Lake Michigan, Lake Park Bistro — the grand dame of Milwaukee’s dining scene — evokes a bit of Paris. Naturally, the wine list skews French and the menu — whether for lunch, dinner or weekend brunch (a prix-fixe menu makes the decisions easy) — features dishes you’d find in France. For example, starters like mussels and frites, beef tartare and pâté set the scene for heartier entrees such as Strauss veal chop, Dover sole and roasted duck breast. Nightly plats du jour include, on Sunday, pan-fried chicken breast with lemon vinaigrette and Alpine-style cheese.
Don’t even think about leaving without dessert: choices range from hazelnut financier to Baked Alaska. –Kristine Hansen
- Simple Cafe: Milwaukee, Wis. — featured in Milwaukee's Best Breakfast Spots
- Village Coffee Shop: Boulder, Colo. — featured in The Best Breakfast Spots in Boulder
- Italian Store: Washington, D.C. — featured in The Best Pizza in D.C.
- Victor Cafe: Philadelphia, Pa. — featured in Philadelphia's Most Romantic Restaurants
- Caffe Vialetto: Miami, Fla. — featured in The Best Italian Restaurants in Miami
Le Diplomate: Washington, D.C. — featured in The Best Washington D.C. Restaurants Near Scott Circle
Pop some bubbly and pretend you're Paris at Le Diplomate, a 14th Street favorite that channels French cafe culture with steak frites and Dover sole meunière. It can still be tough to get into this Stephen Starr restaurant, so cool your heels at the stylish zinc-covered bar with a glass of wine and foie gras macarons. Once you're settled at the outdoor patio (perfect for people watching) or the so-charming glass and green-tile accented l'Orangerie, order entrees like beef bourguignon, trout amandine, or the flag-topped Burger Américain cheeseburger.
Le Diplomate takes brunch seriously too, with breakfast pastries and Gruyère omelettes. –Adele O'Donnell
- Bistrot La Minette: Philadelphia, Pa. — featured in Philadelphia's Most Romantic Restaurants
- Mad Rooster Cafe: Milwaukee, Wis. — featured in Milwaukee's Best Breakfast Spots
- Starry Night Cafe: Ferrisburgh, Vt. — featured in Vermont's Best Farm-to-Plate Restaurants
- The Gaslight: Toronto, Canada — featured in Cozy Cafes & Bars in Toronto
- Caffe Italia: Montreal, Canada — featured in The Best Sports Bars in Montreal
Buvette: New York, N.Y. — featured in The Best Breakfasts in NYC
So Parisian you might think you’ve wandered onto a movie set — and so Parisian, they opened a second location in Paris itself — Buvette is charming in absolutely every sense, from the illustrated menus to the prominent chalk map of European wine regions. A dream of an all-day restaurant-cafe, on one of the more picturesque streets in New York’s West Village, it’s hard to say which is the best time to visit: breakfast, for a textbook-perfect pastry and cappuccino; afternoon, for a salad Niçoise and glass of rosé; or late-night, for a fortifying croque-monsieur and a nightcap.
- Cloud Red: Milwaukee, Wis.— featured in The Best New Restaurants in Milwaukee
- Kitchen No. 324: Oklahoma City, Okla.— featured in Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Oklahoma City
- Liholiho Yacht Club: San Francisco, Calif. — featured in Special Occasion Restaurants in San Francisco
- Shaya: New Orleans, La.— featured in Magazine Street Restaurants
You can get your fill of Vietnamese fast-casual eats at four locations of Banh Mi Boys throughout Toronto. As the name would suggest, banh mi (Vietnamese sub sandwiches), are a huge draw for hungry visitors and come in a variety of options including the popular five-spice pork belly, duck confit, braised beef cheek and lemongrass tofu (a flavorful meatless option). To round out the menu, they also serve a short list of tacos and steamed bao alongside other goodies like kimchi fries, which sees perfectly crispy fries doused in mayo, kimchi and slow roasted pulled pork.
- Bowls Restaurant: Milwaukee, Wis.— featured in The Best New Restaurants in Milwaukee
- Cenzontle: Tulum, Mexico — featured in The Best Restaurants in Tulum
- Fabi + Rosi: Austin, Texas — featured in Austin's Best Date Night Restaurants
- Rosetta: Mexico City, Mexico — featured in The Top Dining Experiences in Mexico City
- Los Danzantes: Oaxaca, Mexico — featured in The Best Restaurants in Oaxaca
- Jinya Ramen Bar: Atlanta, Ga. — featured in The Best Ramen in Atlanta
- Bei Oma Kleinmann: Cologne, Germany — featured in The Best Restaurants in Cologne
- The Bleu Garten: Oklahoma City, Okla.— featured in Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Oklahoma City
- BoccaLupo: Atlanta, Ga. — featured in The Most Romantic Restaurants in Atlanta
- Cocina Abierta: San Juan, Puerto Rico— featured in The Top Restaurants in San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Crown Candy Kitchen: St. Louis, Mo. — featured in Famous Restaurants in St. Louis
- Jack Fry's: Louisville, Ky. — featured in The Most Romantic Restaurants in Louisville
- Ochsenbraterei: Munich, Germany — featured in Munich's Oktoberfest Beer Tents
Blackbelly Market: Boulder, Colo. — featured in The Best Restaurants in Boulder
Head to Blackbelly — helmed by "Top Chef" season five winner Hosea Rosenberg — for some of Boulder’s best food in a casual atmosphere. By day, grab a quick bite, like a sandwich made with produce from the chef’s own five-acre farm and meat from the on-site butchery. His farm also raises the meat that ends up on your plate, including chickens, pigs, lambs and more. At night, for a tasty but unpretentious dinner, try the likes of charcuterie with house-cured salami or a 46-day, dry-aged T-bone steak.
- The Pantry: Little Rock, Ark. — featured in The Best Restaurants in Little Rock
- The Pump Bar: Oklahoma City, Okla. — featured in OKC Restaurants for Thanksgiving
- Elwood's Shack: Memphis, Tenn. — featured in The Best Breakfasts in Memphis
- El Charro: San Juan, Puerto Rico — featured in Hidden Restaurants in San Juan
- Green Street Smoked Meats: Chicago, Ill. — featured in Chicago's Best Barbecue Joints
- Edith's Restaurant: Los Cabos, Mexico — featured in The Best Restaurants in Los Cabos
- Dick's Hideaway: Phoenix, Ariz. — featured in The Best Phoenix Brunches
- The Irish Rover: Louisville, Ky. — featured in The Top Frankfort Ave. Restaurants
- Frances: San Francisco, Calif. — featured in The Best Restaurants in the Castro
- Santaella: San Juan, Puerto Rico— featured in The Top Restaurants in San Juan, Puerto Rico
- The Thai Elephant: Verona, N.J. — featured in The Top Thai Restaurants in North Jersey
- Seoul Food D.C.: Washington, D.C. — featured in The Best Washington, D.C. Food Trucks
Arca: Tulum, Mexico — featured in The Best Restaurants in Tulum
Service is warm and friendly at this open-air, candlelit oasis in the jungle, which serves unique Mexican cuisine influenced by various cultures. Burning copal, an aromatic tree resin oft-used by the Maya, gives the place a mystical feel. Arca’s menu is constantly evolving according to the season and availability of the best local produce. Whatever you do, order the soft-shell crab tacos. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options available and cleverly concocted cocktails served with eco-friendly lemongrass straws.
Open Tuesday to Sunday at 6 p.m., Arca offers reservations between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., then guests are seated on a first come, first served basis. –Kristin Busse
- Story Hill BKC: Milwaukee, Wis. — featured in The Best Places to Eat Near Miller Park
- Zarate's Latin Mexican Grill: Edmond, Okla. — featured in The Top Restaurants in Edmond
- Adriana's: St. Louis, Mo. — featured in Where to Eat on the Hill in St. Louis
- Redrock Canyon Grill: Oklahoma City, Okla. — featured in The Best Outdoor Dining in OKC
- La Scarola: Chicago, Ill. — featured in Chicago's Best Italian Restaurants
- Alla Famiglia: Pittsburgh, Pa. — featured in Pittsburgh's Best Italian Restaurants
- Fogon Cocina Mexicana: Seattle, Wash. — featured in Seattle's Best Mexican Restaurants
Houston's Famous Deli: Houston, Texas — featured in The Best Restaurants Near the Houston Med Center
Every city has its own favorite salt-of-the-earth sandwich shop. You know the one. It’s the kind of place you swing by for a quick lunch, knowing what you’ll get will be cheap and delicious every time. For Houstonians, that place is Houston’s Famous Deli. Near the Texas Medical Center, this sandwich shop offers a wide range of soups, sandwiches and salads that are made with fresh ingredients — no sad, wilted lettuce here. Be sure to try one of the shop’s popular muffalettas, where meats and cheeses are covered with olive dressing and squeezed between slices of fluffy Italian bread.
- Fu Wah Mini Market: Philadelphia, Pa. — featured in Philadelphia's Best Vietnamese Sandwiches
- Q.T. Vietnamese Sandwich: Philadelphia, Pa. — featured in Philadelphia's Best Vietnamese Sandwiches
- Smoque BBQ: Chicago, Ill. — featured in Chicago's Best Barbecue Joints
- Bombay House: Salt Lake City, Utah — featured in Romantic Restaurants in Salt Lake City
- Lommerzheim: Cologne, Germany — featured in The Best Restaurants in Cologne