Best Casual Dining

TripSavvy Editors' Choice Awards 2018

The storefront at Buvette in NYC

 Max Poglia/Buvette

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.

  Aimee Heckel

    A pot of meatballs at Gaia Italian Cafe
     Gaia Italian Cafe

    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.

      –Carey Jones

      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

      The bread counter at Le Diplomate
       Le Diplomate

      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

      The front window at Buvette
      Max Poglia/Buvette 

      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.

      –Carey Jones

      Casual Restaurants

      Banh Mi Boys: Toronto, Canada — featured in Toronto Restaurants on Food Network Shows

      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.

      The service counter at Blackbelly
       Blackbelly

      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 outdoor dining space at Arca
      Arca 

      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

      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.