Don't let a two-hour wait for a table deprive you of what you crave most. Sometimes getting it to go (and skipping the line) makes it even better.
Ever since chefs began serving the kind of food they'd cook up in their own kitchens, we've been reveling in a golden age of restaurants. (When you can score a Danny Meyer hamburger in Boca Raton, that's a world we should all be happy about living in.) Of course, in our culinary-obsessed culture, with fetishized menus come preposterous wait times and byzantine reservations systems that can make you raise the white flag and ring up Domino's. But hold the phone: Consider, instead, the takeout move.
It's not an entirely new concept (David Chang's Momofuku noodle bar in New York City's East Village has always packed up its pork buns for bao fanatics), but it's certainly catching on. At Chris Shepherd's Houston restaurant, Underbelly, wait times on the weekends can exceed an hour, but his trademark Korean braised goat is ready in 15 minutes.
Not all cool-kid restaurants broadcast the fact that they'll let you leave with their signature dishes. Sometimes it's all in the ask. Take Melissa Perello's San Francisco Danish joint, Frances, where a reservation can take two months to score. "It's not something we advertise," says a manager, and you'll need to make any requests in person, not over the phone.
And yet some chefs are eager to elevate the takeout experience, like Isao Yamada of Ichimura at Brushstroke in Manhattan. He puts together a stunning, hopped-up bento box made to travel for $59. Yamada says it's an homage to his homeland's concept of shidashi, in which takeout can be something special, even celebratory. "It's a different kind of joy when you open the box," he says. Or maybe it's the satisfaction of walking out with your food while everyone else is still hungry and waiting.
The Bartenders' Guide to the Best Takeout
Clockwise, from left: Husk, courtesy of Andrea Behrends. Cure, courtesy of Kevin O'Mara. Golden Cadillac, courtesy of Daniel Krieger.
Who are the real local-fare experts? The men and women behind the bar share their picks for ordering in like a pro.
Kevin Peters of Golden Cadillac, New York City
"Mother's Ruin isn't really a takeout place, but ask for the French-onion-soup grilled cheese and they'll wrap it up."
Mike Wolf of Husk, Nashville
"I always get the fried avocado taco and elote at Mas Tacos Por Favor. And they have a great jukebox while you wait."
Braden LaGrone of Cure, New Orleans
"Before my shift, I'll bring the classic American cheeseburger from Company Burger to the bar and think up new drinks."