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Food Network superstar Mario Batali may have made his name with his Italian restaurants, but the chef doesn’t discriminate when it comes to eating. In his new Big American Cookbook (Grand Central Life & Style, $40), he professes his love for American regional cuisine, with recipes for everything from cornbread to cocktails. The orange-clogged chef and author shares some of his favorite U.S. cities and restaurants with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Batali’s a regular visitor to the Crescent City, traveling there with his father and supporting local charities. Favorite stops include Café du Monde for beignets, Peche Seafood Grill for whole fish with salsa verde, and late-night visits to the Cajun-style Restaurant R’evolution. “I always hit Sunday jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace, and never miss a chance to hang with my (friend) Emeril [Lagasse] at any of his places,” he says. neworleansonline.com
The chef loves taking a quick train ride from New York to the center of New England cuisine. “Home to the freshest clams on this coast and the most delicious cream pie,” he says. His pro tip: Choose a hotel along Boston Harbor to get a 5 o’clock oyster fix, then grab a bite at Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar run by Batali’s pal Michael Schlow. bostonusa.com
Traverse City, Mich.
Batali spends every summer in this Great Lakes vacation town. Favorite haunts include the new world-cuisine restaurant Alliance or the coffee shop/diner Frenchie’s Famous, known for its pastramlette breakfast and chile verde tacos. In addition, Grand Traverse Pie Company’s cherry pie is a staple at family cookouts. “Try one and you’ll know what Northern Michigan is all about,” he says. traversecity.com
There may be no better place for a meal with a view than the Cliff House overlooking the Pacific, Batali says. But he also loves the offerings in the Ferry Building, including modern Vietnamese at The Slanted Door, seafood at the Hog Island Oyster Bar, and regional Mexican fare at Mijita. sftravel.com
For his birthday in September, the chef headed to Charleston to celebrate. “My trip started with a lunch at Chef Sean Brock’s Husk Restaurant, where he serves a legendary charcuterie board and makes the best rendition of shrimp and grits that I’ve ever tasted,” he says. “Kiawah Island Resort has become my go-to hotel not only because of its spectacular golf course, but also because of its steakhouse, The Ocean Room.” charlestoncvb.com
Batali recently visited this Rocky Mountain town for a memorial for author Jim Harrison. “I cooked an incredibly memorable meal with [local chef] Brian Menges at 2nd Street Bistro,” he says. Batali also enjoyed trout fishing along the Yellowstone River. “Then it’s back to The Murray Hotel bar for a happy hour special, a delicious pizza and the best damn burger in the whole state!” visitlivingston.org
The Seattle native says the food in the Pacific Northwest gets better every time he visits. “While in town for my book tour this October, the Batali family got together at Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar and experienced not only the best oysters I’ve tasted all year, but crab and geoduck like never before.” Other stops: Tom Douglas’ restaurants like Cuoco or Dahlia Lounge, and Salumi, run by his sister, Gina Batali. visitseattle.org
Batali’s a big fan of the Windy City food scene. “It’s a fantastically delicious place that boasts the perfect combination of casual and sophisticated cuisine,” he says. While he loves a Chicago-style hot dog, he’s also likely to head to spots like Little Goat Diner. “Their cinnamon bun is an out-of-control sweet for the table.” And if he can get a reservation, he’ll stop by Alinea restaurant, which has three Michelin stars. choosechicago.org
When Batali’s visiting the restaurants he and a partner run in Southern California, he makes sure to try out new spots. “I love staying at the Sunset Marquis Hotel and having snacks at the bar before exploring L.A.’s restaurant scene,” he says. On his last trip, he ate at Providence in Hollywood, which serves seafood “in a league of its own.” discoverlosangeles.com
Batali’s hometown is an embarrassment of foodie riches. “With epicenters like Chelsea Market offering Cambodian sandwiches, vegan sushi and artisan tacos all in one place, I’ll always think of New York City as the country’s culinary capital,” he says. “I love going to Pearl Oyster Bar for a sammie with a fresh catch of the day, Via Carota if I’m dining al fresco, and Le Bernardin to experience gastronomic brilliance on a plate.” nycgo.com
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