American Hotel Dining: The Best Places To Indulge

By Billie Frank,

The words “hotel dining” used to be an oxymoron; the food tended to be stodgy at best. In the 1970s, a spate of creative young chefs started emerging from cooking schools, including the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and the restaurant scene across the country changed. Hotels were swept up in the momentum. Today there are topnotch hotel eateries throughout the country, from five-star Manhattan hostelries and uber-hip ones in Miami’s South Beach. Here are four smaller upscale properties that offer the best in American hotel dining. 

“America’s equivalent to French haute cuisine.”

Inn at Little Washington Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Inn at Little Washington 

The Inn at Little Washington’s 30-seat dining room has been earning dining laurels for decades. Chef/proprietor Patrick O’Connell at the Little Washington, VA eatery, has garnered five James Beard Awards, including Restaurant of the Year in 1993, among other accolades. He calls his Refined American Cuisine, “America’s equivalent to French haute cuisine.” As highfalutin as that sounds, his food has strong roots in the local Virginia soil.

Inn at Little Washington Restaurant
Photo by Warren In the Weeds 

He’s been using produce from local growers since the beginning. The Inn launched its own garden in 2011, producing many of the vegetables and herbs the kitchen uses. They even raise animals: sheep, a few llamas and Rhode Island Red Chickens. This commitment to excellence comes at a price.

Kitchen Tables at the Inn at Little Washington
Photo by kirybabe

For a really special experience, book one of the two Kitchen Tables (there’s a surcharge to sit in this state-of-the-art kitchen) and watch the master and his crew hard at work. Prix fixe dinners, which can book up over a month in advance, start at $169 per person (depending on the day you dine). Add wine from their over 14,000-bottle cellar and while it’s not an inexpensive evening, it will definitely be a memorable one.

Haute cuisine and Blackberry’s Smoky Mountain heritage

Best food lovers hotel

According to Bon Appétit, Blackberry Farm is the best food-lovers’ hotel in America. The 62-room inn, nestled on a whopping 4,200 acres (with access to another 5,000 of pristine wilderness) in the Smokey Mountain foothills in Walland, TN., is definitely a destination in its own right. Their “Foothills Cuisine®,” an eclectic approach to food, “wanders the line between refined and rugged, borrowing from both haute cuisine and the country food indigenous to Blackberry’s Smoky Mountain heritage.”

Blackberry farm Hotel and restaurant
Photo courtesy of Blackberry Farm Facebook

They grow much of what they serve on their land, sourcing the rest locally whenever possible. They farm the “old way” using “sustainable and responsible practices.” Menus change daily depending on what’s growing in their heirloom garden.

Meals are included for hotel guests and for non-guests, the five-course dinner served in their elegant eatery, The Barn, is $125. Diners can also order a la carte or from the chef’s tasting menu. There’s an extensive wine cellar as well and both their chef and sommelier have garnered James Beard Awards. If you’re not staying at the inn, book about a month in advance.

Intimate and Simple

Best hotels for Foodies
Photo courtesy of Los Poblanos Facebook 

Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, just north of Albuquerque, NM., was named Bon Appétit’s sixth “best hotel for food lovers” in 2014. La Merienda (the name means “light meal” in Spanish), their restaurant, serves food harvested from their own fields. Their original vision was to serve small plates and while that concept has evolved, the name remains. They produce their own fruits, vegetables, eggs, and honey (all organic) and the rest is sourced from area growers and producers whenever possible.

Poblanos menu
Photo courtesy of Los Poblanos Facebook 

The seasonally driven menus are influenced both by haute cuisine and foods indigenous to New Mexico’s Rio Grande River Valley. Six to eight times a year, they host special dinners showcasing ingredients from local farms, breweries and wineries and ones highlighting seasonal ingredients from their farm. The dining room, in the historic hacienda designed by noted New Mexican architect, John Gaw Meem, is intimate and simple. The small a la carte menu has comparatively moderate prices as well.

Raw, Tranquil and Beautiful

Foodie Hotels in America
Courtesy of Meadowood Napa Valley

The Restaurant at Meadowood, a 250-acre resort in California’s Napa Valley, has earned three Michelin stars (one of only ten restaurants in the USA) thanks to their young superstar chef, Christopher Kostow. He’s the second American-born chef (the other is Thomas Keller) and the third youngest ever to achieve this honor. He also won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the West in 2013.

Foodie hotels in America
Photo by star5112

Kostow is committed to using the locally grown bounty of the valley to create a cuisine that pays homage to the region. His mission: to create food that will “reflect the tranquility and raw, natural beauty of Meadowood, the resources, people and values of the Napa Valley.” After you make your reservation, a “culinary concierge” contacts you to discuss your food preferences, allergies or special dietary considerations.

Meadowood hotel and restaurant
Photo by star5112

Chef Kostow then creates an individualized menu for each table. Dinner here isn’t for lightweights. Diners have two options: an eight to ten course menu (for $225) or 15 to 20 courses (at $500). The rest is up to the chef.

If you have a restaurant bucket list, these four restaurants would make great additions. These days, hotel dining just may provide some of the most memorable meals of your life. What hotels have impressed you with their food?

More from Room5