While Bon Appetit has just named its best new restaurants in America (Al's Place! Gjusta! Petit Trois!) to great fanfare, the magazine Lucky Peach has come out with its own list. Well, not really. Rather, it's the magazine's declaration of "the best place to eat in America." And no, it's not a white-tablecloth New York restaurant, a forest glen of a restaurant in Appalachia or even one of David Chang's expanding empire of restaurants — Chang being a founder of Lucky Peach.
The best place to eat in America, according to Lucky Peach, is Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. Why? As Chris Ying puts it, after a preliminary reverie on sitting at the counter eating oysters and drinking Anchor Steam: "There are restaurants, of course, with more refined food, nicer dining rooms, sommeliers, meat, and vegetables besides iceberg lettuce. But in terms of the fundamental pleasure derived from leaving your home to eat somewhere else, there is nowhere better."
Which tells you a lot about the restaurant, about Lucky Peach, and about the problem of declaring things the best in the whole country, today, yesterday — or whenever.
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Swan Oyster Depot is run by the Sancimino family in Nob Hill, is populated with vast quantities of fresh oysters and memorabilia on the walls, and is apparently a terrific place to watch Tom Sancimino shuck you some oysters, then to eat them, and wash them down with plenty of equally cold beer. Would everyone consider this the best restaurant in the country? No, but if you're there eating those oysters and having a pleasant afternoon epiphany, you probably would.
Is the best restaurant in the country not Swan, but Al's Place, some three miles away? Is the best restaurant in the world El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, as was declared this year, or Rene Redzepi's Noma in Copenhagen, as was declared last year, and a few times before?
Or is the best place to eat in town — in the country, in the world — where you had a sublime taco while sitting on a sidewalk in East Los Angeles the other evening, your kid beside you, a bottle of Mexican Coke at your feet?
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