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10 Best Restaurants Owned By Former Contestant


During its 17-year run, Top Chef has produced umpteen culinary marvels who have dominated the food industry in America and beyond. While some fan favorites have been scouted to be head chefs at leading diners or bistros across the country, some of them have started their own ventures and rather thriving ones. 

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2020 has been particularly harsh on the food industry, as the small, independent eateries struggled to survive or had to succumb to the pandemic-induced losses. Interestingly, many of the former Top Chef contestants actually managed to keep their properties afloat by exploring quirky, cost-effective options and distancing-friendly service. Here’s a look at some of the best restaurants by Top Chef alums that are still standing and thriving:

10 Root and Bone, Jeff Mcinnis

New York City’s Root and Bone was started by Jeff Mcinnis from season five of Top Chef, and his wife Janine Booth from season 11, managed to stay afloat amid the pandemic and their outdoor seating set-up certainly helped. It has been marketed as the home of honest Southern Food, and it also serves some rural American picks which are rather hard to score in East Village.

Bestsellers include their lemon sweet tea brined fried chicken and chicken with waffles, but the biggest USP for the restaurant would be their biscuits and gravy which has been passed on to Booth through four generations.

9 Pig and Khao, Leah Cohen

Cohen made quite a splash on the fifth season of the show and is perhaps remembered for her relationship with season five winner Hosea Rosenberg, because that was the first time two contestants had dated in the culinary reality series. Cohen’s New York eatery serves Filipino-Thai-accented South East Asian food and started delivering DIY brunch kits amid the pandemic.

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Their pad thai is perhaps their biggest seller, but the authentic pork sisig and Thai gai yang served with corn somtum, jaew sauce and sticky rice are also quite delectable.

8 Sweet Cheeks Q, Tiffani Faison

Tiffani Faison's Sweet Cheeks BBQ restaurant.

Season one and All-Stars finalist Tiffani Faison serves up some really elaborate grills in her Texas-style barbecue joint in Boston. From her sustainably raised Angus beef to the double-Cut Smoked Berkshire Pork Rack, Faison’s barbecue joint serves an astonishing range of Southern grills and also has an outdoor beer garden and a gorgeous patio which attracts a lot of diners looking for a distancing-friendly joint. The restaurant also has a really good whiskey and wine list paired to each selection.

7 Monteverde, Sarah Grueneberg

Sarah Grueneberg’s casual-style Italian restaurant is located in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood and borrows some influences from the chef’s family history. The menu balances smart plates, shareable large plates, and some classic Italian appetizers like artichoke and sunchoke crostino, lobster arancini served with Sicilian rice balls, and Wagyu skewer on a poached pear.

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At the moment, the restaurant is offering limited walk-ins, but it has a rather stunning to-go and delivery menu and also has an exceptional wine list, as well as a bevy of fusion beverages like the Italian Sling, which is a twist on the classic Singapore Sling and has refreshing herbal notes.

6 Voltaggio Brothers Steak House, Bryan and Michael Voltaggio

Voltaggio Brothers restaurant Instagram.

Bryan and Michael Voltaggio competed against each other in season 6 of Top Chef: Las Vegas. Michael won, and, though both brothers have opened up their own ventures, they joined hands to come up with a modern steakhouse in Maryland’s Oxon Hill.

Every Thursday is prime rib night at the family-run joint where guests can enjoy a freshly-carved 14oz prime rib with russet potatoes at $55. Another hot seller is the Branzino or the European bass that the steakhouse serves with chimichurri, herbs, and charred lemon.

5 610 Magnolia, Edward Lee

610 Magnolia is Lee’s modern spin on old-school Southern dining, but there’s something very simplistic about the way he has curated the menu for his restaurant. His Korean barbecue picks like Grilled Beef Short Rib Kalbi, Spicy Gochujang Pork Bulgogi, and Spicy Radish Kimchi are best-sellers.

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In the last few months, the restaurant also introduced dinner kits that come with detailed plating and serving instructions, and the diner is also hosting an elaborate four-course Mother’s Day brunch this Sunday featuring favorites like country ham succotash, smoked hollandaise, and kimchi slaw.

4 Kiwiana, Mark Simmons

Instagram post from Mark Simmons' Kiwiana Restaurant.

Former Top Chef contestant Mark Simmons’ homely but stylized restaurant brings the authentic tastes of New Zealand to Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood. The chef puts a very interesting spin on familiar entrees which leads to recipes like Rabbit five ways with green lentils with carrot cavatelli and barbecued peach with mascarpone served Meyer lemon.

Simmons also has a YouTube channel and often takes to the restaurant’s official social media handles to share DIY cooking videos which are a hit with his loyalists.

3 Good Stuff Eatery, Spike Mendelsohn’s

Top Chef: Chicago alumni Spike Mendelsohn’s Capitol Hill joint Good Stuff Eatery prioritizes the slow, artisanal process of serving American comfort food. The restaurant is famed for its handcrafted burgers, hand-cut fries, and fresh, farm-to-table salads.

Mendelsohn has actually managed to open up branches in Georgetown, Crystal City, Chicago, and even Cairo. The restaurant introduced convenient burger boxes in the last year that have found a great response; the boxes feature buns, meat, veggie fillers, capers, sauces and are easy to carry around.

2 Jen Biesty, Shake Well Oakland

Ex-Top Chef: Chicago contestant Jen Biesty was at one point the head chef at the swanky San Francisco bistro Scala, but she left in 2013 to start her own tapas joint. Shake Well Oakland serves Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine and the casual dining room’s medi-chic aesthetic has been quite well-received.

The restaurant is most well-known for its handcrafted cocktails, tapas pairings, wood-fired flatbreads, and bomba rice paella. The restaurant just started plated service in its patio in a socially distanced format.

1 Playa Provisions, Brooke Williamson

Playa Provisions is the third endeavor for ex-Top Chef contender Brooke Williamson and husband Nick Roberts. The unique four-in-one model features four different kinds of spaces nestled within one beachy, 7,000-square foot property. King Beach cafe is a casual eatery that is great for long brunches.

Dockside is a diner that focuses on oceanic and coastal cuisine and has a fantastic beachside patio. Small Batch is a dessert space while the Grain Whiskey Bar is a moody pub. One of the biggest highlights is head pastry chef Kristin Feur’s unique dessert recipes such as Paris-Brest with chocolate cremeux or the tiramisu sundae made with an espresso-rum-banana liqueur syrup and served with a mascarpone mousse.

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