Critics’ choice: 2011’s ‘best places to eat’—in five cities

Mesa in Dallas; Blackfish in Conshohocken; Rialto in Cambridge; Little Uncle in Seattle; Hinterland in Milwaukee

Mesa Dallas

“The biggest trend in Dallas dining this year” has been restaurants claiming to serve foods authentic to specific Mexican regions, said Nancy Nichols in Dallas. Yet Mesa may be the only one that does it right. Olga and Raul Reyes are not just talented chefs. They’ve built a space that feels like someone’s home. The menu celebrates the couple’s Veracruz homeland and is created with care. The mole takes three days to make, while the fresh snook and shrimp ceviche is the best in town. 118 W. Jefferson Blvd., (214) 941-4246

Blackfish Conshohocken, Pa.

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“Yes, it’s a BYOB.” And yes, Philadel­phians have to make a bit of a highway trek to reach it, said the editors of Philadelphia. But chef Chip Roman’s pretty, whitewashed room in the old mill town of Conshohocken feels like “the perfect restaurant of the moment.” Now 3 years old, Roman’s first venture has matured well. Blackfish is “sophisticated without being overbearingly avant-garde” and “fresh without being precious.” Not to be missed: Roman’s “liquid-center foie gras terrine,” with sour cherry, pistachio, and toasted brioche. 119 Fayette St., (610) 397-0888

Rialto Cambridge, Mass.

Rialto never grows old, said the editors of Boston. At 17, this restaurant on the second floor of the Charles Hotel remains such a draw that the hotel staff often must feel invisible. Chef Jody Adams’s ability to “meld New England’s seasonal bounty with regional Italian preparations can be positively breathtaking,” yet she also changes subtly with the times. Alongside slow-roasted duck and olive-oil-poached lobster, her menu now includes pâtés and pickled vegetables, yet an “impeccable” wine list and stellar service make the total experience feel timeless. 1 Bennett St., (617) 661-5050

Little Uncle Seattle

“Seattle foodies are always on the hunt” for “brag-worthy finds,” so it’s no surprise that pop-up restaurants have captured the city’s imagination, said Allison Austin Scheff in Seattle. Our favorite temporary eatery—“perhaps because it has been so long-lived”—is Little Uncle, formerly known as Shophouse. The concept is simple: A local sous chef and his wife “cook the Thai street food that both of them love dearly,” and crowds seem to follow them to whatever bar or farmers market they temporarily pop up in. “Could a brick-and-mortar space be far behind?”

Hinterland Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s Hinterland has humble roots in artisanal brewing, yet its food is “transcendent,” said Carol Deptolla in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Chef Dan Van Rite changes his menu daily to include what’s fresh, and he invariably delivers “beautifully composed” plates, often with thrilling juxtapositions of flavors. One day there’ll be “tender red deer.” On another, there’ll be pan-seared Alaskan halibut served alongside a fennel-spiked potato hash. Hinterland can also comfort you at its bar with sausage and an ale, both house-made. 222 E. Erie St., (414) 727-9300

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