The success of Anthony Bourdain’s best-selling 2001 tell-all Kitchen Confidential made him a star pretty much overnight. The biography introduced the world to a new kind of food writer, one who wasn’t afraid of describing the restaurant industry for what it was: a den of iniquity filled with sex, drugs and lemon sole.
The memoir, which traces his life in food, paints an altogether dismal picture of life in the kitchen. At one point, Bourdain gives a blow-by-blow account of a single day in the life of a chef that makes the routine of a Navy Seal look like that of a freelance dog walker. And yet, he somehow manages to make cooking sound like the most enjoyable, important, and rewarding job on the planet.
That was Bourdain’s genius. He used food to access something unspoken about the human condition and the world we occupy. In A Cook’s tour, No Reservations and Parts Unknown, he travelled the length and breadth of the globe in pursuit of the perfect meal. From stuffed pumpkins in a French farmyard to high-art sushi in Tokyo, Bourdain ate it all. In honour of the bad-mouthed globe trotter, we’ve bought you a breakdown of his five favourite destinations.
You’ll also find suggestions of the best places to eat – restaurants which Bourdain himself loved.
Anthony Bourdain’s favourite foodie destinations:
Bourdain’s favourite restaurant: Restaurant Paul Bocuse
As Bourdain noted during his trip through France, the city of Lyon has one of the most impressive culinary heritages in Europe: “Over the past century,” he began, “the system here, the tradition, whatever it is that took hold here, churned out a tremendous number of the world’s greatest chefs — Point, Chapel, Troisgros, Bocuse — and, as importantly, influenced nearly all the rest of them.”
Of all the establishments Tony visited during his travels, by far the most memorable was the restaurant of Paul Bocuse himself, who Bourdain had the good fortune to dine with during his visit. one of France’s most revered culinary innovators, Bucose died in 2018 in the same room in which he was born in 1926. Bourdain passed away just five months later.
Today, Restaurant Paul Bucose still attracts gourmet cooking enthusiasts searching for the ‘Holy Grail’ of French cuisine.
Bourdain’s favourite restaurant: Bún Bò Huế Kim Chau
As soon as Bourdain arrived in Vietnam, he felt at home. The travelling foodie had such adoration for the nation that he decided to film all three of his series’ there. “I love Vietnam,” he once declared. “I love it now. I loved it from the minute I arrived for the first time.”
Tony regarded Vietnam as a hitherto unseen realm of flavour. “Going to Vietnam the first time was life-changing for sure,” he said, “Maybe because it was all so new and different to my life before and the world I grew up in. The food, culture, landscape, and smell; they’re all inseparable.” It took Bourdain years of travel to finally make it to Huế, a former seat of Imperial power traversed by the shallow Huong River. Bourdain tucked into the “greatest soup in the world” in Bún Bò Huế Kim Chau, Huế. He described the dish (a meaty broth scented with lemongrass, spice and fermented shrimp paste) in sumptuous detail, calling it “as sophisticated and complex a bowl of food as any French restaurant. It really is just the top of the mountain.”
Bourdain’s favourite restaurant: Le Chef
The chef’s first trip to Beirut coincided with a period of intense conflict. After Hezbollah guerrillas killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two others in a cross-border raid, much of the city was destroyed by bombs and naval artilleries. Bourdain would later recall that he “fell in love with the city under the “worst possible situation.”
Tucked away in the district of Gemmayze, Le Chef was one of the scores of businesses obliterated by a bombardment on August 4th, 2006, when a store of ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 135 people and injuring countless others. The restaurant opened in 1967 and, like much of Beirut, clung to its chic ’60s aesthetic until it was destroyed. In a tribute to Bourdain, Russell Crowe donated a sizable sum to get Le Chef up and running again in 2020.
Bourdain’s favourite restaurant: Osteria dal 1931
Italy has a distinctive culinary legacy and a rich history stretching back thousands of years; Rome is one of the best places to get to grips with both. During his visit, Bourdain was brave enough to wander around in a black suit and tie despite the simmering summer, exploring the city’s meandering streets in an effort to uncover its many hidden gems. For Tony, Rome was “a city where you find the most extraordinary pleasures in the most ordinary things…”
As well as dining in a restaurant so good he refused to name it, Bourdain visited Osteria dal 1931, a cosy eatery located in an unassuming residential neighbourhood. “I love this place,” he announced. “I want to die here already, and I might yet.”
San Sebastian, Spain
Bourdain’s favourite restaurant: Ganbara
Few cities have impressed Bourdain as much as San Sebastian. Located on the shores of Spain’s mountainous Basque region, the ornate coastal city is home to some of the best eateries in the whole of Europe. “We could make the argument,” Tony said in Parts Unknown, “that there’s no better place to eat in Europe than the city of San Sebastián. There are more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than anywhere on Earth. But even the everyday joints are superb. The love of food, the insistence on the very best ingredients, is fundamental to the culture, and to life here.”
That level of competition makes Ganbara – Bourdain’s favourite restaurant in the entire city – sound even more impressive. Located in the Parte Viega neighbourhood, Ganbara was established over 25 years ago by Jose and Amaia, who dreamt of combining the atmosphere of a cosy Pintxos bar with a restaurant-quality menu. Today, Ganbara is revered as one of the best small plate restaurants in the Basque country.