The best books about restaurants

7 authors have picked their favorite books about restaurants and why they recommend each book.

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Out With the Stars

By Jim Heimann,

Book cover of Out With the Stars: Hollywood Nightlife in the Golden Era

It doesn't matter that it was patently phony: The glamour that was Tinseltown in Hollywood's golden age was impossibly romantic and utterly irresistible. Much of it had to do with the social lives of movie stars, and in particular the shenanigans they got up to in swanky nightclubs where they danced, courted, and made merry. Jim Heimann is a superb chronicler of Los Angeles's architectural and cultural past, and this beautifully illustrated book is crammed with images of the likes of Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall patronizing such swell spots as Mocambo, the Trocadero, Ciro's, the Coconut Grove, the Player's Club, and many others. They're all gone now, but this collection of hundreds of photos of the clubs, inside and out, and the patrons, dressed as if for a royal wedding, brings them back to vibrant life.

Who am I?

Shawn Levy is the author of 11 books of biography and pop culture history, including The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont, Paul Newman: A Life, Rat Pack Confidential, and Ready, Steady, Go! The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London. He was the longtime film critic of The Oregonian newspaper and KGW-TV in his beloved home city of Portland. He has written a history of the women pioneers of standup comedy which will be published by Doubleday in 2022 and at work on a podcast about the dark connections of politics and show business.

I wrote...

The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont

By Shawn Levy,

Book cover of The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont

What is my book about?

Since 1929, Hollywood's brightest stars have flocked to the Chateau Marmont as if it were a second home. An apartment building-turned-hotel, the Chateau has been the backdrop for generations of gossip and folklore: where director Nicholas Ray slept with his sixteen-year-old Rebel Without a Cause star Natalie Wood; Jim Morrison swung from the balconies; John Belushi suffered a fatal overdose; and Lindsay Lohan got the boot after racking up nearly $50,000 in charges in less than two months. But despite its mythic reputation, much of what has happened inside the Chateau's walls has eluded the public eye--until now. With wit and insight, Shawn Levy recounts the wild revelries and scandalous liaisons, the creative breakthroughs and marital breakdowns, the births and deaths to which the hotel has been a party. Vivid, salacious, and richly informed, The Castle on Sunset is a glittering tribute to Hollywood as seen from inside the walls of its most hallowed hotel.

Kitchen Confidential

By Anthony Bourdain,

Book cover of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

This now-classic catapulted Bourdain to celebrity status when it came out in 2000. I devoured it in high school, and it played no small part in my decision to pursue a career in restaurants. It glamorizes the crazy, counter-culture chef life without over-sentimentality—it remains refreshingly real. Bourdain’s quick punches, humor, and vulnerability make Kitchen Confidential a true joy to read even more than two decades later. 

Who am I?

I am a writer and food expert who spent her formative years in New York eating, drinking, serving, bartending, cooking on hotlines, and flipping giant wheels of cheese in Manhattan institutions such as Picholine and Fairway Market. I’ve been working in restaurants and writing about food my whole adult life, and I’m so lucky that food writing is both my profession and my passion. I’ve gotten to travel to Greece and Spain to learn about olive oil and olive trees, Colorado to visit cattle and beehives, and France’s Jura mountains to take a deep dive into Comté cheese. I teach food writing classes and write about food for a living, from my memoirs Feast and Plenty to articles about fancy salt, chefs, and cheesemakers.

I wrote...

Feast: True Love in and Out of the Kitchen

By Hannah Howard, Hannah Howard,

Book cover of Feast: True Love in and Out of the Kitchen

What is my book about?

The compulsively readable memoir of a woman at war―with herself, with her body, and with food―while working her way through the underbelly of New York City’s glamorous culinary scene.

Hannah Howard is a Columbia University freshman when she lands a hostess job at Picholine, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan. Eighteen years old and eager to learn, she’s invigorated by the manic energy and knife-sharp focus of the crew. By day Hannah explores the Columbia arts scene, struggling to find her place. By night she’s intoxicated by boxes of heady truffles and intrigued by the food industry’s insiders. She’s hungry for knowledge, success, and love, but she’s also ravenous because she hasn’t eaten more than yogurt and coffee in days.

Hannah is hiding an eating disorder. The excruciatingly late nights, demanding chefs, bad boyfriends, and destructive obsessions have left a void inside her that she can’t fill. To reconcile her relationships with the food she worships and a body she struggles to accept, Hannah’s going to have to learn to nourish her soul.

Skinny Legs and All

By Tom Robbins,

Book cover of Skinny Legs and All

The least “secret” of on the list, this book is still excellent. Tom Robbins is one of my favorite authors (I’ve read nearly everything he’s ever written). He has incredible freedom of language (the author version of my favorite singer-songwriter, Vic Chesnutt). Jitterbug Perfume is also one of my favorites, but in that book, Robbins gets a bit too blatant/heavy-handed in his delivery, whereas Skinny Legs and All grabbed me right out of the chute and kept me glued to the pages for the rest of the ride.

Who am I?

This list is specifically “secret” philosophy books. There were plenty of novels (Victor Hugo, Milan Kundera, Robert Pirsig) that I love, but they don’t hide the fact that they’re significantly philosophy books. My degree is in philosophy (BA, UCLA), with a special interest in ethics, ethical questions. I still really love the marriage of fiction and philosophy especially when it’s done subtly and beautifully. I am the author of three books: Approaching the Natural, Raising Healthy Parents. and Six Truths. I hold a BA in Philosophy from UCLA, am a public speaker, podcaster (What Sid Thinks Podcast), certified nutritionist & running coach, Oxygen Advantage breathing instructor, and founder of Small Steppers

I wrote...

Six Truths: Live by These Truths and Be Happy. Don't, and You Won't.

By Sid Garza-Hillman,

Book cover of Six Truths: Live by These Truths and Be Happy. Don't, and You Won't.

What is my book about?

Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone. We certainly have opinions about what choices someone might make to get there but we absolutely want happiness, and as much of it as possible. Six Truths is simple, accessible, cutting edge, edgy, and most of all, necessary. Sid Garza-Hillman has taken all he's learned as a nutritionist, philosopher, speaker, podcaster, Small Steps coach, ultramarathoner, father, and husband, and distilled it into six truths. Six truths that, if you live by them, will deliver you a happy life.

In Six Truths, Garza-Hillman, uses his usual funny, smart, no BS approach to helping you live your best life.

Nacho's Nachos

By Sandra Nickel, Oliver Dominguez (illustrator),

Book cover of Nacho's Nachos: The Story Behind the World's Favorite Snack

Who doesn’t like to eat something yummy? But do you ever think about how this food came about? The serendipitous events that led to the creation of a favourite snack – nachos – begin with a Mexican boy, Ignacio Anaya. He loved to eat and cook and was nicknamed . . . Nacho. One day, when asked to create a snack at short notice at a restaurant, Ignacio used whatever he had to hand – corn tortillas, cheddar cheese, and jalapeño peppers. His creation soon became a favourite, and now global, snack – nachos. This delicious true story will inspire young readers to create spontaneously with whatever ingredients are available, and to discover how being inventive in the kitchen, just like this young chef, can be heaps of fun!

Who am I?

I love to get kids fired up about true stories, using their imaginations and believing in themselves as future innovators, inventors, and creators. Crayola crayons inventor Edwin Binney's story is a fabulous springboard for exploring nature, color and creativity. I love to draw and make stuff just like Binney, so his story resonated with me. The more I researched, the more I admired how he listened to what people needed and looked to nature for inspiration. I am intrigued by the origins of everyday objects. Here are some books that inspired me when I was writing, and that have that fascinating a-ha moment that spurs on innovation.

I wrote...

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

By Natascha Biebow, Steven Salerno (illustrator),

Book cover of The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

What is my book about?

What child doesn't love to hold a crayon in their hands? But before Edwin Binney set out to change things, children couldn't really even draw in color. Here’s the true story of the inventor who so loved nature’s vibrant colors that he found a way to bring the outside world to children – in a bright green box for only a nickel! Discover how Binney and his team at Crayola created one of the world’s most enduring, best-loved toys – empowering children to dream and draw in color

Winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, NSTA best STEM book, ILA Children's Choice Reading List, Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

A PHO Love Story

By Loan Le,

Book cover of A PHO Love Story

Romeo & Juliet retellings are, in my opinion, the absolute hardest ones to bring anything new to, but Le’s own voices portrayal of Vietnamese culture smashed all my preconceptions and turned what’s often a dry, predictable format into something so insightful and compelling it genuinely took my breath away. With real, authentic teenage protags facing real, contemporary issues, we get an insight into the turmoil of the lives of ‘ordinary’ teens far removed from the ‘glossy’ veneers we’re often presented in YA fiction. A Pho Love Story speaks a unique, powerful truth – and brings a breath of fresh air not only to the original but also to the genre as a whole. (Caution: parts of this book will make you extremely hungry!)

Who am I?

In my previous role as a teacher, I often encountered teens who never, ever read outside of school – and hated having to read in school. Finding YA retellings of the classics became an indispensable tool for me in terms of not only linking the past with the present for the young adults in my classes, but also in terms of helping them see themselves in fiction, finding representation there, and discovering their own importance. It opened up whole worlds for all of us, and offered a pathway to a love of reading that I hope they will never forget!

I wrote...

Under My Skin

By Zoë Markham,

Book cover of Under My Skin

What is my book about?

What if we’re all monsters, on the inside?

Chloe was once a normal girl. Until the night of the car crash that nearly claimed her life. Now Chloe’s mother is dead, her father is a shell of the man he used to be and the secrets that had so carefully kept their family together are falling apart. A new start is all Chloe and her father can hope for, but when you think you’re no longer human how can you ever start pretending?

Monday Mourning

By Kathy Reichs,

Book cover of Monday Mourning

I’m cheating here a bit. I know Kathy and I like her a lot. Unlike me, she is a genius. I don’t need to tell any of her readers that. She is a well-respected forensic anthropologist who goes out of her way to uncover the secrets that the remains conceal. She writes about bones with the same affection we usually reserve for loved ones. I would be delighted to have her run her massive intellect over my skeleton when I’m gone.

Who am I?

When you write a book, it’s natural to put yourself in it. You’re the avenger, the rookie agent, the hard-drinking detective. But how many of us volunteer to be the corpse? I sit here every day in the cancer unit at a public Thai hospital and smile at folks who won’t be around much longer. I wrote fifteen books in a series about a coroner. I painted the victims colorfully when they were still alive but how much respect did I show them once they were chunks of slowly decaying meat? From now on my treatment of the souls that smile back at me will take on a new life.

I wrote...

The Coroner's Lunch

By Colin Cotterill,

Book cover of The Coroner's Lunch

What is my book about?

The Coroner's Lunch follows the fortunes of Dr. Siri Paiboum, a Paris-trained Lao doctor, who joined the communist party and has been fighting with the Pathet Lao. Siri is informed that he is now the state's only coroner. With the help of one nurse, Dtui, and Geung, who has Down's Syndrome they shuffle along adequately and happily. Until the wife of an important official turns up dead. The husband claims that his wife died of food poisoning but his vision of the dead woman's spirit convinces Siri that she was murdered. Before he can investigate, he's called upon to perform another autopsy (with serious international consequences), and investigate a series of bizarre deaths. Suddenly it seems to be raining dead bodies for the unqualified coroner and his ill-equipped lab.

The Cafe by the Sea

By Jenny Colgan,

Book cover of The Cafe by the Sea

First, let me say, I love every book she’s written, and I’ve read them all! It is hard for me to choose just one. I picked this one because it’s the “gateway” book on the fictional island of Mure. (Incidentally, Muir is the Gaelic word for sea. Coincidence?) Ms. Colgan creates a world rich with the culture and beauty of the island people. Although at its heart, this story is a romance, there are several storylines of potential romance and a little mystery. With every book in the series, you delve a little deeper into the lives of the people. It’s like visiting old friends and I’m never quite ready to say goodbye.

Who am I?

I love everything Scottish. My grandfather was Scottish. I never met him, but mom passed the pride of her heritage and culture to me. Mom used to throw out an occasional phrase or poem that I thought was Gaelic. (I later learned it was Scotts but that’s another story.) I decided I wanted to learn the language and found a short course at a small college on the Isle of Skye and it changed my life. After that short course I committed to learning the language and enrolled in the distance learning program. I travel to Skye for the short courses between my semesters and have made lifelong friends.  

I wrote...

Hickville Crossroads: A Hickville High Novel

By Mary Karlik,

Book cover of Hickville Crossroads: A Hickville High Novel

What is my book about?

Frasier Anderson is one of the hottest teenage actors in the UK, but he’s virtually unknown in the US. Now he’s landed the leading role in a big-budget Hollywood film that could make him an international star. So how do you prepare a Scot for a role as a Texas high school student? Embed him in a Texas high school. He only has to follow three rules: No drama. No girls. And no telling who he really is.

Jenna Wiley is smart, funny, and has a few no-drama, no-dating rules of her own. Things come to a boil when Frasier’s biggest secrets hit the tabloids. Can Frasier convince Jenna that shy, goofy Ethan Smith is closer to reality than the image the tabloids have created?

A Culinary History of Taipei

By Steven Crook, Katy Hui-Wen Hung,

Book cover of A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai

Despite the title, this is a history of the food of Taiwan, not just Taipei. The “ponlai” in the subtitle refers to a strain of rice developed in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period, stickier and quicker maturing than the indica rice cultivated previously; and this specificity gives a good indication of the admirable depth the book goes into. There’s great breadth too, the authors covering almost everything you might be curious about, whether aboriginal crops or traditional banquet culture, religious food offerings, food folklore and prohibitions, the evolution of basic ingredients, and the origin stories of iconic dishes.

Who am I?

I’m a Kiwi who has spent most of the past three decades in Asia. My books include Formosan Odyssey, You Don't Know China, and Taiwan in 100 Books. I live in a small town in southern Taiwan with my Taiwanese wife. When not writing, reading, or lusting over maps, I can be found on the abandoned family farm slashing jungle undergrowth (and having a sly drink).

I wrote...

Formosan Odyssey: Taiwan, Past and Present

By John Grant Ross,

Book cover of Formosan Odyssey: Taiwan, Past and Present

What is my book about?

This mix of travelogue, history, and vignettes of small-town life is the kind of book I like to read myself: history and culture woven into travel narratives, and with a healthy sprinkling of eccentric characters. I think readers will be surprised to learn that Taiwan was – until the early twentieth century – one of the wildest places in Asia, as shown in the tales recounted of fatal shipwrecks, headhunting tribes, banditry, and revolts. From those early frontier days, Formosan Odyssey takes us through the period of Japanese colonial rule, and the post-war transition from impoverished police state to a prosperous democracy.

Stay with Me

By Paul Griffin,

Book cover of Stay with Me

Griffin is an incredibly sensitive and revealing writer who touches raw emotions. This is my favorite title of his. It's an urban romance between two teens who seemingly don't belong together, bolstered by an incredible bond with a dog. Read it. Love it. Then find yourself wondering what other gems Griffin has penned.

Who am I?

I spent 16 years teaching in NYC public schools, six of them on Rikers Island the world's biggest jail where I helped incarcerated teens improve their reading and writing skills. That experience helped to launch me on my own writing career. The job of the author? To hold up a mirror to society and reflect upon the page what the reader may not have experienced yet or missed seeing in the world outside the borders of a book.

I wrote...

The Great G.O.A.T. Debate: The Best of the Best in Everything from Sports to Science

By Paul Volponi,

Book cover of The Great G.O.A.T. Debate: The Best of the Best in Everything from Sports to Science

What is my book about?

I’m so incredibly proud of my 15th book for young adults. The idea behind it is very simple. In every school I visit, I hear students debating one another — Who’s the greatest basketball player of all time? Greatest rapper? Greatest video game? Greatest sci-fi franchise? Greatest rock band? So I wrote a book that lets students debate those topics. But, while those students are investigating their favorite categories, they’ll also be exposed to these unexpected debates —Who’s the greatest scientist of all time? Greatest architect? Greatest philosopher? Greatest mathematician? Greatest chess player? Greatest jazz soloist? Greatest composer? Greatest writer? Oh, yes, it also teaches students the basic strategies of debate and how to put forth a strong argument for their candidate as the G.O.A.T. of a particular category.

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