The second-best restaurant in the United States is located right here in Baltimore, according to a poll conducted for Conde Nast Traveler magazine.
And it's separated from the very best by two-tenths of a percentage point.
The Baltimore restaurant is Hampton's in the Harbor Court Hotel. It scored 93.4 on the survey, trailing only the Lark in West Bloomfield, Mich. (93.6). The numbers represent the percentage of the magazine's well-traveled, affluent readers who evaluated the restaurants "excellent" or "very good" in three categories: food (which counted for 50 percent in the survey), service (25 percent) and decor (25 percent).
Hampton's scored highest of all restaurants in service (95.3). Its 92.2 did not put it in the top five for food alone, nor its 93.8 in the top five for decor. If food is all that matters, visit L'Orangerie in Los Angeles, the top vote-getter for food alone at 97.6. (It ranked fifth overall.)
Yves Behrens, food and beverage director of Hampton's, was obviously pleased at the recognition. "It's nice to have Baltimore as a culinary destination," he said. "It's good for the city."
Traveler asked 21,000 readers to rate restaurants in their own area. Forty percent who received the survey in the Baltimore area responded.
The poll tends to be conservative, pointed out Aaron Sugarman, Traveler's senior editor. It recognizes those restaurants that are consistent over a period of time. "We don't quickly reward the hot new places."
This year's results were in by last fall. Readers were asked to vote on restaurants visited during the past year. Changes such as Hampton's new chef as of last summer aren't necessarily reflected in the results.
The April issue of Conde Nast Traveler lists the 250 restaurants scoring highest of the some 2,000 rated. Other area winners and their scores are Citronelle (84.8), the Milton Inn (84.5), the Prime Rib (82.4), Northwoods in Annapolis (81.7), the Polo Grill (81.5), Tersiguel's in Ellicott City (81.2), Linwood's (80.1), Tio Pepe (75.1) and the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels (74.5).
The biggest surprise of the survey is how few of the highest-rated restaurants are located in cities noted for their food. New York and Washington didn't make it into the top 10.
The highest score for a New York restaurant was 85 (Picholine). Mr. Sugarman was surprised but doesn't think it's because New Yorkers are more critical than others who responded to the survey.
1. The Lark, West Bloomfield, Mich. 93.6
2. Hampton's, Baltimore 93.4
3. The Fountain, Philadelphia 93.1
4. Aujourd'hui, Boston 92.9
5. L'Orangerie, Los Angeles 92.1
6. Le Francais, Wheeling, Ill. 91.9
7. Commander's Palace, New Orleans 91.5
8. Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va. 91.3
9. Lodge at Koele, Main Dining Room, Lanai City, Hawaii 90.7
10. Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas 90.7