Except for the overachievers, does anybody really buy a restaurant cookbook in order to replicate its recipes?
I think we buy one because it’s a pleasurable memento of our dining experience, or in the case of those who haven’t experienced it yet, because it serves as a personal promise that one day, they will be able to visit the place and partake of its dining pleasures.
Most restaurant cookbooks are marketed with an implicit promise that the reader can easily replicate the chef’s dish in a home kitchen down to tiniest detail and flavor. But the reality is, these books are not for the average home cooks. Some are even more memoir than recipe collection, focusing on how the chef built up his culinary brand from the ground up.
And yet, I won’t turn down a beautifully produced restaurant cookbook. That’s because the cookbook is full of inspiring ideas and creative techniques that make me think twice about how I approach food. The lush photographs also make great food porn. And while I may not be able to fully recreate the meticulously crafted recipes, I can appreciate the chef’s genius and artistry behind them.
Some cookbooks though have achieved the fine balance between style and usefulness. These have signature dishes that can be made by a home cook who knows his basic kitchen techniques and using fairly common pantry staples.
The best of these books don’t force us to choose between coffee-table gorgeousness and real-world practicality. They convey the essence of great restaurants, but still keep the home cook in mind. In this list, I’ve picked the best ones that reflect the awesomeness of their culinary brand while offering recipes that are actually doable for anyone willing to take on the grunt work.
Here are my top 10 picks for the best restaurant cookbooks on Amazon.
Best Restaurant Cookbooks
- Momofuku: A Cookbook Hardcover – Illustrated
- The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem Hardcover
- Chez Panisse Café Cookbook Hardcover
- The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco
- Xi'an Famous Foods: The Cuisine of Western China, from New York's Favorite Noodle Shop Hardcover
- Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking Hardcover – Illustrated
- The French Laundry Cookbook (The Thomas Keller Library) Hardcover
- Ottolenghi: The Cookbook Hardcover
- The Peached Tortilla: Modern Asian Comfort Food from Tokyo to Texas Hardcover – Illustrated
- The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual Hardcover
1. Momofuku: A Cookbook Hardcover – Illustrated
This book is three volumes rolled into one: it’s a cookbook, a coffee table book, and a memoir of Chef David Chang. Momofuku is known for its Asian fusion food and this book charts the rise of the culinary brand through gorgeous photos, an engaging narrative, and the favorite recipes that the resto is known for.
Samples of the dishes covered in the book include the popular Momofuku ramen, chicken wings cooked with bacon in rendered pork or duck fat, and pan-roasted asparagus adorned with poached eggs and miso butter.
Recipes range in difficulty and some dishes require several steps. Because this is resto food, it doesn’t scrimp on ingredients. Some of these might be expensive to obtain. But readers who have tried out the recipes said that the dishes turn out well and are delicious.
Recommended for skilled home cooks and those interested in learning how Chef Chang built up his business from scratch.
2. The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem Hardcover
Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem-based restaurant, Red Rooster, is known for its excellent Southern black and cross-cultural food. This cookbook presents some of its popular recipes and original ones inspired by the melting pot that is the Harlem community.
There are 13 chapters in the book , beginning with one about the pantry which tells you everything you need to know for cooking the recipes in this book. Each chapter starts with a personal story that’s illustrated by beautiful archival and contemporary photos of Harlem. There’s also a playlist for each chapter.
Dishes include chicken and waffle, killer collards, Latino pork and plantains, and Ethiopian spice-crusted lamb. Recipes are clearly written and diverse. Some use exotic ingredients, while others require many steps. Almost everything is heavily meat-based.
Readers liked the book’s mix of culinary history and sense of place. One called it the author’s love letter to Harlem. Another found the writing to be excellent. Recommended for anyone interested about the Harlem culinary scene or for gourmet recipes on Southern comfort food.
3. Chez Panisse Café Cookbook Hardcover
Chez Panisse is one of the pioneers in seasonal, farm-to-table cooking. This cookbook showcases more than 140 of its best recipes which draw on from the healthful culinary traditions of the Mediterranean region. Some of the dishes are still on the menu today; others have been reinvented for ease of cooking in a home kitchen.
The recipe selection is a mix of easy and sophisticated. These include the morel mushroom toasts, the spicy broccoli raab and garlicky kale, and the popular crostata di perrella. There are also recipes for curing your own pancetta and grilling and braising vegetables and meats.
There are no photos in this book. Instead, beautiful color plates illustrate the author’s commentary on her cooking philosophy.
Readers liked the book’s emphasis on using fresh, top quality ingredients sourced from local farms. One found the book’s recipes spare but found the commentary pleasurable enough to fall in love with food. Recommended for those interested in sustainable cooking and fans of Chez Panisse.
4. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisa
Eating at the Zuni Cafe is said to be a classic San Francisco dining experience. It’s famous for its Zuni roast chicken and this cookbook features this recipe, along with several of its popular dishes, including the lentil-sweet red pepper soup with cumin and black pepper, citrus risotto, short ribs braised in Chimay ale, and rabbit with marsala and prune-plums.
Part cooking tutorial and part autobiography of the chef-owner, Judy Rodgers, this book details her formative experience working at a restaurant in France and includes short and informative essays on the practice of cooking. Along the way, she will also teach you how to salt a cod, cure a rabbit, brine a fowl, and even slaughter a sheep.
Recipes are gorgeously written and instructive, but not all have photos. Some will use expensive or difficult-to-source ingredients, which may be a problem for anyone who wants to exactly replicate the dish. Otherwise, most of the recipes are adaptable enough for skilled home cooks.
One reader loved how the book strikes a balance between story-telling and cooking instruction. Another found it the most precise cookbook that she’s ever read. Another recommended this not only for the Zuni roast chicken but also for the very useful seafood essence recipe.
5. Xi'an Famous Foods: The Cuisine of Western China, from New York's Favorite Noodle Shop Hardcover
Xi'an Famous Foods is a chain of fast casual restaurants that are known for serving authentic Western Chinese dishes. This cookbook features the never-before-published recipes that have made the chain a popular culinary brand In New York’s food scene. These include liang pi doused in a bright vinegar sauce to ﬂatbread ﬁlled with caramelized pork to cumin lamb over hand-pulled Biang Biang noodles.
It also includes a guide to the flavors of Xi’an and a section on pantry essentials. Accompanying these are stories of the founder and how Xi’an Famous Foods (XFF) was established as a brand.
Recipes range from beginner to advanced. One reader particularly liked how the cookbook has a simplified list of ingredients. The versatility of the ingredients will easily allow a home cook to create an XFF-style dish on his own.
Some readers were put-off by the smug tone of the writing but if you’re here for the noodle-making recipes, this cookbook will not disappoint. Recommended for fans of XFF cuisine and noodle lovers everywhere.
6. Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking Hardcover – Illustrated
Philadelphia’s Zahav restaurant showcases the melting-pot cuisine of Israel and this book presents most of its popular recipes which can be done in a home kitchen.
Featured dishes include the popular fried cauliflower, their own version of hummus and the pink lentil soup with lamb meatballs. Stories about the chef-author’s life and his culinary journey accompany the recipes, along with beautiful photos.
Recipes are well-written and use local and seasonal ingredients that are easy to obtain. They’re also developed for small servings and not for bulk quantities. They can also be easily adapted for vegan and vegetarian diets.
Readers liked how accessible the recipes are. One liked how the dishes can be used for everyday dinner food. Recommended for casual cooks and anyone interested in easy, modern fusion Israeli cuisine.
7. The French Laundry Cookbook (The Thomas Keller Library) Hardcover
This cookbook features 150 exact recipes from chef Thomas Keller’s acclaimed French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley which have been tested for replication in home kitchens.
It’s also a culinary manifesto to the chef’s renowned creativity in coming up with the resto’s classic recipes. This book teaches you the French Laundry way of making soup, cooking green vegetables and fish, as well as creating exquisite desserts.
Recipes are detailed and exact, as expected from a master chef. There are no shortcuts here; consider the recipes as a precise blueprint to getting the dish’s flavor and texture right. As such, newbie cooks will find this a challenging read.
For skilled cooks, however, the cookbooks offers an instructive view on Chef Keller’s techniques and how he develops the recipes. One reviewer said that the tips and tricks in this book improved his cooking skills. Recommended for chefs and expert home cooks.
8. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook Hardcover
The Ottolenghi group of restaurants are known for their modern take on the diverse culinary traditions of the Mediterranean. This cookbook features 140 of their popular recipes which have been updated to include US measurements.
Featured dishes include some trademark Ottolenghi vegetable dishes, along with couscous and mograbiah with oven-dried tomatoes, harira (lamb, chickpeas, and spinach), marinated rack of lamb with cilantro and honey, oxtail stew with pumpkin and cinnamon, and Harissa-marinated chicken with red grapefruit salad.
Recipes are well-formatted with beautiful food photos and the instructions are clearly written. Many of them, however, are advanced and require extra preparation time. There are also a lot of them that use ingredients that are not easily accessible in small American towns.
Readers who have tried cooking them said that the recipes come out exactly as expected, which is flavorful and healthy. Another said that most of the recipes are ideal stand-alone vegetarian meals. Recommended for Ottolenghi fans and skilled cooks looking for creative takes on Mediterranean cuisine.
9. The Peached Tortilla: Modern Asian Comfort Food from Tokyo to Texas Hardcover – Illustrated
This cookbook highlights the best of Asian fusion by featuring 100 recipes from Texas-based restaurant The Peached Tortilla. Their menu is described as “Southern comfort food with an Asian flair” and most of their popular dishes are in this book. This includes the banh mi taco, japajam burger, bacon jam fries, umami fried chicken, and Korean short rib pappardelle with smoked crème fraîche .
It’s also a food memoir of the chef’s multi-cultural culinary journey. There are lots of childhood pictures and personal stories. One reader noted that, unlike other cookbooks/memoirs, the chef mentions and credits his staff’s work in the book.
Recipes have clear instructions and have been scaled down to 4-person servings. Most use specialty ingredients (the recipes aren’t shy about using MSG, for instance) and lots of multi-step processes. Skilled cooks won’t have a problem with this but beginning cooks might find the cookbook daunting.
Recommended for anyone into American Southern food infused with Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian riffs.
10. The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual Hardcover
This cookbook is from one of Brooklyn’s hottest restaurants, Frankies Spuntino, which is known for its Italian-American comfort food. It features the entire menu which has been adapted for the home kitchen. This includes the cremini mushroom and truffle oil crostini, escarole with sliced onion & walnuts, and the cavatelli with hot sausage & browned butter.
The recipes often focus on slow food, with many of them requiring meatless ingredients. One reader particularly found this a useful book on how to do restaurant cooking at home. There are lots of tips and shortcuts, illustrative diagrams on how to assemble dishes, and user-friendly charts for planning a Sunday meal or roasting a variety of vegetables.
Readers loved the witty stories that accompany the recipes. Those who have tried cooking their way through the book have found the dishes to be pretty much solid. There are special mentions of their Sunday sauce and Linguine Cacio e Pepe recipes. Recommended for casual cooks, newbie home cooks, and lovers of American-Italian cuisine everywhere.
ZAHAV: A WORLD OF ISRAELI COOKING HARDCOVER – ILLUSTRATED by Michael Solomonov, Steven Cook
This is a useful book, not only as an cultural biography of the chef and Israeli cuisine but also because the recipes are not over-complicated and they can easily be made by home cooks.
Many of the recipes have “how-to” photos and include instructions for spice mixes, sauces, and side dishes. They’re also diverse, from hummus and veggies to meats and sweets. The photos are food porn. And most importantly, these dishes are healthy because the cuisine is vegetable-heavy.
If you’re going to pick a restaurant cookbook, you might as well get one that’s more than just eye-candy. You can cook your way through this book while enjoying its personal anecdotes and stories.