How Some of the World's Most Famous Restaurants Got Their Names


Photo credit: Alinea/Facebook

What’s in a name?

When it comes to restaurants, the answer is: A lot. Although nonsensical names are a growing trend these days, plenty of places have interesting and often meaningful stories behind the letters they chose for their marquees. And they can vary wildly. Here are some of our favorites:

Le Bernardin. This French seafood palace in New York City takes its name from a folk song called “Les Moines de St. Bernardin” about an order of monks who rejoiced in food and drink. Founding owner Gilbert Le Coze, who passed away in 1994, held the song dear; his father used to sing it to him when he was a babe.

Noma. The designation of this Nordic restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, which was named the best on the globe on the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list this year, is a portmanteau of two Danish words: “nordisk” (Nordic) and “mad” (food).

Per Se. Thomas Keller’s New York City establishment was borne out of a comparison to his lauded West Coast restaurant, French Laundry. When asked if his new eatery would bear the same name, Keller responded: “It would not be like the The French Laundry, per se, but rather an interpretation.”

Alinea. Grant Achatz’s Chicago restaurant, known for its flamboyant molecular gastronomy stylings, is named for a symbol also known as a “pilcrow” or “paragraph sign,” which indicates a new trail of thought. In Latin, ”a linea" means "off the line," which in a restaurant setting has a double meaning. The food at Alinea is new and different, but it’s also coming directly “off the line” in the kitchen.

Spago. The name of this Los Angeles restaurant, which catapulted chef Wolfgang Puck to fame, is actually Italian slang for “spaghetti.”

Momofuku. Chef and owner David Chang, whose Momofuku empire stretches from New York City to Toronto, Canada to Sydney, Australia, translates to “lucky peach” in Japanese. But, according to a profile of the chef by Fortune magazine, it didn’t hurt that the word also sounded like “motherf*&?er.”

Chez Panisse. Alice Waters’s ode to seasonal cooking and ethically-sourced ingredients in Berkeley, California is named for Honoré Panisse, a character in director Marcel Pagnol’s 1930s trilogy about life on the Marseille waterfront, “Marius,” “Fanny,” and “César.” It’s also, Chez Panisse’s website reads, “an homage to the sentiment, comedy, and informality of these classic films.”

Komi. The Washington, D.C. restaurant, which routinely places among the top dining spots in the city, takes its name from a beach in Greece close to the ancestral home of chef and owner Johnny Monis. “I would go out with my grandfather, and we would pick what we were going to eat that day,” Monis told Washingtonian Magazine in 2008. “It gave food the sense of time and place. If it wasn’t ready, we wouldn’t pick it and we wouldn’t eat it. Nothing fancy—just very simple, very good food.”

Though a restaurant name with meaning doesn’t necessarily make the food taste better, it doesn’t hurt—right?