by Michael J. Shapiro | October 01, 2008
New Orleans 
Hog heaven: Cochon chef and co-owner Donald Link is fanning the flames of a revitalized New Orleans restaurant scene.
If the way to your attendees' hearts is through their stomachs, the following cities should get you there fast. Each of these popular meeting destinations has food-love coursing through its major arteries, as evidenced by its food culture and varied restaurant options. Here we suggest a few good group venues that have won accolades from those who live to eat.

New Orleans
Even the names of New Orleans specialties carry an exotic tang, conjuring the smells and flavors of the region's unique culture: Andouille, boudin, beignet, jambalaya, chicory, po-boy, gumbo. The city's love of food has never been questioned, so it's no surprise that its recovery often is measured in terms of restaurants. According to the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city is now home to more than 950 restaurants, up from a pre-Katrina 809. Old landmarks such as Commander's Palace (established in 1880; 504-899-8221) continue the tradition of upscale dining, serving Creole specialties such as chef Tory McPhail's griddle-seared Gulf fish. Private dining is available in a variety of rooms, the largest seating 88.

The acclaimed Cochon (504-588-2123) is a relative newcomer, picking up a James Beard Best New Restaurant nomination in 2007. Here, regional concoctions such as fried alligator with chili garlic aioli are served in a casual setting with an open kitchen and a wood-burning oven. A private dining facility for up to 200 will open upstairs in January 2009.

San Francisco
This city, locals will tell you, is so rich in restaurants that every resident can eat out simultaneously and there will be a seat for all. To our knowledge this hasn't actually occurred, but odds are few would go hungry.

With nearly 5,400 restaurants, San Francisco ranks first in the United States in restaurants per capita, according to the National Restaurant Association. But even more impressive is the vast array of quality eateries. Two waterfront locations opened next to one another along the Embarcadero in January: Epic Roast­house (415-369-9955) and Waterbar (415-284-9922) bear the touch of famed designer and restaurateur Pat Kuleto, and both feature second-floor private dining rooms with views of the bay. Epic, a modern steak house, hosts private groups of up to 60, while the aquarium-themed Waterbar, a seafood restaurant, can sit up to 50 in its private room.

Luce (888-811-4273) opened in February at the 550-room InterContinental San Francisco, just down the street from Moscone Center. Here California winemaker Michael Mondavi salutes Italy's Frescobaldi Winery with an extensive list of vintages complemented by Californian-Tuscan cuisine. A private dining room seats up to 14.

New York City
One of the world's undisputed culinary capitals, New York City is known as much for its snack staples as for its collection of celebrity chefs. When visitors (or residents) have had their fill of bagels and pizza -- and for some, this never occurs -- they needn't travel far to find an acclaimed restaurant.

Traditionalists can count on the classic American fare of Danny Meyer's Gramercy Tavern (212-477-0777), in business since 1994 and the winner of the James Beard Foundation's 2008 Outstanding Restaurant Award. Groups can take advantage of the elegant private dining room, which seats up to 22. For Mediterranean fare, try the "New Aegean" cuisine of Anthos (212-582-6900), opened last year in Midtown Manhattan by the team of Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia and a 2008 James Beard Foundation nominee for the country's Best New Restaurant. Insieme (212-582-1310) opened last year in the 178-room Michelangelo hotel in Midtown, with a mix of classic and contemporary Italian fare. A private dining room seats 30.

Where the hearth is: West
Hollywood’s Lucques 
Los Angeles
America's second-biggest city is a sprawling metropolis packed with neighborhood pockets of ethnic delectables. There's Koreatown, the varied Asian cuisine of the San Gabriel Valley, an Ethiopian oasis on Fairfax, even a James Beard award-winning taco stand called Yuca's (323-662-1214) in Los Feliz -- and that barely scrapes the surface.

Two of the hottest destinations to debut last year were Osteria Mozza (323-297-0100) and the neighboring Pizzeria Mozza (323-297-0101), opened by the foodie supergroup of Mario Batali, Nancy Silverton and Joseph Bastianich. Osteria has the more varied menu of the two and features a mozzarella bar, at which Silverton concocts delectable antipasti with a heavy emphasis on fresh Italian cheeses. Both provide private dining, with Osteria offering the larger option, for up to 40. Or consider chef-owner Suzanne Goin's Lucques (323-655-6277) in West Hollywood, an acclaimed local institution that has helped define Southern California cuisine for nearly 10 years.