The 12 best restaurants in Dayton

Any “best restaurants” list calls for tough choices, and that’s particularly true here in the Dayton area. The Miami Valley has an absolute wealth of very fine independent restaurants. Here’s one Dayton native’s take on some of the very best.

The Pine Club has been around since 1947, a true throwback to an earlier time. It can be cramped, it can be crowded, and it can be noisy, and it all somehow adds to its charm. The steaks, the tiny fried onion rings, a great wine list and well-made cocktails have earned the Pine Club national recognition, and for good reason. But remember, they don't take reservations, and they don't take credit cards.

>>>RELATED:Dayton’s Pine Club named one of nation’s best steakhouses

The Winds was such a trailblazer in the farm-to-table concept that the term didn't even exist when its founders started buying fresh local and organic fruits and vegetables from farmers around Yellow Springs. The menu changes frequently and is always a touch eclectic. Insider tip: If a duck dish is on the menu, order it.

Jay's Restaurant has been around since 1976 in Dayton's Oregon Historic District, and its ambiance includes a beautiful bar that dates back to 1882. Jay's is known for the seafood, and if you get a chance to attend a special wine luncheon or wine dinner, do not pass up the opportunity.

>>>RELATED: 40 things we love about Jay's Seafood

The Oakwood Club's fans say it's even better than the Pine Club but without the national publicity. Indeed, it won first place in the most recent "Best of Dayton" award in the "Fine Dining" category. It's not all about the steaks at the OC — try the potato-encrusted Chilean Sea Bass for a real treat. And it's been around since 1962

>>>RELATED: 5 things you need to try at The Oakwood Club

Credit: Jim Witmer

Credit: Jim Witmer

Meadowlark also has been a pioneer in the farm-to-table concept, and this place just has a knack of combining ingredients that most of us wouldn't think of putting together into a dish and turning it into something far greater than the sum of its parts. And Meadowlark captured the most votes for "Best Vegan Dining" in the Best of Dayton awards.

>>>DAYTONIAN OF THE WEEK: Chef Elizabeth Wiley

Coco's Bistro just south of downtown Dayton has had three venues in its 20 years, but seems to have found a "forever home" on Warren Street. The dining room is beautifully decorated, comfortable and spacious. The Scampi shrimp-and-pasta dish, on both the lunch and dinner menu, is a highlight. And Coco's was the second-place finisher in the Fine Dining category in the 2016 Best of Dayton awards.

>>>RELATED: 10 Dayton go-to comfort dishes

Corner Kitchen is the brainchild of the husband-and-wife team of Jack and Natalie Skilliter, both experienced restaurateurs before they opened their own place in the Oregon District in downtown Dayton. Diners can get a great burger and fries here or opt for a four-course meal.

>>>RELATED: 3 of the best mac and cheese dishes in Dayton

El Meson's owners travel the world to bring diners the best in Central and South American cuisine, and its tapas list is almost as exhilarating to read as it is to eat. There is nothing else quite like it. Plus, the sangrias and margaritas at El Meson are dangerously delicious.

>>>RELATED: El Meson launches its very own food truck

Coldwater Café is in the small town of Tipp City, and boasts a lovely atmosphere and a well-put together menu. Check out the special seating in the former bank vault. And it has wines on its list that you just don't see anywhere else in the region.

>>>RELATED: Tipp City restaurant lawsuit pits mother against son

Salar Restaurant and Lounge marries Peruvian specialties with a distinctly Mediterranean approach. This is fusion cuisine in the finest sense of the word. And its cocktails are among the very best in town.

>>>RELATED: This popular Oregon District restaurant will start serving Sunday brunch

Carvers is a steakhouse that does beef right. When first founded, it was affiliated with a small chain, but Carvers is now independently owned. Order a cut of beef on the bone here, and you will not regret it. That may be one reason Carvers captured first place in the Best of Dayton 2016 for "Best Steak." It's got a strong wine list, too.

Linh's Bistro is a Vietnamese restaurant adjacent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and it serves the best pho in town. The toppings are always impeccably fresh, and the broth packs plenty of flavor. A bowl of this Vietnamese noodle soup might just cure the common cold.

>>>RELATED: 10 best places to grab food near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

We’ve left SO many worthy restaurants off this top 12 list that I’m going to lie awake nights second-guessing the contents, but one thing I know for sure: You will not go wrong at any of these fine restaurants.

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