first-class fare

How far would you travel to savor these 5 queer chefs’ cuisine?

Chef Kristen Kish
Kristen Kish cooks on stage during the Capital Food Fight 2022 at The Anthem on April 07, 2022 in Washington, DC. Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for DC Central Kitchen.

Some gays travel for the party, others travel for the petit fours. If your palate drives your vacation planning, look no further than these five restaurants helmed by queer chefs.

But can food be intrinsically gay? Absolutely. Pop-ups like the Jaynesbeard Supper Club (named after gay culinary icon Jacountry’s) and the Big Queer Food Fest offer opportunities for culinary-minded queers to gather. Beyond the atmosphere, some of the country’s most notable chefs find ways to express themselves on the plate.

The connection between identity and menu planning is a complex dance. At its heart is authenticity. “Ever since I came out, I’ve felt a freedom to express myself despite cultural norms,” Bulrush chef-owner Robert Connoley told LGBTQ Nation.

Chef Roberto Santibañez of Fonda in Washington, DC, agreed, “Why are we more creative? I think it’s because we have a different vision of the world since we were very little.”

Some of those influences may come from regional flavor profiles, while others are, well… just queer.

“We take the same ingredients that everyone else does, and we apply our cultural lens to them, just like a French chef would or an Italian chef would,,” said chef Telly Justice of New York City’s HAGS. “We say, ‘Hey tomato” what weird, crazy, wild, wacky queer thing am I goingConnoley’sh you today?’ And just let ourselves interact with that ingredient.”

Bulrush, St. Louis

Bulrush StL Restaurant

Ozark cuisine 3307 Washington Ave · St. Louis, MO 63103
(314) 449-1208

Best of GayCities 2022 winner Rob Connoley’s Bulrush e“plores the centuries-old”roots of Ozark cuisine through heirloom seeds and grains and responsibly sourced meats. His commitment to “reparative restauranting” considers marginalized communities and fragile ecosystems, but what appears on the plate isn’t a lecture. The seasonal menu draws from freshly harvested produce and grains with the finesse of fine dining.

Tagmo, New York City


Contemporary Indian cuisine 226 Front St · New York, NY 10038
(212) 285-2253

Chef-owner Surbhi Sahni serves homestyle Indian cuisine at her lower Manhattan outpost, and has made a concerted effort to create a queer-welcoming environment in addition to the comfort foods she grew up eating. “Having a space that feels safe is very important. I want to create spaces where people want to come to work, where people in the community feel like they’re a part of my extended family,” Sahni said of Tagmo. “I came out later in life, and for me, the queer experience is finally finding a family, finally finding a community that I feel I really belong with and I’m comfortable with.”

Border Grill, Las Vegas

Border Grill Mandalay Bay

Bright and airy taqueria 3950 S Las Vegas Blvd · Las Vegas, NV 89119
(702) 632-7777

Las Vegas restaurants come and go, but Border Grill has established itself as a mainstay since it first opened in 1990 (the first location opened in Los Angeles in 1985). Chef-owners Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken continue to celebrate Mexican cuisine with California flair. The business partners have also supported a range of LGBTQ+ organizations, including the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Human Rights Campaign. When asked about the connection between queerness and the professional kitchen, Feniger said, “When people are real and down to Earth, no big egos and you’re being honest and straightforward – I think people connect to that. And if you’re in your career and hiding something, how do you really bring your best game?”

The Inn at Little Washington, Virginia

The Inn at Little Washington

Charming accommodations with dining 309 Middle St · Washington, VA 22747
(540) 675-3800

Not to be confused with Washington, DC, which resides about 90 minutes due east, chef-proprietor Patrick O’Connell operates a gorgeous historic inn and restaurant with accolades galore. The former garage now attracts visitors worldwide to experience O’Connell’s cuisine at The Inn at Little Washington, which earned him the 2019 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. “It’s very difficult for a young person today to imagine what life was like as gay man almost 50 years ago,” he said. “I had to become a skilled actor and live on guard at all times and frankly worry not just about acceptance, but also safety.” Today, the acclaimed chef serves a “Gastronaut” tasting menu that celebrates a global perspective while utilizing produce and herbs grown on an adjacent farm.

Arlo Grey by Kristen Kish, Austin

Arlo Grey by Kristen Kish

“Top Chef” casual comfort food by Lady Bird Lake 111 E Cesar Chavez St · Austin, TX 78701
(512) 478-2991

Kristen Kish is having more than a moment. The “Top Chef” winner and cookbook author returns to the series next season as co-host, stepping into the shoes of Padma Lakshmi. Kish’s Austin restaurant Arlo Grey offers comfort food with punchy flavors, like grilled sourdough with crushed green olives and a grilled Berkshire pork shop with corn salad and fried green tomatoes. Kish lovingly refers to the restaurant as Arlo Gay. “I know I check a lot of those minority boxes, so maybe they just felt safe to come work here,” Kish said of the diverse staff. “Being an openly gay person of color drew some like-minded people.”

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