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Chicago's Alinea restaurant ranks No. 1 in U.S., No. 7 in the world

CHICAGO — Alinea is the seventh-best restaurant in the world. Better still, it's the best restaurant in America.

In Europe, hands are wringing and ink is flowing over the news that Spain's El Bulli has been supplanted by Denmark's Noma as No.1 on Restaurant Magazine's annual World's 50 Best Restaurants list, announced April 26 in London.

In Chicago, corks are popping on Halsted Street because No. 7 Alinea (it was No. 10 last year) is the highest-ranked restaurant in the United States. Actually, the highest-ranked restaurant in North America.

"We're very happy. Ecstatic," says Nick Kokonas, partner at Alinea with chef Grant Achatz. "It's always a fun list and always nice to be moving in the right direction. All good stuff."

Alinea made its debut on the World's 50 Best list in 2007, when it was ranked 38th in the world. It moved up to No. 21 in 2008 and No. 10 in 2009.

Other U.S. restaurants on the list include Daniel (8), Le Bernardin (15), Momofuku Ssam Bar (26), French Laundry (32), wd-50 (45) and Eleven Madison Park (50). All are in New York City except French Laundry, which is in Yountville, Calif.

Conspicuous by its absence, perhaps, is Charlie Trotter's, a mainstay among the 50 Best from 2002 (the list's inaugural year) through 2008. Trotter's fell out of the top 50 in 2009, and it was passed over yet again this year.

Those considering a cuisine-based vacation might look to Spain, which had four restaurants — El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca, Mugaritz and Arzak — in the top10.

Thomas Keller's French Laundry, where Achatz once served as sous-chef and which was ranked No.1on the Best 50 list in 2003 and 2004, tumbled to 32nd place, 20 places lower than last year. Keller's other restaurant, Per Se, remained in the top 10.

But the big surprise was that El Bulli, the top-ranked restaurant for four consecutive years, was knocked off its perch, falling to second place. El Bulli owner Ferran Adria announced that he would close his restaurant permanently at the end of 2011, but that announcement took place well after voting had ended. Fat Duck, in Bray, England, the second-ranked restaurant for the last four years, dropped to third.

Kokonas, for one, was pleased to learn that Noma, which was third on the World's 50 Best list last year, leapfrogged to first place.

"Rene (Redzapi, Noma's executive chef) is probably one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet," he said. "So that's a bonus."

You can find the entire list at theworlds50best.com.

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