I sat at the table altering my gaze between the food on my plate and the view out the window. I was at Wild Rice Restaurant in Bayfield, Wis., and I was as impressed with the grilled lake trout with mint pesto as I was with the scene of Lake Superior sparkling between trees. Mine was a summer visit, but when I started contemplating restaurants worth a drive during a tour of fall color, Wild Rice topped the list.
Jim Webster, the top toque there, has been a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Midwest award four times. His destination-worthy restaurant is open for dinner Wed.-Sat. in September and Thu.-Sat. in October (1-715-779-9881; www.wild ricerestaurant.com).
If you're headed up the North Shore, stop at Duluth's New Scenic Cafe, where the asparagus and egg sandwich on grilled ciabatta is alone worth the drive. The restaurant, where all tables have a view of Lake Superior, is open daily for lunch and dinner (1-218-525-6274; www.sceniccafe.com).
Up the Scenic North Shore Drive, Nokomis also wows with its detail-oriented cooking and windows overlooking the lake. It's open daily until mid-October, when it switches to a Wed.-Sun. schedule (1-218-525-2286; www.nokomisonthelake.com).
At Canoe Bay in Chetek, Wis., the dining room overlooks a quiet lake ringed with maples. Time it right, and you'll get to watch the sun set. Tables are for overnight guests first; if there is availability, they'll seat drive-up customers. Of course, given Canoe Bay's wooded trails and luxurious rooms, I suggest you book a room if you can swing the steep price (1-715-924-4594; www.canoebay.com).
Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.