Because an eggheaded academic discussion of the subject of coolness is, well, uncool, let’s just agree that most of us know it when we see it. With this in mind, Restaurant Hospitality set out to find five of the coolest restaurants in the land to see what we can learn.

For one, none of the restaurateurs set out to be cool, and none of them think of themselves as cool (well, not that they admit). In fact, the universal response to being included in this piece was “Us? Cool?”

It’s a paradox. These chefs and owners are too focused on their game to worry about whether they’re cool. Some, like Adrienne Lo and Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice, are obsessed with their research and quest for authenticity. Ludo Lefebvre of Trois Mec is thinking about new, mind-bending ways to apply classic French technique. Others, like Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions, occupy their minds with the next groundbreaking flavor combination or avante-garde plate presentation. At Ox, Greg and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton are sourcing local products and mastering fire. And in Atlanta, Ford Fry of King + Duke is so busy breaking rules, he has little time to worry about cool.

The lesson? Like Mom said, always be yourself. Don’t try to win the popularity contest. Instead, aim for awesomeness, and you might just end up being the coolest kid on the block. Take a closer look at each of these restaurants and you’ll get a better idea of what we mean.