best espresso machine?
are you really really serious about this?
there is ONLY ONE CHOICE if you want the best: the Synesso Cyncra. it is a relatively new machine, and the innovation that puts its espresso in a class all by itself is the extremely accurate temperature control through the extraction process.
it's available for 220 VAC or 120, but the 120 is a compromise from what i've heard. brace yourself: it's a bit more than $6000 for the single group ("head") version. (and you'll need to add in the cost of rewiring the outlet in your kitchen.) what? no? i thought you said "superb".
more important to making great espresso is understanding how to do it, it is not simple. at http://espressovivace.com/ (with whom i have no affiliation) they have a terrific book and video.
finally, you can't make consistently great espresso without good quality beans, freshly roasted. so while you are at that site, order some of their green beans.
Definitely check out coffeegeek.com, as the previous poster suggested. People ask the same question every day on that site - it's like chowhound's first cousin but the focus is coffee. Check out the consumer reviews to start, and then post your question with your particular price range. (a lot of the newer machines are not reviewed) I don't know what brand you should look for, and I don't think you'll have to get it from a restaurant.
After endless deliberation on this subject, I bought my husband a FrancisFrancis X-5. He loves espresso, I don't. So I wasn't sure what I was getting in to. He's thrilled with it. The best deal I found was by joining the Illy coffee club for a year. The machine, which retails for $550, was only $250, and came with a very snazzy set of espresso cups (retail $90 though I'd personally never shell out that much for them). I committed to the minimum possible coffee order - every other month I pay $46 for a coffee shipment, which we would buy anyway. I know some purists sneer at FrancisFrancis. Apparently it appeared on Sex and the City which was the kiss of death for cool. Whatever, it's a handsome machine and my peeps are happy with the results!
I think the superautomatic Saecos are pretty good - not sure if that fits the bill. Check out these websties:
Also, I just noticed that the google ads that come up on the page of your post could be relevant.
Quick note... both Aabree Coffee and Whole Latte Love are owned by the same people.
Coffeegeek is a great place to start... if you're looking for semi-automatic, the Rancillio Silvia can't be beat... or if you want press-button convenience, the Saecos are available at Costco online (hint hint).
But be warned... coffee geeks are 1000% times "worse" then chowhounds.
I stopped following the boards after listening to people moan and cry about not being able to make their own espresso, when their machines needed repair, or the necessity for $600 grinders to make "decent" espresso.
For some, coffee equals oxygen, I suppose... but I don't take it that seriously myself.