As 2016 nears its end, it’s time to take an inventory of exactly what kind of year the restaurant industry has had. There were highs and there were lows, but 2016 was a positive year for restaurants overall, as evidenced by the large number of very solid restaurants that opened. Out of all the restaurants that debuted in 2016, these are our picks for the ten best.
Photo by Anne A. via Yelp
Baroo is the textbook definition of a “hidden gem.” It has no sign, and once you get inside there’s only one table, 19 seats, two employees, and just a handful of menu items.
Chef Kwang Uh is using his fine-dining experience to create a simple rotating selection of pickles, salads, rice bowls, and pastas, many of which are vegetarian and/or gluten-free, and the end result is paradigm-shifting.
Chef Jason Vincent made a reputation for himself as the chef at Nightwood, and at Giant he’s turning local Midwestern ingredients into simple and delicious food.
The menu is fun, inspired, and easy to love with standout dishes like Jonah crab salad with waffle fries; sweet and sour eggplant with cashews and pancetta; smoked lamb cannelloni with arugula pesto; chicken habanero mole poblano; and pecan smoked baby back ribs. There’s no real rhyme or reason here, no central genre or philosophy behind the concept; just great, inspired food.
Photo by Jam Y. via Yelp
Chef Curtis Stone is on a roll. His Maude has been one of the hottest restaurants in Los Angeles since it opened in 2014, and his new restaurant and butcher shop, Gwen, has been (rightfully) lavished with heaps of praise since it opened with much fanfare over the summer.
The butcher shop supplies the restaurant and is also a great place to stock up on house cured meats, game meats, and dry-aged Wagyu. And the meat-heavy tasting menu, which can stretch to 17 courses and currently runs a reasonable $95 per person, features whole animals that are broken down in house and cooked over fire in the kitchen. Expect dishes like housemade duck speck; “pickled, raw, and chewy” beets; glazed cheek, grilled rack, and smoked belly of asador pork; and supplements including Wagyu ribeye or 30-day dry-aged duck.
Located in downtown Portland’s historic Heathman Hotel, the husband and wife duo of Vitaly and Kimberly Paley’s fourth restaurant, Headwaters, is making waves with its stunning use of Pacific Northwest ingredients.
Kiev-born Vitaly won the 2005 James Beard Award for “Best Chef Northwest,” and at this inexpensive and approachable new local gem he’s serving a seafood-heavy menu of dishes including dockside chowder with bacon and tarragon, seafood cassoulet, bone-in halibut roast, roasted harlequin rockfish, and seared king salmon with squid carbonara and guanciale. A selection of local beers and cocktails on tap round out the menu.
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Perhaps no new restaurant has received as many plaudits this year as Le Coucou, the upscale French restaurant from restaurateur Stephen Starr and chef Daniel Rose that’s breathing new life into a fading genre. Many consider it to be a legitimate paradigm-shifter, returning French classics like quenelle de brochet, crepinette de volaille aux foie gras, and tete de veau ravigote to their rightful place in New York’s fine dining canon without the usual stuffiness or pretension. It’s classic New York, classic French, and an absolute must-visit.
Chef Sean Brock’s Charleston, South Carolina, standby McCrady’s closed down earlier this year and reopened with an entirely new concept, divided into two restaurants, McCrady’s and the more casual McCrady’s Tavern.
The new McCrady’s, next-door to its previous location, is now a 22-seat $125 tasting menu experience that allows Brock to get more adventurous than he can at his other restaurants — and with spectacular results. The multicourse menu changes nightly, but expect plenty of local ingredients prepared in surprising and innovative ways.
Photo y Cesar R. via Yelp
N7 is unlike any other restaurant in New Orleans, or in America, for that matter. A former tire shop in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood is completely hidden behind a high wooden fence, but walk through it and it’s like walking onto the set of a movie you want to play the lead role in: The building is small, welcoming, and romantically lit; an old Citroen is parked in front; a gravel patio surrounds it, and a lush garden surrounds the patio.
The brainchild of filmmaker Aaron Walker and chef Yuki Yamaguchi, the menu is heavy on hard-to-fine European canned seafood, believe it or not, to a surprisingly stunning effect — this isn’t your mother’s canned sardine — and the rest of the menu has both French and Japanese notes, like sake-cured salmon, steak au poivre, and mussels in a sake-scallion broth. There’s no website or listed phone number, but the crowds will lead the way.
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Brooklyn’s biggest restaurant opening of 2016 took the city by surprise, popping up on Prospect Heights’ restaurant row with little fanfare in June but quickly winning over the locals — and two months later, The New York Times’ Pete Wells — with its affordable and approachable menu of supremely creative farm-to-table (or in some cases, backyard-to-table) dishes from Alinea alum Greg Baxtrom.
Crawfish boil crackers (from crawfish that live in a backyard bathtub), charred onion chawanmushi with bottarga and smoked trout roe, carrot crepe with little neck clams and sunflower, lamb porchetta with figs and coffee, and roasted and confit guinea hen with turnips and cranberries are a few of the highlights on the constantly changing menu. No dish tops $24. You’ll want to return again and again.
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The team behind smash hit Charlie Bird followed up its already-classic restaurant this year with Pasquale Jones, a small neighborhood spot with no phone number, an extremely limited number of online reservations, and an entire city trying to snag a table.
The menu looks rather straightforward upon first inspection — some small plates, pizzas, pastas, vegetables, and wood oven-roasted meats — but the dishes coming out of those wood-burning ovens are absolutely stunning. The pizza is hands-down some of the best in the city (the clam pie is out of this world), and the non-pizza items are stellar in their own right. Don’t mind the wait; it’ll be worth it.
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One of Latin America’s finest restaurants laid down American roots this summer when the team behind Uruguay’s Parador La Huella opened Quinto La Huella inside Brickell City Centre’s EAST Hotel. The focus of the massive, 359-seat restaurant is a traditional parilla, a large grill over a blazing open fire.
Uruguayan rib-eye, sirloin, rack of lamb, red snapper, sweetbreads, and young chicken come off of the parilla perfectly grilled, and other specialties include octopus a la plancha, shrimp confit with aji Amarillo, wood-oven pumpkin with burrata, wood-oven langoustines with curry potatoes and spinach, and braised lamb shoulder with sweet potato purée. And just for kicks, they also offer one of Miami’s finest selections of sushi.