Simbal / Facebook
In many ways, the restaurant industry is a race to see who can best capitalize on trends. While there will always be outliers, in any given year certain varieties of cuisine seem to take precedence over others. In 2015, some cuisines definitely stood out.
Yelp / Lori L
As opposed to the dishes you may commonly associate with Mexican cuisine, including tacos and quesadillas, recently a wave of trailblazing modern Mexican restaurants have opened, serving Mexican fare unlike any that’s been seen before in America. The cuisine that’s being enjoyed at upscale restaurants in Mexico City has finally made its way stateside.
Cosme NYC / Facebook
Renowned Mexican chef Enrique Olvera has racked up the accolades since Cosme opened late last year, receiving three stars from the New York Times. Tortillas are made in-house from strains of corn grown in Mexico, while popular dishes include uni tostada with avocado, bone marrow salsa, and cucumber; cobia al pastor with pineapple purée and cilantro; crispy octopus with hazelnut mole pickled potatoes and watercress; and the show-stopping duck carnitas with onions, radishes, and salsa verde.
Broken Spanish / Facebook
Chef Ray Garcia is “leading a revolution in modern Mexican food” at his new Broken Spanish, according to L.A. Weekly, thanks to his melding of Mexican heritage and classical technique. One of L.A.’s hottest new restaurants, the menu at Broken Spanish features standout dishes including heirloom corn tortillas with whipped carnitas fat, lamb neck and king oyster mushroom tamales, green beans with poached egg and chapuline salsa, oxtail and plantain quesadilla, and lamb’s head with pickled onion and cabbage.
XOCO / Facebook
Rick Bayless has been at the forefront of modern Mexican cuisine for decades, but he’s turned his attention to modern Mexican comfort food with Xoco, which specializes in tortas, and Xoco Bistro, which serves an expanded menu of hearty Mexican fare. These tortas don’t resemble the ones you’ll find from the taco truck, however; they include woodland mushrooms in slow-cooked garlic, goat cheese, and arugula; and cochinita pibil, with wood oven-braised suckling pig, black bean spread, pickled red onions, and habanero salsa.
Bracero Cocina / Facebook
This massive San Diego restaurant from beloved Baja chef Javier Plascencia opened in July, and has been turning heads since day one. Specialties include tacos with fillings including cauliflower, lamb neck barbacoa, and beef tongue confit; “surf and turf oysters” with beef tartare and crispy beef; squash in mole negro; shrimp and bone marrow sopes; and roasted lamb asado with stewed heirloom beans.
Yelp / Cherylnn N
Both Cosme’s Olvera and Cala’s chef Gabriela Cámara were beloved in Mexico before deciding to open their first U.S. restaurant, with Cala running both Contramar (Mexico City’s best seafood restaurant) and MetroToro, specializing in the cuisine of Baja California. At Cala she’s sticking with the seafood theme, serving creations including trout tostada with chipotle, avocado, and fried leeks; Santa Cruz abalone with amarosa potatoes and serrano cream; sunchokes, mushrooms, and epazote in charred corn husk; and true cod mixiote with red chile adobo and collard greens.
Yelp / Lori L
French cuisine has moved beyond rich sauces and chi-chi plating. Today, restaurants are opening that take on classic French technique and add on modern flourishes. These restaurants may be as elegant and refined as the French restaurants of yore, but the likes of these dishes have never been seen before.
Rebelle / Facebook
This modern French restaurant, which comes from the team behind the lauded Pearl & Ash, is serving an elegant menu with dishes including fluke with brown butter, capers, and lemon; scallop with sea urchin, turnip, and squid ink; duck with quince and watercress; and hazelnut, chocolate, and honey with thyme ice cream. Reviews have been excellent, with the New York Times’ Pete Wells awarding it two stars and calling it “a very good place to eat seasonal food that flirts with French ideas in exciting ways.”
Yelp / Cutie Patroller
This fun and always-packed Lower East Side hotspot is from the same folks who brought us Torrisi Italian Specialties and Carbone, a team that always seems to be right on top of (or even creating) the latest trends. This two-star New York Times critic’s pick serves classic French bistro fare with unexpected modern flourishes, like a standout millefeuille with trumped mushrooms and kabocha squash curry; grilled oysters Bourguignon with garlic and parsley; brook trout with sesame and dried apricots; duck a l’orange with ral el hanout and preserved oranges; and lamb saddle with potato and cumin.
Trois Mec / Facebook
Hailed as “a coveted ticket to cutting edge” by the L.A. Times’ Jonathan Gold, this hotspot from the power trio of Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook, and Vinny Dotolo has been one of the hottest restaurants in town since it first opened in 2013 and shows no signs of slowing down. Tickets for the 24 seats are reserved online. Guests are clamoring for a five-course menu that’s constantly changing but has included French inspired standouts like red beet tartare with smoked eel; duck breast with beets and yogurt; grilled corn veloute; and potato pulp with brown butter, bonito, onion soubise, and salers cheese.
Le Petit Paris- L.A. / Facebook
Hailed as “Downtown LA’s new crown jewel” by Eater, this enormous new restaurant has been turning heads with its playful takes on classic French fare, including a burger with foie gras and truffle, flambéed truffle pasta in a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, a 48-hour braised lamb shank with sautéed apricots and vegetables, and roasted rack of lamb for two.
Yelp / Ken L
This ambitious new Nashville restaurant was opened in October by chef Rene De Leon, a former cook at Chicago’s Alinea who is “honoring and challenging” traditional French fare. Dinner options include lamb tartare with Jidon, capers, and peppadew peppers; large format entrées of salt-crusted grouper, Boston pork shoulder, or veal shank for four to six people; bouillabaisse; and a 10-ounce ribeye cap with green peppercorn sauce.
Yelp / Chick’s Fry House
Fried chicken was one of the big breakout dishes of 2015, turning up in restaurants that specialize in only the fried bird as well as full-on Southern restaurants from some of the country’s most renowned chefs. These restaurants represent a true return to roots, serving comfort food with a main objective of making the diner very happy.
Revival / Facebook
Chef Kevin Gillespie opened this homey and upscale Southern restaurant in a renovated Victorian house in the Atlanta suburbs in July, serving comforting entrées including fried chicken, spiced Carolina catfish, wood-grilled bone-in pork chop, and bacon-wrapped meatloaf and trimmings including grits with caramelized onion, macaroni and cheese, and smoked local beans.
Chick’s Fry House / Facebook
This new counter service fried chicken joint from James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Stehling (of Hominy Grill fame) is about as Southern and homespun as it gets. Hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken from Springer Mountain Farms is fried and served whole or by the piece, and other offerings include fried catfish, fried pork chops, fried chicken sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and biscuits.
James Beard Award nominated chef Edward Lee, of Top Chef and Mind of a Chef fame, is one of Louisville’s leading chefs (and one of the country’s foremost interpreters of Southern cuisine). He’s taken his ample talents to Maryland with his newest restaurant, Succotash. Here, he blends Southern fare with his Korean roots, in dishes including pulled pork with buttered toast and BBQ vinegar dip; fried chicken and waffles; “dirty” fried chicken with spicy gochujang honey; shrimp and grits with red eye gravy; and a 22-ounce bone-in smoked beef short rib.
Filament Restaurant / Facebook
This casual Deep Ellum Southern spot is from popular Dallas chef Matt McCallister, whose levels of creative with classic Southern fare are off the charts. Standouts on his menu include smoked chicken rillettes with chicken skin cracklin’, fried hot catfish with horseradish ranch, Johnny cake okonomiyaki with smoked city ham and red cabbage, and a 21-day dry-aged double cut heritage pork chip with braised greens.
Royals Hot Chicken / Facebook
Nashville-style hot chicken, dipped in a spicy bath of hot sauce and butter, is definitely having a moment right now. Star Louisville chef Ryan Rogers is bringing this regional specialty to his city with his restaurant Royals Hot Chicken, which should be opening soon.
The Honey Paw / Facebook
The flavors of Southeast Asia are varied and exotic, so many chefs are visiting the region on a mission to learn as much about it as possible. They’ve been adopting these flavors into their cooking in ways never seen before; the heartiest and most comforting aspects of the cuisine — including noodles and dumpling dishes — are developing legions of new followers, including chefs who have never cooked the cuisine before but are opening restaurants to showcase it.
Tiger Mama / Facebook
Tiffani Faison, a fellow Top Chef alum, rose to prominence with her Boston barbecue spot Sweet Cheeks, but for her follow-up she drew upon her extensive travels to Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia for Tiger Mama, which just opened near Fenway. The menu is inspired by street food from the region, with dishes including curry puffs, crispy papaya salad, tom kha gai with clams and calamari, whole roast duck, and braised pork pad see ew.
The Honey Paw / Facebook
One of the year’s most exciting openings in a city with no shortage of exciting restaurants, The Honey Paw integrates fresh local ingredients into a noodle-centric menu with a Southeast Asian twist. Dishes range from fried wings with coconut, lemongrass, tamarind, and Thai bird chile to fry bread with uni butter; fish head curry; Korean fried chicken; beef rending; and Vietnamese pork meatball soup.
Simbal / Facebook
This new L.A. hotspot is the brainchild of chef Shawn Pham, who’s cooked everywhere from Michelin-starred restaurants to food stalls in Vietnam. His affordable menu here includes dishes like hangar steak tartare with larb seasoning and sesame bread; fresh tofu with tuna, ponzu, sesame, and scallions; braised pork belly with fresh coconut juice and marinated egg; ginger caramel braised Jidori chicken thigh; and short rib pot pie with lemongrass, annatto, and beef tendon.
Duck Duck Goat / Facebook
Quite possibly Chicago’s most anticipated new restaurant of the year, Stephanie Izard’s Duck Duck Goat (her follow up to diner The Little Goat, which was itself the follow-up to her super-popular global-influenced Girl & The Goat) will shift her attention to the cuisine of Southeast Asia when it opens, with her signature twist. Izard told Eater that the menu will include nine different types of noodles and fried rice, and that the restaurant will have a take-out window selling dumplings, noodles, and desserts including a cilantro and peanut brittle spring roll.
Yelp / Patricia H
Chef Andy Ricker has been one of the country’s leading authorities in authentic Thai cuisine, and his appeal is still going strong. Need proof? His newest Pok Pok opening, in L.A.’s Chinatown. Much larger than his other locations in Portland, Oregon, and New York (and the original L.A. Pok Pok, which opened in 2014 and is about two blocks away from this one), this Pok Pok includes a full bar and 230 seats. It serves all the classics, including Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, papaya pok pok, and grilled pork loin skewers with coconut milk and turmeric.
Yelp / Katie L
Decades after it first went mainstream in America, sushi’s star continues to rise. Its emphasis on simple preparations and fresh, high quality ingredients is completely aligned with the modern “clean eating” sensibility. Legions of new sushi chefs are pushing the envelope in new and creative ways while still being completely true to form.
Yelp / Lone O
One of Seattle’s most highly-anticipated openings of the year, Sushi Kashiba recently opened in Pike Place Market and is already a certified smash hit. Sushi master Shiro Kashiba (who trained under Jiro Ono and mentored Daisuke Nakazawa) is turning out some spectacular creations here, serving a $95 omakase that uses the freshest fish available, as well as specialties including sautéed geoduck, broiled yellowtail collar, and mixed tempura.
Tim and Nancy Cushman had a great thing going in Boston with their sushi temple O Ya since 2007, and they brought the love to New York this summer when they opened a second location, bringing along a chef who spent eight years at the original. Insanely expensive, the 23-course omakase costs $245 and includes dishes like golden-eye snapper with white soy, myoga, and lemon oil; Kumamoto oyster with ponzu-watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette; and Hokkaido sea urchin with Black River Osetra caviar.
Yelp / Bunny B
Two former protégés of sushi master Masa Takayama opened Shuko near Union Square last November after moving on from their first solo project, Neta, and by now Shuko has been firmly established as the best Japanese restaurant to open in the city in the past year. What started as a Hamptons summer pop-up quickly earned four stars from New York Magazine and three stars from the New York Times, in which Pete Wells says that owners Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau “have taken all the preciousness out of omakase and kaiseki dining and replaced it with a relaxed, sophisticated cool.”
At the 20-seat sushi counter, guests are treated to either a $135 sushi tasting or a $175 kaiseki (made up of both sushi and prepared dishes), and the possibilities of what you might be served are almost infinite, ranging from baby uni with shrimp and caviar to a truffle-wrapped sushi roll, grilled toro sinew wrapped in toasted seaweed, cod sperm with white truffle, or squab cartilage with sancho pepper, with a slice of apple pie for dessert (seriously). We suggest you throw caution to the wind and let Kim and Lau be your guides on one of the most exciting culinary journeys you’re likely to encounter for a while.
Yelp / Roku
This sprawling sushi spot opened in West Hollywood in November, and is already a certified hotspot. The wide-ranging menu includes dishes prepared on three teppanyaki grills, well as at a large sushi bar serving traditional sushi with a California twist, using the freshest fish possible in dishes including yellowtail diced chiles, albacore sashimi in ponzu with crispy onions, and toro and jalapeno hand rolls.
Maru / Facebook
After a multi-year closure and redevelopment process, chef Jason Park reopened Maru in Santa Monica earlier this year with an astonishing assortment of nigiri (including abalone, wild golden eye snapper, baby marlin, heart clam, and wheel shrimp) and surprises including pork shoulder in puff pastry, scallop risotto, curry lamb, and a 45-ounce ribeye.
L’Amico NYC / Facebook
The cuisine of the Mediterranean, so far-ranging to include Italy and parts of the Middle East, is as popular among American diners and restaurateurs as ever. The days of Italian cuisine being synonymous with spaghetti and meatballs are long over; in its place creative young chefs are redefining what food from the region can represent.
La Sirena Ristorante / Facebook
The team of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich are hard at work on their first new restaurant in years: a 250-seat restaurant located in New York’s Maritime Hotel. Intended to appeal to a young and well-heeled set, La Sirena will serve roasted meats, pizzas, pastas, steaks, and what’s sure to be one of the city’s most popular brunches.
L’Amico NYC / Facebook
Renowned multidisciplinary French chef Laurent Tourondel has shifted his attention to Italian fare with L’Amico, serving dishes including burrata with caramelized onion and truffle, pizzas topped with fresh sausage and shishito peppers, and pipe rigate with veal shoulder Bolognese from a spacious and airy space on Sixth Avenue. Perpetually packed, the New York Times’ Pete Wells gave it one star, calling it “very satisfying.”
Yelp / KS
A counter located inside L.A.’s booming Grand Central Market is reinterpreting falafel for the twenty-first century: Flatbread is grilled to order and rolled with herbs and greens fresh from the farmers market, house-pickled vegetables including cauliflower and fennel, and cubes of fresh crispy falafel. Mediterranean food never seemed so fresh and of the moment.
Yelp / max p
This popular Italian trattoria received a glowing two-star review from the New York Times, praising the care that goes into preparing simple dishes like pasta with black truffles, chopped New York strip, and a wide assortment of vegetables, using as few ingredients as possible. If there’s one restaurant that tells you that the state of the union of Italian cuisine is very strong, it’s Via Carota.
Gardenia / Facebook
This restaurant from the same team as The Black Ant fuses both Latin and Mediterranean flavors while focusing on fresh and seasonal ingredients. The menu, which includes dishes like taramasalata with Marcona almonds and potato, blue corn crusted calamari with plantains, grilled branzino with chimichurri, short rib risotto with green peas and mushroom ragout, proves that there’s still plenty of room for creativity and experimentation in the realm of Mediterranean cuisine.
Morcilla / Facebook
In recent years, the small-plates focus of tapas gave way to the trend of “tapas-inspired” cuisine, with restaurants serving everything from sliders to oyster shooters and calling them “small plates.” Thankfully, the small plates trend is finally dying down, but real deal tapas is still going strong, with great Iberian chefs opening Spanish and Portuguese restaurants that are turning new generations of fans on to the flavorful traditional cuisine of the European peninsula.
Estrellon / Facebook
James Beard Award winner Tory Miller has an empire in Madison. While he’s opened French (L’Etoile), gastropub (Graze), and Pan-Asian (Sujeo) restaurants in the past, this year he shifted his focus to tapas. At Estrellon, he serves a wide variety of traditional and non-traditional tapas, from blood sausage with aioli and parsley to cranberry summer sausage with Cheddar and pickle, as well as a wide variety of Wisconsin cheese, Spanish jamon, and paella.
Lupulo / Facebook
George Mendes, who earned a Michelin star as chef at Aldea, has opened a rustic Portuguese restaurant in New York, which is already making some major waves. Dishes like grilled whole Portuguese sardines with blistered pepper salad, caldo verde (potato and collard green soup), Borrego com feijao (lamb leg cooked over charcoal), and a bacalhau (salt cod) casserole with potato and egg are turning heads, and introducing New Yorkers to the traditional cuisine of Spain’s next-door neighbor.
Morcilla / Facebook
James beard Award-nominated chef Justin Severino (of Pittsburgh’s popular Mediterranean restaurant, Cure), has turned his attention to the cuisine of Spain for his second outing, with spectacular results. Through a sprawling selection of pintxos (lomo with burnt onion and pickled guindilla pepper), montaditos (foie gras with membrillo and black pepper), croquetas (crispy jamon with leek ash aioli), small plates (spiced lamb meatballs with sumac yogurt), large plates (butifarra sausage with smoked apple and artichoke), and larger plates (smoked pork ribs with piperade and crispy smoked potatoes), he’s introducing Pittsburghers to a whole new world of modern Spanish cuisine.
Amada New York / Facebook
A tapas joint from renowned Philadelphia chef Jose Garces, Amada will be located in the trendy food hall in Battery Park City’s Brookfield Place. Garces will go “beyond tradition, interpreting centuries-old tapas recipes,” according to the website, and we can’t wait to see what he has in store.
La Dulce / Facebook
Detroit is getting in on the tapas game as well with La Dulce, a dramatically-designed stunner of a restaurant from owner Luis Negrete. Its menu of traditional Spanish fare is receiving heaps of praise and proving that if you give a city great tapas, people will come.