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The 21 Best New Restaurants in America

From Seattle to Miami, the hottest, coolest, most delicious restaurants that have opened in the last year

Bill Addison

Ceaselessly and deliciously, America’s dining culture evolves. As Eater’s roving restaurant editor, my job is to keep up with it, bite by bite by bite. Traversing the country in a blur of calories and miles, I spend my time tracking down true classics (which are rounded up each year in our list of America’s Essential Restaurants), but also trying the hottest, freshest, most utterly original new places. From hundreds of meals in the last fourteen months, these 21 restaurants stand out as the finest of the new guard.

Each of these establishments opened between May 2015 and May 2016, but their chefs have spent years — decades, in some cases — perfecting their skills and personalizing their cooking, efforts that have paid off richly. San Diego, for example, finally has the remarkable high-end Mexican restaurant it’s always deserved. The outré small plates at a tiny Manhattan wine bar prove more exciting than any of the city’s more lavish and expensive openings. I found my biggest surprise was in Seattle, where a new beef-centric bistro might end up remapping the blueprint for the modern steakhouse.

Narrowing down the choices was a daunting (but fully gratifying) task; I owe a debt to the Eater editors who maintain the continually updating Heatmaps for two dozen cities around the country. But my truest gratitude goes to these extraordinary restaurants themselves — each of them poised to become standard-bearers, and to inspire the next revolutionary generation of dining.

Eater's Best New Restaurants in America 2016


Pork shumai, Alter

Miami, FL

Alter

Brad Kilgore first impressed South Florida with his imaginative cooking in posh hotels like the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort and the Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key. But in opening Alter (with his wife Soraya, and two additional business partners) in the gallery-lined Wynwood Arts District, Kilgore has stepped forward as Miami’s most riveting chef. His menu, like the city in which he works, shows off an international élan. Delicate pork shumai wade in a velvety pool of foie gras pho broth. Grouper cheeks, an early signature, recall the heyday of nouvelle cuisine with their clean-flavored quartet of black rice, shoyu hollandaise, cucumber foam, and sea lettuces. Don’t expect South Beach glitz from the concrete bunker of a dining room; it’s the kitchen’s sculptural plating that delivers the style, as well as the substance. 223 Northwest 23rd St., Miami, (305) 573-5996, altermiami.com


Kimchi fried rice, Baroo

Los Angeles, CA

Baroo

Baroo, a 16-seat enigma in a shabby strip mall two blocks from the Hollywood Forever cemetery, has been called a health food restaurant, a fermentation laboratory, and a nerve center for the next evolutions of both Korean and Californian cuisines. But no description (not even my own) quite manages captures the truly sublime experience of eating Kwang Uh’s mesmerizing dishes. Uh runs the two-person operation with Matthew Kim, a childhood friend (both men grew up in South Korea). In each of the eight or so salads, grain bowls, and pastas the restaurant serves daily, something fermented nudges the dish to profounder nuance: fried rice gains savory depth and complex sweetness from tiny cubes of pineapple kimchi; powdered sauerkraut electrifies the tender shards of oxtail that cling to homemade noodles. This is food that leaves you feeling nourished in both literal and metaphorical ways. 5706 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 819-4344, baroola.strikingly.com


The open kitchen behind the dining counter, Bastion

Nashville, TN

Bastion

At first glance, Bastion appears to be just another cavernous bar strung with lights and arrayed with a flea market’s worth of mismatched chairs and animal-themed oil paintings. But inside hides the true dining destination: a minimal, 24-seat room anchored by a curving maple bar facing an open kitchen, just behind a corrugated metal door. This is the domain of Josh Habiger, one of the founding chefs of Nashville’s tasting-menu phenom The Catbird Seat, and here he puts on full display his mastery over edible still lifes that thrum with warm Southern flavors. Diners can opt for $100-per-person ticketed feasts that might culminate with smoked pork shoulder or leg of lamb, or choose seats at the counter for Habiger’s dazzling a la carte small plates like "ham + friends," an intensely porky broth dotted with sliced asparagus, tortellini, white beans, and soft-boiled egg. 434 Houston St, Nashville, (615) 490-8434, bastionnashville.com


Reuben mille feuille, Bateau

Seattle, WA

Bateau

Here’s an idea for a game-changing steakhouse: Why not approach the genre as an extension of a butcher shop, offering two-dozen cuts that reach affordably and fascinatingly beyond the usual New York strips and filet mignons? And why not make the place as crisply chic and inviting as a corner Parisian bistro? This is the genius thinking beyond the latest — and now greatest — restaurant from Renee Erickson. She won over her city with enduring hits like the Walrus and the Carpenter and the Whale Wins, and Seattle’s food lovers trust her enough to embrace uncommon offerings like velvet steak (a lean delicacy from the hoof, enriched with bone marrow butter) or a glorious chuck eye (carved from the same region as a ribeye) that serves at least three. Start with the witty Reuben mille feuille, layered with braised brisket, smoked beef belly, cabbage, and shattering rye crackers — or begin next door with a dozen oysters at Erickson’s equally charming new Bar Melusine. 1040 East Union St., Seattle, (206) 900-8699, restaurantbateau.com


Tuna two ways, Bracero

San Diego, CA

Bracero

The name of this 4,800-square-foot marvel of mixed woods, concrete, and glass walls refers to the Bracero Program, a World War II-era project that allowed Mexicans to enter the United States under short-term labor contracts, primarily for farm jobs. It’s an acknowledgement of chef/co-owner Javier Plascencia’s cross-border upbringing and his deeply rooted Baja California heritage (he also runs stellar restaurants in Tijuana). The menu interlaces the two cultures that Plascencia has straddled his whole life: Lunch offers tacos filled with traditional meats like pork carnitas or beef tongue; dinner brings more refined presentations like "tuna two ways," the same albacore served both seared and minced, stacked with tempura eggplant, jalapeño ponzu, and salsa verde. Plascencia’s family owns Caesar's, the famous tourist destination on Tijuana’s Avenida Revolución whose eponymous salad has achieved worldwide fame. Impressively, Bracero’s silky, anchovy-rich version outshines the rendition served at its birthplace. 1490 Kettner Blvd., San Diego, (619) 756-7864, bracerococina.com


Dining room bar, Cala

San Francisco, CA

Cala

Gabriela Cámara’s now-classic Mexico City restaurant Contramar emphasizes absolute freshness and a simplicity of preparation, which transformed how DF views seafood. She’s now brought the same personal, deft approach to the Bay Area at Cala, where she strips down recipes so that ingredients — sweet potato, bone marrow, and smoky chiles; oyster, squash blossoms, and morels — resound with clarity and harmony. Trout tostadas with chipotle mayo are a riff on her famous tuna tostadas, Contramar’s most popular dish, but Cámara also uses crisped tortillas as blank canvases on which to sketch the seasons, drawing together, say, frilly Dungeness crab and halved asparagus spears in the spring. Dinner focuses on mariscos, but come to the soaring, light-filled restaurant during the day for meatier pleasures — sumptuous carnitas at brunch, or lunchtime tacos piled with chicken tinga or stewed pork. 149 Fell St., San Francisco, (415) 660-7701, calarestaurant.com


Wonho Frank Lee

Sprawling dining room, Cassia [Photo: Wonho Frank Lee]

Santa Monica, CA

Cassia

Cassia comes at you like a blockbuster. The din from the teeming 140-seat dining room, housed in a 1930s Art Deco building, rumbles with the supernatural force of a hostile poltergeist in Ghostbusters, and you may find yourself shouting your order for a glass of Beaujolais or precision-engineered piña colada. But when Bryant Ng’s dishes start arriving, the clamor may as well disappear. Ng and his wife, Kim Luu-Ng, found their following at Spice Table in Downtown Los Angeles, which closed in 2013 due to subway construction. Their second coming at Cassia — in partnership with Josh Loeb & Zoe Nathan, who run the quintessentially Californian Rustic Canyon, among other restaurants — returns Ng to center stage with his distinctive culinary point of view, a marriage of his Chinese-Singaporean heritage, Luu-Ng’s Vietnamese background, and meticulous French training. Bring friends to share splendors like the majestic pot au feu that ripples with pho spices; lamb breast tingling from Sichuan peppercorn, cumin, and sambal; and laksa, the Malaysian seafood noodle soup whose soothing coconut milk richness is thrillingly undone by rousing curry spice and shrimp paste. 1314 7th St, Santa Monica, (310) 393-6699, cassiala.com


Koji salt-baked pork belly with rice paper wrappers, Han Oak

Portland, OR

Han Oak

A meal at Hak Oak is a dream dinner party. Three days a week — Friday and Saturday dinners and Sunday brunch — chef Peter Cho, a protégé of April Bloomfield, serves homey, Korean-inspired feasts to diners at communal tables. Dinner menus riff on Korean barbecue dining, and might include salt-baked pork belly, meant to be wrapped in rice paper with pickled radish, or ember-smoked hanger steak with cabbage and scallion slaw. Among the extra snacks available to order, do not overlook the gorgeous pork and chive mandu dumplings, formed in shapes that resemble pillbox hats. Smiling servers, happy diners, and the generous spirit of Cho’s careful cooking make this an uplifting experience worth planning ahead for — snagging tickets to Han Oak is quickly becoming a full-contact sport. 511 Northeast 24th Ave., Portland, (971) 255-0032, hanoakpdx.com


Citrus salad, Helen Greek Food & Wine

Houston, TX

Helen Greek Food & Wine

The greens and cheese pie, at first glance, resembles a gargantuan phyllo garlic knot wreathed with fresh oregano leaves and capers. Cut through its coiled form, though, and the crackling exterior gives way to a near-molten center of feta, kefalotyri, and mizithra cheeses encasing a mix of spinach, chard, dandelion, and collards. Dish after dish at Helen delivers such refined satisfaction. Sommelier Evan Turner, who spent part of his childhood in Greece, opened the restaurant — his first — last summer, and with it delivered to Houston its first paean to modern Greek cuisine. It’s a boon to Space City, not to mention some of the finest Hellenic cooking in the country. And the word "wine" is part of the name for sound reason: Turner has assembled one of the nation’s largest collections of Greek varietals. His wryly written list makes Assyrtikos, Agiorgitikos, and Xinomavros encouragingly accessible. 2429 Rice Blvd., Houston, (832) 831-7133, helengreekfoodandwine.com


Open kitchen with wood-fired hearth, Kanella South

Philadelphia, PA

Kanella South

As Konstantinos Pitsillides, Kanella South’s chef-owner, walked by my table, I asked him about the North African chermoula he paired with sepia: Was the lemony herb sauce something that was traditional with fish in his native Cyprus, or something he had simply brilliantly visualized as pairing well? "It is my job to evolve the Cypriot kitchen," he answered, his blue-eyed gaze friendly but adamantine. "If the French can do it, I can do it." Sold. Including Kanella South on this roster of newcomers is a slight cheat: Pitsillides closed the original Kanella last spring. But unlike the original, the restaurant that opened four months ago in Philly’s Queen Village has a liquor license (try "The Cypriot," a cocktail powered by Masticha, a mastic-seasoned liqueur), a charcoal grill (ideal for kebabs), and a wood-burning hearth perfuming whole branzinos with its flames and smoke. The restaurant may bear the same name as its predecessor, but it’s a wholly evolved entity, one too spectacular to exclude from this list. 757 South Front St, Philadelphia, (215) 644-8949, no website


Homemade yogurt with strawberries, peas, angelica, and flowers, Local Provisions

Asheville, NC

Local Provisions

Justin Burdett cures his own charcuterie, spends his spare kitchen time pickling, and buys from nearby farms and local foragers, all of which makes him sound about as novel in today’s culinary culture as vanilla ice cream. But Burdett has a special virtuosity for expressing the seasons: A stunner of a dish in May included studied elements of earthy sweetness, with strawberries, tart homemade yogurt, barely cooked peas, and a kicker of angelica, an herb with a licorice nip. His thoroughly Southern adaptation of risotto uses Carolina Gold rice, and weaves in turnip greens, bacon, and Green Hill, a ripened cheese from South Georgia that brings in exactly the right funk. Even in Asheville, a breathtaking tourist town chock-o-block with primo restaurants, Burdett’s talents distinguish him from all others. 77 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, (828) 424-7815, localprovisionsasheville.com


Oxtail ragu with creste di gallo, Monteverde

Chicago, IL

Monteverde

About halfway through a starter of pork-filled tortellini floating in chicken brodo, my server came by to pour a splash of Lambrusco, the Italian red sparkler, into my soup bowl. The wine dyed the broth a pinkish mauve, and its sweet acidity offset the poultry richness. The tipple came with an explanation: It’s a classic addition to brodo in Emilia-Romagna, and a nod to the restaurant’s interest in going deeper than just a gesture at authenticity. But Monteverde is not a didactic homage to any particular Italian region or tradition. It is really an unrepentant celebration of pasta. And, as you might expect from Sarah Grueneberg, formerly the executive chef at Chicago’s high-end Italian institution Spiaggia, the pasta is truly awesome. The real play here is to build a DIY tasting of strange and familiar shapes and strands, perhaps culminating in the ragù alla Napoletana, a mountain range of soppressata meatballs, sausage, and pork shank over fusilli. 1020 West Madison St., Chicago, (312) 888-3041, monteverdechicago.com


Dining room and open kitchen, Mabel Gray

Hazel Park, MI

Mabel Gray

Hazel Park, a quiet suburb 10 miles north of downtown Detroit, has never before seen a dining frenzy like the rumpus created when James Rigato debuted Mabel Gray, his 43-seat charmer. The restaurant opened last September in a former diner; nightly, a crowd of would-be customers spill out from its tiny foyer, hoping for one of the few unreserved tables or a seat at the short bar. Rigato’s outspoken dedication to Michigan’s bounty has made him a hometown hero, and the clamor for his food is justified. Mabel Gray’s daily-changing menu draws from the global pantry, but Rigato knows how to edit dishes to keep flavors from muddling: In April I savored asparagus with Béarnaise mayo, Manilla clams with pepper jelly and coconut milk, and green apple kimchi with yogurt and celery. 23825 John R Rd., Hazel Park, MI, (248) 398-4300, mabelgraykitchen.com


Chicory custard with whiskey, Oriole

Chicago, IL

Oriole

The Bay Area may lead the country when it comes to thrillingly inspired luxury dining, but Chicago, with cutting-edge exemplars like Alinea and Grace in its pocket, slides in as a close second — a position secured with the opening of Oriole, an exquisite new destination, albeit one whose hidden entrance requires parading through a freight elevator off a side street in the West Loop. (A friendly staffer greets you, mercifully sidestepping any allusions to back alley speakeasies.) There’s no easy categorization for the 15 courses on the $175 tasting menu; the kitchen team, led by Noah Sandoval and Genie Kwon, cooks to both their whims and intellects, with exceptional results. My meal began with a spring roll plump with shio kombu (sheets of preserved seaweed) and enoki mushrooms. A sauce alongside, made from rhubarb juice, coconut milk and simmered langoustine shells, conjured the tropics of the imagination, a flavor combination from no known place on the world map. Kwon’s pastry kitchen blew me away with a quartet of desserts, including an ethereal chicory custard with whiskey, cinnamon, and vanilla that nods to her native New Orleans. I’m calling it: Oriole will soon be collecting all the awards. 661 West Walnut St. Chicago, (312) 877-5339, oriolechicago.com


Softshell crab at Petit Crenn in San Francisco Bill Addison

Soft-shell crab, Petit Crenn

San Francisco, CA

Petit Crenn

If the cerebral creations at Dominique Crenn’s tasting-menu flagship Atelier Crenn are fascinating culinary lectures, then the family-style dinners at her second restaurant feel more like heartfelt conversations. This is Crenn’s interpretation of the cuisine grand-mère from her native Brittany, viewed through the rose-colored lens of West Coast abundance. Enchanting may be a twee word, but it’s accurate when it comes to describing the soft light that seeps through the 28-seat dining room’s picture windows; the anticipation in the room as each of the five or six seafood- and vegetable-based courses are served in unison; and the homey warmth of the cooking itself. The menu rotates nightly, but you can likely count on gnocchi à la Parisienne, pan-fried and golden, arranged around whatever vegetables the time of year has called forth. 609 Hayes St, San Francisco, (415) 864-1744, petitcrenn.com


Tableside seafood curry, Pineapple & Pearls

Washington, D.C.

Pineapple & Pearls

With his follow-up to the adored, no-reservations Rose’s Luxury (a mainstay on Eater’s list of America’s Essential Restaurants), Aaron Silverman went for the highest of prix-fixe highs — and scored. The cost for a meal at a table is an all-inclusive $250 per person, which includes the 12- to 15-course dinner, drinks, and tip, or you can book a seat at the inviting bar and get your meal and tip alone for $150, and purchase drinks separately. P&P’s chefs develop dishes based on their own strengths and obsessions, and then Silverman acts as the maestro, making sure that the meal — which might zig-zag from matcha-flavored soba to sole Véronique and then to smoked short rib with red grits — feels entirely cohesive. True to his intention, the stunning level of execution never lets the evening fly off the rails. But wait! There’s another side to the restaurant: During the day, it operates as a coffee shop, selling a spicy fried chicken sandwich that crackles and squishes and gushes in the most rapturous ways. I’m shocked there aren’t lines out the door for it yet. 715 8th St. Southeast, Washington, DC, (202) 595-7375, pineappleandpearls.com


Grilled pork loin with peas and cauliflower, Salare

Seattle, WA

Salare

The menu at Edouardo Jordan’s first restaurants reads — and tastes — like his culinary biography, and is it ever a page-turner. After growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, and graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando, Jordan’s ambition led him to stages at the French Laundry and Per Se, and then to a job on the line at Manhattan’s refined Italian spot Lincoln. His wife hailed from Washington State, so after New York the couple moved to Seattle, where Jordan eventually became chef de cuisine at Matt Dillon’s wood oven-centric Bar Sajor. At Salare, these experiences converge in dishes like homemade fettuccine, impeccably al dente, tangled with melting oxtail cooked with a Southerner’s know-how. Slow-baked halibut and precisely grilled pork loin reflect the exacting standards of Thomas Keller’s kitchen, but Jordan hasn’t lost his playful side, whether it’s cleanly crisp fried okra playfully tossed with bacon and pineapple, or a finale of strawberry-poppy seed cake that’s sheer Americana joy. 2404 Northeast 65th St., Seattle, (206) 556-2192, salarerestaurant.com


Stracciatella, Shepard

Cambridge, MA

Shepard

Shepard feels immediately like a community haven — a restaurant where hip couples and tweedy university types alike come to linger in a calm, open room. Two local veterans run the operation: Rene Becker, whose Hi-Rise Bread Company has set the bar for baking in Cambridge for two decades, and Susan Regis, one of the Boston area’s steadiest, sharpest kitchen talents. (I ate roasted monkfish at her restaurant Biba for my college graduation dinner in 1994.) Among Shepherd’s modern American plates, smoky chicken wings are especially mesmerizing: They’re strewn with an herb jam, potent with dill, parsley, cilantro, and lovage, that recalls the earthy depths of classical Persian stews. And it’s impossible not to love the straightforward goodness of a seafood chowder thick with clams, pieces of hard-seared striped bass, and hunks of pork belly. Glance across the dining room to the kitchen’s open hearth and note the nearby pegboard hung with cookware à la Julia Child, a Cambridge resident who was a longtime mentor and friend to Regis. 1 Shepard St., Cambridge, MA, (617) 714-5295, shepardcooks.com


Duck breast with peach puree and dill oil, Staplehouse

Atlanta, GA

Staplehouse

When Staplehouse swung open its doors last October, it took Atlanta (where I live when I’m not on the road) a moment to warm to its brilliance. Folks resisted the ticketing system, the tasting menu format, and the location in the still-transforming Old Fourth Ward neighborhood near downtown. Happily, Ryan Smith’s poetic cooking — coupled with the unlimited graciousness of Jen Hidinger and Kara Hidinger — ultimately won locals over. Smith offers both a la carte and tasting menus, each a rewarding experience: The prix fixe might include wonderfully intense, aged-on-the-bone duck breast with peach puree and dill oil; the chicken liver tart featured regularly as an a la carte item is outstanding. Staplehouse was the brainchild of chef Ryan Hidinger, who died of gallbladder cancer in 2014 before he saw his dream venture realized. (Kara was his sister; Jen, his wife.) In forging ahead to create what is now arguably the city’s finest restaurant, his loved ones have honored him, honored Atlanta, and honored life. 541 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta, (404) 524-5005, staplehouse.com


Bill Addison

Shaved kohlrabi with walnut buttermilk and salmon roe, Upton 43

Minneapolis, MN

Upton 43

Though Minnesota’s Scandinavian roots run deep into the loamy soil, it’s only in the last five years or so that modern Nordic flavors have emerged in the Twin City’s dining scene — right in line with the cuisine’s uptick in the rest of the country. The trend finds its sincerest local apex at Upton 43, where Erick Harcey (who grew up 50 miles due north of Minneapolis) channels his Northern European heritage into plates that are as arresting in appearance as they are in flavor. The chef has a modernist streak, but his menu strikes a welcome equilibrium: For every heady composition like kohlrabi ribbons frosted with a fluffy walnut-buttermilk mixture, there’s an earnest starter like pickled herring heaped with potatoes, cucumbers, and dill, or a hay-roasted pork chop so righteous in its meatiness you’ll want to gnaw the thing down to the marrow. And like the proud Minnesotan that he is, Harcey absolutely nails Swedish meatballs doused in onion-rich gravy. 4312 Upton Ave. South, Minneapolis, (612) 920-3406, upton43.com


45-seat dining room, Wildair

New York, NY

Wildair

Chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske raised the curtain on Wildair — the wine bar and small-plates counterpart to Contra, their tasting menu success story two doors down — back in June 2015, and it took me almost a year to get there. The menu of dishes read banal: "Beef tartare, smoked cheddar, chestnut"; "Georgia white shrimp, celery, cilantro." But the backbeat of praise was so steady and persuasive (as were the Instagram glamour shots) that I finally went, and was promptly converted. The tartare wholly transcends its spare description: grated horseradish electrifies the beef and cheese, with the crunch of buckwheat groats adding such substantial texture that the jumble stands on its own, no bread required. For starch, look to the potato Darphin, a rich potato cake served in hefty wedges and covered in uni and jalapeño slices — so fun, so sharp. Wildair is ostensibly a wine bar first, so let the staff steer you through the magnificent, predominantly French list. It registers as the opposite of the food menu: dense and obscure for all but the most dedicated geeks. What arrives in your glass is excitingly different, often pleasantly odd, and you’ll settle into the densely packed room feeling awfully content. 142 Orchard St., New York, (646) 964-5624, wildair.nyc


Bill Addison is Eater's restaurant editor. See his archives here.

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