As the unhinged, oft-lamented year 2017 careens toward its merciful end, Eater takes a look back at what actually happened in North America’s dining capitals.
Despite what commenters on Facebook would prefer, politics definitely didn’t stay out of food this year; whether it was changes in tipping or immigration laws, the restaurant industry stepped to the plate, supporting causes like a Day Without a Woman and a Day Without Immigrants. Meanwhile, the post-Ailes, post-Weinstein moment in America quickly found its way to the restaurant industry, where titans of the field like John Besh and Mario Batali stepped down amid sexual misconduct allegations, the sexism at play in the industry laid bare (we all knew it was there, didn’t we?). But this feels different. The restaurant world isn’t alone in the reckoning. Even the staid James Beard Foundation is considering policy changes for its awards going forward.
It was a tough year in many cities for external reasons: Houston was slammed by Hurricane Harvey; wildfires raged in wine country and Southern California; Mexico City experienced a devastating earthquake. Chef José Andrés ascended to icon status for his tremendous work feeding the victims of disasters in Houston, California, and Puerto Rico, and for rallying other chefs to join him. (His increasingly direct challenges to President Donald Trump — wtf, 2017 — were also a bright spot this year.)
And then there’s the money-and-fancy-chains issue. Several editors report (like last year) that restaurants in their home cities are struggling with skyrocketing rents and competition from the deeply financed chains that can afford them. For many cities, new openings trended toward extremely casual places (including many of the all-day variety) or high-end showstoppers. For every Vespertine, an equal and opposite Kismet; for every the Grill, an Atla. That’s not all bad, but it does leave room to worry about how the mid-market restaurant will break through again in 2018. Here’s hoping.
On a happier note! Look at how cool these Young Guns are, whether it’s the pastry chef making desserts that sing at Honolulu’s most acclaimed restaurant or the tea master bringing an original outlook to Detroit. And Eater’s best new restaurants of the year ran the gamut from a St. Louis double-duty restaurant to a pasta church in Los Angeles. National critic Bill Addison dubbed a Southern restaurant all the way in Seattle the single best new restaurant in the country. That’s an undeniably fun development.
And now, a snapshot of dining in 22 Eater cities:
“Atlanta started off 2017 with the highly anticipated openings of Bon Ton, the Halal Guys, Revolution Doughnuts Inman Park, and 8 Arm’s outdoor bar. Unfortunately, openings really slowed down after March. The last three months have seen a pick-up in solid restaurant openings, like Golden Eagle and Bar Americano. 2018 looks much more promising. The real winners in Atlanta this year were pop-ups like chef Parnass Lim Savang’s Talat Market, chef Jarrett Stieber’s relocated Eat Me Speak Me, Erika Council’s #BombassBiscuits breakfasts at B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, and the Cast Iron Chronicles dinner series, to name just a few.” — Beth McKibben, Eater Atlanta editor
“Controversies were major this year for Austin, from the shuttering of Paul Qui's marquee restaurant following assault charges to misogynist and racist comments from downtown bar owner Brandon Cash to sexual assault allegations at North Loop bar Drink.Well and campus cafe Spider House. As for openings, the casual trend continued, but with spectacular takes, like Texas izakaya Kemuri Tatsu-ya, kitschy punk-rock brunch-loving diner Holy Roller, and already timeless bar Nickel City.” — Nadia Chaudhury, Eater Austin editor
“Too many chain restaurants — particularly fast-casual ones — invaded Boston from out of town this year. At least that overshadowed the continuing explosion of juice bars, which has now seemingly lasted several years longer than the fro-yo trend. Real estate is out of control in the Boston area, and it’s been dismaying to see small, independent restaurants struggle to open as each neighborhood gets pricier and pricier, allowing only those deep-pocketed chains to come in.
“This year, we’ve also seen the widening gap between high-end restaurants and fast-casual restaurants; there are barely any full-service, moderately priced spots opening anymore. But the year wasn’t all bad: As our roster of 2017 Eater Awards winners demonstrates, there are at least a few outstanding new spots. We finally have a French-Canadian restaurant!” — Rachel Leah Blumenthal, Eater Boston editor
“Charleston diners finally got tired of the shrimp-and-grits-Southern routine, but now everyone is focused on wood-fired pizza and French-inspired fare. It seems that multiple restaurateurs saw gaps in the market, and now, this year and next, they are all executing their visions of very similar concepts at the same time. May the best version win.” — Erin Perkins, Eater Charleston editor
“This year may not have seen a rise in restaurant shutters compared to 2016, but the caliber of closures has sent shockwaves through the industry. Big names like Grace, Katsu, Ruxbin, and 42 Grams have the city’s diners wondering what’s going on. According to some restaurant owners, suppliers and investors have taken notice, being a bit more cautious about whom they do business with, as they don’t want to be left with debt, caught by a sudden shutter. Powerhouse restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, with the closures of Tru and Intro Chicago, appears to be pulling out of fine dining altogether. But as shutters continue, new chefs and owners see opportunities. That makes 2018 unpredictable.” — Ashok Selvam, Eater Chicago senior editor
“The return of chef Bruno Davaillon to Dallas was a pretty major deal. After almost two years of hype, the former Mansion on Turtle Creek chef emerged with his ridiculously swanky French restaurant Bullion. We also saw the arrival of Legacy Hall, which is a truly impressive food hall with 22-plus vendors under one roof. It’s three stories tall, with multiple bars, its own brewery, and a wide selection of food from chefs like John Tesar, Tiffany Derry, and Uno Immanivong. I was personally pretty pumped about the return of Zoli’s NY Pizza, from the owners of acclaimed Cane Rosso. It closed in 2015 and re-opened in November in a bigger location with a more expansive menu — most importantly, excellent grandma-style pies.” — Amy McCarthy, Eater Dallas editor
“This year was all about Italian food in Denver. The city saw regionally focused openings and East Coast comebacks alike, from places such as Quality Italian, Cattivella, Marcella’s, Red Sauce, and Tavernetta. That last place was probably the most anticipated restaurant of the year, as the third concept from the owners of Boulder’s Frasca Food & Wine, which consistently ranks on Eater’s National 38 list.” — Josie Sexton, Eater Denver editor
“This year in Detroit we saw a growing number of spots devoted to entertainment and food, including the filling several times over of a hole in our drinking landscape: the arcade bar. Pizzerias also continued to be a popular business model, with options of all stripes (Chicago-style deep dish, Neapolitan, pan pizza, etc.) opening throughout Detroit. It was particularly pleasing to see neighborhoods such as Grandmont-Rosedale and Jefferson-Chalmers gain some momentum with new dining options.” — Brenna Houck, Eater Detroit editor
“It was a really big year for Houston as a city, but it was also a really tough year. In January, Houston hosted the Super Bowl, before which a ton of really major restaurants made their debuts, including 2017 James Beard Award winner Hugo Ortega's Xochi. Also new this year was Chris Shepherd’s One Fifth, or at least the first two iterations of it — a steakhouse and Romance Languages, which focuses on the cuisines of Italy, France, and Spain. Next year, he’ll tackle fish. Chef Justin Yu closed his beloved restaurant Oxheart and opened both a really great neighborhood bar in Better Luck Tomorrow (alongside Bobby Heugel) and an exciting, more casual new restaurant in Theodore Rex.
“In August, Hurricane Harvey hit the city really hard, and it was amazing to watch everyone in the restaurant industry come together to help their own and everyone else in need after the storm. In its immediate aftermath, hundreds of volunteers made and served tens of thousands of meals, chef José Andrés came to the city to help with the efforts, and everyone just really stepped up in a big way. This month, Shepherd’s Southern Smoke Foundation distributed more than $500,000 in relief checks to service-industry employees affected by the storm.” — Amy McCarthy, Eater Houston editor
“One thing that never changes in Las Vegas is the constant turnover of restaurants. The year started with Cosmopolitan unveiling David Chang’s first Las Vegas restaurant, and then London-based izakaya Zuma, followed by Blue Ribbon from the Bromberg brothers. Lorena Garcia, the Venezuelan chef who competed on Top Chef Masters, became the first Hispanic woman to open a restaurant on the Strip, debuting Chica in May at the Venetian.
“The second half of the year brought wonderful new restaurants to Chinatown: Yasiknara with pricey Korean fare, 8oz Korean Steak House & Bar with Korean barbecue, Cafe Sanuki with Japanese udon on the cheap, and Mian Sichuan Noodles from the owners of Chengdu Taste, to name a few. The Monte Carlo continues its transformation into the Park MGM and NoMad in 2018, but Primrose, a three-meal restaurant with a French twist, and Bavette’s Steakhouse & Bar already set the tone for the resort that will include Eataly and NoMad from the Sydell Group.” — Susan Stapleton, Eater Vegas editor
“2017 was a year of maturation for Los Angeles. The city charged into fine dining, with major tasting-menu restaurant openings Vespertine and Dialogue. A lot of the homegrown restaurants improved, but many beloved places closed because they just couldn’t keep up with the changing scene. There’s such an influx of new, out-of-town restaurants that there’s this unsettling feeling that the consumer base won’t be able to keep up. The increased competition just means that LA will inevitably have to improve as a dining town: better service, better-executed food, better beverage lists, and better consistency of experience.
“Another increasing trend is casual daytime fare, especially from Australians, who seem hell-bent on making LA as much like Melbourne as possible. That means daytime grain bowls, avocado toasts, flat whites, and easy-going food that works great from morning to late afternoon.” — Matthew Kang, Eater LA editor
“There wasn’t really a shocking moment in Miami’s food scene this year, just a lot of talking about what’s to come. Food halls are set to invade Miami in 2018, with more than half a dozen making their announcements this year. Thomas Keller is also slated to set up shop in the Magic City in the new year. Our city’s most anticipated debut — Ghee Indian Kitchen — lived up to the hype, Asian-fusion cuisine served tapas-style (of course) remained supreme, and overall it was a pretty ‘meh’ year. But I’m hopeful for 2018.” — Olee Fowler, Eater Miami editor
“Minnesota stumbled out of the dark ages of blue laws and into the early morning light of week-long liquor sales. Someone cue ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down,’ because we can now buy beer for breakfast seven days a week. One liquor store jumped the gun and started selling early, and the city went wild. We still can’t purchase wine in the grocery store, but it was a major step in the right direction.” — Joy Summers, Eater Twin Cities editor
“Casual dining ruled in Montreal in 2017 — while the city’s fine-dining scene held its own, Montrealers didn’t seem to take to the flashy arrival of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (and the public funding for that restaurant didn’t help). Rather, it was smaller players that seemed to catch the attention of readers — a Polish cafe hand-making pierogies on the daily or a Thai counter from a chef who previously ran a business out of his apartment. Even big names like Antonio Park went casual: He opened up a daytime-only patisserie and lunch spot with pastry chef Bertrand Bazin. There was no single culinary trend behind these casual openings; rather, it seemed there was just a general desire for low-key dining choices.” — Tim Forster, Eater Montreal editor
“2017 was another year in which Nashville experienced significant growth in terms of the number of restaurant and bar openings, and again saw an overall lack of restaurant closings. The tide has to turn sooner rather than later. And while there was no earth-shattering moment this year, it did see several chefs who have worked behind the scenes for many years make their own restaurants finally become a reality, including Aaron Clemins at Kuchnia & Keller and Julia Sullivan at Henrietta Red.” — Matt Rogers, Eater Nashville editor
“The biggest thing in New Orleans this year was Brett Anderson’s stunning report of the culture of sexual harassment at the Besh Restaurant Group. I think that was some of the biggest news in the restaurant world period, not only because he was such a big-name chef, but because of the national conversation that started as a result of it. We see restaurants re-examining the structures they have in place to deal with harassment, groups like Medusa being formed to train people on what sexual harassment is, and an important national conversation taking place around this.” — Stephanie Carter, Eater NOLA editor
New York City
“It was, frankly, a mediocre year for new restaurants in New York City. Last year’s influx of fast casual, chains, and monied restaurateurs continued to attack the city’s dining scene like crazy this year. The most exciting opening of the year, the Grill, was a revival (and also deeply backed by lots and lots of cash). Luxury, and restaurants that my colleague Ryan Sutton called “The Everyday Rich People Restaurants,” continued to dominate; the rise of Beatrice Inn and the proliferation of upscale Japanese restaurants made that very clear. Flash and tableside service were common as well, the fine dining world’s acknowledgement of the importance of Instagram.
“Still, that did leave room for bright spots: Some smaller restaurateurs and chefs with ambitious cooking ended up getting way more buzz than they might have in previous years. Places like Thai restaurant Ugly Baby and modern-Vietnamese Hanoi House got lots of (deserved) attention, landing on several ‘best of’ lists. It’s not that they wouldn’t have been great if they had opened in a more lively year, but their respectable price points, honest cooking, and unpretentious vibes were especially appreciated in a time when so many people were putting on expensive shows.” — Serena Dai, Eater NY editor
“Food halls and Fishtown made headlines in 2017. First came the Chinatown Square food hall, and now two more are on their way: The Bourse Marketplace in the historic district and Penn Food Hall by the universities. Meanwhile, in Fishtown, it seems like a new type of restaurant opened every other day, from Lebanese market-cafe Suraya to the post-apocalypse-themed Mad Rex. Another 2017 trend that will continue into next year is all-vegan eateries going mainstream, like Michael Solomonov’s Goldie and Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby’s Wiz Kid.” — Rachel Vigoda, Eater Philly editor
“The term ‘farm-to-table’ might be in its final throes, but 2017 was the year vegetables and fruits pushed meat to the side to equally share the spotlight in Portland, Oregon, a city famous for its connections with local farms. How’d it happen? Vegetable-obsessed chefs and restaurateurs showed vegetarian and vegan cooking isn’t defined by its limitations, proving no global cuisine is off limits, offering legitimately decadent vegan pizzas and ice creams, and even working with farmers to introduce new produce varieties to Oregon.” — Mattie John Bamman, Eater PDX editor
“Like last year, the city experienced its fair share of closures, many stemming from high rents, staffing shortages, and the like. It also soared above New York in Michelin stars, with a total of seven restaurants with three stars in the Bay Area versus five in NYC. Love ’em or hate ’em, the rankings are respected by many chefs and destination diners. They cement SF’s place in the echelons of fine dining. Meanwhile, the Bay Area industry banded together to support victims of the fires in wine country by feeding them and raising money through dinners and charity events. This year’s been a stinker, but the Bay Area restaurant scene is still going strong.” — Ellen Fort, Eater SF editor
“This year, all eyes were on Salare chef-owner Edouardo Jordan, who avoided the sophomore slump with JuneBaby, a deeply personal exploration of his Southern heritage that earned Eater Seattle’s award (editor’s choice and readers’ choice) for Restaurant of the Year and Eater’s overall award for Best New Restaurant in America. No one expected a revolutionary Southern restaurant to appear in Seattle, but thankfully a hefty encyclopedia of Southern terms helps Seattle diners better prepare for the culinary and history lessons that await them in the affluent Ravenna neighborhood.” — Adam Callaghan, Eater Seattle editor
“D.C. was on fire this year. Right from the start of the Donald Trump administration, the local restaurant community stood in solidarity with its immigrant workforce, as well as fed and openly partied with the hundreds of thousands of activists that poured into the nation’s capital for the women’s march. Celebrity chef José Andrés went from disillusioned Trump International Hotel tenant to presidential-antagonist-in-chief, virtually prodding POTUS about everything from food policy to disaster-relief efforts on social media while also demonstrating his ability to lead by cooking for millions in need all around the globe.
“Back at home, local restaurateurs helped stretch the local dining scene in different directions — sprinkling hospitality projects in Southeast’s bustling Navy Yard, while also serving as a driving force for the multibillion-dollar renovation of the long-neglected Southwest waterfront.” — Warren Rojas, Eater DC editor
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater’s restaurant editor.