This year, a great restaurant year, promises a big fall.
Los Angeles will continue to dominate the 2018 dining conversation, in no small part thanks to Eater Young Gun Mei Lin’s irresistibly contemporary upcoming debut, Nightshade. Farther north, it’s particularly inspiring to see a chef-couple trying to make a neighborhood restaurant work in San Francisco, a city increasingly stratified into ultra-fine and ultra-quick restaurants. And it’s been a while since New York City’s been repped on one of these lists for something other than a multimillion-dollar project (remember the Grill?!?), but this season we’ve got two.
And about half of this year’s most anticipated winter-spring openings still aren’t open. These restaurants are no less exciting than they were back in January — if I had to pick just one to give a shout-out to, it would be the long-awaited LA-destination-in-the-making Simone, from the Beard-Award-winning former chef de cuisine of Manresa, Jessica Largey. But they’re off the list to make room for the newcomers below.
Without further ado, here are the 12 restaurants you’ll obsess over for the rest of the year.
Pop-ups and food trucks going brick-and-mortar isn’t new, but in recent years, that drive felt stalled as food trucks gave way to food halls and as restaurant rents climbed ever higher. But this season, some of the most intriguing openings started life as mobile or temporary experiences. Eater Young Gun Maya Lovelace hit some permitting drama during buildout for her Portland restaurant Mae and its sister fried-chicken counter Yonder, but her project remains one of the year’s most eagerly awaited. In Austin, beloved taco truck Vaquero Taquero is plotting a storefront. In Los Angeles, chef Min Phan’s popular Porridge & Puffs will open its full-on restaurant doors soon.
These restaurants-to-be, especially the two below, prove that pop-ups never stopped working as incubators of fresh ideas. They’ve made me excited about the genre all over again.
Location: San Francisco
Key players: Laura Ozyilmaz, Sayat Ozyilmaz, John Litz
Target open: Late fall
Middle Eastern flavors have dominated the country’s hottest openings for the past few years. In the Bay Area, Mourad, Reem’s, and Dyafa are the star examples, each earning critical acclaim, while even the arrival of Halal Guys (and Souvla, if the light is shining just right and you squint) suggests a city that’s ready to support more options. Married chefs Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz — alums of Saison and Mourad, respectively — are poised to deliver.
Two years ago, they started their pop-up, Istanbul Modern, where they served food from the Middle East to some 10,000 diners. About a year ago, Lazy Bear co-founder John Litz dined at the pop-up, and thought the chefs would share his culinary vision for a casual restaurant. He was right: Noosh will occupy a prime corner spot in Pacific Heights, hopefully by late fall.
“We’ve really centered in our cuisine in California, both the techniques and the ingredients, and the execution comes from the Eastern Mediterranean,” explains Sayat Ozyilmaz, an Istanbul native of Armenian descent. At Noosh, the couple plans on pulling flavors from the regions of the former Ottoman Empire — whether that’s Turkey, Morocco, Georgia, or Israel. The menu is still in development — the pop-up was something of a test kitchen — but right now the couple is planning on serving falafel, Turkish pide (the boat-shaped bread often baked with fillings), small mezze plates, and kebabs, all in a refined yet casual setting. As at the best examples of America’s post-Zahav new wave of Middle Eastern restaurants, the idea is to remain firmly grounded in rich culinary traditions. “We wouldn’t serve food that we wouldn’t eat ourselves every day,” says Sayat Ozyilmaz. “Homey food, that’s what we want.”
Key players: Carlo Lamagna
Target open: Late fall/early winter
Portland is still a hub of pop-ups and food carts, so it’s not surprising that one of the most intriguing pop-up-to-permanent restaurants is coming from a veteran of that scene. Born in the Philippines and raised in Detroit, chef Carlo Lamagna moved to Portland from Chicago in 2013 to take the helm of lauded cocktail spot/restaurant Clyde Common, where he added his takes on Filipino staples to the menu. Seeing diners respond well to the changes, Lamagna decided to relaunch his Chicago pop-up: Before long, Twisted Filipino was regularly selling out, signaling to Lamagna that it was time to do his own thing full-time.
According to Lamagna, constantly changing kitchens in the pop-up format took its toll on the Twisted Filipino menu. But now, “I can really dive head first into pushing the boundaries of what Filipino food can be,” Lamagna says. “Everyone asks what’s my goal, I say it’s two pronged: The first is with Filipinos, the hardest audience to cook for. I want my food to resonate with a memory or an emotion. It doesn’t have to be exact, but it has to trigger the right notes for them to accept it. The second prong: I don’t want to alienate new diners. I want them to find it delicious.”
To that end, Lamagna’s planning to serve classics like lumpia and pan de sal, but he promises that everything will be his own interpretation. That might mean adding chicken skin chicharrones to his pancit or making an arroz caldo with roasted-chicken jus. “People who are expecting traditional food can come and eat it, but they shouldn’t expect it be ‘authentic’ or ‘fusion,’” he says. Some weekends he’ll sell lechon by the pound, and maybe serve a whole braised goat leg for large groups. And he’ll go hard at brunch. “This is my evolution as a chef into Filipino food,” Lamagna says. “I’ve been cooking so many other cuisines for years, now it’s my time to grab this restaurant and culture by the horns and steer it to where it will be.”
Japanese Fine Dining
There’s no denying the Japanese influence in contemporary fine dining, but this season is less about influence and more about outright celebration. The past year has seen New York City flooded with high-end imports from Japan like Kaikagetsu, Naoki, and Yamada Chikara; still on the way is a detour to Peru’s Nikkei cuisine — the collision of Japanese and Peruvian cooking — from Llama Inn chef Erik Ramirez (Llama San). Farther north, star Boston chef Tim Maslow just debuted his Japanese-inspired brasserie Whaling in Oklahoma while Snappy Ramen’s Youji Iwakura will open street-food-meets-kaiseki restaurant Kamakura. But for the clearest distillation of what’s happening now, look to Chicago.
Key players: Mari Katsumura, Michael Olszewski
Target open: September
Maybe the story that grabs you is how a chef and a restaurant owner are revamping a space best known as home to one of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants, Grace. Maybe it’s the fact that the chef we’re talking about here is Grace’s former pastry cook, Mari Katsumura, who also worked as pastry chef and sous chef at Entente, making the upcoming restaurant a double whammy of a homecoming and a pastry chef going savory. Maybe it’s that Katsumura is a local through and through, having grown up at Yoshi’s Cafe, her parents’ beloved Chicago restaurant.
Even if those details don’t speak to you, the plan for the food definitely will: In her first role as culinary lead, Katsumura will create what she describes as a modern fine dining menu “under the umbrella of contemporary Japanese cooking.” She’ll rely on her extensive training and technique to inverse a Western fine dining trick: Instead of borrowing a bit of influence from Japan to refine French fare, she’ll go the other way to create her tasting menu. A good example is her miso soup: Katsumura makes a strong dashi, but then clarifies it with agar, resulting in a clear stock. She’s working on different tofus and custards to finish it. “It came from a special place within,” says Kastumura, who notes her mom used to make miso soup for her. “But aesthetically it embodies what I want the restaurant to look like.”
The Big Debut
It’s always a big story when a chef opens their first restaurant as either chef-owner or as the one leading the kitchen. A few restaurants on this list feature chefs stepping into the spotlight, but when it comes to which is the most eagerly awaited because it’s a big debut, there’s no doubt.
Location: Los Angeles
Key players: Mei Lin
Target open: Fall
She was a 2014 Eater Young Gun. She won Top Chef in 2015. And then she left fans wondering what she was up to as she traveled the world. Finally, earlier this year, Mei Lin revealed her plan: Nightshade, a refined yet approachable restaurant inspired by “modern LA,” a spot that would “draw a lot from the [city’s] different cultures.”
Lin is relying on her extensive training as a fine dining cook (she’s an alum of Spago Vegas and Ink in LA) as well as her knack for gorgeous plating, a signature of her time on Top Chef. At a recent preview dinner, Lin served photo-friendly dishes like razor clams with passionfruit and chive, and a lasagna where Sichuan peppercorn-laced mapo tofu stands in for a traditional pork ragu. She’s been testing other dishes that illustrate her particular blend of references, as in a Nashville-inspired hot chicken served with Japanese milk bread or an octopus dish that will deliver the familiar flavors of General Tso’s chicken. “I’m just using everything I’ve learned and applying it, experimenting — whether it’s a French, Italian, Asian, or an American technique,” she says. “Whatever. It’s just gotta taste good.”
Lin’s approach is perfectly LA — which of course makes it perfectly right now.
What’s the easiest way to get diners pumped about a restaurant that doesn’t exist yet? Get them pumped about a restaurant that already does — or, as is so often the case, used to. When a chef or restaurateur builds buzz around one project, expectations always run high come the next: Maybe you’re bringing your hit restaurant-hotel combo to Vegas (hi, Nomad); maybe you’re bringing Chris Bianco, one of the country’s top pizza makers, to co-headline your expansion from San Francisco to Los Angeles (what’s up, Tartine Manufactory); or maybe you’re opening a full-service restaurant after your bowl-focused lunch spot became a Maui must-visit (aloha, Lineage).
In the case of the two restaurants below, each key player already has a proven track record; their new projects are an opportunity to redefine how locals and visitors see the cuisines of those home cities.
Location: Las Vegas
Key players: Bank Atchawaran
Target open: Late November/early December
If there’s one restaurant that epitomizes the fun of dining off-Strip in Vegas, it’s Lotus of Siam: Serving northern Thai cuisine, it won over Jonathan Gold during his tenure at Gourmet and now has a spot on practically every best-of-Vegas list. Bank Atchawaran made his name as Lotus of Siam’s manager and sommelier before opening his own restaurant, Chada Thai & Wine, in 2012, where he discovered he loved being in the kitchen. On a 2014 visit to Atchawaran’s smash-hit second restaurant, Chada Street, Bill Addison described the cooking as “more energized” and, to Atchawaran’s credit, “nothing like a Lotus knockoff.” Atchawaran had completed three rare feats: He transitioned from floor to kitchen, he was out from under the shadow of his previous restaurant life, and he had made it big off-Strip.
Both restaurants unfortunately closed earlier this year, but Atchawaran is coming back stronger with another off-Strip restaurant: Lamaii, a 40-seater with a more upscale feel than Chada. “It will be more Thai in a sense,” Atchawaran says. He plans to “incorporate some ingredients not found in Thailand, but imparted with Thai flavor,” as in a dish featuring a short rib (which he calls “a more American cut”) fermented with rice and garlic and served with chile paste. And he’s still the chief wine buyer. “When I cook, I try to find a balance and not overpower anything,” he says. “I won’t cook anything overly spiced that will kill the palate of the wine.”
For now Atchawaran’s planning an a la carte menu, but he’s been wondering if he should offer a tasting menu, too. Either way, Lamaii has the chance to be another foundational restaurant in the Vegas landscape. Energizing, right?
Key players: Bryan Jarr, Zoi Antonitsas
Target open: November
Chances are if you’ve ever visited or lived in Seattle, you’ve been to Pike Place Market. Along with the Space Needle, the bustling market, with its neon sign and fish-throwers, is probably the most recognizable place in the city. Restaurateur Bryan Jarr already gifted the market a great place to eat with the instantly essential tapas spot Jarrbarr, but with Little Fish he and chef Zoi Antonitsas have the chance to create a foundational dining experience in one of their hometown’s most iconic places.
“It’s so strange how many times people ask where they should go for seafood in Seattle, and I can probably rattle off five [spots], but we think there’s a gap,” says Antonitsas, a veteran of the acclaimed Seattle restaurant Westward. “There’s a thing out-of-town visitors have in their mind of an iconic Seattle vibe, and what we’re trying to do, hopefully, is be a place that will combine the old Seattle nostalgia we love with contemporary delicious food prepared in an exciting new modern way.”
Little Fish will be a cannery, preserving and tinning fish on site — it will also offer a robust selection of canned fish from Spain, Portugal, and beyond. “The idea is we can feature incredible seafood locally and around the world year-round,” Antonitsas says. “People get it when it comes to tomatoes and peaches, but the same really applies for seafood, it’s a seasonal product.” Those tins will be for sale in the Little Fish’s retail section, offered up from Little Fish’s takeaway deli, and will appear on the full-service menu, served with crackers and condiments. Little Fish’s full menu will focus on seafood, whether salt-cured gravlax or a steaming bowl of clams, but being in Pike Place Market also means having something for everyone, so Antonitsas is planning an “afraid to swim” section with options like ribeye and a roast chicken.
This isn’t an ego-driven project. “We say we’re building this restaurant for everyone else,” Antonitsas says, “for everyone who visits and everyone who lives here.”
A well-executed Italian restaurant will always be a win with diners, whether they’re seeking homey, red-sauce charm or a sophisticated night out. That’s been especially true since 2016, when seven of Eater’s city sites (out of 23) named a pasta-focused Restaurant of the Year, and crystalized in 2017, when, as Eater’s national critic Bill Addison predicted, some of the biggest openings spotlighted genre-pushing noodles, as at Felix in Los Angeles and Lilia in Brooklyn. The trend continued this year, with blockbuster openings like Che Fico in San Francisco and 2018 Best New Restaurant Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans.
Looking ahead, there’s plenty more pasta on the horizon. Charleston’s serial restaurateur Brooks Reitz is putting the finishing touches on his throwback pizza and pasta joint Melfi’s. Seattle scenemaker Renee Erickson is opening her first Italian restaurant, and longtime NYC star Missy Robbins promises “pasta and veg” at her upcoming Brooklyn restaurant, Misi.
But I’m most curious about these two newcomers, from chefs on opposite coasts, both striking out on their own to explore what Italian cooking means to them.
Location: Los Angeles
Key players: Chad Colby
Target open: November
Los Angeles is a pasta town now. For the past year or so, some of the most exciting openings have come from Angelenos nerding out on Italian noodles — think Steven Samson’s modern ode to northern Italian cuisine at Rossoblu and Evan Funke’s James Beard Award-nominated hand-cut pastas at Felix. Now, Chad Colby, the longtime frontman at Nancy Silverton’s meat-focused Chi Spacca, will enter the fray, offering up his vision of rustic Italian farmhouse fare at Antico.
“Without being region-specific, it’s more a philosophy and a style of cooking that’s not familiar in a busy city,” Colby says of Antico. “I want it to be the food that’s more familiar to the kind of things you get invited to, or that you seek out outside of a city: at a winery, or at a farm that has a little kitchen.” To help bring the vision to life, Colby’s eschewing blenders and growing some of his vegetables at an offsite kitchen garden, and he’ll use a collection of antique pasta tools and cooking vessels in the kitchen.
There’ll be antipasti, house-made charcuterie, and entrees, as well as large-format dishes to share, but the menu’s star will be pastas, which tables can choose to order a la carte or as a tasting menu. Flavor-wise, Colby’s looking to push traditional flavors in new directions, whether by using tuna heart (it’s like a less bitter bottarga) and pairing it with beans cooked in clay pots and bucatini sent through a 100-year-old pasta extruder, or by creating a lamb ragu loaded with olives and mint, and tossing in a semolina-based pasta made with a woodworking tool from Oregon.
”It has tradition,” Colby says of the food at Antico. “But it’s not your everyday tradition.”
Key players: Karen Akunowicz
Target open: Late fall
Fresh off a Beard Award win for her work as chef/partner at Myers + Chang, Karen Akunowicz is changing directions. Where before her attention was directed to Chinese, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese flavors, the chef is now returning to one of her early passions: Italian cooking. She spent a formative year in Modena, where “a big part of my experience was working as a pasta maker with 10 little old ladies,” she says. At Fox and the Knife, house-made pasta will definitely be on the menu, including an homage to the tortellini she made “from 4 a.m. till the afternoon for months on end” and, during the busy holiday season, served en brodo.
Akunowicz says she’s still in the early planning stages — she’s keeping mum on the details for now — but she knows she wants Fox and the Knife to be a neighborhood spot, accessible to the South Boston community; she wants the vibe to be warm, reminiscent of the hospitality she experienced in Emilia Romagna; and she wants it to be the kind of place locals could go at least once a week. And while she’s keeping the menu under wraps, she says, “No matter where I work I strive for the same thing: food that’s craveable, relatable, with lots of bold flavors.”
Casual, but Not Boring
Fancy chains are multiplying. All-day cafes and luncheonettes continue to seduce restaurateurs who want to tap into the hunger for simpler dining experiences without going full-tilt “fast casual.” It’s not unfair to say that options in the casual sphere are getting perilously same-sy: This isn’t the first time I’ve railed about the tyranny of scalability and the chain-ification of dining. My complaints still stand, but thankfully, none of these places are complicit.
These three restaurants make the case not to give up on the format yet. Whether it’s a quick-service joint that actually innovates the grain bowl (I know! But this one sounds cool, I promise) or a restaurant grappling with the weighty history of Southern lunch counters, there are still plenty of good ideas in the ultra-casual market. That’s good news for diners — but it’s great news for operators. As rents and labor costs climb, finding fresh ways to make cost-efficient restaurants work is more necessary than ever.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Key players: Andrew Dana, Daniela Moreira
Target open: September
Delis are having a good year, whether focused on one-of-a-kind fermentations as at Larder in Cleveland or Italian heroes at the upcoming Heroic Deli in Santa Monica. Now the duo that brought DC Timber Pizza, Andrew Dana and Eater Young Gun Daniela Moreira, are teaming up again for their own take on the genre. Call Your Mother will be Jewish-ish; the team will bake their own challah and rye bread, but will also offer twists like a matzoh ball floating in a pho-inspired broth or a pastrami empanada. A few times a week they’ll serve themed dinners; maybe a Peking duck dinner one night, and a more traditional brisket another.
But the star will be the wood-fired bagels, also offered in composed bagel sandwiches. “There’s like three places that make bagels period in D.C. It’s just not a bagel town,” says Dana. Moreira, who made her name with wood-fired pizzas at Timber, has been researching top bagels from New York, Montreal, and San Francisco to prepare — and judging by the fact that the team’s sold out at every farmer’s market they’ve done since March, D.C. seems excited. As Dana says, “We want to bring a world-class bagel to D.C.”
Location: New York City
Key players: JJ Johnson
Target open: November
A few things you should know about chef JJ Johnson. 1) When he was the chef de cuisine at oft-mourned former Harlem hotspot the Cecil, he racked up awards, including a 2014 Eater Young Gun nod and a No. 1 spot on Esquire’s 2014 Best New Restaurants list. 2) His work at the Cecil with chef Alexander Smalls wasn’t just headline-grabbing, it was prophetic. The Cecil’s menu was largely informed by a culinary research trip to Ghana; the vision was expansive, colliding influences from Africa, Asia, and America. It’s hard to overstate just how rare centering African culinary traditions was in buzzy restaurants even five years ago. 3) He wants to make his mark. “I would love to be the [Michael] Jordan of the culinary world,” Johnson told Eater last year. “Ten years from now, or five years from now, I want to be able to look back and say, ‘Oh, shit. JJ impacted the culinary world. He really changed the landscape,’ the same way David Chang did with ramen noodles. The same way April [Bloomfield] did with gastropubs.”
That’s where Field Trip comes in. Johnson’s been talking for more than a year about how important grains and rice are to his cooking and culinary research, and at Field Trip, he’ll put rice front and center. “Field Trip is nostalgic to the grain,” he says. “Every rice grain or mother grain or mother rice grain we have fuels the community.” With that in mind, he’s serving five different rices from around the world (“90 percent is freshly milled and shipped to us,” he says) and to start, will not follow the standard customizable format that most fast-casual bowl places rely on. Instead, he’ll present guests with a choice of composed dishes, like a congee-ish bowl of Italian pilgrim’s rice served with chicken thighs, celeriac, and a healthy dose of coriander. He’ll do a riff on jollof, and he’ll offer a sweet and spicy pineapple black fried rice. He sees Field Trip as his chance to build buzz around rice — and take his culinary vision national someday.
“The rice you eat and cook is culture,” he says. “We’re doing it counter-service because Harlem was known for counter restaurants, and you’ll be able to sit at the counter. We’re paying homage to history.”
Key players: Mashama Bailey, Johno Morisano
Target open: Fall
Also paying homage to the complex history of counter-service restaurants is the Grey Market, from Savannah’s most lauded restaurant partners, chef Mashama Bailey and Johno Morisano. Located just a block away from the restaurant that put this duo on the map — the Grey was Eater’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year — the Grey Market will offer retail, grab-and-go options, and a counter for customers dining-in. “The Grey Market is basically taking what Mashama and I grew up on in New York City, the corner bodega... down to Savannah, and combining it with a traditionally Southern thing, a lunch counter,” Morisano says.
At the Grey, Morisano and Bailey transformed a once-segregated Greyhound bus station into one of the country’s most important restaurants, one helmed by a black woman. The social significance of tackling a lunch counter appealed to Morisano and Bailey. “I can’t think of a more natural extension of the Grey than to take something that was such an indicator of segregation and racism, and open it to everybody,” Morisano says. Food-wise, Morisano promises “a playful page out Mashama’s recipe book,” allowing her to break down some of the Grey’s more elevated dishes to suit the more casual vibe.
“We’re not trying to give people a history lesson, we’re trying to give them a fun, energetic and nourishing experience,” Morisano says. “But folks who understand the history of the South and the relationship of Mashama and me will get it in one.”
The Expanded Barbecue Universe
One of New York City’s hottest openings of the past year lives somewhere between steakhouse and Korean barbecue. In Alabama, David Bancroft and Caleb Fischer are still working on their eagerly awaited Southern-meets-Tex-Mex vision in Bow & Arrow. Bill Durney, one of NYC’s most respected pitmasters, is spreading his wings with a tavern; the star proteins will be fried chicken and a burger. Even barbecue hero Aaron Franklin is expanding his horizons, first with his “Asian smokehouse” Loro, which opened earlier this year, and next, with a trailer dedicated to breakfast tacos (I personally hope some of his famous brisket ends up in the tacos, paying homage to the tremendously delicious Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ trailer).
Barbecue traditions are still as rich and important as ever — but it’s fun to see people pushing back against the rules a little bit, too.
Location: New York City
Key players: Yen Vo, Jimmy Ly
Target open: Late October / early November
In the case of Madame Vo BBQ, the meat rules being broken aren’t those of the Hill Country purists or the Carolina sauce obsessives. Instead, married owners Yen Vo and Jimmy Ly want to shake up New York City’s conception of what Vietnamese food is, and — riding the momentum from their smash-hit debut Madame Vo in the East Village — they’re doing it by introducing the city to Vietnam’s own barbecue tradition. “Every time we have a family gathering or reunion, or we’re celebrating something, we do Vietnamese barbecue,” says Vo, who grew up in Houston and handles the restaurant’s front-of-house operations. “We felt that New York was missing that,” says Ly, the chef.
At a glance, Madame Vo BBQ might look similar to what’s happening in Koreatown: Tables will have grill tops and servers will help make sure meats are cooked precisely. But look closely at these dipping sauces: tamarind sauce (yes); a garlic-butter fish sauce (very yes); and a pungent anchovy sauce with pineapple (hell yes). There’ll be beef seven ways. Diners will be able to make lettuce wraps with grilled meats and accoutrement like vermicelli noodles and mint. Whole prawns can go on the grill, only to be dunked later in a fish sauce butter.
It’s always exciting when a restaurant does something a city’s diners might be unfamiliar with. It’s even more so when it involves rib eye, short ribs, and wagyu.