Each December, Eater’s cities celebrate the best in new dining — a look at the top chefs, restaurants, and design that have opened in the last 12 months and managed in that short time to make a major impression. It’s not the best restaurants in America, per se, but rather the varied food expressions across nearly two dozen cities, from Philly to LA , that had a notable impact this year.
There were beautifully-executed dishes (ricotta-filled agnolotti, prawns on falafel toast), stunning physical spaces (the colorfully playful Gertie in NYC, the lush menagerie that is V DTLA), and chefs like Peter Prime of Cane in D.C. and Justin Sutherland from the Twin Cities who kept us watching. There were food trucks, pop-ups, bakeries, and bars that drew buzz and praise and brought something different to a scene where there’s no shortage of food trucks, pop-ups, bakeries, and bars. And there were restaurants that distinguished themselves — with their creative dishes, or assertive flavors, or comforting ambiance, or with thoughtful innovation. For countless reasons, these were the restaurants, dishes, designs, and noteworthy individuals that stood out across 23 cities this year.
Eater Atlanta’s Dish of the Year is Aziza’s Akko prawns: “Tal Baum’s ‘modern’ Israeli restaurant is a breath of fresh air at Westside Provisions District. Dishes here showcase the broad range of Middle Eastern foods and flavors found within Israel’s most cosmopolitan cities. However, the moment Aziza opened in July, the Akko prawns became a breakout star on the menu. These heads-on jumbo shrimp come swimming in a warmly spiced tomato sauce set atop thick falafel toast, all created by executive chef Brandon Hughes. This comforting dish is then garnished with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of Persian lime. It’s best paired with a fresh and funky red, like Niepoort’s ‘Drink Me Nat Cool’ from the Bairrada region near the Atlantic coast of Portugal.”
Eater Austin’s Restaurant of the Year is DipDipDip Tatsu-ya: “DipDipDip is only the latest in what has become a burgeoning empire from chef and co-owner Tatsu Aikawa and the Tatsu-ya family, which includes three locations of Ramen Tatsu-ya, Texas roadhouse izakaya Kemuri Tatsu-ya (the 2017 Restaurant of the Year winner), patio bar and curry spot Domo Alley-Gato, and forthcoming tiki bar Tiki Tatsu-ya.
The shabu shabu (hot pot) restaurant gives diners a fun Tatsu-ya twist on the genre in an upscale setting. Certainly, there are standards like thin slices of locally sourced beef, pork, and crunchy vegetables (and slices of high-grade wagyu beef). But there are also Texas twists on items, like the Keep Austin Dipping, a shiso kosho queso that pairs perfectly with beef to create essentially a Philly cheesesteak; and gyoza filled with shrimp and spicy cheddar grits. A cart with daily specials keeps the menu fresh and interesting, while the gorgeous custom woodwork from Austin’s A&K Woodworking and Design elevates the atmosphere.”
Eater Boston’s Design of the Year is Mariel: “The gorgeous restaurant has a vibe of lived-in glamour — enormous, eye-catching light fixtures dangle from the high ceilings (the space used to be home to a bank), while the walls are covered with graffiti-style murals. The tables and floors feature elaborate tiling, and lush greenery sprouts up along the walls to complement the otherwise muted color palette. It’s evident that someone has paid careful attention to the design of every square inch.
As COJE managing partner Chris Jamison previously told Eater: ‘At the end of the day, we’re not just trying to feed you; we want to make you feel a certain way ... Dinner is the new night out, not something you do before a night out.’”
Eater Charleston’s Bar of the Year is Citrus Club: “Mid-century modern dreamsicle Citrus Club sits high above Charleston with Instagram-enviable views and fun tropical drinks that won’t leave you with a sugar hangover. This rooftop bar has the highest elevation downtown, some of the best bar staff around, and an air of poshness that makes it a sought-after spot for a perfect evening out with friends.”
Eater Chicago’s Chef of the Year is Dave Park of Jeong: “Dave Park put his creative Korean cooking on Chicago’s culinary map while running Hanbun, a stall in a nondescript food court in suburban Westmont, in 2016 and 2017. So when he and partner Jennifer Tran announced the stall’s closure and then that they planned to open a full restaurant in the city in West Town, diners’s expectations were sky high. Jeong then amazingly surpassed those expectations, mainly because of Park’s cooking.
The ingenuity, sophistication, and downright deliciousness of Park’s food has fully blossomed at Jeong, where the full kitchen and city clientele allow the chef to expand what he started at Hanbun.”
Eater Dallas’ Design of the Year is Georgie: “Chef Curtis Stone’s Knox Avenue restaurant has only been open for a couple of weeks, but the space it occupies is already turning heads. Designed by GRT Architects, its dramatic vaulted ceilings, midcentury modern fixtures, mixed marble floors, and plush velvet seating come together to create a space that’s luxe without being ostentatious and comfortable without being casual.
Whether or not the food at Georgie will live up to the expectations that its beautiful home has established for the restaurant, there’s no denying that this is one of Dallas’s most beautiful new places to dine.”
Eater Detroit’s Bakery of the Year is Warda Patisserie: “In a year that was filled with great breads, gorgeous pastries, and cakes, pastry chef Warda Bouguettaya’s immaculate bakes were always a treat. At Warda Patisserie, Bougettaya brings her experiences from growing up and traveling abroad into the kitchen to create the sweet and savory pastries that are as much a feast for the eyes as they are exquisite to eat. Her Algerian torta is crisp, flaky, and golden brown with lovely designs decorating the pastry. The Mexican conchas are made with a soft brioche and a not-too-sweet crackling on top. Every weekend that it’s available customers flock to her counter inside Trinosophes for a slice of the Russian honey cake. The city has yet another great bakery worth celebrating.”
Eater Houston’s Bar of the Year is Monkey’s Tail: “In all of the chaos of 2019, a visit to Monkey’s Tail is a welcome respite from the terrible headlines and chaos that await outside its doors on Fulton Street. Its cocktail menu takes a great deal of influence from iconic Mexican drinks, with classics like the margarita and freshly fermented tepache on the menu paired with fun, inventive cocktails that make excellent use of clever techniques and quality ingredients.
And, with a weekday happy hour that lasts until 7 p.m. daily plus a menu of bar snacks like barbacoa-topped pizza, Sonora-style hot dogs, and vegan cheeseburgers, and an intimate vibe, Monkey’s Tail is the kind of spot that’s easy to find yourself going back to over and over and over again.”
Eater Las Vegas’ Design of the Year is Best Friend: All things Los Angeles find a home in Roy Choi’s new restaurant Best Friend, the Korean barbecue with LA roots at the Park MGM. Diners walk into a liquor storefront with bar stools for grabbing quick bites or picking up swag. Customers then head into the main dining room through a pink plastic freezer door to find a bar to the right. The dining room in bright colors almost vibrates with its rainbow hues. Plants hang from the ceiling, and a mural from Los Angeles artist Phung Huynh adorns one wall. A deejay booth spotlighting LA artists takes over one wall.”
Eater London’s Dish of the Year is pig fat cannoli at Quality Wines: “Quality Wines, the wine bar annexe to the much-loved Quality Chop House is one of the standout venues of the year in London, full stop. Chef Nick Bramham’s menu changes weekly, with the exception of three things: gildas, jamon Iberico, and pig fat cannolo, which come either with a chocolate or sour cherry filling. The latter holds all of the confected thrill of a single cherry drop or a shot of Disaronno Amaretto, offset by the lactic tang of ricotta and cased within a biscuity, lardo-rich curved brittle dusted with icing sugar. It’s the perfect end to what is almost always a perfectly complete meal at a venue boasting all the hallmarks of the best kind of eating and drinking in London in 2019.”
Eater LA’s Surprise of the Year is Original Cannabis Cafe (formerly Lowell Cafe): “The world’s first licensed cannabis restaurant opened in West Hollywood on October 1. And however anyone feels about Original Cannabis Cafe — formerly Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe — its launch took on a life of its own this fall. International press came from far and wide to assess whether Original Cannabis Cafe would become a joke, or if it could be a legitimate place for cannabis consumers. The buzz was palpable, people everywhere were talking about it. Enthusiasts lined up to nab tables to try chef Andrea Drummer’s snacky non-cannabis food menu and to openly smoke cannabis from bongs, joints, and vapes... A new genre within hospitality was born, and many more are on the way.”
Eater Miami’s Restaurant of the Year is Boia De: “While fried chicken and tacos from popular food truck La Pollita might have put culinary duo Luciana Giangrandi and Alex Meyer on the map — Boia De, their brick-and-mortar outpost that debuted this summer made them culinary stars. This charming, albeit small, restaurant tucked away in a strip mall, lets the pair show off their extensive fine dining backgrounds. The menu features some of the most creative dishes in the Magic City like crispy potato skins topped with with burrata, caviar, and hardboiled egg or baked clams with ‘njuda, all paired with hard-to-find vintages, have made this newcomer a gem that everyone seems to be seeking out.”
Eater Montreal’s Design of the Year is Marcus: “American chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Montreal restaurant may have landed mixed reviews, but there’s one thing it seemed most agreed upon: the space itself is a stone-cold stunner. Designer about town Zebulon Perron and his team put forward an array of brassy tones and geometric, line-driven forms. There’s more than a hint of art déco influence here, yet with splashes of plant life and a few carefully-selected millennial pink items of lounge furniture, it avoids falling into the trap of being too retro, or too much of an homage.”
Eater Nashville’s Dish of the Year is Setsun’s ricotta agnolotti: “There were a flood of new openings this year, and with those openings, a few dishes became local favorites — keeping diners returning again and again, ordering these same dishes on repeat. And while Jason Zygmont and Ray Melendi’s East Nashville pop-up Setsun doesn’t have a permanent home (ahem, yet) — the consistently well-executed menu is already one of the best dinners in Nashville. While the ‘try everything’ for two is the move, a Zygmont standout dish for years is the flavor-bomb, pillow-y ricotta-filled agnolotti with salsa calabria and Grana Padano. So much so, that while Setsun’s menu constantly changes, he’s had to assure diners that this dish is not going anywhere. Just ask them which of the ever-changing, funky wines on the current menu pairs best with the comforting dish, and enjoy a half or full glass for the full effect.”
Eater New Orleans’ Casual Restaurant of the Year is Dian Xin: “New Orleans was severely lacking in dim sum options before Judy Ceng and family brought Dian Xin to the French Quarter. Luckily, after traveling the country and getting a sense of an evolving interest in Chinese and Sichuan in other locales, Ceng saw a need locally. And the result, a two-page menu of bao, soups, chive cakes, jianbing, shu mai, and much more is some of the best Chinese food to hit the city.”
New York City
Eater NY’s Restaurant of the Year is Kāwi: “Despite its less-than-desirable locale, Kāwi stood out from the [Hudson Yards] pack for its downright delicious, yet playful Korean-centric fare, stemmed from chef Jo Park’s unique point of view. Park’s Korean upbringing and French fine dining training shines through in dishes that put twists on Korean classics, like with a wagyu ragu over rice cakes, a savory tofu dish that’s reminiscent of crème brûlée, and kimbap that incorporates ingredients such as foie gras terrine and candied anchovy.
... The restaurant is out of the way from the typical dining neighborhoods that locals visit, but it’s heartening to imagine tourists stumbling upon the gem, and perhaps coming away from New York with a glimpse of one of the city’s most creative new restaurants. Even in a city full of excellent modern Korean fare, Kāwi impresses with its confident, bold cooking.”
Eater Philly’s Restaurant of the Year is Kalaya: “Southern Thai food shines at Kalaya, My-Le Vuong and chef Chutatip Suntaranon’s small, energetic Bella Vista BYOB where neighbors pack in nightly to cover the tables with tapioca dumplings made blue with butterfly pea flower, hot and sour soup overflowing with prawns, barramundi, and mushrooms, spicy laab ped, and spicer beef curry. The friendly servers are there to guide you through the menu and can steer diners toward a combination of plates that isn’t 100-percent heat, or you can always ask Vuong for a recommendation as she makes the rounds, stopping to clear an empty plate or top off your wine. It’s the type of comfortable neighborhood spot — with exceptional food — you’ll go back to again and again.”
Eater Portland’s Restaurant of the Year is Eem: “When [Eem] opened in February, no one was exactly prepared for the impact it’d have on the Portland public: Instagram stories documented lines curling around the restaurant’s corner, diners snug at the bar over bowls of curry and nuanced cocktails in goofy glasses. Within its walls, the intricacy of the dishes continued to shine. Barbecue, in essence, is a practice in patience and resilience, both more and less difficult than people think; Ninsom, with his humility and exceptional understanding of flavor, continued to tweak and improve upon those products of time and smoke, especially when aided by chef de cuisine Colin Yoshimoto. White curries became subtle backdrops for Golden-Mountain-soaked burnt ends, aromatic bursts of grapefruit and pickled shallot brightened up baby back ribs, and nutty massaman curry wrangled the funk of a tender lamb shoulder. Eem remains one of the most polished restaurants that opened this year, but the real skill comes from its ability to make the whole experience feel completely effortless.”
Eater San Diego’s Design of the Year is Morning Glory: “Only CH Projects would be bold enough to venture to open an above street level spot that only operates during daytime hours and exclusively serves brunch, no less. But due to the sheer draw of the eye-catching design, the bar and restaurant is still enthralling crowds seven months into its tenure in Little Italy. As one of the hospitality group’s last projects with local design powerhouse BASILE Studio, it’s a memorable mic drop.”
Eater SF’s Restaurant of the Year is Besharam: “Open since last May, Heena Patel’s Dogpatch restaurant — named after the Urdu word for ‘shameless’ — did a full reboot after the chef’s much-publicized split with Daniel Patterson’s Alta restaurant group this past spring. Besharam stayed open, though; the dining room kept the same layout and the same overall vibe, with Maria Qamar’s colorful murals and plateware setting the playfully unapologetic tone. But here’s the thing: The restaurant got much, much better.”
Eater Seattle’s Design of the Year is Eight Row: “In a city that tends to favor cavernous, industrial dining rooms, the comforting brightness of Green Lake’s new farm-to-table restaurant from rising chef David Nichols is a refreshing departure. Local interior design firm White Space helped fill the interior with green plant life and an eye-catching floral mural behind the bar, while Nichols made sure there were personal touches, such as jars of colorful fermented produce from his family’s Wenatchee, WA, orchard stored on the shelves. The taps are even made from old tree pruners, sanded down to take the edges off. Perhaps an even better feature: Even on packed weekend nights, dining room chatter is pleasantly muted, thanks to a well-conceived layout.”
Eater Twin Cities’ Chef of the Year is Justin Sutherland: “From a star-making turn on Bravo’s Top Chef to opening restaurant after restaurant, chef Justin Sutherland was everywhere this year. From the small screen to moving into the leadership of the Madison Restaurant group it has been an incredible year for the St. Paul-based chef. First, he was the absolute best reason to turn on the TV Thursday nights this winter with quotable quips like, ‘My body is probably about 60 percent bourbon, 20 percent pot and 40 percent fried food.’ Then there were the pop-ups with his new crew of Top Chef pals, followed by revamps at just about every restaurant he works with the Fitz, Public, Gray Duck, Ox Cart Arcade, Pearl & the Thief, and more. He also launched two new fast-casual concepts including a ramen and Japanese fried chicken stand, O Bachan that was the single best bite of fried chicken we encountered this year, and a concept primed for duplication.”
Eater DC’s Chef of the Year is Peter Prime of Cane: “By assuming the mantle of restaurant owner for the first time, Peter Prime was already betting on himself when he and his sister, Jeanine, opened Cane. To stand out, Prime trusted that the dining public would be as interested in exploring his Trinidadian background as he was. The tiny, packed dining room on H Street that generates hours-long waits is a testament to Prime’s vision of cooking food found at street carts, rum shops, and Caribbean home kitchens. A French Culinary Institute grad who was once admonished by an instructor for pouring too much black pepper on a roast chicken, Prime dials up the spice wherever he pleases with flammable chutneys and pickled chiles that decorate his signature doubles — fry breads filled spiced chickpeas — and whole fried snapper escoveitch. With a few exceptions, like five-spice Trini-Asian drumsticks that are Frenched into plump poultry popsicles, Prime isn’t striving to apply many European techniques. He’s using pimento wood to smoke impeccable jerk wings, serving metal Tiffin boxes full of South Asian-influenced curries, and playing with soft serves based on goat milk or smoked coconut cream.”