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10 Hot Food Neighborhoods Around the U.S.

Where to find small-batch distilleries, packed bistros and sleek cocktail bars
October 28, 2014
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by Emily Saladino

In our not-so-distant past, the culinary advancement of many American cities was limited to finding a few Goya products in the curiously titled Ethnic Foods aisle of the local supermarket. Now, small towns and major metropolises from coast to coast are hotbeds of epicurean activity. Neighborhood denizens launch farming cooperatives, small-batch distilleries and homegrown restaurants, cocktail bars and beer halls. From the sultry Southeast to the piney Pacific Northwest, here are the hottest up-and-coming food neighborhoods nationwide.

Atlanta, GA: Westside

Why it’s hot: These are boom times in the area just west of Midtown, with new restaurants and food businesses opening in repurposed warehouses by the day.

Newcomers: Two-year-old food truck Vintage Frozen Custard opened its first brick-and-mortar location on Howell Mill Road this March. It is less than a half a mile south of cheffy compound Star Provisions, where Little Trouble, a cocktail bar from the team behind Decatur’s Victory Sandwich Bar and Paper Plane, will open in the 3,000-sq.-ft. space below Abattoir restaurant early next year. Chef Leif Johnson and bar manager Arianne Fielder, of Alpharetta’s hip Bite Bistro & Bar, started serving buttermilk-soaked, Southern-fried wings and bourbon drinks at the nearby Bellwoods Social House last month. This fall, Castellucci Hospitality plans to open Cooks & Soldiers, a Basque-inspired, molecular-leaning fine-dining spot in a 1910-era former meatpacking plant.

Neighborhood classics: Atlanta chef Ford Fry is more than just an absurdly memorable name. The James Beard nominee owns five restaurants across the city, including hip Westside oyster bar The Optimist, named Esquire’s 2012 Restaurant of the Year, as well as Westside Market’s JCT Kitchen (pictured), a neighborhood favorite since 2007. The five-course tasting menus at Bachhanalia, the restaurant opened by Star Provisions' Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison 25 years ago, continue to earn top praise from locals.

Beyond food: Westside real estate is also thriving, with savvy developers unveiling housing and retail projects like the swank Elan Westside in the once-gritty warehouses along Howell Mill Road.

Providence, RI: DownCity

Why it’s hot: More than 28 shops and restaurants opened in Rhode Island’s appropriately named Renaissance City in the past year, with the majority of the culinary action in the once-seedy Downtown.

Newcomers: Boutique hotel The Dean brought high design to a former brothel in April 2014. It has a sleek cocktail bar, the city’s first karaoke lounge and an inaugural, brick-and-mortar outpost of local roaster Bolt Coffee Company. Things are similarly buzzy at the new Ellie’s Bakery (pictured), where a recent Johnson & Wales grad brews Pawtucket, RI’s New Harvest Coffee, and serves sandwiches on housemade cheese sourdough. Ellie’s is just around the corner from Ken’s Ramen, a cult favorite launched by a Boston expat in the refurbished Biltmore Garage at the end of last year. G Pub also opened in the former Providence Gas Co. building on Orange Street in March. It pours local Grey Sail and Naraganssat beers and, in warm weather, is joined by Rooftop at the G, the city’s first rooftop bar. A third, seafood-centric spot is slated to debut at “the G” later this year.

Neighborhood classics: Last summer, James Beard Rising Chef nominee Benjamin Sukle opened an 18-seat tasting room called Birch on Washington Street. It has already been named one of the best new restaurants in the country.

Beyond food: Cornish Associates, the G Pub developer helmed by Providence native Arnold Chace Jr., also recently launched Aurora Providence, a cabaret lounge and performance arts space on Westminster St.

San Francisco, CA: Nopa

Why it’s hot: Two years ago, The New York Times called the area north of the panhandle “the next Mission,” citing its creative energy and burgeoning restaurant scene. Now, Nopa is ready for its culinary close-up.

Newcomers: Cult creamery Bi-Rite, a Mission-based grocery store spin-off with bowls of national acclaim, recently opened a second scoop shop on Divisadaro. The sweet stuff is just two blocks north of Ragazza (pictured), the new 39-seat pizzeria from Sharon Ardiana, chef of Glen Park’s critical darling Gialina. Last year, chefs from Spruce, Bar Tartine and Commonwealth came to Nopa via Wine Kitchen, a neighborhood spot pouring more than 50 wines, including four local vintages on tap. A few weeks later, white-tiled cafe The Mill, a collaboration between Four Barrel coffee and Josey Baker Bread, opened just north of Grove St.

Neighborhood classics: The neighborhood’s eponymous, Californian-Mediterranean trailblazer Nopa has been bringing all the boys to the yard since 2006. It spawned an organic Mexican offshoot, Nopalito, in 2009.

Beyond food: Sleek community center Workshop has taught Nopa’s DIY-types how to pickle produce and the basics of screen-printing since 2009. The crafty crew recently opened a second center in Sausalito.

Washington, DC: The Navy Yards

Why it’s hot: Historically, the District’s southeastern waterfront was only familiar to Nationals fans and police blotter scribes. Its culinary rebirth is as unexpected as the Nats' Division Series loss — and a heck of a lot more popular.

Newcomers: Beer director Greg Engert, whose 500-strong list at Logan Circle’s Birch & Barley put him on sudsy short lists citywide, has room to brew at Bluejacket (pictured). The 12,000-sq.-ft. space opened this winter with 25+ beers on tap, plus two barrel rooms, 19 fermentation vessels and a 200-seat restaurant, the Arsenal, in a 1919-era munitions factory. Shortly thereafter, a Richard Sandoval-trained El Centro DF cook launched Agua 301, a 150-seat modern Mexican spot. This summer, two mobile maestros set up shop nearby: food truck TaKorean serves Korean BBQ-inspired tacos and three beers on draft on Fourth Street SE, and street cart Ice Cream Jubilee launched its first stationary parlor on Water Street SE. Two Capital Hill restaurateurs are currently plotting The Navy Yard Oyster Company, a wine and cocktail bar specializing in local bivalves. They plan to open next spring.

Neighborhood classic: Last year, Michelin-starred Midwesterner Michael White opened a 4,200-sq.-ft. outpost of his popular New York restaurant, Osteria Morini.

Beyond food: In 2010, the grungy Capital Waterfront reopened as Yards Park, a mod reimagining that City Paper named the best new public space of 2011. The redesigned rolling hills, patio and showstopping footbridge have since hosted chef cookouts and DC Jazz Festival performances.

Seattle, WA: Pioneer Square

Why it’s hot: When neighborhood standby Elliott Bay Book Co. relocated to Capital Hill in 2009, naysayers sounded the death knell for oft-bedraggled Pioneer Square. Now, the city’s brightest young things are revitalizing the area’s abandoned buildings with hip cocktail bars and locally owned restaurants.

Newcomers: This spring, Vessel veteran Bryn Lumsun partnered with The Walrus and the Carpenter’s Eli Dahlin to launch Damn the Weather (pictured), a fittingly named cocktail bar and gastropub on First Avenue South. In September, following a series of popular pop-ups, Mike Easton opened Pizzeria Gabbiano, the highly anticipated successor to his Il Corvo restaurant. Easton’s future next-door neighbors include Elm Coffee, a roaster and retailer from Stumptown and Joe Coffee alums, and Good Bar, a neighborhood joint from Stoup Brewing cicerone Robyn Schumacher and the Marination food truck crew. Located in the former Stadium Place buildilng, Quality Athletics is a 3,500-sq.-ft., neo-sports bar with duck wings and housemade brats by local chef Seth Richardson, plus outdoor fire pits, a rooftop garden from Seattle Urban Farm Company, and sno-cone and cotton candy machines. Next year, Stadium Place will also be home to Girin, a Korean-Pacific Northwestern steakhouse from a former flour+water chef.

Neighborhood classics: Gina Batali (yes, her brother is Mario) and husband Brian D’Amato have been living the cured life since 1999. Their sandwich shop Salumi is a Pioneer Square staple for sammies, salads and soups made with classically produced guanciale, culatello and mole salame.

Beyond food: For more than 25 years, Pioneer Square’s independent galleries and installation spaces have organized First Thursdays, a monthly art walk that tours free exhibitions and new acquisitions from 5-8 PM.

Houston, TX: Montrose

Why it’s hot: Houston’s generations-old creative quarter was on the brink of being overrun by jacket-required fine-dining restaurants. A recent spate of independent openings adds a dash of up-and-coming cool to the mix.

Newcomers: Two years ago, Austin sushi den Uchi opened in the lot previously inhabited by neighborhood Mexican joint Felix’s. Longtime locals decried the change, but the James Beard Award-winning restaurant imbued the area with epicurean energy. In May, elBulli-trained, Houston-raised pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel opened Common Bond (pictured), where he serves sweet and savory goods to both Westheimer residents and restaurant kitchens. One such customer is Shepard Ross, whose long-awaited Pax Americana opened with an all-star team in August. Less than two weeks later, Shawn Bermudez debuted Stone’s Throw, a Gothic-looking watering hole in a former beauty supply store. The beer list specializes in local craft brews, and mixed drinks include a seasonal punch, available by the glass or in a Texas-size crystal bowl for six.

Neighborhood classics: Marco Wiles’ elegant Da Marco restaurant is a white-tablecloth mainstay renowned for its regional Italian wine list, ingredients-driven menu — and, most recently, an entirely enforced dress code.

Beyond food: The Renzo Piano-designed Menil Collection, a 25-year-old museum founded by Houstonites John and Dominique de Menil, is a half-mile south of Westheimer on Sul Ross. Its 17,000 works span Byzantine art, antiquities and paintings by Rene Magritte, Mark Rothko and Man Ray.

Portland, OR: SE Division Street

Why it’s hot: The city’s top cooks, bakers and merriment makers continue to flock to the street that Stumptown built. Expect to run into at least one pilgrimage-making, hangover-chasing New York or San Francisco chef on any given visit.

Newcomers: Earlier this year, Thomas Keller alum Troy MacLarty launched a second, larger outpost of his Mumbai-style street-food hall Bollywood Theater. This one has an adjoining Indian grocery and is a few blocks west of Salt & Straw’s newest ice cream parlor, also opened this year. Fry guy Micah Camden, of Blue Star Donuts fame, debuted the Southern-inflected Son of a Biscuit in June 2014, and a Per Se and Sullivan Street Bakery veteran opened Pizza Maria a few weeks prior. Urban vintners Union Wine Co. (pictured) hit the road in the world’s first mobile wine tasting truck this July. Their vintage ride parks on the corner of SE Division and 33rd Street every weekend.

Neighborhood classics: Duane Sorenson inaugurated the area’s food scene back in 1999 with the first Stumptown Coffee Roasters. In 2007, Andy Ricker opened his game-changing Pok Pok. Last summer, Sorenson’s Roman Candle Baking Co. opened across the street from Sen Yai, Ricker’s Pok Pok follow-up. Powered by caffeine and community goodwill, last year Sorenson debuted another SE Division spot, the award-winning, produce-centric trattoria Ava Gene’s.

Beyond food: The main reason to come to SE Division is to eat, but the street is also home to Portico, an offbeat interiors shop selling works by Oregon designers, and The Foundation, a retro-chic lingerie shop. Weekenders with a literary bent check into SE Division’s Bluebird Guesthouse, a circa-1910 B&B whose seven rooms are named after authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Ken Kesey.

New York, NY: SoHo

Why it’s hot: Manhattan’s eternally evolving downtown district is welcoming some of the city’s hottest second (and third) acts.

Newcomers: It takes a lot of moxie to introduce a foreign bagel to New York, but when Brooklyn’s beloved Mile End crew introduced Elizabeth Street to Montreal-style chew via Black Seed Bagels earlier this year, it was an instant success. A few months prior, Roberta’s chef Max Sussman reinvented the menu at New American restaurant The Cleveland (pictured), a neighborhood boîte with a Mediterranean sensibility and flatteringly lit rear garden. Fine-dining all-stars Andrew Carmellini and the Daniel Boulud-trained Matthew Aita came to the neighborhood in glamorous, Gallic fashion. Their restaurants Lafayette and Le Philosophe, respectively, opened within the last year. If you’re thinking that the one thing SoHo was missing was beer slushies, well, you’re in good company. Last summer, two Per Se-trained cooks started slinging Singha-powered bia wun and Issan rice-stuffed sausages at Thai spot Uncle Boons. We’ll drink to that.

Neighborhood classics: Balthazar, Keith McNally’s ode to French bistros and fabulous breadbaskets, is still swinging after all these years. Opened in 1997, the restaurant has since spawned a cookbook, a wholesale bakery and countless imitators.

Beyond food: On any given Saturday, SoHo’s crowded shopping quarter can start to feel more cattle call than cutting-edge. A new outpost of LA’s hip Broken English baubles shop and French jewelry designer Aurelie Bidermann’s eponymous U.S. debut keep things sparkling south of Houston.

Indianapolis, IN: Virginia Avenue in Fletcher Place

Why it’s hot: This once-gritty five-block stretch near Fountain Square is getting a makeover courtesy of edgy cocktail bars, gastropubs and distilleries.

Newcomers: A long-shuttered, 1950s rockabilly nightclub reopened earlier this year as Thunderbird (pictured), a cocktail bar on the corner of Virginia and Shelby, serving clever comfort food like homemade biscuits with duck gravy. This summer, microbrewer Dan Krzywicki opened Chilly Water Brewing Company on Virginia and East Norwood, just down the road from the future home of Milktooth, a retro-chic diner opening in a renovated seven-bay auto garage in Downtown Car Care later this year. This fall, former U.S. Marine Travis Barnes will pour housemade gin and whiskey at new distillery Hotel Tango Whiskey, and organic bakery Rocket 88 Donuts will start slinging the sweet stuff, like fresh-baked fritters glazed with Virginia Avenue’s own New Day craft mead.

Neighborhood classics: Bluebeard, a gastropub named for Indy native Kurt Vonnegut, kicked off the neighborhood food scene in 2012. Housed in a 1924 former factory, the kitchen updates its seasonal menu daily, and showcases Hoosier farm favorites in dishes like orrecchiette with local beef and fennel, and duck heart bruschetta on housemade bread.

Beyond food: America’s former car capital now embraces life on two wheels, debuting its $62 million, bicycle-friendly Cultural Trail in late 2013. The eight-mile path weaves through Fletcher Place, connecting it to four other neighborhoods in Downtown Indianapolis.

Richmond, VA: Church Hill

Why it’s hot: The River City’s budding culinary movement comes to life in Church Hill, the historic ‘hood where Patrick Henry famously said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Newcomers: Farmer's market, cafe and performance venue Urban Farmhouse opened its third Richmond location in Church Hill in March 2014. It is less than a mile from The New York Times-lauded Sub Rosa Bakery, which reopened in January 2014 following a tragic fire and crowd-sourced funding effort to restore its stone mills and wood-fired ovens. It now serves Chemex brews and French pastries and hosts destination suppers at nearby farms. The nearby WPA Bakery, opened by restaurateur Kendra Feather and pastry chef David Rohrer in late 2012, shares a corner with the sleek Dutch & Company, which began serving vaguely Nordic-inspired fare and top-shelf cocktails last year. Three blocks away, Kiwi expat Neil Smith opened Proper Pie Company, a hip cafe serving New Zealand-style savory pies, in late 2012.

Neighborhood classics: In 2009, Alamo BBQ (pictured) introduced sport-coat-clad Richmonders to smoky Texas barbecue at a roadside stand near Jefferson Park. Two years later, Kendra Feather, a culinary trailblazer in both Church Hill and Richmond at large, partnered with chef Lee Gregory to open the elegant Roosevelt restaurant. Their Southern-accented spot has since earned two James Beard Award nominations.

Beyond food: Walk off all that epicurean indulgence along the James River, home to the 6.2-mile, landmark-laden Liberty Trail (‘Merica!), and a short trek from Church Hill’s restaurant row.

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