It was an incredible year for dining across the U.S. in 2017. With chefs from New York, Chicago and San Francisco moving to smaller markets like Denver, Raleigh, Seattle and Charleston (among others), culinary innovation is booming in cities big and small. But which food town had the biggest growth spurt this year? For one final look back, we've asked editors around the country to make a case for the city they believe had the biggest year in food by assessing the number of exciting new openings, award recognition and national media attention. Then we let some of the top food media brass weigh in on which locales were most exciting. Don't see your pick on the list? Let us know in the comments.
No. 30: Asheville, NC
The past half decade has been good for Asheville’s food and drink scene. It has more breweries per capita than any other city in the U.S. and it’s home to renowned chefs like James Beard–nominees Katie Button (Cúrate and Nightbell), John Fleer (Rhubarb) and pitmaster Elliott Moss (Buxton Hall Barbecue).
That’s enough to make food lovers in other small cities envious; however, the dynamic dining destination just keeps getting better.
In 2017, Button doubled the size of Cúrate and added a Vermuteria (a vermouth-focused bar). Chef Patrick O’Cain opened a second location of his hit dumpling and noodle shop, Gan Shan West. Josh Thomsen (formerly Eau Palm Beach, The Venetian Las Vegas and Hotel Bel-Air) took over Edison Craft Ales + Kitchen, bringing international flair to the Omni Grove Park Inn’s stunning terrace restaurant. Local cocktail guru Chall Gray (formerly Thirsty Monk) debuted another cocktail bar, Little Jumbo. And premium yeast supplier White Labs opened a trendy beer and fermented foods concept in October.
No. 29: Baltimore, MD
From tony cocktail lounges and white tablecloth bistros to hipster beer bars and food halls, Charm City is on the rise. Seafood has long been a staple in this town, and the tradition continues with the opening of celebrity chef Andrew Carmellini’s Rye Street Tavern, where coastal fare complements housemade spirits as well as at the Four Seasons Hotel’s upmarket Loch Bar, helmed by area restaurateur Alex Smith (Azumi, Ouzo Bay). Pioneers at the forefront of this budding culinary heyday include Baltimore's sole James Beard Award–winner Spike Gjerde (Woodberry Kitchen, Artifact, Parts & Labor, Sandlot) and Cindy Wolf (Charleston, Johnny’s, Cinghiale, Bar Vasquez), a five-time James Beard finalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic and the only local to pick up this year’s nomination. Promising young guns are also coming in droves, with hit trattoria Tagliata and sister speakeasy The Elk Room, the hip Dylan’s Oyster Cellar and the highly anticipated soul food hot spot Ida B’s Table leading the charge.
No. 28: Kansas City, MO
Kansas City has had quite the year. The oft-overlooked Missouri metropolis was home to no less than five 2017 James Beard semifinalists: The Rieger Hotel’s subterranean Manifesto for Outstanding Bar Program; fine-dining destination Bluestem, helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Colby Garrelts (and formerly by French Laundry vet Andrew Longres) for Outstanding Restaurant (as well as a Zagat 30 Under 30 National honor for bar manager Andrew Olsen); and Patrick Ryan of Port Fonda fame for Best Chef: Midwest. Noteworthy newcomers included world-class cocktail bars like the epically swank Monarch Bar and Swordfish Tom’s, a speakeasy-style cocktail den from seasoned barkeep Jill Cockson; EJ’s Urban Eatery, a hit meat-and-three by chef John Cedric Smith, who cut his teeth at Tom Colicchio’s Craft in NYC; and ex American Restaurant executive chef Michael Corvino’s highly regarded contemporary American eatery and music venue, Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room.
No. 27: Portland, ME
Maine’s formerly sleepy little coastal capital has blossomed into a full on dining destination over the past few years, led by an ambitious flock of artisans, brewers, bakers and chefs like 2017 James Beard Award–winners for Best Chef: Northeast, Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley. As the team behind local institutions Eventide Oyster Co., The Honey Paw and Hugo’s, the chef/co-owners were previously named Food & Wine’s best up-and-coming chefs of New England in 2013. The winning pair’s fellow 2017 James Beard nominees included Portland Hunt + Alpine Club (Outstanding Bar Program), Fore Street (Outstanding Restaurant) and Piccolo’s Ilma Lopez (Outstanding Pastry Chef), among others. Add that to the town of just over 65,000’s already acclaimed roster — not to mention a plethora of standout newcomers like James Beard Best New Restaurant nominee Drifter’s Wife and countless cutting-edge craft breweries — and it’s safe to say that Portland is officially taking the New England culinary scene by storm.
No. 26: Lexington, KY
Louisville’s smaller, lesser-visited neighbor, is finally starting to compete in the food arena (it already puts up a strong fight for horses and bourbon). This year the city got Kentucky’s first food hall, The Barn, with an all-local, all-independent lineup including craft ice cream at Crank & Boom, pasture-raised fried chicken at Pasture by Marksbury Farm, and Japanese ramen at Atomic Ramen (from MasterChef star Dan Wu). Also in the same complex is James Beard Award semifinalist chef Ouita Michel’s latest project, Honeywood. (Michel has six other restaurants in the city and is the chef-in-residence at Woodford Reserve Distillery.) Other hot openings include the Latin-infused Corto Lima from James Beard Award–nominated chef Jonathan Lundy and the city’s very own Shake Shack. Beloved upscale mainstay Dudley’s on Short was selected for one of Southern Living’s Best in the South awards this year and on the bourbon front, Bluegrass Tavern, Belle’s Cocktail House, The Paddock Bar and Patio, Parlay Social and Old Bourbon County Kitchen were all named on Bourbon Review’s list of the top 99 bourbon bars in the country. After all, bourbon is still king here.
No 25: Richmond, VA
This quirky and charming Southern city might only recently be gaining the attention it deserves for its outstanding dining scene, but Richmond’s universities and vibrant arts scene have been a crucible for forming incredibly talented chefs for decades. Reasons to visit include perfect rustic pastries from Sub Rosa Bakery and German-inspired fare at Metzger Bar and Butchery — both of which were James Beard Award semifinalists this year — or gorgeous plates from the Longoven pop-up dinner series, which will soon open a permanent spot in Scott’s Addition, an industrial area that begs for exploration with its bumper crop of breweries, cideries, coffee roasters and even a meadery. Richmond.com deputy editor Karri Peifer tells us that 2017 was a sleepy year for Richmond — “It was kind of our hangover year” — but says the newly opened Brenner Pass is not to be missed and to look out for next year’s openings of ZZQ, Alewife and The Jasper. If you have the chance to attend the city’s Fire, Flour & Fork festival held each fall, do so. A highlight from this year’s event was a collaboration lunch on the water at Merroir with Gabrielle Hamilton from New York’s famed Prune.
No. 24: Birmingham, AL
All eyes are on The Magic City, especially after Food & Wine relocated much of its staff to Birmingham earlier this year. It's delivering with a wave of globally focused eateries like the popular Pizitz Food Hall (pictured above) with stalls representing cuisines from Ethiopia, Asia, the Middle East and more, plus Fero, an Italian restaurant from lauded NYC chef Akhtar Nawab (Alta Calidad). Favorite local sushi chef Abhi Sainju opened his first solo concept, Abhi, and hip EastWest serves modern Asian fusion.
Birmingham continues its legacy of Southern cooking and fine-dining establishments like chef Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar and Grill (James Beard Award finalist) with top-notch farm-to-table concepts like Roots & Revelry from chef Brandon Cain (Saw’s Soul Kitchen, Post Office Pies) and Root to Tail from chef and Food Network host Ben Vaughn.
No. 23: San Diego, CA
From national chains like Shake Shack expanding into the county to local spots like Breakfast Republic tightening their grip over the brunch crowd, the San Diego dining scene saw a little bit of everything this year. In 2017, award-winning chef Rick Bayless made his mark on the city, helping direct the menu in La Jolla's Red O (other locations include Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Newport Beach). Locally, Filipino cuisine continues to expand reflecting a growing interest across the nation. Chefs Anthony Sinsay (Jsix), Craig Jimenez (Nom Nom Bento), Daniel Tangalin Jr. (Bivouac Ciderworks) and Kristianna Zabala (Nomad Donuts) lead the fray with modern interpretations while incorporating traditional ingredients such as ube, calamansi and sugar cane vinegar. Beyond San Diego's popular foodie neighborhoods, La Mesa saw the opening of several notable spots (Farmer's Table) plus great new eats in Chula Vista (Temp) and Barrio Logan (Barrio Dogg). Whatever 2018 has in store for America's Finest City, there'll be a lot of good things to eat.
No. 22: Indianapolis, IN
Indianapolis has shed its “chain city” reputation over the past decade thanks in part to revitalized foodie neighborhoods like Fountain Square and Mass Ave. It’s also come into its own with unapologetically Midwestern food at nationally recognized restaurants like Recess, Bluebeard, Pioneer and of course, Milktooth. In 2017, Indy experienced some growing pains with the shuttering of Recess, Marrow, LongBranch and The Owner’s Wife. But with all the changes it also means chefs are challenging themselves, and their diners, to get creative and evolve. Neal Brown surprised everyone when he shuttered Pizzology on Mass Ave. and opened the rustic European Stella in its place. It’s not even the biggest opening for Brown either, who will debut Japanese-inspired Ukiyo in January. Jonathan Brooks (Milktooth) is extending his kitchen talents to dinner with Beholder, set to open next year. Regional player Cunningham Group added two farm-to-table concepts (Provision, Rize) to the still chain-driven Northside and found success, and Martha Hoover unveiled two new concepts in her Patachou group (Bar One Fourteen, Crispy Bird). Even Kimbal Musk got on the Indy train, tapping the city for his futuristic farming/restaurant experiment. It’s a good time to be hungry in the Heartland.
No. 21: Detroit, MI
The year 2017 was good to the Motor City in more ways than one and its ever-growing food scene is at the top of that list. Perhaps the most anticipated opening of the year — and the hardest table to nab — is The Apparatus Room, inside the stylish new Foundation Hotel. The spot is helmed by 2015 James Beard Award finalist chef Thomas Lents who returned home to Michigan after a long stint at Chicago’s Sixteen, where he earned two Michelin stars. Other difficult tables to land include just-opened luxe Downtown steakhouse Prime + Proper, farm-to-table spot Lady of the House from local darling chef Kate Williams and the reopened and renamed cult-favorite Thai restaurant Takoi (formerly Katoi, which was closed in 2016 due to a fire). Plus, chef Mexcal Hardy, who was a first runner-up on Chopped and has cooked for the prince of Dubai and NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire, brought us River Bistro, serving African-inspired soul food and we got a sustainable seafood joint in Ferndale's Voyager. And still to come before the end of the year is a permanent space from 30 Under 30 national winner George Azar who will open his beloved pop-up Flowers of Vietnam inside a former Coney Island diner. The D also gained its first-ever Shake Shack, and anticipated concepts from NY-based chefs like Andrew Carmellini (inside the new Shinola Hotel) and the Sussman brothers (the upcoming Wilda's), a partnership with the team behind Rose's Fine Foods.
No. 20: Nashville, TN
Each year Nashville welcomes plenty of casual, Southern-style, comfort food spots, but 2017 saw chefs from around the country flocking to the Music City to push boundaries with exciting new concepts. Henrietta Red, a sophisticated seafood spot helmed by Nashville native Julia Sullivan and Allie Poindexter, garnered big attention in publications from Elle to Bon Appetit and our own 30 Under 30 List. Gerard Craft's St. Louis–based Pastaria opened an outpost featuring approachable Italian dishes helmed by another 30 Under 30 winner, Ashley Shelton. Star chef Manheet Chauhan took a chance opening gorgeous modern Chinese spot Tánsuŏ and backed The Mockingbird, which built a menu where crudo can live beside barbacoa and a burger and it all makes sense, especially with something from the whimsical cocktail list. With all the newcomers, Southern fare still got plenty of love. Chef Matt Bolus relocated 404 Kitchen and added Gertie’s Bar downstairs, where the chef is whipping up his take on “drinking food.” Levon Wallace, who helped open Cochon Butcher in Nashville, returned to the Music City from Louisville to unveil New American kitchen Gray & Dudley in the 21c Museum Hotel. Hattie B’s expanded and Pat Martin’s Hugh Baby’s BBQ & Burger Shop had an immediate line that shows no sign of slowing.
No. 19: Miami, FL
While in past years our food scene was marked by celebrity chefs and high-profile international arrivals, 2017 marked the year of homegrown talent in the Magic City. Acclaimed chef Norman Van Aken made his triumphant return to the 305 with the opening of not one, but three new ventures: Three, a vibrant eatery spotlighting elevated South Florida cuisine, a rooftop bar and a cooking school. Niven Patel’s first solo project Ghee, a modern Indian concept in downtown Dadeland, received two features from the New York Times and has been so successful that it expanded into a second location in the Design District shortly after opening. Fellow Miamian and Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford is pushing the envelope with his progressive American kitchen, Stubborn Seed, showing great promise for Miami’s culinary innovation; and local favorites Jeff McInnis (ex Yardbird) and Jose Mendin (Pubbelly) continue to expand their footprints with a creative Southern seafood joint in Sunset Harbour for the first, and a modern Spanish spot at the One Hotel for the latter.
The Broken Shaker is blowing up beyond South Florida’s borders, with a new opening in LA and an upcoming one in NYC, and restaurateurs from big food cities like New York and Philadelphia are looking at Miami for second outposts, a trend that has been on the rise in the past years according to CNN, with Blue Ribbon Sushi, Employees Only, Roberta’s, Dizengoff and Federal Donuts as prime examples.
No. 18: Minneapolis, MN
It was a good year for Minneapolis’ established players. The Wall Street Journal named the Twin Cities one of the top places to visit in the world and the food media had plenty of love to pass around. Opened at the tail end of 2016, Ann Kim’s (Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza) Asian-accented pizza spot Young Joni was named a top newcomer by Eater. Her hospitality group also snapped up The Bachelor Farmer chef Paul Berglund. Award-winning Alma from Alex Roberts garnered praise (especially from Bon Appetit) after delivering a solid renovation of the restaurant’s space and menu, plus the addition of an all-day cafe and boutique hotel upstairs. Gavin Kaysen, still riding high from the success of Spoon & Stable, kicked off 2017 bowing all-day French cafe Bellecour with a kitchen led by 30 Under 30 winner Nick Dugan. Jaime Malone (a Food & Wine best new chef recipient a few years back) and Erik Anderson (recently decamped to SF’s Coi) put their collaboration Brut on the back-burner to reopen and reinvigorate local favorite Grand Cafe, also with an all-day French menu. James Beard winner Tim McKee shuttered his fine-dining icon La Belle Vie two years ago and roared back on the scene with an exciting project called Market House Collaborative, which can only be called a local food hall on “elevated” steroids with a full seafood restaurant and new offshoot for Salty Tart bakery.
No 17: St. Louis, MO
This year, chefs in The Gateway City prove there’s no place like home. Vicia (pictured above) — the year’s biggest opening and a Bon Appétit best new restaurants finalist — brought chef Michael Gallina (previously Blue Hill at Stone Barns) back to his hometown, and NYC’s Danny Meyer makes a homecoming of his own with the opening of the state’s first Shake Shack.
Local chefs are working to present elevated concepts in an accessible way, like Privado from chef Mike Randolph (Público, James Beard semifinalist), serving intimate tasting menu dinners twice a week, and Square1 Project, a pop-up concept at a secret location from St. Louis native Logan Ely.
An incredible food truck community — which includes Balkan Treat Box and Guerilla Street Food — and restaurants like Nudo House and Nixta are introducing local palates to global cuisine, while quick-serve burger joints like Hi-Pointe Drive-In and Mac's Local Eats are slinging high-quality bites.
No 16: Dallas–Fort Worth
The honors and recognition for Dallas–Fort Worth chefs and restaurants came fast and furious, but it was patrons who emerged as the real winners of 2017. Diversity of cuisine, spectacular design and an emphasis on food over pretense helped usher in an exciting new era of dining. Many of last year’s greatest hits (Flora Street Cafe, Top Knot and Heim Barbecue) maintained their buzz while the return of chef Bruno Davaillon with the gorgeous Bullion wowed alongside Gemma’s Stephen Rogers and Allison Yoder’s follow-up, Sachet, which each delivered the most mind-blowing dishes of the year. Zagat's first national 30 Under 30 list recognized Julian Rodarte (Beto & Son); the James Beard Foundation nominated Stephan Pyles (Flora Street Cafe), Maggie Huff (FT33), Omar Flores (the now-closed Casa Rubia), John Tesar (Knife), Teiichi Sakurai (Tei-An) and David Uyghur (Lucia); and Christopher Patrick (Abacus), Janice Provost (Parigi) and Nikky Phinyawatana (Asian Mint) each had the thrill to cook at the James Beard House. Meanwhile, lavish updates of two iconic Downtown hotels brought with them some exciting restaurants, including chef Graham Dodds’ Overeasy, Bourbon & Banter (with cocktail guru Kyle Hilla) and the forthcoming Fine China with chef Angela Hernandez at The Statler; whereas The Adolphus debuted a chic-yet-casual counterpart (City Hall Bistro) to The French Room, which returned with a luxe reboot that kept true to its glorious past. And just this month the debut of the long-anticipated Legacy Food Hall introduced 20 chef-driven concepts to Plano, spreading the food love to all corners of North Texas.
No. 15: New York City
Relatively speaking, 2017 was a quiet year for NYC dining. It was a year of revamps and reduxes (Union Square Cafe, The Grill), gourmet fast-casual from the likes of EMP and Del Posto's Mark Ladner (Made Nice, Pasta Flyer), but more than anything else, 2017 was the year of the neighborhood restaurant. Most new openings took an understated approach, aiming to slip seamlessly into the dining landscape of the neighborhoods they occupied. Examples include Bed-Stuy's Hart's, which opened in late 2016 and won critical acclaim from the likes of Bon Appetit; the red sauce–inspired Don Angie from the husband-wife duo behind speakeasy restaurant dinnertable; and Gloria, the sustainable seafood specialist from Contra and Le Bernardin alum Diego Garcia.
But there were a few exciting destinations to hit the scene as well. Most notable is, of course, The Grill, the glitzy newcomer in the former Four Seasons space and perhaps had the biggest shoes to fill. Taking on throwbacks like prime rib and an old-school buffet with swagger, the Major Food Group concept dazzled (despite sticker-shock pricing). Sibling concepts The Pool and The Lobster Club (in the same space) came a bit later. Chinese Tuxedo also impressed with its über-sexy bi-level space (set in a former Chinatown gang hangout); and Brooklyn's Celestine stunned with panoramic waterfront views. Modern Middle Eastern cuisine had a moment with the opening of Nur, from Israeli celebrity chef Meir Adoni, Shuka in the former Hundred Acres space and Miss Ada out in Ft. Greene. Southeast Asian cuisine also had a boom year with the opening of the fiery Ugly Baby in Carroll Gardens and Uncle Boons Sister in NoLita; plus Madame Vo and Hanoi House in the East Village. Ultimately, 2017 brought some solid new additions but most restaurateurs continued to play it safe in an increasingly expensive and unstable dining landscape.
No. 14: Boston, MA
Last year was a big year in Boston dining, importing international names like Mario Batali and Michael Mina. The year 2017 offered less flash, but the substance — Boston is one of America’s most exciting food cities — was still there. Evidence includes 2017 James Beard Award finalists like Toro kingpin Ken Oringer, Maura Kilpatrick (Oleana), Cassie Piuma (Sarma), Susan Regis (Shepard) and Karen Akunowicz (Myers + Chang). This year's Best Chef: Northeast winners, Portland, Maine's Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley, opened Eventide Fenway here in October. And in other accolades, Food & Wine named Waypoint among its Restaurants of the Year 2017, and Cambridge’s Mamaleh’s Delicatessen made the Bon Appetit roundup of the 50 Best New Restaurants in America.
On the star chef front, we welcomed Puerto Rico’s well-known food TV personality, Giovanna Huyke, to Cambridge’s new La Fabrica Central. Two Boston-area toques turned up on the inaugural Hell’s Kitchen All Stars competition: Jennifer Normant (Sea Level Oyster Bar) and former 30 Under 30 honoree Nicholas Peters (Mission Oak Grill). Previous Hell’s Kitchen runner-up Jason Santos opened two new Boston restaurants this year, Buttermilk & Bourbon and Citrus & Salt. Former contestant and national award-winning barbecue guru Andy Husbands expanded The Smoke Shop, adding a huge Fort Point location and announcing a third spot for Somerville next year. And other standout openings like Pagu, North Square Oyster and Cultivar all kept up with bigger cities — but Boston, as always, excelled by embracing its own delicious identity.
No. 13: Houston, TX
While Hurricane Harvey cast a dark shadow over the city for much of 2017, one ray of light continued to be the growth and diversity of Houston's exploding restaurant scene. Hugo Ortega ended his six-year nominee streak with a James Beard Award win for Best Chef: Southwest and garnered national notice from Food & Wine, Thrillist and The NY Times for his upscale Oaxacan restaurant Xochi. Chris Shepherd’s ambitious five-year endeavor, One Fifth, has already changed concepts twice and picked up love from Tasting Table, and Texas Monthly along the way (try some of his recipes here). Esquire and Food & Wine had lovely things to say about Ryan Lachaine of Riel. Justin Yu (formerly of Oxheart, currently of Theodore Rex) broadened his reach via a collaborative venture with local craft cocktail king Bobby Heugel (Anvil, The Pastry War) at Better Luck Tomorrow. Beyond the borders of the town came new heavy-hitters including Paul Qui (AQUI) and Ce Bian (Roka Akor). And though Bryan Caswell is not a new name in town, his first restaurant in eight years, Oxbow7, is also noteworthy.
No. 12: Raleigh, NC
This Southern capital city has often been overshadowed by hipper-seeming neighbors like Asheville, Charleston and Durham. But no more. This year finally saw local restaurant legend Ashley Christensen, who owns six spots in the city, as a much-deserved James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Chef (she’s a past winner for Best Chef: Southeast). And, her Poole’s Downtown Diner was named by Eater as one of America’s Essential Restaurants for the second year in a row. Steven Devereaux Greene of Herons and Cheetie Kumar of Garland each garnered first-time nominations for Best Chef: Southeast and bread wizard Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery was nominated for the third time for Outstanding Baker. Other recognition for the city came in the form of new spot Brewery Bhavana, from the owners of beloved Laotian restaurant Bida Manda, nabbing spot number 10 on Bon Appetit's Best New Restaurants for 2017. Other exciting openings include seafood spots Cortez Seafood and Cocktail and St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar (from an Ashley Christensen protégé), and French-American bistro Royale cementing Raleigh's place in the South as a food city on par with its flashier neighbors.
No. 11: Philadelphia, PA
The Philly restaurant scene got some well-deserved national recognition this year, winning big at the James Beard Awards. Michael Solomonov of Zahav took home Best Chef title, Stephen Starr was named Best Restaurateur and Greg Vernick of Vernick Food & Drink got the nod for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. In newcomers, Res Ipsa and Palizzi Social Club made Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurants List, with Palizzi, Joey Baldino’s magical old-school Italian American spot, coming in at number four overall. Solomonov and his partner Steve Cook debuted their innovative charitable luncheonette Rooster Soup Co. as well as buzzy vegan falafel shop Goldie, while Starr joined forces again with farm-to-table goddess Aimee Olexy on The Love, a refined neighborhood spot off Rittenhouse Square. A pedigreed team of New York restaurant pros, including pastry chef Melissa Weller, chef Daniel Eddy and sommelier Patrick Cappiello, also made a splash with the opening of Walnut Street Cafe in the new Cira Centre South near 30th Street Station.
No. 10: San Francisco, CA
This year was less about blockbuster openings in San Francisco — other than the long-delayed China Live and our first Nobu and Ippudo — and more about smaller concepts with outsized cooking for their lower budgets. Some of those notable restaurants are following Souvla's fast-casual success formula, like the excellent Cuban sandwiches at Media Noche and the roast chicken at RT Rotisserie. Others employ SF’s strategic start-up mentality by finding needed cuisine niches and filling those, like a duo of much-needed Mid-Market centerpieces (Villon and Gibson); hip, edgy sushi at Robin; Portuguese at Uma Casa; and the good times and equally stellar NOLA bites — perfect for this challenging year — at Alba Ray’s. The suburbs also saw impressive dining growth, led by Ron Siegel’s solo debut in Marin (Madcap) and Christopher Kostow (Meadowood) opening a live-fire spot (2017 mega-trend alert!) in St. Helena, The Charter Oak. Above all, the Bay Area’s food and drink community showed incredible generosity with countless fundraisers and volunteer efforts to help the victims of October’s tragic North Bay fires.
No. 9: Atlanta, GA
This year cemented the Capital City of the South's status as a culinary force, racking up accolades from national media. Bon Appetit gave Brian So's restrained, thoughtful Marietta restaurant Spring the No. 7 spot on its Best New Restaurants list. After years of nominations, Miller Union's chef Steven Satterfield went from bridesmaid to bride with a 2017 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast, while Ford Fry's St. Cecilia won for Best Restaurant Design. And speaking of Beard, the James Beard House invited a plethora of Atlanta cooks — chefs Deborah VanTrece (Twisted Soul), Nick Leahy (Saltyard), Matt Basford (Canoe), and even mixologist Tiffanie Barriere, among others — up to its New York grounds to host special dining events. In fact, the Beard Foundation tapped the Taste of Atlanta festival crew to host its first casual event: June's Southern Wing Showdown, which, in true ATL fashion, brought together chefs from around the South. Atlanta continued to spread its influence throughout the region, with locations of 1Kept, Ghion Cultural Hall, Farm Burger and others setting up outposts in cities like Charleston, Birmingham, Nashville and more. Kevin Gillespie's innovative Gunshow continued to highlight national talent, bringing in high-profile chefs like Jennifer Carroll, Kristen Kish and Cara Stadler for guest stints as part of its Hired Guns residency. A big new development around a big new (controversial) stadium drew names of ambitious national chefs like Todd English. Linton Hopkins recruited chef Damon Wise and pastry chef Jennifer Yee from New York to oversee culinary operations at his restaurant group (Holeman & Finch, Restaurant Eugene, C. Ellet's, etc). Atlanta's culinary scene in 2017 felt like it was constantly in motion, as usual, which meant ATL diners felt completely at home.
No. 8: New Orleans, LA
While its famed Creole cuisine, stuffed po’ boys and Hurricanes with plastic straws still reign, the city of New Orleans, home to a collection of global gastronomies has moved outside its comfort sphere into edgy, experimental goodness. This year, Bon Appetit bestowed its Best New Restaurant award to Turkey and the Wolf; beloved for its funky lunchtime sammies a la the collard green melt and fried bologna with American cheese and potato chips. The accolades continued with James Beard Awards going to Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, chef Zachary Engel (formerly of Shaya) for Rising Star of the Year and Herbsaint’s Rebecca Wilcomb for Best Chef South. Elsewhere, on Magazine Street, the chic new Indian spot Saffron NOLA presents small plates like tamarind shrimp and curried seafood gumbo while the DTB serves an andouille pâté alongside niche cocktails. For Southern Asian, the local's delight Maypop offers hand-pulled noodles while the casual-cool Marjie’s Grill doles out fired Gulf shrimp. This February, Top Chef Nina Compton (of Compère Lapin fame) will open a second space in the Bywater. Need more reason to celebrate the Big Easy’s tasty domination? Pop a cork of bubbles at the aptly titled Effervescence.
No. 7: Charleston, SC
Charleston is still going strong as one of the country’s hottest food scenes. The folks at Edmund’s Oast led the charge, first by opening a 20,000-square-foot production brewery and brewpub with a wood-fired oven next to the fancy food court of Workshop (which includes the Zagat 30 Under 30 honoree behind Pink Bellies). At the same time, they revamped the Charleston Beer Exchange into EO Exchange, then lured Bob Cook into the executive chef position of flagship Edmund’s Oast, where he’s proving — with Asian flavors and focus on originality — that he was always meant for the role despite a long-standing CDC position at now-closed Cypress and Artisan Meat Share. Speaking of chef shuffles, Nate Whiting, formerly of 492, resurfaced at casual pizza joint Juliet with a pizza sans cheese that’s nevertheless delicious, and Alex Lira, who once was at The Lot, gained steam at transforming a bakery nightly into Bar Normandy and became a media darling (it was on Bon Appetit's Best New Restaurants list) as well as the ringmaster of one of the hottest spots in the city with its “what-we-want-to-cook” menu and come-if-you-dare attitude. We also stopped by Rodney Scott's new BBQ outpost earlier this summer as part of our BBQ Nation road trip; his latest outpost is the 2017 interpretation of decades-old family BBQ recipes and traditions. It was some of the best 'cue we had all summer.
No. 6: Washington, DC
DC was numero uno on this list last year, and the city’s vibrant dining scene definitely kept up the momentum in 2017. Accolades included three DC restaurants — Himitsu, Pineapple and Pearls and Timber Pizza Co. — earning spots on Bon Appetit’s annual list of the country’s 50 best restaurants. Plus, Komi and Métier were rightfully added to the list of Michelin-starred restaurants. As for celebrity chefs, former Kentucky darling Ed Lee relocated here to oversee his new flagship Succotash, and BBQ god Myron Mixon brought his well-regarded smoked meats to Alexandria. (Of course, we couldn’t be prouder of José Andrés — arguably our most famous celebrity chef — who also spearheaded an effort to feed thousands of hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.) Meanwhile, Mike Isabella expanded his empire with the opening of Arroz (pictured) and Requin at The Wharf and is nearly ready to debut his upscale food court, Isabella Eatery. Speaking of The Wharf, Fiola fans will also find the Trabocchis’ luxe new Spanish spot, Del Mar, and Kwame Onwuachi’s sleek Kith and Kin. Whether or not we come out on top this year, Washingtonians are certainly eating very, very well these days.
No. 5: Seattle, WA
The word of the year in Seattle’s dining scene was “pivot.” Not only did we see restaurateurs we love pull the plug on struggling concepts (sometimes even after re-tooling things), we saw people like Shota Nakajima (of Zagat 30 Under 30 fame and a recent contestant on Iron Chef America) turn his special occasion kaiseki restaurant Naka into the more casual and approachable Adana to standing ovations. Outside of the pivoting — we saw Edouardo Jordan lauded for his beautiful Southern restaurant JuneBaby, Jay Blackinton awarded a Food & Wine Best New Chef award as he opened Aelder, a concept within his already acclaimed Hogstone. The grande dame of dining, Canlis, won a James Beard Award, Renee Erickson’s beautiful Bateau was named one of America’s 38 best restaurants according to Eater and snagged a spread in the Washington Post. Did I mention we’re also getting a Shake Shack?
No. 4: Denver, CO
If major restaurant openings were the only criterion for a hot food city, Denver would be a shoe-in for a top 2017 slot. Nearly every established chef or restaurateur of the past several years either launched or is about to launch a new, landscape-changing hot spot. Case in point: James Beard awardees Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson debuted Tavernetta. Fellow recipient Jennifer Jasinski opened Ultreia. Nationally recognized innovators like Justin Cucci, brought us eye-popping penthouse tapas bar El Five, and Robert Thompson, opened a 32,000-sq.-ft. Punch Bowl Social in the control tower of the former Stapleton airport, of all incredible places. And that’s just to name a few.
Meanwhile, luxury and boutique hotels went up all over town anchored by splashy, ambitious destinations like Hearth & Dram, Citizen Rail, Quality Italian, Urban Farmer, Kachina and 20th-floor rooftop bar 54thirty. Still to come are The Ramble Hotel, home to NY-import Death & Co and the aforementioned Super Mega Bien, and The Source Hotel, expanding the groundbreaking RiNo food hall it’s named for. Speaking of food halls, Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace created a thriving outlet for acclaimed and breakout chefs and food producers in a former aviation factory; next year, Zeppelin Station will do the same on the RiNo light-rail corridor — not far from upcoming branches of Tyson Cole’s celebrated Uchi and Shake Shack.
Yet major openings aren’t the only criterion. The executives at Slow Food named Denver the new home of international conference Slow Food Nations, held annually in July. The producers of Top Chef also decided to film Season 15 here. In fact, it was Tom Colicchio himself who observed that Denver’s strong network of cultural support would guarantee its future, nurturing the talents of tomorrow.
In short, as food towns go, the Mile High City has just hit the stratosphere.
No. 3: Chicago, IL
The accolades kept pouring in this year for Chicago restaurants. Bon Appetit crowned Chicago its Restaurant City of the Year; Condé Nast Traveler's Readers' Choice Awards cited Chicago’s food scene as a major reason it’s the number one city of the year; and the James Beard Awards not only extended its residency in Chicago another four years, but awarded the city top honors with Outstanding Restaurant for the second year in a row. This was also the year of colossal openings from both local names like Andrew Zimmerman’s Proxi and Lee Wolen's Somerset (pictured), for example, and newcomers, like Gabriele Bonci, who picked Chicago for the U.S. debut of his world-famous Roman pizzeria; New York City’s Jim Meehan, who teamed with Heisler Hospitality for the city’s most glamorous new cocktail bar; and Michael Mina, who doubled down in the Gold Coast with Petit Margeaux and Margeaux Brasserie. Along with an exciting array of unique, independent neighborhood concepts, like Vietnamese HaiSous and Mi Tocaya Antojeria, Chicago’s dining scene has never been hotter.
No. 2: Austin, TX
Austin’s food scene has been gaining momentum for the past several years, and in 2017 it proved to be more “here to stay” than “up-and-coming.” The chefs behind Ramen Tatsu-ya opened Kemuri Tatsu-ya to rave reviews at the start of the year, and just months later, the Texan izakaya was named one of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants. Food & Wine named McGuire-Moorman Hospitality’s latest venture, June’s, one of its Best New Restaurants of the year, and honored Yoshi Okai (Otoko) as one of its Best New Chefs. Though no one in Austin took home a James Beard Award this year, the city boasted two finalists: Bryce Gilmore (Odd Duck, Barley Swine) was nominated for Best Chef: Southwest for the fifth time, and Laura Sawicki (Launderette, Fresa’s) was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef for the third time.
This year, Austin also saw established hospitality groups expand while several revered chefs broke out on their own. New Waterloo hospitality group expanded its empire (La Condesa, Sway, Café No Sé, Central Standard, Otoko) with the opening of Downtown French brasserie Le Politique, and El Chile Group (El Chile, El Chilito, El Alma, Alcomar) opened the doors of the long-awaited Yuyo, adding upscale Peruvian cuisine to its repertoire. Meanwhile, chef Phil Speer (formerly of Uchi and Uchiko) opened his French bistro–American diner mash-up Bonhomie and Callie Speer (formerly of Swift’s Attic and Geraldine’s) opened her punk rock diner Holy Roller. This past spring, pitmaster Aaron Franklin and Mike Thelin, co-founder of Feast in Portland, launched the inaugural Hot Luck Festival, welcoming talent like LA’s Sara Kramer (Kismet) and Portland's Joshua McFadden (Ava Gene’s) to collaborate with local chefs like Fiore Tedesco (L'oca D'oro) and Todd Duplechan (Lenoir).
No. 1: Los Angeles, CA
It’s no surprise to us that the rest of the country finally caught up with just how great the food scene is in Los Angeles. We've known it forever. It's no secret we're blessed with amazing weather and produce, and that the cross-section of culture and cuisines feeds our souls and our chefs' inspiration. We didn't garner any James Beard Awards this year (what??!), but 2017 still brought some of the biggest openings to date, including one of the most controversial, captivating and experimental restaurants in the country, Jordan Kahn’s Vespertine (we had a lot to say about it). We finally got our very own Eataly, and Dominique Ansel goes beyond Cronuts with first full-service restaurant in the world, 189 by Dominique Ansel. Our local heroes have worked tirelessly to make LA so delicious, like empire-builders Steve and Dina Samson with their fantastic Rossoblu Downtown, and Phillip Frankland Lee, who opened Scratch Bar & Kitchen, Woodley Proper and a speakeasy-esque sushi bar — all in one Encino strip mall. Others continue to set trends and create standout cuisine that garners national recognition, like Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson at Kismet, Miles Thompson at Michael’s and Evan Funke at Felix. On the horizon, even more out-of-towners are taking root in LA, including NY's The Spotted Pig team who just opened The Hearth & Hound in Hollywood; Mexico’s Enrique Olvera, who's rumored to be opening Cosme; Momofuku's David Chang, who will debut a new concept on the outskirts of Chinatown; Daniel Humm and the NoMad Hotel restaurant; and Jonathan Waxman making a grand return to his old stomping grounds.
If we had to sum up 2017 in one sentence: Every chef wants to cook here, every chef wants to devour it. We say bring it on. Even in this crowded, grand expanse of a city, there's room for more. Read more about why LA is the most exciting food city this year.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the recent wildfires in Southern California. To help those affected, donate now to one of several charities including the American Red Cross by clicking here.