From elevated fast-casual to celebrity chef expansions, 2017 was packed with major restaurant openings around the U.S. Here are 30 debuts from 15 markets around the country that had us most excited this year.
Atlanta: Food Terminal
The crew behind the mega-popular (and growing!) Sweet Hut chain of East Asian bakery/cafes opened its first full-service eatery on Buford Highway, Atlanta's de facto global cuisine epicenter, and had an immediate hit on its hands. Taking inspiration for its savory, spicy food from lively Southeast Asian street fare and food halls, Food Terminal serves its Malaysian-and-more in a sleek, bustling space with an open floor plan and a near-nightly line out the door.
Must-order: "Grandma" wontons and barbecued pork with housemade noodles
5000 Buford Hwy. NE, Chamblee; 678-353-6110
Since first opening in 1993, Bacchanalia exemplified Atlanta's finest dining. Earlier this year it relocated to its third home, a light-filled, farm-inspired space revealing a brand-new showcase for its seasonal fare, presented exclusively in a tasting-menu format. Chef/co-owners Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison have always been committed to organic, locally sourced ingredients, and their latest locale feels both like a whole new restaurant and a realization of what they have always aimed for.
Must-order: The vegetable plate highlights raw, lightly cooked and roasted veggies, all from the restaurant's own farm, Summerland.
1460 Ellsworth Industrial Blvd. NW; 404-365-0410
Austin: Kemuri Tatsu-Ya
At the start of the year, co-owners and chefs Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya “Tako” Matsumoto — the team behind the beloved Ramen Tatsu-Ya shops — took Austin’s food scene by storm with a brand-new concept. Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, an izakaya with a Lone Star twist, opened on the East Side, serving Japanese and Texas barbecue, fun cocktails and plates designed for sharing. Not only was the restaurant an instant hit locally, but it went on to be named one of Bon Appétit's 10 Best New Restaurants.
Must-order: The BBQ boat includes a rotating selection of smoked meat selections, like brisket, duck breast and barbecued eel.
After closing for a year-long remodel, South Austin’s iconic Green Pastures reopened this spring as Mattie’s, under the ownership of Austin developer Greg Porter and partner Jeff Trigger, president of La Corsha Hospitality Group (Second Bar & Kitchen, Boiler Nine, Congress). Chef Joshua Thomas (Le Bernadin, Devi NYC, Chaat Shop) crafts the same spirit of Southern comfort for which the property is known, but executes it with a farm-fresh twist.
Must-order: Go for the famed brandy milk punch–fueled brunch and indulge in fried chicken eggs Benedict served on buttermilk biscuits.
Boston: Buttermilk & Bourbon
From his crop of bright blue hair to his knack for getting in front of TV cameras on Today and Bar Rescue, Hell's Kitchen runner-up Jason Santos has built quite a brand. But we were finding ourselves hungry for a restaurant with a strong personality to match his own. Santos' New American joint Abby Lane hums along well in the Theater District, but the Financial District's Blue Inc. was short-lived, and we never really felt his heart in Back Bay Harry's. Then, in February, he delivered Buttermilk & Bourbon — and it's pure "Santos" in spades: The New Orleans–inspired cuisine is a bit kooky, the space (especially its blacklight-illuminated "Voodoo Lounge") slightly over-the-top, and the vibe has a freewheeling charm. In November, he flipped Back Bay Harry's into the funky Mexican restaurant Citrus & Salt, and the result is similarly rejuvenating. Santos recently told us this is the happiest he's felt as a chef, and we can taste the difference.
Must-order: The buttermilk fried chicken is served with three different sauces: Nashville hot, sweet and spicy and our favorite, white BBQ, a mayo-based iteration particularly popular in Alabama.
160 Commonwealth Ave.; 617-266-1122
We waited more than two long years after Mary Dumont's departure from Harvest to see what the acclaimed chef would produce for her first self-owned venture. It took a while to bloom, but Cultivar was a clear winner as soon as it sprouted inside the Ames Boston Hotel, where it offers "modern American garden cuisine" made with seasonal, responsibly sourced ingredients. Dumont plucks many of them from her Groton home garden and from on-site Freight Farms: shipping containers repurposed as hydroponic gardens to grow everything from radish to kohlrabi to tomatoes, year-round. Toss in a refreshing gin-focused cocktail program and some of the most gorgeous plate presentations in town, and it's a real garden of Downtown delights.
Must-order: Among the inventive (and beautiful) dishes is an elegant snail toast (pictured) with country ham, green chickpeas, garlic and Pernod.
1 Court St.; 617-979-8203
Not only was HaiSous one of the best openings of the year, but the Pilsen restaurant also marked an important career milestone for impassioned husband-wife duo Thai and Danielle Dang. After an infamous ordeal stemming from their unfortunate ousting at the bygone Embeya, the Dangs embarked on a mission to fulfill their dream of opening their own Vietnamese restaurant — one that would pay homage to Thai’s heritage, uplift the Pilsen neighborhood and fill a cuisine niche in Chicago that deserves it. The result is HaiSous, a passion project in the most sincere sense, where a bustling open kitchen turns out fresh, vibrant dishes both classic and contemporary; where a front bar area provides a convivial perch to linger along 18th Street; and where their adjoining cafe, Cà Phê Dá, slings banh mi and casual cocktails morning through late-night. There’s nothing like it in Chicago, and the city’s far better for it.
Must-order: Hến xúc bánh da is a pungent bowl of chopped clams with Thai basil, lime juice, roasted peanuts and grilled rice crackers; and cánh gà chiên is sticky, finger-licking fried chicken wings enrobed in caramelized fish sauce.
1800 S. Carpenter St.; 312-702-1303
After pioneering Logan Square’s thriving dining scene with Lula Cafe in the '90s, chef Jason Hammel strikes again, and this time he’s doing so in showstopping fashion in the Museum of Contemporary Art just off the Magnificent Mile. It’s a grand stage for the fiercely talented chef and his team, spearheaded by chef de cuisine Sarah Rinkavage and pastry chef Alison Cates. At Marisol, a restaurant named for a French-Venezuelan artist who pioneered in her own right as her “Six Women” piece was the first installation in the museum’s collection, Hammel and co. make a cohesive connection between art that’s both visual and edible, catering equally to locals and the streams of travelers pouring through.
Must-order: Burrata with candied squash and persimmon; fried quail with cashew butter and smoked date honey; and the sunflower tart with buckwheat and blackberries
205 E. Pearson St.; 312-799-3599
Arriving in 2004 to become a national media darling with two James Beard Awards to its name, Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine is arguably the most celebrated restaurant in all of Colorado, never mind the Front Range. By now, owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson could open a phone book and make news. So it stands to reason that, after all these years, they’d cause a feeding frenzy with the launch of their follow-up on the historic grounds of Union Station in mid-September. Though they also operate fast-casual franchise Pizzeria Locale, Tavernetta is their first-ever upscale venture in Denver, and it’s the Italian destination we’ve been waiting for down to the last detail — handmade pastas, world-class wines, virtuoso service, fabulous Slim Aarons originals on the walls and all. That we had to wait all over again after a kitchen fire in the first week of business caused a two-month closure for renovations has only heightened the clamor.
Must-order: The champagne selection is bonkers — a bottle of bubbly with chef Ian Wortham's brilliant roast chicken for two is the way to go, at least on your first visit.
1889 16th St.; 720-605-1889
Heart, soul and humility tend to be undervalued when it comes to nods from the media. Not this time. Since it opened at the Stanley Marketplace in February, Caroline Glover’s gracious New American debut has been drawing unanimous raves from both local and national devotees (it was named one of only 50 finalists nationwide in Bon Appétit’s annual list of Best New Restaurants). What sets it apart? At the risk of sounding corny, we think it’s happiness. Self-assured as Glover’s style of cooking may be — by turns rustic and elegant, playful and smart — it’s her and her staff’s personal, joyful approach to everything they do that feels like a radical departure from the old, rigid standards of fine dining.
Must-order: Glover has garnered steady raves for her octopus patatas bravas, grilled tongue-and-marrow toast and whole roasted fish with seasonal garnishes (pictured).
2501 Dallas St. #108, Aurora; 720-710-9975
Casual restaurants serving amazing chef-driven food were popular in Dallas this year, and this restaurant from the husband-and-wife team behind the much-celebrated Gemma exemplifies the category nicely. Lighter, Mediterranean-inspired food, wine and cocktails with shareable plates, and a big veggie focus make an excellent addition to the Highland Park dining scene, which is as sophisticated as it is wonderfully laid-back.
Must-order: The family-style menu is a great place to start for those who want to experience a broad selection of dishes, from the vegetarian meze dishes (pictured) to wild boar ribs, Moroccan lamb chops and chickpea stew.
4270 Oak Lawn Ave.; 214-613-6425
Creating an elegant dining experience that doesn't feel stuffy is a tricky proposition, but highly acclaimed chef Bruno Davaillon and his team have done just that with this spot, which marks his triumphant return to the Dallas dining scene. The authentic French fare wows from first look to last bite, and the snazzy interiors feel decidedly modern. The restaurant itself is decked out in fancy gold brick, but a suit and tie are (thankfully) not required.
Must-order: Start with a glass of French champagne and then work your way through delicately nuanced dishes. A perfect meal can be had with steak tartare and smoked cream to start, followed by sunchoke soup, duck à l’orange (pictured) and mille-feuille for dessert.
400 S. Record St.; 972-698-4250
Houston: One Fifth
A five-year lease on an iconic 1927 former church inspired local celebrity chef Chris Shepherd to tackle an ambitious project that perhaps only he could pull off. He and his team are presenting five distinct culinary experiences and closing the restaurant every nine months to reinvent the menu and decor. They began with a steakhouse, and the current iteration features French, Italian and Spanish dishes under the name One Fifth Romance Languages. Even Shepherd and his chef de cuisine Nick Fine say they don’t yet know what will come next.
Must-order: Suckling pig presse
1658 Westheimer Rd.; 713-955-1024
Hugo Ortega gained two new feathers in his culinary cap this year, starting with the January opening of Xochi, his Downtown oasis for modern Oaxacan cuisine, followed by a James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest. He and his wife Tracy Vaught already enjoy a local following for Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s and Caracol, but this swank new spot on the ground floor of the Marriott Marquis introduces locals to Mexican fare unlike that found elsewhere, including soup heated with river stones and an entire tasting menu of chocolate.
Must-order: Tlayuda, the Mexican street food that features an oversized super-thin tortilla loaded with meats, cheeses and vegetables
1777 Walker St.; 713-400-3330
Los Angeles: Eataly LA
Eataly finally opening in Los Angeles is the biggest news since, well, since ever. Rumored for years, the complex from a team that includes Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich, finally debuted at the Century City mall in November. In what can be considered its own complex, although it's attached to the mall, there’s more than 67,000 square feet of everything you could possibly want to eat and sip from Italy on two floors.
Must-order: Where to begin. From the wood-oven, Neapolitan pizzas and homemade lasagna at La Pizza & La Pasta to Michael Cimarusti’s crudo at Il Pesce Cucina, with meatballs and other street-food snacks at La Piazza; Roman-style sheet pizza at the Pizza Alla Pala counter; gelato and filled-to-order cannoli on the second floor, it will take a week to try it all without rolling out of there.
Los Angeles: Vespertine
By now, anyone deeply rooted in food has heard about this conundrum of a restaurant from chef Jordan Kahn. From Jonathan Gold, who presented it as the number one restaurant on his 101 Best list this fall, to celebrated chefs and mentors like Alinea's Grant Achatz, the tasting menu–only "experience" is weird, fun, exciting, groundbreaking and at least thought-provoking. Others have completely panned it. “It is a spirit that exists between worlds. A place of shadows and whispers,” is what the press release said before it debuted in July. Here’s what we said about it a few months later.
Must-order: The menu features more than 18 courses, most of it kept under wraps until the dish is placed in front of you with words from the staff listing at most three ingredients before walking away. Add-ons like wine or nonalcoholic pairings and the post-dinner tea service cost extra but are worth it.
3599 Hayden Ave.; 323-320-4023
Niven Patel’s first solo project Ghee, a modern Indian kitchen in downtown Dadeland, has been so successful that it expanded into a second location in the Design District shortly after opening. Here, the Michael’s Genuine alum is expanding the perception of Indian fare by spotlighting creative takes on comfort dishes from his Gujarati roots made with produce from his farm in Homestead.
Must-order: Green millet served with cilantro and sev (a classic Indian snack of long strands of spiced, deep-fried chickpea flour)
8965 SW 72nd Pl.; 305-968-1850
3620 NE 2nd Ave.; 786-636-6122
Miami: Stubborn Seed
There is always the inevitable media buzz ahead of a celebrity chef opening, especially when that celebrity chef is Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford. The Miami native delivered by pushing the envelope with progressive and meticulously crafted dishes and avant-garde cocktails, showing great promise for Miami’s culinary innovation.
Must-order: Those seeking to experience the best dishes that the restaurant has to offer should opt for the tasting menu, featuring eight different courses for $85 per person.
101 Washington Ave.; 786-322-5211
NYC: The Grill
Perhaps the highest-stakes opening of the year, The Grill had some big shoes to fill when Major Food Group was tasked with opening a new restaurant in the iconic Four Seasons space. But critics and diners alike were enamored with the modern bastion to NYC glamour that the trio created. From reinventing the buffet to an ultra high-end prime rib cart, The Grill redid throwbacks with swagger (and price tags to match). Honorable mention to sibling concepts The Pool and the recently opened The Lobster Club downstairs.
Must-order: Prime rib, the buffet
99 E. 52nd Street; 212-375-9001
Let's not mess around — Nur, the Flatiron concept from Israeli celebrity chef Meir Adoni — was one of the best restaurants to open in 2017. Elevated Middle Eastern–inspired restaurants are certainly a trend that has been building steadily in the last several years (shout out to Shuka and Miss Ada as well), but it seems that these flavors took center stage in 2017 with a focus on the melting pot cuisine of Israel. From a visually stunning smoked eggplant carpaccio, to flaky kubaneh bread (eaten traditionally on the Sabbath) to Yemeni hot sauce zhoug actually trending, the food at Nur was profoundly influential, inspired and delicious.
Must-order: Smoked eggplant carpaccio, Jerusalem bagel, kubaneh
34 E. 20th Street; 212-505-3420
Philadelphia: Palizzi Social Club
Chef Joey Baldino’s reinvention of his family’s members-only restaurant garnered local attention for its magical vibe, standout cocktails and excellent renditions of Italian-American classics. By the end of the summer the national press had caught on and it was impossible to get a new membership. But we still think it’s worth befriending a friendly regular to take you on his/her next visit — until the buzz dies down and you can (hopefully) get your very own entry card.
Must-order: Spaghetti and crabs; spumoni; espresso martini
1408 S. 12th St.; no phone
Philadelphia: Rooster Soup Co.
Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook finally find the perfect spot for their innovative passion project — a diner that turns leftover Federal Donuts chicken into soup broth and gives 100% of its profits to charity. The do-good model caught attention not just locally, but nationally too. A few months later on April Fool's Day CookNSolo surprised everyone with Goldie, a vegan falafel shop upstairs, where Zagat 30 Under 30 winner Caitlin McMillan pairs chickpea fritters with decadent tehina milkshakes. Looks like this team isn't slowing down anytime soon.
Must-order: Rooster burger at Rooster Soup Co. and a tehina shake upstairs at Goldie
1526 Sansom St.; 215-454-6939
San Diego: Red O
Celeb chef consultant Rick Bayless brought a little notoriety to La Jolla with this restaurant, a sibling to locations in LA, Santa Monica and Newport Beach. Expect authentic Mexican entrees, with a menu of seafood, steaks and an extensive tequila list at the new San Diego spot.
Must-order: The fresh corn and goat cheese tamales, topped with tomatillo salsa, are available at all locations due to the dish's popularity.
4340 La Jolla Village Dr.; 858-291-8360
San Diego: Tacos Libertad
The family-run Cohn Restaurant Group has long been giving to local schools and charities, but its newest project, a Hillcrest taco shop, goes beyond just giving, as it's 100% nonprofit. It’s the first of its kind for San Diego. Local institutions benefiting include Meals on Wheels, San Diego Food Bank, International Relief Teams and Mama’s Kitchen.
Must-order: You can’t go wrong with the signature taco Caja China, made with pork belly, sweet potato, salsa criolla and cilantro aji crema. It's sweet heat wrapped in a corn tortilla.
1023 University Ave.; 619-481-5035
San Francisco: Madcap
Finding the region’s top new table in San Anselmo is not as strange as it sounds. Madcap’s chef-owner is Ron Siegel, the immensely gifted talent behind some of SF's most acclaimed kitchens (Michael Mina, Masa’s, Charles Nob Hill, The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton). This year, Siegel finally went solo, eliminating his commute by opening near home. Madcap's look is simultaneously relaxed and refined — contemporary paintings, chandeliers, earth-toned dishware — while Siegel’s cooking is unfussy yet modern. Think Californian cuisine with Japanese influences, like his now-signature rabbit tortelloni with miso and a Parmesan spuma. It's a passion project we can't wait to try again.
Must-order: Akaushi “center cut” rib-eye with butternut squash and crispy potatoes; sea urchin panna cotta; rabbit tortelloni; $80 chef’s tasting menu is a great value for the amount of food and the high-quality of cooking
198 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo; 415-453-9898
San Francisco: Robin
Sushi is having a pseudo "start-up moment," where chefs are balancing affordable menus with clever, non-traditional presentations. Leading San Francisco's sushi 2.0 "second wave" is Adam Tortosa (opening chef at 1760, protégé of the legendary Katsuya Uechi in Los Angeles) at the exceedingly hip Hayes Valley domain, Robin. Amidst eye-popping bright colors, neon lights and a hip-hop soundtrack, Tortosa combines Japanese kinki (“idiot fish”) with cayenne-marinated daikon and its own liver. The most talked-about dish isn’t even sushi: it's seared A5 Wagyu covered in a hefty pile of foie gras snow. Is this a traditional sushi experience? Heck no, but we'll take it.
Must-order: Omakase-only where diners choose a price between $79 and $179
620 Gough St.; 415-548-2429
Chef and owner Edouardo Jordan had already wowed the city when he opened Salare, just a few blocks down from Junebaby, his elegant Southern-focused spot in Ravenna. Chatter built for months and an encyclopedia detailing definitions of Southern food on the website only stoked the fire. Junebaby instantly won over everyone that walked through the doors when it opened, with everything from housemade saltines with pimento cheese and chitlins to Sunday night fried chicken.
Must-order: The aforementioned pimento cheese and fried chicken Sundays, but also get in on the cast-iron flint cornbread, fried catfish and seasonal items from the “starts” portion of the menu (we love the smoked carrots with tahini)
2122 Northeast 65th St.; 206-257-4470
Chef and owner Matsuko Soma’s departure from Miyabi 45 was so hard to overcome, the restaurant has since changed its name and full menu. And although she took nearly two years away from full-time restaurant work, the celebrated soba noodle chef is back with this cute Fremont shop, specializing in her signature handmade noodles.
Must-order: The Kamo Nanban, the namesake soba with duck and leek, the eggplant and natto tempura and the uni shiso bomb
1054 N. 39th St.; 206-632-0185
Washington, DC: Kith & Kin
Everyone loves a comeback story, and Kwame Onwuachi’s might be the mother of all comebacks. The chef of the short-lived and embattled Shaw Bijou smartly partnered with the InterContinental Hotel at The Wharf to open an entirely new concept this fall that also draws on his African, Creole and Caribbean roots. The gorgeous dining room features a large wall of windows that allows for water views, and a dominant feature is the black-and-white mural of inspirational quotes from famous chefs and, of course, one from Onwuachi’s mother. This spot is super-hot not just for the food but also because it's located in a brand-new waterfront neighborhood and because Onwuachi is currently competing to return to Bravo's Top Chef.
Must-order: Seafood plateau; torched mackerel; goat roti
801 Wharf St. SW; 202-878-8566
Washington, DC: Arroz
Restaurateur Mike Isabella, the celebrity name behind such spots as Graffiato and Kapnos, takes the plunge into Southern Spanish and Moroccan cuisines with the opening of Arroz in the Marriott Marquis Washington Downtown. Many of the namesake dishes from executive chef Michael Rafidi uses traditional flavors as a jumping-off point for his own interpretations of dishes like cod croquettes. The space features keyhole arches and bold blue and bronze hues in the eye-catching dining room to evoke a modern take on classic Moroccan and Spanish architecture.
Must-order: Foie gras with ras el hanout donut; patatas bravas; Berkshire pork bomba
901 Massachusetts Ave. NW; 202-869-3300