The Hottest Restaurants in 15 U.S. Cities

Celebrity chefs, authentic Thai, mind-blowing smoked meat and much more
March 5, 2014
by Kelly Dobkin

From celebrity-chef-run spots to trendy small-plates eateries, here are the hottest restaurants in 15 U.S. cities to put on your spring-dining checklist. Did we miss one? Let us know in the comments.

Austin: Chavez

Why It’s Hot: Chef Shawn Cirkiel’s newest Southwestern restaurant is drawing crowds for its accessible breakfast, lunch and dinner menu.

Must Order: Salmon Veracruz entrée with an orange-tomato-and-cinnamon sauce as well as the traditional veracruzana sauce ($14) and the carrots in adobo side dish ($6)

Insider Tip: Come for lunch, when it’s less crowded and you can soak in the sunshine at the full-length windows that look over the lake.

Atlanta: St. Cecilia

Why It's Hot: Atlanta restaurateur Ford Fry expands his empire with his newest and most glitzy undertaking, a Buckhead restaurant named for the patron saint of music where the gold-toned interior and soaring ceilings suggest some serious glamor. A raw bar with artfully topped oysters provides an intro to a menu inspired by Southern European coastal cuisines; you'll find pastas, roasted and grilled seafood, and farm-fresh meats all prepared with a deft hand and an eye toward local, seasonal ingredients.

Must Order: St. Cecilia's menu changes daily. Start with something from the raw bar and order a pasta to share, but keep in mind the fact that executive chef Brian Horn knows his way around a grill - ask your server what's freshest and most popular when it comes to mains. 

Insider Tip: Enjoy your meal, but save room for dessert - pastry chef Chrysta Poulos makes some of the city's most indulgent final courses.

Boston: State Park

Why It's Hot: The team behind Hungry Mother brought the hipster-whimsy sensibility of an urban dive bar to this Kendall Square space, but didn't forget to bring along the pitch-perfect Southern cooking. 

Must Order: We could drown and die happy in a bowl of Memphis BBQ Spaghetti ($11), a flavorful combo of smoked pork shoulder, pasta and a 50/50 mix of housemade marinara and barbecue sauce. It was inspired by a similar dish served at Interstate Barbecue in Memphis.

Insider Tip: Larger parties can reserve the communal table in the semi-private Paddock Room, named after the now-closed Paddock Restaurant in Somerville's Winter Hill, a notorious dive bar that was a favorite haunt of Whitey Bulger. Much of the barroom bric-a-brac that adorns State Park came from there.

Chicago: Green Street Smoked Meats

Why It's Hot: The latest from Brendan Sodikoff takes diners down a cobblestone alley, through an unmarked door and into a warehouse of smoked meats and cheap beer. The counter-service hot stop serves a selection of Texas-style cue by the quarter pound on oversized metal trays at picnic tables.

Must Order: Frito pie

Insider Tip: This tip comes from Eater, which reports that Juno will be popping up with a series of omakase dinners in the soon-to-be ramen restaurant located inside the barbecue shack.

Dallas: Casa Rubia

Why It's Hot: Because fans of executive chef Omar Flores’ genius with seafood at Driftwood would follow him anywhere - and already adore his way with Spanish tapas at the new Trinity Groves restaurant.

Must Order: The alcachofas (crispy artichokes, $10) and the fideua (roasted littleneck clams, $15)

Insider Tip: Try popping in on a nonweekend night for a better shot at a table.

Denver: Work & Class

Why It’s Hot: A dream team of seasoned vets known for their work with Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch launched what can only be called a labor of love in RiNo - and their efforts show in an instant happy place where soulful Southern and Latin American cuisine shines against a funky, color-splashed backdrop.

Must Order: Chef-partner Dana Rodriguez has a winning way with slow-cooked meats like cabrito and cochinita pibil - but all that rich comfort food calls for a sharp contrast. For us, it's the appetizer of peppers five ways ($12), including mascarpone-filled Fresno peppers and tangy-sweet chile jam.

Insider Tip: The tiny room gets packed by 5 PM, so if you can go on the "early-work-release program" - as cocktail hour is amusingly called - come as soon as the doors open at 4 PM.

Houston: Killen's Barbecue

Why It's Hot: Chef Ronnie Killen is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained barbecue master with a tireless passion for smoking meats. He's created a frenzy by offering weekend pop-ups a year before he opened the permanent location. Smart, smart man.

Must Order: Three-meat plate with two sides ($16.95)

Insider Tip: They sell out almost daily, so get there early and expect to wait in line.

Los Angeles: Republique

Why It’s Hot: Walter and Margarita Manzke team up with restaurateur Bill Chait to open a gorgeous French-inspired restaurant in the former Campanile space. The old bones hold the new design well, bringing buzzy, fresh energy to this storied location.

Must Order: Bread with French butter; beef tartare ($18); buttery escargot topped with pastry puff pouffes ($12); charcuterie board of housemade terrines and pâtés ($24); Brussels sprouts with frisée, bacon and poached egg ($14); and chocolate cake.

Insider Tip: For fewer crowds and more sunshine, pouring in through the new wall of windows, check out breakfast - pastries, breads and Verve coffee - at the bakery.

Miami: 1826 Restaurant & Lounge

Why It's Hot: Chicago chef Danny Grant serves up ornate, Contemporary American (with a French twist) plates that are as impressive as the ultrasleek decor.  

Must Order: Cucumber gazpacho with gin snow ($8) for a starter, then grilled short rib with artichoke ($22) for an entree.

Insider Tip: Be aware that if there's a private party, you'll have to wait outside behind the "velvet rope" before going in (even with a reservation). 

NYC: Narcissa

Why It's Hot: The first downtown project from Dovetail's John Fraser at the Standard East Village already has foodies and critics abuzz. While the slightly cursed space (home of three failed restaurants) doesn't bode well for the new venture, it seems to be sticking so far, with both locals and hotel guests. The cuisine is veggie-minded, and the ingredients are sourced from hotelier Andre Balazs' upstate farm (the restaurant is named for one of his cows).

Must order: Rotisserie beets ($12); crab salad with hearts of palm ($16); carrot fries ($7)

Insider tip: Unsure about what wine to order? Trust sommelier Ashley Santoro. She came over from Mario Batali's Casa Mono and is one of the city's top young talents. She often pours interesting and unusual wines-by-the-glass using the Coravin wine system - so ask what she's opened recently.

Philadelphia: Le Chéri

Why It's Hot: For years, Pierre Calmels’ French cooking has packed the out-of-the-way BYO Bibou; now he and wife (and front-of-the-house doyenne) Charlotte are having extra fun with this liquor-licensed bistro on Rittenhouse Square.

Must Order: Steak tartare ($13); raviole cream cheese ($12); quenelle ($26).

Insider Tip: While the dining room books up fast, 14 seats in the windowed bar area are always kept free for walk-ins.

San Diego: La Jolla Brewing Company

Why It’s Hot: The restaurant fills a new niche for the neighborhood: affordable, late-night dining alongside the best in locally made craft beer.

Must Order: The duck egg rolls, served with peanut, sweet chile and soy dipping sauces ($12), wrap savory duck confit and herbed cream cheese into deep-fried wonton skins.

Insider Tip: Dogs are welcome on the patio, complete with communal dining tables and open-pit fireplaces.

San Francisco: Kin Khao

Why It's Hot: Union Square's newest restaurant from author Pim Techamuanvivit brings Thai food into the fine-dining forefront. The menu achieves balanced flavors by making everything from scratch.

Must Order: Yum yai salad of raw, cooked and fried vegetables in chile jam ($14), Crab Sen Chan, flat rice noodles with Dungeness crab in a crab-fat-based sauce ($17).

Insider Tip: Don't overlook the Thai-remixed classic cocktail menu, created by hot local consultants Bon Vivants (Trick Dog).

Seattle: Loulay

Why It's Hot: This beautiful space has a gorgeous menu to match. Celebrity chef Thierry Rautureau often works the room like a seasoned pro; he's built a fiercely loyal fan base during his decades in the city. 

Must Order: A juicy burger with optional luxe upgrades like foie gras and a fried duck egg is one of the best in the city, and the wild salmon is cooked with great care, embellished with a frothy hollandaise that tastes thoroughly modern. Do not skip dessert, especially the swoon-worthy chocolate truffle cake and the tapioca, brûléed with smoked sugar.  

Insider Tip: During the late afternoon lull, the bar makes for an excellent post-shopping stop. The bittersweet cocoa is a refreshing bridge between lunch and dinner. 

Washington, DC: Rose's Luxury

Why It's Hot: Chef-owner Aaron Silverman seems to have nailed every essential detail of opening a restaurant - right place, right time, right food, right people. The result is that this restaurant has generated more buzz than any we can recall - and has managed to maintain it, even scoring a James Beard semifinalist nom for Best New Restaurant.

Must Order: The pork and lychee salad ($13); Vietnamese pâté ($13); pickle-brined fried chicken ($13); smoked brisket ($28)

Insider Tip: You really need to get here early - and we mean early - to get a table at this no-reservations white-hot spot. Embrace your inner blue-haired lady and just go with it - or go after 9:30 PM. Either way, you won't be sorry.