2016 was an exciting year for restaurant openings across the country. Here are some of the most important new eateries in 15 U.S. cities — from high-end tasting menus to new neighborhood fixtures.
Atlanta: Rising Son
As the country's income inequality grows, the middle ground disappears. Atlanta's certainly experiencing that in its real estate and housing markets, with luxury condos aplenty sprouting everywhere, but little for someone who just wants something modest but nice. So it goes with restaurants, where glamorous, million-dollar build-outs dominate the landscape of what's new. It's important, then, to appreciate the middle-of-the-road spots that deliver winning, unpretentious food at approachable prices. Rising Son, an updated Southern eatery in Avondale run by a local couple, is just that sort of everyday place, where you'll find smart but not pretentious interpretations of dishes more akin to an old-school meat-and-three than a trendy New American bistro, but still get an artisanal housemade soda made with herbs from the owners' home garden. (Also see relative newcomers Pea Ridge and Dish Dive, who both set up shop in 2015, for a similar vibe.)
Must-order: Any stick-to-your-ribs breakfast option
124 N. Avondale Rd, Avondale Estates; 404-600-5297
When Stubb's Bar-B-Que co-founders John Scott and Eddy Patterson announced their plans to open a fine-dining restaurant on South Lamar, the anticipation started building. Just this fall, the new restaurant launched and it was everything we'd hoped for and more, with a solid menu of reimagined American classics by chef Jim Tripi and eye candy all around thanks to interior designer Mickie Spencer.
Must-order: The Pot of Goodness lives up to its name, with lobster tails, Gulf Coast redfish and shrimp, littleneck clams and wood-roasted vegetables served in a cast iron and simmering in a rich lobster broth.
615 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-916-9000
Boston: Little Donkey
Though they've been busy expanding their South End tapas restaurant Toro to NYC, Bangkok and Dubai, it's been nearly seven years since chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette opened their last Boston-area restaurant, Coppa. Little Donkey, which started braying in Cambridge's Central Square this summer delivers an updated approach to small plates, with a high-energy bar and dining room underscoring how excited diners are for this twosome's grand return.
Must-order: One of the city's best burgers is Little Donkey's dry-aged Pat LaFrieda beef patty topped with pickles marinated in Buffalo sauce, plus caramelized onions folded around seared pieces of foie gras, crispy jalapeño chips and a slathering of onion soup mayo.
505 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 617-945-1008
If you managed to snag a reservation at one of Chicago’s hottest openings of the year, then you’ll understand the importance of Giant. On the western edge of Logan Square, the restaurant proudly features a modern Midwestern menu that helps put the region on the map alongside more prominent coastal cuisines. Through a mix of irreverence (waffle fries go gourmet) and serious precision, chefs Jason Vincent and Benjamin Lustbader cooked up a place that’s at once fun and eye-opening.
Must-order: The Jonah crab salad with waffle fries is something special.
3209 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-252-0997
Dallas: Flora Street Cafe
When chef Stephan Pyles closed his celebrated, eponymous restaurant mid-year, all eyes turned to his new venture in the Dallas Arts District. And the celeb chef didn't disappoint, offering a menu of superstar dishes in contemporary, artsy digs.
Must-order: The lobster tamale pie (pictured), made with lobster chunks, creamy corn masa, ancho chile "glass" and paddlefish caviar, scores high marks for presentation, texture and flavor.
2330 Flora St.; 214-580-7000
At just a couple of months old, this RiNo food hall's already garnering national accolades — as well it should, being a true feat of culinary engineering. Developer Ken Wolf and chef-partner Jeff Osaka managed to assemble a dream team of vendors that includes Culture Meat and Cheese, run by Old Major's Justin Brunson; SK Provisions, a rotisserie from Sean Kelly of Desmond Bar and Grill; Vero, a pizzeria from Il Posto's Andrea Frizzi (pictured); Bistro Barbès chef-owner Jon Robbins' chocolate jewel box Temper; and so much more to keep the crowds coming all day long.
Must-order: Vero's Massimeno pizza, Culture's meat cone, Izzio's egg-and-brioche bowl and a cocktail at Curio, to name a few
Houston: Killen's STQ
The latest branch of Ronnie Killen's culinary tree opened a mere two weeks ago to immediate fanfare — and reservations booked solid for the foreseeable future. Previously, diners had to trek south to Pearland for a taste of his signature steaks and barbecue at Killen's Barbecue and Killen's Steakhouse but now those dishes — including tweaks on old favorites — are available in Houston proper. Look for beef short ribs in tamales, smoked brisket pappardelle and the upgraded cream corn topped with crispy Parmesan cheese. Check out our First Look for a deeper dive on the menu.
Must-order: Dry-aged steaks like the 16-oz. rib-eye or New York strip
2231 S. Voss Rd.; 713-586-0223
Los Angeles: Erven
A move toward vegetable-heavy (or exclusive) menus has been a huge trend this year, and chef Nick Erven is leading the pack in LA. Shifting from modern New American cuisine at the now-closed Saint Martha to an all plant-based menu in Santa Monica has given diners an extremely focused and unique take on what vegan food can be. Erven is fun and maybe a bit irreverent — a smooching Mick Jagger and Gandhi watch over the dining room — for grab-and-go daytime lunches or sit-down dinners, and the wine list is eclectic and fitting the menu. It's making waves on many levels.
Must-order: Black garlic chickpea fritters; tiny beets with avocado mousse; kale cavatelli with trumpet mushrooms and tom yum gravy; and a beer-battered tofu sandwich
514-516 Santa Monica Blvd.; 310-260–2255
Miami: Glass & Vine
Giorgio Rapicavoli’s latest culinary venture at Peacock Park is a perfect example of what makes eating out in Miami so rewarding — stunning design, an inventive menu of Florida-influenced European fare and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. Since opening in March, it's become not only one of Miami’s most popular outdoor dining destinations, but also a neighborhood go-to.
Must-order: Watermelon salad with crema, cotija cheese, toasted corn and cilantro
2820 McFarlane Rd.; (305) 200-5268
NYC: Le Coucou
Wizardry abounded at Le Coucou, a restaurant that on paper should have been dull: a throwback-inspired French hotel restaurant in SoHo. But Francophile American chef Daniel Rose and vibe master Stephen Starr struck just the right tone — making classic French dishes exciting again with a stunning and glamorous space (that somehow pulls off white tablecloths and candlesticks without pretension).
Must-order: Pike quenelle with lobster sauce, oeuf Norvégien, rabbit three ways, chocolate mousse
138 Lafayette Street; 212-271-4252
Three years after Nick Elmi won Top Chef, reservations at his Laurel remain some of the toughest in town. For those who prefer to walk in, this wine and cocktail bar next door boasts the same finesse in the kitchen, minus the months-out planning.
Must-order: During happy hour, a plate of puffed pork crisps with wild onion and sour cream gratifies all of those chip-and-dip desires.
1615 E. Passyunk Ave.; 267-858-0669
San Diego: Ponsaty's
We thought cute and cozy Bellamy’s in Escondido was an acceptable place to house Patrick Ponsaty — one of only two master French chefs in San Diego. But now that his signature restaurant is open it’s hard to believe he worked anywhere besides this stunning restaurant. The elegant fine-dining establishment is a perfect fit for the exclusive neighborhood of Rancho Santa Fe too.
Must-order: 24-hour veal cheeks with roasted shallots, candied carrot purée and Madeira wine sauce
6106 Paseo Delicias, Rancho Santa Fe; 858-771-1871
San Francisco: In Situ
It’s only fitting that the most important restaurant opening in the city is also on the ground floor of the most important cultural reopening in San Francisco of 2016, the renovated SFMOMA. The project's leader, Corey Lee (Benu, Monsieur Benjamin), took an enormous risk by asking nearly 100 chefs from around the world to donate a recipe or create a dish, which Lee’s kitchen team perfectly replicates. On the menu are a whimsical lemon dessert from Osteria Francescana in Italy and Octopus and the Coral from Central in Peru. Yes, the dining room is painfully stark, but there is no doubt that you’re eating some of the finest food in the world.
Must-order: Octopus and the Coral; Apocalypse burger from SF's Anthony Myint; as many desserts as possible, like Interpretations of Vanity by Mugaritz in Spain and the strange-looking, incredible-tasting Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart
151 3rd St.; 415-941-6050
Seattle: FlintCreek Cattle Co
The trials and tribulations of this Greenwood spot, set to be a splashy follow-up to chef-owner Eric Donnelly’s Fremont fish spot Rock Creek, are well documented. In March an explosion halted construction on a spot the neighborhood had long awaited, and finally in late October it opened. Thankfully, Donnelly's thoughtful vegetable dishes and focus on unusual proteins have lived up to the hype.
Must-order: The grilled kuri squash, served with burrata and toasted pistachio oil
8421 Greenwood Ave. N; 206-457-5656
Washington, DC: Pineapple & Pearls
Chef-owner Aaron Silverman turned fine dining on its head with the February opening of Pineapple & Pearls next door to his wildly popular debut spot, Rose’s Luxury. This jewel box of a restaurant housed behind his daytime coffee shop of the same name offers an ever-changing tasting menu of 10–12 courses (some with more than one dish), with a pay-before-you-dine price tag that includes food, drinks, tax and tip. Bar seating (covering everything but à la carte pours) is also available.
Must-order: Just show up and prepare to be dazzled.
715 Eighth St. SE; 202-595-7375