While 2015 had its fair share of bumps in the road (between notable closings and chef departures), NYC's dining scene saw an impressive crop of new restaurants setting trends and influencing chefs nationwide. The veggie-forward trend continued to explode with spots like Brooklyn's Semilla and the return of Amanda Cohen's Dirt Candy (and Jean-Georges' upcoming ABCV); food halls proliferated with the addition of Gansevoort Market and UrbanSpace Vanderbilt; and chefs like David Chang and Brooks Headley went fast-casual with spots Fuku and Superiority Burger. 2015 was one long strange trip. Here are the 10 most important stops along the way.
This unassuming, casual sibling to Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske’s Contra made quite a splash after debuting in June. Inspired by similar, wine-focused eateries in Europe that offer two experiences (with varying levels of formality) in the same space, Wildair's concept is basically a stripped-down, walk-in-focused American restaurant that's casual and accessible. "It's huge in Paris and Copenhagen," von Hauske tells us. "Two places where we spent time. It's interesting to me, the idea that you can have a very creative meal but you can also go to the same place [next door] and enjoy the same focus and understanding of products, but just a more casual expression of it.”
Wildair doesn’t feel fussy or formal, the high-top tables with cubbies feel like schoolroom desks and the simple exposed-brick space allows a partial view of the kitchen. But within this low-stakes environment, the wunderkind chef duo wows with creative plates like the uni darphin, fried squid with young basil and pork shoulder Milanese, paired with some of the best natural wine you’ve ever tasted care of sommelier Jorge Riera.
142 Orchard St.; 646-964-5624
There was no stopping David Chang's fast-casual upstart Fuku, a fried chicken shop he launched this summer that drew lines down First Avenue. The viral chicken sandwich, marinated in habaneros and deep-fried to a golden crisp, was one of the most Instagrammed dishes of 2015 and inspired other brands (like Shake Shack) to double down on the fried chicken sandwich trend. More recently, Chang opened Fuku+ on the ground floor of the Chambers Hotel space that houses Ma Peche, which offers a larger dining space, large-format fried chicken dinners and even a take on a Juicy Lucy cheeseburger. Chang also collaborated with Mission Chinese Food's Danny Bowien to launch a co-branded Fuku finger wrap at Mission Cantina and Fuku+. Fuku is exactly why why so many chefs are getting into the fast-casual game, including most recently, NoMad's Daniel Humm and partner Will Guidara.
Fuku: 163 First Ave.
Fuku+: 15 W. 56th St.
In late December of last year, Danny Bowien's Mission Chinese went Vegas — the much beloved den of explosive Sichuan fare made an epic comeback and upgraded to roomier, glitzier digs complete with Mylar ceilings, roomy pink leather booths and a roving cocktail cart. It also debuted a new turned-up menu to match with help from chef (and Zagat 30 Under 30) Angela Dimayuga. Conspicuously non-Chinese items like a prime-rib cart and Neapolitan-style pizza quirked up the offerings, which also included many returning favorites like the thrice-cooked bacon, mapo tofu and the mind-blowingly spicy Chongqing chicken wings as well as milder new dishes like the gingery green tea noodles. Bowien also recently released the Mission Chinese Food cookbook on Anthony Bourdain's Ecco imprint and the book tour has included 10-minute sets from his makeshift band, Narx. Basically, NYC's Mission Chinese Food is the epicenter of Downtown dining cool.
The veggie-forward trend continues to blow up but OG Amanda Cohen was making spectacular vegetarian dishes before anyone else. In early 2015, she reopened her glorious mecca to elevated veggie cuisine in a much larger LES space to the delight of her longtime followers, complete with a tip-inclusive policy and a revved-up menu. The restaurant has attracted throngs of hungry newcomers as well thanks to a new, more casual and expanded menu, making it one of the harder tables to snag this year so far. Dishes like her Korean-fried broccoli (the No. 1 best thing we ate in 2015), Brussels sprouts tacos and butternut squash scalloppini proved that vegetarian cooking isn't just for vegetarians anymore.
86 Allen St.; 212-228-7732
Our No. 1 newcomer of the year was once again an omakase restaurant known for its belt-busting kaiseki. Former Neta chefs Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim opened this intimate 19-seat sushi bar in NYU-land in early 2015 that nightly blasts a hip-hop soundtrack and proved that high-end sushi could have a more casual, Downtown vibe. The kaiseki included hot dishes like a warm mushroom broth as well as creative raw-fish dishes like this tuna tartare topped with caviar and served with milk brioche (pictured). Order this menu and await wait the quirky finish —a giant hunk of apple pie. But purists can just stick to the sushi-only omakase.
47 E. 12th St.; 212-228-6088
José Ramírez-Ruiz and Pamela Yung turned their veggie-forward pop-up Chez Jose into the brick-and-mortar Semilla in late 2014, snagged a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2015, and continue to impress with its $85 vegetable-focused tasting menu. Using meat in just the right places, the ever-changing menu filled with unique and rare ingredients will have you guessing until the very last bite.
No. 5, 160 Havemeyer St., Brooklyn; 718-782-3474
This East Village newcomer from a pair of Aussie expats proved that Indian food didn't have to be bargain-basement or high-end, but could occupy a coveted space somewhere in the middle. Lines snaked down the block at the prime Alphabet City corner location for plates of papadi chaat (Indian nachos made with chickpea chips), Colonel Tso's cauliflower and delicate chickpea orbs called gol gappa.
175 Avenue B; 212-951-1082
Inspired by some of the same casual Parisian restaurants as Wildair, Rebelle was the sophomore effort from the Pearl & Ash team of Branden McRill, wine wizard Patrick Cappiello and Alessandro Zampedri. Proving that French fare didn't have to be stuffy and elitist, the small-plates menu from chef Daniel Eddy let diners assemble their meal either à la carte or as a tasting menu (including lamb tartare and leeks vinaigrette). It was a must-visit Downtown hot spot of 2015. Bonus tip: they just launched weekend lunch and a Sunday chef's counter "off-menu" seven-courser for $70.
218 Bowery; 917-639-3880
Where do I take my parents visiting from Dubuque? Upland. Where do I go to impress an overly fussy first date? Upland. In 2015, this Stephen Starr/Justin Smillie eatery was the dining world's go-to for solid, California-infused pastas, pizzas and creative entrees like a gochujang-laced cioppino. While it technically opened in late 2014, the heavy buzz on this slam-dunk didn't go wide until the Pete Wells review dropped in mid-January. If you haven't been yet, just go. Simply...go.
345 Park Ave. S.; 212-686-1006
This Williamsburg Peruvian-inspired hot spot is the most recent on this list, but we were bowled over by what we tasted at a recent visit. EMP alum Erik Ramirez draws inspiration from the fusion-laden dishes of his native Peru, served up in this giant, arty space on the corner of Withers (under the BQE). Fluke ceviche topped with plantain chips has a surprising smoky finish and a DIY Chinese-inspired beef-tenderloin topped with french fries paired with the creative cocktails (like the on-tap punch Llama del Rey) and robust wine list are some of the best things you'll eat in Williamsburg or anywhere.
50 Withers St., Brooklyn; 718-387-3434