The 26 Hottest Food Cities of 2016

Which town had the best year in dining?
November 30, 2016
by Zagat Staff

It was an incredible year for dining across the U.S. in 2016. With chefs from NY, Chicago and SF moving to smaller markets like Denver, Charlotte, 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. 26: San Diego, CA

San Diego always seems to be in the shadow of its California sister cities Los Angeles and San Francisco, but with a growing dining scene that encompasses craft cocktails, bountiful breweries, innovative restaurants and a stunning new public market at historic Liberty Station, look for it to be a big player in years to come — and sooner rather than later.

The city continues to be a hotbed of talent, drawing in celeb chefs to open signature restaurants. Everyone knows Richard Blais' Juniper & Ivy and The Crack Shack, as well as Brian Malarkey's many restaurants like Herb & Wood and casual concept Herb & Eatery. This year, former Top Chef contestant Giselle Wellman joins the ranks at Little Italy’s Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen, where she's heading up the kitchen offering French coastal food with a Southern California flair. On a more local level, watch out for homegrown talent like Kevin Templeton of Barleymash, Anthony Sinsay of Jsix and Hanis Cavin of Carnitas' Snack Shack to blow up beyond San Diego's borders — and there's more culinary stars waiting in the wings.

In terms of trends, Baja cuisine is still cruising strong, especially when you take the city's proximity to Mexico into account. In 2016, San Diego and the rest of the country saw the rise of poke; locally it's reflected in restaurants such as San Diego Poke Co., Pokirrito and Poké Go. True innovation was not lost and was especially evident in chef Brad Wise's dishes at Trust Restaurant in Hillcrest or NY-transplant Pascal Lorange with Crudo in Carmel Valley.

--Darlene Alilain-Horn

No. 25: Providence, RI

Five-cheese baked pasta and spicy corn pizza lure diners in droves to the still-going-strong Al Forno, Providence’s most beloved restaurant since opening on the riverfront in 1980. Beyond those thriving, old-school Italian roots, however, the capital of the nation’s most diminutive state — an educational epicenter that is home to an impressive culinary arts program at Johnson & Wales University — increasingly balances tradition with imaginative gastro enterprises.

This year, for example, Long Live Beerworks opened on the West End, allowing patrons to savor smoky red ales before walking over to Momofuku alum James Mark’s North for pork and kabocha squash ramen. Another outpost of Mark’s North Bakery also made its debut, so Downtown dwellers now have immediate access to kimchi butter bagels and dan dan hand pies, while at the original joint, nighttime crowds first started making their way in for Broadbent country ham and espresso-rye old fashioneds.

After shuttering its more-than-a-decade location in Bristol, Persimmon chose the East Side of Providence for its second incarnation in May, turning out plates of yuzu-striped bass tartare. At the top of 2016 Benjamin and Heidi Sukle — the husband-and-wife team behind the fancier tasting menu concept Birch — unveiled the critically acclaimed Oberlin, which was later named one of Bon Appetit's Hot 10 new restaurants of 2016. 

--Alia Akkam

No. 24: Dallas–Fort Worth, TX

This year shaped up to be a superb time for food fanatics in North Texas. Our first-ever Dallas 30 Under 30 list showcased some of the youngest talent on the scene, solidifying the continued rise of our food culture for years to come. Several envelope-pushing spots opened in 2016, including Southwestern cuisine pioneer chef Stephan Pyles’ gorgeous Flora Street Cafe (his halibut dish is pictured above). Sprezza wowed with carefully crafted Italian fare, and, just down the road, Top Knot (above Uchi Dallas) from chef Angela Martinez was equally dazzling. In Fort Worth, food truck megahit Heim Barbecue kicked open the doors of its first brick-and-mortar and The Latin Pig brought us authentic Cuban. Beef lovers welcomed two high-profile launches, including the flagship Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Uptown and Bob Sambol’s first venture since Bob’s Steak & Chop House, The Hall Bar & Grill at Trinity Groves. A couple doors down, V-Eats Modern Vegan has revolutionized plant-based food expectations, much like veggie-centric, carnivore-friendly Mudhen Meat & Greens at Dallas Farmers Market. Southern comfort food kept its momentum strong with a trio of hot spots, including Street’s Fine Chicken, Whistle Britches and Grayson Social, while cocktails received major upgrades at The Tipsy Alchemist and Quill Kitchen + Cocktails.

--Steven Lindsey

No. 23: Houston, TX

From an influx of fresh talent to local favorites garnering national attention, this is a great time to dine in the Bayou City as it steadily gains steam as a foodie destination worth its salt. Helen Greek Food and Wine found love twice at the James Beard Awards and in the New York Times as did Justin Yu (Oxheart); State of Grace snagged a mention in Garden & Gun. Chris Shepherd (Underbelly) announced One Fifth (one building, five concepts, five years), and the highly anticipated Killen’s STQ opens in days. Heck, even NYC chef David Chang loves Houston.

Houstonian newcomers that made new waves this year include chef Sidney DeGaine who recently arrived from Brazil to wow Francophiles at Cafe Azur or Vidal Elias Murillo who left his home of Tabasco, Mexico to bring authentic Mexican influences at La Fisheria with seafood and vegetables infused with flavor and technique. If you don’t know him yet, you will.

--Ellie Sharp

No. 22: Miami, FL

Miami’s dining scene continues to soar in 2016, which saw a surge in global all-star arrivals like Argentinean grill master Francis Mallmann's Los Fuegos, Paul Qui’s Pan-Asian mecca Pao and Jose Andres' new avant-garde seafood concept, Bazaar Mar. Matthew Kenney’s plant-based kitchen and cutting-edge cooking techniques at Plant Food + Wine were also a huge win for the city. 

Miami had no shortage of innovative new outposts by local chefs this year. Pastry mastermind Antonio Bachour and his stunning desserts at Bachour Bakery & Bistro are a great example of that, as well as Cindy Hutson’s new progressive Caribbean eatery Zest and Michael Lewis’ wood-fired Asian barbecue spot KYU, all of which have drawn accolades locally and around the country.

The Magic City has also finally gained some cred in the national dining scene. We’ve seen an increase in the number of local chefs up for James Beard awards with six semifinalists, Alter’s chef Brad Kilgore was named one of America’s best new chefs by Food & Wine magazine and over 40 Miami restaurants were recognized by Wine Spectator for their outstanding wine lists.

--Michelle Muslera

No. 21: New York, NY

This year lacked major surprises for the NYC dining scene. With rents perhaps the highest they've ever been and the dining public more fickle and distracted than ever, restaurateurs played it safe, focusing mostly on hotel concepts, French and Italian fare. Forget about foam, smoke and other hocus-pocus, 2016 was all about earthy Euro classics reinterpreted. Pretty much everyone opened Italian restaurants including Missy Robbins' Brooklyn comeback smash, Lilia, Andrew Carmellini's first-ever Brooklyn venture, Leuca, and Dale Talde's recently opened Massoni, plus expansions from Mario Batali (La Sirena), the Estela team with Cafe Altro Paradiso, and sceney pizzeria Pasquale Jones from the Charlie Bird gang. The EMILY duo made a splash with Emmy Squared, which specializes in Detroit-style pan pizza. The red sauce was flowing in 2016.

FiDi continued to heat up with the debut of the new Beekman Hotel, which houses Tom Colicchio's first new NYC restaurant in six years, Fowler and Wells. Even Keith McNally got in the trend, opening Augustine at the same Downtown locale. Eataly expanded to the WTC and debuted its Southern Italian homage, Osteria della Pace.

But then, there was the truly exciting stuff. The magic of Brooklyn's Olmsted, a scaled-back version of Stone Barns from alum Greg Baxtrom, left us hopeful and inspired with its elegant carrot crêpe, quail and crawfish-filled garden and affordable indulgence. More 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). We were also surprised to learn that gimmicky 'hidden' restaurant concepts could serve impressive food with the opening of dinnertable, a speakeasy restaurant behind an Alphabet City bar, which wowed us with playful Italian-Asian dishes from now-departed chef couple Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito (we're excited to taste their new Quality Branded concept next year). Over in Fort Greene, hidden behind neighborhood mainstay Walter's, Karasu charmed diners with a decadent uni pasta and a rib-eye for two that's worth hopping on the subway for. 

​--Kelly Dobkin

No. 20: San Francisco, CA

The year literally started in a “super” way for San Francisco (as the host city for Super Bowl 50) but SF dining, as we know, has long been super. This year was no exception: Two trail-blazing restaurants received immeasurable national media love with the globe-spanning restaurant/art exhibit In Situ in the renovated SFMOMA and sustainability-centric The Perennial.

Chinatown is a marquee neighborhood for dim sum but finally has a signature Chinese-seasonal California restaurant at Mister Jiu’s. The David Chang “figs on a plate” image of dull/simplistic cooking in San Francisco hopefully has disappeared once and for all thanks to the diversity of newcomers this year. As proof, just try the impressive Spanish menu of Bellota, Tawla’s exciting Eastern Mediterranean food, and the ramen at Mensho Tokyo drawing hour-long lines nightly. Longtime Daniel Patterson Group chef Kim Alter and sommelier Paul Einbund (Octavia, Frances) made thrilling rookie debuts with their restaurants Nightbird and The Morris, respectively.

Fast-casual eating improved drastically from the fried chicken sandwiches at The Bird, to Popsons and WesBurger ‘n’ More’s burgers, to Sababa’s dreamy hot pita and hummus. Finally for dessert, Tartine opened its spacious nearby Tartine Manufactory and the crowds are still swarming for porchetta sandwiches and soft serve ice cream.

--Trevor Felch

No. 19: Raleigh, NC

Part of North Carolina's Triangle area, including Durham and Chapel Hill (both places with hot restaurant scenes of their own), Raleigh seemed to be all about the James Beard nominees this year. Past winner Ashley Christensen not only had her new spot Death & Taxes make the finalist list for best new restaurant, but was also named one of Bon Appetit’s Hot 10 New Restaurants of 2016. Multi JBF nominee Scott Crawford got tapped for his work at Standard Foods and then left the restaurant to open his own Crawford and Son, where his clean, fresh flavors and refined approach melded with a homey, neighborhood feel. And in the Raleigh suburb of Cary, NC, Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery snagged his second nom for Outstanding Baker.

--Stephanie Burt

No. 18: Austin, TX

The capital of Texas started making headlines for its food scene about five years ago, and it continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Food trucks have gone on to become successful brick-and-mortar concepts, acclaimed restaurants are now restaurant groups and the temperate Texas city has too many incredible food and wine events throughout the year to list. Emmer & Rye opened last fall, making waves with farm-to-table dim sum, and chef-owner Kevin Fink went on to be named one of the country's best new chefs by Food & Wine magazine (an honor given the year before to Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas of Southern sweetheart Olamaie.) Chef Bryce Gilmore continues to oversee his team at the ever-popular and always creative Odd Duck while opening a bigger and better version of Barley Swine, which was just named Restaurant of the Year by Eater Austin and 2016 BBQ King of Austin at COCHON555 this past weekend. Gilmore also received his fourth James Beard nomination for Best Chef: Southwest.

More restaurateurs rode Austin's culinary momentum this year into successful new projects. Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki of Launderette (also nominated for a James Beard award this past year for Best New Restaurant) opened a full-service version of Fresa's this summer, modeled after the original drive-thru chicken al carbon window with the same name. LaCorsha Hospitality (Congress, Second Bar & Kitchen) launched a second Second Bar & Kitchen in the Domain and brought Boiler Nine Bar & Grill in Austin's brand-new Seaholm Power Plant district. Parkside Projects (Parkside, Olive & June, The Backspace) introduced Spanish cuisine to Airport with the opening of Bullfight. Adam Jacoby just unveiled a shiny new Mexican concept (spanning Tex-Mex, Cali-Mex and interior Mexican cuisines) named Grizzelda's right across the street from his first restaurant, the beautifully rustic Jacoby's Restaurant & Mercantile. The team behind Swift's Attic brought much-needed Chinese cuisine to the table with the opening of Wu Chow, and they're gearing up to launch a third concept this winter.

There were also plenty of new faces launching first concepts this past year. Most notably, chef Yoshi Okai introduced an intimate omakase experience to the South Congress Hotel with the opening of Otoko, and chefs Nicholas Yanes and Fiore Tedesco showed us how elegant homestyle Italian cuisine can be exciting with the Juniper and L'oca D'oro, two completely different and innovative concepts. With even more openings set for this fall and winter, it doesn't look like Austin's food scene is slowing down anytime soon, so come hungry and plan to stay awhile.

--Veronica Meewes

No. 17: Chicago, IL

Chicago has come a long way from “second city” status, thanks in part to its multifaceted, envelope-pushing food scene. After a year filled with non-stop openings, which saw big name arrivals like Duck Duck Goat, Cruz Blanca, Roister and GT Prime, it’s clear that Chicago boasts some of the most unique and destination-worthy restaurants in the country — and arguably the world. Not only are famous local chefs like Stephanie Izard, Rick Bayless and Grant Achatz expanding their footprints here, but Chicago has seen an exponential increase in openings from restaurateurs looking to make their mark on the Windy City for the first time. This includes Richard Sandoval, who followed Latinicity with a trifecta of restaurants inside the Conrad Chicago Hotel; Franklin Becker, who made his local debut with Little Beet Table in the Gold Coast; CJ Jacobson, who officially decamped Los Angeles for Chicago with Ēma; and even Ping-Pong aficionados like Susan Sarandon and the folks behind London’s Bounce, who opened outposts of their Ping-Pong bars/restaurants SPiN and AceBounce, respectively. All across the city, Chicago’s restaurant scene has seen exponential growth, with nowhere near as many closures as coastal cities, something that can be credited to Chicago’s lower rent costs and the city’s inherent community support among restaurateurs and community members. The icing on the cake this year came from the James Beard Foundation, which announced its annual awards (aka the "Oscars of the food world") will remain in Chicago through 2021. 

--Matt Kirouac

No. 16: Nashville, TN

From Southern-inspired Chinese at white-hot TKO and Korean and Japanese mash-ups at the new brick-and-mortar Funk Seoul Brother locale, to highly anticipated, soon-to-debut, contemporary Chinese spot, Tànsuŏ, by Maneet Chauhan, Nashville’s culinary scene has been bolstered by international flavors in 2016. Even Beard award-winner Jonathan Waxman has crossed the border, opening a more formal outpost of his Nashville Mexican concept called Bajo Sexto Taco Lounge (pictured above), this past spring with Oaxaca native Kaelin Ulrich Trilling, son of cooking school owner Susana Trilling (the woman who wrote the book on Oaxacan cuisine), at the helm.

Waxman is just one of the nationally recognized chefs that have been been flocking to Music City. Since French Laundry alum Erik Anderson and Strategic Hospitality Group opened The Catbird Seat in 2011, Nashville has been attracting Beard winners including Charleston’s Sean Brock and NOLA-based Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski (both Link Restaurant Group) and, in October 2016, John Besh with the debut of the Marsh House inside the Thompson Hotel.  

--Sara Ventiera

No. 15: Indianapolis, IN

While neighboring towns like Chicago and Louisville have long stolen the Heartland culinary spotlight, the Indy food scene has evolved with serious, elevated precision. Between the already established, wildly popular breakfast-lunch-brunch shrine Milktooth with its ancient-grain porridge and sour-cream biscuits, and Bluebeard’s sharable dinner plates, both of which appeared in Bon Appetit, it’s safe to say that Indianapolis has entered a new gastronomic stratosphere. Clearly, other chefs are anxious to follow suit, on the heels of its buzzy culinary momentum. To start, Fountain Square’s Pioneer (also part of Bon Appetit’s livery) helmed by chefs Bryan Kanne and Justin Eiteljorge is where German meets Northern Italian meets Austrian cuisine. In the same neighborhood, the warmly colored space at Marrow by chef John Adams features hearty mains like steak frites and cornmeal-fried catfish.

And, recently named the city’s only four-diamond restaurant, Vida with its warm, modern farmhouse feel showcases a leafy herb wall and chef Layton Roberts' farm-to-table cuisine. In Meridian Kessler, native chef Brian Baker (who cut his teeth at New York’s Meatball Shop and Uncle Boons) helms Open Society Public House which showcases South American flavors with dishes like duck confit causitos. On the celebrity chef side, James Beard award–winning Michael Symon opened an Indy outpost of B Spot Burgers last year while Utah native chef Tyson Peterson (once a Jean-Georges sous-chef) now helms Le Méridien's Spoke and Steele plucking its food from nearby farms.

--Kate Donnelly

No. 14: Birmingham, AL

Birmingham has long been an esteemed culinary destination with a deeply rooted farm-to-table ethos and multiple Beard award-winning chefs like Frank Stitt (Highlands Bar & Grill) and his former pupil Chris Hastings (Hot and Hot Fish Club). Many young cooks have spent time in their impressive kitchens, learning the ropes and as a result, the Southern city has become an incubator for burgeoning culinary talent.

Ryan Champion spent time at Stitt’s Bottega, before opening Hotbox at Parkside, which churns out internationally inspired late-night bites like lemongrass fried chicken and shrimp ceviche out of an of Airstream. Brian Somershield, another Stitt acolyte, opened El Barrio Restaurante y Bar, serving modern Mexican-influenced dishes like grilled chorizo meatloaf.

Within the past year, the city has seen an influx of creative new concepts like Avondale burger and oyster joint, Fancy’s on Fifth, health-focused Real & Rosemary and Southern Vietnamese spot Saigon Noodle House. Yet, it’s not just the young guns presenting on-trend restaurants here. Late last year, Hastings debuted one of the biggest openings in all of the South, highly lauded Latin American–inspired wood-fired concept, Ovenbird (pictured above).

--Sara Ventiera

No. 13: Detroit, MI

The Motor City has gone through a lot of, shall we say, changes over the last few decades. Celebrity chef and James Beard award-winner Michael Symon is often credited with kick-starting the city's food revival when he opened Roast in 2008. Now, Roast alums have opened some of the city’s hottest and most critically acclaimed spots, like Selden Standard, which this year garnered chef Andy Hollyday his second James Beard award nomination. Nick Janutol, who cut his teeth at top-rated restaurants like Eleven Madison Park in New York and Ria in Chicago, also picked up a James Beard nom this year for his work at Forest Grill. And Top Chef contestant James Rigato, of Hazel Park's year-old Mabel Gray, also received a James Beard award nomination, and won acclaim from Eater's Bill Addison with a spot on his Best New Restaurants in America list. Adorable new pastry shop Sister Pie got some love from both Eater and Bon Appetit, earning a nomination for their best new restaurant lists. Other big openings in 2016 include ultrahip Thai spot Katoi from chef Brad Greenhill; Grey Ghost Detroit, which was opened by two well-known Chicago chefs (yes, chefs are leaving other cities to come to Detroit now!); and Chinese-American restaurant The Peterboro, opened by the owners of much-loved Motown spots Wright & Co. and Sugar House. And there's more in store: Twice-nominated James Beard Rising Star of the Year Garrett Lipar's new tasting table spot Albena and Townhouse owner Jeremy Sasson's new modern steakhouse Prime + Proper are two of the city's most anticipated restaurants for 2017. Standbys also got their due: Classic Lebanese spot Al Ameer became the first Michigan restaurant to win the JBF America's Classic award this year.

Meanwhile, Detroit's influence elsewhere continues to grow with the rise of Detroit-style pizza in NYC (Emmy Squared, Talde's new Massoni) as well as expats the Sussman brothers opening two Detroit-inspired concepts in Brooklyn, including a short-lived homage to the hometown icon, the Coney Island diner. Will we see more NYC chefs expanding to Detroit? You betcha. It was also announced this year that NYC Italian chef Andrew Carmellini would be in charge of the food at the upcoming Shinola Hotel in Detroit, opening in 2018.

--Devorah Lev-Tov

No. 12: Savannah, GA

Savannah is a classic tourist destination for its idyllic squares, Spanish moss–covered trees and overall Southern charm. While its Lowcountry rival city Charleston has long been a coveted dining destination, Savannah has been stuck in second gear until recently. Within the past couple years, America’s Most Haunted City has seen a reawakening in its dining scene with the introduction of Hugh Acheson’s Italian concept, the Florence, and nationally acclaimed, The Grey (pictured above), housed in a renovated bus station on Martin Luther King Blvd. There, Prune alum Mashama Bailey prepares killer modern Southern cuisine in a truly inspiring space.

The city has seen a huge uptick in modern Southern cuisine at places like Cotton & Rye, Rocks on the River in the new Grand Bohemian Hotel and locally focused waterfront spot, The Wyld Dock Bar.

It’s not just regional specialties in 2016: Restaurateurs have broadened the city’s horizons with further-reaching fare. At Hitch, locals nosh on creative New American bites (think PB&J wings) while sipping impeccable cocktails. Inspiring Asian-influenced plates, like roasted duck dumplings, are served in an industrial-chic former bank at The Vault Kitchen & Market. Ambitious craft beer and elevated bar food is found at Savannah Tap House. Savannah is on the rise, again.

--Sara Ventiera

No. 11: Charleston, SC

The culinary migration of chefs from elsewhere continues in Charleston, only serving to elevate a scene already brimming with some of the country’s best food. NYC chef Michael Toscano opened Le Farfalle, Texan John Lewis gifted his melt-in-your-mouth smoked brisket when he launched Lewis Barbecue and Shuai Wang rocked it out as one of BA’s Best New Restaurants from his Short Grain Food Truck. As for the “already locals" — Kevin Johnson of The Grocery and Jeremiah Bacon of Oak Steakhouse and The Macintosh got James Beard semifinalist noms, the folks behind Leon’s Oyster Shop introduced Little Jack’s Tavern and its tavern burger, and the team of The Dewberry finally opened after years of painstaking renovation to swoons from designers, architects and craft-cocktail aficionados. But perhaps the biggest news in a big year was the closing and reimagining of Sean Brock’s McCrady’s, splitting it into two restaurants: McCrady’s Tavern and McCrady’s, a ticketed-only tasting room with 18 seats available nightly. And, duh, look out for all the young talent brimming from our first-ever 30 Under 30 in the Holy City

--Stephanie Burt

No. 10: Atlanta, GA

As the self-proclaimed capital of the South, Atlanta continues to be a dominant force not only on the regional food scene, outpacing all comers in terms of both quality and quantity (not to mention variety), but nationally as well. It's drawn prominent out-of-town chefs like Jonathan Waxman and Sean Brock to open Brezza and Minero, their respective Italian and Mexican hot spots. Atlanta's also exporting talent, with chef Ford Fry expanding his empire to Houston this year and Nashville soon. And as far as the Beard awards go, this past year saw Gunshow's Kevin Gillespie and Miller Union's Steven Satterfield nominated for Best Chef: Southeast, while current media darling Staplehouse was nominated for Best New Restaurant. Speaking of Staplehouse, chef Ryan Smith's supremely hospitable spot tied to a local industry nonprofit finally nabbed the accolades it deserved, topping Bon Appetit's list as America's best new restaurant for 2016, and the place is now booked months in advance. Add to the list newcomers like Atlas and Brush Sushi Izakaya serving food that could compete with the country's best spots, and now is a great time to visit and dine in Atlanta — and an even better time to live there.

--Christopher Hassiotis

No. 9: Charlotte, NC

Once known only as a sports-centric center of commerce, Charlotte has emerged as the new destination for adventurous, landscape-driven cuisine. There’s no shortage of up-and-coming chefs, like Chris Coleman, whose wood-fired oven at Stoke is churning out stellar plates like salt- roasted oysters and charred octopus with Virginia chorizo; or Michael Chanthavong, who just brought over his Asian-meets-Southern spot, O-Ku (with a killer uni pasta). Charlotte has also become popular among established industry vets looking to find the next big hospitality market: Corkbuzz, the accessible wine bar from New York, just opened in the city (helmed by Master Sommelier Laura Maniec), as did Yafo Kitchen, a bold Middle Eastern spot that counts Einat Admony of New York gems like Taim and Balaboosta as a consultant. Even Wolfgang Puck couldn’t resist the opportunity to land in Charlotte, entrusting longtime mentee Stephen Schmitt to oversee the kitchen at his brand-new concept, WP Kitchen + Bar, which serves crowd pleasers like linguini diavolo and turkey Bolognese. With dozens more openings anticipated for next year — and plenty of other chefs making the move to Charlotte from big cities like San Francisco and New York — this burgeoning dining scene is only just getting started. 

--Priya Krishna

No. 8: Philadelphia, PA

During the past few years, Philadelphia has welcomed day-tripping New Yorkers and Washingtonians into town for a taste of the city’s finest dining and casual bites. This year, however, Philly-born concepts have been opening up satellites throughout the country. Dizengoff, High Street and Amada landed in New York, Pizzeria Vetri expanded to Austin and DC and vegetable-forward, fast-casual outposts of Honeygrow and HipCityVeg have put down roots in the nation's capital. 

This emigration of talent hardly slowed down the city’s thriving restaurant scene. Closer to home some of the most intriguing new players have traded in finer dining backgrounds for more homey endeavors like Essen, Tova du Plessis’ new-school Jewish bakery and Philly Style Bagels, a small shop that got sandwich of the year nod from Bon Appetit. Even this year’s more upmarket additions have a casual air about them. ITV (pictured), Nick Elmi’s offshoot of Laurel, is a comfortable wine and cocktail bar that showcases the chef’s ambitious creations through a menu of approachable small plates.

--Caroline Russock

No. 7: Asheville, NC

Every great food city has its empire builder, and in Asheville that position belongs to Katie Button, the James Beard–nominated chef behind the old-world Spanish restaurant, Cúrate, and small plates spot Nightbell. (Button also just released a cookbook, to much acclaim, and launched a chef summit in the city that aims to improve working standards in the hospitality industry). But Button’s spots aren’t the only ones getting national attention: The dynamic culinary scene of Asheville is home to exceptional concepts as varied as breakfast taco mainstay, TacoBilly, the refined, fermentation-forward Local Provisions, and Buxton Hall Barbecue, which is putting Eastern Carolina–style barbecue on the map (and just received a nod as Bon Appétit’s #9 Best New Restaurant in America). If you think the Raleigh/Durham area is the only culinary hot spot in North Carolina, think again.

--Priya Krishna

No. 6: New Orleans, LA

New Orleans is hardly a stranger to culinary ambitions (just look at our talented Zagat 30 under 30 lineup). Taking its cue from Southern traditions and Creole cuisine, the Crescent City has expanded to include delights like chef Alon Shaya’s critically acclaimed Israeli namesake, chef Nina Compton’s Euro-Caribbean flared Compere Lapin and small, unassuming French bar and restaurant N7, which has wooed national publications with its fresh seafood and natural wines.

This year, the fabled white-tablecloth Caribbean Room from beloved native chef John Besh returns inside the revived Pontchartrain ​Hotel. Besh’s executive chef Chris Lusk's menu focuses on classics like crab Renwick, crispy gulf fish and for dessert, the famed “Mile High” ice cream pie. And, after almost two decades, chef Emeril Lagasse opened Meril named after his daughter, which serves as a culmination of his favorite dishes. A few blocks away, the hipper-than-thou Ace Hotel hosts the delightful Josephine Estelle and recently added Seaworthy in a dimly lit 1800s Creole cottage. With culinary guidance from the trio behind New York’s Grand Banks and primarily billed as an oyster bar with East and West Coast varietals, there's obviously a robust cocktail program.

For eccentric down-home sandwiches like fried bologna, Turkey and The Wolf from chef Mason Hereford (Coquette) assumes rightful honors for its unique, playful approach. Finally, Isaac Toups' (of Top Chef fame) newly opened Toups South keeps things classically Southern with brown sugar–glazed pork belly and sourdough biscuits with crab-fat butter.

--Kate Donnelly

No. 5: Seattle, WA

It was another banner year up here in Jet City — or Seattle, for all you non-Pacific Northwesterners. Our beloved Renee Erickson finally won a James Beard award for her restaurant The Whale Wins, while her boeuf-focused Bateau won the heart of Eater’s Bill Addison and critics at Bon Appetit. Relative newcomer Edouardo Jordan (Salare and the upcoming June Baby) got props with a feature in Lucky Peach as well as the honor of being named one of Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs and sleepy little neighborhood White Center got its own New York Times article this past August.

Seattle also attracted chefs from bigger markets including Perfecte Rocher and Alia Zaine from LA who opened Tarsan I Jane as well as Alex and Kevin Pemoulie from Jersey/NYC who will open Mean Sandwich in early December. Many of the splashy openings this year came from longtime favorites working on building empires: Ma’ono’s Mark Fuller went in on New Luck Toy, a super-fun Chinese-American spot complete with slushie margaritas, Josh Henderson’s Huxley Wallace Collective opened a jaw-dropping six new restaurants (including rotisserie chicken window Poulet Galore and fiery Vestal), Dan Bugge brought us seafood-focused 100 Pound Clam and White Swan Public House and last but not least, Top Chef contestant Jason Stratton blew everyone away with Mbar, a sister to beloved Mamnoon with a killer rooftop view.

--Jackie Varriano

No. 4: Boston, MA​

In 2016, Boston fostered homegrown talent while luring national names. Star restaurateur Michael Mina opened a sequel to his San Francisco–founded high-class izakaya, PABU Boston, in Downtown’s Millennium Tower high-rise. And Mario Batali, who made his Boston debut last year with Babbo Pizzeria, opened an iteration of his Italian food emporium Eataly in Boston's Prudential Center this past week. But Boston has also been exporting excellence too. Resident dynamic duo Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette brought their Toro concept to Bangkok and, any day now, Dubai; closer to home, they opened their highly anticipated international small plates restaurant, Little Donkey, in Cambridge. Another major follow-up came from lauded wunderkind Michael Scelfo, whose coastal cuisine–focused Waypoint is matching the hype generated by his still-buzzing 2014 opening, Alden & Harlow. And Tremont 647 chef Andy Husbands, the Hell’s Kitchen alum with a globe-trotting, award-snatching competitive barbecue team, finally opened his first proper BBQ restaurant, The Smoke Shop.

The latest round of James Beard semifinalists featured familiar names, with Best Chef: Northeast nods including Scelfo, Philip Tang (Banyan Bar + Refuge) and Cassie Piuma (Sarma). Karen Akunowicz, the Myers + Chang toque who wrapped her Top Chef stint at the top of the year, was also a Best Chef: Northeast semifinalist, and her boss, acclaimed pastry maven Joanne Chang, finally took home the win for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Another 2016 Top Chef alum, Carl Dooley, launched his intimate prix fixe restaurant The Table this year. And it was also a good year for Shepard, a Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant; chef-owner Susan Regis also received a Best Chef: Northeast nod — and Bon Appetit deemed Shepard one of America’s 50 best new restaurants in 2016. Bon Appetit also included Somerville’s new European-inspired cafe, Juliet (helmed by Josh Lewin and Katrina Jazayeri, two of our past 30 Under 30 honorees). And Food & Wine placed Matt Jennings’ New American brasserie, Townsman, on its list of America’s best new restaurants. To be sure, it was a stellar year for dining in Bean Town.

--Scott Kearnan

No. 3: Denver, CO

The best city for singles. For millennials. For entrepreneurs. For outdoorspeople. Over the past few years, Denver has ranked at or near the top of virtually every U.S. index there is; it was only a matter of time before outsiders “discovered” its dynamic dining scene too. This year alone, Nobu Matsuhisa, Gregory Gourdet, Deborah Schneider and Hugh Acheson staked claims here; Jeffrey Wall of Atlanta’s Kimball House is on his way, and so is the team behind New York’s Death & Co.

Meanwhile, there’s no stopping our homegrown talent. Beard award-winners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson (Frasca) will be opening Tavernetta soon; fellow recipient Jennifer Jasinski (Rioja et al.) is expanding her mini empire with Ultreia. Rising stars like Hop Alley’s Tommy Lee, The Way Back’s Chad Michael George, Joshua Pollack of Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen and Bar Dough’s Mac MacKissock have swiftly garnered national acclaim. The spotlight that was already trained on our impressive field of food halls (The Source, Avanti F&B, Union Station) just intensified with the opening of The Central Market; Stanley Marketplace will be even bigger. And though Denver’s long been at the craft-brewing forefront, it’s poised to break whole new ground (theoretically, at least) with the legalization of cannabis use in restaurants and bars. Innovationwise, this is the wonderfully Wild West all over again.

--Ruth Tobias

No. 2: Los Angeles, CA

What can we say: Everyone wants to be in LA. The culinary scene in Los Angeles is more vibrant than ever thanks to our ambitious young chefs; others who’ve been the cornerstone of how and what we eat since the 1980s; and the cultural pockets offering up the best Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Peruvian and Mexican fare in the country. In some cases, it’s the melding of all of these together that helped LA's rise to the top, with exciting new restaurants popping up in unexpected corners with a sort of new fusion cuisine.

It's places like Baroo, which at its heart is Korean, but where chef Kwang Uh has heightened fermentation to an art form with mind-bending grain and noodle bowls, that have caught the eye of national food editors. Newcomer Destroyer, Jordan Kahn's hidden spot for modern twists on breakfast and lunch staples, is also hot and buzzy. National media darlings including Curtis Stone's meat-centric Gwen, Jessica Koslow’s Sqirl, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s Jon & Vinny’s, and Roy Choi’s game-changing, socially responsible LocoL chain, have all made big waves in 2016.

LA has become a magnet for out-of-towners, like Andy Ricker, Eddie Huang, Geoffrey Zakarian, Daniel Humm, Jenn Louis and April Bloomfield, all opening restaurants here. They're tapping into what we’ve known all along — that the recipe for success on the Best Coast is a blend of our gorgeous year-round produce; attracting the very hungry and constantly evolving crowd that’s more and more willing to try new things; and of course the weather. Brooklyn food incubator/outdoor market Smorgasburg also made its LA debut Downtown this year, wrangling amazing local vendors from far-flung parts of the city plus making new stars out of up-and-comers like 30 Under 30s Calo Provisions and We Have Noodles. The James Beard awards somehow skip this beat (with the exception of recent medals for the very deserving Suzanne Goin, Dahlia Narvaez and Nancy Silverton), but just about everyone else has taken notice this year, even with a bit of envy, including Bon Appetit (Best New Restaurants and Dish of the Year), Lucky Peach (the Los Angeles issue), Food + Wine (Best New Chef) and the New York Times (critic Pete Wells’ first out-of-New York review, three stars for Cassia in Santa Monica).

--Lesley Balla

No. 1: Washington, DC

Washingtonians already know this was a huge year for dining — but you don’t need to take our word for it. The James Beard Foundation named Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury and Pineapple & Pearls as Best Chef Mid-Atlantic; Bad Saint landed at No. 2 on Bon Appetit’s America’s Best New Restaurants “hot list” for 2016, with Tail Up Goat and The Dabney making it into the finals; and Michelin awarded its first stars here in 2016. Most longtime residents would agree that DC was stuck in a dining rut for decades, and it’s almost as if someone hit the fast-forward button.

This national recognition follows DC's newfound status as the go-to spot for chefs and restaurateurs looking to expand into new territory. This year alone, Boston restaurateur Michael Schlow has opened three more restaurants here; reality TV stars Bill and Giuliana Rancic brought their RPM Italian concept from Chicago; and Pizzeria Vetri expanded here from Philly. Even more alluring is the level of innovation percolating among DC’s homegrown talent. Chefs like Silverman, Rob Rubba at Hazel and Tom Cunanan at Bad Saint continue to push the boundaries. And the more recent opening of the highly anticipated The Shaw Bijou, from 30 Under 30 chef Kwame Onwuachi, has us excited for what's to come in 2017.

The dining revolution here has happened so quickly, and now's the moment we sit back and savor it. So to DC chefs, we’d like to say this: You rock. Keep killing it. We’re proud of you. 

--Rina Rapuano

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