The 25 Most Important Restaurants of 2013

By Zagat Staff  |  December 16, 2013

This was a great year for restaurant openings around the country. With so many chefs continuing to explore emerging cuisines and mix others together in new and exciting ways, there's no denying that many of this year's openings will leave a lasting impact. From Boston to Dallas and Seattle, here are 25 of the most important openings of 2013. 

  • Credit: Spencer Selvidge

    Austin: Qui

    This high-end stunner from Top Chef Paul Qui was one of the biggest restaurant openings of the year. Qui focuses on hyperseasonal, local food, with a daily selection of small and large plates ($150 cote du boeuf, anyone?). The cocktails here are can’t-miss as well, and the hip, beautiful interior with touches from local artists like Keith Kreeger’s dishes make the space feel special. Pro tip: sit at the seven-seat bar and bypass the long wait times while still enjoying the full menu.

  • Credit: Gabi Porter

    NYC: Estela

    Chef Ignacio Mattos, sommelier Thomas Carter and operator Mark Connell hit a home run this year with NoLita's Estela. The reasonably priced menu is full of subtle surprises and artfully used produce. The beef tartare embeds the crunchy element (usually a dipping chip or sorts) into the tartare itself, and the ricotta dumplings rival those at The Spotted Pig (blasphemy!). We also loved the mussels, which are presented on toast in an acidic escabeche sauce. Estela is at the same time a reliable neighborhood spot and dining destination.

  • Los Angeles: Trois Mec

    The only thing hidden about the prix-fixe-only restaurant from Ludovic Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo is the sign - it still says Raffallo’s Pizza outside. But inside, the space is intimate and bustling, with the kitchen completely open to the room. The most coveted seats are the ones along the bar where diners are up close and personal to the kitchen and to Lefebvre, who’s most often leading the team. When you walk in the door, you get a rousing "Bonsoir!" (much like hearing "Irasshaimase!" when you walk into a sushi bar), which makes you realize that although you’re pre-paying for your five-course dinner ahead of time, like a ticket to a rock concert, the food is serious but the vibe is fun.

  • Chicago: A10 

    Matthias Merges officially opened A10 this fall, the first of his two Hyde Park restaurants. This one is warm and inviting, with exposed-brick walls, rich tapestries and mosaic flooring. The menu is divided into small and large plates with sections for pizzas, pastas and sweets. This Chicago neighborhood was particularly in need of a restaurant of this caliber, and A10 has delivered with a variety of wood-fired dishes and a mix of American and Italian influences.

  • Credit: Alden Gewirtz

    NYC: The Elm

    One of the biggest - and most surprising - food stories of the year was when modernist maestro Paul Liebrandt left his post at TriBeCa's Corton and decamped to set up shop in Williamsburg's King and Grove Hotel. Corton subsequently closed, and The Elm solidified this neighborhood's status as one of the most innovative culinary zip codes in town. The venue has tried to find a magic formula that both works with the neighborhood (witness the burger that was recently added to the menu) and Liebrandt's refined, slightly experimental taste (a chef's tasting counter dubbed at The Little Elm recently, opened in the back of the restaurant). While the reviews haven't been as widely positive as, say, similarly ambitious Aska in the same neighborhood, the chef has shown that where he goes, food lovers will follow.

  • Credit: Elizabeth Parker

    DC: Rose's Luxury

    Rose’s Luxury has managed to defend its place as this year’s critical darling since it opened in early October. The food is both innovative and comforting, the space is both hipsteresque and approachable, and the service is both competent and fun. It's rare that an opening makes the (sometimes jaded) Washington food collective this giddy, but it's tough to keep the excitement in check when a place successfully lives up to its potential - and exceeds our expectations - so decisively and so swiftly.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Philadelphia: Serpico

    Launched in partnership with Stephen Starr this June, Serpico’s venture has been hailed as a culinary success (our take is that he’s cooking food unlike anything else you’ll find in Philly), and the elegant dining room is consistently full despite its location on a somewhat gritty block of South Street.

  • Chicago: Nico

    Nico Osteria is One Off Hospitality's (Donnie Madia, Paul Kahan, Terry Alexander and Kimberly Galban) tribute to Italy. The menu focuses on the coastal regions with rustic dishes like housemade pastas and more delicate offerings such as grilled swordfish. Helping Kahan transport the simple flavors into a refined space is the culinary team of chef de cuisine Erling Wu-Bower and pastry chef Amanda Rockman.

  • Las Vegas: Tom Colicchio Heritage Steak

    Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio made the move to Vegas this year with Heritage Steak, which specializes in open-flame cooking and features antibiotic-free meats - including Brandt Beef and Snake River Farms - which Colicchio sources from ranchers across the United States. Opened in Sin City's The Mirage, the 230-seat restaurant showcases Colicchio’s passion for cooking with fire, as each dish is prepared to bring out the rich flavors in the cuisine while using the freshest ingredients available.

  • Atlanta: King + Duke

    Chef Ford Fry's King + Duke tips its hat to classic American literary traditions (the name references characters from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn) and features primitive cooking techniques including a 24-ft. open hearth as the restaurant’s centerpiece. Guests can watch their food being prepared over the fire in the main restaurant space, dine alfresco on the large patio or host an event behind a hidden door in the private dining room.

  • San Francisco: The Cavalier

    The latest from the Marlowe/Park Tavern team offers the feel of a cheeky yet classy British pub in the heart of SoMa. Now, the neighborhood is finally learning the meaning and flavor behind terms like scrumpets, rarebits and brambles. And thanks to its "secret," members-only back room, Marianne's, the Cavalier has become a spot where the tech elite reportedly have gone to make substantial deals.

  • Denver: Acorn at the Source

    Chef Steven Redzikowski and beverage director Bryan Dayton, the acclaimed team behind OAK at Fourteenth in Boulder, expanded to Denver with the opening of Acorn. Located within the Source, a reclaimed 1880s refinery turned edgy new epicurean marketplace, Acorn boasts Chef Redzikowski’s eclectic American cooking in an approachable, family-friendly format, alongside Dayton’s ingredient-driven cocktails and a selection of artisanal wines and beers.

  • Boston: Bronwyn

    Tim Wiechmann's inspired and impressive new Somerville entry has a lot of heart. And we're not referring to the big wooden ticker that hangs on one wall - hand-built, as were many of the decor pieces, by its chef-owner - but the passion for the Bavarian-style cuisine, from housemade wurst to spaetzle and schnitzel.

  • Credit: Swine Southern Table & Bar

    Miami: Swine Southern Table & Bar

    As the third concept from 50 Eggs restaurant group, this bustling loft-style eatery continues to pack in the customers with its lively vibe and Southern barbecue-focused cuisine. The Swine burger made with short rib, brisket and smoked-aged pork is ideal for anytime of day, while the double chocolate big ol’ sweet waffle with bananas, Nutella and bourbon maple syrup is perfect for Sunday brunch. 

  • Credit: Alex Gregg

    Houston: Goro & Gun

    Yet another important food truck gone brick-and-mortar, Goro & Gun is even more notable for its part in the Downtown revitalization. It was the harbinger that signaled to the rest of Houston that Downtown was officially some of the hottest real estate in town.

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    DC: Le Diplomate

    Le Diplomate came on the scene this spring, and our first hint that it was going to be an important opening this year was the gorgeous exterior that somehow looked more like a hyperrealistic painting of a Parisian cafe than the real thing. But it was also the food - including some outstanding housemade breads, a stellar seafood tower and a perfect foie gras parfait - that kept the place packed through the summer and fall months.

  • New Orleans: SoBou

    SoBou marked a return to the French Quarter for the Commander's Palace family, but its food is a mix of New Orleans-inspired cuisine with Caribbean twists. SoBou is no slouch in the cocktail department either, thanks to local mixology star Abigail Gullo.

  • Seattle: Barnacle Bar

    Barnacle Bar was meant to accommodate the hungry hordes lined up for red-haute chef Renee Erickson's Walrus and Carpenter oyster bar, but it's become a smash hit on its own. We'll credit the well-crafted cocktails and interesting lineup of savory shareables, including the dynamite octopus terrine. Nobody's calling it a tapas bar, but it certainly fits the description.

  • San Francisco: Coqueta

    Food-TV personality and Napa restaurateur Michael Chiarello took over the former Lafitte space on a slice of prime San Francisco waterfront and re-imagined it as a Spanish-Californian restaurant with a special nod to the flavors of the Iberian Peninsula. The adjacent, glass-hemmed room remains a tranquil place for an after-work drink and a new attractor of diners to the Embarcadero.

  • Nashville: Husk

    Sean Brock opened the second location of his Charleston standby in a historic brick mansion in Nashville's Rutledge Hill neighborhood. Using local ingredients, Brock elevates traditional Southern cuisine, taking it to new heights in another classic Southern city.

  • Dallas: Mot Hai Ba

    Inspired by a motorcycle trek through Northern Vietnam, chef-owners Jeana Johnson and Colleen O’Hare brought back the flavors and textures they experienced to this well-loved East Dallas restaurant. Dishes like the rotating Hanoian lunch, imperial rolls and spicy market crab are not only beautifully prepared and plated but are served up in an elegantly casual space that’s never stuffy. We also think their wonderfully executed pho can take credit for readying Dallas’ palate for the noodle-shop boom.

  • Los Angeles: Connie & Ted’s

    Building a restaurant from the ground up is no easy feat, so when the East Coast-style “seafood shack” from Providence’s Michael Cimarusti and Donato Poto hit a few snags, the lobster-roll-loving hordes got antsy. Upon its debut, it was impossible to get a reservation, and walk-ins could wait up to an hour for a table (or vie for a seat at the bar, which takes couth, tact and an eagle eye). Seafood is big in LA right now, so towering platters of chilled seafood, oysters and crab legs, Portuguese-inspired fisherman's stew and Ipswich fried clam rolls hit home.

  • Boston: Kirkland Tap & Trotter

    Considering that Craigie on Main is a local institution, food lovers were on high alert when word came down that chef Tony Maws would open a Somerville restaurant this year. And what a space it is: a place where hipsters, high-minded food lovers and high-minded, food-loving hipsters casually commingle over simple plates (what Maws describes as fare he'd cook for family and friends) that focus on quality and perfect cooking over a lot of pretense.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Philadelphia: Talula's Daily

    Aimee Olexy was first to take the concept big, and after convincing partner Stephen Starr that it would work, opened Talula’s Daily on Washington Square in June. From coffee and pastries to gourmet goods and the family-style suppers served six nights a week, the place has been roaring with almost nary a misstep.

  • Seattle: Loulay

    Loulay is a big leap from the small, intimate Rover's for Thierry Rautureau, a luxe place that seats 120 on three levels in the center of Downtown Seattle. Despite its upscale look, this restaurant was created by the Chef in the Hat to be the opposite of formal and fussy. The menu is filled with many of his childhood staples, including toasted brioche with cocoa, meant to offer a sweet afternoon break from shopping.