Juneau, Alaska • Italian • Opened March 2016
If you find your way to this 100-year-old bakery building, you might think, eyeing the menu, that it’s just a wood-fired pizza place. But it’s the sophisticated, deeply Alaskan specials — usually announced on Instagram — that have brought the chef Beau Schooler a half-dozen James Beard award nominations. Mr. Schooler trained in Italy, but the menu also reflects the influence of the chef de cuisine, Rachel Carrillo Barril, whose Filipino family came to Alaska’s capital generations ago. Mr. Schooler fishes commercially and shows a wild creativity when it comes to salmon — wood-firing Chinook off-cuts, grinding bones to salt, curing fish into mortadella, painting smoked salmon with a candy shell. Expect a casual dining room, gorgeous Filipino-influenced pastries and plenty of ’90s hip-hop.
Los Angeles • Japanese • Opened May 2023
In this peaceful dining room, surrounded by a cheerful staff in all-white uniforms, it might seem as if Yess were the headquarters for an arcane Southern Californian cult. But no, this isn’t that kind of fine-dining restaurant! Junya Yamasaki’s cooking is as precise and controlled as his menu is inviting and flexible: Put together exactly the dinner you feel like eating, whether that’s a cold beer and hot, crispy katsu doused in Worcestershire sauce, or a long and luxurious sequence of mesmerizing dishes, like the rockfish with citrus ponzu and the vegetable-packed “monk’s chirashi sushi.”
Los Angeles • Korean • Opened July 2023
This cozy, casual banchan shop spills out into a courtyard where you can feast on warm seasoned rice, sweet pepper muchim, marinated okra, perfect spirals of rolled omelets and more of whatever Jihee Kim has cooked in her tiny open kitchen that day. Ms. Kim, who started Perilla as a pop-up during the pandemic’s first wave of restaurant shutdowns, is guided by Korean cooking and fermentation techniques as much as by what excites her at the farmers’ market. The results are wonderfully unpredictable and delicious.
Los Angeles • Pizza • Opened January 2022
Aaron Lindell and Hannah Ziskin’s Echo Park pizzeria confidently shifts from thick, airy, crisp-edged Sicilian corner slices inspired by, say, California Pizza Kitchen’s barbecue chicken pizza one day, to cracker-thin bar pies jeweled with Jimmy Nardello peppers the next. And we don’t have room to get into the perfection of the salad and its dressing, but it seems important to note that even the simplest sides here are a delight. Ms. Ziskin’s daily dessert specials and seasonal layered cakes would be reason enough to join the small, loyal crowd that tends to gather outside on the cracked sidewalk just as soon as the restaurant opens its doors. These slices — both savory and sweet — are always worth the wait.
San Francisco • Japanese • Opened April 2022
When the married couple Yoko and Clint Tan started hosting pop-ups nearly nine years ago, the eventual goal wasn’t necessarily a ramen tasting menu. But last year, when the self-taught chefs, and now owners, opened Noodle in a Haystack, they arrived at exactly that. The menu is a synchronized chorus of five to 10 thoughtful and energetic courses centered on a bowl (or two) of ramen that’s often served with a bracing and nearly clear stock — like the 15-hour, simmered at a whisper, broth of whole chickens that anchors the tori shio ramen. Such a globally recognizable dish shouldn’t hold many surprises at this point, but if you find yourself here, the ramen will leave you delightfully gobsmacked.
San Francisco • Thai • Opened February 2023
It’s easy to drive past the many restaurants on San Francisco’s consistently foggy Geary Boulevard. But in one of the city’s quieter quarters, the Suwanpanya siblings, Jim (the chef) and Tanya (a co-owner) deliver joyful Thai dishes that are amplified by an arsenal of seasonal abundance like local scallops kissed with chile jam and coconut cream, or grilled beef-wrap curry that unravels with a slow, slinky heat. An aromatic scoop of young coconut ice cream is perfumed by one of two dozen traditional candles that Mr. Suwanpanya brought back from Thailand, where he worked at Michelin-starred restaurants. The dessert will teleport you to every blown-out birthday candle from your youth — and that time travel alone might be every reason to visit.
La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal
Denver • Mexican • Opened July 2021
The chef Jose Avila is something of a serial specialist. Previously heading up Machete Tequila + Tacos, he then became known for his El Borrego Negro pop-ups, where he grilled a whole sheep on Sundays. Here, he is working with the signature hominy soup of his native Mexico. The pozole negro, in particular, is a formidable sight — rich and restorative in the way the world’s great soups are. Do not discount the guisados, though, a whole genre of stews and braises, which can be ordered as tacos or costras (basically discs of griddled cheese that play the role of tortillas). The menu has a rotating slate of about a dozen, but the huachinango, red snapper with pineapple butter and citrus slaw, is hard to forget.
Molotov Kitschen + Cocktails
Denver • Ukrainian • Opened January 2023
The quarters are close — 20 or so seats — but intimacy is the point, as you shuffle in and find yourself nearly face-to-face with Bo Porytko as he diligently works the stove. The food is hearty — as you might expect from a chef cooking in the tradition of his Ukrainian grandmother — but it is accented by expert grace notes. The piquant borscht is made with dehydrated sour cherries. The spelt pelmeni dumplings are perfectly tender and filled with an alluring pork pâté. A vermouth sauce subtly leavens the meaty undertaking of the elk sauerbraten. Given the proximity of fellow diners and the variety of infused vodkas, it’s not unusual to become fast friends as the evening progresses.
Kent, Conn. • Modern farm-to-table • Opened April 2023
From the idyllic landscape of Litchfield County, Ore Hill produces a kaleidoscope of flavors, a warm cocoon of service, and lush produce, dairy and meat from the 1,000-acre estate nearby that belonged to the philanthropist Anne Bass. She built the restaurant, and provided for it in her will. Its $95 prix fixe keeps the promise of farm-to-table that urban restaurants can’t, with fragrant green tomatoes, tiny raspberries, fresh beans and burrata; even the minced chives on pea-filled agnolotti pack a punch. The rebuilt 18th-century farmhouse shares a wood-fired oven with Swyft, its tavern sibling, which also offers beautifully seared steaks and chops, plus excellent thin-crust pizza
Miami • Peruvian • Opened March 2023
To take the inspiration story behind Maty’s literally is to believe that the chef-owner, Val Chang, grew up eating plates of oysters a la chalaca, tuna tiradito laid over citrusy yellow-eye beans and whole roasted dorade draped in aji amarillo beurre blanc. Those are just a few examples of the inspired tributes Ms. Chang pays to the cooking of her native Chiclayo, Peru, and specifically to her grandmother Maty. You’ll find it in a Midtown Miami dining room awash with sunlight in the day and pulsing music at night. If the address isn’t already Florida’s headquarters of new Peruvian American food, it will be soon, when Itamae, the restaurant specializing in Nikkei cuisine that Ms. Chang ran with her brother, Nando, and father, Fernando, opens in a new location next door.
Miami • Barbecue • Opened January 2022
Smoke & Dough grew out of the bakery business in which the owners Harry and Michelle Coleman spent much of their young adulthood. This would be an unusual lineage for a barbecue joint pretty much anyplace besides South Florida, where the diversity of the Latin American diaspora is expressed in baked goods. Smoke & Dough draws on that heritage and its savory-sweet palette, and answers the question of what true Miami barbecue might taste like: ribs glossed with guava-ancho barbecue sauce, brisket rubbed with Cuban coffee, housemade pastrami tequeños, black beans baked with pineapple. And yes, the flan is smoked.
The Salt Shack feels like it’s been catching the ocean breeze on the edge of Rattlesnake Point for decades. Jimmy Buffet would have liked this place, where there is no problem a platter of fresh Gulf shrimp and a drink with a pineapple slice couldn’t solve. The place has no walls and snapshot views of Old Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg, with a wait staff of waiters heavy on local teenagers.The sprawling menu has a vague Caribbean bent, with jackfruit tacos dressed in jicama slaw and jerk burgers with fries, but the real gold is anything that lets all that great Gulf seafood shine.
You can find biscuits everywhere in the South, but you’ll find only one with the lineage of Bomb Biscuits, where the former software engineer Erika Council pays homage to a long line of Black women who cook, including her grandmother Mildred Cotton Council, who opened the enduring soul food restaurant Mama Dip’s Country Kitchen in Chapel Hill, N.C. At this little brick storefront in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, the thing to get is the Glori-Fried Chicken Biscuit. It’s built with a thigh that has been marinated in spiced buttermilk, then fried until it’s crunchy. A dip in a thin, hot honey sauce is good, but the lemon-pepper version is her love letter to Atlanta.
Brochu’s Family Tradition
The way Andrew Brochu swaggered into a fried chicken town with a recipe that had made him famous in Chicago was pretty bold. He and his wife, Sophie, who grew up in Savannah, moved South to open a casual, boisterous restaurant in the city’s fast-changing Starland neighborhood. Mr. Brochu, a former star in the Alinea Group constellation, has the goods. His fried thighs, brined in chamomile tea, are the highlight of a deconstructed Sunday supper platter packed with biscuits, chicken salad, sunchoke hot sauce and a ramekin of gravy for dipping. He’s got a lot of oysters, too, served raw, over charred bread with scallion butter or dressed in sauces like French curry. If you’re lucky, they’ll still have a slice of pie left for dessert.
In the low-slung town of Wailuku in central Maui — spared by the wildfires that devastated the island in August — Tiffany’s opened in 2003 and for nearly two decades was a local secret. When the chef Sheldon Simeon and his wife, Janice, took it over last year, they kept its unpretentious spirit and royal-blue booths while gently bringing an artisanal focus to the kitchen. Among their classics old and new: fat chow funn, noodles as chewy as mochi, with a veneer of crisp; honey walnut shrimp in fluffy, shattery clouds of batter, slaked with candy mayo; crackly edged “Spam” made from Duroc pork; and, for dessert, pale blushing lychee granita, with a cache of hot pink dragon fruit waiting to be spooned from its depths.
Caldwell, Idaho • Mexican • Opened September 2019
The chef Salvador Alamilla, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Rebecca, was born in the Mexican state Michoacan and raised in Orange County, Calif. He brings the spirit of both of those places to the menu. The corn is nixtamalized and made into tortillas in house (by Mr. Alamilla’s aunts), and dishes like the tartare tostada and chile Colorado are well complemented by a cocktail of mezcal, ancho verde and coconut. In a nod to Southern California, the L.A. Birria Tacos have a particularly rich consommé. The short rib with mole negro is a dark, rich monumental piece of meat, and afterward, it may be difficult to face the dulce de leche adorned with burnt-corn husk cream, but it’s the right decision.
Chicago • Italian • Opened March 2023
Chefs serving “authentic” fritto misto in landlocked locations typically enlist the help of airfreighted squid. That’s not how Joe Frillman does things. His Italian-inspired cuisine is authentically Midwestern. That means fritto misto starring cheese curds and local mushrooms, enjoyed with a sassy sparkling rosé made from grapes grown along the Illinois River. The pastas include pierogi, and you’ll find fried whitefish from the Great Lakes. But the extreme locavorism is not shallow trickery. Daisies’ cooking is as adept as any you’ll find in Chicago. That extends to the desserts of Leigh Omilinsky, who became a partner in the restaurant, originally opened in 2017, when it moved into a new, larger space in March.
Chicago • Indian • Opened April 2023
This former food-hall stand serving fare from the coastal southwest region of Kerala in India has found a larger home for its loud flavors, courtesy of the owners Margaret Pak and Vinod Kalathil. Everything here, down to the stainless steel plates the food is served on, feels homestyle. Expect fish fries, yogurt rice and coconutty curries whose remnants you’ll eagerly sop up with appam, lacy domes made of rice and coconut. Even the more playful dishes, like tater tots dusted with chaat masala, feel like those clever snacks devised in a pinch by an enterprising home cook.
Iowa City, Iowa • Asian, Italian • Opened May 2021
Sam Gelman grew up eating lunch at Pearson’s Drug Store, just down the block from Mercy Hospital, where his grandfather worked as an orthopedic surgeon. Today, Mr. Gelman and his wife, Riene, operate the Webster, a restaurant named after that grandfather, in that drugstore’s former space. Mr. Gelman’s food channels his experiences working as a top lieutenant in the chef David Chang’s restaurant group, which took him from New York to Toronto to Los Angeles. With its window-lined dining room and vibrant, Asian-accented, often locally sourced dishes, the Webster treats Mr. Gelman’s hometown as an asset, and serves as a compelling enticement to visit this cosmopolitan corner of the Midwest.
New Orleans • New Orleans Creole • Opened 1996
In New Orleans, “neighborhood restaurant” is a genre widely understood to meet expectations of affordability and informality, with a strain of vernacular cuisine headlined by red beans, gumbo and Gulf seafood po’ boys. Café Reconcile has been a reliable purveyor of this distinctive comfort cooking for decades, but it has never been as consistently delicious as it is under its current chief culinary officer, Martha Wiggins. After years working in upscale restaurant kitchens, Ms. Wiggins was drawn to the social mission of Reconcile, which is staffed in part by students learning life skills on the job. So, your lunch helps support an honorable enterprise. If you’re planning a visit around daily specials, pay attention to Thursday’s shrimp with white beans and Friday’s smothered turkey necks.
New Orleans • French • Opened November 2022
French-sounding dishes are easy to find in the French Quarter. But restaurants whose food closely resembles what you ate on your last trip to Paris have never been that common. MaMou is a French restaurant as much as it is a New Orleans one. While there are nods to local tradition — Gulf fish court-bouillon, red beans in the cassoulet — the chef Tom Branighan owes more to Fernand Point than to Paul Prudhomme. Braised celery hearts carrying thin slices of smoked beef tongue are a representative (and exquisite) menu mainstay. The talents of Mr. Branighan and his business partner, Molly Wismeier, one of the city’s top sommeliers, are well matched. High spirits course through this neighborhood, but rarely coexist with such high refinement.
No one who loves Tinder Hearth wants you to know about it. The bakery and pizza restaurant are set up in a handful of small buildings and a garden field next to Lydia Moffet and Tim Semler’s farmhouse on a finger of the Maine coast’s Blue Hill Peninsula. They bake only 150 pizzas a night, in a wood-burning brick oven, and only four nights a week. And what pizzas they are, built on thin but sturdy 17-inch crusts that have been leavened with wild yeast. The thrill comes from a rotating cast of toppings that might include pork meatballs, chile and garden mint, or confit cherry tomatoes, caramelized onion and ricotta with pops of fresh green coriander and honey.
Little Donna’s encapsulates the feeling of coming home. Though the restaurant is inspired by the tavern-style pizzas popularized in Chicago, where the chef Robbie Tutlewski attended culinary school, the most appealing dishes are those inspired by his Yugoslavian grandmother “Little Donna” and the city of Baltimore. They include Serbian pancakes, or palacinke, served with local crab; smoked Carolina trout dip with horseradish; and a showstopper of a kielbasa-stuffed pork schnitzel. The setting evokes “Grandma’s sitting room,” but this is a restaurant with flair and an exceptional bar program to boot.
Boston • African diaspora food • Opened January 2023
Is this dish Indian? Jamaican? Senegalese? At Comfort Kitchen, those questions are the whole point. Here, the chefs Biplaw Rai, who is from Nepal, and Kwasi Kwaa, who is from Ghana, want to illustrate just how connected food traditions are, through ingredients that have traveled across continents, either through forced migration or trade routes. Duck is dusted with jerk seasoning, served alongside Jamaican rice and peas and served with piklizok, a pickled vegetable condiment from Haiti. Okra is seared in brown butter, topped with fried plantain crumbs and served with yogurt seasoned with garam masala from Mr. Rai’s mother. Despite all this zigzagging through countries and flavors, each dish still manages to feel coherent and captivating — like a story unfolding in several parts.
Detroit • Modern Bistro • Opened February 2022
When it opened, Ladder 4 was so focused on serving natural wine that John Yelinek, one of Detroit’s gifted young chefs, took a job pouring drinks, never expecting to cook. His move to the kitchen, later last year, is when the erudite bar, built in a converted firehouse by the brothers James and Patrick Cadariu, became an alluring restaurant as well. You’ll leave raving about charred leeks crowned with gribiche and trout roe, or pork schnitzel escorted by a salad of fresh peas and mint, in the same breath as Sipon, the Slovene skin-contact wine recommended for its “funky-kampucha-dried-apricot vibes.”
Minneapolis • Laotian • Opened May 2023
Gai Noi is the most noteworthy restaurant yet opened by the veteran Twin Cities chef Ann Ahmed, mainly because she has never leaned so hard into her native Lao cuisine. If customers appear at ease dredging sticky rice through one of the four kinds of jeow, or chasing hot bites of laab with juicy morsels of shrimp flake-dusted watermelon, it has something to do with Ms. Ahmed and others who’ve been spreading Southeast Asian flavors across the metro area. Angle for a second-floor seat overlooking Loring Park, and settle in with a bracing, fruit-forward cocktail.
Livingston, Montana • Italian • Opened August 2020
In the Big Sky State, the steakhouse is still king. And while Livingston is far from a cow town — more like a fancy-fly-rod-and-real-estate town — Campione still stands out. If a frontier trattoria exists, this airy, light-filled space in a former general store on Main Street is it. The food is farm- or ranch-to-table, but not ostentatiously so. The cornmeal-crusted trout from Flathead Lake is served with local lentils, and the pasta for the delightful manicotti in brodo is made with wheat grown and milled in the state. If the cattle still call, though, the meatballs are made with Montana beef.
Englewood, New Jersey • Chinese, Vegetarian • Opened August 2023
What will the suburbs look like when there’s a vegan restaurant on every Main Street? The dystopian scenario is easy to picture: impersonal chains pushing fake meat. But if we’re lucky, the future might look something like Fat Choy. After a pandemic-era run in a tiny takeout spot on the Lower East Side, the chef, Justin Lee, relocated this summer to across the George Washington Bridge. His menu, several times longer now, rewires Chinese and American-Chinese classics using nothing but fresh vegetables and bean curd. Dishes such as Not Quite Beef and Broccoli, made with roasted mushrooms, and Mr. Lee’s homage to General Tso, in which battered fried cauliflower takes the place of chicken, will make instant sense to anyone who’s ever been to Panda Express.
New York City • Italian • Opened December 2022
Just when Italian cooking in New York seemed to have entered the era of diminishing returns, along comes Torrisi. The menu plays by nobody’s rules, not even its own. Rich Torrisi, the chef, is remixing old Little Italy classics with Vietnamese, Chinese and Jewish dishes that lived just outside the neighborhood. He’s been mining this vein for years now, but here he gets to show off his full range. Some dishes, like dry-aged rotisserie duck with mulberry mostarda, are intense enough to get the attention of the people whose black S.U.V.s are idling out on Mulberry Street. Others — the stracciatella, the cheese tortellini pomodoro — are so simple they might be half-finished before you realize they’re the product of a chef obsessed with the flavors he carries around in his memory.
Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi
New York City • American, Caribbean, Creole • Opened November 2022
Nearly one year in, landing a reservation at Kwame Onwuachi’s Lincoln Center restaurant is still a high-performance sport. Even the outdoor tables on the plaza don’t do much for the would-be walk-ins at the door when Tatiana opens each night. Are they drawn by the crowd, dressed as if they were going out dancing later? By the way the cocktails all seem to whisper, Go ahead, nobody’s counting? By the menu, which pays sincere and doting attention to oxtails, egusi soup, Cosmic Brownies and other foods that don’t usually make it into expensive restaurants in New York? All of the above, certainly, plus the suspicion that Tatiana is that very rare creature, an important restaurant that knows how to party.
New York City • Vegetarian • Opened April 2023
The whole enterprise is named for a meatless patty, so it may come as a surprise to learn that almost everything else on the all-vegetarian menu is what we used to call farm-to-table cooking. Brooks Headley, the chef, must have inside sources at the Greenmarket to judge from the shiny, textured, deep-hued lettuces in the house salad and the field-ripened corn that may turn up in your gelato if your timing is lucky. After a move from a tiny space nearby, this produce-worship is now conducted in the extremely un-precious environs of a ’90s-vintage coffee shop filled with relics from the East Village’s unkempt heyday.
Southern cooking in New York City has always been a bit spotty. Sure, there are pockets where one can find great examples — primarily in neighborhoods like Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant — but outside those areas, things get shaky. Enter Cafe Camellia, a surprisingly ambitious restaurant in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from a comedian-turned-chef that drips with authenticity. That means prawns and grits appropriately drowned in butter with a gumbo jus, fried pickled green tomatoes and an impossible-to-put-down take on red beans and rice that involves frying the rice beforehand. For dessert, the best banana pudding tart you may ever have — outside of the Deep South.
Pine Plains, N.Y. • Country Tavern • Opened March 2022
Clare de Boer is that dinner-party host whose spreads are simple, effortless and maddeningly good. And Stissing House, a historic tavern with a big, open hearth, is a worthy showcase for her talents. In Ms. de Boer’s hands, a simple cup of beef broth garnished with a rosemary sprig can feel like it has healing powers; a plate of ham and pickles tastes luxurious; and a tall, hefty slice of coconut cake is light and airy. Practically everything here is cooked over a wood fire, often seasoned with not much more than some herbs, salt and Ms. de Boer’s deft, seemingly magical, touch.
It’s safe to say there is nowhere else in America like Neng Jr.’s, a tiny, freewheeling restaurant where a bold new cuisine marrying Filipino recipes with Southern ingredients is cooked by Silver Iocovozzi and delivered with panache by their husband and co-owner, Cherry Iocovozzi. (A trans couple, they met in Manhattan and courted in Asheville.) A starter plate of melon and mango with a pungent, spicy dipping sauce pays homage to ensaladang mangga. The custardy charred eggplant with a pile of acidy tomatoes laced with garlic and cilantro was inspired by a dish Mr. Iocovozzi’s uncle cooked for him on a Filipino beach. And adobo is everywhere — in the martinis, bathing raw oysters and coating seared duck breast.
McMinnville, Ore. • Pacific Northwest • Opened July 2022
Nestled in the middle of Oregon wine country, Okta integrates the roots, fruits, leaves and creatures — even the twigs and rocks — of the Pacific Northwest into a tasting menu with spiritual dimensions. The chef Matthew Lightner (formerly of Castagna in Portland, Ore., and Atera in New York) once cooked at Noma, whose influence is evident in dishes like lacto-fermented peppers surrounding locally caught rockfish, and the liberal use of Douglas fir and lichen. But Mr. Lightner never loses sight of deliciousness while pursuing a vision that melds ecology, philosophy and history with culinary sciences.It’s valuable to understand the role morels play in traditional Indigenous forestry, but when paired with caviar and a richly laminated housemade brioche, they take on a significance almost beyond words.
Portland, Oregon • Mexican, Pacific Northwest • Opened October 2022
Lilia Comedor describes itself as serving Pacific Northwest cuisine through the lens of a Mexican American chef, an apt if somewhat wan description of the chef Juan Gomez’s colorful and precise cooking. Best to let dishes like silky halibut with morels, mole and flakes of rice chicharron, and pork collar confit with heirloom carrot escabeche speak eloquently for themselves. The menu changes weekly and includes fleeting ingredients like the black trumpet mushrooms decorating blue corn chochoyotes (masa dumplings) and marigold petals plucked from the chef’s garden. A former chef de cuisine at Portland’s beloved República restaurant, Mr. Gomez combines technical savvy with flavors from his mother’s kitchen, all served in a relaxed and welcoming setting.
The all-day-cafe concept may seem worn out, but at Cafe Olli, it’s anything but stale. Maybe it’s the bread program that churns out fresh boules every day. Or the pastry menu, with its generously salted chocolate chip cookies alongside delicate laminated offerings. Or maybe it’s the eclectic array of breakfast and lunch items seemingly designed for one’s personal cravings, or the Neapolitan-style pies with seasonal toppings. But the most likely source of Cafe Olli’s freshness is that it’s employee-owned, and there’s a clear buy-in from everyone involved that you can taste on your plate.
When South Philly Barbacoa opened nearly a decade ago, it was clear that the Mexican immigrants who had settled in Philadelphia had a culinary story to tell. El Chingon, just a 10-minute walk away, feels like a continuation of that story. After decades working at upscale French and Italian restaurants, Juan Carlos Aparicio takes us home to the Pueblan kitchen where his mother taught him to cook. She inspired dishes like picture-perfect cemitas made with springy bread (Mr. Aparicio’s specialty), tart aguachile with slivers of scallops in a bath of leche de tigre, and tacos that are traditional (al pastor, pescado) and not so traditional (vegan tacos arabes made with mushrooms) on housemade sourdough tortillas. El Chingon doesn’t clamor for attention or traffic in gimmicks; it’s simply a neighborhood restaurant, albeit one of the highest order.
Philadelphia • French • Opened May 2023
“Je me souviens” (I remember) is the motto of Quebec, and it’s also a vibe at this newcomer in the City of Brotherly Love, where you might remember things about restaurants that have been missing in recent years — namely fun. The chefs Alex Kemp and Amanda Shulman have created a weeknight spot that feels like a dinner party in the spirit of Montreal’s Joe Beef, where both worked. The easiest way to experience the twists, turns and surprises of their seasonal menu is the “Let us cook for you!” option, which could go from a seafood platter to a hot-cold crab situation (big crab meets Big Mac) to a meaty main, like a pork chop with peaches. Yes, those were Teddy Grahams climbing the swirled soft-serve peak at meal’s end.
Philadelphia • Thai • Opened November 2022
Chutatip Suntaranon pranced away from her flight-attendant career and onto the national culinary stage in 2019, when she started serving head-turning southern Thai food at a 39-seat B.Y.O. restaurant. As of last year, that Kalaya is no more, but the new version is as dazzling as the original was modest. Palm trees tower over 140 seats inside the new location that opened last November in the Fishtown neighborhood. Ms. Suntaranon’s business partnership with Defined Hospitality, a local restaurant company, hasn’t muted her forcefully spiced, luminous cooking. Be sure to order the flower-shaped shaw muang, the fiery venison curry and the goong phao, with its grilled freshwater prawns — and while you eat, marvel at the realization that this preternaturally gifted chef and restaurateur didn’t open her first place until age 50.
Charleston, S.C. • Modern Bistro • Opened July 2022
Finally, wine-bar food feels interesting again. This neighborhood spot from the restaurant veterans Bethany and Daniel Heinze serves Lowcountry ingredients with finesse and fun: rabbit campanelli tastes like cacio e pepe with a clever plot twist. Fresh, buttery tilefish is verdant and aromatic with green garlic. And harissa, fennel and pork, it turns out, are a holy trinity. Even on a Monday, Vern’s hums with energy — you’ll feel like a local even if you’re just visiting. Also: If there’s a granita on the dessert menu, get it.
Nashville • Japanese • Opened March 2023
Against the cranes-in-the-sky backdrop of go-go modern Nashville, the ambitions of this lunch-only cafe are refreshingly modest. Leina Horii and Brian Lea, Kisser’s married owners, apply Japanese cuisine’s less-is-more aesthetic to the entire enterprise. The result is an austere restaurant that feels like a refuge, staffed by unharried employees executing a concise menu of only good options. They include housemade udon, onigiri and salads bursting with fresh produce, as well as inari that eat like cool shrimp-roll sliders, with tofu in place of the bun. Truth is, there isn’t a neighborhood that wouldn’t be richer for the addition of this soulful, personal take on a Japanese teahouse.
Austin, Texas • Mexican • Opened October 2022
Este is inspired by the seafood dishes of the Mexican coast, but it’s not strictly limited to them. The menu isn’t filled with faithful recreations of the aguachiles and tostadas found in cities like Ensenada or Veracruz. Instead, the chef Fermín Núñez isn’t afraid to go off-road in the name of uncovering something delicious. Grilled turbot with salsa verde shines even brighter with a rich slick of hummus on the bottom. Hazelnuts and brown butter enliven the salsa macha in the grilled squid. “You wouldn’t find it in Mexico,” Mr. Nuñez said of his cooking. “But it is Mexican.”
Austin, Texas • Malaysian • Opened February 2022
In Texas, it’s not unusual to find exceptional food in a gas station. At Wee’s Cozy Kitchen in Austin, past the cases of Coors Light and off-brand iPhone headphones, you’ll see satisfied locals and University of Texas students alike digging into bowls of curry laksa that are heady with lemongrass and chiles. Wee Fong Ehlers started her business with Chinese food and burgers; slowly, she began adding Malaysian dishes, and those proved the biggest hits. From her tiny kitchen, Ms. Ehlers cooks every dish to order, even freshly chopping the lemongrass. Wee’s provides all the warmth of home cooking, just in a gas station.
Houston • Mexican • Opened April 1994
Take a peek behind the pass at El Hidalguense. If the giant vats of bubbling caldo de res don’t impress you, the indoor spit just might. Every day, whole goats are roasted, chopped and, if you want, slicked with a fiery chile paste, then served with charro beans and blanket-soft tortillas. This is the rustic cooking of Hidalgo, a state in central Mexico whose famously colorful houses are depicted on the restaurant’s sign and splashed onto the table decorations. Grab a big group, order several platters of meat and enjoy the kind of Mexican cooking that you can’t easily get elsewhere — and that’s saying something in Houston.
Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers
Houston • Southern • Opened July 2022
The Gatlin family, which runs Gatlin’s BBQ, is well known in Houston for barbecued meats. But it’s also about to be known for biscuits — accordion-esque in their layers, redolent of butter. And plump and garlicky barbecue shrimp. And miraculously crispy fried catfish. The Gatlins have brought their Southern food chops and warm-hug hospitality to their newest restaurant, Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers, which specializes in chicken and seafood. From the cozy booths to the televisions mounted on the walls, it’s a place where you’ll want to stay a while. Just don’t leave without having the cobbler.
Yuan and Carey Tang, the husband and wife behind Ellie Bird, cut their teeth working in fine-dining restaurants in Washington, D.C., where they opened their critically acclaimed tasting-menu restaurant Rooster & Owl. Their second project, in the affluent bedroom community Falls Church, where the couple grew up, is decidedly homier. There, they’re proving that suburbanites are as hungry for imaginative cooking as any city denizen. Think Vietnamese French onion soup with braised oxtail, cacio e pepe crossed with elote, and fried oyster larb gai. It’s well worth the short trip outside the District, even if you have to wait a little longer for an Uber driver willing to cross the Potomac.
Seattle • Omakase • Opened July 2021
With high-end omakase restaurants all over the world flying in fish from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, it’s now just as easy to enjoy world-class sushi in Brussels as in Shibuya. But at Ltd Edition, in a town of piscatorial plenty, none of the fish is frozen and much of it is local. The chef Keiji Tsukasaki came to the sushi craft somewhat later in life, after more than a decade in the nightlife world, and he presides over the eight-seat counter with an impresario’s charisma. While the traditional preparations are superb — including achingly good Dungeness crab and tender firefly squid — Mr. Tsukasaki is also expanding the Edomae sushi vocabulary with dishes like lean tuna belly with housemade soy milk and shio koji.
Waitsburg, Washington • Italian • Opened October 2022
What if the pasta savant Mike Easton up and moved his acclaimed lunch-only spot, Il Corvo, 275 miles east, from the grittier edge of downtown Seattle to Main Street in tiny Waitsburg, Wash.? Well, at this picture-perfect storefront space that seats only 12 at a time and offers just a few antipasti and three pastas a night — an ever-changing lineup that might include tagliarini with a sauce of squid ink and black garlic, or rainbow chard gnudi — you’d be remiss not to order the whole menu. On a warm spring night, with Mr. Easton’s wife and business partner, Erin, pouring a lightly chilled Italian Freisa from the list she tends, you might start to wonder if you haven’t found a perfect restaurant.
Milwaukee • Midwestern • Opened May 2021
Kyle Knall, who has run well-regarded restaurants in New York and New Orleans, moved from Brooklyn to Milwaukee for reasons having to do with family and Covid. One meal at the restaurant he runs with his wife and partner, Meghan, and it’s apparent he is a chef sincerely inspired by his new surroundings. Where else can you get roasted wild walleye, served in its own smoke-scented broth with pickled fennel salsa verde, or exceptional housemade pastas enlivened by premium Wisconsin ingredients, from feta to corn to shishito peppers? This is worldly Midwestern cuisine free of clichés.