From the bialy boomlet to uni overload, if it was trending in 2014, Andrew Knowlton was there to document it. What follows is a taste of everything he ate, drank, and experienced while compiling his list of America's best new restaurants.
1. A Sign of the Times
Custom neon words and art are lighting up restaurants coast-to-coast, and we’re not just talking about beer logos in dive bars. SEEN AT: Rose’s Luxury, Washington, D.C.; Pinewood Social, Nashville; Monkey King Noodle Co., Dallas
2. Hipsters Like Ethnic Food, Too
Your Greek/Russian/Korean grandmother’s cuisine is being co-opted by a new generation. Old-world favorites served in new-school digs are turning tradition on its head. Here, a few past-present combos:
• Cholodetz (jellied beef and veal terrine) and house Negroni at Kachka, Portland, OR
• Spit-fired lamb and copper-topped communal tables at Souvla, San Francisco
• Bulgogi with jap chae and not-so-subtle stoner references at Pot, Los Angeles
• Mazemen ramen and pendant lights covered in doodles at Cheu Noodle Bar, Philadelphia
3. The Answer to Edison Bulb Fatigue
Inspired by the pots and vessels of India, Tom Dixon’s sculptural Beat Light Stout pendants ($1,425; lumens.com) are outshining exposed-filament bulbs in today’s best-designed restaurants. SEEN AT: Orsa & Winston, L.A.; Bouli Bar, S.F.
4. Keggers Come of Age
Bars have ditched ugly branded taps in favor of sleek wood and marble handles—as befits the craft beers they’re pulling. SEEN AT: Miller’s Guild, Seattle; Edmund’s Oast, Charleston, SC; Luksus, NYC
5. Freshman Class of 2014
Not every restaurant hires a fancy design firm. The chill vibe at a few of the most fun places I hung out at this year actually reminded me of my old college dorm room. Some examples:
1. Twinkly Christmas lights, some in fun star shapes (El Camino, Louisville, KY)
2. Curtains of plastic beads used as room dividers (Mission Cantina, NYC)
3. Movie posters or pics of swimsuit models (Night + Market Song, L.A.)
4. Glowing black lights and blinky neon to help set the mood (King Noodle, NYC)
5. Turntables spinning vinyl with bartender doubling as DJ (Expatriate, Portland, OR)
6. Raising the Bar Menu
From illustrated storybooks and reprinted record albums to zodiac charts and vintage ads, today’s most interesting bar menus are minor works of art. SEEN AT: Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago; the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, NYC; Trick Dog, SF.
7. Ship It
Who needs buildings when you have shipping containers? The corrugated steel boxes intended for freight work just fine as an outdoor bar at Parson’s Chicken & Fish in Chicago; a burnt-orange façade at the 404 in Nashville; a kitchen and bathroom at The Luxury in San Antonio; and a play area at Las Vegas’s Downtown Container Park.
8. What Goes Around Comes Around...
Traditional rotisseries are the new must-have kitchen gizmo. The crisped-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside herb-covered bird at République in Los Angeles reminded me that a perfectly cooked chicken might just be the most comforting dish of all time. And what the rotisserie at Narcissa in NYC can do for beets, sweet potatoes, and even branzino is nothing short of revelatory
9. Pint-Sized Keepsakes
I’m a restaurant-swag junkie: matchbooks, business cards, menus. And now I can add branded drink coasters to that list. Death to the cocktail napkin; all hail the custom coaster! SEEN AT: Antonioni’s, NYC; Connie and Ted’s, L.A.; Percy’s and Co., Seattle; Tosca, San Francisco; The Obstinate Daughter, Charleston, SC.
10. Dinner 2.0
My typical night at a tech-savvy restaurant goes like this:
Booking reservations: To get in, I sign up for OpenTable's Hot Tables alerts, use an alt-res site like CityEats or SeatMe, or--gasp!--pay for a table via new apps like Table8 and Resy.
Being seated: How crazy is it that hosts used to call you? Just text me when my table is ready, please.
Paying the tab: Paper receipts are so '90s. Now I sign an iPad and the bill goes straight to my inbox.
To see the rest of the 25 trends of 2014, visit BonAppetit.com!