There is nothing quite like that new restaurant smell, and, in 2014, olfactory systems across the country were going crazy breathing in the smells emanating from secret burgers in Boston and borsch with short ribs in Portland, and, like, eleventy things topped with an egg everywhere else. And though this year's list skewed fancier than in years past (do people not remember that the stock market is CYCLICAL?!?!), Liz and I -- with the help of a collection of our top editors all over the country -- think we've cobbled together the 21 best places to have opened in the past 12 months. You may disagree, and that's okay -- because this is America, or maybe a Southern part of Canada -- so please voice those disagreements and let us know what we missed in the comments. But until then, sit back, relax, and enjoy the list. And maybe throw an egg on top of whatever you're currently eating:
With total respect to Husk Nashville (and have I told you enough this year that I could eat AT LEAST seven of Chef Brock's American cheese, bacon-beef blend burgers in one sitting), what Tom Morales has done at Acme Feed & Seed is the most exciting thing in Music City. Not only is the building a multi-level testament to Nashville -- think 100-year-old printing tiles covering the walls of the historic former seed store and a third-floor event space with views of downtown -- but the food is damn delicious. On the first floor, grab beers and street food-style dishes, like Beer Belly Tacos or Mexican street corn, grilled with cotija, lime aioli, and chilis, from Chef Matt Farley (The Southern), or head upstairs for cocktails and an entirely different menu of Southern eats or post up at the sushi bar prepped by Sam "The Sushi Nazi" Katakura, who landed here after his own beloved spot closed in the spring. And the fact that this is all drawing locals back to Broadway -- let's just call that strip the Times Square of Nashville -- to eat AND listen to music makes it even more impressive.
Before you head to the Brattle Theater to go watch and be freaked out by The Babadook, you're going to want to consider Michael Scelfo's Alden & Harlow. With a name that pays homage to the 1800s architectural firm that created the building, you might think that the food would be throwback comfort classics, BUT, ALAS, YOU WOULD BE WRONG, SIR. Plates are small, but the flavors are large and innovative, with moves like an Anson Mills polenta with goat butter, smoked mushrooms & pickled sour cherries, braised rabbit stew with buttermilk dumplings & a pancetta brood, and a Secret Burger, which is packed with Creekstone grind meat and "your faith". And at this point, Chef Scelfo certainly has ours.
New York, NY
This bi-level Venetian spot was hyped to open over a year ago... but their seafood-centric Italian that takes a few dancing cues from Japanese cuisine was well worth the 2014 wait. Chef Chris Jaeckle (Ai Fiori, Morimoto) and restaurateur Chris Cannon put pasta in the limelight, with standouts like the bucatini with uni & spicy breadcrumbs and spaghetti with crab. And while it's certainly no old-school New York Italian joint, the deep booths upstairs will still absolutely be the kind of cozy spot you want to spend the entire night indulging in, and their cocktail menu is totally deserving of a full night's focus.
San Francisco, CA
When you see where the restaurant is, past the Walt Disney museum, inside one of the many picturesque old-school brick buildings that make up SF's Presidio, you can't quite understand how it all comes together. "Do people actually work and live in here," Liz uttered in confused amazement when she visited the Presidio for the first time. Well, the answer is yes, and more and more are passing its old military walls every day thanks to Traci Des Jardins' Commissary, which is perpetually packed for lunch with people working around it, and dinner with everyone else. For good reason too: the Cali-Spanish cuisine is light and flavorful, even when it sounds like it won't be, as evidenced by the delicious calabaza croquettes with charred orange aioli and the brilliant roasted chicken. And don't sleep on their simple, but delicious cocktails, like the Excelencia (gin, lime, verbena tonic) and the Highland Cooler (Scotch, ginger, lemon).
Los Angeles, CA
Though the name kind of sounds like hippie parents proudly telling you what they named their kids, it actually refers to the Downtown LA street names where the restaurant sits both now (Flower) and back in the 1920s (Faith). And the food -- from Chef Michael Hung -- is willing to touch on the old and new as well -- with classic favorites touched up with the new age, like their Deviled Jidori Eggs with Korean chili and kimchee. If you've got the time, you should get the ribeye grilled over mesquite and served up with a vermouth and oyster jus that you may just end up drinking on the side, if you aren't already captivated by cocktails from Michael Lay like the Stormy Phosphate with Lost Spirits Navy Style Rum, lime gum, acid phosphate, and house-brewed ginger beer.
New York, NY
Bobby Flay could've hung back and let his Burger Palaces proliferate or continued to take on eager Throwdown challengers. But instead he's back with a full-blown restaurant that's far stronger than Bar Americain, his only spot that was left in the City, and it's filling the bellies of diners who have been clamoring for a return to the days when Bolo and Mesa Grill were acclaimed destinations. Gato is Spanish-Mediterranean in name, but with standouts like roasted octopus with a tart, tangy tangerine vinaigrette & rich bacon and charred whole carrots dressed in creamy, cooling mint and smoky blasts of harissa, it's also undeniably New York. Finally -- finally! -- Flay's returned to his NYC roots, and the load of fiery peppers, salty anchovies, and bright citrus he brought with him made this worth the wait.
Opened this summer in a quiet corner of Milwaukee's happening Bay View neighborhood, Goodkind has all the warmth and friendliness of your neighborhood bar and grill -- but also lots of stuff that place doesn't have. Like an almost impossibly flavorful spicy dungeness crab bucatini with San Marzanos and ghost pepperoni. Or a rotisserie section turning out rich, juicy pork belly porchetta and fennel pollen dry-brined chicken. Or an entire "Fryer" section. Fine, that's no surprise, especially in Wisconsin, but in this case it means Champagne-battered mushrooms with honey vinaigrette and piquillos, not cheese curds. Though, if they decided to DO cheese curds, you can bet they'd be incredible -- like your drink options, which span everything from a pear jasmine gin & tonic on tap to house barrel-aged cocchi Americano to a deep-cut, well-thought-out beer list that'll please the most ardent beer nerds without intimidating.
While "heyday" might be the phrase your Granddad uses when laying out his old hockey glory stories in painstaking detail, it's ALSO what you'll be experiencing while feasting on rabbit terrine at this Twin Cities' restaurant that manages to combine rock 'n' roll (Replacements quotations scrawl across the walls, reminding people younger than your Pops where the name came from) with American Nouveau food and a whiskey-heavy seasonal cocktail rotation. Before you touch the brown booze, though, appreciate how beautifully the gin, rosemary & honey Queen B pairs with the chicken liver tart.
San Diego, CA
Things in San Diego are aggressively casual. People show up to job interviews in flip flops. And then get the job. Which means the fine dining can be a little less stuffy than in most cities, a vibe that couldn't be more perfect for new Del Mar homeowner Richard Blais's first SD venture, one of the finest in the city really sick of Ron Burgundy jokes. The space is all wood beams, exposed ducts, and plenty of air, and the very for-real, often molecularized menu hits interestingly constructed pastas (linguini and clams with uni butter!), vegetable-fronted small plates that we actually wanted seconds of, the seafood you knew was coming, and the bone marrow bread pudding you maybe didn't. And then, of course, the Yodel. We're not trying to trick you. Just get the damn Yodel.
Russian food's a bit of a mystery -- and an underrated one at that -- but at Portland's Kachka, it's a mystery very much worth investigating. And they make it easy: just plop down at a rustic table amid propaganda posters and bric-a-brac and throw down $25 for the Ruskie Zakuski experience, where you'll be served a gigantic array of hot and cold snacks ranging from blini covered in caviar to crispy tongue, borsch with short ribs, and cured fatback. Or go with a gigantic pile of meaty pelmeni dumplings, or go anti-Communist and horde an entrée like pork belly Machanka or stuffed cabbage for yourself. Just don't forget the vodka: eating at Kachka is like eating at a Russian Grandma's house, and to skip the national drink is a sin. Luckily, they have 50+ options, which you can get in shots or flights. Get the flight. You're gonna be here for a while.
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