The Year in Food

Pho beats ramen, eggs Benedict bows to khachapuri, doughnuts still rule, and 20 other discoveries we made while searching for this year's best new restaurants.

Reporting By Alex Beggs, Belle Cushing, Alex Delany, Elyssa Goldberg, Elizabeth Jaime, Julia Kramer, Andrew Knowlton, Ashley Mason, Meryl Rothstein, Lilli Sherman, Amiel Stanek, and Emma Wartzman
Is There Anything You Can't Milk?
The coffee world presents a tyranny of choices: latte or flat white? Ethiopian or Colombian? And it just got more vexing. Shops are showing up soy and almond milks with, let's say, nuttier milk alternatives: pistachio and hazelnut at D.C.'s Pineapple and Pearls, cashew at Corvus Coffee Roasters in Denver, oat at Baker Miller in Chicago, and macadamia at L.A.'s Go Get Em Tiger.
The Bar of the Future
Wood-paneled geometric interiors from New York design firm Home Studios—like this stunner, Sisters in Brooklyn—are redefining bar and restaurant design. A few of Home's signature details coming soon to a spot near you:
  • Do the Math
    Home relies on symmetry and mathematical angles. “We're fans of the 45-degree angle,” says design director Danielle Epstein. “It's logical. We use restraint while still having fun with the materials.”
  • Look Up
    Wood paneling on the super-high ceiling keeps the space feeling down-to-earth. “We weren't going for an overwhelming, grand feeling,” Epstein says. “We wanted it to be comfortable and neighborhood-y.”
  • Age Gracefully
    The white Portland cement bar top is unfinished and unpolished, so it'll age and patina over time. That gives it character and an “incredible warmth that you don't associate with concrete,” she says.
Fill 'Er Up
Pretty soon, standard jelly doughnuts will be so obscure they'll be answers on Jeopardy! That's because our favorite airy pillows of dough are getting inventive fillings like date-shake custard (General Porpoise, Seattle), Earl Grey cream (Vive La Tarte, San Francisco), Cointreau (Blue Star, Portland, OR), and grapefruit curd (Galaxie, Louisville, KY). What is a jelly doughnut? A thing of the past for 600, Alex.
Have You Seen the Bathroom?!
Today's WCs are like carefully curated art installations begging to be the backdrop of your next selfie. A sampling of some of the coolest things we noticed in bathrooms this year:
  • Disco Balls
    Dino's Tomato Pie, Seattle

    A colorful LED light show starts the moment you open the door.
  • Quirky Signage
    Trompo, Dallas

    Male and female figures on the bathroom door are trying to “hold it.” Been there!
  • Audiobooks
    Black Eye Coffee, Denver

    Jeff Bridges's Sleeping Tapes and Christopher Walken reading Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven play on a rotating loop.
  • Cutouts
    The Spillover, Miami

    A life-size version of Telemundo host Don Francisco greets diners. Why not?
Rice Ballin'
Japanese onigiri are compact nori-bound triangles of seasoned sushi rice with fillings. And right now they're being stuffed with all sorts of deliciousness, like smoked local fish at Short Grain Food Truck in Charleston, SC, and fried chicken at Brooklyn's Kichin (right). They're a portable ode to the subtle beauty of perfectly cooked rice—and they'll soon be your favorite leftover-filled snack.
Two (Green) Thumbs Up
Succulents are quickly losing ground to restaurants' latest botanical obsession: tropical plants. Just look at Leo's Oyster Bar in San Francisco, which doubles down with tropical wallpaper.
  • Areca palm
    Lots of leaves equals major volume. The palms do best with bright, indirect light and need fairly moist soil, so water regularly.
  • Boston fern
    Place it up high (think bookshelves), so the long, frilly fronds can cascade down. The swamp native thrives in high humidity and indirect light.
  • Fiddle-leaf fig
    Also in the house (but not pictured) are fiddle-leaf fig trees, the large-leafed “it” plant and subject of its own New York Times feature.
  • Split-leaf philodendron
    It doesn’t get much more photogenic than this guy. Water plant once a week and place in a well-lit area.
Don't Leave the Bar Without It
You probably have a craft beer-obsessed pal who preaches the genius of growlers as a great way to bring home beer from a brewery. But there's an even better way, and it's called a Crowler. Filled from a standard tap and quickly capped with a pop-tab top using a special sealing machine, these bad boys are giant (32 oz.) cans, essentially budget-conscious and travel-friendly cousins to the growler. Cousins that will be the future of your to-go craft beer consumption.
Spotted at: Singlecut, NYC; Prohibition Pig, Waterbury, VT; THe Answer Brewpub, Richmond, VA.
Slam Dunk Idea
Ask to take home leftovers at New York's Perla Cafe, and rather than awkwardly dropping the doggie bag on the table while you're still on dessert, they'll give you a sports figurine of, say, Atlanta Hawks star Dominique Wilkins. It works like a coat-check ticket—at the end of the meal, turn it in and get what's left of your New York strip.

The Sandwich Selfie

As any Instagram fiend knows, holding a halved sandwich—especially a bagel one—in your hand to show off its layered interior is the new ice cream cone against the wall.
We used to seek out pho in Little Vietnam or Chinatown. Now the Vietnamese noodle soup (and, speaking from staff experience, guaranteed hangover cure) is going mainstream. Stock in Philly and Bone Broth Noodles in Belgrade, MT, are serving the healing broth, scented of star anise and lemongrass. Don't tell ramen we're slurpin' something else.
Burn, Baby, Burn
Wood ovens don't work without wood. Probably not something you think about when tearing into a slice of impeccably charred pizza, but for chefs like Angela Dimayuga at NYC's Mission Chinese Food, the logistics of the low-tech fuel are often on their minds. “That natural hardwood aesthetic is cute,” she says, “but storage is a nightmare.” Which is just one reason she switched to the compressed sawdust blocks she first saw at Zahav in Philly. Envi's space-saving, easy-stacking blocks are also eco-friendly, made from hardwood sawdust (a natural by-product of milling) that's pressurized into dense bricks that burn hotter and cleaner, and produce less ash waste than logs. That's why they're so hot right now.
Now that wood-fired cooking is so desirable, why not do it this way?”
Angela Dimayuga, Mission Chinese Food, NYC
Farm to Table (top Grill)
Look: There was nothing wrong with traditional banchan, the complimentary small plates that accompany Korean barbecue. But still, there's something so right about the seasonal, house-made spin modern Korean chefs are putting on the classics, like these summery offerings from chef Sohui Kim at Brooklyn's Insa:
  1. Soy-caramel garlic scapes
  2. Corn custard, made with a corn powder that Kim dehydrates in-house
  3. Oi Sobagi, a cucumber kimchi
  4. Gaji namul, a dish that typically uses steamed eggplant. At Insa, the eggplant is charred instead for a smoky flavor.
  5. Kale stems with pickled seaweed
  6. Summer squash with walnut and perilla
  7. Daikon radish kimchi
  8. House-made fish cakes with cucumber and seaweed
  9. Dried cuttlefish
  10. Potato and egg with beef crumble (a powder made from offcuts)
  11. Dried radish muchim with gochugaru
The Drop-the-Mic Brunch Dish
If pizza and poached eggs had a genius offspring, its name would be khachapuri, a Georgian specialty best described as a boat of dough filled with cheese and egg. It's served any time of day, but the early(-ish) hours are when it truly crushes the competition.
Spotted at: Sub Rosa Bakery, Richmond, VA; Oda House, NYC; Compass Rose, Washington, D.C.
Get Your Goat
Chefs are turning to goat meat in herds, and Erik Ramirez of NYC's Llama Inn explains why: “Goat is so flavorful compared to other meats. It's grassy, barnyard-y. We get so used to seeing lamb, pork, and beef on menus; we know what those taste like. It's time for something different.”
Also spotted at: Dos Urban Cantina, Chicago; Tail Up Goat, Washington, D.C.; Rapscallion, Dallas
Take A Page From the Library
Despite bad memories of all-night cram sessions, we always dug the library aesthetic. It seems we're not the only ones: Library-table reading lamps (also known as banker's lamps) have entered the dining room, from Denver's Black Eye Coffee to Seattle's Bar Melusine.
Battle of the Sparkling Waters
Two niche fizzy waters became unlikely cult figures on drink menus this year. Do you know your La Croix lovers from your Topo Chico groupies?
  • Wouldn't eat a breakfast taco without it
  • Highly recommends a trip to Marfa
  • Has a thing for vintage beer cans
  • Emphatically pronounces it “la-qua” like Hannah on Girls (it's actually “la-croy”)
  • Hashtags Instagram posts #livelacroix, with questionable irony
  • Really into pastels
Getting the Hang Of It
Look up in a restaurant kitchen and you might see food literally dangling from above. There's lamb leg soaking up smoke at Shepard in Boston (it's gentler than using a proper smoker), links of homemade lap cheong drying under the hood at Mister Jiu's in San Francisco, romanesco dangling over the fires at Buxton Hall in Asheville, NC, and twirling coils of octopus cooking slowly from below at Cleveland's Trentina. In other words, suspension is the new sous vide.
Winner, Winner
America's favorite bird really took flight this year. We saw chicken simply roasted and served alongside crisp frites and a green salad at Coquine in Portland, OR. We enjoyed it deconstructed—breast poached and roasted, thighs fried, the rest tossed with mayo—at mad scientist Grant Achatz's “casual” Roister in Chicago. But nothing captured the hearts (and Instagram feeds) of diners quite like the showstopping chicken for two at New York's Le Turtle. Brined, air-dried, steamed, roasted at three escalating temperatures, and, finally, paraded through the dining room on a bed of flaming hay, it's the dish that secured chef Greg Proechel's coveted spot in the whole-bird pecking order. (Sorry.)
Sweet Talk
In our book, the baked potato is first and foremost a good excuse for eating sour cream and cheese (okay, and bacon). But the sweet potato is the kind of natural beauty that needs no heavy makeup. Especially when restaurants like The Dabney in D.C. and Cala in San Francisco are charring them in the coals for hours until the skins turn black and the flavors concentrate and the sugars softly caramelize and…why did we ever do it any other way?
From the Window to the Wall
Wallpaper is prettying up spaces across the country, like at Winsome in L.A., which features a re-creation of Phil Dike's 1938 watercolor Sunshine in Echo Park, and at Fiorella in SF, where Flavor Paper's “Bay Area Toile” is an ode to local celebs like Alice Waters and rapper E-40.
Dearly Departed
As restaurants paid tribute to the monumental musicians who died this past year, we couldn't help but notice what a wonderful soundtrack it made. The greatest hits:
  • “Night People,” Allen Toussaint
  • “Modern Love,” David Bowie
  • “Can I Kick It?”
  • A Tribe Called Quest
  • “I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink,” Merle Haggard
  • “Little Red Corvette,” Prince
Don't Hit Reset
Changing out silverware with every single course is fussy and unnecessary. So restaurants are doing something about it.
  • The Caddy
    Chef Erick Harcey designed custom wood-and-brass silverware “caddies” for his Scandi-ish Minneapolis restaurant, Upton 43. Each holds three knives and three forks—intended to carry diners through each of the menu's three sections.
  • The Pouch
    Stock Manufacturing, which makes the uniforms at Chicago's Roister, designed these cotton pouches, each of which holds three forks, one spoon, and one knife. The pouch is closed with an elastic band that hooks onto a pair of chopsticks.
  • The Tile
    As part of its zero-waste ethos, The Perennial in San Francisco doesn't refresh silverware between courses; instead, guests rest their knives and forks on recycled glass tiles that look like something you might find at the beach.
Best Dressed
We love a mignonette, but oyster accompaniments have gotten way more creative.
  • Apple + Scallion Kimchi + Gochugaru Norah, L.A.
  • Preserved Lemon + Apple Cider Gelée + Chives Petit Crenn, San Francisco
  • Fennel + Black Tapioca Conosci, Washington, D.C.
  • Ginger + Shallot + Champagne Local Provisions, Asheville, NC
  • Pomegranate + Pickled Serranos + Basil Olympia Oyster Bar, Portland, OR