T+L’s Best New Restaurants: 2015 Edition
Turn off Istanbul’s frenetic Istiklal Street, and pull up a seat at Yeni Lokanta, the modern meyhane of the moment. Chef Civan Er’s small plates feature heirloom Turkish foodstuffs like “burnt” Denizli yogurt atop green beans and beef ribs roasted in a wood-burning oven.
In seeking out the best new restaurants, we peripatetic editors at Travel + Leisure were hungry for more than just great meals. We were holding out for locales like Yeni Lokanta that serve up a distinct sense of place—ones that help travelers tap into the essence a destination. Our resulting list of favorites will direct you to the newcomers that are shaping the restaurant scenes in the world’s most exciting food cities.
In Mexico City, for instance, you can get a sampling of all the D.F.’s latest food trends by stopping into the stylishly casual food hall Mercado Roma. Hop from one kitchen to the next, snacking on chile-spiked pozole, clam and chorizo stew, and squid torta.
Philadelphia has become one of America’s most exciting food cities, and you’ll appreciate why after dining at Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s Dizengoff, where even the chickpea purées are memorable, especially when topped with zucchini and za’atar.
We found notable restaurants that run the gamut of dining experiences, from a posh new spot in London’s Claridge’s hotel—Fera, an ode to British terroir by star chef Simon Rogan—to a humble noodle joint on a Tokyo backstreet.
Read on for our full list of new restaurants worth the trip. And share your food adventures with us on Instagram using the hashtag #TL_EatList.
By Anya von Bremzen, with additional reporting by Cíntia Bertolino, Janice Leung Hayes, Pat Nourse, and Robbie Swinnerton. Edited by Jennifer Flowers.
Ever since the avant-garde fireworks at restaurants like Quintonil and Pujol established Mexico City as one of the world’s top food destinations, the D.F. has been looking inward, with humbler cooking that explores the country’s own food traditions. Alejandro Ruiz, the powerhouse chef from Oaxaca who revitalized that region’s food scene, opened Guzina Oaxaca in Polanco. His menu is both anthropological and sensual, with dishes like caldo de piedra, a pre-Hispanic shrimp soup cooked over hot river rocks and perfumed with anise-y hoja santa and epazote. In gentrifying Zona Rosa, behind the cheery turquoise façade of De Mar a Mar, seafood whisked in from Baja and Puerto Ángel is the star of the menu devised by Pujol-trained Eduardo García. Everything at this lovable urban beach shack is so tasty it’s impossible to stop ordering more sashimiesque tuna laminado and sweet battered shrimp folded into hand-patted tortillas. To try everything that’s going on in the city at once, head to Colonia Roma. It’s a blast perching on stools and sampling from each kitchen at Mercado Roma: chile-intensive pozole from José Guadalupe, a stew of pristine Pacific coast clams and chorizo from La Ahumadora, and La Barraca Valenciana’s squid torta with garlicky mayo created by El Bulli veteran José Miguel Garcia.
The Los Angeles food revolution that kicked off a few years ago is gathering strength, powered by unrivaled California produce, daring young chefs, a United Nations of ethnic cuisines, and, yes, a dash of Hollywood glamour. While most TV celebrity chefs are peddling overpriced comfort food, Curtis Stone, the Australian heartthrob of Top Chef Masters fame, has caused a sensation with his thoughtful and utterly original Maude, in Beverly Hills. In the chic, rustic space, Stone presents multicourse market menus themed around a single ingredient. Fall pears show up as “snow” atop briny oysters and as a gelée highlighting a veal cheek; in winter he celebrates citrus with tangerine-glazed chicken terrine. We love the tables, set with vintage silver and china and inspired by the kitchen of Curtis’s own grandmother, Maude. Among the city’s rising stars: Kris Yenbamroong, the Thai wunderkind with an NYU film degree, who counted the likes of René Redzepi and Wylie Dufresne among fans of his pop-up dinners. At Night & Market Song, his permanent Silver Lake digs (both spare and ironically garish), he presents hyper-vivid, authentic northern Thai dishes like grilled pork neck with a bracingly spicy jaew chile dip, and hor ab, an intensely aromatic tamale of catfish and pork fat in a banana-leaf bundle. Along La Brea Avenue, the soaring 1929 building that housed onetime celebrity haunt Campanile has been reborn as the even more gorgeous République. Headed by Walter and Margarita Manzke, the brasserie stays open around the clock, whether for an early-morning blood-orange brioche or a late-night negroni blanc, scrambled eggs with sea urchin on toast, and the best frites west of Paris.
This megalopolis has always charmed us with its mix of waterside fish restaurants, smoky kebab joints, and drinking dens known as meyhanes serving sumptuous meze. But lately, local chefs and glamorous out-of-towners alike have been invigorating the restaurant scene. Massimo Bottura, Italy’s most famous chef, debuted his first outpost, Ristorante Italia, at the posh Zorlu shopping center. Instead of reprising hits from his avant-garde Osteria Francescana in Modena, the chef presents thoughtful distillations of pan-Italian classics: an osso buco cooked at a super-low temperature for 25 hours with bone marrow enriching the sauce, or a deconstructed tiramisu so light it practically floats off the table. Off frenetic Istiklal Street, tile-clad Yeni Lokanta is the modern meyhane of the moment. We’re dazzled by chef Civan Er’s small plates, updated with heirloom foodstuffs like “burnt” Denizli yogurt atop green beans, walnut-studded sucuk sausage, and beef ribs roasted in a wood-burning oven. And in the gentrifying Balat district, Turkish film director Ezel Akay has resurrected the iconic 125-year-old Agora Meyhanesi, where raki flows once again and the herb- and pomegranate-laced salads, flash-fried petals of liver, and sizzling squid set a new standard for meze.
New York City
Though the city’s high-voltage restaurant scene assures thrills for all wallets and moods, our favorites now are places with focused menus and big personalities. Downtown glamour meets uptown polish—with nostalgic echoes of Mitteleuropa—at Bâtard, from über-host Drew Nieporent and Austrian chef Markus Glocker. An octopus “pastrami,” bewitched into a Gaudí-like mosaic terrine, and hand-pulled strudel filled with apples, raisins, and sweetbreads are among Glocker’s assured neoclassical dishes. Having first triumphed in Tokyo, the Long Island–born noodle master Ivan Orkin set up the lively Ivan Ramen on Clinton Street, where he creates witty Japanese-American mash-ups like Amish-scrapple waffles masquerading as okonomiyaki pancakes. Which dish wins? It’s a toss-up between the triple-garlic, triple-pork mazemen, with compulsively slurpable whole-wheat noodles, and the rye-enriched ramen in a sinus-clearing red-chili broth. In the East Village, Huertas, a Basque gem from two young veterans of the Danny Meyer hospitality school, seduced us with its enticing tapas—plush jamón croquetas, adorable shrimp-and-egg canapés—as well as chef Jonah Miller’s tasting menu, with its earthy-sweet pairing of cockles and wild mushrooms, and suckling pig served with an Asturian bean-and-chorizo stew. Meanwhile, Danny Meyer himself has an instant classic, the new Roman-themed Marta. It’s the convivial scene behind the long marble counter that wooed us, along with the wafer-thin pizzas and perfectly grilled lamb chops. And isn’t it nice to bond with a stranger over glasses of Fruilian Ribola Gialla?
Australia’s largest metropolis may have a reputation for the big, the obvious, and the showy, but the city’s restaurants have recently taken a turn toward the small, the unusual, and the understated. Mitch Orr, an alumnus of Italy’s vaunted Osteria Francescana, creates house-made pastas at Acme and prepares them in ways your nonna never imagined. That might mean linguine given a wok-like scorch with black garlic and burnt chiles or Filipino-inspired vinegar-tangy pork topped with a raw yolk and paired with immaculate hand-cut macaroni. In Redfern, a neighborhood on the rise, Eun Hee An and Ben Sears have traded the white tablecloths of their fine-dining backgrounds for spare furnishings and concrete floors at Moon Park. What the restaurant may lack in design it more than makes up for with its witty reimagining of Korean cuisine. Is that a glimmer of Scandinavia in that ssäm wrap of smoked eel and puffed rice presented on a nasturtium leaf? Or in the classic pajeon pancake topped by tufts of mackerel “floss”? In another nod to the Far East, the rambunctious, izakaya-inspired Cho Cho San is Sydney’s love letter to Japan: chef Nic Wong’s lamb cutlets are spiked with sancho pepper, and the gingery tataki is made with prime Australian beef. Sydney’s go-to restaurant of the moment is inarguably Ester, a low-key spot where Mat Lindsay coaxes morsels of surprising elegance and originality from his wood-fired oven: lobster sausage on steamed bread updates the classic Aussie sausage sandwich with great success, not least when it’s paired with Si Vintners’ lovely pale Pinot Noir Rosé.
London’s latest crop of restaurants continues to bolster the city’s bid for world food domination. Lyle's in Shoreditch, is a light-filled industrial space with charming service and an interesting, affordable wine list. But what won us over was the creativity of 35-year-old chef-owner James Lowe, whose nightly set menu might feature a salad of emerald peas and Ticklemore goat cheese scattered with pea flowers or succulent crayfish nestled on samphire. In a wood-paneled room in Mayfair, Gymkhana—inspired by Raj-era gentlemen’s sporting clubs—is both nostalgic and fresh. Think esoteric curries, like suckling-pig vindaloo or stunning biryani steamed under a pastry dome. Half a mile north, hotel dining got a jolt when Simon Rogan, one of the U.K.’s most exciting chefs, opened Fera inside Claridge’s. Beautiful evocations of the British terroir arrive on handmade ceramic dishes: a rabbit croquette with lovage emulsion, a foamy nasturtium sauce accenting hake steamed inside caramelized cabbage. Over in Soho, the Palomar is a collaboration between the restaurateurs behind Machneyuda, Jerusalem’s hottest table, and a cool London DJ. We adore the exuberant Israeli-Palestinian ways with charred eggplants, salmon sashimi, yogurt, tahini, and pomegranates. And how not to love the feathery Yemenite bread called kubaneh—or the spirited atmosphere. “Make me happy,” we heard Tomer Amedi, the Kurdish-Jewish head chef, shout to his staff, “and hurry up that pork-belly tagine.”
Until recently, big-name international chefs set the standard for innovation in Hong Kong. But that’s changing now that homegrown talent has begun reviving the city’s culinary traditions. At the 20-seat Little Bao, May Chow remakes local comfort food. The humble steamed bun becomes a pork-belly slider spiced with cinnamon, and mac and cheese comes as cheung fan (rice paper rolls) laced with cod roe. Join the cool kids around the corner at Ho Lee Fook, where chef Jowett Yu sends out surprising remixes of pan-Asian dishes from his mah-jongg-tiled open kitchen: a brined barbecued goose, roasted for hours in a traditional oven, and delightfully charred Wagyu short ribs with house-made shallot kimchi. Cantonese cuisine takes a luxurious turn at Mott 32, a chic subterranean space in the financial district. Chef Fung Man Yip dishes up caviar-topped shrimp shu mai with soft-boiled quail eggs in the center and textbook-perfect, applewood-roasted Peking duck. Purists are flocking to Seventh Son, opened by a scion of the family behind the venerable Fook Lam Moon (known as the “tycoon’s canteen”). The stylishly restrained dining room serves Cantonese mainstays without the cliquey, clublike vibe—all the better for savoring the suckling pig, with its addictively crisp skin, and the ethereal deep-fried taro dumplings.
This unsung destination has blossomed into one of the U.S.’s most exciting restaurant cities—Portland East?—with a fierce indie spirit and world-class kitchen talent. Peter Serpico, a veteran of New York City's Momofuku Ko, wowed us at his namesake Serpico with asparagus in garlicky pecorino broth and the now-famous pig’s head with burnt-onion mustard. If it’s comfort food you’re after, Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook (whose Zahav and Federal Donuts revitalized Sansom Street) opened two adjacent places, both equally worthy of attention. Inspired by the hummusiyas of Israel, the color-splashed Dizengoff is where earthy chickpea purées reach the stratosphere—especially when topped with heirloom zucchini and za’atar. Next door at Abe Fisher, co-chef Yehuda Sichel spins deliciously irreverent riffs on the foods of the Jewish diaspora (“borscht” is a beet tartare garnished with jewel-like trout roe). Another New York transplant, Eli Kulp (formerly of Torrisi), made sparks with his remake of the Fork three years ago. High Street on Market is its relaxed, more experimental sibling—the artisanal breads and the caraway-rye rigatoni with pastrami ragù are reasons alone to go to Philly.
Brazil’s global food capital is trading avant-garde approaches for hearty simplicity. For a decade, Rodrigo Oliveira has been drawing well-heeled Paulistas with a faultless African-inspired menu at Mocotó, his humble family canteen in rough-and-tumble Villa Madeiros. At his follow-up next door, Esquina Mocotó, he elevates even the most rustic dishes in his repertoire: rice and beans become ethereal risotto, and the carne-de-sol, or salt-cured beef, is so tender it practically melts in your mouth. In the posh Jardins neighborhood, Alex Atala, Brazil’s most celebrated culinary star (D.O.M., Dalva e Dito), has paired up with club impresario Facundo Guerra to deliver the ultimate late-night dining menu at Riviera Bar. In the historic lounge, live jazz and beautiful people set the scene for dishes like Atala’s definitive steak parmigiana with fries, or a hearty roast-beef sandwich. In gallery-lined Vila Madalena, the simple menu at Tuju belies the vibrant showcase of regional flavors and ingredients by chef Ivan Ralston: velvety pork cheek with a sweet-potato purée, spaghetti tossed with hearts of palm and topped with local crayfish, and apple pie served alongside ice cream sweetened with the delicate honey of native Mandaçaia bees.
With their casual dining rooms and tradition-bucking techniques, Tokyo’s young chefs are shaking up the restaurant scene. Shinobu Namae, an alumnus of Michel Bras and the Fat Duck, has already made his mark at his haute modern-French L’Effervescence. Now he’s brought his ingredient-centric menu to a wider audience at La Bonne Table, a minimalist bistro in the Nihonbashi district. A seemingly simple salad of vegetables—plucked at the very moment of ripeness at an organic farm nearby—is just as showstopping as his buttery, flaky boudin-noir pie. There’s a similarly relaxed vibe at Sushi Takahashi—something that’s almost unheard-of at the (usually strict) top sushi counters. In his pocket-size space on the outskirts of Ginza, 28-year-old Jun Takahashi serves flawless nigiri (he trained at the legendary Sushi Saito and Kanesaka for seven years) and inventive plates like crab steamed in its shell, but it’s the lack of old-school pretensions that makes this spot a cult favorite. The city’s ramen-obsessed are heading to a backstreet in out-of-the-way Kanda for the seafood-driven flavors of Gonokami Suisan. Tagliatelle-size noodles come with an uni-infused dipping broth as thick and rich as French bisque. And what do you get when the American beef-aging obsession reaches Japanese Wagyu? Some of the richest, most intensely flavored meat on the planet. Several new spots are riffing on this theme, none better than Sakana No Nakasei, a stylish deli with a narrow counter in the back. The 60-day-aged charcuterie—Wagyu “ham” and pastrami—goes sublimely with the artisanal sake, while the steaks sell out faster than you can say umami.
The epicenter of the Scandinavian food revolution and the hometown of Noma is already Europe’s modern-day culinary capital. But Copenhagen doesn’t rest on its laurels, and René Redzepi’s alumni continue to evolve the New Nordic mantra. At the airy, Modernist Øl & Brød, from the cult Mikeller microbrewery, the chef spins the idea of smørrebrød—the iconic open-faced sandwich—into degustation menus that might feature buttery beef tartare dusted with black-currant powder or a mélange of confited and pickled wild mushrooms under a runny smoked egg yolk. The high-minded Studio at the Standard, restaurateur Claus Meyer’s waterside complex, got its first Michelin star just months after opening. In the open-kitchen dining room, you'll find Torsten Vildgaard, Noma’s longtime test-kitchen director, arranging a single perfect scallop (that’s been marinated in white-currant juice) on juniper branches or dolloping crème anglaise onto carrot-and-sea-buckthorn sorbet. Meanwhile, Uformel deliciously proves that you can be Nordic and cosmopolitan with a striking black-and-gold room and creative small plates, including turbot ceviche with the fruity, acidic kick of green strawberries. And with Baest, Sicilian-Norwegian maestro Christian Puglisi (of Relæ and Manfreds and formerly of Noma) has given the city a much-needed jolt of Italian. Perfectly charred pizzas emerge from the Neapolitan oven, mozzarella is made from biodynamic milk in the upstairs dairy, and spicy house-cured salumi, like ’nduja and coppiette, are the Danish Hindsholm pig’s proudest moment.