This year's hottest restaurant openings are shaping up to run the gamut from fine dining to counter service and everything in between. But which chefs will really shake things up this season and in the year ahead? Who's been quietly flying under the radar but deserves your full attention? Meet the 15 chefs to watch right now.
From Brooklyn to Hawaii, they are doing more than simply serving excellent food. They are asking us to consider what a sermon can be when it shows up on our plates, challenging our assumptions about dessert and preserving culinary traditions thousands of miles away from where they started. You're going to want to remember these names.
Bessou, New York
Modern but homey Japanese restaurant Bessou has been collecting an avid, if protective, fan base ever since it opened on a quiet block in August. It's the kind of restaurant you want to shout about for all the world to hear but then think better of it, because you want to keep it all your own. Chef Emily Yuen, most recently of Boulud Sud, brings her unpretentious, home-style cooking to this instant neighborhood gem with dishes like littleneck clams with bamboo shoots and saffron aioli or kabocha squash shakshuka. Keep an eye out for a forthcoming applewood-smoked duck with soba noodles and a Madras curry dipping sauce.
Emily Yuen | Photos: Tasting Table
Know before you go: Don't miss the breakfast and brunch at Bessou, where Yuen churns out dishes like matcha black sesame babka and Japanese-style congee. For dinner, you can't go wrong, but make sure you try the homemade ice cream.
One Fifth, Houston
This Texas-born chef de cuisine at just-opened Houston hot spot One Fifth, who originally wanted to be a park ranger, has cooked at world-class restaurants all over the country, from NYC's now-closed Veritas under Scott Bryan (yes, that Bryan from Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential) to San Francisco's Quince to Aspen's Little Nell. At Chris Shepherd's innovative new restaurant, which will transform annually for the next five years, Nick Fine is really flexing his muscles with dishes like uni panna cotta. It's no small feat that he'll be cooking all new dishes every year. On top of it all, Fine also happens to be a new dad.
Know before you go: In September, One Fifth Steak will become One Fifth Romance Languages, featuring dishes inspired by France, Italy and Spain, so get there soon to try the hyper-seasonal vegetables and special cuts of meat Fine gets directly from the source.
Turkey and the Wolf, New Orleans
Mason Hereford is the chef and co-owner of Turkey and the Wolf, the New Orleans sandwich shop that no one has stopped talking about since it opened in August. With sandwiches like the fried bologna, which comes with potato chips between the bread, and the double-decker collard green melt, it's no wonder that the joint just got a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant. While working his way up to chef de cuisine at NOLA's Coquette, Hereford met his current chef de cuisine, Colleen Quarls, with whom he works closely and calls "an epic badass."
Know before you go: The sandwiches are the stars, but don't miss the deviled eggs, which come with crispy chicken skin; the wedge salad, which Hereford calls a "blue cheese bomb;" or the fried chicken potpie. Make room for everything—it's so worth it—and maybe schedule a nap for later, too.
The Food Sermon, Brooklyn
Rawlston Williams almost became a minister, but it wasn't quite the right fit. Still, the idea of sermons stuck with him. "Whatever people are into, that's their sermon," he says. For Williams, that is food inspired by the Caribbean flavors he grew up with in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, reimagined in dishes like a braised lamb shank cooked with allspice, mustard seeds, juniper berries, a bay leaf, ginger, cinnamon and caramel. Later this year, he will bring those flavors to a second restaurant in Brooklyn's Navy Yard.
Rawlston Williams | Photos: The Bulb Room (left) and Nicholas Doyle (right)
Know before you go: The restaurant closes one hour before sunset on Fridays and reopens on Sundays, so plan accordingly. There's also no alcohol; order a sorrel or mauby iced tea, and you won't miss it.
Houston diners are finally getting to see Ryan Lachaine stretch his legs. After several years in some of the city's best kitchens, like Underbelly and Reef, Lachaine opened his own restaurant three months ago. "You run out places to work," the chef says frankly. At Riel, he's drawing on the Gulf Coast, his roots in Manitoba and his family's Ukrainian heritage for inspiration. The result is a surprisingly seamless blend of disparate cuisines seen in dishes like steak with cheddar and potato pierogi, green beans and horseradish cream, and Montreal-style smoked meat with pickled mustard seeds and French's.
Know before you go: Arrive early or late for the best changes at a table, Lachaine says. And, beet fans, try the borscht sour cocktail.
Sweet Home Café, Washington, D.C.
At the recently opened National Museum of African American History & Culture, executive chef Jerome Grant is pushing the concept of museum dining forward, helping demonstrate how food can teach history. "We look at it like we're an edible exhibit," he says. His team produces dishes that tell the African American story, like the oyster pan roast and oxtail pepper pot made with cinnamon and allspice that reminds Grant of his Jamaican grandmother's rendition. In the coming months, Grant hopes to grow the guest chef program the team launched during Black History Month.
Know before you go: While it's tempting to gravitate toward staples like fried chicken at the café, Grant suggests other regional staples, like son-of-a-gun stew.
Saté Kampar, Philadelphia
Ange Branca moved to the U.S. 16 years ago and missed the food she grew up eating in Malaysia. "Every time I go home to look for it . . . it's getting harder to find as the older generation passes on," she says. Enter her casual restaurant focusing on sate, or Malaysian skewers. It's not only the foods that she wants to preserve, but the classic cooking methods used to make them. As the restaurant gains steam a year in, Branca plans to expand her offerings, exposing diners to more of her homeland's diverse cuisine. "This is a small little piece of Malaysian cuisine . . . we have so much more," she says.
Ange Branca | Photos: Saté Kampar via Facebook, Neal Santos
Know before you go: The food is served as if "you've traveled to Malaysia and you're eating on the street," Branca says. So be prepared for dinner to be casual—and BYOB.
Atoboy, New York City
"There's more potential in Korean food," Junghyun Park says referring to the view many diners in the U.S. have of Korean food as just barbecue and bibimbap. "I wanted to bring a new concept of Korean food to a new market." He's done that with his first solo restaurant, which focuses on inventive takes on banchan—small dishes that are often presented first thing or as a side to a Korean meal—like eggplant coupled with Dungeness crab and tomato-lemon gelée. Park isn't stopping here. He hopes to invite top-flight chefs from South Korea to collaborate at Atoboy, helping show the breadth of the cuisine.
Know before you go: Expect the dishes to arrive quickly and possibly all at once. "I really want there to be tons of different food on the same table" at the same time, Park says.
Juliet, Somerville, Massachusetts
Josh Lewin, executive chef and co-owner of Somerville darling Juliet, isn't new to the scene, but his one-year-old restaurant has propelled this Renaissance man into the national spotlight. Lewin—who boxes, writes and runs—opened Juliet with partner Katrina Jazayeri after hosting pop-ups that "took on an almost-theatrical element, complete with 'set' design and a lot of feeling," Lewin explains. At Juliet, they keep the theatrical spirit alive by experimenting with themes, like a Lyonnaise bouchon-style menu or a soon-to-debut Persian New Year one. "The kitchen is right in the center of the room, and the service staff is similarly on full display at all times, so it's more like dinner as immersive theater that plays out all around the guests."
Know before you go: Since the menu is always changing, look out for more themes at dinnertime—a new menu will launch every four to six weeks this year—and for lunch, don't miss the rotating series of sandwiches, like the beloved French dip or the banh mi.
El Che Bar, Chicago
At eight-month-old Argentine restaurant El Che Bar, executive pastry chef Marianna Reynolds says she likes her desserts "to provoke a sense of curiosity." Think: a spicy and flaming marshmallow cake or updated take on an affogato, in which the bottom of a glass is lined with whipped cream, acai purée and Marsala caramel, and espresso, poured tableside, melts a ring of praline ice cream and releases a smoky, campfire scent.
Marianna Reynolds | Photos: Courtesy of El Che Bar
Know before you go: "Come on a Tuesday," Reynolds says, when it's easier to grab a table.
Callie Speer made a name for herself as a pastry chef in high-end restaurants, but eventually took a different route. "It got to the point where I was tired of doing fancy food. I wanted to do the food that I want when I go out to eat," she says. So she is switching gears and opening a casual, savory concept in late April or early May. But she isn't forsaking her roots. All items on the menu have a pastry element, whether it's an egg sandwich, brisket biscuit, cake batter pancakes or a burger with crispy hash browns, American cheese and shaved ham.
Know before you go: There will be a counter for to-go service for people who work nearby or bar hoppers who need to fuel up.
August 1 Five, San Francisco
Executive chef Manish Tyagi of San Francisco's August 1 Five has been drawing rave reviews with his modern take on Northern and Central Indian food since the restaurant opened in November. Take the gol guppa, a popular Indian street food that Tyagi dresses up with flavored waters, like grape, mint cilantro and fruit punch. The restaurant "is named for the date commemorating India's independence from British rule, while also signifying our independence from mainstream Indian restaurant food, such as the omnipresent 'curries,'" Tyagi explains. As Indian food continues to flourish all over the country, Tyagi, who came up at D.C.'s Rasika and India's Taj Hotels, is one chef to watch.
Know before you go: The chef just launched vegetarian and nonvegetarian tasting menus for private dinner parties, which will showcase his produce-driven approach to dishes from around the subcontinent.
The Anchorage, Greenville, SC
After years away from home working at restaurants like Sean Brock's Husk when it first opened, Greg McPhee has returned to the town (and rising epicurean destination) where he grew up. At his first solo venture, McPhee is cooking small fish- and vegetable-focused plates like South Carolina tilefish with oyster mushrooms and shiso purée, and smoked trout spread. "There are elements of Southern cooking in it," the chef says, but it's not Southern as most people understand the cuisine. Only two months in, McPhee is already working on special events like a beer supper with Blackberry Farm's brewery.
Greg McPhee | Photos: William Crooks
Know before you go: Arrive before 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays to avoid a long wait, McPhee advises. If you do have to wait, try a cheekily named cocktail like the Shiso Vain, made with shiso, Four Roses Yellow Label, house-made tonic, ginger and bitters.
He might be a national fan favorite from his time on Top Chef, but no one's more excited for chef Sheldon Simeon's success than the people in his home state of Hawaii, where he and his wife opened the casual Tin Roof last April. Simeon offers a fresh take on the Hawaiian plate lunch, featuring fresh poke, tender pork belly and traditional saimin noodles. Simeon adopted the spot from a local family who had been in operation for 20 years, saying, "We [wanted] to continue on the traditions of having mom-and-pop lunch spots that feed the community . . . and tourists alike." Simeon also plans to open HALA, a restaurant focusing on regional Hawaiian cuisine in the resort section of Maui, this coming fall.
Know before you go: Don't miss the mochiko chicken kau kau tin, Simeon says. "It's marinated overnight in ginger, sake, soy and kochujang, then dipped in a mochiko flour batter and twice-fried." It's topped with two sauces and house-made furikake, which comes in the form of 50-cent "dime bags."
A devastating fire may have destroyed Detroit's new Thai hot spot, Katoi, last month, but chef Brad Greenhill and his team are already back on their feet. Immediately after the tragedy, the community set up fundraisers at local hotels and bars to raise money for the team and the restaurant's rehabilitation. A week later, they had $20,000 and were determined to reopen by June or July. "It's strange to say this, but we feel like we can't open exactly how we were before," Greenhill says. "While we want it to have the same feel and same flavors, we feel like . . . we have to be a little better." Greenhill and business partner Courtney Henriette describe Katoi as a true group effort, citing the core team behind the restaurant as the force keeping it going. Until the spot is back open, look out for the team at pop-ups and takeovers.
Know before you go: "We might even do a national restaurant takeover tour for a week or two down the line," Greenhill says. Keep your eyes open for news on the restaurant's Instagram account.