Across the Americas, new restaurant openings are happening at a dizzying pace. Not just in major metropolitan areas like São Paulo and Mexico City, but in more offbeat places not previously celebrated for their culinary scenes including Ecuador, Paraguay, and the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Unlike the recent past, many new restaurants aren’t expensive tasting menu spots either. Over the past year, informal and laid back dining has been on the rise and we’re seeing new takes on Panamanian fondas, Chilean bistronomy, and Peruvian tabernas elevating traditional themes and transforming them into something more original. And here in the States, cities like Los Angeles are exploding with culinary projects at various levels in both concept and creativity; it just may be the most exciting food city in the country right now.
While it’s always hard, impossible really, to categorize what ranks as
any year’s best in a crowded and deserving field, the below embodies New Worlder’s second attempt at such distinction. Here, in no particular order, is our list of the 15 Best New Restaurant Openings of 2017:
Ambrosía Bistro – Santiago, Chile
Carolina Bazán and Rosario Onetto’s restaurant Ambrosía, most recently #20 on the Latin America 50 Best Restaurant List, is one of Chile’s best restaurants, yet their smaller, more vibrant offshoot that opened this year might even be better. Bazán spent a year working at Gregory Marchand’s restaurant Frenchie in Paris, one of the driving forces of the bistronomy movement, and it clearly had an impact on her. While the original Ambrosía, way out in Vitacura, has a closed kitchen and way more seats, which limited interactions with the lovely hosts, the intimate bistro has just 30 seats, most of which surround the open kitchen. The food is playful, designed for snacking on small plates like steamed buns and dry aged beef while drinking one from one of Santiago’s best wine selections. ambrosiabistro.cl
Rosaliné — Los Angeles, California
Ricardo Zarate is back and he is better than ever. After disappearing for awhile the Peruvian chef returned with Rosaline, which serves humble and family-inspired traditional Peruvian dishes alongside local-inspired “street food.” The restaurant is named for the chef’s mother and takes inspiration from the foods of Zarate’s childhood in Peru. A highlight of Rosaliné is a seafood bar focused on ceviche, one of Zarate’s most beloved dishes. The menu, constructed to encourage diners to share with one another, is split into into sections including snacks, land-based dishes, sea-based dishes, soil-based dishes, and BBQ-style plates. Highlights from the Pachamama (land-based) section include Juane de Chancho, an Amazonian-style pork belly tamal and lomo saltado, sautéed filet mignon, roasted tomatoes, braised onions, and a sunny side up egg. rosalinela.com.
Proyecto Caribe – Cartagena, Colombia
Despite not having a permanent restaurant space thus far, you would be pressed to find a more enticing dining experience anywhere in Colombia than Proyecto Caribe. Chefs Jaime Rodriguez and Sebastián Pinzón have spent the past year running pop-ups in Cartagena and elsewhere around Colombia while researching the foodways of the country’s Caribbean region. Regional products used mostly by rural Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, long ignored by the rest of the country, such as queso de capa from the Magdalena river town of Mompós, hormigas culonas from San Gil, and sun dried shrimp from Guajira find their way into adventurous tasting menus. In 2018, they move into a permanent taller, or workshop, in Cartagena with a 30-seat restaurant and space for classes and research. Facebook page.
Dialogue – Los Angeles, California
Former Alinea and Next chef Dave Beran, one of the biggest names in the U.S., has opened one of Los Angeles’ most anticipated restaurants in years. The opening has been overshadowed by the much more hyped Vespertine, but the 18-seat tasting menu restaurant, has been steadily earning followers. We’re betting that of the two, this is the one that remains for the long haul. Set beside a fish sandwich shop on the second floor of a Santa Monica food hall, of all places, the beautifully executed kaiseki-style menu includes 20+ courses of Southern California ingredients that reveal one of the country’s best chefs coming into his own. dialoguerestaurant.com.
Pakurí — Asunción, Paraguay
Paraguayan Sofía Pfannl and Peruvian José Miguel Burga met while working at Lima’s renowned restaurant Central, where she was a stagiare and he was a sommelier. After getting married they moved to Asunción to open Pakurí, where they could use their experience for creative takes on regional products in traditional dishes. The space, built out of shipping containers and glass that surround a large patio, is fresh and bold and provokes a lively atmosphere for enjoying a long lunch or night out with negronis infused with local herbs or natural wines. The food is unpretentious, with seasonal menus that include dishes like vegetable ceviche, grilled river fish like boga and surubí, and sweetbreads. Facebook Page.
Xochi — Houston, Texas
The latest concept from culinary duo Chef Hugo Ortega — who won this year’s James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest — and partner/restaurateur Tracy Vaught of H Town Restaurant Group, Xochi located on the ground floor of the new Marriott Marquis Houston, though don’t let that fool you. Xochi focuses on food of utmost culinary tradition in Oaxaca and does it beautifully. Made in-house queso fresco and Oaxacan string cheese, nixtamal and tortillas, moles, fresh-ground spice blends, and house–roasted and ground cacao beans for the house-made Mexican chocolate are some of the featured menu highlights, as well as Oaxacan classics like tlayudas and mezcal. Facebook Page.
Iza – São Paulo, Brazil
Despite its enormous size, São Paulo has lacked an artisanal bakery comparable to those of other major metropolises. Iza, owned by Izabela Tavares, has changed that. Like a Brazilian Tartine, Tavares experiments and actively studies long, natural fermentation and using different types of flour in her small production kitchen in Vila São Francisco. Her Pão da Casa is a rustic, country loaf made of a mix of white and whole wheat flours, plus a rotating mix of specialty breads that may include black olive focaccia, panettone, poppyseed sourdough with Sicilian limes, or cacao with toasted hazelnuts. Tavares’ breads are so popular, and the batches are so limited, that she asks that orders be made in advance as they otherwise sell out. izapadariaartesanal.com.br.
Mi Tocaya Antojeria – Chicago, Illinois
Chef Diana Dávila’s Logan Square restaurant stands out in Chicago, a city where there’s a great Mexican restaurant for almost every stop on the L. Her self-owned antojería, which in Mexico translates to a place for small cravings, allows her to be playful, re-imagining family recipes through a Midwestern Mexican lens. The result is Dávila’s own style; she might use peanut butter to make a sauce to serve with lengua (beef tongue), or use the creamy walnut sauce best known for chiles en nogada to top pork albondigas (meatballs), or pair fried chicken with churros, which we think is genius. Young, bold, and vocal about her cooking and her heritage, we are watching the evolution of this chef very closely. mitocaya.com.
Lorea — Mexico City, Mexico
After leading Mugaritz’s development kitchen for the better part of a decade, Oswaldo Oliva and his wife Elizabeth Chichino returned home to Mexico to open Lorea, as well as it’s excellent, more casual sibling Alelí. It’s an exciting time for the DF’s restaurant scene and the Colonia Roma restaurant has managed to set itself apart from any other fine dining restaurant in the city while still being driven by Mexican produce. The innovative tasting menus peel back some of the layers of Mexican cuisine, often uprooting it from the way things have always been done, and rebuilding it in ways only someone that spent so much time with Andoni Luis Aduriz can do. Expect to hear much more about Lorea as it evolves. lorea.mx.
Verlaine — Los Angeles, USA
Verlaine, Los Angeles’ Mexican newcomer, quickly found its groove when it opened earlier this year. Jonathan Gold went as far to say their soft fried black beans were “the best you will have ever taste in California” in his review. No small compliment. Chef Diego Hernández, who also owns Baja’s Corazón de Tierra, currently occupying #39 on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list, has turned a former rat pack hangout in West Hollywood into Los Angeles’ introduction to modern Baja Med cuisine, which takes its influences from Mexico, the Mediterranean, and sometimes Japan. Verlaine, Hernández’ first spot outside of Mexico, also has a stand out bar program focusing on agave spirits like tequila and mezcal. verlaine.la.
Quitu – Quito, Ecuador
Ecuador, especially Quito, has suddenly come alive with new restaurants that are pushing the boundaries of modern Ecuadorian cuisine, such as Urko and El Salnés. Quitu’s Juan Sebastian Perez is the latest chef to experiment with the country’s astounding biodiversity while working with local farmers and fishermen to create things like confit of llama, salt baked mashwas, and guayusa syrup. Expect to see ancestral recipes for things like guaguas (a type of bread) and chicha, as well as house made mistelas, sugarcane alcohol or gin infused with local herbs and fruits, which form the drink pairing on their tasting menu. quitu.ec.
The Charter Oak — St. Helena, California
Three-Michelin starred chef of The Restaurant at Meadowood Christopher Kostow, along with partner Nathaniel Dorn, opened this primal restaurant outfitted in brick and deep woods that has a wood-fired grill as its centerpiece. Kostow brought over Katianna Hong, formerly Meadowood’s chef de cuisine, to command the flames and the result has been nothing less than magical. Though it is located in northern California, the restaurant feels more like Spain’s Asador Extebarri, with its beautiful products cooked simply yet precisely, than Meadowood itself, which is far more refined and formal. A casual yet elegant addition to Kostow’s growing influence in the region. thecharteroak.com.
Fonda Lo Que Hay – Panama City, Panama
When Jose Olmedo Carles, who owns the elegant, fine dining spot Donde Jose in Casco Viejo, started renovating a nearby building to install a gastrolab, he realized that the ground floor space could fit a small restaurant. While inexpensive and aimed at attracting Casco neighbors, the no-frills fonda is one of the most fun restaurants to open in Panama City in years and some of the best food in Panama right now. As the name states, the lunch-only spot serve whatever they feel like making on that particular day, inspired by what’s fresh, which might mean pork cheek tacos, hojaldra pizzas, or pescado frito with coconut curry rice. Instagram Page.
Atla – New York City, New York
The team from Cosme, Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto-Innes, have another hit on their hands with the 60-seat ATLA in NoHo. The casual, all-day eatery highlights simple Mexican fare focused on organic, sustainable, and seasonal ingredients, many of them coming from the Hudson Valley. High quality, comfort dishes like split-pea tlacoyos and two-fist pambazos feel more like something that would be served in a Colonia Juarez comedor and infuses New York City with a sense of real Mexican food stylings. From quesadillas to chilaquiles, enchiladas to conchas, and one wonderful fish milanese served with just-pressed tortillas, the team at ATLA is redefining Mexican food (again), this time without Cosme’s price tag. atlanyc.com.
El Bodegón — Lima, Peru
It was Gastón Acurio’s dream to retire and open an informal restaurant that could serve the simple, soulful food he was fond of. While his work at Astrid y Gastón have postponed that retirement, the dream restaurant, El Bodegón, is now open in Miraflores. The tavern-like space explores Acurio’s own take on cocina criolla, highlighting the ingredients of Peru’s coastal valleys and sea in dishes like caigua rellena, a milanesa with huancaína sauce and tallarines verdes, and panceta al cilindro (pork belly cooked in a metal cylinder). There are stews and sandwiches anddisheds with offal meats that would make any Peruvian grandmother weep. It’s more like the the hearty food of the original Astrid y Gastón, in the years after it opened, when it caught the attention of the world and changed the course of Peru’s culinary history. Facebook Page.
Re-Opening of the Year:
Manu – Curitaba, Brazil
Manoella ‘Manu’ Buffara’s eponymous restaurant closed briefly and underwent a complete renovation, essentially turning it into a new restaurant. Essentially, the old space could not keep up with Buffara, a former journalist, who continues to blossom on the international stage. A natural storyteller, the chef uses the ingredients of her hometown of Curitaba to tell the story of the Paraná landscape, often highlighting the small producers that make them possible. The new restaurant is less formal, less like Noma and Alinea where she once worked, and even has a lower price, yet allows Buffara to be more creative and have more interaction with the diners. restaurantemanu.com.br.
Header image of Jaiba de la Boquilla, Verdolaga Playera, maiz biche, suero costeño, and pipilanga courtesy of Proyecto Caribe.