Our picks for this year’s Best New Restaurants in the Americas include a Los Angeles taco cart turned brick and mortar, a tasting menu from a French-trained chef on a tiny Panamanian island, and in-depth takes on the regional cuisine of Colombia’s Caribbean, the Ozarks, and Puebla, among others. There are countless story lines to follow with new restaurants around the Americas, from a search to explore the unknown, a drive to build on the foundations of ancestral foodways, and the diversification and refinement of concepts within urban centers.
After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico continues to restore its culinary scene, pushing it to a higher level. From wood fired cooking on rainforest farms to the return of, perhaps, the island’s greatest chef, Puerto Rico’s culinary scene has never been better. In the United States, Latin American restaurants are becoming far more interesting, with Michelin-star worthy Japanese-Peruvian in New York City, modern Venezuelan in Washington D.C., and stellar Tex-Mex in downtown Los Angeles. There’s high design and good food with wine in Santiago, more wood fired cooking in Costa Rica and São Paulo, and a posh Spanish food hall in Manhattan. Mexico City continues to shine, while Guatemala City continues its rise.
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 fourth attempt at such distinction. Here, in no particular order, is our list of the 19 Best New Restaurant Openings of 2019:
Tacos 1986 – Los Angeles, California
Tacos 1986 has quickly established itself as one of LA’s preeminent taquerias. In July, the hit Tijuana-style truck opened a brick-and-mortar location in downtown Los Angeles at Sixth and Spring streets, quickly adding another location just months later. Their menu features a list of tacos, quesadillas, vampiros, and mulitas, all available with their signature adobada, seen through the open kitchen stacked on the trompo. Website.
Amá•cita — Los Angeles, California
San Antonio born Josef Centeno has become a sort of an ambassador for Tex-Mex food on the West Coast. His more traditional downtown L.A. restaurant Bar Ama is now firmly rooted in the city’s culinary landscape, while his newer, more experimental Amá•cita continues to strengthen connections between South Texas and California. Looking at Tex-Mex food through a Los Angeles lens, he is bringing diners dishes like peaches with pine nut salsa, blistered okra with ranchero sauce and queso fresco, and a Mexican sriracha half-chicken with roasted pico de gallo. Website.
Mercado Little Spain – New York, New York
José Andrés’ massive Spanish-themed food hall in New York City’s Hudson Yards, which also marks the first U.S. project of Ferran and Albert Adrià of El Bulli (and nearly every great restaurant in Barcelona) fame. While the Hudson Yards project was loathed by many in New York, the 35,000-square-foot market has become widely beloved. Features two dozen tapas stalls, two bars, a live fire restaurant called Leña, Spanish seafood spot Mar, and an all day Spanish-style diner, Andrés’ first arrival in New York was no small feat. Website.
Llama San — New York City, New York
After a delay to the original January opening due to fire, Chef Erik Ramirez of Brooklyn’s beloved Llama Inn expanded his Peruvian empire with Nikkei restaurant Llama-San in the West Village. Just a few blocks from Llamita, Ramirez taps his Japanese-Peruvian roots to further Nikkei’s visibility in the Big Apple with dishes that include a tofu with shrimp and potato in aji amarillo sauce; hamachi tiradito with uni, coconut, and matcha; and a playful take on tallarín con apanado which takes the form of breaded Iberico pork with green udon noodles and pickled cucumbers. Lynnette Marrero has established one of the city’s best bar programs too, showcasing both Japanese and Peruvian spirits and ingredients. Website.
Tzuco — Chicago, Illinois
Located in the River North neighborhood of Chicago, chef Carlos Gaytán returned to Chicago, after opening in the Xcaret Hotel’s Ha on the Yucatan Peninsula, with Tzuco, short for Huitzuco, the chef’s Mexican hometown. He was the first Mexican chef to earn a Michelin star, at the now-shuttered Mexique, and his 120-seat casual restaurant breaks free of expected Mexican plates in favor of things like chocolate clams, fideo noodles, and guajillo chile rubbed fish. Website.
Seven Reasons – Washington D.C.
Venezuelan chef Enrique Limardo opened his first D.C. venture after making lots of noise running the kitchen at Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore, where he met his Seven Reasons co-founder, Argentinian consultant-turned-restaurateur Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger. Limardo studied architecture and design, apparent in both the aesthetic of the physical space as well as the plating of his dishes. Seven Reasons isn’t specifically a Venezuelan restaurant, but rather an immaculately executed exploration of modern Latin American cooking, one of the best there is in the United States right now. Website.
Bulrush – St. Louis, Missouri
Chef and author Rob Connelly — a James Beard awards Best Chef Southwest semifinalist with his now closed New Mexico restaurant The Curious Kumquat — has brought his Ozarks-focused cuisine to his St. Louis hometown in this project that has been two years in the making. The menu utilizes many foraged and hunted ingredients and explores the lost foodways of this mountainous landscape that extends across Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Featuring a high-end tasting menu where diners sit around an open kitchen, Bulrush is helping redefine the St. Louis dining scene. Website.
Charco – São Paulo, Brazil
Two young chefs, Tuca Mezzomo and Nathalia Gonçalves, are managing to stand out in São Paulo not by a whimsical, expensive tasting menu, but rather a straightforward, accessible one. The pair have focused their attention on seasonal Brazilian ingredients, many of them from the south of the country, just a few to a plate, most of which are simply slow-cooked or smoked over wood fire. Within the rustic space, they make their own breads and charcuterie, and have one of the city’s best cheese selections, not to mention a nice selection of natural and biodynamic wines. Instagram.
Celele – Cartagena, Colombia
The chefs behind Proyecto Caribe Lab — Jaime Rodríguez and Sebastián Pinzón — have been researching the forgotten foods Colombia’s Caribbean for several years now. They have spent considerable time documenting recipes and techniques of traditional, popular and ancestral cooking, cataloging products and species, training vulnerable communities with a vision of sustainability, and tapping producers, fishermen, farmers and artisans to source their ingredients. With Celele, in Cartagena’s Getsemani neighborhood, they finally have a permanent space to showcase the wonderful plates that have evolved from such exploration. Website.
Bacoa – Juncos, Puerto Rico
Three of Puerto Rico’s rising star chefs – René Marichal, Raúl Correa and Xavier Pacheco – have joined forces with this “finca and fogón” concept in Juncos, an eighteenth century plantation town in the eastern central part of the island. Their 3.5-acre farm is anchored by a refurbished house that was nearly wiped out by Hurricane Maria and the menu centers on local, seasonal produce, fritangas, cuchifritos, and whole cooked animals on the wood hearth. Facebook.
Wilo Eatery & Bar – San Juan, Puerto Rico
One of Puerto Rico’s most notable chefs, Wilo Benet, hung up his fine dining hat with the closing of beloved Pikayo a couple of years back. He’s now running a layered concept just 20 minutes outside of the city in Guaynabo’s Galería San Patricio. The space is anchored by a casual restaurant that serves Pikayo classics like tuna tartar pegao, beef alcapurrias with foie gras, and a large format bistec encebollado. However, the concept has much to offer, with a grab and go market, make-your-own-bowl bar, a customizable hot dog cart, and café. Website.
Receta Michilá – Bocas del Toro, Panama
Joseph Archbold grew up on laid back Isla Carenero, a tiny island beside bustling Isla Colón in Panama’s Bocas del Toro archipelago, one of the region’s with the richest cuisine in all of Central America. After spending years in French cooking in top restaurants, he returned to Bocas to research the island’s culinary legacy and resurrect lost recipes. Over the past few years, Archbold has been operating a casual restaurant called Octo, ensuring that his dream project, attached to a small hotel where his family once worked, would be done right. Receta Michilá serves innovative set menus, as well as informal beach snacks, that combines Archbold’s refined training with his love of his home. Facebook.
Milia – Mexico City, Mexico
Named for chef Lucho Martinez’s daughter, this highly anticipated restaurant opened at the end of 2018 in central Cuauhtémoc’s Little Tokyo and it has not disappointed. The design aesthetic here is stunning; an open kitchen and marble U-shaped dining counter anchor a tasting menu of about a dozen seasonally driven dishes. The chef, who has worked at career-making restaurants like Quintonil, Máximo, Lalo, and Mia Domenicca has partnered with Edo Kobayashi here, and infuses his dishes with Japanese nuance. Website.
Maizal – Puebla, Mexico
Puebla is, without question, one of the cradles of gastronomy of the Americas and while its restaurants never seem to receive the same attention as those in Oaxaca, the dining scene is evolving to be just as spectacular. Daniel Nates held pop-ups at farms and beside archeological sites around the state of Puebla for several years before landing on a permanent setting in the historic center of the city of Puebla inside the boutique hotel Casona de los Sapos. Alongside his twin brother and sommelier Antonio, they are showcasing the potential of modern Poblano cuisine.
Olam – Santiago, Chile
The team of restaurateur Raul Yañez and chef Sergio Barroso, who run the avant garde tapas spot 040 in Santiago’s Bellavista neighborhood, and also popped up in New York city for much of 2019, have another hit on their hands with stylish Olam in the Hotel Director in Santiago’s El Golf neighborhood. Opened alongside the city’s first authentic vermouth bar and a speakeasy, Nkiru, the restaurant’s tapas and high design setting are a welcome addition to the Chilean capital. Facebook.
Polvo Bar de Vinos – Santiago, Chile
Argentine chef Federico Ziegler, who previously led the restaurant and culinary program at the Awasi hotel in Patagonia, opened this unpretentious wine bar in Bellavista at the end of 2018. There are around 150 wines on the list, primarily from small Chilean winemakers and the culinary offerings were designed to match that craftsmanship, sourcing remarkable ingredients from small farmers, hunters, and artisan fishermen, as well as countryside cheese and sausage makers. Dishes are adapted to seasons and kitchen waste is often pickled, winding up back on the plate. Website.
El Preferido de Palermo – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Iconic Buenos Aires restaurant El Preferido de Palermo reopened after a five month overhaul that put Pablo Rivero and Guido Tassi, the owner and chef of Parrilla Don Julio at the helm. The pair has given it new life with a new cellar for wine and aging charcuterie, remaking an unused patio, polishing up the decór, and expanding the menu while respecting the classics. The old bodegón is once again full of life and the food has never been better. Instagram.
Botaniko – Escazú, Costa Rica
Argentine chef Sebastián La Rocca worked with Jaime Oliver for many years before transplanting to Costa Rica, where he ran the culinary program at the El Mangroove Hotel and designed restaurant concepts around the world. He’s now opened his first restaurant in Costa Rica in Escazú near San José focusing on the wood-fired cooking techniques of his birth country with the meat and produce of his adopted one. Aside of tomahawk steaks and beets cooked al rescoldo (in charcoal), there are gallos with house made tortillas, crudos, and a bone-in pork milanesa.Website.
Sublime Restaurante – Guatemala City, Guatemala
With Sublime, Sergio Díaz, who heads one of Guatemala City’s premier restaurant groups, builds on his work at Ambia, which is home to the first R&D lab into Guatemalan food. With chefs like Pablo Díaz, Deborah Fadul, and Diego Telles, modern Guatemalan food is quickly coming into its own and fusion restaurant Sublime is one of the most ambitious projects yet. Working with an anthropologist to create an experience the blends modern techniques with dishes from Pre-Colombian, colonial, and modern periods of Guatemalan history. Facebook page.
Header image of Celele in Cartagena, Colombia courtesy of Celele.