Best breakout role: Aldea

  • Shrimp alhinho (Photographs: Jeff Gurwin)

  • Egg with spring peas, bacon, chanterelles and truffles

After many years as an unsung kitchen lieutenant (at Tocqueville, Walls and Bouley), chef George Mendes finally has a showcase all his own. At the site of his long-delayed debut as chef-owner, the peripatetic Portuguese-American gives the flavors he grew up on their big-city due. This sedate sliver of a restaurant put the fare of Lisbon and the Algarve on the map in New York, with haute cuisine riffs on western Iberian classics—slow-cooked boutique farm eggs with salt cod and olives, duck rice studded with breast meat and cracklings—that were among the most striking new dishes of 2009. Aldea 31 W 17th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-675-7223)