That’s all, folks—2016 went out with a soul-crushing thud, but at least the last month of the year brought us a solid crop of new restaurants, from an East Village branch of a Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant, to a loving homage to some of the best New York pizzas, to the return of one of the most beloved and famous restaurants in NYC. From modern Cantonese grub to globe-pulling Mexican, these are the best new restaurants that debuted in New York this December.
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Best new restaurants in NYC
No restaurant is from the perils of steep New York rents, not even one as universally beloved as Union Square Cafe. Restaurant megamogul Danny Meyer shuttered the 30-year-old restaurant last year in its original space (it’s now home to udon emporium Tsurutontan), but Gothamites weren’t without the downtown institution for long—USC reopens a mere five blocks away, in the former home of City Crab. The bi-level space, nearly doubled from the 6,000-square-foot original, offers a sense of design déjà vu: There’s still plenty of cherrywood, forest-green wainscoting and a colorful collection of paintings from the likes of Frank Stella, Claes Oldenburg and Richard Polsky. Executive chef Carmen Quagliata, a decadelong veteran of the original USC, serves favorites like a lunchtime tuna burger in the 95-seat downstairs dining room, but expands the menu with new dishes like tortellini en brodo, “baked potato” beets with sour cream and braised lamb shank with salsa verde.
That Dan Kluger’s solo debut pulls regularly from Greenmarket is not surprising in the least; the farm-to-table champion cut his teeth at fresh-produce pushers ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina, the former of which earned a James Beard award for Best New Restaurant and Kluger a Best Chef NYC nod. Kluger left the Jean-Georges empire in summer 2014, but the locavore ethos remains in veg-packed plates like wood-grilled broccoli with pistachio-mint dressing; Pekin duck with kale, fingerlings and quince; and flame-fired halibut with blood orange and caramelized fennel. The restaurant, named after the street on which Kluger’s father grew up in the Bronx, retains the original brick walls of the 1848 building it’s set in but repurposes the space’s original pine beams as tabletops and shelves that hang above the bar.
The Hong Kong–born dim sum parlor—notable not only for its exceptional pork buns but also for being the world’s most inexpensive Michelin-starred restaurant—is finally coming to New York. At the East Village outpost, the chain’s first in America (it has five locations in Hong Kong, along with offshoots across Asia and Australia), diners can find standbys like those baked BBQ pork buns, pan-fried turnip cakes and steamed rice rolls, as well as two location exclusives: a custard-filled French toast and deep-fried vegetable spring rolls. As is dim sum tradition, plates are ordered via forms left at the table, but alas, there are no roving carts here.
Gerardo Gonzalez brought his breezy brand of Cal-Mex eats to New York at the acclaimed Lower East Side luncheonette El Rey, but that diminutive 15-stool space wasn’t big enough to house his culinary ambitions. After leaving the café in April, the San Diego native expanded with this 50-seat Chinatown eatery, transforming the former Winnie’s space with mango-yellow banquettes, navy vinyl-trimmed chairs and a penny-tile bar that seats 11. (The Winnie’s exterior hasn’t been changed, in respect to the former tenant.) Gonzalez pads his menu with border-crossing plates: Green mole is dressed with Bulgarian feta and hibiscus chutney; clam chowder is stirred with coconut milk and studded with smoked sable; and baby back ribs marry Mexican sour-plum sauce with Chinese char siu.
It’s a curious jumble of influences—Scottish chef Paul Donnelly met co-owner Eddy Buckingham (the Liberty) while exploring Australia’s Asian-food scene at Sydney restaurant Ms. G’s, a background he puts to use at this contemporary Chinese restaurant set inside a turn-of-the-century opera house. The team retains some historical details (restored columns, exposed brick) but updates the space with marble tables and black-leather booths. In the 120-seat dining room, Donnelly’s menu pulls inspiration from vast stretches of the Chinese diaspora: spring rolls stuffed with Singapore’s curried chicken, a Szechuan salad of pig’s ear and jellyfish, and Cantonese-style chicken with ginger-scallion relish.
Venue says: “Social hour Monday through Friday starting at 4 pm. Come in to enjoy signature cocktails at special prices”
Chef Rob Newton is one of New York’s great Southern-cuisine champions, from the comfort-food–focused Smith Canteen to the fried-chicken kitchenette Wilma Jean. Now the Arkansas native combines Southern cooking with New American leanings at this 102-seat Downtown Brooklyn restaurant, named after the American hardwood tree. Dishes include winter mushrooms with tofu skins and Calabrian chili; braised turkey in broth with hominy and fried onions; and East Coast fish muddle (seafood stew) with potato chips and bacon.
Venue says: “In the heart of the West Village, TAVO features an eclectic collection of dishes that draw from the best of Latin cuisine.”
Julieta Ballesteros has an established history with Latin food (Crema, La Loteria, China Latina) but the Monterrey, Mexico, native uses the cuisine as a mere starting point at this West Village spot. For the 75-seat restaurant—decorated with white-oak banquettes, a copper-topped bar and a mural inspired by the mountains of Monterrey—the chef serves fusion-friendly plates like Peking duck carnitas, a Cuban lasagna with adobo pulled pork, and grilled rack of lamb with chocolate-habanero sauce.
Handmade pastas and pizzas anchor the menu at this Fort Greene eatery from the folks behind Weather Up and No. 7 Sub. From an open kitchen, Marea alum Aaron Harsha oversees the modern Italian menu: Pies include Neapolitan-style rounds like sopressata with pomodoro and stracciatella, and cockle with lardo and rosemary; on the pasta front, there are dishes like chestnut campanelle with butternut squash, and casoncele with short rib and roasted sunchokes. Designers Matthew Maddy and Nico Arze—the team responsible for the good looks at Lilia, Grand Army and Russ & Daughters Cafe—put their mark on the space with charcoal-sketched wallpaper, black leather booths and a blue-tiled bar.
It looks like the “robots are stealing our jobs” conspiracy theorists might be onto something. Just look at this high-tech quinoa Automat for proof. Founded in—where else?—San Francisco in 2015, the fast-casual chain launches in midtown with this 690-square-foot outpost, where diners can order items and pay for their meals via a mobile app or at kiosks in the restaurant. Quinoa bowls like the Aloha (taro root chips, pickled ginger, orange-miso sauce), the Toscano (roasted winter squash, fried spaghetti, basil pesto) and the Spice Market (corn curry, saag paneer, tandoori tofu) are prepared by a combination of robots and human workers in the back and are then doled out in glass cubbies with LCD screen boxes that display the diner’s name. No human interaction is necessary, although the space sports 20 seats, in case you want to eat with actual people.
The name may single out Kings County but pizzaiolo Nino Coniglio finds inspiration all over New York for this Crown Heights za outlet. Along with staples like a Margherita pie, Coniglio—who also owns Williamsburg Pizza—serves an upside-down square inspired by Bensonhurst great L&B Spumoni Gardens; and a stuffed-artichoke grandma pizza topped with creamed spinach and house-made mozzarella, a seeming nod to the Artichoke Basille's chain. His “Brooklyn Style Pizza,” layered with smoked scamorza (an Italian cow’s milk cheese), cremini and porcini mushrooms, a porcini truffle cream and pine nuts, won Coniglio the title of Pizza Maker of the Year at the 2016 Annual International Pizza Expo this past March.
Looking for late night pizza?
Can’t decide between Thai, Chinese and Indian food for dinner? Have a little bit of each at this Asian Fusion restaurant in Midtown West. If you’re in the mood for Thai, you might start with some vegetable spring rolls ($7) before feasting on shrimp pad thai ($15). Craving fried rice? Nanjing’s signature fried rice comes with chicken, shrimp and vegetables ($15) and pairs perfectly with spicy Szechwan or sweet and sour chicken (both $17). You can also order an Indian feast of chicken tikka ($14), palak paneer ($14), vegetable biryani ($11) and garlic naan ($4). Feeling especially hungry? Come for lunch every day of the week to take advantage of the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Venue says: “Serving the best of Chinese, Thai & Indian cuisine. Unlimited Lunch Buffet everyday Mon-Fri 11am-4pm & Sat & Sun 12pm-4pm, eat more pay less”