Other nominees: New York Sushi Ko, Sushi Dojo, TanoshiNew Yorkers are no strangers to sushi, but this was the year that OMAKASE burned bright in marquee lights. A fresh crop of knife-slingers, repping the chef’s-choice style of Japanese dining, grabbed the mike. Their nonconformist antics—brash knuckle tats, midmeal sing-alongs—tore through the vintage monasticism of haute sushi’s old school. But no one balanced bona fides and showmanship as deftly as Daisuke Nakazawa, breakout star of the raw-fish school of hard knocks. The Jiro Dreams of Sushi disciple brought New York swagger to traditional nigiri, nailing the details (lightly vinegared rice, heirloom seaweed) while torquing up his own cheeky flourishes. Some of the surprises hit you during the meal, like yuzu pepper paste slapping a still-squirming Maine scallop; others dawn on you later, when you realize that the joke-cracking chef photobombed an Instagram pic of you and your date.
Other nominees: Han Dynasty, Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop, Somtum DerIn this Yankee-pinstriped town, it takes a lot for our Red Sox–hating hearts to warm to a Beantown import, especially in place of lionized food towns like Bangkok and Tokyo. But when a grand slam came courtesy of kitchen heavy hitters Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, even you Bronx Bomber diehards had to take a cap off in respect. At this clubby Meatpacking goliath, the chefs cram big-as-a-ballpark flavor into tiny Spanish packages: Miso butter slicks an uni-oozing panino, while fermented black beans salt crisp, creamy sweetbreads. The seductive tapas warrants the buzzing scene, night owls savoring fat-laced jamón and swigging gin and tonics until the steel-edged room blurs like a discoteca. It’s New York’s best Boston score since the Great Bambino and, like the Babe, this one knocks it out of the park.
Other nominees: Alder, Marco's, Mission CantinaIn this throbbing metropolis, where culinary ambitions are as lofty as skyscrapers, one joint is rarely enough for striving restaurateurs. So while gastro-tech demigod Wylie Dufresne (Alder), Brooklyn locavore royalty Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens (Marco’s), and mash-up golden boy Danny Bowien (Mission Cantina) all turned up the heat with sophomore hits, you crowned Andrew Carmellini’s latest tour de force best in show. Not since Balthazar has a brasserie lit up a neighborhood like this, with a front bakery worthy of stand-alone status flaunting Jennifer Yee’s stunning pastries, and chef de cuisine Damon Wise putting out lusty French-inflected food that turns a polar-vortex night warm. With this banging brasserie rounding out crown jewels Locanda Verde and the Dutch, Carmellini—once the Café Boulud prince of haute cuisine—cements his status as restaurateur to the people. All hail the king.
Other nominees: Golden Cadillac, Attaboy, The Long Island BarNew York cocktailers have a way of trying to capture the past: There’s the feel-good ’70s groove of East Village haunt Golden Cadillac; the midcentury, neon-marquee pull of the Long Island Bar; and the bespoke throwback that is Attaboy. Among these shaker-flipping all-stars, none stirred your spirit quite like the Dead Rabbit, a boozy, Dickensian set piece from brogued bar aces Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, imported from Belfast. Inside a handsome 186-year-old FiDi townhouse, the cocktail-slinging Celts resurrect Industrial Age quaffs that went all but AWOL in the last century, pouring a liquid history lesson in the form of bishops, possets and fixes. With their skilled execution of a behemoth menu—60 drinks and counting—and stunning retro sips like a Byrrh Wine Daisy (red wine, rhubarb soda, angelica bitters), Muldoon and McGarry don’t just silence revival-jaded tipplers—they rouse an old New York we didn’t know we were missing. We’ll clink a copper mug to that.
Other nominees: Bunker, Khe-Yo, Whiskey Soda Lounge NySoutheast Asian restaurants brandished their credentials in the past 12 months, bringing us Thai pub grub from James Beard Award winner Andy Ricker (Whiskey Soda Lounge Ny), haute Laotian from Iron Chef Marc Forgione (Khe-Yo) and DIY Vietnamese with an Eleven Madison Park pedigree via Jimmy Yu (Bunker). But you stuffed the ballot box for Uncle Boons, where a pair of Per Se vets—wife-and-husband team Ann Redding and Matt Danzer—apply flawless technique to Thailand’s gangbuster flavors. Family recipes are the launching pad for more-personal-than-anthological chef fireworks: laab remixed brilliantly with lamb, for example, or punchy sour pineapple curry enriched with seared chicken livers. The culinary tightrope act is as thrilling as a rip-roaring bender in Bangkok, but Uncle Boons knows when to keep it simple, too: A plate of charcoal-kissed baby octopus and a frozen Singha beer slushie might be the best bar meal in the five boroughs.
Other nominees: Estela, Charlie Bird, LuksusRestaurant bars have moved well past their second-class status, with barstools no longer begrudgingly accepted as substitutes for a table. Yet lately the goodwill generated by the city’s top programs has been centered on the cocktail, leaving the fervor for burgundy-stained wine service to dusty prerecession dining. This year’s nominated foursome shifted the focus back to wine (Estela, Charlie Bird) and, in the case of the rare-brew pairings at Luksus, beer. But no in-house drink slate caught your sip-and-swirl fancy quite like Patrick Cappiello’s 2,000-bottle vino list at Pearl & Ash. Cappiello (ex–Gilt sommelier) represents the new generation of punk-rock wine service, trading pageantry for personality: He can saber a bottle of bubbly with the best of them, but he’ll do it in a raggedy Ramones T-shirt. Balancing old-world standbys and New Age misfits (funky Southwestern bottles alongside that queen bee of wine, bordeaux), the program’s offbeat exuberance finds its mate in Richard Kuo’s creative small plates, from the togarashi-rubbed octopus that starts a meal to the Fernet-Branca ice-cream sandwiches that finish it. In a newly democratized era in which Obama busts Zach Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns and the Pope updates his Twitter feed more religiously than you do, that’s food and drink for the modern age.
Other nominees: American Cut, Costata, Quality Italian“Never order the fish” is but one of the many steakhouse tenets that Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis subvert at this madcap chophouse, whose sheer whimsy made it stand out from a pack of traditionally hedge-fund-baiting meat havens. The gleefully eccentric couple behind M. Wells Dinette run a steakhouse by way of surrealism: Pork chops come stacked flapjack-style with pats of anchovy butter; a buttermilk-dressed wedge gets jacked up with shards of dehydrated ketchup; and that fish wriggles around in a concrete trough until it’s slipped into a ridiculously good trout au bleu. Sure, there are the customary steaks, wood-fired to a caveman crust, but even those can be ordered with beef butter, an indulgently rich side that’s a meal in and of itself. It’s audacious, absurd and downright thrilling—we wouldn’t expect, or want, anything less.
Other nominees: Battery Harris, Pickle Shack, The JeffreyFrom a Caribbean-style kegger (Battery Harris) to a beery temple of fermented cukes (Pickle Shack), this year’s craft-brew nominees all earned props for letting their freak flag fly. But none rocked out with its hops out quite like Greenpoint’s game-changing Tørst. Under the stewardship of Evil Twin honcho Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø (whose irreverent ales bear names like Soft DK and Even More Jesus), the minimalist brew hall eighty-sixed the standard playbook—no TVs; no neon brewery signage; hell, not even a perfunctory bottle of chardonnay—and built a modernist clubhouse to match its esoteric stash of suds. With a state-of-the-art draft system pumping out obscure farmhouse ales, and New Nordic tasting-menu restaurant Luksus hiding in the back, Tørst threw down the gauntlet and rewrote the rules for a craft-beer bar. Your choice is a resounding reminder: New Yorkers love to get weird.
Other nominees: Ignacio Mattos, Daisuke Nakazawa, Bryce ShumanThere’s a reason that Carbone tag team Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone aced your end-of-year evaluations, triumphing over the likes of Best New Sushi winner Nakazawa and class oddball Mattos: These dudes studied, rummaging through library dish archives and researching white-tableclothed warhorses with all-nighter zeal. Brandishing their dig-deep efforts and collective kitchen chops, the pair does more than transcend kitsch. They’ve cooked up an Italian joint worthy of modern-day Gotham, one where Vito Schnabel–curated art happily cohabitates with the Drifters’ golden oldies, and the chefs can push the genre to new heights while still paying tribute to marinara-soaked memories. Carbone and Torrisi show that you don’t have to go out with the old to be in with the new.
Other nominees: Betony, Estela, Sushi NakazawaMacaroni mavericks Rich Torrisi, Mario Carbone and Jeff Zalaznick (Torrisi Italian Specialties, Parm) erected a brash-yet-polished study in Italian-American excess this year. And while much ink has been spilled over the bigness of this high-toned supper club—the wingspan of the menus, the sticker shock of that formidable $54 veal parm—the details are what make this pitch-perfect homage blare as loudly as its Sinatra soundtrack. It’s the minutes the Zac Posen–tuxedoed waiters take to toss the sublime Caesar salad tableside, the Calabrian-chili gusto of the lobster Fra Diavolo and the parade of gratis “extras” (nubs of salty Parmesan, house-made limoncello) that leave you fuller than Sunday-night dinner with the famiglia. This is red-checkered dining in the fifth dimension—your move, nonna.