Dhamaka opened last winter, made it to our list of NYC’s best new restaurants by the spring, was named one of our best restaurants in the world over the summer and won a Time Out Best of the City Award this fall. It's been a triumphant journey for Essex Market’s crown jewel, which spotlights dishes from what Dhamaka calls “the forgotten side of India.” Chef Chintan Pandya has expertly calibrated spices and amplified flavors to make menu items like the vibrant gurda kapoora served with heat-slaking pillows of pao, comforting goat neck dum biryani and the practically viral paplet fry (if you’ve seen one table-top snapshot, it’s likely this delicious little fish) essential not only to Dhamaka, but to eating in NYC in 2021.
At this time last year, we didn’t know which exciting, surprising and splashy spots would emerge as 2021’s best new restaurants. But back then, we didn’t know a lot of things. We didn’t know when indoor dining would return, or what would be required to partake, or whether our favorite “temporarily” closed venues would ever come back. Neither, of course, did the hospitality professionals who took a chance on a return to something, or at least the notion of this new normal that keeps being bandied about.
I was talking to a restaurant owner the other day who opened his first independent venture months before NYC’s hospitality shutdown. The place went on to survive the months that followed and become about as critically acclaimed as anywhere can, with the bookings to match. I asked him how recent history hadn’t warned him off opening the new place so soon. How did he go from feeling good to bad to hopeful in such quick succession? He said that opening a new restaurant is always a little frightening, but, essentially, the only way to keep going is to just not stop.
Nobody here stopped. They kept going out of force of necessity, determination and more than a little optimism in a time when that sentiment has been tough to dredge up. These are the best restaurants that opened in New York City in 2021.