The Most Exciting New Restaurants Of 2020

From Los Angeles to London, these are the most exciting new restaurants to come out of this year.
The Most Exciting New Restaurants Of 2020 image

If, at the beginning of the year, you would have told us that some of our best meals from restaurants would drop down to us from balconies, be eaten in parking lots, or in a weird inflatable dome like The Jetsons meets Bubble Boy, we would’ve zoned out and asked what’s for lunch. But that’s what’s happened. In a year featuring low moments, a few rare high moments, and plenty of horizontal ones, new restaurants still managed to open - and serve outstanding food.

We spent the year tracking these new openings, trying as many as we could, and feeling generally in awe of what these new spots were able to achieve in such an impossible year. Selected by our entire editorial team, these are The Infatuation’s most exciting new restaurants of 2020 - from Los Angeles to London.

The Most Exciting New Restaurants of 2020, From LA to London

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Bell Gardens

$$$$Perfect For:LunchSerious Take-Out OperationQuick Eats
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Los Angeles

“Tamales Elenas Y Antojitos is the only Afro-Mexican restaurant in LA, with a menu highlighting dishes from Chef Maria Elena Lorenzo’s home state of Guerrero, Mexico. Like most people, I always order the pozole, but deep down in my secret place, the pescadilla is the star of the show for me. Thin, crispy, and filled with perfectly stewed fish, this made our top-ten tacos in LA for good reason. Throw in a beef tongue guisado and one of their namesake tamales, and you’ve got one of the most soul-penetrating meals I’ve eaten all year.”

- Brant Cox, LA Editorial Lead

New York City

“Unlike possibly everyone and everything else on the planet right now, this Thai restaurant has only gotten more exciting since the pandemic. Not by obsessively baking focaccia or breaking up with their boyfriend over Facetime, but by taking the mess in stride. After closing down briefly in March, Thai Diner reopened a takeout window, forwent table service, and consolidated their menu to include favorites from their now-closed sister location, Uncle Boons (like a chicken and banana blossom salad piled between sesame seed buns). To eat at Thai Diner is to engage in New York City group therapy - spend some time dialoguing with a warm breakfast roti or creamy khao soi and it’ll be impossible to leave feeling worse about the city.”

- Hannah Albertine, NYC Staff Writer


“It’s rare that a soup changes someone’s life. That’s what I thought anyway, until it happened to me on a stormy Tuesday night. OK, it wasn’t stormy, I’m being dramatic, but the point is this West African restaurant’s groundnut and spiced peanut butter soup is so warming, so tasty, that a little theatrics are in order. Ever since eating here, it’s lived in my head rent-free, and I’ll even catch myself daydreaming about the spiced hibiscus in the fried milk dessert, the peanut ice cream that comes with their caramelised baobab mousse, and the glorious spice factor of the goat shoulder smeared in green sauce. Chishuru might be tiny and have a small menu, but it leaves a big impact.”

- Heidi Lauth Beasley, London Staff Writer


“As soon as outdoor dining was a thing, I was on the back patio at Tambo 22, sipping on a chicha morada pisco sour - one of the best cocktails I had in 2020 (and I had a fair few). This spot, run by the same team behind the now-closed Taranta, is inspired by the chef’s home country of Peru, and everything I’ve had here is fantastic. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve told about the amazing cheese empanadas, alpaca and short rib burger with yucca fries, and tender seco de cordero. Now I can add everyone reading this caption to that total.”

-Joel Ang, Boston Staff Writer


“Like a lot of things that happened this year, Rosie’s wasn’t planned. It was born out of necessity when the team behind Miami’s Copper Door B&B found themselves with an empty hotel and bills to pay. With no guests to cook for, they opened Rosie’s and started cooking for Miami. Their menu was small at first, with a fried chicken sandwich, fish and grits, and a few more southern brunch dishes. And when I first ordered from them, the smell of the fish and grits in my passenger seat made me want to throw my car in park right in the middle of the highway so I could start tearing into it with my fingers. Thankfully I didn’t do that - but I think that urge sums up Rosie’s pretty well. They’ve since expanded with new dishes like wild mushroom polenta and rigatoni carbonara and have outdoor seating now too, which is where I’m going to eat this food from now on, for the safety of all Miami drivers.”

- Ryan Pfeffer, Miami Editor

Los Angeles

“Pop-ups are…popping off this year in LA, and Kuya Lord is one of our favorites of the bunch. This Filipino spot is run entirely out of the chef’s house, and the only way you can order is via Instagram direct message. The menu changes - my orders have included crispy lechon kawali, pancit chami, and Filipino BBQ chicken that’s pretty much ruined all other BBQ for me. More than just great food though, Kuya Lord gave me hope that, even in the darkest moments of the pandemic, restaurants will continue to show the rest of us how to find incredible, creative ways to get through this.”

-Brant Cox, LA Editorial Lead

New York City

“Either by fate or divine tortilla intervention, my favorite pop-up of the year and I ended up settling in the same NYC neighborhood. Now, in its full-time Manhattan location, Yellow Rose is serving food that’s largely missing from the city’s restaurant ecosystem: Texan cuisine. Namely, some outrageously good flour tortillas. They’re blistered, chewy, and adhere to their fillings without becoming soggy. Eating Yellow Rose’s food makes me simultaneously smitten with flour in a way I didn’t know was possible, and angry to be an East Coaster. I’m planning on ordering enough bean and cheese tacos, pollo verde tacos, and bowls of spicy beef chili to fully stain my wooden table with their drippings.”

- Hannah Albertine, NYC Staff Writer


“I wouldn’t call them friends, but I have spent quite a bit of 2020 with Tock, Caviar, Toast, Grubhub and the rest of the delivery platform gang. And all of our time together tends to end the same way: with me ordering the comforting food from this Filipino spot in Chicago. From plates like the BBQ platter with ribs that fall off the bone the moment you lay eyes on them, to adobo chicken wings with garlic rice so fluffy you could use it to stuff a pillow, every dish I’ve eaten has been delicious. Not to mention the delicate pastries - counting the intricate layers of the ham and cheese danish has become my meditation.”

- Adrian Kane, Chicago Editor


“Brits absolutely j’adore putting anything and everything between two slices, and a big deli sandwich has that unique dislocate-your-jaw energy we’re down with. But despite the UK’s football fan-like worshipping of things in bread, we don’t really do deli-style sandwiches over here. Which is weird. Anyway, this is where Dom’s Subs come in. It’s a little takeaway spot making gargantuan sandwiches on Hackney Road. The subs are, quite simply, sext worthy. After my first time I sent precisely a thousand pictures of this bresaola, mortadella, salami, gabagool-packed thing to anyone and everyone. A few weeks later a much dirtier picture of me and the Gennaro was doing the rounds. ‘What’s that on your face’ one of my friends replied. It had been a hot ten minutes with several inches of slow roast beef brisket. ‘Oh that, that’s just homemade cheez whiz.’”

- Jake Missing, London Staff Writer


“Perhaps one of the best things that happened to me during this godforsaken year was Masabaga opening up five minutes from my apartment. Their deep-fried toro burger, made with a cut of yellowfin tuna that’s breaded and deep-fried until flaky, juicy, and tender, is the star of the show at this new takeout-only sandwich spot in Oakland. The golden-brown piece of fish is topped with a tangy yuzu kosho aioli and a mix of pickled onions, mint, and greens, all layered in between a soft roll. It’s undoubtedly the best sandwich I’ve had all year, which is why I insisted on having one on my birthday (also because their massive, airy black sesame tapioca crackers make regular appearances in my dreams).”

- Julia Chen, SF Editorial Assistant

Los Angeles

“Found Oyster is one of the few places I really wish I could keep to myself. I remember every single meal I’ve eaten here, from my first visit when they opened last winter (steamers, frites, and a lobster roll), to my birthday lunch just before COVID hit (a dizzying amount of raw, fried, and broiled oysters from the GM’s family farm on Cape Cod Bay, and a Caesar salad served on top of pork schnitzel). But tiny raw bars that cram people in like anchovies are not built for pandemics. Remarkably, Found survived by operating as a seafood mart, wine shop, and fried chicken shack for six months. And in November, they built a brand new patio in the loading zone in front of their restaurant. It turns out, their oysters are just as good outside.”

-Brett Keating, LA Staff Writer

New York City

“When I inevitably tell my inquisitive, curly-haired grandchildren about this year, I’ll lead with COVID, and then I’ll tell them about eating Saigon Social’s bún chả and garlic noodles with fried shrimp on a NYC sidewalk. “But Grandma Hannah, Grandma Hannah” they’ll interrupt, “what about the pandemic, didn’t that make everything suck?” I’ll stare off into the distance and sigh knowingly, remembering this Vietnamese restaurant that made me feel temporarily thrilled during 2020. Not even a pandemic can ruin the rush of discovering something so delicious you’re going to tell your grandkids about it. That tiny, electric rush is Saigon Social in a nutshell.”

- Hannah Albertine, NYC Staff Writer


“What was important unfinished business pre-pandemic feels pretty silly now. Like touching up my highlights, or getting a bridesmaid dress hemmed. But there was nothing silly about not being able to publish a rave review for Seattle’s Taurus Ox before everything shut down. This Lao restaurant completely changed the way I think about cheeseburger toppings - why don’t more have taro stem and fresh herbs instead of lettuce? Their double smashburger is a legend in the making, laced with provolone and plenty of tang from pickled red onion and jaew bong mayo. And that’s just one example of Taurus Ox’s excellence - there’s a lot I would give to be back sitting at their counter, warm from the griddle steam, listening to Outkast and eating caramelized pork belly stew or pad Lao. For now, I’ll be reliving Taurus Ox at home on my couch.”

- Aimee Rizzo, Seattle Staff Writer


“Pizza Friendly Pizza is neither tavern-style nor deep dish - the two iconic pizzas that every Chicagoan must choose between when they register to vote. Instead, this takeout window spot makes a Sicilian pan-style. And it’s the reason why I no longer vote a straight deep-dish ticket. The thick crust manages to be light and airy, and has a slight sourdough-y flavor. Each pie is topped with a spicy tomato sauce that complements the toppings perfectly, like the little charred grease cup pepperonis that make me weep tears of joy. Or the sausage with housemade giardiniera - a flavor combination that’s about as Chicago as it gets.”

- Adrian Kane, Chicago Editor

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“First thing’s first, La Chingada opened at the very backend of 2019. I know it. You may know it. Some narc online definitely knows it. But we’re still putting it on our list of 2020′s most exciting new restaurants because London now has a legitimately good Mexican taquería. I could go on about La Chingada’s crispy el pastor or soft suadero tacos for hours. Or one of its hot salsas, a deep brown habanero number. Same with their fried chicken. A juicy golden pile that’s waiting to be smothered in the tingly, vinegar-ish red of chile de arbol and butter sauce. But it’s not just the food. It’s the day-glo chicken shop aesthetic. It’s the standing, the leaning, and the eating. It’s the night I spent ordering, eating, drinking, ordering, smoking, digesting, ordering, and eating some more. A meal on the pavement may not be everybody’s thing, but is mine, and it should be yours, too.”

- Jake Missing, London Staff Writer


“Explaining to my therapist why ‘eating at Rangoon’ ranked higher than ‘rubbing my cat’s belly’ and ‘scrolling through old Rihanna tweets’ on my list of Best 2020 Coping Mechanisms led to some deep contemplation. It’s one of the few Burmese restaurants that exists in NYC, its exterior is covered in panels that look like party rentals from the Smithsonian Design Museum, and it managed to open during a global pandemic. But for me, the real draw is its mohinga. This classic noodle soup comes with a giant onion fritter sticking out of it like a bachelor chilling in a warm jacuzzi, and its chewy rice noodles taste like they just rolled down a hill of lemongrass. I think of it as the comforting, well-balanced, and edible antithesis of this incredibly unstable year, and it’s one of my favorite things to eat in Brooklyn.”

- Nikko Duren, NYC Editorial Assistant

photo credit: GAB BONGHI


“Travel was essentially canceled this year - which made me even more grateful for restaurants that had the power to take us somewhere else. For me, Zig Zag BBQ in Philly is one of those restaurants. When I picked up my brisket, spare ribs, pulled pork, and queso mac and cheese, and spread everything out on a big wooden picnic table outside their industrial space, I felt like I was back home in Austin. But while the smoked meats brought me back to Texas, Zig Zag is far from traditional - the collards are made with coconut milk, the cucumber salad is Sichuan-style, and the sandwiches look like Jenga games, piled high with brisket, pastrami, turkey, and tofu. Its neon sign and low-slung industrial bunker of a space only solidify the feeling that you’re in a futuristic version of a BBQ spot - but one that’s still capable of curing Texas homesickness, or simply a need for excellent comfort food.”

- Katherine Lewin, Editorial Director


“Hold Out Brewing is a new brewery in Austin with juicy IPAs, the extremely popular Ol’ Gil Euro Pils, dry-hopped porters, and small-batch experimental brews that I am powerless to resist. But I keep coming back because of their food: the al pastor hot dog, cobb salad with miso ranch and a jammy egg, and the broccoli “CuBun” sandwich (it’s a Cubano with broccoli and a mojo verde). They also sell individual cans of their beer to go - kind of a rarity for a brewery - so you’ll find me juggling as many cans I can handle on the way out.”

- Raphael Brion, Texas Editor


“If there’s one thing that gets me out of my sweats and out the door, it’s the promise of seasoned, thinly-sliced meat swaddled in bread. So when I heard gyro wraps were on the menu at Twins Halal Bakery in West Oakland, I rolled up to the small takeout window and got one for myself. Inside the lovingly tin-foiled soft pita was lamb, lettuce, and tomatoes, slathered in a garlicky yogurt sauce. And now, the family-run Afghan place has earned its spot as my favorite new restaurant of the year. If you like the idea of unboxing perfect vegetable bolanis, meat-filled mantus, qabuli palows, and crispy waffles fries at your table like you’re some sort of influencer, something tells me you’re going to feel the same way.”

-Lani Conway, SF Editor

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