The Infatuation’s Most Exciting New Restaurants Of 2021The 15 greatest restaurants that opened in 2021, from LA to London.
Well friends, 2021 has been a memorable year. Some highlights include Kate Winslet vaping onscreen, Jeff Bezos leaving Earth for 11 beautiful minutes, the 2020 Olympics casually taking place in 2021, the spicy pairing of Pete Davidson and Kimmy K, and of course, all of us processing our pandemic trauma via memes of a big old ship that got stuck in a canal. Truly stunning stuff.
While all of that was going on we did what we do best: scrolled Twitter for cakes that don’t look like cakes. Oh, and we also went to countless brand new restaurants around the world to eat, drink, and tell you whether they’re worth your time. From the ultimate Mexican dinner party in Miami to a deeply sophisticated Indian restaurant serving sensational sauces in London, these are the restaurants that we’ll remember long after we’ve forgotten that Meta was once called Facebook. Read on for the definitive list of The Most Exciting New Restaurants that should be at the top of your agenda.
All restaurants featured on The Infatuation are selected by our editorial team. The Best New Restaurants Of 2021 is presented by Chase Sapphire. Adventure awaits with Sapphire. You deserve premium travel perks for your journeys near and far, exclusive dining rewards, and flexible benefits that let you make more of every experience. Learn More.
The Best New Restaurants of 2021
This is the reservation to make in Miami when life feels mundane, and you’re going to scream if you see one more grilled octopus on a menu. Zitz Sum shocks us out of routine—and not just because their chili oil is perfectly calibrated. The food here is unlike anything else in the city. Dishes are influenced by Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Lao, and other Asian cultures. You’ll find DIY Korean-style hand rolls that come with steak tartare, short grain rice, and Japanese egg salad. The brisket sheng jian bao made us forget everything we learned in kindergarten about sharing. And because the menu changes constantly, dinner here is still exciting even if you come on a weekly basis. Zitz Sum has not only managed to breathe fresh air into Coral Gables, but all of Miami-Dade County.
You’re going to spend a lot of money at Crudo e Nudo in Los Angeles. That’s just a fact. But unlike the time you bought a sectional couch from Craigslist, had it delivered to your house, then realized its springs were broken, those dollars won’t be for nothing. The focus here is on sustainable sourcing and minimal waste, which means herbs and vegetables come from farmers markets, there’s absolutely no plastic allowed on premises, and the kitchen works with local fisheries and personal friends to find seafood that’s exactly right for them. Which, on paper, kind of sounds like a book report. But you’ll eat clams steamed in wine and fruity olive oil, beautifully plated crudos, and oysters decorated with purple wildflowers. And if tossing back locally sourced oysters on Main Street in Santa Monica doesn’t scream “I’m a responsible, cosmopolitan person living my life in a major city,” we don’t know what will.
En Passant in Chicago’s Logan Square originally piqued our interest because its chef opened Au Cheval (ever heard of it?), and Au Cheval has a ton of great dishes other than that damn cheeseburger. Turns out En Passant is also full of tasty things. The space is charming, with vintage touches (like crystal chandeliers and flickering candles), and has an indie-pop playlist that seems to understand just what we need. So does the European-inspired food—the escolar topped with black garlic honey is one our favorite crudos in recent memory, and the creamy risotto ignited our current love affair with tarragon. Also worth mentioning is that En Passant makes an incredible burger with only three components other than the brioche bun: beef, marie rose sauce, and balsamic onions. And, yes, it is better than Au Cheval’s.
A lot of New York spots serve exciting food, but few hack away at what you know to be true about Manhattan’s dining scene. That’s the phenomenon of Dhamaka, a restaurant where, in one meal, you will likely try dishes associated with four or five different regions of India. As you zigzag from bright, chutney-kissed seafood to tender goat kidneys and testicles served in a fragrant gravy, you’ll come to the (correct) conclusion that a memorable dinner can indeed take place on the first floor of a food hall. Few NYC restaurants make such an obvious effort to take on India’s unfathomably wide array of specialties like Dhamaka does, and even fewer do it with a packed dining room every night of the week.
No matter which colleague sent you a snappy email or which latest Hinge experiment stamped on your precious little heart, some restaurants will always make you feel confident. Kudu Grill in London is one of them. It might be the green velvet booths, the kiss-me-now dimmed lighting, or the flames in the open braai kitchen, but this irresistible South African restaurant will make you feel irresistible too. The third restaurant from Kudu Collective, nothing on their menu of fire-grilled meats and whole fishes feels like second best. After sharing a treacle bordelaise steak and a round of smoky vermouth cocktails, you won’t either.
Tomo in Seattle serves the kind of meal that makes us wish time travel were real. Not just to see a stegosaurus, but also to go back a few weeks and replay our first dinner here. This tasting menu spot with Japanese influences coaxes intense flavor out of seemingly simple ingredients. A totally vegetarian barley porridge with eggplant and dill pollen could take on any meaty stew, and candy-like charred squash sits in a puddle of stracciatella with polka dots of herbaceous oil. To match these exciting bites is an equally-as-thrilling space with brunette walls, and speakers that blast calming whale noises in the wood-paneled restroom. Add it all up, and you have the ideal restaurant for your next big night out. One that starts with a clarified milk punch and should end with a sorrel kakigori add-on topped with hazelnut butter and funky whipped cheese fluff.
Distant Relatives, from owner/pitmaster Damien Brockway, serves “modern African American” cuisine out of a mobile smokeshack parked at the spacious Meanwhile Brewing Company in South Austin. The menu explores the cooking traditions of the African diaspora and American South, with dishes like pulled pork sandwiches with a tangy preserved cabbage, and black eyed peas cooked with burnt ends. Everything here is creative, consistently great, and bracingly delicious. The smoked meats here—like the spare ribs, brisket, and chicken—rival some of the best in town, and we can’t get enough of sauces like the smoked mustard butter and the tamarind molasses BBQ. Maybe, if we’re lucky, one day they will bottle them to go.
Our first time at Ernest in San Francisco, we got the $95 tasting menu, which was less of a dinner and more of an out-of-body experience. The meal kicked off with an ikura-topped beef tartare, and continued with a huge platter of oysters and scallop sashimi, tender duck confit croquettes, and a decadent sea urchin carbonara. By the time the chocolate-drenched hazelnut and vanilla soft serve hit the table, we knew: Ernest is simply one of the absolute best restaurants in the city. We went back to the Mission spot several times to try more of the menu, best described as “whatever’s in season right now,” and didn’t find a single miss. We now go to Ernest for birthdays and anniversaries, or whenever we’re in the mood to walk up to the bar on a random weekday, order some natural wine and pork tonkatsu, and have ourselves a night.
When we stumble upon a taco truck as good as Mi Pueblito, it’s tempting to only tell the friends who know our phone passcodes about it. But when this family-run Jalisco-style truck popped up in Philly, selling everything from homemade agua frescas and pozole, to al pastor tacos, soaking almost everything in consomme, we knew we had to share it with the world. In a year when birria seemed to seep into every corner of the country, this place makes the best in Philly. Since Mi Pueblito is only open two days a week, plan accordingly, and make sure to bring a bucket to stock up on that flavorful broth for dipping.
Routier debuted in fall 2020 with a standout $39 prix-fixe takeout menu and some incredible potato pavé. With the return of dine-in to the city this year, the French Californian restaurant in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights quickly became one we return to more often than the last known DM from our ex. But Routier’s charm doesn’t just come from the exquisite food, including the chicken liver mousse you’ll eat up like a hungry hyena, the crispy squid swimming in a tangy butter sauce, or the tender pork shoulder confit. This place is informal and inviting, like the truck stop routières in France that inspired it. Which is why this destination restaurant disguised as a casual neighborhood spot is one we visit for everything from blowout meals to chill hangs over wine after the worst week ever.
North Miami’s Paradis Books & Bread is the best kind of bait and switch. Maybe you pop by this wine bar for a drink. But then your stomach gets chatty and—would you look at that—they serve food too. Next thing you know, you’re smearing seaweed butter and piling tinned fish onto fresh bread and debating whether or not to order another square slice of their marinara pizza, a savory masterpiece of marinated eggplant, confit garlic, garlic breadcrumbs, and parsley. Paradis is small, but it packs such a punch. It’s a wine bar/bakery/restaurant/library/generally-wonderful-spot-to-hang-out-with-friends. And somehow it manages to be excellent versions of all of those things.
First impressions may not be everything, but the one Sessions Arts Club in London makes upon everyone cannot be understated. The feeling is wonder. Pure, unadulterated, Disney-ish wonder. Not at big mouses or giant turkey legs, but at a towering balconied room. A home to waltzing candle flames and charming staff who serve nonchalantly elegant food made for swilling and seducing over. This is an adult kind of wonderment: at improbably long panisse, lusciously interchangeable squid and calamarata, a wine list that wills you to stay forever, columns that would have Kevin McCloud keel over, and the wondrous feeling of hours flying by in a perfect restaurant on Clerkenwell Green.
What was once an obscure, pandemic-era chirashi pop-up in LA is now thriving as a half-Thai, half-Japanese fine dining experience. It’s a place that’s so special, you’ll feel the urge to book it for every anniversary, graduation, and random celebration you can think of. All the gauche rituals restaurants usually perform—taking orders, forcing you to pay at the end of the night—are handled beforehand through an online reservation system. There are three distinct dining options here, ranging from sashimi to-go boxes, to a full-blown sushi omakase, but the creme de la creme, Kinkan’s magnum opus, is the Homage to Grandmother. It’s a ten-course set meal described as “Japanese-inspired, Thai reflected” and involves a mind-melding mix of seared fish shaped into roses, crab curry served two ways, and teacups filled with ikura. It’s a restaurant reimagined, a lovely experience that feels more like an intimate night with friends than a transaction between human and business.
Ever since placing our first order at Taqueria Chingon in Chicago, not a day has gone by where we haven’t thought about their incredible tacos. We find ourselves scrolling through their online menu like it’s taco Zillow, fantasizing about theoretical orders. And after trying every option at this counter-service Logan Square spot, each one has impressed us. They’re all made with chewy handmade corn tortillas, with your choice of a variety of flavorful fillings—like the morcilla (made with blood, bread, onion, and apples before getting topped with brown butter salsa macha), campechano, and tender al pastor. Whatever your fantasy order is, just consider placing it for lunch—they run out of food quickly.
Contento is notable based on accessibility alone—the bathrooms have touchless sinks and grab bars, and the lowered bar allows wheelchair access. But the food and thoughtful service at this East Harlem restaurant in New York City deserve to be celebrated as well. The Peruvian-leaning menu is full of standouts, like a tart ceviche, a hefty burger cradling raclette, and a section of memorable large plates like crispy pork katsu. This is a phenomenal date night spot, but you could easily just pull up to the bar if you live in the neighborhood, consume that burger, and feel the contagious energy of the place.