To offset high costs and a shrinking labor pool, every restaurateur these days would seem to need deep pockets, multiple revenue streams, and a good deal of experience.
Maybe that’s why so many of this class of Trending Tables are operators’ third or fourth restaurants, the latest unit of a small chain or even an upscale version of Taco Bell in Las Vegas.
San Francisco has no shortage of excellent independent restaurants, but even so, the third unit of fast-casual South Asian restaurant Tava Kitchen is turning heads, and so is the Palo Alto location of 16-unit True Food Kitchen.
In San Diego, ramen chain Tajima has scored a it’s fifth run, in North Park.
Then there are multiconcept operators such as Keith McNally and Tom Colicchio in New York, and Philadelphia-based Stephen Starr, who has scored a hit with Le Zoo in Miami.
Other experienced operators are trying new things, such as Brian Malarkey at Herb & Wood in San Diego, Corey Lee at In Situ in San Francisco, and Kelly Liken at Harvest by Kelly Liken in Edwards, Colo.
In D.C., old pastry hand David Guas is at it again with Bayou Bakery, while Sugarbacon of McKinney, Texas, has done well with its new Dallas location, and local St. Louis star Gerard Craft is drawing crowds to his fast-casual concept, Porano Pasta.
As far as cuisines go, chefs are continuing to push new boundaries. Two of this season’s trending tables are ramen specialists — an indication that that trend isn’t going away anytime soon — and India’s growing influence is being felt not just at obvious places like Tava Kitchen, but in the caramelized carrot soup with coconut foam and chaat masala at In Situ, and in the coconut curry chicken at Cane Rhum Bar & Caribbean Kitchen in Charleston, S.C. (there has long been a strong East Indian influence in the West Indies).
There are also two barbecue specialists: Sugarbacon and Lewis Barbecue, both from Texas although the latter is in Charleston.
There are plenty of French and Italian influences at many of these restaurants, as usual, as well as some interesting one-offs, such as Good Time Poke/The Grass Skirt in San Diego and Chubby Cattle Mongolia Hot Pot House in Las Vegas.
All in all, it’s an impressive array of interesting places to eat this winter.
Contact Bret Thorn at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary
Inset photo by Emilie Lucie