3 trends to take away from this month’s flurry of best restaurant lists

Get ready for vintage tableware | Credit: Getty Images

Ah, fall! The air is getting crisp, the grocery aisles are turning pumpkin spice-scented, and the food publications are dropping their respective “best restaurant” lists faster than the trees can lose their leaves.

While both Bon Appétit’s 10 Best New Restaurants” and The New York Times’sThe Restaurant List,” highlighting the editors’ 50 favorite restaurants of the year, ostensibly tell us which restaurants are hot, they also tell us a lot about what’s trending across the industry as a whole.

Here are three key trends showing up at top-tier restaurants across the U.S.

Everything old is new again

Some might remember when the 2008 recession sent us straight into the era of comfort food, where fried chicken sandwiches and craft beer reigned. 

After a turbulent few years, comfort is back—but this time with shades of coastal grandmother and, well, actual grandmothers. From vintage place settings to restaurant names pulled straight from the family tree (Dear Annie, Dear Margaret, Elvie’s, Evette’s, Irwin’s, Bonnie’s…), chefs are looking to the past to find a slice of comfort for diners right now.

Similarly, a new generation of diners is embracing stalwarts like Brennan’s in New Orleans, or longtime downtown hangout The Musket Room in New York City, where they are presumably drinking the current vintage drink of choice: martinis.

Restaurants without borders

Read restaurant descriptions, and you’ll see more places opting out of categorizing themselves by cuisine. Chefs seem to be craving creativity over authenticity, as many take elements of the foods they grew up eating and synthesize them with whatever happens to be inspiring right now.

At Tucson’s Tito & Pep, chef and owner John Martinez is steeped in the food traditions of the southwest, but merges them with techniques and ingredients he’s picked up on his travels.  Take his sea bass crudo, which is topped with a Mexican-inspired salsa macha and the beloved chicharrones of the Southwest—this time made with fish skin. Similarly, at Leah & Louise in Charlotte, chef Greg Collier and his wife Subrina start with the foodways of the Mississippi River and then start riffing, serving dishes such as French duck confit with a South-meets-Mexico twist: collard green mole.

American diners are hungry for diversity 

A few years ago, you might have been out of luck if you had been searching for Lao food in Oklahoma City. Not in 2022! Now OKC diners can head to Ma Der Lao Kitchen to snack on sai oua, a Lao pork sausage, or naam vahn, a chilled coconut stew with jackfruit. 

Cities of all sizes are seeing new cuisines not only arrive on the restaurant scene, but also thrive. Baba’s Pantry, a family-run Palestinian American café in Kansas City, is making the Midwest rethink everything it knew about hummus. Down in Austin, Canje chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph is taking Texans on a food tour through his native Guyana and across the rest of the Caribbean, where maybe—just maybe—his wild boar pepper pot will unseat brisket as the most coveted meat in town.

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