Special Report

The Best Restaurants That Have Opened Since the Pandemic Began

Courtesy of Gage & Tollner

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to the restaurant business. Well over 100,000 establishments of various kinds — from fast-food outlets to pricey Michelin-starred dining rooms — have gone out of business permanently. Government restrictions, diners’ safety concerns, and a weak economy all contributed to the demise of such institutions as the well-loved Luby’s cafeteria chain across Texas, the iconic K-Paul’s in New Orleans, and the venerable “21” Club in New York City. (These are 50 of the most popular restaurants that won’t reopen after the pandemic.)

Remarkably, though, even as restaurants were closing right and left, new ones were opening. According to a Yelp report issued this April, more than 69,000 new restaurants and other food businesses came to life since the same time last year. That number admittedly represented a 14% decline from the 12-month period before that, but was still almost miraculous considering the financial difficulties nearly everyone was facing and that understandable lack of enthusiasm the dining public had for sitting down in a restaurant as the virus circulated.

Why did so many places open? For some proprietors, there was little alternative. They had signed leases or taken out mortgages and in some cases built out interiors and hired and trained staff in anticipation of launching last spring or summer. Opening on even a limited basis, for takeout and delivery, made more sense than letting spaces they were paying for stand empty. (The rapid growth of food-to-go is just one of the ways restaurants are going to change in 2021 and beyond.)

Some savvy entrepreneurs might also have seen the economic downturn that accompanied the pandemic as an opportunity to nail down prime real estate at bargain prices, and embraced the idea of temporarily limited service options as a way of bringing their kitchens up to speed.

Click here to see the best restaurants that have opened since the pandemic began

But then there are also the famous chefs and accomplished restaurateurs who were fortunate enough to have available financing and optimistic enough to believe that things were going to get better — as indeed they have. 

This list of some of the best restaurants that have opened around America since March of last year includes examples of all of the above.

Source: Albi N. via Yelp

1. Albi
> Location: Washington D.C., Washington D.C.

The food of Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine inspired chef Michael Rafidi — named Chef of the Year in 2017 by Eater D.C. — in creating his menu. Smoked merguez (lamb sausage) hummus, raw yellowfin tuna kibbeh with puffed bulgur, and za’atar grilled lamb ribs with snap pea salad are typical dishes.


Source: Photo by Andros Taverna via Yelp

2. Andros Taverna
> Location: Chicago, Illinois

Greek-American chef Doug Psaltis, a longtime mainstay of the Lettuce Entertain You group, has gone off on his own to open this bustling restaurant featuring well-crafted versions of such items as crispy kataifi cheese pie, eggplant moussaka, and grilled Grecian sea bream.

Source: Photo by Baffi Atlanta via Yelp

3. Baffi Atlanta
> Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Legendary New York-based California-born chef Jonathan Waxman called his flagship (temporarily closed) Manhattan restaurant “Barbuto” — Italian for “bearded.” His new Atlanta place continues the theme: “baffi” means “moustache” in Italian. The attractively simple fare includes grilled Gulf oysters with charred onion butter, shredded kale salad with anchovy dressing and pecorino, and Waxman’s signature roasted chicken with rosemary potatoes.

Source: Photo courtesy of The Charles

4. The Charles
> Location: Wethersfield, Connecticut

“Vintage feel, modern taste,” promises this American restaurant in a suburb of Connecticut’s capital. Named best new restaurant in Hartford County this year by Connecticut Magazine, The Charles serves such fare as crispy pork belly with fava bean salad, organic chicken pot pie, and roasted lamb sirloin with beluga lentil ragout and mint chutney.


Source: Photo by Anne B. via Yelp

5. The Chloe
> Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

The restaurant at the 14-room Chloe boutique hotel, installed in a 19th-century mansion, not surprisingly has a Creole accent, with the likes of spicy crab-baked Gulf oysters, crawfish tortelli with tarragon and shallots, and blackened butter-crusted flounder.

Source: Photo by Kelli B. via Yelp

6. Cindy Lou’s Fish House
> Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Located on the Baltimore waterfront, in the historic Domino Sugar refinery building, this Southern-flavored seafood place offers such dishes as littleneck clam toasts on house-made bread, lobster po’boy on a sweet potato roll, and pan-seared rockfish with roasted mushroom and madeira sauce — as well as chicken-fried steak and other choices for carnivores.


Source: Photo by Jason P. via Yelp

7. Communion
> Location: Seattle, Washington

This unusual take on fusion cuisines combines Ethiopian, Vietnamese, and Southern cooking to come up with such dishes as black-eyed pea hummus flavored with berbere (an Ethiopian spice blend), fried oyster and mushroom po’mi (a po-boy and bahn mi hybrid), and Creole chicken Caesar salad.

Source: Photo by Bianca C. via Yelp

8. Cote Miami
> Location: Miami, Florida

Expect Korean appetizers, kimchi stew with pork belly, and numerous cuts of USDA Prime and both American and Japanese wagyu steak — plus a first-rate wine list — at this Miami outpost of the Manhattan original.

Source: Photo by ellen b. via Yelp

9. Don Memo
> Location: Westport, Connecticut

Southwestern Connecticut’s best-known chef, Bill Taibe (The Whelk, Kawa Ni, Jesup Hall), opened this unconventional Mexican place last summer. Lobster tostadas with avocado and sesame, plantain enchiladas with salsa matcha, and lamb barbacoa are among the items on the menu.


Source: Courtesy of Gage & Tollner

10. Gage & Tollner
> Location: Brooklyn, New York

Not a new restaurant so much as a reborn one, Gage & Tollner opened as a first-class “eating house” in 1879, but closed in 2004, despite having brought legendary Southern chef Edna Lewis into the kitchen. It relaunched in April as “An oyster and chop house for the 21st century.” Oysters and clams on the half-shell, chicken liver pâté, she-crab soup, and a Lewis-inspired fried chicken with cornmeal fritters join steaks and chops on the menu.

Source: Photo by Haizea via Yelp

11. Haizea
> Location: New York City, New York

Chef Mikel de Luis, from the Basque city of Bilbao, serves authentic Basque and Catalan dishes from a seasonally changing menu here. Baby clams and eels in green sauce, sweetbreads with saffron aïoli, and creamy rice with lobster are among the current specialties.


Source: Photo by Adam T. via Yelp

12. Huntress
> Location: San Diego, California

This new steakhouse in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter serves elaborate seafood towers, unusual appetizers like lobster curry soup and charred Baja prawns with king trumpet mushrooms, and a good selection of steaks, including both Australian and Japanese wagyu beef.

Source: Photo by Co W. via Yelp

13. Iris
> Location: New York City, New York

Noted chef John Fraser (The Loyal, North Fork Table & Inn, etc.) pays tribute to the cuisines of Greece and Turkey at this stylish establishment, with such dishes as lamb tartare with pickled octopus and ramp labneh, Turkish ground lamb flatbread, and swordfish kebab with broccoli rabe and caper-hazelnut butter.

Source: Photo by Peter Z. via Yelp

14. Itamae
> Location: Miami, Florida

Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) cuisine is highlighted here, with such fare as Oahu salmon poke, sea urchin tiradito, and octopus and olive roll.


Source: Photo by Coleman H. via Yelp

15. Khora
> Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

The motto here is “Ancient grains, Midwestern roots.” That translates to a pasta-focused menu that includes Ohio semolina gemelli with lamb ragout and red fife flour mafaldine with lobster and Calabrian chili butter, as well as non-pastas like French onion dip with spoonbill caviar and whole honey-glazed squab with dried cherries.

Source: Photo by Juli S. via Yelp

16. The Lively
> Location: Boise, Idaho

The unusual modern-American menu at this Boise bright spot includes Snake River wagyu brisket pastrami gougères (cheese puffs), Idaho ruby trout Rockefeller with vermouth-butter crust, and Basque cheesecake with toasted almond cream and fresh berries.


Source: Photo by Lenoir via Yelp

17. Lenoir
> Location: Charleston, South Carolina

Noted chef-restaurateur Vivian Howard — of Chef & the Farmer and Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria in North Carolina and Handy & Hot in Charleston — has just opened this new Charleston establishment. The menu is short and Southern (with some Asian touches) — air-dried pork sausage with lemongrass and shrimp paste, cornmeal-dusted catfish with sweet potato and miso, “mess of greens” in ham hock dashi, and the like.

Source: Photo by Majordomo Meat & Fish via Yelp

18. Majordōmo Meat & Fish
> Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Chef-restaurateur David Chang’s latest entry on the Las Vegas dining scene, an extension of his Majordōmo in L.A., this glamorous establishment at The Venetian offers shrimp crispy rice, salt-and-pepper lobster, live Dungeness crab Singaporean chili-style, Australian wagyu filet with savory salt butter, and other brightly flavored dishes. There is a special barbecue menu on Sundays.

Source: Photo by Maple & Ash via Yelp

19. Maple & Ash
> Location: Scottsdale, Arizona

This Arizona iteration of Maple & Ash in Chicago upholds the original’s contemporary steakhouse standards with offerings including fork and knife Caesar salad, roasted Faroe Island salmon with cucumber and mint, steaks ranging from an 8-ounce filet mignon to a 40-ounce 45-day-aged tomahawk, and sides including Brussels sprouts with maple bacon and a bubbling potato gratin with parmesan and gruyère.


Source: Photo by Milu via Yelp

20. Milu
> Location: New York City, New York

Taking the cafés of Hong Kong as an inspiration, Milu serves a small menu of unpretentious but richly flavored food. Pork and fennel wontons, Sichuan-spiced cauliflower, and Mandarin duck are among the choices.

Source: Photo by Mírame via Yelp

21. Mí­rame
> Location: Beverly Hills, California

Chef Joshua Gil earned a Michelin star at Joe’s Restaurant in Venice, with a kitchen staffed largely by cooks from Oaxaca, and later opened his own Tacos Punta Cabras (now closed) not far away. Last summer, he introduced Mírame, bringing his own take on Mexican food to a posh street in Beverly Hills. The highly original menu includes striped bass and amaranth tostada, crab meatballs with fern shoots, and whole fried Baja snapper.


Source: Photo by Erika N. via Yelp

22. Miro Kaimuki
> Location: Honolulu, Hawaii

For almost a quarter of a century, Café Miro served stylish French food with Japanese touches — until owner Shigeru Kobayashi retired in 2019. New owners took over, opening last summer as Miro Kaimuki. The food is still primarily French, using a lot of local ingredients. Only one fixed-price menu, changing monthly, is offered. Sample dishes: Kauai prawns with almond and papaya, grilled salmon with béarnaise, and beef cheek with sunchokes.

Source: Photo by Terry K. via Yelp

23. Morihiro
> Location: Los Angeles, California

Probably L.A.’s most famous sushi chef, not counting the ubiquitous Nobu Matsuhisa, Morihito Onodera gained a following at Matsuhisa itself (the original Nobu restaurant) and other local places, including his own Mori Sushi — where he won a Michelin star. As famous for his pottery as for his food, he semi-retired in 2011 to concentrate on the former. Now he’s back in full force serving sushi assortments and a few other dishes and creating extraordinary omakase menus with seven-day advance notice.

Source: Courtesy of Yolan via Yelp

24. Yolan
> Location: Nashville, Tennessee

James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Mantuano ran the kitchen at the Michelin-starred Spiaggia in Chicago for almost 35 years, but departed in 2019 and moved to Italy. Last year, he returned stateside to oversee the food program at The Joseph, a luxury hotel in Nashville. The imaginative Italian-flavored menu at the hotel’s Yolan restaurant lists things like lamb tartare with tuna aïoli, pappardelle with white bolognese, and chicken galantine with treviso radicchio and peas.


Source: Photo by Linda S. via Yelp

25. NiHao
> Location: Baltimore, Maryland

NiHao brings dim sum and high-end Chinese banquet dishes to Baltimore. Blue crab buns, crispy eggplant with Sichuan pickled cabbage, and crispy pan-fried noodles with chicken and vegetables are some of the dishes on the comparatively brief but well-curated menu. Sweet creations by famed Thai-born dessert chef Pichet Ong are a plus.

Source: Photo by Ashly L. via Yelp

26. Qi
> Location: Austin, Texas

A self-described “food-focused and farm-driven restaurant, offering traditional Asian food,” with cuisine by chef Ling Qi Wu, Qi (pronounced “chee”) proposes a menu ranging from scallop caviar siu mai to Sichuan peppercorn alligator to spicy chicken with pine nuts — as well as classic Peking duck.


Source: Photo by Rose Mary via Yelp

27. Rose Mary
> Location: Chicago, Illinois

“Top Chef” winner Joe Flamm, a veteran of Chicago’s estimable Spiaggia (see Yolan, below), has created a menu of what he calls “Adriatic drinking food,” based on both Italian and Croatian traditions. Tagliatelle with duck sausage, branzino with paprika sauce, and beef burek (meat pie) are among the offerings.

Source: Photo by Iris C. via Yelp

28. Ruta Oaxaca Mexican Cuisine
> Location: Queens, New York

This very colorful, very casual new restaurant offers an assortment of the moles for which Oaxaca is known, but also proposes things like shrimp flautas with avocado salsa verde, jalapeño-marinated chicken tacos, and slow-cooked baby back ribs with guava-chipotle glaze.

Source: Courtesy of Seabird Restaurant

29. Seabird
> Location: Wilmington, North Carolina

Husband-and-wife team Dean Neff and Lydia Clopton celebrate local seafood in coastal Wilmington’s historic city center. The menu includes oysters Rockefeller, peel and eat shrimp, and crispy fried flounder with red corn grits, as well as several meat-based options.


Source: Photo by Jil K. via Yelp

30. Sona
> Location: New York City, New York

Star Indian actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas is behind this upscale Indian place, offering contemporary takes on regional dishes from the subcontinent — like Calcutta mutton cutlet with black pepper onion jam, pink snapper ceviche with coconut broth, and Goan fish curry (a recipe from the late chef Floyd Cardoz, with proceeds going to India to support the fight against COVID-19, which claimed Cardoz’s life).

Source: Photo by Anne M. via Yelp

31. Thacher & Rye
> Location: Frederick, Maryland

“Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters” participant Bryan Voltaggio opened this sleek American restaurant, based on local and seasonal ingredients, last fall. Among his dishes are spiced Gulf shrimp with charred lemon and horseradish aïoli, spent grain rye bread with smoked Carolina trout, ravioli with Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese and fava beans, and snakehead (a local freshwater fish) with buttermilk whey and leeks.


Source: Photo by Third Street Tavern via Yelp

32. Third Street Tavern
> Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Sometimes the perfect dinner out involves not exotic cuisines or sophisticated tasting menus, but house-made mozzarella sticks, serious burgers, classic BLTs, and a choice of 40 or 50 great beers — and that’s just what this big, loud, friendly new establishment offers. Arcade games, too.

Source: Photo by Tum Pok Pok via Yelp

33. Tum Pok Pok
> Location: Atlanta, Georgia

An offshoot of Bangkok Thyme in Sandy Springs, just outside Atlanta, Tum Pok Pok specializes in interpretations of street food from the northeastern Thai region of Isan, bordering Laos and Cambodia. Isan sour sausage, the ground chicken salad called larb, and an assortment of Thai curries are sample dishes.

Source: Photo by Es J. via Yelp

34. Le Vacher
> Location: Dripping Springs, Texas

This casual Hill Country French restaurant starts diners off with things like potato croquettes with emmentaler cheese and roasted garlic aïoli or roasted bone marrow with bacon jam, then serves up duck confit salad, local farm-raised chicken with herbes de Provence, and chocolate parfait with salted caramel, among other delights.


Source: Photo by Xin Chao via Yelp

35. Xin Chao
> Location: Houston, Texas

“Masterchef” winner Christine Ha cooks modern Vietnamese food with a Texas twang at this lively restaurant (with ample picnic-table seating outdoors in addition to the attractive dining room). Soft-shell crab with tamarind gastrique, lemongrass-buttermilk fried chicken with pandan rice batter, and smoked beef rib with pan-fried flat rice noodles are sample dishes.

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