Welcome to Grub Street’s weekly survey of the most talked-about, must-visit restaurants in New York City. The list below features spots, both new and old, ranked according to one important, ever-fluctuating (and admittedly subjective) metric: Who has the most buzz? Perhaps a famed chef has taken over the kitchen or there’s a new dish you absolutely must order. Maybe the restaurant is just brand-new, or the critics are raving about it. Whatever the reasons, these are the 12 hottest restaurants in New York right now.
1. Violet (Last week: 1)
New York is not exactly in need of new pizza places, so it is a testament to the ingenuity of chef Matthew Hyland — who, as part of the team that birthed the Emily empire, knows a thing or two about pizza — that this particular East Village pizzeria actually offers something new for the city: grilled pizzas in the style of Rhode Island’s beloved Al Forno. Judging by the glowing reactions so far, New Yorkers seem open to the idea of welcoming this particular style of pizza into the city’s fold.
2. Benno (Off last week)
With three new Times stars to its credit, Jonathan Benno’s fine-dining throwback is off to a good start. There’s a hardcore focus on la technique, a full appreciation of traditional luxury items (like half the menu is covered in truffles these days), and prices that are actually not all that outrageous, so it’s exactly the place to go these days when you want to be coddled.
3. Empellón Al Pastor (Murray Hill) (New this week)
On 39th Street, Alex Stupak has expanded his Empellón empire with this new Al Pastor outpost, where the focus is upgraded bar food (broiled oysters with hoja santa and bacon, “mozzarella” sticks made with chihuahua cheese, something that is — awesomely — called “lobster rangoon”) and all manner of agave drinks. It’s a party.
4. Bāng Bar (2)
Do the critics like David Chang’s Time Warner Center sandwich counter? They very much do: The Underground Gourmet has declared the spot’s mortadella breakfast sandwich “even better than a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese,” and last week, Times critic Pete Wells offered the small spot a single star.
5. Teo (3)
Speaking of things that are Momofuku-adjacent, Joaquin Baca is one of the people who made the empire such a massive hit in its early days. So it will probably not surprise you to learn that the American South–meets-Asia approach to cooking is on full display at his new Bushwick izakaya, in dishes like pork shoulder ramen with collard greens, or a “cast-iron skillet okonomiyaki” with Benton’s ham and Duke’s mayo.
6. Madame Vo BBQ (4)
The pho experts from Madame Vo have expanded with their take on traditional Vietnamese barbecue. They’re taking a … cue from the city’s various Korean and Japanese BBQ spots, which means tabletop grills and lots of meat. And that means you’ll want to round up a few friends when you check it out.
7. Hill Country Food Park (Off last week)
Attention, parents: Get the kiddos to this Downtown Brooklyn BBQ food hall where you will find “high-quality, kid-friendly, and adult-crave-able eats like tacos and fried chicken; a massive space for clusters of strollers or scooters, not to mention cartwheels, cousins, meltdowns, and musical chairs; and an easy, fluid, judgment-free atmosphere that allows parents to keep calm and BBQ on.”
8. Leonti (Off last week)
Hey! What’s going on with Adam Leonti’s Italian spot on the Upper West Side? So happy you asked. Over at the New Yorker, Hannah Goldfield finds “a heady dose of a largely bygone uptown glamour” and some truly killer focaccia. Buon appetito!
9. Racines NY (6)
This Tribeca wine bar officially has a new chef. It’s Diego Moya, who was last seen turning out extremely impressive food at the criminally underrated LES spot Hemlock. Moya’s new menu launched last week with dishes like grilled cabbage with duck fat, long-stemmed cauliflower with capers, and a chilled trout dish with butter and sorrel that smartly nods to the famed salmon with sorrel sauce served at France’s Restaurant Troisgros.
10. The Rockwell Place (7)
Fans of Long Island Bar — and there are many — will be happy to learn that its owners, Toby Cecchini and Joel Tompkins, have expanded their empire to Downtown Brooklyn with this new bar. Expect predictably well-made drinks, and a menu that features (surprisingly) healthy-sounding stuff like farro with pecorino and pistachio or grilled eggplant skewers.
11. Oxalis (9)
Grub Street had one of its most quietly surprising meals of 2018 right at the end of the year, at this charming Prospect Heights spot from chef Nico Russell. It’s a casual kind of tasting-menu place — remember those? — but the prices are gentle, the technique is sophisticated, and the ambition is impressive. This could be one to watch in 2019.
12. Mission Chinese Food Brooklyn (8)
Danny Bowien’s newest restaurant is a neon-lit fever dream of face-destroying spice, which is to say, it’s a new Mission Chinese Food, this time in Bushwick. Depending on your tolerance for things like “noise,” you will almost certainly have a good time here.