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The Biggest Surprises in NYC Dining in 2018

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NYC’s top food writers unveil what surprised them most this year

Uncle Boons Sister

Now it’s time to hone in on the unexpected events, themes, or restaurants of 2018. As we digest the past 12 months of NYC dining, we ask Eater editors and local food writers what surprised them most this year. Meanwhile, check out what they had to say about the best neighborhood restaurants, top newcomers, and what one word defines the dining scene in 2018.

Priya Krishna, writer and author of forthcoming cookbook Indian-ish: That Frenchette was actually really good and not too stuffy, and that you could snag a seat at the bar at 7 p.m. on a weeknight. And also that Junzi Kitchen, a fast-casual Chinese restaurant, serves an unbelievable tasting menu (Lucas Sin: one to watch!).

Alicia Kennedy, food and spirits writer: How many places are embracing the Impossible and Beyond Meat burgers when it’s so much more delicious to make a veggie burger from beans and plants.

Matt Rodbard, editor-in-chief, Taste: That the great regional Indian food wave taking over the world has yet to reach NYC in a meaningful way. Maybe 2019 will be different. Maybe somebody will open a Keralan restaurant?

Kat Kinsman, Extra Crispy senior food & drinks editor and Food & Wine contributor: That various gross dudes are still opening new restaurants or profiting from their old ones, and it doesn’t seem to be affecting business. But food/drink-wise, the tomate with mezcal at Frenchette changed me on a cellular level. For the better. Oh and a really lovely guy I dated a thousand years ago before we each met our spouses and hadn’t seen in ages popped up as our sommelier at Le Coucou and sent over a truly bitchen mezcal drink that he knew I’d love, so shoutout to A.H. Bones and also mezcal!

Chris Gayomali, senior editor at GQ: The staying power of natural wines, which are somehow still not even a little embarrassing to order in public yet.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, associate reporter for Eater NY: The dough drop vegetable soup at Le Sia, which I could probably eat every day of my life.

An overhead shot of a dinner spread at a round wooden table at Le Sia.
Dinner spread at Le Sia
Louise Palmberg/Eater NY

Helen Rosner, New Yorker food correspondent: Shabu-shabu Macoron! I learned about this tiny Delancey Street set-menu spot while I was in Kyoto, so I went in expecting something great — when a chef in Japan tells you about a great Japanese restaurant in New York, that really means something. It was perfect. A tiny staff (just chef Mako Okano and her one or two assistants) serve eight diners a multi-course menu that’s clever, simple, and luxuriously delicious. When rave reviews started rolling in a few weeks later, I felt like I’d managed to get in on the ground floor of a secret.

Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic: Di An Di, the harbinger of a new type of Vietnamese restaurant that doesn’t conform to the traditional menu New York has had for nearly 50 years.

Monica Burton, associate restaurant editor at Eater: Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman nearly taking over the Spotted Pig shocked much of the restaurant community. The beautifully designed set of cards you take home at the end of a meal at Atomix were a smaller, more delightful surprise.

Matt Buchanan, executive editor at Eater: I don’t know that it was a surprise, per se, but the nearly total collapse of hospitality-included, with the capitulation of the Tarlow empire, was remarkable.

Stefanie Tuder, senior editor of Eater NY: That chefs and restaurateurs bounced back against a boring and expensive 2017 and brought us delicious and quirky “fast-casual” places that still retain some soul, like Kopitiam, Ho Foods, and Uncle Boons Sister.

A spread of food from Uncle Boons Sister, including poached chicken, pad thai with prawns, and a beef scramble with eggs.
Spread at Uncle Boons Sister
Jean Schwarzwalder/Eater

Ryan Sutton, Eater’s chief critic: Kopitiam. Don’t get me wrong; Kyo Pang’s culinary chops have never been in doubt. The surprise was seeing this great Malaysian-Peranakan chef do the dreaded counter service thing and make it work better than all the established players. The key of course is that the place feels less like a fast-casual spot and more like an actual independent cafe. Long live the coffee house!

Serena Dai, editor of Eater NY: I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised by this because the world is such a garbage fire, but it was interesting to see how quickly powerful people (and a lot of media) were to embrace the return of the Four Seasons Restaurant seemingly without any caveat. I guess I’m an optimist, which means I will always be a little bit surprised at how naive old-school power is. Did the 40 investors really think that Julian Niccolini’s past behavior wouldn’t impact perception of the restaurant among the new audience they were reportedly aiming to attract? Did they really think amazing food and a $30 million build-out could overcome years and years of baggage — now newly visible in the age of #MeToo — when nobody from the restaurant came out front to address the fact that the face of the restaurant is an admitted sexual assaulter? People can’t move forward without an apology, but here, there wasn’t even really that. Yes, it’s legendary; yes, it’s hugely influential. But we live in a different world now, and sometimes it is okay to pay our respects, and then lay a restaurant to rest.