Many of the established players in New York’s restaurant world pursued the avant-garde, starred restaurant reviews, or global domination. The new guard of chefs and restaurateurs champion community. More than national acclaim or invention on a plate — not that they lack either — they care about craft, comfort, and sustainability.
This is not a reinvention of the wheel; the power of every restaurant is rooted in its neighborhood. What’s different now is that these chefs and restaurateurs are more than just local operators — they’re driving the conversation around food and defining what it means to be eating out in New York right now.
Every person in our new guard has owned more than one restaurant or has announced plans to expand. They are largely people who, despite their relative newness as solo operators, have been cited as inspirations by their peers and are driving trends across the city. New York dining today is an overflowing tableau of cuisines: After decades of diners enthusiastically expanding their palates, a new, less Eurocentric set of restaurants comprise the city’s hot spots. Savvy diners increasingly want intimate spaces and unpretentious service. They want to learn something new, but don’t want to feel like a fish out of water. And they want to feel good about what they’re eating.
Perhaps more significantly, many of the most influential and interesting restaurants are driven as much by personal calling as they are by progressive values — whether it’s changing the way Americans view a cuisine or building a business that’s thoughtful about staff culture from the start, not after a public scandal demands it.
This new guard has power and influence, yes. But their spheres are more intimate than those of the people who came before them. They’re not celebrity chefs or kitchen titans; they’re local leaders. If these restaurateurs keep thriving, the future of New York’s dining scene will be even more dynamic, more collaborative, and more distinctive — and the list of who defines dining and what it means in this city will only get bigger.
The New Guard of
New York Dining
Amelie Kang | Ann Redding and Matt Danzer | Ariel Arce | Billy Durney | Daniela Soto-Innes| Derek Feldman | Gadi Peleg | Jason Wang | Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra | JJ Johnson | Joe Campanale and Ilyssa Satter | Juan Correa and Erik Ramirez | Keisuke Oku, Alex Bosung Park, Kihyun Lee, Jinan Choi | Matt Hyland and Emily Hyland | Max Katzenberg and Greg Baxtrom | Michael Stillman | Nick Perkins, Leah Campbell, and Nialls Fallon | Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper | Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson | Rita Sodi and Jody Williams | Roni Mazumdar and Chintan Pandya | Sakura Yagi | Trigg Brown and Josh Ku | Tuan Bui, Kim Hoang, Dennis Ngo |
Málà Project, Tomorrow
When a surge of hip Chinese restaurants opened in the East Village, many of the owners pointed to one person as an inspiration: Amelie Kang of Sichuan dry pot restaurant Málà Project. Her restaurant was one of the first in the neighborhood to pair true-to-China flavors with classic attributes of a downtown restaurant, like detached-but-attentive service, chic decor, and loud, poppy music, albeit in Mandarin. At the time, dry pot was rare in Manhattan; she illustrated how it worked with a playful comic on the menu. The result is cultural explanation without condescension, education without exotification. It’s led to another location in Midtown and a FiDi counter-service spot called Tomorrow.
Beyond her own expansions, she’s created a formula that’s spawned an important new generation of Chinese-American restaurateurs — one that may lay the foundation for chefs in other cuisines, too.
and Matt Danzer
Uncle Boons, Uncle Boons Sister
Funkier threads of Thai cooking have been a favorite of New York for years now — SriPraPhai opened in the ’90s — but Ann Redding and Matt Danzer’s imaginative food in a lively setting at Uncle Boons induced diners to consider Thai food as not just a neighborhood takeout option, but a destination for a weekend night out. Today, people still put up with wild wait times for green curry snails and eclectic touches like beer slushies at the Nolita spot.
The duo has since also debuted Uncle Boons Sister, a takeout joint hawking fried chicken laab, and will later open Thai Diner in the same area. Anyone who enjoys the presence of Indonesian Wayan a few blocks away should send a thank-you note to Redding and Danzer for showing New York that modern Southeast Asian fare can thrive in a chic part of town.
Air’s Champagne Parlor, Niche Niche
Until Ariel Arce came along, drinking Champagne in New York City was largely reserved for special occasions or for people with more disposable income. But at Air’s Champagne Parlor in Greenwich Village, Arce took the guesswork and stuffiness — and often inaccessibly high prices — out of the drink. Now, New Yorkers have somewhere to go to enjoy Champagne in a hip environment for under $20 a glass.
Arce also demonstrates a far more intimate way of celebrating at a NYC restaurant: She’s a master at creating a vibe, one fueled by good wine and life-of-the-party servers who are all too happy to pull out a chambong. Her style is also markedly interactive — diners pick the playlist at her Tokyo Record Bar, participate in a nightly changing wine party at Niche Niche in Soho, and sit close together as live jazz plays in the glowing red Special Club.
Hometown Bar-B-Que, Red Hook Tavern
New York never needed to be a barbecue town, but when Billy Durney started smoking meat at Hometown Bar-B-Que in 2013, the city entered the fray. The pitmaster, trained by the legendary Wayne Mueller, reproduced the look and feel of a Texas barbecue joint with high fidelity. More importantly, he got the brisket and ribs right — all while throwing in some New York flair, with meticulous versions of Jamaican jerk baby-back ribs and lamb belly banh mi, nods to Durney’s childhood in Brooklyn. Altogether, they add up to a menu that feels like only he could have created it.
His Red Hook original still draws long lines despite being in a decidedly public-transit-unfriendly neighborhood, and he’s put just as much care into his follow-up restaurants: Red Hook Tavern, a warm bar with on-point classics and another Hometown in Sunset Park— setting a high bar for smoked meats in the city.
Many chefs have chipped away at the notion that Mexican food in New York should be confined to a lower-cost slice of the culinary spectrum, from Zarela Martinez to Alex Stupak. But when chefs Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto-Innes rode into town in 2014, they convinced locals that modern Mexican fare could command the prices — and esteem — of the city’s top French and American spots.
At Cosme in Flatiron, patrons easily pay $150 per person or more for stunning Mexican fine dining. And at the more casual yet no less precise Atla, located below $12,000-a-month rentals in Noho, the kitchen draws a steady crowd of fashionable patrons. New York’s Mexican food scene still boasts stand-out affordable fare, but no one is better than Soto-Innes at pushing the city to embrace the cuisine as a higher-end meal, too. Later this year, Soto-Innes and Olvera will expand to LA and Las Vegas.
(Sushi on Jones, Uchu)
In a city where an omakase dinner often runs upward of $300, arguably no one has capitalized more on the democratization of high-quality sushi than Derek Feldman. The restaurateur started his company, Uchū Hospitality, with the omakase Sushi on Jones, where even now diners pay just $58 for a fast, 12-course meal. Three more locations followed, and three more are on the way. He also plans to open four other original concepts, including a cocktail lounge with famed bartender Shingo Gokan.
Even in a city with no shortage of hip Japanese restaurant empires, Uchū Hospitality has demonstrated an undeniable knack for packaging luxury Japanese food trends — like the tiny, luxury wagyu sandwich — for New Yorkers. The group has also since opened a higher-end restaurant on the Lower East Side, also called Uchū, helmed by renowned sushi chef Eiji Ichimura. Read more about Uchū here.
GPG Hospitality (Breads Bakery, Nur, Lamalo)
Babka wasn’t new to New York when Breads Bakery opened in 2013, but restaurateur Gadi Peleg undeniably took its popularity to a new level. Today, chocolate and cinnamon babkas at Breads still attract long lines, and the Union Square bakery has become a go-to for all sorts of Jewish and Middle Eastern foods.
Peleg capitalized on that success — albeit sans chef Uri Scheft — by opening the lauded Nur in the Flatiron District with chef Meir Adoni in 2017 and then Lamalo, a Midtown hot spot highlighting mezze-style dips and spreads. Their appeal is indicative of Peleg’s operational prowess, one driven by his longtime goal of adapting flavors from his childhood around the Mediterranean and the Middle East to New York.
Xi’an Famous Foods
Quick-service dining is frequently defined by generically salty flavors or bland bowls, but Xi’an Famous Foods shows there’s another way. Built on the recipes of David Shi and the business acumen of his son Jason Wang, the company has made the loud, heat-packed dishes of Xi’an, China must-gets for even the Midtown lunch set and grown to 15 locations across the city.
Dishes like the spicy cumin lamb noodles are major drivers of its success, but the growth is also a credit to Wang’s in-store maneuvering through cultural differences. There are signs warning newcomers that a non-spicy dish won’t be as good, as well as reminders that the noodles are best eaten immediately. The communication extends to business practices, too: The company has preemptively told its fans about price increases, citing the need to add more employee benefits, like dental insurance.
and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra
Contra Group (Wildair, Contra)
Time and time again, Fabián von Hauske Valtierra and Jeremiah Stone have proven that they know what New Yorkers want before they seem to know it themselves. Their first Lower East Side venue, Contra, remains one of the city’s few sub-$100 tasting-menu spots and frequently hosts in-demand out-of-town chefs, giving gourmands who can’t afford international airfare a place to taste the world’s hottest food. Then they opened Wildair, which canonized the Parisian neobistro trend here.
Both venues famously opened with an all-natural wine list, a policy that, while alienating to some, helped proliferate funky and fresh pours around the city. Now the duo also has Peoples, a natural wine shop and small-plates bar at the Market Line. With an unwillingness to compromise and an eye toward approachability, they’re influencing an undeniably broad crew of engaged diners.
In recent years, few New York chefs have pushed the conversation around the food of the black diaspora like JJ Johnson, who gave its varied cuisines a rare Midtown Manhattan spotlight with his acclaimed restaurant Henry. Though Henry recently closed, the ambitious chef — who grew his profile at Harlem restaurant the Cecil — continues to shape how people eat in New York, with pop-ups at the Chefs Club, a James Beard award-winning cookbook called Between Harlem and Heaven, and his new Harlem restaurant, FieldTrip. There, he focuses on rice strains from around the world, investing in the neighborhood by providing nutritious and affordable food to go.
With every new venture, Johnson cements his status not only as one of New York’s leading chefs, but as one dedicated to improving the city’s dining scene in a holistic way, building a community-driven model that others will surely follow.
and Ilyssa Satter
Natural wine is a full-blown, citywide obsession, and one that Joe Campanale’s been all over for years, wowing New Yorkers with his wine choices since his L’Artusi and Dell’anima days. His pair of accessible Brooklyn wine destinations, the Italian Fausto and Euro-ish LaLou, never fail to deliver something interesting and uncommon, alongside approachable but thoughtful food like homemade pastas or cabbage with anchovy butter. Meanwhile, the environment suits meals ranging from date night to dinner with parents — courtesy of Ilyssa Satter, who’s a partner at LaLou and oversaw opening marketing at Fausto.
Anyone who wants to know what’s next in the world of drinks need only go to these restaurants. On the forefront are vintage labels, which Campanale is on top of at Fausto: See the extensive vintage amaro collection.
and Erik Ramirez
Las Llamas (Llama Inn, Llama San, Llamita)
NYC’s notion of Peruvian cuisine is moving beyond ceviche and rotisserie chicken takeout, in large part due to the efforts of Juan Correa and Erik Ramirez. It started with Williamsburg’s Llama Inn, an airy, plant-filled establishment known for its small plates. Accolades promptly rolled in, and three years later, the duo opened an all-day offshoot, Llamita. In 2019, they debuted their most ambitious restaurant yet: Llama San, a celebration of Peru’s Nikkei cuisine, created by Japanese immigrants who moved to Peru in the 1800s.
Llama San’s glowing reviews and instant crowds demonstrate Correa and Ramirez’s shrewd ability to create a destination restaurant with staying power — all while broadening the city’s must-know dining dictionary. Next, the duo plans to open a beach-y restaurant focused on ceviche and parrilla, a style of barbecue common in South America.
Keisuke Oku, Alex Bosung Park, Kihyun Lee, Jinan Choi
Hand Hospitality (Her Name Is Han, Take 31, On)
The best Korean food in Manhattan has historically fallen into two camps: the raucous, old-school restaurants of Koreatown and the hushed, haute-cuisine of Michelin-starred restaurants like Jungsik. But for the last eight years, Hand Hospitality, a group founded by Kihyun Lee, has filled out the sweet spot between the two — building an empire with a stylish yet playful sensibility, often remixing Korean cuisine for the trend-defining, effortlessly chic Korean expats who have made New York their home.
Years after opening, gastropub Take 31 and the homey Her Name Is Han still boast long waits, and their success has led to seven more restaurants, all original concepts that share a commitment to earnestly warm service. Hand’s expertise at branding and construction has had an impact on the dining scene beyond its own restaurants, too: The company helped open game-changing Korean restaurants like the luxe Atomix. Read more about Hand here. (link to profile.) Read more about Hand here.
Matt Hyland and Emily Hyland
Emmy Squared, Emily, Violet
Just when New York City thought it had pizza cornered, Matt Hyland and Emily Hyland came along. The now-divorced duo turned the doughy, saucy square pies of Detroit into a citywide sensation at Emmy Squared, eventually scoring national attention. The iron was hot, and the Hylands struck, bringing on two partners, Howard Greenstone and Ken Levitan, to help them expand — resulting in three locations in NYC and others in Nashville and Philadelphia, with more to come.
The group is building its quirky brand with simple and effective strategies: They’re creating menus and recipes that anyone could execute and picking locations that don’t require more than $1 million in buildout. Pizza may be a crowded market, but the Emmy Squared team is proving that if executed properly, it’s still a moneymaker with room to grow.
and Greg Baxtrom
Olmsted, Maison Yaki
There may be no dining experience in New York City more magical than roasting s’mores in the backyard of Olmsted in Prospect Heights, being cared for by Max Katzenberg and fed by Greg Baxtrom. The duo met at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where they picked up their affinity for unique touches, custom-grown produce, and above-and-beyond hospitality — all things on display at Olmsted and at their newer Japanese-French bistro, Maison Yaki.
Both are models of what an upscale yet casual neighborhood restaurant should look like today, with interactive service and fine dining-quality dishes that traffic in both nostalgia and luxury. Diners can play pétanque at Yaki or wander among the produce that ends up on their plate at Olmsted. Though their restaurants are among the hottest reservations in town, they are good to locals, too; Olmsted welcomes walk-ins, and the duo hosts progressive fundraisers and out-of-town chefs.
(Quality Eats, Quality Italian, Don Angie)
As spendy and sleepy steakhouse chains continue to clone themselves ad nauseum, Quality Branded’s Michael Stillman strives for something more affordable and more whimsical. His Quality Eats concept, which recently opened a third location, shows there’s a market for smaller, sub-$30 steaks and creative sides like cacio e pepe orzo. “We love taking familiar ideas that are well-worn for a reason and flipping them on their heads,” Stillman says. It’s a model that Quality’s put to use at some of the city’s hottest restaurants, like Don Angie, which transforms the Italian-American experience through dishes like mochi ice cream meant to look like fresh mozzarella.
The company — which originated with stalwarts like Smith & Wollensky, which Stillman operates with his father and business partner, Alan Stillman, who founded T.G.I. Friday’s in 1965 — has mastered the art of balancing tradition with innovation.
Nick Perkins, Leah Campbell,
and Nialls Fallon
Hart’s, Cervo’s, the Fly
Few restaurants in New York embody the casually cool vibe that makes even a night out in the neighborhood feel special like Hart’s, Cervo’s, and the Fly. Their DNA — smart, unfussy menus in spaces dressed with muted, romantic colors — was developed by partners Nialls Fallon, Leah Campbell, and Nick Perkins, who met at the Williamsburg icon Diner.
Though their businesses are intended for locals, they’ve attracted citywide attention. They make zeitgeist-y touches feel honest — the food is often light and seasonal, and the wines natural — but they’re also the rare small-restaurant owners who focus on treating their staff as well as they treat the chicken, an overdue development among the city’s hippest restaurants. “We’re building restaurants to last,” Fallon says. Indeed, their restaurants may be hot spots now, but they feel like they could become neighborhood institutions.
Niki Russ Federman
and Josh Russ Tupper
Russ & Daughters
There might not be a Jew in the tri-state area who hasn’t heard of Russ & Daughters, the 106-year-old Lower East Side appetizing shop and holy grail of lox. What started as a pushcart by Joel Russ is now a bonafide empire run by his great-grandchildren, cousins Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper. They’ve kept the lush and charming original store going as it was — with lines of carvers slicing fish and potting up cream cheese — but they’ve since expanded to two Manhattan sit-down restaurants and a massive Brooklyn commissary and store, where they do all their baking, preserving, and manufacturing.
Federman says their mission “is to preserve and promote” the family legacy, “while continuing to move it forward and innovate.” The duo has done just that by protecting the nostalgia that makes Russ & Daughters so special, while simultaneously moving the quintessential family business into the future.
and Lee Hanson
Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson made the nostalgic New York French bistro fresh again with Frenchette. Their Tribeca blockbuster combines elements of a buzzy downtown spot with the nerdy parameters of artisanal dining — from serving bottles from small biodynamic wine producers to using every part of the animal, such as calf’s brain. The chefs made their names under Keith McNally at Balthazar and Minetta Tavern, but their first restaurant together emphasizes vegetables and a menu that changes regularly, with fewer brasserie staples like onion soup.
Frenchette’s style is already poised to grow across the city. Nasr and Hanson’s version of iconic French bistro Le Veau d’Or opens soon, and they’re slated to take over a mammoth space at Rockefeller Center Plaza. Though aspects of Frenchette may show up, they’re not building a chain — “the old-fashioned side of us prefers to create individual restaurant experiences,” they say.
and Jody Williams
Via Carota, I Sodi, Buvette, Bar Pisellino
When Rita Sodi and Jody Williams joined forces to open Via Carota in 2014, the Tuscan restaurant was more of a homey stand-out in the West Village than a sensation. Since then, though, the chefs — with their exacting taste and unparalleled knowledge of Italian regional cuisine — have become known for running some of the most desirable restaurants in the country. Sodi shines at her solo restaurant I Sodi, while Williams expanded her enchanting French spot Buvette to Paris and Tokyo.
The conversational, almost loose style of their food and spaces belies just how serious they are, but any diner who’s eaten at one of their restaurants knows that they always feel like a special moment in time. Demand has led Sodi and Williams to expand together, most recently to pocket-sized Bar Pisellino and next to an American restaurant on Commerce Street.
and Chintan Pandya
Though nearby New Jersey is flush with regional Indian cooking, broad understanding of the cuisine in New York has largely been relegated to Northern Indian staples like samosas. Now, a group of new restaurants has been trying to make regional Indian fare more mainstream. Leading that charge are Chintan Pandya and Roni Mazumdar, the men behind the inventive Rahi and the more casual Adda.
In dishes like the junglee maas, a goat curry from the western Indian state of Rajasthan, the duo exposes New Yorkers to the thrills of India’s regional diversity, and the popularity of their restaurants affirm the fact that there’s an audience for buzzy restaurants serving complex food. And they’re expanding: The group is set to open Dhamaka on the Lower East Side and is exploring the future of food in a virtual-reality dining collaboration with artist Mattia Casalegno.
T.I.C. (Curry-ya, Sobaya, Sakagura)
The East Village would not be what it is today without Bon Yagi, who has opened over a dozen Japanese restaurants since the mid-’80s, each focusing on a specialty within Japan’s vast culinary offerings. And those restaurants would not have been pushed into the 21st century without his daughter, Sakura. In 2012, she joined the family business and made additions like a formal human resources program and a social media presence — making T.I.C.’s restaurants, from Hasaki to Sake Bar Decibel, eminently more discoverable.
New Yorkers’ obsession with Japanese cuisine only continues to grow, and Sakura is capitalizing on that by introducing more restaurants and even cooking classes, all while straddling the line between their history and the neighborhood’s future. Read more about Sakura here.
and Josh Ku
Win Son, Win Son Bakery
Modern Taiwanese fare is popping off in NYC, and Trigg Brown and Josh Ku are huge players in its rise with their perpetually packed Taiwanese-American restaurant Win Son. All the markers of a typical hot restaurant are here — lots of plants, a hip-hop-dominated soundtrack, craft cocktails — but alongside dishes that haven’t historically shared a space with those markers in New York.
Ku and Brown have since applied that formula to a bakery across the street, which serves stunningly made stoner food like scallion pancake-wrapped breakfast sandwiches. And though they are careful to clarify that their dishes are not traditional, but distinctly Taiwanese American, their debut restaurant is part of why a broader swathe of the NYC dining public knows what classic dishes like lu rou fan are — subtly but powerfully advancing the narrative that Taiwan is home to one of the world’s most appetizing cuisines.
Tuan Bui, Kim Hoang, Dennis Ngo
An Choi, Di An Di
Today’s electrifying Vietnamese restaurant scene wouldn’t be possible without Tuan Bui, Kim Hoang, and Dennis Ngo, who opened the stylish An Choi more than a decade ago. It’s funny now to think that diners at the time were shocked by the “high” price of $9 for pho. When the trio reunited in 2018 for the modishly designed Di An Di in Greenpoint, they attracted two-hour waits for $16 noodle soup — without anyone grumbling about the price.
It’s a testament to their voguish taste and rollicking-yet-honest cooking, which has exposed New Yorkers to a deeper level of Vietnamese cuisine, making dishes like bánh tráng nướng, or charcoal-grilled rice crackers, a vital New York dish by topping it with clams and calling it “pizza.” Community plays a significant role here, too: Di An Di hosts regular collaborative dinners to highlight what’s happening with Vietnamese cooking across the country.