We made it. At the start of this year, we were shivering in outdoor dining sheds, and now we’re... well, at least there’s vaccinations. Still, year two of our mid-pandemic reality felt more hopeful than 2020. Last year, our coverage was marked by lockdowns, unemployment updates, and a never-ending deluge of restaurant closures. This year, we cautiously stepped back indoors at restaurants. As the year went on, we covered more openings than closings. We anticipated hot new restaurants, and paid tribute to the ones that we lost.
Over the course of the past 12 months, we published hundreds of stories chronicling this year’s dining scene. Below, we’ve rounded up our top 10 stories of 2021:
It was the announcement heard ‘round the world: Eleven Madison Park, chef Daniel Humm’s renowned shrine to fine dining, was going vegan when it reopened in June. The shift was followed by a second headline heard just as loudly: the vegan version wasn’t very good. Oh, and there was a secret meat room in the back.
Fall is typically the biggest, splashiest opening period for restaurants in the city, a time that jolts us out of end-of-summer slumps and snaps us back to the big dining out energy that the city thrives on. In 2020, we cobbled together a makeshift anticipated restaurants guide in between covering lockdowns and unemployment updates; in 2021, the list returned in a more full throttle form — and readers responded with enthusiasm.
One week into 2021, cool-kid burger chain Shake Shake ripped into our inboxes with a new, limited time launch at its U.S. stores: fried chicken, slathered in a gochujang glaze and layered with a white kimchi slaw, stuffed between two buns and sold as a “Korean-style” fried chicken sandwich. It was a catch-all term lacking the necessary nuance and context — what does “Korean-style” mean, anyways? — and customers and Korean restaurateurs in NYC spoke up about the lazy, damaging language. (Also: the sandwich sucked.)
In March 2021, we published a one-year-in retrospective commemorating 52 restaurants — including Uncle Boons, 88 Lan Zhou, and Glady’s — that permanently closed down during the pandemic. It’s been heartening to see that some of the fallen have since been revived in different forms, like at Meme’s Diner, where former co-owner Libby Willis now runs a small business incubator called Kit that aims to empower other queer restaurant owners in the industry.
Remember this? It didn’t seem to put a dent in the lines down Prince Street, but still: let this serve as a reminder that there are other roni cup-laden slices to be found in the city.
We were all treated to this standout, wish-the-photos-were-edible sandwich roundup from Eater critic and resident sandwich enthusiast Robert Sietsema in April, and the reader response was so enormous that he’s since published several subsequent sandwich lists. In short: long live sandwiches.
The industry was collectively heartbroken in October to hear of the death of Anne Saxelby, the beloved founder and co-owner of Saxelby Cheesemongers. Saxelby, known for championing American-made cheeses, was a supplier for many NYC restaurants and was instrumental in elevating brands like Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm into a national spotlight.
This story established two very important points: 1) The city was making good on its promise to enforce the cashless ban that went into effect in late 2020; and 2) Van Leeuwen, the fancy, minimalist — some might say stuck up — ice cream shop got caught in its crosshairs. Weeks later, we reported that the $12 pint purveyor still wasn’t accepting cash at its shops in NYC, and the city confirmed that they were reinvestigating the company.
Does Andrew Yang know what a bodega is? Still not sure. Did his social media antics help him win — or even come close to winning — the mayorship in NYC? Not by a long shot.
Michelin, the European tire company and occasional publisher of controversial restaurant rankings, dropped its 2021 NYC guide in May after a year-long pandemic hiatus. Every restaurant from the previous list that hadn’t permanently shut down maintained its current star status — whether it was open or still temporarily closed — and seven newcomers joined the list, including Korean tasting menu spot Jua in Flatiron and Italian hotshot Don Angie in the West Village.
Bonus addition: There is one story already throwing this year-end ranking into flux, less than 24 hours after we published it. Yesterday, we reported that a slew of restaurants in NYC have been temporarily shutting down this week as staffers test positive for COVID-19. By the end of the week, it could be our most-read story of the year. Stay safe out there, get boostered, and be kind if and when you’re dining out.