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 reason, these are the 12 hottest restaurants in New York right now.
1. Nami Nori (Last week: 3)
You know a restaurant is popular when every single seat is full at 5:40 p.m. on a rainy Monday night. That’s the case with this Greenwich Village sushi spot. What accounts for the demand? How about the fact that it’s fun, relatively affordable sushi from a team of Masa vets?
2. Llama-San (1)
Like it or not, the year-end round-ups are coming, and Erik Ramirez’s take on nikkei cuisine seems poised to do well, given its ambition, its entirely unique food (duck nigiri with nasturtium is one of the best things Grub’s eaten in a long time), and its explosive popularity. Do what you can to get a seat!
3. Gotham Bar and Grill (Off last week)
Consider Pete Wells a big fan of Victoria Blamey’s new menu at this Union Square stalwart. (This week, he awards the restaurant three stars.) Meanwhile, consider Ryan Sutton … less so. (He gives it one.) Both seem to agree that the food has more energy than the space, but here’s an idea: Why not go check it out — perhaps at the bar, to start? — to see what you think?
4. Peoples (New this week)
Team Contra, along with wine pro Daryl Nuhn, are behind this new wine bar-shop hybrid that is a very welcome addition to the city’s already-great wine scene. There’s casual food, there is wine from people who use responsible farming techniques and minimal intervention production methods. There are bottles of weird wine that you can take home and drink while you binge The Crown. How great is that?
5. Kochi (New this week)
The city’s amazing Korean-restaurant scene will only get more amazing when Nowon opens next week and Jua opens a bit after that. In the meantime, chef Sungchul Shim’s new Hell’s Kitchen restaurant sounds very promising. As he told us, “It’s traditional Korean royal cuisine transformed into the modern way with a Korean approach, with French technique, with Japanese ingredients.” Practically speaking, that means a nine-course tasting menu for $ 75, which sounds like something of a deal.
6. Anton’s (2)
In the West Village, chef Nick Anderer is paying tribute to the kind of ye olde New York that never stops feeling romantic. There are clams and omelettes, steaks and chops, a “Hudson rarebit” for the bar, and plenty of old-world charm.
7. Lekka (New this week)
In Tribeca, Amanda Cohen and partner Andrea Kerzner have given the veggie-burger genre a subtle South African twist. Cohen’s burgers are, in a welcome change of pace these days, made with normal ingredients you’ve actually heard of. But — plot twist — it might be her vegan cheese sauce, said to be made with a base of butter beans, that is the true revelation here. (It’s very impressive, especially drizzled over the restaurant’s crinkle-cuts…)
8. The HiHi Room (4)
Here is a brand-new restaurant that just sounds fun: The team behind Court Street Grocers and chef Walker Stern hit Smith Street with shrimp and grits, burgers, and even a chefed-up take on Cincinnati Chili.
9. Portale (6)
While Gotham’s new chef gets the review treatment this week, Alfred Portale is back in action, too, this time in Chelsea, with the kind of refined, sophisticated cooking you might expect. The jumping-off point is Italy, so expect foie gras tortellini (for now), duck breast with radicchio and Calabrian chile honey, and a seafood spaghetti from the man who made his name, at least in part, with a world-famous seafood salad.
10. The Riddler (12)
Why wouldn’t you want to go to a small, sophisticated Champagne bar where the service is warm, the advice is knowledgeable, the wine list is satisfyingly deep, and the food menu focuses on raw-bar specialities and a burger? There is nothing wrong with this place at all.
11. The Jones (10)
Speaking of places that are built on perfect foundations: Gabriel Stulman has said that his inspiration for his Great Jones Café revamp is Clamato, the Paris seafood bar that is more or less perfect. And so it makes sense that the dinner menu is loaded with things like uni, clams on the half shell, and prawns.