Today OpenTable released our list of the 100 Hottest Restaurants in America for 2016, based on more than five million reviews from verified diners in our network. We combed through the list looking for some of the top themes among the restaurants to find out what experiences the hottest concepts are delivering for guests today.
Overall, these restaurants are stylish and swanky — the atmosphere is every bit as important as the food. Many have the names of celebrity chefs attached, and celebrity diners are likely to be spotted. These winners are known for their lively ambiance, and many have vibrant bar and lounge scenes that make them favorites for after-hours crowds.
From next-level cocktails to the VIP treatment, here are seven exciting trends we spotted.
Newness. Of the 100 restaurants on our list 21 opened in 2015, which shows us diners are hungry for new experiences. Openings attract media attention and help generate buzz around a new concept, so that’s no surprise, but still it’s thrilling to see restaurateurs succeeding right out of the gate. The question is: which ones will stand the test of time? (Another 42 restaurants on the list were repeat winners that have maintained their “hot spot” status year over year, proving it can be done by some savvy operators.)
Seen at: Cassia, Santa Monica; Ophelia’s Electric Sopabox, Denver; Shaya, New Orleans; Talde, Jersey City; middle fork kitchen bar, Lexington.
VIP Treatment. There’s an element of exclusivity and mystery around some of the restaurants on our list. They may reserve special areas for VIPs or be designed to give high-profile guests extra privacy. At The Nice Guy in West Hollywood, no photography is allowed inside. It would be easy to pass right by Salt Lake City’s The Rest without noticing it, thanks to a deliberately understated, speakeasy-style entrance.
Seen at: The Nice Guy, West Hollywood; The Rest, Salt Lake City; La Esquina, New York.
Celebrity Chefs. A significant number of the winning restaurants are helmed by celebrity chefs, from Food Network stars to reality TV competitors. Top Chef‘s Stephanie Izard is behind Chicago’s Girl & the Goat, for example, and Bobby Flay heads up the kitchen at Gato in New York. A little name recognition goes a long way in creating a hot concept and keeping it strong. And we imagine diners will be thrilled to catch a glimpse of their favorite cooks.
Seen at: Girl & the Goat, Chicago; Gato, New York; ink., West Hollywood; Red Rooster Harlem, New York; Juniper & Ivy, San Diego; RPM Italian, Chicago.
Elevated Drinks. A thoughtfully considered bar experience is a must for a hot spot, and these restaurants deliver. Some of the winners have clubs and lounges as part of their concepts, but even those who don’t have top talent assembling creative craft beer, wine, and drink menus. Look for small-batch, house-infused spirits, creative flavor combinations, and beautiful presentations.
Seen at: Chino Latino, Minneapolis; Eight4Nine, Palm Springs; High Rooftop Lounge, Venice; Santina, New York; Tender Bar + Kitchen, Pittsburgh; Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis; 8 Up, Louisville.
Late-Night Scene. A lively atmosphere helps attract the after-dinner crowd and keep the party going strong. Many of our hottest restaurants keep pouring drinks and serving late-night bites past midnight to satisfy guests who aren’t quite ready to turn in. The line between restaurant, bar, club, and lounge is growing ever dimmer under the larger umbrella of “entertainment.”
Seen at: Tao Restaurant and Nightclub, Las Vegas; SoBe Restaurant & Lounge; Lanham, MD; Strip by Strega, Boston; 40/40 Club, New York; AsiaSF, San Francisco.
Global Flavors. While American cuisine was popular on the list, we were excited to see significant influence from a variety of cuisines around the world. Sushi is as hot as ever, but other Asian concepts were well represented (Chinese, Izakaya), along with Mediterranean and Mexican restaurants. New or unfamiliar ingredients only add to the exotic experience.
Seen at: E.P.+L.P., West Hollywood; Empire, Boston; Buddakan, New York; Cassia, Santa Monica; El Camino Mexican Soul Food & Tequila Bar, Delray Beach, FL; Izakaya Den, Denver; Gypsy Kitchen, Atlant; SumoMaya Mexican-Asian Kitchen, Scottsdale.
Destination Spots. These are the restaurants diners seek out for special occasions when traveling to vacation-worthy places like Palm Springs, San Diego, Venice Beach, and Las Vegas. California has 25 winning restaurants, followed by New York with 15, and Florida and Illinois not far behind. Plus, a handful of these concepts are attached to hotels, adding to the festive, celebratory vibe.
Seen at: The Ivy, West Hollywood; Momotaro, Chicago; Rose. Rabbit. Lie at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Las Vegas; STK-NYC-Meatpacking, New York.