The moment you walk through the restaurant door, the excitement begins. Right away, you know a lot about the experience to come – style, cuisine and atmosphere.  Sometimes mouth watering aromas reach out to tell even more. 

Plain or fancy, cheap or dear, high concept or everyday, restaurants all have something to offer. For me, there’s no “One best” restaurant. I savor a wide range of places that meet different needs, moods and occasions. Don’t ask me for my favorite restaurant; you’ll get a rambling recital of recent meals, memorable occasions and fond remembrances – but not a straight answer.

Restaurants have always evolved, but the pandemic has accelerated the pace of change.  Some emerged pretty much the same, some slimmed down their offerings, and sadly, some didn’t make it at all. There’s a crop of cutting-edge eateries that are thriving after the shutdown.  

The New York Times recently published their 2022 restaurant list, “50 places in America we’re most excited about right now.”  At the same time Bon Appétit Magazine put out their annual restaurant issue: “Best New Restaurants – The ten most exciting places we ate this year.”

Both articles honor smaller, tightly-focused eateries. Many are post-pandemic startups.  They span the country and feature a wide range of cuisines. 

Three restaurants appear on both lists. Their stories shed some light on the direction of the restaurant business. 

Cafe Mutton, in gentrified Hudson, NY, is described by BA as “a home for indulgent, ferociously local meat-heavy cooking.”  Chef/owner Shaina Lowe-Banayan, an alum of the innovative kitchen at Prune in NYC, cooks what she likes with passion and skill. 

It’s been decades since I’ve had a fried bologna sandwich and I never thought I’d read about one in publications like these. At the Cafe Mutton, bologna is made from scratch and the sandwich is stacked with “fatty fried slices.” Order at the counter and find a seat – no reservations in the “cottage-like restaurant.”  On any given day the locally-sourced menu might include morel mushrooms stuffed with ground pork, deviled pig trotters (from the Luchow’s cookbook), an omelet stuffed with Boursin cheese and topped with crumbled Ritz Crackers, or dark-edged crêpes splashed with maple syrup and dabbed with butter. 

I’m gobsmacked that the Cafe Mutton gets such acclaim. Contrary to most nationally recognized restaurants, it’s in a remote but hip Hudson Valley town, only open from mid morning till 3:00 (except Friday when dinner is served), has no servers, offers a meat-heavy menu, and doesn’t take reservations. The food must be amazing.  

In Austin, Texas, Guyanaese-born Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph strives to bring flavors from across the Caribbean to his restaurant, Canje. Trained in New York as a pastry chef, he’s made a big splash in his adopted hometown. Julia Stoltz, in BA, said that the, “crispy skinned wild bass resting in a pool of rum butter sauce was so plush and creamy I wanted to bathe in it.”  She praised her highly informed server and the coconut-milk-soaked tres leches cake.  This chef is having a ball bringing his home culture to new territory. 

Indian food is certainly not new and is well represented in our area, but both publications found the cooking at Semma in New York City to be worthy of their exclusive lists. In the NYT, restaurant critic Pete Wells said, “The sauces are richly layered and sumptuous with coconut milk. And the vegetable cooking is so focused and fresh-tasting it seems completely modern, even though Mr. Kumar hews closely to long-established traditions.”  The exceptional cooking of Vijay Kumar earned Semma a spot on the exciting lists. 

These three highly personal restaurants each point to a different future for the restaurant industry. Both lists tell mouth-watering stories about what’s to come, and they’re worth reading just to get a glimpse of what’s ahead.  If you’re lucky, you might even get a chance to eat at one and see for yourself. 

Frank Whitman can be reached at