Top Chef winner and Detroit native Mei Lin opened Nightshade in January 2019 (launched with partners Francis Miranda and Cyrus Batchan of No.8.), joining the growing ranks of intriguing restaurants in the Arts District. It’s an apt location since her fresh, innovative, and very now dishes are beautifully plated works of art, with flavors that lend an Asian vibe combined with a farmer’s market flair. (Her lasagna with pork ragu, tofu cream, and prickly ash is already attracting acclaim.) Lin got an early start in the food business, working in her family’s Chinese restaurants. After a minor teenage rebellion away from the business, she trained in Paris and in kitchens from Spago in Las Vegas to Michael Voltaggio’s ink in L.A. Following the family tradition, she now runs her own special spot, and she’s truly making Nightshade her own.
Nightshade’s neighbor in the Arts District, Bavel, was inspired by chef and co-owner Ori Menashe’s Moroccan, Turkish, Georgian, and Israeli roots, and the menu will take you on a culinary journey. The expected Middle Eastern standards like shwarma, hummus, and pita, were painstakingly made new with Menashe’s deft chef’s touch, extensive experimentation, and thoughtfully imported ingredients. Bavel—which Menashe opened in 2018 with his wife and co-owner, Genevieve Gergis—joins the couple’s previous outing, Bestia, located less than a mile away. Like that acclaimed Italian bistro, Bavel is a family affair in more ways than one: A from-scratch sensibility and a sense of community means you’ll feel at home at either restaurant, and will probably want to be repeat customers at both.
Los Angeles is a taco-saturated town, but there’s always room for more, especially when they’re made with the care and craft—and warm welcome—that Jennifer Feltham and Sonoratown bring to each one. Her airy, handmade, award-winning tortillas (she says they’re more like dumplings than the typically stodgy flour tortillas we’re used to) use a carefully chosen flour from Mexico, topped with carne asada cooked over a mesquite wood fire. Sonoratown, which she owns with her boyfriend, Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez Jr., opened in 2016 with the name of the community of Mexican immigrants that settled in Los Angeles in the 19th century (now L.A.’s Chinatown). The taqueria’s creations are based on the ones Feltham tasted in Sonora, while the tiny (but recently expanded) restaurant builds on 25 years of combined experience in food service.
Southern-born Trigg Brown may be an unlikely proprietor of a Taiwanese restaurant, but in Brooklyn, juxtapositions—and quality food—are embraced. Like many English lit majors, Brown needed a side hustle while attending the University of Virginia, so he worked in the kitchen at the nearby Keswick Hall and Golf Club, where he met chef Pei Jen Chang, who became his mentor and taught him the techniques and nuances of Japanese, Chinese, and Taiwanese cuisines. That training, and help from his Taiwanese-American business partner Josh Ku (shown above and below), allowed him to open Win Son in 2017. The East Williamsburg restaurant showcases a constantly evolving take on Taiwanese cuisine, but always with traditional flavors and locally sourced ingredients. Brown also incorporates inspiration from his other previous gigs, working for chefs like Tom Colicchio and Stephen Starr, and sees Win Son as an opportunity to both experiment with the multicultural Taiwanese cuisine and educate customers on its unique flavors.
Little Tong Noodle Shop
Throughout her youth, Simone Tong traveled the world, including childhood moves around Asia and Australia, plus college in North Carolina—but watching TV one day in her birthplace of Chengdu, China, she found true inspiration. She came across a program featuring renowned Chef Wylie Dufresne and was inspired by his approach to food. Using money she earned playing online poker, Tong put herself through New York’s Institute of Culinary Education, then managed to land an externship at Dufresne’s wd~50. After years in others’ kitchens, in 2017, she took the leap to open her own spot (with restaurateur Simon Xi)—and return to her culinary roots with Little Tong Noodle Shop in the East Village. It was an immediate success and a second location in Midtown followed in 2018. Both outposts focus on variations of the Yunnan Province’s mixian rice noodle in a variety of dishes, so ramen and pho lovers can mix it up. This year, Tong received a StarChefs Rising Stars Award and will open yet another restaurant, this one the higher-end Silver Apricot in the West Village, to take us on even more eating adventures.
Pig & Khao
Raised by a Filipino mother and Romanian-Jewish father, Leah Cohen had rich cultural and culinary exposure from an early age. As an adult, she trained at the Culinary Institute of America and gained formal kitchen experience in New York (including Eleven Madison Park), at the Michelin-starred La Madia in Licata, Italy, and at restaurants in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Cambodia before opening her own restaurant, Pig & Khao, on New York’s Lower East Side in 2012. There she serves Asian street food with an elegant touch against a backdrop of brightly colored decor and vibrant sounds of hip-hop and reggae. Featured on Top Chef and winner of a 2013 StarChefs Rising Star Award, Cohen has the magnetism of a movie star, but her food—Malaysian fried chicken with pineapple chutney, baby octopus paksiw with black vinegar butter, and filipino chocolate rice pudding with crispy bacon bits—takes the spotlight.