A great restaurant is so much more than just the food. The cuisine may be what gets you in the door, but the service and the design have to work in concert with the epicurean vision to create the sense of place that keeps you coming back. While we regularly cover the food side of the restaurant world, we wanted to step back and celebrate the places that also delivered exceptional design in 2019. We looked across the country to name the 11 most beautiful new restaurants of the year.
Auburn, Los Angeles
This stunning space feels like walking into the home of the most stylish friend you have. Chef-owner Eric Bost teamed up with the Belgian husband-wife design duo Jon and Maša Kleinhample to create a space that merges minimalist Northern European touches with an airy Southern California feel. Clean lines combine with white oak, pale vegetable-tanned leather, skylights, and ample greenery, to create a calming effect upon arriving. The food Bost is putting out isn’t bad either.
Carlos Gaytan’s new restaurant was personal beyond just the food. The first Mexican-born chef to earn a Michelin star had his hometown of Huitzuco, Mexico represented in the appearance. Cadena + Associates Concept Design built floor-to-ceiling glass cases trimmed with indigenous wood display materials from Mexico like woven fabrics and terra cotta pieces. The restaurant features chocolate and taupe tones throughout the warm dining room, which has custom pieces from Mexico City’s Atra Form Furniture.
Perched on the 59th floor of the Four Seasons at Comcast Center, the new Jean-Georges takes full advantage of its sweeping views high above the City of Brotherly Love. The building was designed by Norman Foster of Foster + Partners and Vongerichten had him hired to tackle his first Philly outpost. Jean-Georges all-day restaurant features 40-foot-high windows beneath a mirrored pyramidical ceiling. Almost as to not distract from the view, the room is outfitted with black stone and furnished with subtle-hued seating.
Justine, New Orleans
James Beard Award-winning chef Justin Devillier and his Mia opened their bustling ode to the French brasserie Justine this year in the Big Easy. New Orleans-based firm Farouki Farouki incorporated artifacts the Devilliers brought back from Paris, including a pressed tin marquee that once hung over a butcher shop. Yet the design wasn’t some faithful reproduction of a Gallic eatery, instead it’s much more playing, with some over-the-top touches like pink neon and bold murals.
With his third Twin Cities restaurant, James Beard Award winner Gavin Kaysen opened an intimate, 20-seat tasting counter next to his hit restaurant Spoon and Stable. Inside an old coffee roastery, Shea Design and Linda Kaysen turned the 1,200-foot space into a warm and inviting room with a U-shaped wood counter wrapped around the kitchen’s granite island. The Kaysens curated artisans for design touches throughout including Ashley Lin Pottery, who created tableware, to Gavin’s brother Sean, who crafted wood service trays, planters and more.
Nami Nori, New York
In the West Village, a trio of Masa alums opened a more casual place than the Michelin three-star mecca on Columbus Circle. The 40-seat restaurant that focuses on beautifully presented hand rolls, is bathed in weathered wood, evoking a mix of modern beach house and traditional Japanese homes. The New York-based firm MN Design Professional Corporation, which has also designed restaurants including Cote and Crown Shy, mixes pale shades of cream, brown and pink throughout the space along with speckled terrazzo countertops.
Opening in the waning days of 2018, Aix was too late to make the cutoff for last year’s design awards, but we’d be remiss to not shine a spotlight on the Provence-inspired restaurant by chef Nick Leahy. Atlanta-based firm AI3 mixed stone walls, leather banquettes, copper and rose gold accents with a light color palette meant to evoke coastal France. At the center of the dining room is a large wood and steel wire art installation is inspired by the French game pétanque.
Curtis Stone has had a flair for the dramatic and luxe in his restaurants. His gorgeous LA spot Gwen feels like you’re transformed into an art deco Hollywood dream of yesteryear. In Dallas’s Knox District, with his brother Luke and partner Stephan Courseau, he’s opened a restaurant that evokes Dallas’s oil-rich days that inspired the show Dallas. Brooklyn-based architectural firm GRT achieved the vibe by filling the space with plush orange booths, travertine and marble floors and coffered ceilings.
Dandelion Chocolate, San Francisco
A 107-year-old building in San Francisco’s Mission District has been transformed into a 28,000-square-foot ode to chocolate. Chris Harrelson of the architecture firm Gensler—who has also designed Facebook Headquarters and Etsy’s offices in Brooklyn—has outfitted the factory, shop and café with marble, leather banquettes, custom redwood counters and brass fixtures throughout.
Nightshade, Los Angeles
Top Chef winner Mei Lin’s debut restaurant features design by Tijuana-based Gracia studio. Tucked inside of a red brick industrial building in downtown LA’s Arts District, you may expect a dark cozy space, but you’d be wrong. Inside is a bright, welcoming, Instagram-friendly affair. The brick has been whitewashed and partially covered by light wood paneling. Midcentury furnishings fill the room, with gold accents scattered about, while your eyes are drawn to both the hanging planter hovering near the bar and the deep emerald tufted banquettes that provide a strong pop of color.
Canary Club, New York
An ode to the Big Easy in the Big Apple, the Canary Club was designed by restaurateur Ryan Chadwick’s wife Emily Frantz. Like New Orleans, the space is whimsical and energetic mixed with some old-world charm. The multi-story project’s main floor bar steals the show with its saturated green paint contrasted by the red leather curved banquette.