The Observer doesn’t really award a “Restaurant of the Year,” but we do have some favorite new openings from 2016, and we’re going to honor them here. Along with two honorable mentions, these are the top five restaurants we’re most excited to continue visiting in 2017.
Honorable Mention: Best New Restaurant That Has Already Closed
On the Lamb
On the Lamb was a contender for the No. 1 spot on this list — indeed, in September we named it the Best New Restaurant for the year to date, one of the highest honors in our annual Best of Dallas awards. It was a welcome change of pace for Deep Ellum: an elegant bar, quiet enough for date night but boozy enough for a good time, with an innovative kitchen that could also grill a great cheeseburger. Chef Ross Demers, pastry chef Francisca Lang and their tiny team gave us outstanding duck confit, lamb pastrami, expertly prepared fish and simply extraordinary dessert “concoctions” that were also some of the most visually stunning desserts in the city.
But it all fell apart this holiday season; first Lang departed, then potential new investors lobbied for a dumbed-down concept to better fit in casual, cheap Deep Ellum. Demers quit and the restaurant closed without notice, without putting up a sign and while still accepting reservations. It was an ignoble end to a delightful culinary experiment.
Honorable Mention: Best New Restaurant That is Also an "Old" Restaurant
2901 Elm St.
Yes, Kitchen LTO’s chef, menu and décor change every six months. But this year’s switch was even more dramatic: The restaurant closed down entirely in July, a victim of slow traffic and the high cost of doing business at Trinity Groves. Owner Casie Caldwell talked about a crowdfunding campaign to help the restaurant reopen elsewhere, but many assumed it was gone for good.
Not so. In October, Kitchen LTO opened in new Deep Ellum digs, under chef Josh Harmon — and, even on the very first night, Harmon’s kitchen was turning out some of LTO’s best food ever. His passion for Korean food (be sure to order all the available banchan snacks) and his obsession with balancing all the major flavors (sweet, sour, savory, etc.) on a single plate resulted in unusual, and unusually delicious, takes on American comfort food.
Harmon leaves at the end of April. Don’t miss him.
The Top Five:
5. Montlake Cut
8220 Westchester Drive
This space must be conducive to seafood: What was once the beloved Spoon is now Montlake Cut, an homage to chef-owner Nick Badovinus’ native Seattle. Slurp up one of the city’s best fresh oyster selections, then move on to a list of fish dishes and Dungeness crab, all prepared simply but with great skill. You don’t need to get crazy with the recipes if your ingredients and technique are this good. Montlake Cut also keeps it simple with a good list of light, seafood-friendly wines and cocktails.
4. Hon Sushi
1902 E. Belt Line Road, Carrollton
The most Instagrammable restaurant of 2016 is in a Carrollton strip mall, where Charlie Yun is turning apples into swans, freezing parsley into blocks of ice and presenting sushi rolls in little landscapes complete with hand-carved trees made from cucumber skins. His food is outstanding, too: Alongside great specialty sushi rolls and fresh sashimi, don’t miss the terrific salad of crispy salmon skin, avocado and apple.
The dining room is still fairly quiet and prices are affordable for sushi of this quality. Until the crowds discover Hon Sushi, it represents one of the biggest bargains in north Texas, and it’s the best new suburban restaurant of 2016.