Critics' Picks

The best new restaurants in top business cities

Thanks to the following food critics for their recommendations:
• Carolyn Alburger, editor, Eater San Francisco
• Ari Bedersky, editor, Eater Chicago
• John Curtas, food writer, Eating Las Vegas
• Jay Forman, dining editor, New Orleans Magazine
• Richard Gorelick, restaurant critic,
The Baltimore Sun
• John Kessler, chief dining critic, Access Atlanta
• Nancy Leson, food writer,
The Seattle Times
• Ed Levine, New York Times contributor and founder of the Serious Eats blog
• Penny Pollack, dining editor,
Chicago Magazine
• Howard Seftel, restaurant critic,
The Arizona Republic
• Tucker Shaw, food editor,
The Denver Post
• Edmund Tijerina, food and dining writer,
San Antonio Express-News
• Irene Virbila, restaurant critic,
The Los Angeles Times 


Nothing beats a good meal for capping a long day of meetings. Add to that the thrill of discovering a great new eatery, and you've just given your group a night to remember. M&C asked food critics, writers and editors from around the country to suggest some hot, recently opened restaurants in their hometowns (see sidebar for a list of our esteemed sources). The eateries profiled below are their top picks for groups -- all moderately priced and featuring private dining and/or buyout options.

ATLANTAEmpire State SouthEmpire State South
(404) 541-1105
Cuisine: Southern

Empire State South combines sophisticated service with quirky flavors to create an unpretentious, yet refined experience. The restaurant opened last August, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers a delightfully varied menu. Start with the "Kind of Local" cheese plate, and follow with dishes such as crisp pork belly with creamed kimchi, rice grits, pickled daikon and peanuts; or the redfish with meyer lemon marmalade, brussels sprouts and carrot puree. For a special treat, try the Georgia sturgeon caviar.

All can be enjoyed  in a private dining room that seats up to 30 people, or as part of a buyout package that allows seating for 100 or accommodates 150 for a reception. Right outside is a boccie court ready for play.

Local Three Kitchen & Bar
(404) 968-2700
Cuisine: Seasonal American

Local Three follows a simple philosophy, as stated on its website: "People matter most. Local is priority. Seasonal makes sense. Authenticity rules. Pretense loses. Comfort feels good." Here, comfort means stomach-satisfying dishes such as duck-fat fried hush puppies with sambal aioli and braised lamb shoulder; or  pan-seared Georgia mountain trout with crispy brussels sprouts, apples, pistachios and brown butter. The bar is stocked with more than 40 types of bourbon, 100 beers and 100 varieties of wine.

Planners can choose from among several private dining options. The venue's largest such room, the Bushwood, seats 40 and comes equipped with audiovisual capabilities for meetings or presentations. The wine room seats up to 12, while the patio offers an al fresco experience for up to 60 seated or 125 standing.

Vino Rosina
(410) 528-8600
Cuisine: Modern American

The hip new wine bar in Baltimore's trendy Harbor East neighborhood, Vino Rosina brings to the table a diverse menu of tastes and styles, including duck carpaccio; salmon prepared in vacuum-sealed plastic bags and heated underwater to tenderize the meat without losing juices or texture (a molecular-gastronomy tactic known as sous-vide); and seared foie gras, accompanied by blood orange-corriander jam. True to its name, the eatery offers more than 200 kinds of wine, with 60 available by the glass.

For private dining, the restaurant's chef's table seats up to 10; for larger groups, buyouts are available and accommodate up to 50 seated or 150 for cocktails.


CHICAGOGirl and the Goat
(312) 492-6262
Cuisine: Contemporary American

Stephanie Izard, winner of the fourth season of TV's Top Chef competition, opened this small plates and charcuterie-focused restaurant last summer. Dishes include roasted cauliflower with pickled peppers, pine nuts and mint; bourbon poached lobster; and grilled pork ribs with a tomatillo-mushroom slaw and grilled scallion vinaigrette. The place is "noisy, convivial and creative," says Penny Pollack, dining editor of Chicago Magazine. The restaurant also has received raves from Saveur, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, and is a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in the 2011 James Beard Awards. A private dining area in the wine cellar, called the Underground Goat, seats 16.

Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen
(303) 595-4255
Cuisine: Gastropub

Less than a half-mile from the Colorado Convention Center is Euclid Hall, a gastropub featuring house-made sausages, schnitzels and po'boys served under dim lighting, exposed brick walls and tin ceilings (befitting the 128-year-old building housing the restaurant). The extensive beer menu includes bottles ranging from a  $3.75 Miller Lite to a $32.75 IPA Piraat Belgian Tripel, while a specialty cocktail menu pays homage to some of the building's previous inhabitants, such as the legendary local con man Soapy Smith, whose namesake drink includes bourbon, ginger beer, fresh lime and housemade maraschino cherries. The venue can accommodate 150 for a seated dinner and 350 for a cocktail reception.

LAS VEGASJulian Serrano
(877) 230-2742
Cuisine: Spanish tapas

Named one of Esquire magazine's best new restaurants of 2010, Julian Serrano at the mammoth 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas' glittering new CityCenter features classic Spanish cuisine, from tapas to seafood. Dishes include Spanish chicken croquetas and a mixed paella of lobster, chicken, chorizo, vegetables and saffron rice. A semiprivate dining area seats up to 80. Directly outside: all the excitement of the Strip.

TwistTwist by Pierre Gagnaire
(888) 881-9367
Cuisine: Modern French

From three-star Michelin chef Pierre Gagnaire comes Twist at the 392-room Mandarin Oriental, also in the new City­Center complex. The name aptly describes the food, which taps into the current trend of molecular gastronomy by juxtaposing flavors and textures to create offbeat dishes such as the Bloody Mary sorbet, sautéed John Dory fillets topped with rhubarb foam, and oven-roasted duck garnished with Banyuls (a fortified aperitif) gelée. The restaurant hovers above the Strip on the casino-hotel's 23rd floor and features floor-to-ceiling windows for incredible views.

A private dining room seats 16, while two semiprivate areas can seat 25 and 40, respectively. Buyouts can accommodate 62 for a sit-down dinner or 150 for a reception.

(702) 789-4141
Cuisine: Italian steak house

The classic steak house meets Mario Batali's signature Italian style at Carnevino, in the 3,066-room Palazzo Las Vegas on the Strip. Menu items include handmade pastas, organic cuts of beef and free-range veal that can be paired with the likes of Maine lobster tails and giant Madagascar shrimp. Semiprivate rooms are available for groups of up to 80, while a complete buyout can accommodate up to 220.

LOS ANGELESWaterloo and CityWaterloo & City
(310) 391-4222
Cuisine: Gastropub

House-made charcuterie, pâtés and Helix snails share menu space with Maine scallops served with roast artichokes and chorizo, fettuccine with curried lobster, and decadent pizzas topped with wild mushrooms and braised short ribs at Waterloo & City. This West Side restaurant, named after a London underground railway line near owner Brendan Collins' childhood neighborhood, can host up to 40 seated in the common room, 50 for a reception or, with a buyout, 150 seated.

WP24WP24 Restaurant & Lounge
(213) 743-8801
Cuisine: Asian fusion

Perched on the 24th floor of the new 123-room Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, and featuring dramatic panoramic views of downtown L.A., Wolfgang Puck's WP24 features a modern take on Asian fare. The famed chef's creativity is here evidenced in dishes such as braised pork belly bao buns with Chinese honey-garlic glaze, Singapore-style softshell chili crabs and farmer's market fried rice, which can be washed down with any of more than 400 wines.

For groups, a wine room seats 10, a private dining room holds 26, the main dining room accommodates 68, and a full buyout can handle 125 seated or 500 for a reception.  

MIAMI SugarcaneSugarcane Raw Bar Grill
(786) 369-0353
Cuisine: International

With an interior that channels a rustic  Latin café, thanks to wooden floors and chairs and tall windows inviting natural light, the Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill features the creative cookery of chef Timon Balloo, a candidate for The People's Best New Chief honors as awarded by Food & Wine magazine and CNN's Eatocracy blog.

The restaurant offers an extensive and innovative raw menu featuring sashimi, steak tartare and scallops prepared with apple, black truffle, lime and jalapeños. But don't discount the diverse variety of tapas and cooked items, from duck with waffles to broccolini with truffle fondue and toasted garlic.

The lounge area can be rented out for private parties of up to 20; inquire about larger groups.

(504) 588-2123
Cuisine: Cajun, Southern

Blocks from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Cochon serves up bold Cajun and Southern cooking in a warm, casual dining environment. The menu features crawfish pies, wood-fired oysters and grilled pork ribs, in addition to house-made boudin (a spicy Cajun sausage), andouille, smoked bacon and head cheese.

For those interested in local flavor, try the fried alligator with chili garlic aioli. Groups of up to 275 people can be seated on the second level, called Calcasieu, featuring the same chef and food as downstairs.

Meson 923
(504) 523-9200
Cuisine: Contemporary American

Spanish and French flavors meet classic New Orleans fare at Meson 923, a new two-story, upscale venue near the convention center. Here, diners will find crudo, the Italian answer to sashimi, in the form of yellowfin tuna tartare prepared with Asian pear, kimchi vinaigrette, quail yolk and sesame lavash, as well as dishes such as beef carpaccio with fried poached egg, truffled asparagus gribiche (a French mayonnaise-style sauce) and caviar; and sautéed triggerfish with quinoa and sous-vide filet of beef. and served with baby spinach and truffle sauce.

Private dining options include two rooms for 20 and 60 guests, respectively, while the entire upstairs can fit up to 100 in addition to a projector screen and a stage upon request. The second-story outdoor patio overlooking the street seats 20 or can accommodate 60 for a reception.

NEW YORKMaialino
(212) 777-2410
Cuisine: Roman trattoria

Danny Meyer, the famed restaurateur who brought Eleven Madison Park and burger joint Shake Shack to New York City, recently opened a new Roman-style trattoria dubbed Maialino, on Lexington Avenue and East 21st Street. The menu channels warmth and comfort, featuring seasonal ingredients from local purveyors and New York's farmers markets that take the form of charred cuttlefish with winter greens and chilis, and dry aged sirloin with white beans and treviso, a type of radicchio.

Groups of up to 22 can reserve long table overlooking Gramercy Park for private dining, or the new chef's table in the intimate wine room for up to four people.

Locanda Verde
(212) 925-3797
Cuisine: Italian

In the Big Apple's downtown Tribeca neighborhood, Locanda Verde prides itself on all things Italian, including specialty beers and a 100-bottle wine list, all products of the mother country. An equally inspired menu features roasted sea scallops with Sicilian cauliflower, a mozzarella dish served with eggplant and pesto on prosciutto bread, and "My Grandmother's Ravioli" stuffed with beef, veal and pork, wrapped in delicate ravioli skins, covered in a tomato-basil sauce and topped with crumbles of Parmesan cheese.
Adorned with vintage mirrors, antique chairs and a working fireplace, Locanda Verde's private dining room can seat 60 for dinner or host up to 90 for a cocktail event.  

Nobuo at Teeter House
(602) 254-0600
Cuisine: Asian fusion

A seemingly incongruous blend of refined teahouse and trendy Japanese bar (or izakaya), Nobuo at Teeter House is a rising star on the Phoenix food scene; the place achieved semifinalist status for James Beard honors as best new restaurant of 2010.  

The eatery features an earth-toned interior, with wood floors and dim lighting creating a warm, relaxed intimacy that contrasts with the bright, fresh flavors offered in menu items such as soft-shell shrimp with green papaya slaw, and grapefruit with hamachi (a fish commonly used in sushi) topped with avocado and white truffle ponzu oil.

The property includes two private dining rooms that can fit 16 and 12 guests, respectively, in addition to a lounge that accommodates up to 10.

SAN ANTONIO La Gloria Ice House
(210) 267-9040
Cuisine: Mexican

Deliberately evoking the Spanish phrase "No hace falta morir para llegar a la Gloria" ("You don't have to die to go to heaven"), La Gloria Ice House is fast becoming a San Antonio staple for authentic Mexican street food. This is a budget-friendly option for groups (à la carte entrées ring in at under $10); the extensive menu includes 10 types of tacos, half a dozen kinds of quesadillas and several ceviches, along with Mexican pizzas, tortas, tostadas and flans. "The dishes here evoke the flavors and memories of the interior of Mexico," says Edmund Tijerina food and dining writer with the San Antonio Express-News, who suggests ordering platters to cater for large groups.

The space, set in a historic brewery, includes a private dining area that seats 80 and accommodates up to 100 people for receptions.

(210) 227-5853
Cuisine: Brasserie

This Alsatian-style brasserie on San Antonio's River Walk opened last November, featuring Old World cuisine that combines German and French cooking with New Orleans flavor. Menu items range from the Luke burger topped with carmelized onions, smoky bacon and Swiss cheese to jumbo Gulf shrimp with creamy white corn grits and smoked andouille that can be paired with any of 15 Texas-brewed beers on hand.

Private dining areas are available for up to 150 seated and 200 for a reception.

(415) 826-7000
Cuisine: Italian

Equipped with an Italian-imported wood-burning oven, heated to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, Flour + Water cranks out classic thin-crust Neapolitan pizzas topped with the likes of bone marrow, garlic white wine sausage and balsamic-braised radicchio, in addition to house-made pastas and salumi, or cured meat. For private events, the Dough Room, where pasta is made by day, serves as a dining space for up to 12; full buyouts are not yet available.
SEATTLEStaple & Fancy
(206) 789-1200
Cuisine: Italian

From Ethan Stowell, a four-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef, Northwest, comes a sophisticated take on Italian cuisine, featuring house-made pastas and seasonal ingredients. The restaurant opened last August in the newly renovated Kolstrand Building, a local landmark from the early 1900s. Two menus are offered:  an à la carte "staple" menu, featuring potato gnocchi with short ribs, and pork belly with pearl onions and celery root; and a "fancy" four-course chef's menu that is determined on a day-to-day basis.

The 1,500-square-foot space seats 35 and also features a small bar area for more intimate private dining.

Blueacre Seafood
(206) 659-0737
Cuisine: American

Blueacre Seafood's contemporary American menu makes use of Seattle's proximity to the ocean, featuring the likes of garlic-roasted Dungeness crab, and New England-style clam chowder with black truffle oil and apple-smoked bacon, in addition to 12 different types of oysters from around Washington state.

The restaurant, which opened in March 2010, features several private dining options, including the Marlin Room, which seats up to 40 people and can be fitted with audiovisual equipment for presentations. Smaller dining options include two semiprivate areas for parties of up to 12.

(202) 319-1404
Cuisine: Spanish

A 2011 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, Estadio features small plates and tapas inspired by Spain's Basque and Catalan regions. A wide variety of cheeses and cured meats are featured, along with dishes such as mussels prepared with chorizo and scallions, and leg of lamb with an olive spread and roasted shallots (especially nice when paired with a sparkling white wine from Spain).

Semiprivate dining areas can accommodate up to 26 guests, while a buyout can serve 92 seated and 135 for cocktails. The eatery sits on busy 14th Street NW, near Logan Circle.