While newcomers have made inroads, the oldies are still goodies for a reason. Le Crocodile’s Jacob—whose restaurant was again voted number one in the Best French category—attributes his success to consistency.
“People come in the door and they know what they want to eat,” he says. “Too many young chefs change their menus too often. All the best restaurants in the world”¦they are known for 10 or 12 recipes. Your mom and dad used to go there to eat that special fish. You go there to eat that fish. Your kids will go there to eat that fish.”
One of his most popular dishes is an Alsatian onion tart. “We have had the onion tart on the menu since Day One, for 26 years. I’m up to here with the onion tart,” he says good-naturedly. “But people come for it. The onion tart pays my rent.”
He likens a chef who makes a signature dish over and over to a pop star who sings a hit song repeatedly. It can be a challenge to keep up the quality of the performance, but that’s the song people want to hear. “You have to be good to sing it every night as good as [you sang it] the first.”
According to industry players, Jacob is still hitting the high notes. But there are also many other restaurants that are turning out great meals—and you may never even have heard of them. Votes in the Best Underrated Restaurant and Best Cheap Eats categories were so diverse that we couldn’t possibly have chosen a winner. For a selection to whet your appetite, see the full list of winners.
With files from Matthew Burrows, Shadi Elien, Helen Halbert, Miranda Nelson, Carlito Pablo, and Craig Takeuchi.