Chef Gregory Leon combines the many roots of his existence—Oklahoma, Venezuela, San Francisco, a deep love of the food of Spain and Portugal—into a singular, precise, limited-menu vision in his first full restaurant. There are really only a few things to eat on any given night, so it is with a certain amount of trust that a diner must embark upon the hip Wisconsin Ave eatery. Yet just one meal can teach you to believe in his artistic yet comforting flair. There are the simple fall time pleasures of a smoked trout salad; a skirt steak, plopped in romesco sauce, pepped by shishitos; a pork chop, the tender hunk bathing in adobo sauce, sided with broccoli raab, and, because Leon clearly wants us to be happy, linguica. It’s a buzzy, sceney spot to spend a night downtown, and Amilinda reminds that that can sometimes still be a soulful thing.
2015 was a bit of a strange year in the world of restaurants. We’ve seen pop-ups and food trucks go brick and mortar to great success. We’ve seen old bus stations and garages recreated as dining destinations. And we’ve seen the more casual siblings of highly acclaimed restaurants potentially shine more than their brothers.
I want to say this is a transitional year, but I’m not sure what that transition is to. Fancy, luxe restaurants (even recreations of ones from the ’80s) seem just as en vogue as pop-ups out of the backs of gas stations. The upscale comfort food trend of a few years ago has shifted, so it’s less about upscale takes on lowbrow food and more about lowbrow takes on upscale food. Or maybe it isn’t! IT’S SO HARD TO TELL RIGHT NOW. But what we’ve seen more than anything is that the best restaurants — no matter what the theme, scale, or size — seem to be focused. Focused on doing simple things in a great way. Focused on a particular type of food no one else is thinking about. Focused on small menus where no item can or should be ignored. It’d be easy to say people are doing more with less, but that’s not quite right. Maybe they’re just realizing you can use less to do more?
Anyway, as with every year, Liz and I pick these restaurants in consultation with our editors all over the country. If we didn’t dine there, someone we trust very, very much did. And now we want you to go too.