Restaurants open at a breakneck pace here in New York City, and they trot out food from just about every corner of our planet (and sometimes many corners of our planet on one menu). In the last 12 months, we’ve seen a spate of Isaan spots, a Laotian joint, mash-ups of Jewish and Japanese cuisines and Korean and Italian fare, a distinguished sushi restaurant, and inventive concepts from young chefs now free to flex their creative muscles. We’ve combed through our memories of meals at this year’s crop of new entrants to assemble our list of the 20 best spots that have opened since January. We present them here in alphabetical order; we hope you’ll weigh in on what you agree with — and what we missed — in the comments.
Betony, 41 West 57th Street
Eleven Madison Park expats Bryce Shuman and Eamon Rockey teamed up for this sleek midtown effort, wooing crowds with refined, elegant fare and a well-edited yet comprehensive drink list. Luxe fine dining mainstays meet some quirk here — Shuman has a lobster roll and a tuna melt on the list.
Bunker, 46-63 Metropolitan Avenue, Queens
What started as a quick fix to a Hurricane Sandy-threatened fish wholesale business became a Vietnamese restaurant capable of pulling people from all over the city to a fairly inaccessible (by public transit, at least) part of Ridgewood. It’s worth the trek, especially in a city light on Vietnamese options.
Charlie Bird, 5 King Street
Northern Italian food comes with a stellar wine list at this Soho spot from Robert Bohr and Ryan Hardy. Hardy’s work with seafood and pasta is especially on point, and you’ll want to order scallops if they’re on the menu.
Contra, 138 Orchard Street
Young chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian van Hauske modeled their Lower East Side restaurant on Parisian neo-bistros: The $55 five-course prix fixe changes nightly. Innovative dishes channel touchstones of the New York City dining experience.
Estela, 47 East Houston Street
Igancio Mattos teamed up with Thomas Carter and Mark Connell for his first endeavor after his dramatic exit from Isa, and the move has clearly freed him — the chef turns out a list of small plates sporting his signature quirk.
Flat Top, 1241 Amsterdam Avenue
Harlem hit noodle joint Jin Ramen founders created another winner with this homage to American fare cooked on the flat top grill (though you’ll still find hints of the Japanese canon here, as with a bowl of udon pasta).
Fritzl’s Lunch Box, 173 Irving Avenue, Brooklyn
Looking for the best burger in the city? Head out to this Bushwick joint, which serves what could be the Platonic version of the classic cheeseburger. The rest of the board is worth a gander, from the chicken sandwich to simple seasonal specials.
Glasserie, 95 Commercial Street, Brooklyn
Sara Conklin brought on chef Sara Kramer to create a Middle Eastern-tinged menu rooted in seasonal share plates in a welcoming space in Greenpoint. Kramer has been lauded for her shareable rabbit feast; don’t miss the rest of her menu, which boasts flavors uncommon in New York’s current restaurant scene.
Khe-Yo, 157 Duane Street
Marc Forgione empire alum Soulayphet Schwader draws on his roots to put out a Laotian menu, giving the Big Apple a taste of a country that’s underrepresented here. Start with sticky rice dipped in bang bang sauce and don’t miss the jerky.
Larb Ubol, 480 Ninth Avenue
Isaan food exploded in Manhattan this year, and one of the best representatives was also incredibly humble. This sparse Hell’s Kitchen spot turns out a menu of northern Thai classics; be sure you try a larb, the restaurant’s namesake.
M. Wells Steakhouse, 43-15 Crescent Street, Queens
The move to Long Island City suited Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis, who have cemented their places among the most inventive chefs in this city. Late this year, they opened this steakhouse to continue to push boundaries, serving bone-in burgers and rattlesnake meat.
Marco’s, 295 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn
When beloved Prospect Heights pizzeria Franny’s moved down the street into larger digs, owners Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg repurposed the old address into a new Italian spot. Helmed by Danny Amend, the kitchen turns out refined classics in a space enveloped in neighborhood charm.
Morgan’s, 267 Flatbush Avenue
Barbecue continues to rise and improve here, and the scene is now attracting pitmasters from other famous locales. Case in point is this Prospect Heights joint, tended by John Avila, who once stoked the fire at Austin’s legendary Franklin’s. It’s worth a visit, particularly if you’re interested in Texas-style classics.
Pearl & Ash, 220 Bowery
Richard Kuo, one half of the now-defunct Frej pop-up, found his way over to the Bowery, where he’s putting out inventive small plates with big flavors from a tiny hallway of a kitchen. Gilt alum Patrick Capiello oversees the wine list, a well-edited collection that’s netted a following of the city’s most serious geeks.
Piora, 430 Hudson Street
This was a year defined by mash-ups, thanks in no small part to Christopher Cipollone and Simon Kim, who drew on their Italian and Korean heritages to create this restaurant inspired by both. That it works makes this a unique experience worth seeking.
Shalom Japan, 310 South 4th Street, Brooklyn
The premise for this restaurant reads like a bad joke (so a Jew and a Japanese person walk into a bar …), but the mash-up works where it counts, which is on the plate. We’re really into the udon, but the menu changes on the regular.
Somtum Der, 85 Avenue A
Another torch-bearer of Isaan cuisine, this Bangkok restaurant offshoot takes particular pride in its green papaya salad. You’ll want to gather a group and eat your way through the menu — the larb and spicy soups also warrant attention.
Sushi Nakazawa, 23 Commerce Street
Jiro apprentice Daisuke Nakazawa landed in New York with a well-groomed space and an omakase-only menu — and he became a quick sensation. Good luck getting a table; even before he netted a four-star review from the Times, seats were snapped up months in advance.
Toro, 85 Tenth Avenue
This play on Barcelona’s vibrant dining culture comes by way of Bostonians Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette. Best to let the small plates flow freely from a tome of over 60 dishes — and don’t miss dessert.
Uncle Boons, 7 Spring Street
Per Se vets Matt Danzer and Ann Redding gave us their take on Thai earlier this year, a vision that quickly amassed a legion of admirers. Heady curries come sparked with chile and bright with lime; pair them with a cold beer for the best effect.
More:Best Of 2013