It’s time to reflect upon the best new restaurants of the past year.
This round, let’s hold the drum roll and call out the maracas instead: All hail the Year of the Tortilla. They’re hand-made from organic Oaxacan corn and cooked to order at Colita, which gets my vote as best restaurant of 2018.
Colita is the love child of Chef Daniel del Prado, owner of Martina, and just as pretty. This round, the chef has created a veggie-centric modern Mexican menu starring creatively composed small plates that all scream, “Try me!” (Review to follow in an upcoming issue.)
More tortillas — and more fine dining, Mexican-style — at Popul Vuh. Sharing space with its informal sidekick, Centro, it sports a cheeky rehab of a once-dreary industrial site, which sends the message that a swell evening is in store.
A complimentary sip of Salty Sangrita, arriving as soon as you’re seated, confirms the good will. It’s followed — also gratis — by huitlacoche-infused butter for its bread basket and a scoop of elote — sweet corn kicked up a notch — even before you place your order.
Then on to a three-course prix-fixe menu that leaves you salivating for another visit. You want something quick and casual? Then step up to Centro’s short-order counter.
No tortillas on the menu at Hai Hai. Here it’s eggroll wrappers that set the gold standard in a similarly underused building anchoring a corner of Northeast. It’s been inventively rehabbed to resemble steamy Saigon — fluttering ceiling fans to the faux-zinc bar, from which emerge cocktails with little paper umbrellas and big flavor.
Snack on Christina Nguyen’s spring rolls, then the rice patty-based fern cakes or her twist on Thailand’s traditional green papaya salad. Then investigate the quirky East-meets-West combos she favors, like Balinese cauliflower dressed with kale, bean sprouts and coconut cream.
It’s also the Year of Shakshuka, if two new menus can be thought to lead a trend. It’s the standout dish at Meyvn, the LynLake Jewish deli with a Middle Eastern cast to its kitchen.
But the one that merits your full attention — and a taste of the rest of the intriguing menu — is found at Fhima’s Minneapolis. Just reentering the site of the former Forum Cafeteria, gorgeous as ever, is worth the price of admission. Discovering a menu that’s a hybrid of French and Moroccan is a bonus.
Start with a taste of that shakshouka (here, atop a baguette). Or spicy merguez sausage paired with tater tots. Sure, the menu highlights steak frites, but it’s fun to venture to the chef’s home territory and try a tagine — ours, a hearty lamb shank stewed with cinnamon and rose water.
The dessert that wins Fhima (and you) bragging rights is the tartlet dense with foie and butterscotch (just when you thought there was nothing new under the sun).
In a footnote, applause for this year’s menu changes at several favorites, including Bardo, Hasty Tasty, Masu, Cosmos, Esker Grove and Eastside. It’s been a mighty tasty year.