This happens every year: At some point in my travels to find the country’s Best New Restaurants, my anxiety about not being able to find enough to fill my list segues seamlessly into worse anxiety that I won’t be able to include everything worthy—the way the bitter cold of winter often leaps seamlessly into the inferno of summer without any break for spring at all. (I may have had an un-anxious moment in Indianapolis this year, but I can’t be sure.) When that switch happens, I self-soothe by reminding myself that I will also have this list to compile: my yearly cheat.
It is not always the case, but I would have happily had any of the restaurants listed below on my main list of Best New Restaurants. In some ways, this is the more visceral recommendation. Math is not my strong suit, but I’d calculate that if I visited 111 new restaurants during this year’s search, that translates to tasting 500 million dishes, give or take. For a dish to stand out through all of those crowding my mind by the end—to actually bubble up and make me hungry when I’ve been 100 percent sure I’ll never be hungry again—it has to be pretty special. All of these are.