Hot New Restaurant Lists: My Gripes (and Hopes)

I love trying new restaurants. I always have.  I was just musing to a friend while sitting at a counter at José Andrés’ Mercado Little Spain how I never became a ‘regular’ anywhere because I preferred to try something new as opposed to eating off the same menu over and over be it in Tokyo, Chicago, the Bay Area, or Washington, D.C or here in New York City.

Eater’s “Hottest Restaurants” and GrubStreet’s “Restaurant Power Rankings” are the lists I check regularly when I want to find a new restaurant to try in NYC.  That said, I also read Florence Fabricant’s from The New York Times’ “Off the Menu” column and occasionally, I’ll broaden a new restaurant search to include Time Out, Thrillist, The Infatuation, and The New Yorker, etc.  Yes, there are the Yelps and Zagats but they focus less on the latest restaurant openings.

What kind of restaurant news person am I?  I admit that food and dining stories are something I read on a daily basis. I will also admit that I am probably an anomaly in how frequently I check these restaurant lists but I’d like to think that means my opinions are pretty well informed. I came to mainly look to these two lists because of Eater and New York Magazine’s commitment to the food category. I trust them because they consistently put out news and I am comfortable with their main reviewers, Ryan Sutton and Adam Platt.  

But now, my overall opinion after following these lists for years and more recently, on a weekly basis, is that they aren’t that aren’t all that helpful in informing of what restaurants are “hot” or “buzzy.”

Eater’s “Hottest Restaurants in Manhattan Right Now”is updated monthly. I am not clear what criteria are using in the ranking list. I get why some of the restaurants are on the list but I really can’t find a rhyme or reason as to ranking.  I appreciate that the list can get random but it seems that the top three should be clearer? Its sister list “Eater’s 38 Essential Restaurants in NYC” also bothers me.  Balthazar was at the top of this list for seemingly years, and when it finally moved, it pretty much precipitously fell off the list.  It did not seem to me that each of the establishments are continually visited, or if they are, the new data illustrating why the restaurants should keep their ranking isn’t clear.  And what criteria are used to make the list? It seems that diversity of cuisine and atmosphere count for something but then it doesn’t make sense that there is any ranking vs. it being an alphabetized list.

As for GrubStreet’s weekly “Restaurant Power Rankings,” they are upfront about the subjectivity of their list and say criteria is mainly buzz which can certainly embody a lot of variables. I started to look at this list a bit more because it is weekly, and seems to be more of a ‘new’ list. I liked that it sems to cull through the myriad of openings and pull out ones from hot chefs, etc.  But then, I started to notice that Adam Platt’s recently reviewed restaurants could sit on the list if he liked a dish or two for weeks. It started to seem that their own buzz and cross-promotion of sister articles affected their list.

In the same way that I made peace with Pete Well’s endless two-star reviews with seemingly random anointment of one- and two-star ratings, I totally get that these lists are subjective and can feel pretty stale, or indiscriminate and arbitrary at times.  

But I am a stickler for managing expectations so I am bummed that these lists are not consistently true to their names, and are not always helpful finding the restaurants that are new and worthy of checking out.  Do I smell an opportunity?

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