A bevy of new fast casuals (and a couple of other noteworthy concepts) take center stage in this latest roundup of new restaurants to watch. Spanning fresh ventures from well-known chefs to an operation devoted to lettuce, here are some hot concepts to study as back-to-school season starts.
1. Fast-casual chicken from a celeb chef
Jonathan Waxman joins the leagues of well-known chefs venturing into fast-casual territory with J Bird, a small-footprint homage to his signature roast chicken. The concept is located next to his flagship San Francisco restaurant Waxman’s (temporarily closed for a remodel) and features whole chicken, half chicken and fried chicken thighs, as well as sides like macaroni and cheese.
2. 'Restaurant: Impossible' star’s revamped casino spot
Will Robert Irvine’s Public House be a “restaurant possible,” or will it shutter like his earlier ventures? His new concept at the Tropicana Las Vegas is a 9,000-square-foot pub-like restaurant with 275 seats, wrap-around bar, open kitchen, private dining room and view of the Strip. The spot also includes nearly three dozen beers on tap.
3. Velvet Taco group teams up for mashup
Hot Joy, which opened in San Antonio in 2014, is described by its owner as “a wild mashup of China, Texas, Vietnam, Japan, Louisiana, Thailand, Mexico, Malaysia and anything else that lights up our brain.” The full-service concept recently rolled out in Dallas, thanks to a partnership with Front Burner Restaurants, the group behind Velvet Taco, Sixty Vines, Whiskey Cake and more. Somewhat unusually, the Dallas Hot Joy is slated to be a pop-up in its current space for two years before moving to a permanent location. The menu leans heavily on Asian cuisine, with dishes like shrimp dumplings, Spam fried rice and twice-fried chicken wings with crab fat caramel.
4. Scissor-cut pizza in deep-dish country
Bonci Pizzarium is slated to open its first U.S. location later this month in Chicago. The pizza, known as “al taglio-style,” is cut with scissors into custom-sized slices priced by size. The fast casual also differentiates itself by offering up to 20 pizza varieties each day. The original Bonci opened in Rome in 2003.
5. Lettuce gets the star treatment
Catering to the low-carb crowd comes Local Leaf, a just-opened New York City fast casual that features items like Swiss chard wraps, Bibb lettuce cups, breakfast bowls and a “hydration bar” with kombucha, smoothies and teas. Local Leaf adds to the recent rash of new concepts focused on a singular ingredient, such as New York City’s Avocaderia and Chicago’s XO Marshmallow.
6. A toast to Singaporean street fare
Denver food hall Avanti Food & Beverage recently added Kaya Kitchen, a fast casual that highlights Asian street food. Kaya, a type of savory-sweet toast offered in Singapore’s street stalls and cafes, is served at this new concept with poached eggs, soy sauce and coconut jam on warm bread. The restaurant is the work of chef Lon Symensma’s ChoLon Restaurant Concepts, which operates four other Denver restaurants.
7. A bevy of bao
Steamed buns are the stars at Bao’d Up, a new fast casual in Austin, Texas, from the operators of the city’s two-unit Xian Sushi and Noodle. Bao’d Up features the buns in four different preparations: filled; unfilled; as a sandwich wrapper; and sliced, fried and drizzled with condensed milk (for dessert). The restaurant also serves bubble teas and Szechuan fries (potato chips covered in spicy mayonnaise).