Operators are continuing to churn out new and noteworthy concepts, with this list marking our second openings roundup of the month. Click through to see which spots we’re monitoring, including a new prototype from Panda Express, a counter-service steakhouse and the newest concept from Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
1. Panda + Tea
This new Panda Express prototype outside Los Angeles emphasizes Panda’s tea options, which are already available at select locations. Panda + Tea features a tea bar offering customizable milk and fruit teas along with lemonades and smoothies. Panda Express’s standard menu is available along with a few additional items, including an Orange Chicken Salad and an Orange Chicken Bing (wrap), according to Los Angeles magazine.
2. The Polenta Bar
Polenta gets the build-your-own treatment at this new fast casual in Chicago. Each meal starts with a base of housemade polenta—prepared in polenta machines imported from Italy—topped with seasonal vegetables and customers' choice of sauce or protein. Options include pomodoro, fonduta and salsiccia alla diavola (tomato sauce with spicy Milanese sausage cooked in white wine). Sparkling Italian beverages are on offer, and Italian wines will soon be added.
New York City-based MatchaBar has expanded to the West Coast with a unit in Los Angeles. The LA location serves MatchaBar’s signature matcha tea and coffee drinks as well as salads, grain bowls and breakfast dishes, according to Eater Los Angeles. Along with its two New York City locations, MatchaBar also operates a retail business, selling bottled teas at select retailers such as Whole Foods.
The expansion coincides with an increase in matcha mentions—which are up nearly 16% on restaurant menu, according to Technomic—thanks to its caffeine content and supposed health benefits.
4. Ikinari Steak
A standing-room steakhouse is the shtick at Ikinari Steak, a Japanese chain opening its first U.S. outpost in New York City on Thursday. The limited-service restaurant will feature 40 spots for standing and only 10 seats for sit-down diners. Customers choose their cut of steak at the counter, which a butcher cuts in front of them before serving it rare on a hot cast-iron platter, according to Eater New York. All steaks come with onions, corn and a garlic paste, and each standing station is outfitted with seasonings and sauces to flavor the steak.
Ikinari Steak is “wildly popular” in Japan, where standing restaurants are common thanks to people’s busy schedules, says Eater. Ikinari promotes a quality steak meal served in under 30 minutes or less. Its pricepoint may turn heads, too—at the new restaurant, a 14-ounce chuck-eye steak with salad, soup and rice at lunch costs $20.
Set to open in New York City any day now, the veggie-focused outpost of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, ABCv will serve a plant-based menu featuring organic ingredients. The menu at the full-service concept—which includes a counter for takeaway—will showcase dishes such as fried eggs with potatoes and vegetables, a kale and avocado sandwich and a hemp protein shake. Still, diners shouldn't expect such meat or dairy substitutes as veggie burgers or nut cheeses, according to The New York Times. “I don’t believe in doing things like that,” Vongerichten tells the Times. “Vegetables can stand on their own.”
Board game-focused concept Vigilante brings something new to the eatertainment sector. The Austin, Texas, restaurant and bar features more than 150 games and custom tables designed for gamers, with cup holders and trays connected to the outside of tables to offer more space for game-playing, according to Eater Austin. Tables also have electrical outlets, buttons featuring the words “accio server”—a Harry Potter reference—for patrons to summon their servers and “join me” signals to invite other customers to join their game. The menu is handheld-friendly so meals don’t interfere with game-playing, with options such as sliders, skewers and hand rolls, along with local craft beers.
This casual offshoot of three-unit Balkan concept Ambar will serve as an all-day Balkan cafe and cocktail bar when it opens this month near Washington, D.C. Situated below an Ambar location, the lounge-like space will feature free Wi-Fi and USB ports along with a menu of La Colombe coffee drinks, “fancy oatmeal,” grain bowls, panini and open-faced sandwiches, according to Washingtonian magazine. In the evening, tables will be topped with candles and a Balkan-style menu of cocktails and small plates will be available.
8. 9292 Korean BBQ
This sleek restaurant outside Atlanta is upping the game of do-it-yourself Korean barbecue. Stainless steel exhaust fans sit over tables featuring inset grills, and walls are lined with flat-screen TVs, according to Atlanta magazine. Additionally, each table features a call button—once hit, that table number will flash in red on a screen near the kitchen door, alerting staff of needed service.