The 8 Must-Know Food Empires Of Tomorrow

We’ve been to more places than we care to admit where waiting an hour or more to eat is de rigueur. We’ve watched enough Food Network to have instant association with orange crocs and linguini pasta. And, to be frank, we’ve chowed on way more compost cookies than we even want to think about. 

But, while there’s a brand-new, must-try food empire popping up every week, it’s time we highlighted the small selection of spots you may not have realized are burgeoning on big-freakin’-deal status. They’re not only working with incredible eats, unparalleled talents, and a business model that’s growing faster than your disdain for traffic on a holiday weekend — but a course for the future that’s impressive. In other words? You may be chowing in the presence of the Tom Colicchio, David Chang, or Eataly of tomorrow, and not even realize it yet. 

Ahead, check out the eight restaurant, chefs, and innovative foodies we think are changing the culinary landscape. And, you know, if you want to use this as a short list to where you absolutely need to cross off your “to-eat” list, there’s no harm in that either.

1

Name: Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone
Restaurants: Parm, Carbone, Torrisi, and the brand-new ZZ’s Clam Bar

Gunning to be the next…Tom Colicchio and Michael White (if they were somehow a duo)

Why they’re a big freakin’ deal: Known for pushing boundaries while staying true to Italian mainstays, Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone have injected their old-school POV into NYC’s food scene and given us a way to dine like it’s the black-and-white floor tiled, veal-parmesan-scarfing good ol’ days, no matter if we’re at Yankees Stadium or nabbing the hardest reservation in town.

Claim to fame: The duo have mastered giving New Yorkers Italian comfort food at a range of price points, meaning that everyone can get in on it, from meatball parm sammiches to multi-course tasting menus and everything in between. (And hey — that three-layer ice cream cake didn’t make the Instagram rounds for nothin’.)

And if that’s not enough: With Parm now delivering delicacies across town (oh boy) and ZZ emphasizing its kickback vibes by way of a new medium — ultra-fresh fish — it’s only a matter of time before these boys take over the country.

Photo: Courtesy of Torrisi

2

Name: Grant Achatz
Gunning to be the next…Thomas Keller

Why he’s a big freakin’ deal: We don’t throw the phrase game changer around lightly, but everything this French Laundry-trained chef does blows our mind time and time again. Inspiring, creative, and endlessly inventive, the Chicagoan’s meals are the type you remember for a lifetime. Chef Achatz was diagnosed with stage-four cancer of the mouth in 2007, and was miraculously able to save his tongue and taste buds with the assistance of University of Chicago medical experts.

Claim to fame: Alinea, his first endeavor with business partner Nick Kokonas, strives to “combine food with science and art” and has grown to become one of the best restaurants in the world. Aviary, his co-run cocktail bar, treats boozy beverages with the same careful mentality of a chef preparing a high-end meal. (Starting to get the genius vibes yet? Don’t even get us started on his speakeasy, The Office.)

And if that’s not enough: Next, his we-can’t-believe-this-exists ticketed tasting restaurant rotates a few times each year. Past themes have ranged from rebooting the now-shuttered “World’s Best Restaurant” elBulli — in which he flew in former chefs to assist in the kitcgen — to Childhood, a stunning hamburger and PB&J-inspired multi-course menu that even included one being served in an old-school lunchbox.

Photo: Benjamin Lozovsky

3

Name: Little Wisco
Restaurants: Perla, Jeffrey’s Grocery, Joseph Leonard, Fedora, Montmartre, Chez Sardine
Gunning to be the next… Jean-Georges Vongerichten 

Why it’s a big freakin’ deal: Run by Wisconsin-inclined restaurateur Gabe Stulman, the mini-conglomerate of restaurants popping up on Manhattan’s West Side over the past few years is not only known for being the city’s best, but for constantly changing the game. From establishing a newfangled take on Japanese Izakaya to rebooting a sleepy West Village bar, he plays by his own rules and constantly reaches for the stars.

Claim to fame: A certain type of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it perfection across all formats that carries from hip-hop photography mixed with antique touches, to throwback soundtracks packed with crusin’-through-the-suburbs-back-in-high-school favorites.

And if that’s not enough: Gabe’s got a certain Midas touch when it comes to knowing what his customers want. (Just try getting into Joseph Leonard on a Sunday at noon!) When he changed his mind about the direction of his latest spot, Montmartre, he rehauled the Asian-French restaurant’s menu just five weeks after opening in favor of one that’s proven to be a massive hit.

His words to the wise: “Surround yourself with people that are passionate and talented. Be open to changes in your vision but don’t completely lose your identity in learning what works and what doesn’t.”

Photo: Courtesy of Perla

4

Name: Roberta’s
Gunning to be the next…Eataly

Why it’s a big freakin’ deal: It’s got a world-famous restaurant that celebrities and Bushwick locals alike regularly tuck into picnic tables to dine at. Its endless fiesta, Tiki Disco, is impossible to ignore on Instagram feeds come Sunday. And, between a Michelin-starred tasting restaurant Blanca, a foodie radio station, a garden, and an impressive book on the way, Roberta’s has become an endlessly cool compound in the middle of what is now tastemaker central and continues to evolve and grow year after year.

Claim to fame: It’s expanded its offerings to everything from bread to braised goat, but first and foremost, it’s the pizza. One slice of Cheeses Christ (or other similarly hilarious slices, like the mozzarella and soppressata Axl Rosenberg), and you’ll know why people have been taking the L train to Morgan to eat here for years and years.

And if that’s not enough: This BK spot is so legendary that even Bill Clinton is a fan. Need we say more?

Words to the wise: “Follow the path as blindly as possible. Always do your best.” — Chris Parachini, Roberta’s founder 

Photo: Courtesy of Roberta’s

5

Name: Alex Stupak
Gunning to be the next…David Chang

Why he’s a big freakin’ deal: To use total Silicon Valley speak: Alex Stupak has disrupted everything he’s ever touched. The former pastry chef proved everybody wrong when he left molecular gastronomy wonderland WD-50 to open a taco joint (!), and has since transformed his duo of Empellon restaurants into the most mind-boggling Mexican hangs around.

Claim to fame: The culinary daredevil pulling a 180 on his career path, which is pretty much on par with Elle Woods becoming a lawyer. Or, if you’re like us, two words: pistachio guacamole.

And if that’s not enough: Endlessly inventive and willing to push the boundaries, Stupak recently divulged that he’s planning three new restaurants, as well as a cookbook. Long story short: This homie’s one to watch.

His words to the wise: “Ignore all your instincts. Fear creates nothing but hesitance. I would also share Goethe’s quote: ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.’”

Photo: Courtesy of Alex Stupak

6

Name: sweetgreen
Gunning to be the next…Chipotle

Why it’s a big freakin’ deal: With 18 locations throughout the East Coast (and one headed to New York’s NoMad Hotel shortly), the organic, farm-to-table salad shop offers up quick, on-point greens, sammiches, and sweets paired with a you-know-you-can-trust-it whole ingredient mentality. Other chop shops may emphasize their health factor or well-sourced bites, but this joint? Well, it’s pretty much the fresh, light, healthy, and tasty lunch spot of our dreams.

Claim to fame: When it says organic, it means it: Each location even has a “local list” of where their veggies, sweets, fruits, and cheeses came from.

And if that’s not enough: It also happens to be the brains behind Sweetlife, the totally legit music festival that kicked ass with a lineup featuring Phoenix, Passion Pit, and R29 fave Solange earlier this year. 

Words to the wise: “As young entrepreneurs, the most valuable lesson we’ve learned is the power of surrounding yourself with intelligent and complimentary people. Whether it’s your business partners, employees, investors or advisers, having partners that are aligned with your greater goals is priceless. We feel incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by such outstanding and caring people — we could not have achieved our success without them.” — Founders Jonathan, Nicolas, and Nathaniel

Photo: Josh Cogan/sweetgreen

7

Name: Miss Lily’s
Gunning to be the next…Brooklyn Bowl

Why it’s a big freakin’ deal: The Caribbean outpost is banking on the idea of being an all-in-one hangout spot, and frankly, is knocking the concept out of the park. With a sit-down restaurant, juice bar, café, variety shop, and an in-house radio station pumpin’ Jamaican jams, there’s a little something for everyone at every time of day.

Claim to fame: Insanely good spiced chicken — seriously — and authentic Jamaican eats done in a not-too-highbrow way. And, of course, nabbing the best juice man in the West Village, Melvin Major Jr., and giving him his own storefront.

And if that’s not enough: It has branched out into the jerk-sauce business, and Yeezy just had his birthday fiesta at its Houston Street spot. (And, ya know — we hear he’s friends with God.)

Words to the wise: “Find something that you love and are passionate about and fully commit to it.” — Paul Salmon, managing partner

Photo: Courtesy of Miss Lily’s

8

Name: Ryan Sutton
Gunning to be the next…Woodward & Bernstein of food.

Why he’s a big freakin’ deal: The Bloomberg News restaurant critic is in it for the people. In his spare time, the writer runs two highly specialized blogs called The Price Hike and The Bad Deal, deep-tracking menu changes, consumer pricing, and if restaurants are utilizing our culinary obsession to sneakily rip us off.

Claim to fame: While other critics stick to openings, closings, and all the tasty grub in between, Sutton took a step to the side to question the food scene beyond critiquing it. Highly nuanced and deliberately in depth, his set of sites are nothing short of investigative restaurant reporting.

And if that’s not enough: He’s covering deep issues — like the importance of paid sick days for cooks — that surprisingly aren’t being discussed elsewhere.

His words to the wise: “Follow the money. That phrase was as true during All The President’s Men as it is in food criticism and blogging. How food tastes is subjective; how much it costs is indisputable. Start with the question of money, the question of price, and your stories will be more compelling and relevant than by anyone who’s jonesing for an iPhone pic of the newest dish at the newest restaurant from the hippest chef.”

Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Sutton

Click HERE to read more from Refinery29.

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