Hillary Dixler Canavan | Eater | December 28, 2017
As the unhinged, oft-lamented year 2017 careens toward its merciful end, Eater takes a look back at what actually happened in North America’s dining capitals.
Despite what commenters on Facebook would prefer, politics definitely didn’t stay out of food this year; whether it was changes in tipping or immigration laws, the restaurant industry stepped to the plate, supporting causes like a Day Without a Woman and a Day Without Immigrants. Meanwhile, the post-Ailes, post-Weinstein moment in America quickly found its way to the restaurant industry, where titans of the field like John Besh and Mario Batali stepped down amid sexual misconduct allegations, the sexism at play in the industry laid bare (we all knew it was there, didn’t we?). But this feels different. The restaurant world isn’t alone in the reckoning. Even the staid James Beard Foundation is considering policy changes for its awards going forward.
It was a tough year in many cities for external reasons: Houston was slammed by Hurricane Harvey; wildfires raged in wine country and Southern California; Mexico City experienced a devastating earthquake. Chef José Andrés ascended to icon status for his tremendous work feeding the victims of disasters in Houston, California, and Puerto Rico, and for rallying other chefs to join him. (His increasingly direct challenges to President Donald Trump — wtf, 2017 — were also a bright spot this year.)
And then there’s the money-and-fancy-chains issue. Several editors report (like last year) that restaurants in their home cities are struggling with skyrocketing rents and competition from the deeply financed chains that can afford them. For many cities, new openings trended toward extremely casual places (including many of the all-day variety) or high-end showstoppers. For every Vespertine, an equal and opposite Kismet; for every the Grill, an Atla. That’s not all bad, but it does leave room to worry about how the mid-market restaurant will break through again in 2018. Here’s hoping.
On a happier note! Look at how cool these Young Guns are, whether it’s the pastry chef making desserts that sing at Honolulu’s most acclaimed restaurant or the tea master bringing an original outlook to Detroit. And Eater’s best new restaurants of the year ran the gamut from a St. Louis double-duty restaurant to a pasta church in Los Angeles. National critic Bill Addison dubbed a Southern restaurant all the way in Seattle the single best new restaurant in the country. That’s an undeniably fun development.