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Top 10 Restaurant Openings of 2011

Food and wine editor Ann Limpert shares her favorite eateries to debut over the past year.

Roiling hot pots at Mala Tang. Photograph by Scott Suchman

10) Fishnet
If 2010 was the year of the lobster roll, Ferhat Yalcin—a former manager at Corduroy—is making a good case for 2012 being the year of the Turkish-style grilled fish sandwich.

9) Mala Tang
Probably because I’m writing this the day after our holiday party, I’ve got hangover cures on my mind. And a roiling Szechuan-style hot pot in this quiet dining room seems like the perfect antidote. Killer dan dan noodles and dumplings don’t hurt either.

8) Jack Rose
The kitchen at this Adams Morgan saloon is still finding its footing (and we have faith in former Ray’s the Classics chef Michael Hartzer) but in the meantime, there’s a killer roof deck, extra-strong cocktails, and Harvey Fry’s jaw-dropping collection of 1,400 spirits.

7) Toki Underground
Momofuku chef/owner David Chang may not be coming back to his hometown anytime soon, but this tiny ramen house, as obsessed with pork as it is with Krylon paint, makes it a whole lot easier to wait him out.

6) Seasonal Pantry
Dan O’Brien takes the Talula’s Table approach to dining at his Shaw market, which three nights a week turns into a restaurant with a single communal table for ten and a set four-course menu. His foie-gras-stuffed riff on a Fig Newton, blazing-hot squid salad, and darkly rich onion soup are the stuff daydreams are made of.

5) Shake Shack
Ray’s Hell Burger’s marrow-laden behemoths have their place. So do BGR’s messy-good cheeseburgers. But I adore these thin, greasy diner-style patties, squares of American cheese and all. And I’m not alone: Any time the words “Shake Shack” are uttered in our office, a hungry pack forms by the door.

4) Graffiato
Top Chef is what put Mike Isabella on the national culinary map, and his refined/robust cooking—fabulous pork ribs with coriander yogurt, a pizza piled with fried calamari and spicy aioli, and, yeah, that chicken with pepperoni sauce—proves he deserves to stay there.

3) Little Serow
Komi chef/owner Johnny Monis sprang this tiny Thai room—his second restaurant—on us so quickly and quietly that on its second night open, only a few tables were filled. Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for word to get out about Monis’s faithful interpretation of Northern and Northeastern Thai cooking. Now, waits for lemongrass-y sausage and hammered beef run long.

2) Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
I love this place, and not just because it’s a few blocks from home. I love the fried chicken and the angels on horseback and the punch of the day and the bar that spills onto the street. Upstairs at Black Jack, I’ll endure a noise level that makes me feel a hundred years old for the BLT, stacked a few inches high with ultra-thin, crisp strips of bacon.

1) Fiola
Strike this address off the list of cursed restaurant locations. There’s no better place to carbo-load—or to get a Negroni—than chef/Liev Schreiber clone Fabio Trabocchi’s buzzy Italian spot.

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