The challenges of writing a “best new restaurants” list in 2020

Illustration for article titled The challenges of writing a “best new restaurants” list in 2020
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Composing best-of lists is a yearly ritual for almost everybody who works in media. It brings in ads, it brings in argumentative readers (the best readers for this sort of thing), and it’s an excuse to have a party. Even though there seems not to be much in 2020 that seems worth celebrating, particularly restaurants, which have been closed for half the year, Food & Wine has decided to go ahead with its annual Best New Restaurants list anyway. In a thoughtful Twitter thread, Khushbu Shah, the editor who assembled the list, explains why she decided to go ahead with the list and how she altered it to fit the realities of 2020.

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“I wanted to honor these 10 restaurants,” she writes. “A pandemic doesn’t cancel their hard work!! To have to pivot so hard, especially in your first year in business, is an unbelievable challenge. And they have done it with such grace.”

For each entry on the list, Shah talked to the chefs and owners to see how they adjusted their business models since lockdown began. Many have altered their menus and switched to takeout. One began sharing her recipes online so customers could make her food at home. One became a lobbyist for better financial protections for small businesses. One had to close up shop altogether.

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Shah also wanted to make her list more equitable. Opening a restaurant is an expensive proposition. Banks, as we should all realize by now, are more likely to give business loans to white people.

“The idea that a restaurant has to have four walls and a front door is bullshit,” Shah writes on Twitter. “It’s limiting. Not everyone can afford to open a brick-and-mortar spot. Not everyone wants to! All food trucks, stands, & pop-ups were fair game this year as long as it was regularly accessible. And let me tell you, i’ve never eaten more incredible and delicious things!! But I am not sure that this one change is enough as far as equity goes. Not everyone has the same access to resources and I am thinking of more ways I can level the playing field.”

This is a convention that definitely needed some shaking up. Whether such a list is necessary right at this moment is subject to debate (and since Shah posted to Twitter it has been), but here’s hoping that the people who make up these lists will start considering equity the way Shah did this year instead of listing the same places serving the same food in different cities and under different names. It’s about time.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

Hey Aimee - story on Morning Edition this morning said that while smaller and family style restaurants were picking up (probably/most likely helped by delivery and take out) the higher end places in wealthier areas are really suffering because those places were not seeing their clientele regularly anymore. And many didn’t pivot to take out. Flexibility is a good thing. 

Hopefully the mom and pops and smaller businesses will survive this.