These are the Standout Restaurant Openings of the Year

Whether it was light bites in a geodesic dome, dinner in an architectural wonder submerged into the North Sea, or brunch in a Sinatra-era ocean club, the restaurant finalists for the Surface Travel Awards demonstrate an imagination that goes beyond the plate.

Image Courtesy The Surf Club Restaurant

The restaurant finalists for the 2019 Surface Travel Awards are as eclectic as they are inventive, representing a vast range of concepts, cuisines, and visual languages. From Seattle to Sydney, Mexico City to Madrid, these are the year’s standout openings.


Image Courtesy Burleigh Pavillion

Burleigh Pavilion, Gold Coast, Australia

If the sun-drenched views offered by this beach spot’s boisterous open-air space weren’t enough, Alexander & CO.’s ‘50s-style revamp is a sincere and soothing draw in and of itself.

Image Courtesy Imperial Hotel

Imperial Hotel, Sydney

Also by Alexander & CO., this almost-baroque tribute to the Erskineville neighborhood’s past—as well as the cabaret sensibilities of the LGBTQ-friendly hotel that once stood in its place—pulls off the neat trick of delving into camp and ornament and coming out looking fresh and approachable.

Image Courtesy ICHU

ICHU Restaurant & Bar, Hong Kong

An opulent, tiled statement amidst the moneyed glamour of Hong Kong, this Peruvian-styled boîte, realized by Joyce Wang Studio and fueled by chef Sang Jeong, offers transportive moments through richly textured materials and raw finishes that evoke Peru’s varied topography and dynamic ecosystem.

Image Courtesy The Bridge

The Bridge Restaurant, Chengdu, China

When housed in a storied landmark like the Anshun Bridge, even a slapped-together concept can garner foot traffic. This team, however, employed Neri & Hu Design and Research, masters of mood and setting, yielding a space that respects the structure’s bones, encasing them lantern-like in glass. The end result breathes new life into the interiors with contemporary touches fit for Michelin-grade chef Andre Chiang’s first restaurant in China.

Image Courtesy AÜAKT

AÜAKT, Madrid

A mix of rough, rescued surfaces and inviting appointments adhere to the Japanese principles of Wabi-Sabi: beauty in imperfection. Madrid in Love’s masterful design leaves wood, cement, leather, and the walls bare, contrasting with ceramic details, Feather lamps, and dyed skins. Taken in context, the thrust of AÜAKT’s organic culinary mission makes perfect sense—the project was inspired by an avocado.

Image Courtesy Under

Under, Lindesnes, Norway

In a case where the unadorned facts are the superlatives, Snøhetta’s design for this Scandi seafood-centric restaurant is an architectural marvel—a gorgeous, bi-level concrete shaft dipping halfway into the North Sea. Inside, tables front a massive window that grants diners views of the green waters and casts the entire space in an otherworldly light. Still, the project’s significance spans far beyond the building’s aesthetic qualities and dramatic location at Norway’s southern tip. Under is not only Europe’s first and the world’s largest underwater restaurant, but it is the first of its kind to promote an equal focus on architecture, gastronomy, and marine research, the latter thanks to a partnership with the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomic Research (NIBIO).


Image Courtesy Auburn

Auburn, Los Angeles

The lighter side of West Cost vibes made into a dining space, Auburn benefits from a spacious Scandinavian-meets-Japanese layout courtesy of Klein Agency and artfully plated seasonal dishes coming out of Chef Eric Bost’s open kitchen.

Image Courtesy Pacific Standard Time

Pacific Standard Time, Chicago

When Erling Wu-Bower and Joshua Tilden decided to transport Californian notions of mid-century residential living into their large River North venue, they did well to commission Parts and Labor Design, whose wooden beams, airy open kitchen, and sculptural hearth create a communal, convivial atmosphere in which to enjoy Wu-Bower’s home–style cooking.

Image Courtesy Shun

Shun and Bar Shun, New York City

Inside of a Norman Foster shell and upstairs from another 2018 favorite, Le Jardinier, is Joël Robuchon protege Alain Verzeroli’s seasonally minded French-Japanese dining room that makes impeccable use of Joseph Dirand’s lush, indulgent take on Bauhaus lines and Art Deco forms. It makes a strong impression for the designer’s first New York City restaurant.


Image Courtesy The Fulton

The Fulton, New York City

Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s first dedicated seafood restaurant appropriately sits up against the Hudson on Manhattan’s Pier 17, while Yabu Pushelberg’s nautically themed design of weathered greens, golds, and marble introduces a playful energy to JVG’s upmarket cuisine.

Image Courtesy Neiman Marcus

The Zodiac Room, New York City

Unusually and successfully well-considered for a retail restaurant (it’s located inside Neiman Marcus at the new Hudson Yards), AvroKO’s design scheme reinterprets classic inspirations of New Formalism. Patrons discover three distinct zones outfitted with brass screens in such unconventional shapes as fantastical fins, figure eights, and organic scallops, and a gussied-up American menu befitting of its home.

Image Courtesy Tied House

Tied House, Chicago

A modern intervention to the neighboring 115-year-old Schubas Tavern, a landmarked 1902 quasi-Queen Anne Revival building, combines rugged materiality—rich masonry patterning and ornamental copper detailing—with a sleek sheen. It’s a hyper-focused custom job atypical of mega-practice Gensler, creating a fascinating dialogue between history and the present.

Image Courtesy Willmott’s Ghost

Willmott’s Ghost, Seattle

Chef Renee Erickson’s inventive, uplifting Roman-style pizza al taglio and Italian aperitivo cocktails are served in a truly one-of-a-kind environment: The Spheres, Amazon’s campus of arresting geodesic domes by Heliotrope Architects.



Image Courtesy El Moro

El MORO, Mexico City

Cadena + Asociados Concept Design’s brilliant rebrand of the long-loved, long-lasting churrería has breathed new life into the 81-year-old chain. Like its sister outposts, El Moro’s Río Lerma location elevates traditional Mexican motifs with blue-mosaic wall tiles enveloping both the interior and exterior, and nods to franchise’s origins with signage in an art deco font. 

Image Courtesy Aubrie Pick

Aster Hall, Chicago

AvroKO has again made this list thanks to its lush approach to a multi-vendor food hall.  Inspired by a deconstructed arcade, elemental arches and monolithic forms give the interiors a sumptuous quality, while the show-stopping oculus window on the fifth floor floods the space with natural light. Truly, a game changer in the category.

Image Courtesy Child Studio

Humble Pizza, London

Child Studio has rendered something special in this small space: a minimalist portrait of an idealized Formica cafe from the 1950’s. Though this homage to the city’s greasy spoons is decidedly of the Instagram epoch, washed in candy pink with a menu devoted to plant-based pizza.

Image Courtesy Proper Hotels

La Bande, San Francisco

Daniel Buren meets Secession Era at this jewel box interpretation of a European café. Sitting at the acute corner of interior designer Kelly Wearstler’s Proper Hotel, hand-glazed emerald tiling intermixed with black-and-white stripes nod to Burn’s linework. To go: hand pies filled with house-made jams and grilled slabs of sourdough.

Image Courtesy Nudes

Cardboard, Mumbai

Nuru Karim’s Nudes studio confounds and delights with this, a idiosyncratic cafe astonishingly carved out of its namesake material, cardboard. Sculptural and sustainably executed, it’s a creative challenge to designers of casual eateries everywhere.


Image Courtesy Four Seasons

MARCUS at Four Seasons, Montreal

This northern outpost of Marcus Samuelsson’s ever-growing culinary empire is an elevated take on the classic brasserie in both cuisine and appearance. Atelier Zébulon Perron’s contemporary spin on the style is filled with moments, from the floating velvet bench in the lounge to the prismatic lighting cast by the crystal wall to the sun-drenched tables on the terrace overlooking the city.

Image Courtesy The Evelyn

Benno, New York City

Parts and Labor Design borrows from the jazz era at chef Jonathan Benno’s upscale Mediterranean restaurant, tucked inside the new Beaux Arts-influenced Evelyn Hotel. Art deco flourishes are present throughout, including a multi-part brass lighting fixture hanging from the central statement-piece skylight in the main dining room.


Image Courtesy Martin Brudnizki Design Studio

The Surf Club Restaurant, Surfside, FL

Martin Brudnizki, who knows a few things about camp, threads the needle between that artistic approach and a smart understanding of history at this Thomas Keller refresh of the classic luxury playground. Bold terrazzo flooring, lush planting, and Aurelian blue and warm coral hues hint at the bygone era, while British artist Gary Myatt’s hand-painted mural spanning the length of the restaurant depicts scenes that echo the local landscape and offer a distilled vision of the Surf Club’s 1930s heyday..

See the full list of Surface Travel Awards 2019 finalists.

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