The restaurant industry is constantly changing. And the innovations have come at a breakneck pace the past few years. Restaurant owners are experimenting with new business models, new technologies, and new ways to create a company culture built to last. OpenTable highlighted the most cutting-edge restaurants in 17 US cities to help local diners discover great new places to dine where they live. Here, we round up the 10 most inspiring innovations from all across the country for restaurant owners to explore.
Let robots pitch in.
EMei Restaurant (Philadelphia)
Steered by chef Yongcheng Zhao, EMei has served some of the Philadelphia area’s best Sichuan food since 2011. The lively, group-friendly spot, filled with large round tables and rotating trays, is ideal for gathering over plates of Chongqing spicy chicken and pork intestine. But it’s a unique approach to the restaurant industry labor shortage that distinguishes EMei from the crowd. In September 2022, the restaurant welcomed Bella, a service robot manufactured by the China-based company Pudu. Equipped with four heat induction trays and 3D sensors, Bella saves servers trips to the kitchen and can shuttle takeout orders from the kitchen to EMei’s reception desk without human intervention. Bella can display dozens of facial expressions, making it a selfie magnet with its own TikTok account. —Aarti Virani
Follow your small obsessions to big success.
The Anchovy Bar (San Francisco)
This acclaimed seafood restaurant from the State Bird Provisions team is just around the corner from its MICHELIN-starred sibling. Leading the nation’s tinned fish trend, The Anchovy Bar is dedicated to chef Stuart Brioza’s obsession with local anchovies. It’s a labor of love to cure them in-house: when they’re less than two hours out of the water, the team beheads, guts, and scales every last fish by hand. They’re brined for 48 hours and rest in oil for 7 to 10 days before diners taste the revelations that are freshly cured boquerones on toast. The anchovies here are a far cry from the salty, fishy toppings found on cheap pizza. The Anchovy Bar has led a sea change, deepening San Francisco’s appreciation for this undersung, local ingredient. —Becky Duffett
Uplevel your non-alcoholic cocktails.
Peacock Room at the Hotel Fontenot (New Orleans)
Skipping the booze is no reason to stay away from the Peacock Room, a sexy blue bar and lounge at the Kimpton Hotel Fontenot. Here, smart bartenders know that their creative muscles don’t entirely depend on spirits. Peacock’s stunning zero-proof cocktails showcase the team’s ingenuity and presentation skills. You won’t find a mocktail as unique or beautiful as the “fuzzy drama” (peach, chamomile, lemon, celery, fennel, and non-alcoholic beer) or the coconut water-forward “mocktale as old as time.” It’s a thoughtful lineup confirming that low- and no-alcohol drinks are here to play. Peacock Room delivers a vibrant vibe by day and a sexy, moody atmosphere come sundown, ideal for an afternoon aperitif, social dinner, or a nightcap—spiked or not. —Beth D’Addono
Raise the bar for taking care of the team.
L’Oca D’Oro (Austin)
This extraordinary Italian trattoria whips up everything from scratch, including its pastas, breads, cheeses, vinegars, and even herbal liqueurs. It also stands out for chef Fiore Tedesco’s regional pasta club, a subscription-only service that offers a monthly bundle of fresh noodles complete with sauces, a fresh cheese or antipasti set, at least two signature pantry items, fresh salumi, signature condiments, and more. But the “golden goose” (what the restaurant’s name means in Italian) is a true trendsetter for championing fair wages and ethical employee treatment. It pays its staff a living wage, eliminating the need for tips; it also offers paid sick leave, rare for the industry. When the historic Texas winter storm struck in 2021, Tedesco and co-owner, Adam Orman, put their kitchen to work, feeding thousands. L’Oca D’Oro’s commitment to the local community, be it area farmers, diners, or food banks, is nothing short of admirable. —Claudia Alarcón
Ditch the plastic.
Oyster Oyster (Washington DC)
Sustainability lies at the core of everything award-winning chef Rob Rubba does at Oyster Oyster, one of D.C.’s most eco-conscious restaurants. That means a kitchen without plastic wrap or sous vide bags. To keep things as hyperlocal and mid-Atlantic as possible, Rubba refrains from using olive oil and citrus in his avant-garde tasting menus. Plant-forward dishes that change with the farming season include confit garlic (served with beet bread in the fall) and allspice carrot cake garnished with a pecan mousse-enclosed carrot shell. Opt for the drinks pairing—the curated list, by beverage director Sarah Horvitz (who comes from other D.C. favorites such as Doi Moi and Maxwell Park) features responsibly sourced natural wines, ciders, and beers. —Christabel Lobo
Think outside the box when looking for new talent.
Café Momentum (Dallas)
Café Momentum, a boundary-breaking New American restaurant, is both a dining room and a classroom. The farm-to-table spot stands out for its 12-month paid internship program that equips formerly incarcerated teens with job skills, education, and various avenues of support.
Apart from its noble social mission, Café Momentum is known for its locally sourced dishes. Though the menu is seasonal and changes frequently, the famous smoked fried chicken remains a consistent favorite. —Diana Spechler
Let guests help set the menu.
The Consulate (Atlanta)
The Consulate, a mid-century modern lair with a serious art collection, places all the power in the customer’s hands: Every three months, a lucky diner spins the restaurant’s globe to pick the country that will inspire the Visa section of the global menu. Chef and owner Mei Lin then dives deep into that nation’s cuisine and fashions a cocktail menu to complement it. The Consulate, an OpenTable Diner’s Choice Award recipient, most recently showcased plates from Cambodia, including street-cart style corn cobs, slow-cooked Khmer barbecue ribs, and Mekong mussels, flavored with lemongrass and kaffir lime. To add to the wow factor, Lin tackles the globetrotting menu without any formal culinary training (though the native New Yorker was raised in a family of restaurant owners). Up next on The Consulate’s itinerary: Korea. —Su-Jit Lin
Rasai Progressive Indian Kitchen (Seattle)
Executive chef Gaurav Raj takes traditional South Asian flavors and gives them a contemporary twist at this progressive Indian spot. Raj’s hybrid approach uses advanced gastronomy techniques honed during his time at celebrated San Francisco restaurants August (1) Five and Rooh, plus home-cooking skills he learned while stirring up treasured family recipes. The delicious results include culinary mashups such as paneer cactus rolls and jackfruit bao. Raj’s pantry is truly global, incorporating everything from togarashi (Japanese chile pepper) to ricotta into Indian cuisine. —Alana Al-Hatlani
Consider subtraction when it comes to kitchen appliances.
Savida (Santa Monica)
At this newly opened Santa Monica raw bar, chef Dan Smulovitz uses just three to four ingredients per dish—and no oven—to create the raw seafood dishes he became known for at his restaurant in Israel. Simplicity guides Smulovitz, who intentionally cooks without kitchen appliances or an extensive ingredient list so that he can focus on what he loves most: the fresh flavors of seafood. It’s practically unheard of for a restaurant to operate without a stove or oven (or any heating element), but it’s central to Smulovitz’s philosophy of keeping his food fresh. Cured bonito with a tangy creme fraiche topping and a fragrant lobster roll flavored with lemongrass, coconut milk, vanilla, and celery are a couple options Smulovitiz serves in the tiny, 80-square foot space. It’s already joined the ranks of the most popular raw seafood destinations in the city. —Kristin Braswell
Consider becoming a B Corp.
Neon Tiger (Charleston)
When an experienced restaurateur becomes an animal rights activist, the result is a dining room that serves avant-garde vegan fare. Neon Tiger owner John Adamson teamed up with activist chef Doug McNish to develop a vegan menu that works magic. One of the most dazzling items on the menu is a riff on calamari using king trumpet mushrooms (it’s also gluten-free). Other standout dishes include a whole-roasted blackened cauliflower platter and a variety of pizzas topped with pea protein products. Since its opening in 2020, Neon Tiger has won over vegan and non-vegan Charlestonians, proving that it’s possible to eat well without animal products. For Adamson, Neon Tiger is just the beginning of a larger plan that involves franchising the concept. His ultimate goal is to establish it as a B Corp (a business that meets high social and environmental standards) so it can support nonprofit organizations that raise awareness about the effects of animal agriculture on the planet. —Stephanie Barna