There were plenty of high-profile openings this year, but many failed to deliver an experience worthy of their price points. Restaurateurs learned a lesson: trends have shifted. Younger diners value a gourmet meal, but they don’t want to pay for the overhead of an expensive finish-out. Ramen pushed pho out of the hot-liquid lunch spotlight. Fast food is now faster and healthier, and all things Asian are hot. It was a wild culinary ride this year. Here were my favorite stops.

by Nancy Nichols  ||  Photography by Kevin Marple

Presented By

Audi-logo

00 THAI || UPTOWN Og Phat Thai

CrushCraft Thai Street Eats

Settling into a booth in the back room of this fast casual restaurant is not unlike finding a spot to sit next to a street food vendor in Bangkok. The walls are covered with cardboard boxes printed with the distinctive squiggles and swirls of the Thai alphabet. The room is divided by a stainless steel rolling cart filled with huge bags of imported rice. Ropes with colorful streamers crisscross the ceiling and sway when the air moves. If they hung some laundry on the lines, you’d really feel transported. 

First you must conquer the ordering process: stand in line, order at the counter, grab a beer or a glass of wine, and wait for a place to sit. It’s worth every minute. All of the food I tried at CrushCraft tasted like the impromptu meals I picked up from street vendors on a trip across Thailand. The taste of fresh papaya shines through a salad laced with tamarind, Thai chiles, lime juice, and tomatoes. Jasmine rice mixed with ground pork, basil, and specks of chiles is topped with a sunny-side-up egg. If you must have pad Thai, this is the place to eat it, but brace yourself. This is the real deal: notes of tamarind in a dark, oily sauce steal the show.

CrushCraft illustrates the future of fine fast food. The utensils are biodegradable, ingredients are fresh, and the customer gets high-quality food for a low price. It fills a niche for those who have an appreciation of fine food but are less interested in formal dining. And who like to stay out late. CrushCraft is open until 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays, which gives the club crowd a place to fill up on something other than a No. 6 at Taco Cabana after the bars close.