The most exciting food across the country today combines elements from all sorts of cuisines. The problem: what to call it, and why a name matters. “New American” has become a de facto term, but what does it mean now? Welcome to The New American Problem, a mini-series exploring how we talk about contemporary American food.
Even if you’ve never really thought about what a New American restaurant is, you probably recognize some of their trusty markers. There’s a twist on classic deviled eggs (not that they needed improving). Perhaps there’s housemade aioli. And housemade ketchup. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what cuisine(s) the menu is pulling from, but a line on the restaurant’s website says that it’s “globally inspired.” Sometimes that global inspiration is clearly and deliciously executed, and sometimes it means eating a lot of randomly placed yuzu. As a whole, New American is a hard term to define—and it’s become as known for tired culinary tropes as it is for the genuinely daring and exciting restaurants that claim the title. We might be grappling with what exactly New American cooking means in 2023, but there are some unarguable clues that might just mean you’re already midway through a New American meal. Check the boxes. Who knows, you could get a bingo. —Elazar Sontag, restaurant editor