Philadelphians figure prominently in Esquire’s list of the Best New Restaurants in America for 2020.

Germantown-born culinary activist Omar Tate not only was named chef of the year; his Honeysuckle pop-up series — which he says “explored the narrative of Black existence” — was named pop-up of the year.

Also, Kalaya, chef Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon’s Thai BYOB in South Philadelphia, topped the magazine’s list of new restaurants. (Kalaya and Suntaranon were Inquirer critic Craig LaBan’s best new restaurant and chef in 2019. Kalaya also was nominated for best new restaurant in the James Beard Awards earlier this year.)

Esquire’s Jeff Gordinier and Kevin Sintumuang acknowledged that the selection process was more challenging since they didn’t get on a plane, as in previous years. “If there’s a unifying theme, something that all of our picks have in common, it would be the stubborn survival of community in the face of what can only be called an existential threat,” Gordinier said in a statement.

“Kalaya delivers Thai dishes with such depth of soul and flavor that you’ll dream about them for days,” the editors wrote.

Chef Omar Tate stands in front of his West Philly home. The chef has brought his Honeysuckle pop-up dinners to Philadelphia.
Clay Williams
Chef Omar Tate stands in front of his West Philly home. The chef has brought his Honeysuckle pop-up dinners to Philadelphia.

They praised Tate, a poet, an essayist, and a historian, as “an artist at heart, who just happens to express himself through cooking. Itinerant and unsinkable, improvisatory and bold, Tate captured the radical shifts of 2020 with everything he undertook.” His latest undertaking is raising money for a community center.

The editors called Honeysuckle, which Tate launched from his previous home base of New York, an “ode to Blackness” expressed through “delicious, history-drenched dishes — from a glass of handmade Kool-Aid to a perfectly roasted and seasoned slab of sweet potato.”

There are a few other surprises on the lists, including drink of the year. Only in 2020, perhaps, could the year’s top drink — Ghia — be nonalcoholic.