Branja is the first stateside restaurant from 2016 “MasterChef Israel” winner Tom Aviv, who also owns restaurants in Tel Aviv, Israel and Casablanca, Morocco. The 3,000-square-foot space opened mid-February in the Upper Buena Vista area. Inside, a 12-seat chefs table looks out over the open kitchen, and outside, the covered patio features terrazzo-top tables and reclaimed synagogue benches.
Chef Tom Aviv of Branja
The Branja menu features Israeli food with global influences, like the Falafish — a falafel and fish hybrid dish — and Fishwarma, a seafood take on shawarma. There are also Thai-flavored kebabs, beet-cured salmon carpaccio, and the fisherman bucatini with grouper cheeks. On Sundays, the restaurant operates during limited hours, and from noon to 6pm serves a $47 three-course menu with a selection of starters, mains and desserts.
Noko – Nashville
Noko opened March 3 in East Nashville. The project comes from owner Jon Murray, executive chef and partner Dung “Junior” Vo, and managing partner Wilson Brannock, who met while working for Indigo Road Hospitality in Charleston, SC. It’s an Asian-inspired wood-fired restaurant in a Japanese farmhouse setting that can host 130 guests between the dining room and outdoor space.
Assorted dishes at Noko
Chef Vo, who grew up in Vietnam, puts his spin on the menu by smoking, searing and roasting proteins and vegetables over the live-fire grill. Dishes include wagyu brisket, a half chicken with honey-sambal glaze, crab fried rice, and Szechuan green beans. Drinks range from beer and wine to sake and a cocktail list that merges classics with originals like the Ube Colada, which combines rum, coconut water, ube, lime, and pineapple in one cocktail.
Foreigner – Orlando
Chef Bruno Fonseca’s roving pop-up, Foreigner, has been one of the most coveted reservations in Orlando. In late February, the chef debuted the concept in a permanent space at Audubon Park, where he serves a “nouveau-American” prix fixe tasting menu that will change each month.
Chef Bruno Fonseca of Foreigner
Dinners focus on local, seasonal ingredients, and wine pairings are available to complement the food. The small space accommodates just 10 diners, and the reservations-only experience runs $160 per person.
Luminaire – Austin
San Antonio chef Steve McHugh (Cured, Landrace) headed up the road to Austin to open Luminaire in the Hyatt Centric Congress Avenue hotel on February 1. The all-day restaurant occupies the ground floor of the hotel, and with executive chef Greg Driver running the day-to-day operations, it serves seasonal Texas fare with heavy Spanish accents.
Delgada chops at Luminaire
The Luminaire menu features breakfast, lunch, and dinner boards piled with meats and cheeses. Other dishes include empanadas, toasties, charred vegetables, chicken a la plancha, and thin-cut Delgada chops available in a variety of meats, from lamb and beef to boar. Luminaire is joined by Las Bis, the 8th floor terrace bar and lounge that serves wines, cocktails and tinned seafood.
Jūn – Houston
Jūn opened Feb. 7 as the second collaboration from chefs Evelyn Garcia and Henry Lu, who run Kin HTX, a pop-up concept that also makes condiments. Located in Houston’s Heights neighborhood, Jūn serves “new Asian-American food” informed by the chefs’ backgrounds and heritages.
Oysters at Jūn
The Jūn menu isn’t shy about leaning into diverse flavors, as seen in dishes like oysters with fermented mango, pickled butter, and mignonette; lamb curry with pickled daikon and pistachio; and salmon with oolong tea, turnips, leeks, and pioppini mushrooms. Drinks are anchored by lower-proof ingredients like sake, sherry and vermouth.