18. Earl's Beer and Cheese
Neighborhood: Spanish Harlem, Manhattan
Address: 1259 Park Ave.
To be fair, this is more of a bar than a restaurant, and an absolutely tiny one way the hell uptown at that. But no one served better bar food this year than Corey Cova, who was tasked with creating his entire menu based entirely on cheese. The NY State Cheddar (braised pork belly, fried egg, house-made kimchi, and sharp cheddar) made the rest of the fancy grilled cheeses around town irrelevant. Other creations suggested the mind of a stoner but bore the mark of a trained hand (Cova previously worked at Momofuku Ssäm Bar). Indeed, no dish captured NYC's current obsession with high-low flavors more distinctly than the Earl's Eggo: an actual, out-of-the-package Eggo waffle drizzled with thickened maple syrup and stacked with aged Cabot cheddar, coffee-cured bacon, and slabs of grilled foie gras.—CS