Esquire names Leah and Louise among best new restaurants

Leah & Louise River Chips are chicken skins with granch: a ranch and green onion sauce. Leah & Louise was named one of the best in the country by Esquire magazine.

Leah & Louise River Chips are chicken skins with granch: a ranch and green onion sauce. Leah & Louise was named one of the best in the country by Esquire magazine.


“We wanted something reminiscent of home,” Subrina Collier told CharlotteFive in March about her new restaurant, Leah & Louise, that she was opening at Camp North End with her husband, Greg.

“We’ve been doing that since we got here (to Charlotte). We want to add to the melting pot,” she said at the time. The restaurant just north of uptown was to open in mid-March 2020 — but COVID-19 had other plans. It would turn out to be a year of twists and turns, of takeout and lower dine-in capacities, of putting health and safety first.

Eight months later, with all hurdles imaginable being flung at this restaurant team and every other restaurant team in our city and every city in the world, a win for the Colliers: Esquire named Leah & Louise one of the Best New Restaurants in America.

“Memphis-born chef Gregory Collier has a vision of Black southern cuisine that’s as innovative as it is fun. He takes inspiration from the soil (an okra dish called Mama Earth) and from the dollar store (the cream inside his oatmeal-cookie sandwich is suffused with Tang),” states the magazine’s review.

In February, Greg was named as a semifinalist in the Best Chef (Southeast) category by the James Beard Foundation for Subrina and his other restaurant, Uptown Yolk. He was previously nominated for his work at Loft & Cellar.

“We are so happy and humbled that a black-owned restaurant named after two black women, celebrating black foodways in the American South can get this type of notoriety,” Subrina told CharlotteFive on Tuesday morning. “This year has been an uphill battle for so many of us, this gives us optimism on days we might not have much. We don’t take it lightly.”

Leah & Louise is located at 301 Camp Road off of Statesville Road at Camp North End, a 76-acre site was that was once home to Ford, the U.S. Army and Eckerd drugs. The menu features deep Southern cuisine inspired by the Colliers’ hometown of Memphis.

Esquire magazine will be available at retail outlets by Dec. 1.

“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,” wrote Esquire Food & Drinks Editor Jeff Gordinier. He and Culture & Lifestyle Director Kevin Sintumuang “spent these months looking for the people and places that restored us,” Gordinier wrote.

Subrina and Greg Collier’s restaurant, Leah & Louise, was named one of the best in the country by Esquire magazine. Alex Cason CharlotteFive

Other restaurants named as Esquire’s best new restaurants in America, 2020

#1: KALAYA (Philadelphia, PA) – Esquire writes: “Presided over by grande dame Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon, whose knife work in the kitchen is matched only by the cutting speed of her quips in the dining room, Kalaya delivers Thai dishes with such depth of soul and flavor that you’ll dream about them for days.”

#2: LEAH & LOUISE (Charlotte, NC) – Esquire writes: “Don’t ignore Collier’s cabbage: Slow-roasted and sauteed with smoked sausage and flooded with rich pork-neck bisque, it is like a cruciferous amplification of biscuits and gravy.”

The interior of Leah & Louise is styled like a Memphis-style juke joint. Alex Cason CharlotteFive

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#3: MOKYO (New York, NY) Esquire writes: “Chef Kay Hyun delivers tapas that merge the vantage point of her native Korea with the flavors of Peru, the Middle East, and the Iberian Peninsula.”

#4: NIHAO (Baltimore, MD) Esquire writes: “A categorization-defying Chinese restaurant that pays loving, absurdly delicious tribute to the ways that Chinese cooking is interpreted around the world. That may sound like a lot to undertake but rules are for amateurs.”

#5: BELL’S (Los Alamos, CA) – Esquire writes: “Chef Daisy Ryan and her husband, Gregory, have created a bistro that feels welcoming and familiar, yet every bite of this farm-fresh food finds that leisurely thread between California and France.”

#6: INDO (St. Louis, MO) – Esquire writes: “Indo is not a sushi restaurant per se, yet electrifying bites of nigiri land in front of you during the course of a meal like random emoji lightning bolts of flavor. Much of chef Nick Bognar’s menu is rooted in the complexities of Thai cuisine that the chef grew up with.”

#7: ZHUG (Cleveland Heights, OH) – Esquire writes: “Skip lunch, gather friends, and clear space on the tabletop, because chef Douglas Katz’s vision of the food of the Middle East is the stuff that delirious feasts are made of.”

#8: PASJOLI (Santa Monica, CA) – Esquire writes: “Everything at chef Dave Beran’s ode to Old World French cooking is surprisingly light and joyful and makes you feel special, sans snootiness.”

#9: DA TOSCANO (New York, NY) – Esquire writes: “Every pour of wine from beverage director Madeline Maldonado and every dish from chef Michael Toscano’s kitchen feels like a gift. You don’t go to da Toscano just to eat; you go to be healed.”

#10: FOX AND PEARL (Kansas City, MO) – Esquire writes: “Fox and Pearl melds live-fire cooking, head-to-tail butchery, house-made charcuterie, superb hand-cut pastas, and natural wines in a handsome space that will make you rethink what midwestern cuisine can be.”

#11: PICCOLINA (Washington, DC) – Esquire writes: “This little sister to chef Amy Brandwein’s Centrolina hums with a laid-back spirit of spontaneity, specializing in the char of a wood-fired oven.”

#12: ALBI (AND YELLOW) (Washington, DC) – Esquire writes: “Albi and its adjoining all-day café, Yellow, use chef Michael Rafidi’s Palestinian roots as a starting point, but tedious adherence to tradition is not his thing. At Albi, order everything on the menu for dinner and then go back to Yellow the next morning for a breakfast pita with kefta.”

#13: LE CROCODILE (Brooklyn, NY) – Esquire writes: “It’s no surprise that the brasserie food from chefs Aidan O’Neal and Jake Leiber in the hip Wythe Hotel is a draw. The duo, dipping into a grab bag of influences, reboot old Gallic warhorses with West Coast sunshine and Quebecois funk.”

#14: PRUBECHU (San Francisco, CA) – Esquire writes: “Chef Shawn Naputi and general manager Shawn Camacho present the food of their native island of Guam with love and care—the food tells the story of the colonization of the Chamarro people by the Spanish, Japanese, and Americans over centuries. And the atmosphere, especially at the picnic tables in the parking lot, is festive and familial.”

#15: GOOSEFEATHER (Tarrytown, NY) – Esquire writes: “Goosefeather occupies several rooms of the white-columned King Mansion, high on a hill above the Hudson River. Chef Dale Talde’s menu takes its core inspiration from the cuisine of Hong Kong, but he shakes up the canon with all kinds of farm-to-tabley and pub-grubish twists.”

#16: BALKAN TREAT BOX (Webster Groves, MO) – Esquire writes: “Chef Loryn Nalic (whose husband, Edo, grew up in Bosnia) is doing some astonishing things with dough in the Show-Me-State—things that made us forget about pizza for a moment. At first we didn’t understand why there was a line down the block at 11AM. Then we took a bite.”

#17: FOUND OYSTER (Los Angeles, CA) – Esquire writes: “An East Coast seafood shack in East Hollywood? Count us in. But this is so much more. Pay attention to what’s coming out of chef Ari Kolender’s tiny kitchen: chicken-fried oysters, a lobster roll with bisque, and a scallop tostada with yuzu kosho and opal basil.”

#18: PALM CITY (San Francisco, CA) – Esquire writes: “Owners Monica Wong and Dennis Cantwell and chef Melissa McGrath planned to open a small-plate restaurant. But they made a pandemic pivot and now offer some of the most nuanced classic hoagies in the country. Will they stay on the menu? Perhaps.”

#19: PORTO (Chicago, IL) – Esquire writes: “Everything that requires heat is cooked with fire here. This place is an homage to the seafood of Portugal and Galicia, Spain. You’ll find a handful of familiar items on the menu but it’s the cheeky, more cerebral dishes where chef Marcos Campos excels.”

#20: FIELDTRIP (New York, NY) – Esquire writes: “We love the central thesis behind chef JJ Johnson’s Fieldtrip—let rice unite us!—and we love the rice bowls themselves, with their crave-inducing combos of sauces and toppings. We also love how thousands of those bowls were delivered to hospitals this year as Johnson fed medical workers trying to save people’s lives. Let rice unite us, indeed.”

#21: NAMI NORI (New York, NY) – Esquire writes: “The trio of Jihan Lee, Lisa Limb, and Taka Sakaeda, all graduates of the sushi temple known as Masa, have created a no-frills hangout where a row of five handrolls will set you back only $28. Fast casual has never felt so luxurious.”

#22: ADARRA (Richmond, VA) – Esquire writes: “Nominally, this is a Basque restaurant, with shimmering interpretations of mussels escabeche and gambas al ajillo from chef Randall Doetzer and a let’s-go-for-a-ride wine list from him and his wife, Lyne. But really it’s an alternate universe for anyone who wants to nibble jamon iberico and experiment with Louis-Antoine Luyt’s Chilean whites all night.”

#23: PIZZA, FRIED CHICKEN, ICE CREAM (Chicago, IL) – Esquire writes: “It’s a real neighborhood hang: The pizza comes from Eat Free Pizza, which started as a secret pop-up where Billy Federighi and his wife, Cecily Rodriguez, and their fr
iend Brad Shorten would bake pies in their apartment and serve them on their stoop. The Korean-style fried chicken is done by Kimski chef Won Kim. And local brand Pretty Cool Ice Cream provides dessert.”

CHEF OF THE YEAR: OMAR TATE (Philadelphia, PA) – Esquire writes: “Omar Tate, who’s now in the midst of crowdfunding for a community center in Philly, is a poet, an essayist, a historian—he’s 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.”

POP-UP OF THE YEAR: HONEYSUCKLE (Anywhere) – Esquire writes: “An ode to Blackness from Chef of the Year Omar Tate expressed through delicious, history-drenched dishes—from a glass of handmade Kool-Aid to a perfectly roasted and seasoned slab of sweet potato.”

PASTRY CHEF OF THE YEAR: PAOLA VELEZ OF COMPASS ROSE AND MAYDAN; BAKERS AGAINST RACISM/BAKE THE VOTE (Washington, DC) – Esquire writes: “Paola Velez is not just one of the most skilled young bakers and dessert creators in the country; she’s a leader when it comes to innovating new modes of activism, from registering voters to raising money for social justice.”

RESTAURANT REINVENTION OF THE YEAR: BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS (Pocantico Hills, NY) – Esquire writes: “Restaurants were forced to change—fast—as the pandemic hurt their business. Dan Barber and his Michelin-starred team innovated in part by using beauty to inspire us: museum-worthy boxes of berries and flowers, picnic boxes. In 2021, Barber is taking the realignments a step further, surrendering his role in the kitchen so that a diverse lineup of chefs from around the world can have access to the resources of Stone Barns and connect with a wider audience.”

RISING STAR OF THE YEAR: ARMANI JOHNSON OF ABC PONY (Washington, DC) – Esquire writes: “Armani Johnson excels at cooking after-school snacks for grown-ups: PB&J doughnuts, crispy fried lumpia stuffed with burrata and meatballs, a creamy crab dip with a biscuit baked right on top so that the crust and the dip manage to fuse. His cooking is, in all senses of the word, playful.”

FAST FOOD REDUX OF THE YEAR: THE FILET O’FISH SANDWICH AT THE JONES (New York, NY) – Esquire writes: “Chef Jack Harris serves up this deeply satisfying homemade interpretation of a certain seafood sandwich associated with the Golden Arches. Gimme the nostalgia with extra tartar sauce, please.”

BEVERAGE DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR: MADELINE MALDONADO OF DA TOSCANO (New York, NY) – Esquire writes: “Maldonado can describe a beverage in ways that make you crave it in that exact moment and deepen your experience of tasting it as you drink. She has a gift for using wine to open your mind.”

NEW DRINK OF THE YEAR: GHIA – Esquire writes: “It’s nonalcoholic and very much part of the ‘sober curious’ wave that has been changing beverage lists at restaurants around the country. Ghia is not some soda pop in disguise. It teases your palate with herbal bitterness—enough so that teetotalers can allow themselves to pretend they’re sipping an amaro.”

BEST NEW RESTAURANT ON AN ESTATE THAT OPENED IN 1765: TROUTBECK (Amenia, NY) – Esquire writes: “Chef Gabe McMackin, formerly of the Finch in Brooklyn, has taken over the kitchen and brought an impressively experienced crew along with him, and they’re winging it each night with I-wanna-eat-that dishes that celebrate the bounty of surrounding farms.”

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Melissa Oyler is the editor of CharlotteFive. When she’s not writing or editing, you’ll find her running, practicing hot yoga or snuggling with her rescue dog, X. Find her on Instagram or Twitter: @melissaoyler.

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