Synergy’s Best of 2019: Restaurant Discovery

Dec 31, 2019

As we wave goodbye to the ‘10s, foodservice news is chock full of food and restaurant trend predictions for the coming decade. For our last newsletter of the year, we wanted to highlight some of the great dishes and concepts that inspired us during our Discovery tours across the country. Some of these locations just might surprise you:


You might think of this Florida city as the home for Disney and Universal Studios, but “The City Beautiful” is also home to a number of distinctive dining and bar hot spots. At the top of our list is BarTaco, a rustic and beachy destination for amazing handhelds and a margarita brimming with fresh-squeezed lime juice. A small menu on both the food and beverage side makes it easy for the kitchen to pump out freshly prepared tacos, rice bowls, and sides. Guests order using a dim-sum-like menu and everything hits the table as soon as it’s ready.

Tacos from BarTaco

On the bar side, Mather’s Social Gathering delivers quality cocktails and an over-the-top experience. A quick trip up the nondescript Mather Building elevator drops you off in a reimagined 1800s-style speakeasy with soaring ceilings and an impressive collection of antiques. Mixologists behind the onyx bar share and stir a collection of classic libations with twists from today. Notable drinks include The Phoenix with a hit of fresh jalapeño that will keep your lips buzzing, and The Grand Frozé with a float of Grand Marnier. Order your favorite spirit with a square ice cube that’s as clear as the summer sky.

Grand Froze from Mather’s
Clear Ice Cube from Mather’s

Orange County, CA

We thought we’d seen it all in the California county that serves as our home base, but there’s always something new happening in the OC. One of our new favorites is CDM Restaurant and Bar, an elegant establishment in Corona Del Mar that’s thankfully close to our offices. CDM combines the upscale comfort of a plush living room with an industrial central bar and edgy speakeasy downstairs, along with a focused men that celebrates seasonal ingredients. A menu standout is the BBQ Heirloom Carrots with pecan butter and an herb dressing, both unexpected and incredibly savory. We sampled this dish in July and can’t stop thinking about it.

Carrots from CDM

We can’t mention Orange County without mentioning one of most respected restaurant companies, the Hillstone Group. No, their locations aren’t new on the scene but any of their Orange County locations serves as a mini-bootcamp on how to operate a great establishment. From the closely curated menu to ingredient prep to order to their teamwork approach to customer service, Hillstone is the platinum standard for food quality and guest experience. Check out our in-depth article on Hillstone in last month’s newsletter.

Chicken Sandwich


The capital city of Texas has long been known as a center for culinary creativity. Our Discovery tour there this fall revealed a commitment to modern food trends alongside traditional food standards. Odd Duck lets their trend flag fly with their playful combinations of down-home, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Indian flavors. A few standouts we sampled included the Green Chile Crab Pimento with everything-bagel-seeded crackers, and the Chicken Fried Fish

Crab Pimento from Odd Duck

Heads coated in a fish bone caramel sauce. Odd Duck cuts loose with their take on mashups, much to the diner’s benefit.

Fish Head from Odd Duck

Riding the traditional train is Terry Black’s Barbecue, one our favorite spots on our Austin tour. You can’t swing a stick in Austin without hitting yet another barbecue joint, but Terry Black’s stands at the top of the wood heap. They focus on the classics – brisket, beef ribs, chopped beef, and sausage – and put their energy into crafting some of the best smoked meats in town. A few sides and sandwiches round out their offering. You won’t find trendy food here, just amazing ‘cue.

Terry’s Black BBQ Pit


Florida’s sultry city to the south lays claim to tons of nightlife and beautiful beaches, but the city’s downtown core is becoming known for its vibrant food scene. Our Discovery tour in Miami revealed some of our favorite dishes of the year.

You wouldn’t expect a restaurant with a Russian name to offer some of the best sushi in town, but Novikov more than delivers. This glamourous hotspot features new style sashimi and premium sushi along with maki, rice and noodles, and wok-fired dishes. One of our many favorites included a grilled king crab leg with a creamy truffle sauce, where the meat was removed from the shell, cut into bite-size pieces, and arranged back in the shell for easy eating.

Crab Leg from Novikov

Another wonder was braised pork belly pressed for 48 hours, cut into cubes, and kissed on the plancha with a sweet soy sauce.

We also marveled at Zuma Miami, a monolithic space in which a cluster of cooks prepare sophisticated twists on Japanese izakaya cuisine. We enjoyed watching the bartenders craft a few whimsical drinks like the Zombie Cocktail, a tequila concoction served in a Day of the Dead mug adored with a tiny straw hat and mint sprig.

Zombie Cocktail from Zuma

In looking back at the restaurants that caught our eye, a few patterns emerge. One, a focused menu of top-notch dishes and drinks. Two, a commitment to quality and culinary craft. Three, a fully realized concept that provides a memorable dining experience. Solid and timeless lessons for all restaurants to heed instead of chasing the latest food fads.

We are looking forward to our Discovery tours in the new year and to unveiling a new set of favorites. Let the Roaring ‘20s begin!