Alabama restaurant named one of America’s best by Esquire

Helen, a contemporary Southern grill in Birmingham, was named one of the best new restaurants in America by Esquire.

The magazine’s list, published Thursday, highlights 40 restaurants across the country that epitomize “the transportive power of food” and “the soul-stirring nature of hospitality.”

Helen, a downtown eatery led by a husband-and-wife team, Rob and Emily McDaniel, is the only Alabama restaurant chosen by Esquire’s food writers. Helen opened in August 2020 at 2013 Second Ave. North, in the historic Berry Project buildings.

“Helen was a real woman who wore pearls and had a grill inside her house,” Joshua David Stein writes in his description for Esquire. “Her facility with coals lives on in her grandson Rob McDaniel’s restaurant: Witness the twenty-two-ounce, dry-aged Kansas City strip, drizzled with beef-and-herb-infused duck fat, and the fennely porchetta with a crackling skin. The chef describes the place as not a steakhouse. ‘But,’ he says, ‘ want them to know we’re here.’ They will. If not for the meat, then for the sides, like corn ribs, eighths of a cob served elote-style, that curl up like a rib, or a smile, when eaten under the benevolent gaze of the portrait of Helen hanging from the wall.”

More on Helen restaurant:

Helen is in good company on the list, which also features Irwin’s in Philadelphia, The Anchovy Bar in San Francisco, La Natural in Miami, Miss River in New Orleans, Pearl River Deli in Los Angeles, Kasama in Chicago and Imperfecto in Washington, D.C. Several restaurants in New York City received kudos: Cadence, Rosella, Iris, Contento and more.

“As we ate around America, we were drawn to food made with raw, elemental fire and charcoal — it’s never gone out of style, after all these millennia,” the Esquire story says. “Perhaps most significant: We found ourselves digging into comfort, sure, but we also leaned into the unfamiliar. Into adventure. Eating at the very best restaurants is like winning a ticket to another place, another time. To the past and the future — and sometimes both at once.”

The team at Helen celebrated its spot on the list via social media. “We are truly honored to be included on Esquire’s Best New Restaurants in America List for 2021,” an Instagram post said. “We could not have achieved this recognition without our incredible team and the dedication they have shown to this restaurant over the past year. Our hearts are filled with gratitude, and we look forward to continuing the legacy of Helen for many years to come. Cheers!”

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