Whether whole beasts or marshmallows, cooking over an open fire has brought people together for millennia. So it’s no surprise restaurants are embracing the elemental nature and smoky complexity it brings to everything from salads to desserts.
Wood-fired ovens are common in a well-outfitted restaurant kitchen, but more restaurants are putting them at the center of the action. The Francis Mallmann episode of the Netflix series Chef’s Table got audiences excited about the Argentinean chef’s theatrical open-fire cooking at his restaurants, like the new Los Fuegos By Francis Mallmann in Miami Beach.
At Chicago’s El Che Bar, Chef John Manion also looks to Argentina’s urban parrilladas and rural asados for inspiration. Over 90 percent of the menu comes off the open fire. Joining him in Chicago is Leña Brava, Rick Bayless’s ode to the barbacoas of Baja California Norte, Mexico (paired with wines from the region as well). Live fire licks the ingredients in salsas and sides that accompany fire-roasted halibut and a two-pound tomahawk beef rib chop.
Brooklyn’s Mettā, whose chef, Norberto Piattoni, worked for Mallmann, is oriented around a wood fire that delivers seasonal California-meets-New Nordic dishes like charred beets with rye berries, and roasted fish with turnips and nettles. At Oakland’s Camino, lamb legs hang above fire that simultaneously grills the loin and slow-roasts the shoulder (and don’t miss the grilled fig-leaf ice cream).
Ford Fry’s Atlanta restaurant King & Duke has a 24-foot hearth for its Southern dishes with Spanish touches—the veggie sides are a highlight. LA’s Gwen uses live fire to gently roast some of the world’s finest meats (if you haven’t tried Australian Blackmore wagyu beef, reserve now), showing that fire isn’t all char and smoke, but can concentrate and accentuate flavors. Fire away!