EW Staff
May 10, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The maitre d’ takes your name, then points to the crowded bar where you could wait 20 minutes for a table. In the open, noisy space, huge black-and-white Gregg von Mirsky photographs depict beautiful types wearing…noodles. This is not your typical noodle shop. It’s Manhattan’s Republic, and unlike the dingy Chinatown storefronts that feature more MSG than ambiance, it typifies a new wave of classy Pan-Asian-influenced pasta places.

”Everybody loves pasta,” says Oliver Hagen, Republic’s manager. ”It’s healthy, fresh, and can be made simply.” That philosophy is sticking: Hi Ricky in Chicago’s Bucktown area mixes Southeast Asian flavors with a hip retro decor, and New York’s Nobu will open a noodle bar this fall. In 1996, that’s what it takes to make chow fun again.

Aqua San Francisco
James Beard Award-nominated chef Michael Mina, 27, has made Aqua a seat of world-class seafood (tartare of ahi tuna), champion attitude, and conspicuous wealth — the restaurant in a converted bank is a fave hang of Northern California yups.

Back Bay Brewing Co. Boston
This beer pub’s cozy cigar bar is now open, but the buzz is about the chews (cracked-black-pepper crusted tuna, buttermilk fried oysters) as well as the brews: Boylston Bitter, Arlington Amber, and four more from a full-time brewmaster.

Yuca Miami Beach
Yuca’s savvy owners want to hook South Beach’s seen-it-all crowds on inventive New Cuban cuisine (chickpea tamales stuffed with lobster and peanuts). Their lure? Hot-ticket singer Albita, an underground sensation in Little Havana.

Chapulin Chicago
Sick of the Bell? Run for upscale Mexican exotica. No tacos, but duck with mole negro. Roll over, burritos; here’s lamb wrapped in cactus leaf. And adios, nachos — try grasshoppers in guacamole instead. Betcha can’t eat just one.

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