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Esquire names a Raleigh spot as one of the country’s best new restaurants

One of Raleigh’s biggest restaurant openings of 2023 has been named one of the country’s best.

The fashion magazine Esquire has named Ajja, the new restaurant from chef Cheetie Kumar, as one of the 50 best new restaurants in America.

Ajja is the only North Carolina spot included on the list.

Esquire writer Omar Mamoon praised Ajja’s dishes like roasted eggplant and grilled lamb kebabs, while declaring there is no other restaurant like it in America — and no chef like Kumar.

“Ajja tells the story of the Indian diaspora through food, blending borders and reminding us that we have more in common than we have differences,” the Esquire story says. “There’s no other restaurant quite like Ajja, because there’s no other chef (and musician) quite like Cheetie Kumar — she can shred on guitar and she can cook. Sit outside on the back patio and take in the fun and funky vibe.”

Ajja opened in Raleigh over the summer as an encore to Kumar and husband Paul Siler’s much acclaimed restaurant Garland. While Garland was set in the very center of downtown Raleigh, sandwiched between the music venues King’s and Neptune’s, Ajja was built into a neighborhood and made almost entirely of a dreamy backyard patio.

The restaurant’s backyard perch looks out onto downtown Raleigh’s skyline.

“Being in an outdoor space, with sight lines of every table, it’s kind of infinite,” Kumar said.

Triangle restaurants have had years of success landing spots on major national lists of the country’s best new restaurants. Recent wins include the Sanford Mexican restaurant Fonda Lupita, on Eater’s 2021 list, and Durham spot Queeny’s on Southern Living’s 2023 roundup of best new restaurants in the south.

Southern Living names Durham hot spot one of the best new restaurants in the South