It’s been another year of memorable, waistband-expanding eating in the hyperactive restaurant capital that is New York City. When we reflect on the year’s openings, some major benchmarks stand out: The splashy arrival of the NoMad, for example, where the team behind Eleven Madison Park resurrected the tradition of the grand hotel dining room, or the influx of trendy New Nordic influences at spots like Acme and the short-lived Frej.

But buzz doesn’t necessarily translate to food you want to go back and eat again and again. Here, the First We Feast teams celebrates the places that we just couldn’t get out of our heads in 2012.

From neighborhood spots to ambitious modernist kitchens, and easy comforts like fried chicken to obscure regional flavors from China, there’s a lot to dig into. All the spots selected (and listed in no particular order) are ones we think should be in your rotation even when the next wave of newcomers starts flooding the scene in 2013.

Written by Chris Schonberger (@cschonberger), Sophie Brickman (@sbrickman), Hannah Norwick (@HannahNorwick), Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme), Erin Mosbaugh (@JayBlague), DJ Dieselboy (@DJDieselboy), Kristen Tauer (@ktauer), and Elyse Inamine (@elyseinamine)