Our annual look at the essential restaurants illuminating the city's dining scene

The bar in Service Bar isn't just for service—which is helpful, conscientious and warm, by the way. No, the bar in this chic and bustling place was built for ogling, too. It's sleek, made of marble and is showcased by an elaborate wooden Brunswick bar back crafted in the late 1880s.

Add an octagonal white-tiled floor, a tall ceiling plus small and communal tables, and you have a striking, modest-sized room that combines a classic saloon look with a snazzy modern ambiance. You'd expect nothing less from this audacious newcomer that opened last fall, considering it's the dining arm of Middle West Spirits, the pioneering, award-winning local distiller of OYO liquors fame.

The bar is put to great use in the service of creative cocktails that, consistent with this place's fun-loving character, often have punny names. But make no mistake, these top-notch beverages—and the artful Far East meets Midwest cuisine of innovative executive chef Avishar Barua—are serious business, and reasons why Service Bar makes its debut on this list.

Barua's small, initial menus attracted attention with their amusing allusions to beloved, if not-so-exalted, foods such as Johnny Marzetti, Big Macs and Taco Bell's Cheesy Gordita Crunch. But to taste Barua's refined, scratch-made riffs on such dishes—the meatball-enhanced pasta is rooster-crest-shaped, the burger is formed with bone marrow, and the gordita uses oak-smoked brisket plus a Bengali fry-bread tortilla—is to taste them anew. And don't miss his ingenious, tahini-enriched take on Caesar salad or his spin on Chinese takeout: the delightfully crunchy and addictive fried crispy ribs with “Commander Tso's” sauce.

Barua, who has Bangladeshi roots, has since expanded the menu to include entrées like his wow-eliciting, Mom-inspired whole chicken with tandoori-roasted breasts, chai-brined-and-fried wings and drumsticks and a Bengali-style curry; pork shank with Shanghai bok choy; and scallops in a Thai-style red curry with eggplant escabeche.

Did You Know?

Executive chef Avishar Barua's impressive résumé includes gigs at Veritas and New York City trendsetters WD-50 and Mission Chinese, plus a culinary pilgrimage to China.