2017 was a banner year for food. New cuisines stormed to the forefront of the scene and classic chefs hit home runs around the world.
Here at Uproxx, we write a lot about food and to do that we have to eat a whole hell of a lot of it. It wouldn’t be the end of the year without a roundup from the writing team reflecting on the best meals we’ve had this year. Some of these are simple delights which tick boxes on the bucket list. Some are life-altering dishes that forever change the way we eat and cook.
Either way, great food was eaten and we’re here to tell you all about it. Here are our favorite meals of 2017.
INDIAN TACO — STEVE BRAMUCCI
Okay, that’s not an Indian taco in the pic. If you want to talk about my favorite bite from 2017, it’s going to be the foie gras crème brûlée that I had at the Park Hyatt Aviara’s Masters of Food & Wine Culinary Event. The combo of salty and sweet, light yet unctuous… damn. I get misty eyed talking about that dish. Give me this as a starter for a hundred nights in a row and I will turn it down exactly zero of them. Structurally, texturally, balance-wise, flavor-wise — I think it was perfect.
Of course, anything with foie is generally at least a 9/10 and recasting desserts as savory dishes has been done. You want to talk thrilling? That came on a book tour stop in late September, after Zach Johnson wrote a piece on the founders of Tocabe. I just happened to be in Denver and asked the bookstore handler (not as high profile as it seems) to swing me by.
What I found was a Native American foodway, restored and Chipotle-ized. I ordered an Indian taco. It’s a dish I’ve had many times before, but this was assembled with traditionally spiced meats, regional veg, house-made salsas, and a touch of cheese. It was local and Native, with strong historical influences (even the frybread of the taco has a rich history).
If I had “I want to buy a franchise” money, this is the one I would pick, hands down.
Of course none of the cool backstory would matter if the food wasn’t great. It was. It was everything I’d hope for out of fast-casual: It seemed healthy enough to eat often, but indulgent enough to satiate me. The textures were interesting and the flavors were strong. More than any other meal I had in 2017, this one truly left me hyped on the state of food. -SB
PHILLY CHEESESTEAK — CHRISTIAN LONG
After a night of ghost hunting at the Pennhurst Asylum, just outside of Philadelphia, I slept late and missed my flight home. Suddenly, I had seven extra hours in Philly to play with.
I took the train (a novelty to those of us who live in Texas) to the closest possible stop to that still allowed me a comfortable walk to Jim’s Steaks. Arriving around 10:30 (the earliest acceptable lunch hour), I was immediately greeted by a seasoned employee.
“We get people here from all over the world, you know,” he told me, after learning I was visiting from Austin. “You came to the right place.”
Upon ordering, I was given the choice between provolone cheese, American, or Cheez Whiz. I’d always heard that Cheez Whiz was the only acceptable option for a true Philly Cheesesteak, and when I asked the experts, their answer left no doubt.
After a few minutes on the grill, the sliced steak and diced onions, along with a generous helping of Cheez Whiz was heaped onto a hoagie. I took my time savoring every bite, watching the empty tables fill up during the lunch rush, before slowly emptying again as the day drifted along.
It was more than a great meal had during an unplanned layover, but a long-anticipated regional masterpiece enjoyed under the best possible circumstances. -CL
FOIE GRAS AND QUINCE PINTXO — VINCE MANCINI
I got to go to Spain this year, so remembering my best meal is easier than usual. Before the trip, I never really “got” tapas. Probably because in San Francisco it’s just a fancy word for $12 appetizers. In Spain, you’re drunk and end up feeling like you ate six dinners and only spent $20.
It’s hard to declare a “best,” but one that stands out was a foie gras pintxo (that’s Basque for tapas, basically) with quince paste on top. I can’t remember which place it was from (they were all good). But I do remember which one — because I couldn’t get a good picture of it. We ate it too quickly. -VM
LASAGNA — ANDY ISSACS
I’m awake roughly 17 hours a day. I spend approximately 16.5 of those hours thinking about food. That should give you an idea of how much I thought about this, how carefully I weighed the pros and cons of my “Best meal of 2017.”
On that note, let me tell you about this lasagna I ate in Florence, Italy. First off, if you haven’t been to Florence, go right now. Especially if you love food. Every day I found something new — a bakery with the most perfect mortadella sandwich, a coffee shop with the most delicious pastries, a hole in the wall with pizza to die for. It’s like Alice in Wonderland for fat people.
Anyway, the lasagna at Ristorante il Teatro was like manna from heaven, and I’m not even a pasta guy. I enjoy a good lasagna here and there but oftentimes I find chefs overloading the pasta with too much salt or covering the taste with an overwhelming amount of cheese.
This was different. This was art. This was the Mona Lisa of lasagnas.
The beef-to-cheese ratio was damn near perfect. The pasta was so fresh, so carefully made, that I honestly wondered if a human was capable of creating it. Like, for a second, I seriously considered a robot in this Florentine kitchen whipping up perfect strands of lasagna. Like, maybe it was Rosie, the robot maid from The Jetsons. Maybe she was back there prepping this lasagna. Or maybe it was the Terminator, and like, he came back from the future and his only mission was to make pasta. Or maybe this was like The Matrix and what I was tasting wasn’t real and… yeah, I’ve gone off track here, haven’t I?
I do that when I’m hungry. Anyway, easily the best lasagna I’ve ever had and one of the top five things I’ve ever eaten. -AI
TAMALE — HOPE CARTER
The best meal I had in 2017 was in Cancun at the Chili Pepper Culinary Experience at El Dorado Royale. I’m from Houston and I thought I knew all there was to know about tamales, but Chef Josefina Santacruz proved me so very wrong.
First off, the sand-colored dish that I expected was black when it came to my table. Like, Crayola black…not even a dark brown. I’m big on texture, and while some tamales can be mealy, the outer corn casing meshed perfectly together instead of crumbling in my mouth. It was served with guajillo sauce and quelites (Mexican herbs) and paired with Taittinger champagne.
Santacruz explained that she wanted to create a dish that if eating blindfolded, someone would point it out as being definitely Mexican. Job well done, Josefi. You nailed it. -HC
OCTOPUS WITH CHILE MOLE — ZACH JOHNSTON
Even as I’m writing this sentence, I’m still kinda on the fence as to what to choose. I started the year in Sicily where the food is a luscious and local delight. And then there were another eleven months of travel, food, and drink — all of which were pretty stellar. It’s really hard not to pick the mortadella and caramelized onion pizza I had in Rome or the Florentine steak in Florence or the seafood in Iceland or… or… or…
But looking back the one meal that stands out, the one meal I’ve strived to recreate at home is the octopus I had in Guadalajara back in September. I was on a trip there to check out a cocktail competition. Basically, days were spent in vibrant markets and eating my way through the city. Evenings were spent in great restaurants. And the nights, well, let’s just say people who sell tequila know how to drink it.
About midway through the trip, the whole crew — bartenders, press, brand ambassadors, chefs, and tequila bigwigs — gathered at Hueso Restorante in the trendy Colonia Lafayette neighborhood. It’s one of those places with one long communal table down the middle of the restaurant. The kitchen is an extension of the dining room and the smells coming out of it were the stuff dreams are made of.
The night went along, tequila was drunk and drunk and drunk. Dishes came out family style with tastes and flavors that threw you straight back to a small village on a hot and humid day, when your only escape from the oppressive heat was a great meal under a shady banana tree. All the dishes were inventive, long-perfected, and delicious. Then the fish course came.
I love octopus. Chef Alfonso Cadena made me love it even more. The cephalopod was cooked using a sous vide (I asked the chef after dinner) to dramatically tender perfection. Then it was seared over a fire and coated with a soft, sweet, and slightly spicy mole. The local microgreens and pickle only made the dish pop more. It was like one of those massive overhead shots of an interstate where a dozen different roads come together in a merging mess of curling octopus tentacles. Then those tentacles were slathered in the most delicate and haunting mole.
I’ve spent the last months sweating over my pestle and mortar working out my own rendition with different blends of nuts, chilis, ash, and corn. I’ll get there one day. Until then, head to Mex. -ZJ
STRUKLI — CHRISTOPHER OSBURN
The best meal I had this year was a dish of strukli I shared with my wife in Zagreb, Croatia in August. If you don’t know what strukli is you’re really missing out. It’s Croatia’s take on mac and cheese/lasagna, but with thin dough layers instead of noodles and cottage cheese instead of ricotta. It can be prepared sweet or savory with any number of ingredients.
It tastes like ooey, gooey magic and I’m making some this holiday season to share with friends and family. -CO
L’OURSIN — CAITLIN WHITE
Up in Seattle, the fine dining scene is a bit more limited than it is in more major cities like New York and Los Angeles, but that sparseness is exactly what makes the gems shine all the brighter up north. On a recent trip to see family during the Thanksgiving holidays, I got the chance to dine at what is easily the premiere restaurant in Seattle right now, L’Oursin.
The restaurant’s founders Zac Overman and JJ Proville — who met in the culinary and bar scene in Red Hook, Brooklyn but decamped to Washington for a quieter way of life — have taken an old empty spot on the outskirts of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and transformed it into a charming French eatery with a dreamy cocktail menu.
Overman came up at the Manhattan cocktail hot-spot Frankies, ran the bar program at Fort Defiance in Red Hook, and also worked at Rob Roy and Sitka + Spruce in Seattle before opening L’Oursin. Proville has dual French and American citizenship and met Overman at Fort Defiance before moving on to Gramercy Tavern, and later, founding L’Oursin. Together, they’ve created a balanced, refined bar and restaurant that is just as perfect for after-work drinks as it is a stately, three-course prix fixe, such as the French-focused La Grande Bouffe, which they offer every Sunday night.
When I went, it was for a birthday celebration, and to try an old friend’s new venture (full disclosure: my brother worked with Overman and Proville in Brooklyn), so we strayed off the beaten path and worked our way through the menu with vigor.
For starters, a marinated Alaskan scallop served with thinly-sliced Asian pear, radishes and lightly garnished with sorrel was so delicate it almost floated off the plate. The kitchen’s sturdy bread and butter was also exquisite, as both a palette cleanser and a delightfully rich take on an old classic. Other appetizers also blew my mind, like a country pâté composed of pork, prune, pistachio served with mustard and cornichons, elevated far beyond the traditional spread. Later, a grilled quail dish, also served with pear (this time a roasted d’anjou) and flanked with bleu cheese (Bleu d’Auvergne) and radicchio was a welcome update to a standard chicken plate.
But as good as the food was, it was the cocktails accompanying that made this meal my favorite of the year. Overman knows enough about the history of cocktails to put unexpected high-end twists on well-known classics, but his knowledge never tips the drinks into haughty territory. Instead, they also arrive icy and familiar, or, as the case may be, warm and comforting, working in tandem with the dishes, or helping wash them down at the end of the meal.
The resulting experience was a place with a superb menu and the highest quality service without the drag of overly formalness that often accompanies outfits of this stature. That’s the subtle casual spirit that people move to the Northwest for, and why so many of its natives refuse to leave. For the fanciest French cuisine and cocktails in the entire region, with the most welcoming atmosphere, look no further than L’Oursin, and you’ll get the chance to have your favorite meal of the year too. -CW