A good meal has a way of becoming a treasured memory, whether it be the service, the setting, the company, or the food itself. So asking people about their best restaurant meal of 2018 was a question we knew would garner passionate responses. Plus, we asked some of the most celebrated chefs, writers, and TV hosts working in the culinary world today, so it was pretty much a lock that we would get detailed answers that spanned the globe and reached across the spectrum — from bar food to haute cuisine. We were not disappointed.
Dozens of food world luminaries answered the call, with plenty of responses that delighted us as fellow food lovers, plus a few that genuinely surprised us. The only restaurant that showed up more than once, actually made the list three times. Looks like we all need to make plans to go to Blue Hill Stone Barns next time we’re ready for a splurge in upstate New York. On the less-pricey end of the spectrum, Uproxx-fav Tocabe was the only fast-casual place in the United States to get a nod.
Read on and learn about some of the best restaurants in the world. And hop in the comments to talk about your best meal of the year.
Padma Lakshmi, Host of Top Chef, Cookbook Author
I rarely eat out at fine dining restaurants, since that’s so much of what I do on the show, but I did go to Kith and Kin — from ex-Top Chef contestant Kwame Onwuachi. That was really quite good and truly creative. I mean, talk about diversity — not just of staff but also a diversity of ideas and concepts. I was truly impressed.
Eric Adjepong, Chef and Owner of Pinch & Plate and Top Chef Contestant
For my birthday this year, I went to Rose’s Luxury. There are no reservations at Rose’s; you stand in line in one of DC’s most photogenic neighborhoods and patiently wait to be seated. The service is hospitable, and the atmosphere is cozy. All of the food comes out on small plates with some of the most imaginative combinations of technique and flavors. Rose’s cocktails are equally as delicious. It’s an all-around dope spot.
Jason Goldstein, Food Network Star finalist and Food Influencer of Chop Happy
Pinch Chinese for the culinary win. They take comfort food to the next level. When people talk about their big Sunday dinners, mine was a little different. Growing up every Sunday we would have a sea of Chinese food with all kinds of takeout dishes.
I have two favorites: First, ma po tofu, creamy tofu soaked in a beefy, sweet spicy sauce. I spoon it onto their perfectly cooked fluffy rice and go into yummy bliss. The second dish I love is their spicy wontons in what they call “crack sauce.” Light soft wonton shells with gingery pork inside. The wontons swim in a spicy sauce. The best part is it’s not “hit you in the face” spicy.
This spot has a trendy SoHo vibe with authentic, high-quality food! Check it out!
Nini Nguyen, Executive Chef and Culinary Director of Cook Space and Top Chef Contestant
Some friends of mine took me to this new restaurant, Saint Germain, the last time I was home in New Orleans. Our heads pretty much exploded. Every dish brought us so much joy and then so much depression when it was finished. I was really amazed by how much thoughtfulness was packed into each plate. Every component felt essential without feeling fussy and every dish had a really interesting backstory. (Not to mention everything was delicious.) Also, the chefs were super gracious hosts and the space is a tucked away little gem in the Bywater. I really hope I can get a table the next time I’m home.
Brian Yazzie, Diné Chef of The Sioux Chef
My fiancée and I traveled home to Arizona in May for a niece’s high school graduation, and on our route, we stopped by Tocabe, An American Indian Eatery (one of two locations) in Denver, Colorado. An indigenous owned and operated restaurant amongst many other restaurants that represent cuisines from across the globe, this space stands out because it represents a real American food culture. Tocabe is run by Ben Jacobs (Osage Nation) and his friend Matt Chandra. They source from tribal and organic sustainable vendors in likes of Red Lake Nation Foods, Ramona’s Farms, Bow & Arrow, and Rock River Ranches.
This was our first time stopping/eating at the restaurant. I had a plate stacked with hot and sizzling braised bison ribs with a traditional wojapi sauce (Ojibwe word meaning “berry sauce”) and a bowl of green chile stew with tribal sourced hominy, potato, and New Mexico green chile. These two dishes reminded me of home as an indigenous chef, because I am familiar with all the ingredients. What was more recognizable were the authentic ingredients that speak volumes on ancestral memory and flavors of what real American cuisine is.
After our grub and ways down a busy freeway aiming for Arizona with the city silhouette in the rearview, I remember thinking to myself in a proud state of mind, one day every city in the Americas will have an establishment like Tocabe serving the people.
Kelsey Barnard Clark, Executive Chef and Owner of KBC and Top Chef Contestant
To me, determining the best dish I’ve eaten has nothing to do with the caliber of the chef or the number of stars above their title. I crave nostalgia when it comes to food and sometimes it is the most obscurely simple dishes that have me feeling inspired for weeks. This year, my mind-blowing / can’t stop thinking about / can’t stop eating/give me MORE dish was an umami bomb in the form of a broth & rice noodle bowl on the streets of Hue, Vietnam. I was in search of the coveted jade bracelets when I was distracted and intrigued by a group of locals sitting on little plastic chairs around this woman, who was basting chicken fat with a rich, dark broth. Watching her was like watching an orchestra — she worked her hands like a musician and knew, with perfect rhythm, when to baste the broth, pull the noodles, pick the herbs. I was mesmerized.
Two minutes later I was under her spell. I sat on a tiny plastic chair, in the rain, on the streets of Hue, and had the best meal of my life.
Christopher D’Ambrosio, Executive Chef of The Barn and The Farmhouse at Bedford Post Inn
Best restaurant dish for me this year may be the Agua Chile from Claro in Brooklyn. It was made with spiced cucumber juice, raw sepia or calamari, fresh cilantro and watermelon for a slight crunch. It was balanced and refreshing and a great first course to jumpstart the palate. The perfect summer dish.
Tim Hollingsworth, Chef and Owner of Otium, Free Play and CJ Boyds
Vespertine was the best restaurant I went to and tasted this year in 2018. I had a very thought-provoking experience during my time there, and it took me to a different place that made me think outside of the box. It was a place where many elements came together to create a very unique sensation. Vespertine was good and entertaining, and incredibly thoughtful in the way it did everything, which evoked a very different feeling for me that I still think about. Every interaction was very detailed during this dining experience, I’m really looking forward to going back again in the future.
Sara Woods, Executive Chef of Canopy Portland
Such a hard question! It’s a toss-up between pork and kimchi dumplings at Han Oak here in Portland and crispy fried blowfish tail at Frenchette in NYC. I could seriously eat the dumplings every day and not get tired of them. Soft, and light, and perfectly balanced. But then there are the blowfish tails at a French restaurant in TriBeCa on the other side of the country. Not at all what I expected, but I’m not sure what I expected. I want to replace all future chicken wings in my life with these blowfish tails.
Sheldon Simeon, Executive Chef and Partner of Lineage
The best restaurant I visited in 2018 was Protégé in Palo Alto, California — New American upscale dining in a casual setting from French Laundry vets. My favorite dish there was the poached hen egg, braised bacon, smoked olive oil, porcini pastry “cage” topped with some freshly shaved black truffle.
Adrienne Cheatham, Founder of Sunday Best
The single best restaurant that I ate at was Llama Inn in Brooklyn. My husband and I spent a weekend in Brooklyn recently and this was one of the places on our must-visit list. The atmosphere felt warm and inviting, nice but still fun and approachable. I expected the food to be good, but it was even better than I expected! We ordered a mix of small dishes, vegetable dishes, and the whole fish. All of the food was so well executed; cooked perfectly, plated beautifully, and above all the flavors were outstanding. So delicious!
Chef Michelle Minori, Top Chef Contestant formerly of Barzotto
The single best meal I had in 2018 was a tasting menu at Gibson in San Francisco. The space is sophisticated and cool, with a completely open view of the chefs in the kitchen. You can watch the cooks work together around a wood-fired grill. Every dish presented was gorgeous, and challenges how I think about flavor and texture. The cocktails that came with each course were also mind-blowing. The white bloody Mary pretty much melted my brain. I actually made my server taste it because I wanted one more person to experience this libation. The restaurant and everyone involved made a Wednesday night pleasantly surprising and unforgettable.
Brandon Rosen, Private Chef and Top Chef Contestant
Throughout 2018 my wife and I have spent our time dining around some of California’s finest dining establishments, both classic and new up and coming, from The French Laundry to Addison in San Diego. One of the more inspiring restaurants we had come across is a new modernized take on the casual fine dining experience delivered at AVERY in San Francisco. It is a small venue offering all of the pleasures of fine dining, with a more personalized casual hip approach. Of many, one of the most memorial dishes is one labeled OYSTERS. The dish consisted of gently grilled Shigoku oysters, nestled in a pillow-like potato mousseline, slathered in a subtle, but bold chorizo and olive oil broth topped with oyster liquor poached cauliflower and charred local baby leeks. This was a dish that carries all of the sweet fresh flavors of the ocean backed with the elegant buttery flavors of potato topped off with the punch of a beautifully accented chorizo broth. The flavor from the grilled oysters makes you feel as though you are sitting along a picnic table on the windy coast enjoying the fruits of the rich. An amazing dish that opens all of your senses and tantalizes your taste buds!
Kevin Scharpf, Executive Chef and Owner of Brazen Open Kitchen & Bar and Top Chef Contestant
Hands down the best dish I had in 2018 was DanDan noodles during my trip to China. I can’t remember the name of this little place tucked away on a side street, but it was the first time I had experienced real Szechuan. Everything from the handmade noodles w/ the perfect bite to the crazy layers of electric spice (from the Szechuan peppers) and umami (from the fermented Chinese vegetables and black beans) made me want to keep eating and exploring every bite! I can’t remember the last time one single dish made me so happy!
Pablo Lamon, Chef De Cuisine of 27 Restaurant & Ba and Top Chef Contestantr
For me, it would have to be the fava bean hummus at the NoMad Bar in Las Vegas. I had it during the pre-opening of the NoMad Hotel Las Vegas, it was not only something different, but so good that inspired me to come up with a beet and pistachio hummus that I run as a special at my restaurant for a while! The warm flatbread it came with it was so soft and delicious. It is to the date the most layered hummus I have ever tried. Every single component of that dish was spot on and perfectly executed, a clear signature of the Make It Nice team.
That dish and the whole evening will something I will always remember, from time to time I swear I can still taste those crispy toasted pistachios swimming in that soft and creamy hummus!
Thach Tran, Executive Chef of Ace Eat Serve
The single best dish I’ve eaten in 2018 was at Kemuri Tatsu-Ya in Austin and was the smoked fatty brisket topped with fresh uni, lightly sauced with the house BBQ. The dish was so mind opening and delicious. The rich fatty texture and unctuous bite combine the best of Texas BBQ and uniquely modern Japanese cuisine evolving in Austin. Texas BBQ is a bold smoky cuisine combined with the Japanese delicate simple preparations and flavor focus, which created some truly unique dishes at Kenmuri Tatsu-Ya.
Jeremy Salamon, Executive Chef of The Eddy
Best restaurant was Chez Ma Tante in Brooklyn. The restaurant itself is an unassuming, neighborhood joint with really simple but still technical and delicious food, with some French influences and approaches. I loved the pork shoulder with lentils and salsa verde and the boudin blanc. The mussels and bread soup was super homey, very appropriate and approachable for the winter. And lastly, every single dessert blew me away. They were all so straightforward and perfectly done — the creme brulee, and the French chocolate cake too.
Octavio Sabado, Executive Chef of Westdrift Manhattan Beach
Bone marrow and sweet potato waffles from The Cookery in New York. I’ll just say that the three items to winning my prized heart in terms of food need to have fat, acid, and crunch/crispiness. Those three things equate to the holy trinity of all that is good and awesome in food. That dish hit a home run in such a unique way. The texture from the waffles, the richness of the marrow, and the acid from the blueberry topping. It just worked, and I thought it was awesome.
Justin Sutherland, Executive Chef of Handsome Hog and Top Chef Contestant
In Bloom in Saint Paul, MN is an incredible new restaurant experience where everything is cooked over an open flame and fire in reportedly the largest fireplace in North America — it’s how chefs fantasize about cooking. They nail the food, everything has a woodfire smell and you can sit adjacent to the hearth and watch the food being prepared. It’s like a theater. I ate roasted venison, which was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The atmosphere contributes to the great experience and all of your senses are engaged.
Sara Bradley, Chef and Owner of Freight House and Top Chef Contestant
Hands down my favorite dish this year came from an izakaya in the SoHo neighborhood of Hong Kong, which is pretty cool because izakayas typically serve what we would call “bar food.” This was anything but! The izakaya was called FUKURO, and the dish was “crispy caramel butter corn.” It was pieces of corn, still on the cob, tossed in this super light and crispy breading and then coated in caramel butter. I’ve never had anything like it. It was so good I ordered two more plates of it. I will always take note when a chef is highlighting veggies on a plate. This was definitely my highlight. I loved it so much I served a version of it at freight house when I could still get corn alongside some crispy chicken livers.
Ryan Pfeiffer, Chef de Cuisine of Blackbird
Although there were many intriguing things I ate this year that influenced my thought process, one dish stands out more than any other: the mussels escabeche at Estela in NYC. We were comfortably tucked into a corner table within their bustling, and very small, dining room. Every dish that we had was incredible, but the mussels were over-the-top. The simplicity of the preparation paired with the incredibly precise flavor had me thinking about it for months after my visit. With numerous textures and the perfect amount of acidity, they were nothing more than it could or should be. It was another stepping stone in my growth as a cook, fortifying my belief that the best things aren’t hiding, they are right in front of you — plain and simple.
I will forever be thankful for that dish and for my experience at Estela as a whole.
Carlos Cruz, Executive Chef of The Promontory
In 2018, I traveled for three months through South America and Mexico, my main goal was to taste as much food as possible. I planned out my whole trip based off of the San Pellegrino List. The single greatest meal throughout my whole travel was Quintonil. The flavors were absolutely amazing and very unique. They used indigenous ingredients that I’ve never tried before in very delicious and creative ways. It gives me so much inspiration eating at amazing places like this.
Michael Perez, Chef of Cannon Green and a soon-to-be-announced tasting menu concept
The best restaurant I dined at in 2018 was Duck Duck Goat — a really cool dim-sum style Chinese restaurant in Chicago. It was so badass, and they had awesome things on the menu like grilled duck heart with pomegranate and duck fried rice. The vibe was really cool, and they were doing awesome interpretations of cocktails. But so many restaurants do great food these days, and what really sets you apart is hospitality. At Duck Duck Goat, when I gave my name for the reservation, they did some research on me and when I came in to eat, they asked me about Charleston and the past restaurants I’ve worked at. It’s just something a little extra that goes a long way, and it’s something I still talk about. It’s important to know who is dining in our restaurants beyond just food writers, and when a restaurant acknowledges others in the industry like that, it’s a really cool sentiment.
My favorite dish of 2018 was at FIG in Charleston, SC. Executive chef Jason Stanhope was working with a local mushroom forager who had fallen on hard times, and so Stanhope bought his whole stock of mushrooms — $3,000 worth. With the mushrooms, he made this really cool cream of chanterelle soup with crème fraiché and crispy chanterelles on top. It was so simple, but the soup was velvety and full of flavor. I took a bite and looked up and got teary-eyed – just the technique he applied and how the soup came together. It was so elegant, and it was only four ingredients. I love that at FIG they’re willing to spend a lot of time on trial and error of a dish, and it might not ever make it to the menu.
Isaac Toups, Chef/Owner of Toups’ Meatery and Toups South
The best dish I had this year by far was a barracuda dish at Marjie’s Grill in New Orleans. I didn’t even order it, Chef Marcus just brought it out to me because he knows I’m down to eat whatever. He said he cooked it down in some fish sauce and some other things that I’m not sure of, but man it was dynamite! I have never had barracuda before. Chef Marcus and his lady Caitlin travel a lot in South Asia and bring those awesome flavors to New Orleans. I’m there twice a month.
Marlon Alexander, Executive Chef/Owner of Cru Bubble & Raw Bar at Pythian Market and Poulet at Pythian Market
The best restaurant I had the pleasure to enjoy in 2018 was Blue Hill at Stone Barn in Tarrytown, NY. Chef Dan Barber and family opened this amazing restaurant at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in 2004. Leveraging the seasonal local farm products from New York’s Hudson Valley, this restaurant provides an unparalleled dining experience.
There are no menus at Blue Hill; instead, guests are wowed with the freshest ingredients available from the farm. Unconventional parings can be added to your meal to make the experience even more unforgettable. I went to Blue Hill in the winter and really enjoyed the artistic, experience-driven plating that Chef Barber and his team are known for. In a 2.5-hour seating, I experienced at least 7 unique dishes and was welcomed into the kitchen to learn from the pastry team about the yeasts used to create their amazing breads. Blue Hill provides an experience and exceptional meal — for me, that’s what makes a restaurant truly great!
Michael Pirolo, Executive Chef/Owner of Macchialina, The Saint Austere, and Pirolo’s Panino
The best dish I had in 2018 was the red snapper with broccoli rabe and Crystal’s hollandaise from Nina Compton’s newest restaurant, Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans. It was perfection. The steamed red snapper caught fresh from the Florida coast and you can taste it in every way possible. The portion is around 5oz and it’s served with blanched broccoli rabe sautéed in Nina’s “chili butter” that consists of jarred Calabrian chilies pureed with butter, lemon zest and fresh lemon juice for that spicy, citrusy tang. Crystal’s hollandaise is so NOLA it hurts — eggs, butter, and Crystal’s hot sauce that’s then aerated in an ISI canister (the ones you use to make whipped cream) to create this super light, airy and rich hollandaise sauce that stays suspended atop the fish. The dish is garnished with “broccoli ash”; excess broccoli leaves and trimmed stems baked until deeply browned, cooled and ground.
Nina has a way of making a simple dish like steamed fish and broccoli rabe into something so extraordinarily delicious and totally unique. She marries elements of modern cooking with classic preparations reminiscent of the south and I believe that’s what sets this dish and her restaurant as a whole apart from the pack.
Clay Conley, Chef and Owner of Buccan Palm Beach, Imoto Palm Beach, and Grato West Palm Beach
The absolute best dish I tried this year was during a summer vacation to Rome. I went to Roma Sparita at the recommendation of the late Anthony Bourdain. We are so glad we went, because the Cacio e Pepe was the best pasta of the trip and best bite of the year, without a doubt. The beauty of this dish was its simplicity. It was clear that the very few ingredients used in the dish were some of the best locally sourced ingredients available. The execution, and how the dish was masterfully put together, created a perfectly balanced dish in which I could taste every component.
Tim Kolanko, Executive Chef of Blue Bridge Hospitality (Stake Chophouse & Bar, Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge, Maretalia, El Roy’s Tequila Bar + Kitchen)
I recently ate at a restaurant called Baroo (now closed), which was a free-style experimental kitchen located in Los Angeles. The best item I had was noorook, a dish of fermented grains and nuts such as gamut, farro, job’s tears, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds and finished with a roasted beet koji cream. Noorook is the Korean equivalent to Japanese koji, which is a fermented grain used to make miso, soy sauce and more. I couldn’t believe how complex and delicious this visually simplistic dish was. This now-closed restaurant was known to be a place where its chef/owner Kwang Uh was experimenting with fermentation. His technique was something he likely learned during a stint at Noma in Copenhagen, where he was exposed to their lauded fermentation lab.
[Though this restaurant is closed, we kept it on the list because Chef Kwang Uh is sure to follow it with a new concept soon.]
Chris Royster, Executive Chef and Partner of Flagstaff House Restaurant
I had a really incredible experience at Jose Andres restaurant The Bazaar in Beverly Hills. The decor was awesome and unique plus really innovative food and cocktails. Standout dishes that were crazy and inspiring were a foie gras waffle with peanut butter and honey, foie gras terrine cotton candy, and a wagyu beef Philly cheesesteak that was a decadent creamy cheese filled puff with seared sliced wagyu on top. The whole menu was focused on molecular gastronomy.
On the other end of the spectrum, I went to Cape Cod this year with my family and I enjoyed one of my all-time favorites: a fried clam roll from Kevin’s Seafood & Spirits. Fresh clams right out the bay, shucked and then lightly breaded and fried before being served on a soft hot dog roll with some fresh lemon wedges and plain mayo. Tastes like the sea, and I can’t help but think of my family and vacation when I eat it.
Kirsten and Mandy Dixon (Mother/Daughter Duo), Chefs and Proprietors of Within the Wild Adventure Lodges
Mandy: The chef of Single Thread, Kyle Connaughton, arrived on our radar with his lush and generous philosophy of cooking, much of which he collected during his time in Japan. It’s a personal experience at Single Thread. The knives are hand-hewn from wood gathered from the restaurant farm. Even the dishware is made by an 8th-generation master potter. Despite making me feel like an underachiever in the design department, the restaurant impressed me with its clean and natural aesthetic. One course that stands out in our eleven-course experience is the fresh-made warm tofu dished up tableside with herbs, flowers, and cool farm tomatoes. I can’t afford artisan knives or conscript an 8th generation potter, but I am – for sure – inspired to serve my own variation of this dish sometime in 2019.
Kirsten: There’s undoubtedly common ground with our two roadless wilderness lodges in Alaska and Willows Inn, located just a 1-hour floatplane ride from Winterlake Lodge, a 4-hour commercial flight, a medium-long drive from Sea-Tac, quick ferry ride, then a short drive to the restaurant’s front door. It’s in our neighborhood! Alaska is different than the Pacific Northwest, but many of our foodways can be variations of a similar theme: oysters, mussels, sea-gathered greens, the berries, and flowers.
The experience of dining at the Willows Inn is like none other. My favorite dish that still haunts me? Deep-fried mustard leaf brushed with oyster cream and topped with a mound of herbs and flowers Wetzel calls an herbed tostada. Cheeky. (Also, their entire breakfast the next day is insane).
Heena Patel, Chef and Owner of Besharam
Nyum Bai was a really special restaurant we got to know in 2018. Nite (Yun), the chef + owner, joined the La Cocina incubation program about one year after me. I had the pleasure of knowing her before she opened the brick-and-mortar, and the amount of attention her food is receiving this year is so well-deserved. Beyond being thrilled for her success, I’m always drawn to the simplicity in her ingredients. She has a talent for making dishes that are the best you’ve ever had!
Mike Simmons, Chef and Partner of Café Marie Jeanne
At the Loyalist (Smyth & The Loyalist) in Chicago, I had an heirloom tomato salad with peaches, burrata, black garlic, and some other sort of funky, sweet fermented magic miracles. It was perfectly seasonal, seasoned, unctuous and acidic. It was so good that I almost quit cooking.
Maiko Kyogoku, Owner of Bessou
The best thing I ate this past year was cured uni from Sushi Kaikai in Tokyo. The uni has been cured for at least 3 months by the owner/chef. He wouldn’t reveal the exact process when I asked, but it involved a salt cure. The result was something that tasted like fermented butter – pungent, but creamy and smooth at the same time. We have our own version of the cured uni at Bessou, and it’s been a big success!
Chase Devitt, Executive Chef and Partner of BriDer
The best thing I tasted this year was the burnt ends sandwich from Smok in Denver. Chef Bill Espiricueta is a true pit master. It’s so good, you don’t even need any barbecue sauce.
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Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth, Co-Chefs and Owners of Root & Bone
Our favorite dish of the year was at Michael Schwartz’s Miami spot Amara, and it was a seasonal, simple, and delicious vegetarian dish. The dish featured grilled pumpkin with a coconut pesto sauce. The restaurant itself is perfectly situated right on the waterfront — what more could you ask for?
David Codney, Executive Chef of The Belvedere at The Peninsula Beverly Hills
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of visiting Blue Hill at Stone Farms for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. It was foggy and rainy the day we drove up, the fireplaces were going it was an idyllic stone farmhouse setting. We had originally just stopped for drinks but decided to stay for lunch and the meal was one of the top three dining experiences I’ve ever had. The owner and chef came out to chat with us. The simple yet exceptional quality of the ingredients for each course was out of this world. My favorite dish was their perfectly roasted rutabaga.
Sarah Schafer, Chef of Irving Street Kitchen
Such a tough question. Had to be the fresh black truffle & chicken liver tagliatelle I had in a tiny restaurant in San Gimignano, Italy. There are numerous amazing restaurants all over Italy, some of the top 50 best. I mean even the Autostrada has amazing pizza. But this was the perfect marriage of black truffle season in the heart of the land where they are best and the passion for cuisine that drove it over the top. I don’t even remember the name of it (sorry!) [Likely Locanda dell’ Artista or Cum Quibus]. After walking for what felt like weeks through the medieval town streets, seeing churches and buildings built over 200 years ago it just made me fall deeper in love with everything Italy does, from cars to food, it is all perfection. No substitutions.
Sarah Grueneberg, Chef and Partner of Monteverde Restaurant and Pastificio
I’ve had so many great bites around the country this year, it’s really hard to pick one. So, I’ll have to go with my most recent memory, as I was just in San Francisco a few weeks ago to cook with Chris Cosentino.
On our last night, my fiancé and I went with some friends to Mister Jiu’s and had one of the best dim sum bites I’ve enjoyed all year. The crispy scarlet turnip cakes are fantastic. Sometimes you’ll order these at other dim sum restaurants and they can be dense but at Mister Jiu’s they are crispy, super tender and creamy on the inside, served with spicy chili oil and sweet soy sauce that make for the perfect bite. What I also loved about it was the turnip –- the chef is using an heirloom varietal of the scarlet turnip giving it a red exterior that makes the dish creamy, sticky, crunchy and delicious.
In Chicago, one of my favorite dishes of the year is the enchiladas potosinas at Mi Tocaya Antojeria. As a Texan, I thought I knew enchiladas. When I enjoyed Chef Diana’s, they were special. She adds chile paste to the masa dough and then fills the masa with cheeses. They are then folded over like a ravioli and griddled. Anything that exudes handcrafted love, like when I make pasta, instantly makes me happy. They are then served on black beans with queso sincho. Totally awesome.
William Nolan, Executive Chef of Black Iron Kitchen + Bar located at Madeline Hotel & Residences, Auberge Resorts Collection
This year my wife and I traveled to Seattle to visit my brother and did a ton of eating! I used to live in Portland Oregon and there is where I fell in love with the food scene of the Pacific Northwest. During this trip, my brother and his wife took us to a dive bar named Loretta’s. Loretta’s is famous for their perfect cheeseburger. We headed out on a rainy Halloween night to this amazing dive bar. Now growing up in New Orleans, I consider myself a dive bar connoisseur and Loretta’s delivered. Walking in the door I felt right at home. There was a full bar of costumed Seattle locals drinking what else — Rainer beer from the can.
We found a couple of seats at the bar and ordered the local brew and the world-famous Loretta’s burger. Now this burger won a 4th place spot on Thrillist’s top 100 burgers in America. Pretty impressive. When this burger arrived, I could tell it was going to be wonderful., gooey melted cheese, buttered bun, crispy lettuce, caramelized onion, homemade dill pickles and extra special sauce! As I bit into it, I could immediately taste why it was ranked on Thrillist’s list. The combination of flavors, the familiar griddled bun texture…….mmmm. This was easily the best dish I ate all year.
David Danielson, Executive Chef of Churchill Downs
The best dish I ate in 2018 was actually served at a fundraiser for James Beard Foundations Taste of America. It was a charred cabbage with whipped yogurt, curry leaf-ghee vinaigrette, citrus, and crunchy bits. It was prepared by chef Anne Pettry of Decca restaurant in Louisville. As a chef who is accustomed to serving large groups of guests, I am always interested in seeing unusual dishes served at these types of events. What struck me most about this dish was the way a simple piece of cabbage came to life and transformed into something of elegance both in the way it was prepared and presented as well as the bright flavors and harmony of the dish.
[You may not make it to the Beard Fundraiser this year, but you can go to Decca!]
Vitaly Paley, Chef and Owner of five restaurants in Portland, Oregon
If I had to pick only one, it would have to be the lamb meatballs braised with sour cherries, shallots, and tomatoes. This summer, I had the dish at Çiya Sofrasi in Istanbul. It was moving and profound. It made me think. It brought back a flood of food memories I didn’t think I had stored away. And because I can still taste it months later, I had to try and make it myself. Today, my version of this dish is on the menu at Rosa Rosa. I hope it brings joy to our guests and helps create new food memories on this side of the Atlantic.
Eddie Konrad, Chef De Cuisine of Laurel Restaurant and Top Chef Contestant
The best meal I experienced in 2018 was at Blue Hill Stone Barns in Tarrytown, NY. It was undeniably one of the most thoughtful and impactful meals I have ever had. The experience at Blue Hill started from the moment we arrived on the property and entered a collage of architecture, lush gardens, and greenhouses, mixed with sophisticated dining spaces. We then enjoyed cocktails that were inspired by different parts of the property that we ordered from a map that served as the menu. Then, the servers led us through the farm as if we were toddlers being led by the hand. Next, we were served perfect bites of food on thoughtful and playful plate-ware. Every element of the experience from the food itself to the attentiveness of the service made me feel that I have been doing everything wrong my entire career. If I could return every season I would, if nothing more than to be pleasantly infuriated.
Justin Bazdarich, Executive Chef and Partner of Speedy Romeo and Oxomoco
Ribbons of jicama with Fresno chili and blood orange at NIX restaurant in New York. It had incredible bursts of flavors and textures. I can’t stop thinking about it!!
Silvia Baldini, Chef and Co-Owner of The Secret Ingredient Girls
Honestly my favorite restaurant last year was Perla in Philly. Perla, by Chef Lou Boquila, serves modern Filipino inspired cuisine. I went with my husband and two kids and we tried the Kamayan Family Style dinner. That means the food is beautifully piled up on the table on banana leaves and you eat with your hands. The server layers jasmine rice, then it follows with a tender roasted chicken with Meyer lemon and soy marinade, a whole fish, Berkshire pork belly, ground pork, carrots, onions, ginger, eggplants, bok choi, and long beans.
Since the Kamayan feast is traditionally eaten with your hands, we all dug in and got our fingers slick with the fragrant oil of that heady garlic rice.
Chintan Pandya, Executive Chef of Adda Indian Canteen and Rahi
The best thing I had this past year was the Fico pizza (fresh mozzarella, ricotta, fig jam, prosciutto Americano, and arugula) at Razza Pizza Artigianale in Jersey City. Impeccable.
David Bouhadana, Chef of Sushi by Bou and Handies by Bou
I eat the gamja tang pork shoulder stew from New Wonjo twice a week. It’s just so good!