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!