In 2016, I ate approximately 1100 meals. You did too – did any of them stand out in your mind?
I decided to look back over some of the most memorable meals I had this year, to both whet my appetite for 2017 and enjoy some nostalgia for the year of amazing travel and food. Since it’s impossible to parse out the impact of food in my travels, this is a post I’d like to continue in years to come.
Ready to dive into the top 10 meals I enjoyed?
Dinner at The Depot, Seaview, Washington
I visited Long Beach Peninsula as part of a press trip in February, and many of my meals were provided by local restaurants. While we had some delicious dishes during that long weekend, the best by far was served at The Depot. Nancy and Chef Michael pulled out all the stops, with incredible generosity and hospitality – and amazing food.
The Depot has garnered praise from food critics and travelers lucky enough to end up in far-flung western-most Washington, and for good reason.
Bonus points: Nancy sat Mr. Valise and I at a table near the kitchen where we could watch food being prepared. The table also happened to have amazing lighting for taking photos. Protip for restaurant owners hosting travelers – help us help you by giving us good lighting!
Read more about visiting Long Beach Peninsula in my guide to Long Beach, Washington.
Find The Depot: 1208 38th Pl, Seaview, WA 98644 (Website)
Cracklin’ Nachos at Kingfish, New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s hard to go to New Orleans and not eat yourself silly. In both culture and food, there’s nowhere quite like NOLA, and you can find some truly spectacular meals in dozens of restaurants.
One of my favorite dishes of the year is an unconventional spin on one of my favorite foods: nachos! Unlike “normal” nachos, Kingfish in the French Quarter uses Cracklin’ (fried pig skin) as the “chips,” and pours a piping hot pimento cheese sauce over the toppings (which include pulled pork). It’s not the healthiest food I ate all year, but the best meals are usually memorable for being a departure from my average diet.
New Orleans is widely credited with introducing the Pimm’s Cup (a British summer drink) to the U.S., so I made sure to enjoy one during this meal too.
Read about all the foods I recommend in my guide to what you must sip & savor in New Orleans.
Find Kingfish: 337 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130 (Website)
Bar Food at the Barcade, New York City, New York
As you’ll see on the rest of this list, some of my best meals of the year are not the fanciest you can find. I love street food, finger food, and the kinds of foods that make you feel just a little bit guilty afterward (especially since I’m not a huge fan of dessert).
While traveling in Jordan, Mr. Valise discovered that our New York co-working space was just down the street from the Barcade in Chelsea. As the name implies, Barcade is both a bar and arcade, and it became our local post-work haunt. In that time, we also tried several of their appetizers – and I fell in love with them even more.
We still talk about going back to play Q*bert and protect our high scores; implicit in the conversation is the idea we’d be ordering whatever special chippy appetizer they’re serving at the time.
Find the Barcade: 148 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011 (Website)
Ethiopian at Abyssinia, Harlem, New York
I had never tried Ethiopian food before this year, and one night while staying in Harlem, Mr. Valise and I decided to “give it a go.” He was confident I’d enjoy the interesting flavors and – as I’ve mentioned I enjoy it – eating with my hands. He knows me pretty well, because I really liked it!
I admit – I am not the most knowledgeable about what I ate during this meal, but I plan to try Ethiopian again once Mr. Valise and I get back to Seattle (there’s a popular restaurant there), and I liked the Ethiopian food enough to add it to my list of places I want to visit someday. Now that’s a powerful meal!
Find Abyssinia: 268 W 135th St, New York, NY 10030
The BBQ Cheesesteak at Cleaver’s, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
When I went to Philly halfway through 2016, enjoying a cheesesteak was high on my list. I love seeking out the “popular” or “stereotypical” foods in a new destination, just to see what the fuss is about.
When fellow bloggers and I asked the hotel concierge where we could get cheesesteaks, she recommended Cleaver’s – and it was a fantastic recommendation (so much that I went back again a few weeks ago when I was back in Philly). There, I ordered the most ridiculously indulgent cheesesteak on the menu: the bbq ribeye cheesesteak, with bacon and onion rings. It took two meals to finish the leftovers.
If you’re in Philly, cheesesteaks are a must, and Cleaver’s is a great option because they have so many different options. If you want to follow my footsteps though, the bbq cheesesteak is where it’s at.
Read about other surprises I found in Philadelphia when I was there.
Find Cleaver’s: 108 S 18th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 (Website)
Brunch at Milktooth, Indianapolis, Indiana
I first dined at Milktooth back in 2015 when I went on my first trip back after moving away. My host, Christine from Visit Indy insisted I dine at one of the best restaurants in the city – and the U.S. I loved it so much, I took Mr. Valise back when we visited in July of this year and I ordered the same food again!
Milktooth has a rotating menu for seasonality and freshness, but some of their dishes never change, including the grilled cheese. Mr. Valise and I also indulged by ordering some outrageously delicious thick-cut Midwest bacon.
Milktooth is still widely considered the best restaurant in Indy, and among my top recommendations for food this year… if you find yourself in my favorite Midwest city, be sure to stop by.
Read why my trip to Indianapolis matters so much to me.
Find Milktooth: 534 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203 (Website)
All the Gyros, Athens & the Ionian Islands, Greece
If I had to choose just one street food to recognize in 2016, it would probably be the gyros Mr. Valise and I ate in Greece. For €2.50-3.00, each one was full of freshly shaved meat (in pork, chicken, beef, or lamb – we tried them all) piping hot from the spit. Each style of meat had a slightly different sauce, and many stuffed French fries right in the pita too – I enjoyed each variety, but must admit that pork was my favorite!
Bosnian Food at Taj Mahal, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Another ethnicity of food I had never tried before this year was Bosnian food. This probably isn’t surprising, as I had never been anywhere near Bosnia before this year! In Dubrovnik for a month, Mr. Valise and I had a great chance to explore the city, and one of the gems we found was a Bosnian restaurant.
Confusingly called Taj Mahal, this tiny restaurant has a total of about 12 tables – and being located in the Old Town is often busy during mealtimes. We happened to arrive early for lunch one day (and hungry!) so enjoyed Turkish coffee and a plate of shared Bosnian food. The flavors were rich and homey, underscoring in my stomach and soul that this is the part of the world my ancestors called home.
Find Taj Mahal: Ul. Nikole Gučetića 2, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia (Website)
Flammkuchen in Freiburg, Germany
I deliberated for a while whether to attribute my best meal in the Alsatian region should be on the “German side” or the “French side” of the border. Though Flammkuchen is obviously a German word, the food itself is a great example of the braided history of food in the region. In the end though, I think my first bites proved the most impressive on my memory, and those happened while traveling in Freiburg, Germany.
The super-thin, crispy crusted flatbread, topped with a savory cheese, bacon, and onions are the “natural” way Flammkuchen is served, and it was done perfectly well at Schlappen in the heart of the student area (and central part) of Freiburg. Along with a plate of their trademark mixed potatoes and garlic sauce, Mr. Valise and I warmed up – and warmed to the comforts of Alsatian life.
Read more about Freiburg and how to have a great time there in my city guide.
Find Schlappen: Löwenstraße 2, 79098 Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany (Website)
The Vladimir Poutine at HopCat, Grand Rapids, Michigan
It should come as no surprise that my final great meal of 2016 is decidedly over-indulgent. On a far-too-short trip to Grand Rapids in November, I made sure to visit the ultimate beer bar HopCat. While there, I decided to stay for lunch and ordered the Vladimir Poutine.
A special version of their world-renowned “Crack Fries,” the Vladimir Poutine are topped with potato and cheese pierogi, Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds, stout caramelized onions & hickory smoked bacon smothered in spicy sausage gravy. And it pairs perfectly with their hopped up craft beer fresh from the tap.
Find HopCat: 25 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 (Website)
Best Meal Runner-Ups
As I obviously ate a lot more than just these 10 meals, I had to include a few other runner-up meals that really wowed me in the past 12 months.
- The Bread Pudding at McCaffrey House, Twain-Harte, California. While staying at the McCaffrey House B&B in January, we absolutely loved the bread pudding Mrs. McCaffrey served for breakfast that morning. It was almost like being transported straight to Ireland! (Find them: 23251 CA-108, Twain Harte, CA 95383 (Website))
- Dinner at Wolf Peach with Katy from Visit Milwaukee. While in Milwaukee, Mr. Valise and I had dinner at Wolf Peach after a tour of Lakefront Brewing Company. We enjoyed delicious steak tartare, a cheese plate, and a pizza – plus a few Pisco sours. All was top notch! (Find them: 1818 N Hubbard St, Milwaukee, WI 53212 (Website))
- Pubbing at The Clerk and Well, London, England. My local pub from living in London, the Clerk & Well has gotten fixed up and almost posh since I moved away. Now, you can get tasty Thai bites and delicious beer (including a much wider variety of craft beer options) in the pub – and they also have guest rooms! (Find them: 156 Clerkenwell Rd, London EC1R 5DU, UK (Website))
- Chicken Katsu at the Markthalle, Freiburg, Germany. Surprisingly, Freiburg made my ‘best meals’ list twice – and once for a food that I never expected to find there. After months of Mediterranean food, I was craving something – anything – Asian. In the cool Markthalle, there was a Japanese food stall that made delicious chicken Katsu, and it hit the spot! (Find them: Grünwälderstraße 4, 79098 Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany (Website))
Best Drink of the Year: Brown Sugar Bourbon, Heritage Distilling, Gig Harbor, WA
Like food, drink has the power to transform your experience of a place and time. If I had to choose just one drink that had a powerful impact on my year (so much that I mentioned it time and again), it would be the Brown Sugar Bourbon by Heritage Distilling in Gig Harbor, WA.
Easily the best bourbon I’ve ever tasted in my life, BSB (as it’s affectionately called) is the bourbon I recommend for anyone who isn’t sure if they like bourbon, and is the gift I send anyone who I feel has been a truly awesome person/friend. If you receive one, it’s probably from me!
Find Heritage Distilling: 3207 57th St Ct NW, Gig Harbor, WA 98335 (Website)
- Runner Up: Freddo Espresso. I wrote about the Freddo Espresso (and my love for it after my trip to Greece) in Roads & Kingdoms; read it on their site.
Best Dessert: Deconstructed Lemon Merengue, Magellan, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Right at the end of our time in Dubrovnik, Mr. Valise and I went out for dinner with Drew & Julie from Drive on the Left. They were just arriving into the city for a few days, and we were long overdue to try a restaurant recommended by the taxi driver on the night we arrived.
Said restaurant, Magellan, was walking distance from our Airbnb, but we had no idea what kind of treat we were in for. Each dish was beautifully plated and delicious, but the dessert I ordered was the shining star. Called a “deconstructed lemon merengue,” it was a slab of slate with artful dollops of sour lemon gel, peppered sweet cream, and a traditional sweet lemon pudding.
It was easily one of the most interesting dishes I’ve ever eaten, with a variety of flavors that I could “mix and match” in each bite. It was also the most sour thing I’ve tasted in a long time – even more sour than a traditional lemon!
Unfortunately, this dish is no longer on the menu, but Magellan rotates through dishes based on seasonality and available ingredients. As of writing, they now offer a deconstructed goat cheese cheesecake that almost seems worth buying a ticket back to Croatia.
Find Magellan: Ul. Iva Vojnovića 7, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia (Website)
- Runner Up: Ice Cream at Chez Ming, Paris, France. Mr. Valise and I were craving Asian (again) by the time we reached Paris, so we went out one rainy night for Chinese food. The prix fixe meal was good, but the ice cream at the end was great – deliciously cold and super rich in flavor.
“Worst” Meal: Thai Curry & Coconut Steamed Mussels at Brix 25°, Gig Harbor, Washington
As part of our trip to Gig Harbor, I also had the most memorable “bad” meal of the year. I want to state for the record: the food at Brix 25° was delicious and nothing about our meal was bad. As I perused the menu, I decided to be adventurous and ask “what would Anthony Bourdain do?” to help me make my choices. I ended up ordering something I didn’t really enjoy, but the flavors and presentation of that dish (and everything else we ordered) were fantastic all the same.
It turns out – as I learned in this meal – I don’t like eating shellfish fresh from the shell. I get a weird feeling about eating them, like I’m eating this thing out of the house and then I started to feel really bad. I felt even worse that I didn’t want to finish them, because I had helped murder these poor mussels and now they would go to waste! It was an emotional meal which began with delicious pork belly and ended with fantastic cheesecake, but the service was spectacular throughout. Mr. Valise still makes fun of me for it – and now I know not to order mussels!
Find Brix 25°: 7707 Pioneer Way, Gig Harbor, WA 98335 (Website)
- Runner Up: Prawns at Restoran Galerija, Kotor, Montenegro. Because I apparently didn’t learn my lesson six months earlier, I ordered a prawn dish in Kotor that came with full prawns – head and all! I toughed it out and peeled the poor guys… but man, I am not ordering shellfish in the shell anymore!
Phew! That was a lot of delicious food! Now my mouth is watering again… I can’t wait to start eating in 2017.