POPSUGAR Food

Our Favorite Meals of 2013

Dec 30 2013 - 10:45am

For those of us who write about the experience of eating day in and day out, what dining experiences manage to truly stand apart? Luckily for us, this year we happened upon more than a few dining experiences that still managed to truly wow us. Come along as we revisit 11 meals — some luxe, some low end, some near, some far — that managed to be more than just a flash in the pan.

Photo: Heimo Schmidt

Underbelly, Houston

Food & Wine Best New Chef Chris Shepherd captivated us in Aspen [1] with his soulful food and charismatic demeanor. A few weeks later, I found myself in my hometown of Houston at his restaurant, Underbelly [2], which, much like Shepherd, was gregarious and convivial. What came out of his kitchen (which was open and bustling, of course) captured the underbelly of Bayou City culture succinctly with the likes of quail eggs, marbled in tea, Chinese-style; crispy market long beans and okra; and Korean-influenced braised goat dumplings. That singular experience changed the way I view Houston food.

— Susannah Chen, editor

Photos: Julie Soefer

The Blue Bar at the Berkeley, London

David Collins [3] designed some of the most luxurious restaurants and bars in the world. My family and I were in London when news broke that the interior designer had tragically passed [4]. During that very trip, we visited one of his most iconic spots, The Blue Bar [5] at the Berkeley Hotel. Though not a restaurant, I will never forget my experience there. We sat on the white stools at the bar, in awe of the bartenders, who are more like circus acrobats, gracefully juggling, flipping, and twirling the bottles of alcohol, fruit, and glassware. I've never seen so much detail and care given to cocktails in my life. I will never forget the garnish on my Violeta cocktail [6]: a passion fruit half, balanced daintily on top of a tiny silver spoon.

— Anna Monette Roberts, assistant editor

Source: David Collins [7]

TBD, San Francisco

I've found myself singing the praises of the fire-driven TBD [8] to anyone who'll listen. It excels on many fronts, the most obvious being its layout; the heart of the restaurant is its awe-inspiring open kitchen, where nearly everything is cooked over an open wood fire. From that hearth comes creative dishes like itty-bitty crisp-skinned potatoes draped with uni and clams braised with a fiery dashi broth so good I sopped up every last drop with bread. That said, what really sold me was the restaurant's well-curated sherry list [9].

— Nicole Perry, assistant editor

Sources: Instagram user tbdrestaurant [10], Julia Spiess [11], Nicole Perry

Shake Shack, Dubai

A Shake Shack burger can be harder to come by in America than anywhere else in the world, and I mean that literally. The wait Madison Square Park [12] may take you hours, while in at the new location in Dubai, it's a laughable matter of minutes. My sister and her husband recently moved there, and I visited during the month of Ramadan [13]. To my amazement, I witnessed local Emiratis, dressed in traditional garb, break their fast with burgers and fries at the Shake Shack's Mall of the Emirates location [14]. Though thousands of miles away from New York, the burger, fries, and cookie dough Concrete tasted equally, if not better, than the original Shake Shake location.

— AMR

Source: Shake Shack [15]

Fog City, San Francisco

In the nine years I've lived in San Francisco, I've never had a bad meal at one of Bruce Hill's restaurants. Hill's latest venture, Fog City [16] — a revival of San Francisco's famed Fog City Diner, with an elevated, California-centric menu — was no exception. Along with exceptional meats roasted in the wood-fired oven (pictured in our cover photo), the kitchen presents some of the most of-the-moment ingredients in an innovative way: think deviled eggs sprinkled with bacon and crispy quinoa, baby carrots slow-roasted in black garlic mole, and lamb skewers slathered in vadouvan yogurt sauce. Thank goodness I saved room for dessert, though: the classic frozen custard might be the best frozen treat I had this year.

— SC

Photos: Kristen Loken, Heimo Schmidt

Empellón Taqueria, New York

Empellón Taqueria [17], tucked away in the West Village in Manhattan, would be my regular Mexican spot if I still lived there. Yes, I devoured the margaritas, flight of seven salsas, and guacamole, but the most memorable part of the meal was the flour tortilla used for the tacos. Made with real-deal lard, they have a crispy, flaky exterior and then melt in your mouth like cream. I could have eaten an entire platter of those fresh flour tortillas with butter and salt. Luckily, chef Alex Stupak has shared this marvelous recipe [18] with the world.

— AMR

Source: Instagram user empellon [19]

Manzanita, Truckee, CA

How does one salvage a rainy weekend spent in Lake Tahoe? Some might sulk, but my boyfriend and I decided to make the most of our trip and go for a blowout meal at Manzanita [20], Traci Des Jardins's [21] restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. While the entire evening was superb, what stood out most were the before-dinner drinks, including a stunning pear and elderflower sparkler [22], the flawless service — the front of house staff barely batted an eyelash when a raging hailstorm knocked out the power for a minute or two — and the spot-on wine pairings suggested by the sommelier. Yes, the drive there and back over an icy mountain road was a bit hairy, but there was no doubt in either of our minds that the trek was worth it.

— NP

Source: The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe [23]

Mission Chinese Food, San Francisco

I've been in San Francisco for years, and yet just finally made it to Mission Chinese Food [24]. The wait is excruciating, especially since an MSG-filled scent hangs in the air and cranks your saliva glands to full blast. However, the experience is absolutely worth it. Everything is too loud: the bright red lights, the dragon decorations, the rap music, the spicy, fat-filled dishes. But you wouldn't want it any other way. Don't walk out without trying the Ma Po Tofu and Salt Cod Fried Rice. Bring a gaggle of friends (Chinese is always better with a bigger group) and do fight for the leftovers, which taste even more incredible when reheated the next morning.

— AMR

Source: Instagram users thechrismcentee [25], oscarmoreno [26], and rysoeu [27]

Lu Cocina Michoacana, Morelia, Mexico

Each May, Morelia, the capital of the Mexican state Michoacán, hosts Morelia en Boca [28], an international food festival. But my personal highlight on this year's trip to Morelia with Avocados from Mexico [29] was dinner at Lu Cocina Michoacana [30]. Lu chef Lucero Soto marries the classic foods of the Mexico with modern gastronomic techniques. The most mind blowing? Her rollitos de jicama, sheets of jicama (yes, jicama!) fried, rolled, and stuffed with pickled hibiscus flower, then served with chipotle and avocado sauces.

— SC

Source: Facebook user Lu: Cocina Michoacana [31]

King of Noodles, San Francisco

Is the menu riddled with errors? Are the surroundings a bit dingy? Will the restaurant's name be misspelled on your credit card statement (King of Noddles)? To all, yes. But that's half the fun of King of Noodles [32], an unassuming Chinese restaurant near San Francisco's Golden Gate Park that boasts some of the best hand-pulled noodles I've tasted. Whether slicked in a funky fermented black bean sauce or tucked into a steaming bowl of broth with bok choy, it's easy to understand how King of Noodles got its name.

— NP

Sources: Instagram users jiceman [33], jrapues, shoyuegg [34], and noiseandkisses [35]

Pok Pok, Portland, OR

While in Portland, OR, I was determined to make it to Pok Pok [36], Andy Ricker's legendary Northern Thai restaurant, at any cost. Good thing, because the wait turned out to be two hours; we whittled the time away eating fried pig's ears and drinking tamarind whiskey sours at Ricker's Whiskey Soda Lounge [37] across the street. But when the food finally did arrive, it was entirely worth the wait: hot wings that were suffused with garlicky chili flavor; steaming khao soi; catfish larb (pictured here) that was salty, spicy, and minty fresh all at once; and a platter of fresh vegetables, including ones I'd never seen before, like Thai olives [38]. Pok Pok isn't just Thai food; it's Thai food on steroids.

— SC

Source: Flickr user goodiesfirst [39]


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