I ate over a thousand restaurant dishes this year (really, I counted!). Here are the ten that I haven’t stopped thinking about, in no particular order.
Sole Meuniere at La Piquette
This is what I call a reset dish. At a time when my palate had been (happily) bombarded non-stop with thrumming flavors (we’d just closed our Cheap Eats issue), this simple filet of fresh sole with butter and lemon was exactly what I needed. Bonus points: packed French bistro, rainy night, fascinating and engaging dinner companion.
Spaghetti at Bad Saint
I ate a lot of Italian this year, but the best plate of pasta I had was easily this riff on Filipino spaghetti with hot dogs. The noodles (hand-cut, house-made) had the perfect softness and chew, and they were tossed with a ruddy, meaty tomato sauce with thin slabs of dry-aged-beef sausage.
Lobster and Grits at the Dabney
Now that we have a toddler, my husband and I get out together, well, never. So this was a double-win: a slam-dunk meal at one of my fave dining rooms (especially in winter), plus a date night. This lobster with preserved chilies and grits was a special, and I choose it almost arbitrarily from all the great things we ate.
Burgers at Lucky Buns
It’s becoming kind of a tradition: Every year when Anna, Jessica, and I wrap the 100 Best Restaurants issue, we go feast somewhere that is the opposite of fancy and formal. This year we headed to AdMo, ordered a couple rounds of rosé, and shared a whole mess of burgers and sandwiches and fried things. It is usually a meal that is more about celebration than the food, but in this case the food happened to be some of the best burgers in town.
Omakase at Sushi Nakazawa
I really, really, really try not to go into a restaurant with preconceived notions or biases. This sushi spot in the Trump Hotel (well, shoved in the back of it, next to the Starbucks), was a real test. Especially after the bartender inside the hotel had just loudly made fun of me for ordering a 50/50 martini (if you enter Trumpland and don’t get bullied, did it even happen?) Anyway, over at Nakazawa, the progression of nigiri on perfectly seasoned, slightly tangy rice pretty quickly helped me forget any bad vibes. And the sushi chef at the bar there couldn’t be nicer.
Pizza bagel at Call Your Mother
Where two amazing things, the pizza at Timber and the bagels at Call Your Mother, converge. I’m not gonna lie, the fresh mozz’ and micro-basil had me worried. But man this thing was good, with a chewy, slightly sweet bagel, marinara that knew its place, and those little coins of pepperoni. I’d wait in line for it—hell, I’d even cross state lines for it. PS. Sorry if this all calls to mind that ‘90s jingle that is stickier than “Baby Shark.”
Marriage of Virginia Bison at the Inn at Little Washington
When it comes to the most opulent tier of tasting menus, I usually look forward to the meaty course the least. It’s rare that a) I’m not already stuffed, and b) it is as enthralling as the earlier plates. Plus, bison can be a real snooze. Leave it to Patrick O’Connell to change my mind completely about the meat. This plate is pure luxury—a peppery tenderloin with braised short rib, nubs of creamy foie gras, and the richest, smoothest truffle reduction.
Whole roast duck at Spoken English
I brought just one friend on my first trip to Erik Bruner-Yang’s hidden Line Hotel spot. We ordered a few small plates and skewers…and this $95 whole duck, which comes with duck-fat tortillas and a ton of tiny condiment bowls. If there are better leftovers in town I haven’t found them. Duck roll-ups for breakfast should totally be a thing.
Cauliflower with Tahini at Chloe
2018 was the year of the cauliflower, which, um, let’s do better next year? Haidar Karoum’s flash-fried, tahini-painted version, doused with lemon and mint and parsley, redeemed the ubiquitous vegetable.
Steamed Crabs at LP Steamers
A pitcher of Natty Boh, a dozen sweet, spice-caked crabs, a breezy Baltimore rooftop, and my mom. One of those meals—on a not-too-crowded weekday, no less—that reminded me just how lucky I am to have this job.
Honorable mentions: Pork rillettes sandwich at Elle; pimiento cheese with bing at Momofuku CCDC; jelly doughnut at B. Doughnut; smoked fish platter at the Tavern at Ivy City Smokehouse; ribs at Hammerdown BBQ; trout on a log at A Rake’s Progress; fried shrimp with tamarind at Elephant Jumps; beef rib with pita and tzatziki at Komi; einkorn loaf at Seylou Bakery; bloody mary at Bourbon Steak.