When dining out is part of the job, meals can become blurs—pasta here, steak there, blistered shishitos to start, pavlova for dessert. But there are some dishes that are so profoundly delicious, so thoughtfully prepared that they’ve seared themselves into our minds forever.
As 2019 comes to a close, Food & Wine editors agonized over everything they've eaten this year to choose the one meal that really stuck with them. One former pescatarian waxes poetic about a bologna sandwich in New Orleans; a restaurant editor finds the ultimate coconut shrimp at a hot chicken shack in Asheville.
At bistros, pop-ups, and neighborhood haunts, we found food we cherish. These are the best meals we ate all year.
Edited by Bridget Hallinan and Maria Yagoda
“Thanks to the wise counsel of my colleagues Ray Isle and Melanie Hansche, I made a point of sniffing out Bubbledogs during a whirlwind trip to London. I’ve thought about that meal at least once a week ever since. The concept is simple and joyous: elaborately topped hot dogs ('spicy garlic mayo, pickled vegetables, peanut powder, and coriander' on one and 'hot giardiniera mix, caramelized onions, jalapeños, and cheese sauce' on another) served alongside carefully chosen grower Champagnes that aren’t usually available by the glass, and an array of tater tots. If that hadn’t been enough to lift my spirits, all I’d have to do would be to look around the room at the ridiculously charming illustrations of a happy little dog in the midst of endeavors like being a vampire, clutching a flying Champagne cork, nestling between bun halves. The cherry on top came in the form of 'ketchup' (the 'mustard' was banana) in a teensy little bottle to squeeze atop a chocolate dog tucked into a brioche bun. Yes, there’s also a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Kitchen Table, hidden away behind a discreet entrance at the back of the bar and I’ll get there someday. But for now, I feel like an awfully lucky pup.” – Kat Kinsman, senior editor
Maison Yaki, Brooklyn, New York City
“When I look back at 2019, I ate a bunch of truly amazing things at Maison Yaki that I dream about regularly. Chiefly: the crispy, fluffy cauliflower okonomiyaki with hazelnuts, the beef tongue sando drizzled with just the right amount of gribiche, the creamy salmon mimosa tartare which comes with these delightful seeded crackers. Oh, and if I had to choose one skewer to order forever, it would have to be the duck a l'orange.” – Oset Babur, associate restaurant editor
Piece of Meat, New Orleans
"I was a strict pescatarian for 10 years before coming to work at Food & Wine. But when I found myself in New Orleans right before the announcement of our Best New Restaurants list, I knew I had to try Piece of Meat. I swear, the Not Turkey and the Wolf’s Bologna Sandwich, with housemade bologna, provolone, barbecue sauce, and fried onions, was an absolute revelation, leaving all the fish and vegetables I ate this year in its dust. (Don’t miss the Boudin Egg Rolls, either.)” – Erin Clyburn, copy editor
A one-night-only Noma dinner in Los Angeles
“René Redzepi’s one-night-only Noma dinner in Los Angeles, produced by American Express Centurion, made most of my dinners from 2019 seem like a handful of M&M’s in comparison. The steamed and smoked king crab was served with a sonicated horseradish sauce that worked its way through your body and landed with a tingle at your undercarriage. I looked around the table and asked people if the horseradish was hitting them you know where, or if it was just me, and they all nodded with a smile. There was black garlic leather tempered with ant paste, sloe berries, and black currants and shaped like a leaf. There was pheasant broth gel topped with caviar and whipped cream. The caramelized milk skin was a little alien freak. The first course was a plate of padrón peppers. Most of them were mild except for the atomic one that I took, so my very first bite of the night caused me so much pain that I started to laugh-cry like I was having a psychotic break. By the time we finished the cardamom mousse dessert, I was convinced I’d actually lost it.” – Ryan Grim, digital executive editor
"I wanted to have a super hip answer for this, but my most memorable meal wasn’t at one of the many famously cool, accolade-accumulating restaurants I visited for my job, but rather at an arty Maldives resort called Joali—in the middle of the Indian Ocean, on a stilted over-water villa, at the end of a bucket list vacation and pretty difficult year. Wearing a bathing suit and hotel slippies, I made an uncharacteristic splurge on room service and ordered one dish: half of a spiny, sustainably caught Maldivean lobster. Intricately speckled and smaller than I'd expected, it was unlike any shellfish I’d ever tasted, seasoned simply with lemon, salt, and pepper. I washed it down with my favorite depressed-on-vacation beverage: minibar Diet Coke. For dessert I floated in my infinity pool, at peace with the fact that I’d peaked." – Maria Yagoda, digital restaurant editor
Via Carota, New York City
“Via Carota doesn’t need any more hype, but I’m going to give it anyway. As soon as I started working in New York, I heard whisperings about the West Village hotspot, which quickly grew into frequent, almost overwhelming declarations of love on my Instagram feed. The Meyer lemon risotto! The negroni menu! The cacio e pepe! I grew up around good Italian restaurants, so I was curious to see if this one would live up to its reputation. Reader, it did—and then some. We ordered a veritable feast to the table, starting off with incredibly crisp, spicy ’Nduja Arancini and the Castelfranco salad with white radicchio, robiola, hazelnuts, and honey. Then, grilled octopus with green olive pesto—tender, ultra-briny—sweet-savory polpette studded with raisins, and the pièce de résistance, tagliatelle with prosciutto and Parmigianno. Everything was so simply, yet lovingly prepared, capturing the true essence of rustic Italian food. We ate so much that we almost didn’t have room for dessert, but the lure of hazelnut semifreddo and olive oil cake was too tempting to pass up. Worth every bite.” – Bridget Hallinan, digital reporter
Antichi Sapori, Montegrosso, Italy
"My family traveled to Puglia over the summer, and the most memorable meal from that trip was at Antichi Sapori in Montegrosso. I knew that Antichi Sapori, run by chef Pietro Zito, was going to be on Food & Wine’s World’s Best Restaurants list, so naturally I made my family drive two hours each way just to dine there. From a miniature eggplant parmigiana to a bowl of spicy rigatoni, from all iterations of caciocavallo cheese to a dessert course that covered our table in tiramisu, candied almonds, and fresh fruit, the long ride to this special trattoria was worth it." – Nina Friend, assistant editor
Black Axe Mangal, London
“Black Axe Mangal, chef Lee Tiernan's offal-centric, Turkish-inspired restaurant with a heavy metal soundtrack in London's Highbury, is not only the most crazy-delicious meal I've had this year, it's also the most wickedly fun in the most unassuming of rooms. Case in point: the opening salvo is a pickle back—vodka shot, beet and horseradish juice chaser, smoked eel and pickled walnut 'bite'. Hell, yeah! Tiernan's food wallops you in the face unapologetically with giant fists of flavor, from smoked pork cheek with pickled watermelon, to grilled octopus with salty ham hock and spicy som tum, to his riff on St. John's classic roast bone marrow dish, topped with oxtail and anchovy gremolata. I could eat here again and again until the end of days.” – Melanie Hansche, deputy editor
Bistro des Cocotte, Beaune, France
“The best meal I ate in 2019 was so good I ate it twice. In February, while researching recipes for our October French Wine Issue, a Burgundy winemaker suggested I pop in to Bistro des Cocottes in Beaune, France for brouillade, the silky soft scrambled eggs typically garnished with truffles. This bustling spot has only one cook, the owner, who produces plate after plate of perfect Burgundian food from behind the bar while chatting with regulars. When an order of brouillade comes in, he focuses his attention, whisking the eggs in a saucepan to a fluffy, polenta-like consistency. The menu changes daily and, on that particular day, they were pouring 1er Cru Saint Aubin white Burgundy by the glass for 8 Euros (their wine list is large, local, and incredibly well-priced) and serving the eggs with bits of black truffle, shaved French ham, and buttered brioche toast. It was so memorable, that I returned to Beaune on vacation this fall so I could eat eggs with white Burgundy at Bistro des Cocottes again, this time with my wife. The dish came out identical to the one I’d eaten 10 months before, proof of the chef’s perfect technique. And in the meantime, I recreated the dish for our October issue; it makes the perfect date night dinner or special brunch for two.” – Mary-Frances Heck, senior food editor
Modern Love, Brooklyn, New York City
“I regularly crave Modern Love's nachos. They are my favorite in Brooklyn, and not just in the vegan category. I would pour that cashew queso over everything if I could, and I would pay money for the walnut 'chorizo' recipe.” – Sarah Crowder, digital photo editor
Bavel, Los Angeles
“The best meal I ate all year was a late summer dinner at Bavel, in downtown Los Angeles, from chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis. We ate outside, on the vine-covered patio, sipping sparkling wine as each dish that landed on our table seemed to outdo the last. To start, blistered pita, warm from the wood-fire oven and still filled with fragrant steam, accompanied a silky smooth hummus topped with two kinds of herbal, fiery chili paste. A cool, refreshing strawberry-studded scallop crudo, and hot, spicy grilled prawns came next. Juicy, sweetly acidic tomatoes with farm cheese and XO sauce, a giant skewer of smoky oyster mushrooms, and slow roasted lamb neck shawarma followed. For dessert, mulberry ice cream and a bon bon whose sour licorice caramel convinced a lifelong black licorice-detractor to ask for seconds.” – Kelsey Youngman, associate food editor
Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack, Asheville, North Carolina
“The meal I can’t stop thinking about is the meal that makes the least sense. I spent an afternoon in Asheville, North Carolina in what feels like a scene from a Taylor Swift song. Four of us were cruising around town in my friend’s well-loved and well-worn pick-up truck jumping from one snack to the next. After a round of doughnuts (perfectly crisp, coasted in sesame seeds) we headed to a Nashville hot chicken chain called Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack. But we are not here for chicken, hot or otherwise. We’re here for the shrimp, deep-fried and coated in coconut shreds. Coconut shrimp gets a bad rap for being a cheap, overly sweet appetizer for people afraid of seafood, but I argue the one at Rocky’s might be shrimp’s ultimate evolution. It’s perfectly crispy and just slightly sweet and only gets better when dunked in the creamy mango habanero aioli it is served with. The hot chicken (with a side of mac and cheese) makes for a good follow up course—but I will be back in Asheville for the coconut shrimp.” – Khushbu Shah, restaurant editor
Asmali Cavit, Istanbul
“Jet-lagged and exhausted, my partner Katie and I had just landed in Istanbul. Driving from the airport on a dark, rainy night with my Turkish friend Can, who made a few calls and scored a table reservation for the three of us at Asmali Cavit, a traditional Turkish Meyhane (derived from the ancient word for wine ‘mey’ and ‘hane’ meaning house, literally a wine house – though ironically, the customary drink is Raki, not wine).
We trudged uphill in the rain on wet cobblestone streets in the pedestrian-only neighborhood of Beyoglu, dodging other walkers, random motorscooters, and stray cats and dogs. We nestled ourselves in an upstairs window seat and sat overlooking the busy foot traffic below. We were quickly educated in the ceremony of mixing Raki—with just the right amount of water, anise-flavored liquor, and ice.
Can navigated us through the rituals of Meyhane dining. We pointed to items in a glass display case, and chose a generous spread of appetizers for our first course—Patlıcan Salata (eggplant puree), Kaya Koruğu (made with local river greens), Muhammara (ground walnut and yoghurt), and Köpoğlu (eggplant w/ spicy butter & yoghurt). Two courses of fresh caught, local fish followed—Hamsi (anchovies, battered in corn flower) and Tekir (a small mullet, cooked in oil).
We lost hours in great conversation. We caught guests at neighboring tables laughing at our attempts to learn basic Turkish, and we laughed along with them. The night ended with baklava and strong Turkish coffee, which ruled out any chance of a good night’s sleep. Our internal clocks were confused, we were in a huge expansive foreign city, but this felt like home in the midst of absolute disorientation. It was a few days before Thanksgiving, but this felt like a true Thanksgiving dinner. It was certainly the most memorable I’ve had." – Dan Bailey, photo editor
Gaijin, Astoria, New York City
“The best meal I had this year was the sushi omakase at Gaijin (now Koyo) in Astoria. Everything was perfectly orchestrated: the service, the timing, the portions. And the flavor progression from one course to the next was mind-bogglingly good. It’s a bit of a splurge, but it’s worth every penny.” – Caitlin A. Miller, wine intern
La Castellana, Greve, Italy
“Our trip to Italy in early May hit plenty of high notes (cacio e pepe in Trastevere, pistachio gelato in the park) but the singular most indulgent dinner we found at a tiny restaurant in Chianti thanks to a recommendation from a local in the area. La Castellana is a cozy, family-owned spot in Greve, overflowing in truffles, locally cured salami and prosciutto, cheeses, and, of course, pasta. We chose a lineup of truffle burrata, truffle ravioli, and seared, sliced steak with—you guessed it—truffles. Everything was both delicate yet rich, and it was incredible to see an otherwise rare ingredient in such abundance. The luxurious meal led to mingling with the waitstaff, who shared their homemade cypress grappa as an aperitif. A truly singular experience!” – Megan Soll, associate digital editor, ecommerce
Canard, Portland, Oregon
“I know it’s not fashionable to say so, but I freaking love a good brunch. And Canard, 2007 F&W Best New Chef Gabriel Rucker’s new café and wine bar in Portland, Oregon, serves a great one. My table (of a dozen family members ranging in age from 3 to 83) inhaled the French Onion steamburgers, demolished the 'Duck Stack' (pancakes + duck gravy + duck sausage + duck egg + duck foie gras + alka seltzer—ok, not the last one, but they should consider it). But my favorite item on the menu—the one I still think about, months later—was the oeufs en mayonnaise, two halved eggs spilling over with mayo, piled high with trout roe and chives, and finished with smoky maple syrup and bacon crumbles. It was a simple thing, and one of the most fun and most satisfying bites I’ve had all year.” – Karen Shimizu, executive editor