I always look forward to writing these yearly food round ups, but this year in eating feels like it was a particularly good one. And though there were many good meals from New York to London to San Francisco to Tallinn and beyond, there’s one major reason for this: Japan. I could easily fill a list with 19 fabulous things from Japan alone; the food there was that good. But, for purposes of this list, I’ve attempted to keep things a little more geographically balanced. And so, here are the best things I ate in 2019.
One: The Lunch Tasting Menu at Gymkhana (London)
I. LOVED. THIS. MEAL. I opted for the four course lunch tasting, and it was a flavor-packed dream. Highlights included the aloo chat (basically, potatoes with ALL THE TASTY THINGS on them), the naan (oh my GOD), and the paneer tika topped with corn. This place immediately shot to the top of my “favorite London” restaurants list – and then, unfortunately, not long after I visited, it had a fire and remained closed for the rest of 2019. I’ve heard it’s reopening in February, and I look forward to going back on my next visit. Hopefully it comes back better than ever!
Two: Omakase at Sushi Bar Yasuda (Tokyo)
In a Japan trip jam packed with good food moments, our omakase at Yasuda might have been the very best one. Every bite of the meal was made by Chef Yasuda himself, who presides over a small, ten seat counter. It was so fascinating to watch him work and listen to all his stories. And as for the food? Perfection. So many of the nigiri pieces melted in your mouth like butter; it was just sublime. What a night!
Three: The Burger at Au Cheval (New York)
This dish gets a ton of hype, which I find is typically a recipe for a letdown, but happily I discovered that this burger was as delicious as everyone promised it would be. Oddly enough, my favorite part might have been … the bun, which had a crispiness to it that I loved. But, really, the whole thing was just fantastic.
Four: The Burrito at La Taqueria (San Francisco)
Eater told me that this was the best burrito in San Francisco . . . and while I only had one burrito in San Francisco, this one was pretty damn incredible, so they just might be right. I ordered it “super” style (aka, with guac and sour cream) and made my way to Dolores Park, where I ate it sitting in the grass. A perfect little meal, if I do say so.
Five: Cheese Cake at Cakes & Bubbles (London)
How to describe this thoroughly unique dessert? The menu calls it a “new concept of cheesecake,” and this basically boils down to the fact that it looks like a hunk of cheese (rind and all) and is much more savory and, well, cheesy than an NYC-style cheesecake. The inside contains a mousse of Coulommiers cheese (a strong, brie-like cheese) and white chocolate. It all combines to one of the most unique – and wonderful – desserts I have ever eaten. I had this in January of 2019 and have been back twice since then; each time it has been fantastic and flawless.
Six: Matcha Espresso Latte at Kurasu (Kyoto)
I always wonder if it’s silly to put beverages on this list (and yet, this is not the only one on my list this year), but this drink was so fabulous I couldn’t not include it. A few blocks away from the Kyoto train station, we found hipster coffee paradise, ordering iced matcha espresso lattes for our bus ride to the Golden Temple. And they were SO GOOD. Honestly, I’d drink a whole vat of these.
Seven: Octopus and Couscous at Mourad (San Francisco)
I went to Mourad on the recommendation of a friend and was not disappointed. Two dishes in particular stood out. First, the octopus with brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mustard, and preserved lemon. This dish was a pure flavor explosion down to the last bite (including the cauliflower, and I am NOT a cauliflower fan). Second, I ordered a side of couscous, which was incredible. Simple, perfect, and generous on the butter. What more do you need?
Eight: Baked Oysters Brezhnev at Bob Bob Ricard (London)
I feared that Bob Bob Ricard, a trendy spot in London’s Soho, would be overrated. But, actually, I quite enjoyed my meal here. The star was, predictably, the oysters. These weren’t any regular old oysters, though: they were baked and topped with parmesan and black truffle. So tasty!
Nine: Brown Bread and Estonian Cheeses at Von Krahli Aed (Tallinn)
It doesn’t get more basic than bread and cheese, and yet both were elevated to another level at Von Krahli Aed. Regarding the brown bread, it was simply to die for. I mean, it’s just bread, right? Except … it’s way better; very hearty with a little sweetness to it. As for the cheese, I ordered the selection of four Estonian cheeses and loved them all. Isn’t that a rarity? There’s usually a dud or two on a cheese plate, but not here!
Ten: Dinner at Momofuku (Las Vegas)
This was a predictably strong meal at Momofuku’s Vegas outpost: yummy pork belly buns, oysters, honeycrisp apple salad, Sichuan beef noodles, miso sea bass, and very good cocktails. What’s not to like? The pork belly buns were a particular favorite, and while the Sichuan beef noodles were a tad spicy for a spice wimp like me, I still loved them.
Eleven: Chicken White Broth Soba at Kagari Ginza (Tokyo)
Tucked down a little alleyway in Ginza, we found ramen paradise. All the noodle dishes on their menu looked fantastic, but I had heard that the chicken broth was the best, so that’s what we both ordered. It was INCREDIBLE. The broth was rich, flavorful, and perfect in every way. Definitely a classic “I love eating in Japan!” meal.
Twelve: Frozen Blueberry Cheesecake at Rataskaevu 16 (Tallinn)
I asked my server at Rataskaevu 16 what her favorite dessert was, and she did not hesitate before replying that it was the frozen blueberry cheesecake. So, I ordered it, and … yes, yes, a thousand times yes. A sublime dessert, and totally unlike the cheesecake I’m used to. The cheesecake literally melted in your mouth, and the crust was THE BEST.
Thirteen: Peanut Butter Chippy Ice Cream at Leopold’s (Savannah)
It’s hard to imagine a better combination than chocolate and peanut butter, and that duo in ice cream form at Leopold’s is divine. I visited in November, which isn’t exactly ice cream season, but I had heard such good things about Leopold’s that I knew I didn’t care – and I’m glad I didn’t! This was fabulous.
Fourteen: Dinner at Island Social Club (London)
Island Social Club is a no frills restaurant in East London with fab food and a focus on Caribbean cuisine. Everything I ate here was excellent: the tasty jerk chicken wings to start, the oh-so-flavorful chicken curry with coconut milk and pumpkin for my main, the side of roti (like Oprah, I love bread), and, of course, the dangerously easy to drink rum punch.
Fifteen: The Pineapple Sundae at Leo’s Oyster Bar (San Francisco)
Though I am not typically a pineapple person, I ordered the pineapple sundae at Leo’s on a whim and was delighted to discover that it was so the right choice. The combination of vanille ice cream, caramelized pineapples, and pistachios was on point, with the caramelized pineapples in particular providing a truly delicious punch of flavor.
Sixteen: Dinner at Lucknow 49 (London)
Dinner at Lucknow 49 was a spur-of-the-moment choice after something else fell through. And while it might have been a backup restaurant, the dishes I had here were certainly not backup quality food. To start, I had the galawat kawab, which the menu truthfully describes as “melt-in-your-mouth soft lamb patties.” For my main, I had the fantastic awadhi goat biryani; I was so eager to eat this, I didn’t even pause to take a photo of it (a rarity!). And to finish, I enjoyed the rasmalai – a light, refreshing milk cake with mango.
Seventeen: Omakase at Sushi Noz (New York)
Upon returning from Japan, I immediately began craving fresh sushi, leading me to google “best sushi in New York.” I wound up at Sushi Noz for an omakase, and while I haven’t had a ton of high end sushi in NYC, I would be willing to believe that this is indeed the best. It might not quite be the same as enjoying sushi in Japan, but every piece of nigiri here was fantastic and it definitely satisfied my longing!
Eighteen: Spiced Lavender Mocha at Collins Quarter (Savannah)
In reading reviews of Collins Quarter, I noticed that while a bunch of different foods were recommended, one drink came up again and again: the Spiced Lavender Mocha. I don’t typically like lavender, generally thinking it should be smelled rather than tasted, but I made an exception for this coffee. And thank goodness I did; this was so good!
Nineteen: Pork Belly Ramen at Kyoto Ramen Koji (Kyoto)
Though it’s tricky to find, if you are able to navigate your way to the 11th floor of the department store attached to Kyoto’s main train station, you will be richly rewarded with a ramen paradise. The floor is filled with ramen shops, each of which specializes in a different regional variety of noodle. We picked one of the restaurants at random and ordered bowls of pork belly ramen. And OMG, were they delicious! The tenderest pork belly, the most flavorful broth – maybe every shop there serves the most delicious ramen, or maybe we just lucked into picking the best of the best.
Honorable Mentions, Part 1 (clockwise from top left): raviolo at Cotogna (San Francisco); mint chocolate chip and Vietnamese coffee ice cream at La Muu (Tallinn); yakitori and sake on Piss Alley (Tokyo); oyster with rhubarb and pink pepper at Entresol (Riga)
Honorable Mentions, Part 2 (clockwise from top left): lamb fatayer at Honey & Smoke (London); snap peas at Blue Hill (New York); takoyaki at Nishiki Market (Kyoto); pizza margherita at Savoy (Tokyo)