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Food Writers and Experts on Their Best Meals of 2013

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Illustration: Eric Lebofsky

In an ongoing year-end survey, food writers, industry experts, and friends of Eater have already weighed in on everything from their favorite new restaurants of 2013 to the year's best dining cities. Today, they tackle another crucial question: What were their best meals of 2013? For some, those meals went down at blockbuster newcomers like Carbone or at established favorites such as Manresa or Holeman & Finch. Internationally, big names such as Attica in Australia, Osteria Francescana in Italy, and Faviken in Sweden continued to captivate these dining experts. And still others reminisce about meals they had at more under-the-radar spots. Here now, the full list:


Ryan Sutton, Bloomberg News Restaurant Critic:

The best meal I had in 2013 was perhaps not necessarily at a restaurant, but at a farm — Cynthia Sandberg's Love Apple Farms in Santa Cruz, which provides much of what is served at David Kinch's Manresa. Garden Manager Stephan Garaffo spent a few hours taking me around the farm, and having me try all these different herbs and plants I'd never sampled before. There were husk cherries, Vietnamese coriander (slightly resinous, with a hint of police pepper spray), four different types of arugula (whose spice ranged from mild to nuclear wasabi), radish blossoms, ice lettuce (like edible velvet), etc. Part of me believes the Holy Grail of gastronomy is finding entirely new ingredients and flavors. And for me at least, much of what I tried at Love Apple were new flavors. And that was so, so rad.

Joshua David Stein, food writer and New York Observer restaurant critic:

Luksusbetonyestela.

Matt Buchanan of The New Yorker:

I was afraid of epic tasting menus after being highly disappointed in two high-profile joints this year and last, but Atera restored my faith in the medium.

Cotogna in San Francisco was probably the single best Italian meal I had.

Paper Plane, which I mentioned before. Also in Atlanta, Empire State South delivered pretty spectacularly, despite being not-all-that impressive right after it opened.

Greg Morabito, Editor of Eater NY:

My first meals at The Elm and Mission Cantina, and my second meal at Charlie Bird. Also, lunch at the bar at Babbo back in January was spectacular.

Ben Leventhal, Eater Co-Founder:

Bestia absolutely slayed me when I was there, in part because I didn't expect it to be so incredibly good. At the bar at Bones, new Paris shines. In April, I happened to be at Lucali Miami right after it opened and might have had the four best pizzas in my life. Speaking of, I was at Pizzeria Bianco in October and good god can that guy make pizza.

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The Pass & Provisions, Houston. [Photo: Gary Wise]

Amanda Kludt, Eater Editorial Director:

Pass & Provisions in Houston, Dinner in London, Neta in New York.

Adrian Moore, Paris-based food writer and Mandarin Oriental concierge:

I tend to shy away from doing Best Of lists myself, but when I do, I like to promote exceptional places that may have absolutely nothing with what the food fashion is now or following blindly the latest trend. A perfect meal is so much more. Mine took place in the Himalayan foothills in the Mae Sa Valley outside of Chiang Mai at a private resort called Howie's Homestay.

Howie's is a unique kind of place, just 30 minutes from the airport, easy to reach yet completely isolated, surrounded only by water buffalo and local villagers. Regulars who come to Howie's like to keep it secret, and with good reason. To make a long story short, the owner, Howard Feldman, dropped out of a profitable business and took years to create the ultimate private home, which in turn became the ultimate private resort. The cook, his wife Jerri, an accomplished Salsa dancer and charming conversationalist, created a feast of Chiang Mai specialties seemingly without end: red, green, and yellow curries, crab omelet, roast pork and chicken, salads, soups, a rarified best of some of the best street food in the world. No subtitles, and it's all love and friendliness.

Marie-Claude Lortie, Columnist at La Presse:

A meal at Fäviken in January, and then a meal in November at Rochelle Canteen.

James Casey, Founder of Swallow Magazine:

The best meal, perhaps for nostalgic reasons, was lunch at Sweeting's in London. Start with a tankard of black velvet, then continue with a bottle of Chablis, and a table brimming with the following: Colchester natives, scallops with bacon, English asparagus, gulls eggs, poached Scottish salmon, fish and chips, and sole in butter. Finish it off with bread pudding, spotted dick, and port and/or sherry. No coffee served. Perfect.

Alyssa Shelasky, Writer and Author of Apron Anxiety:

A robust piece of carrot cake from Carbone, which my friend Mario Carbone slipped me in between shifts. I ate it alone at home, in front of Sons of Anarchy, in a radically euphoric state.

Elizabeth Auerbach, food writer and blogger behind ElizabethOnFood:

I have visited some 150 different restaurants in seven countries in 2013, so picking a single best meal is really too much to ask.

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State Bird Provisions, San Francisco. [Photo: Patricia Chang]

Zach Brooks, founder of Midtown Lunch and co-host of the Food is the New Rock podcast:

I'm supposed to eat at State Bird Provisions next week... can I wait until then to answer that question? [Update: Ate at State Bird last night, and it wasn't even close. Best meal of 2013.]

Charlotte Druckman, Senior Editor at Medium and Skirt Steak author:

I can never answer this one — too hard. It could be the double scoop of ice cream I had at Ample Hills Creamery (which I finally got to), or a perfect dinner at Oleana in Cambridge, or the burger at the Brindle Room in NYC ordered the way Josh Ozersky insisted it be done (he's right; it's the best). Or, it could be the first time I ate at Estela and realized I had found a new restaurant that I already wanted to go to all the time.

But then, I'd be forgetting my entire Southern Foodways Alliance symposium experience. It started with lunch at Hog & Hominy where I tasted the best slice of pie of my life (the Beauregard) and the excellent John T. Edge burger, and only got better from there with one of the most heart-on-the-plate-forward meals I've ever had (Vivian Howard's lunch), and Lisa Donovan's coconut cake/dried apple (hand) pie boxed snack. Oh, and while touring the South with photographer Melanie Dunea for our SFA project, there was an astounding meal at Holeman & Finch in Atlanta (plus Liz Lorber's fried chicken, made the way Edna Lewis taught her) and a pie binge at Phoebe Lawless's Scratch Bakery in Durham.

And my most recent dinner at Bar Tartine was the kind that quietly stuns you and makes you wish that restaurant existed in your neighborhood.

Kat Odell, Editor of Eater LA:

Blanca in Brooklyn.

Sharlee Gibb, Melbourne-based writer and restaurant expert:

Attica's Marron and Ground Greens. I was oddly surprised to hear the waiter whisper "dehydrated chicken" as he put the plate down in front of me describing the dish. So taken by the dish, I went back to visit chef Ben Shewry three days later to hear a 20-minute explanation from him of how the dish came together. Magic combination, close to perfection. Honorable mention to white miso and pink lady soft serve at Supernormal Canteen.

Kyle Nabilcy, Isthmus food writer:

I make a regular visit to James Beard-winning chef Tory Miller's L'Etoile with my wife, and I'm hard-pressed to name a meal that's better than that. Miller's skill with fish and other seafood is particularly awe-inspiring. The crew running Forequarter served a Montreal-style pastrami back in May that took me right back to my honeymoon in Quebec. But perhaps the most exhilarating meal of 2013 was a totally random encounter with the Los Agaves taco truck in remote Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin; exceptional pastor, chorizo, and lengua tacos had me wolfing them down in my parked car, getting out, and ordering more.

Peter Meehan of Lucky Peach:

Dinner at Tempura Tazawa. And any dinner at which my daughter ate all her vegetables without me having to bargain away a bunch of chocolate to get it to happen.

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Carbone, New York City. [Photo: Daniel Krieger]

Helen Rosner, Executive Digital Editor of Saveur:

I had one of the best meals of my life at Carbone. The stars aligned: The mood was perfect, the service was a joy (Enrico! Ti amo!), the food was blissful, the pacing was ideal, the soundtrack was on point. It was one of the most profoundly wonderful experiences I've ever had; certainly the best spent three hours I've ever spent in a restaurant.

Robbie Swinnerton, Japan Times restaurant reviewer and Tokyo Food File blogger:

In Tokyo, dinner at Kojyu represents the apogee of contemporary kaiseki. In Kyoto, Mizai encapsulates the deep essence of traditional Kyoto cuisine and hospitality. But the absolute funnest meal of the year was the gala collaboration dinner by Zaiyu Hasegawa (Jimbocho Den) and Hiroyasu Kawate (Florilege), held at the former to mark the latter's 4th anniversary.

Abroad, I was absolutely blown away by my (belated) first-ever visit to Noma. But in absolute terms, nothing prepared me for the sheer brilliance of Oslo's undersung gem, Maaemo. Esben Holmboe Bang's cuisine is superlative, while Pontus Dahlstrom ensures everything front-of-house runs like Nordic clockwork. Meal of the year for me.

Alexandra Forbes, Food Writer and Columnist of Folha de São Paulo:

Fäviken, Fäviken, Fäviken. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Ian Froeb, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Restaurant Critic:

I sat at the bar at Jonathon Sawyer's Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland and ordered the five-course tasting menu, expecting each course to be scaled down in size. Nope. I ended up sharing half of a roasted pig's head with the two complete strangers who happened to be sitting next to me and for the next hour or so were my best friends on the planet. It was over the top and wonderful, exactly the kind of magical experience you hope for when you dine alone in a city not your own.

Mike Thelin, Feast Portland Co-Organizer:

I finally had the duck at Momofuku Ssam, and it made me — and everyone else at the table — so happy. There was not a meal I enjoyed more in 2013. All ducks should be so lucky as to headline that spread.

The Gurgling Cod:

Probably my last meal at Farm 255 - so serious and focused. Can't wait for Whitney Otawka's new Mexican place in Athens.

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Pujol, Mexico City. [Photo: Official]

Adam Goldberg, blogger behind A Life Worth Eating:

Two of my most memorable meals were at Pujol, Mexico City and Blue Hill Stone Barns, New York.

Pujol is a restaurant that's been a favorite of mine for the past six years, but it has recently become what I believe to be one of the top three restaurants in the world. Chef Enrique Olvera uses millennia of Mexican culinary tradition as the building blocks for an innovative menu. With each meal at Pujol, the menu has become more simple and minimalist; proteins have been stripped back and replaced with Mexican vegetables like chilacayote and xoconostle. Pork and sea bass, once the focus of Olvera's dishes, now take the sidelines as ingredients used to enhance the flavor of vegetables. The current menu is almost entirely vegetarian, and most diners don't even notice.

Dan Barber has been making magic at Blue Hill this past year. The restaurant always had the ingredients to be one of the best in New York — incredible resources and a unique sense of time and place — but the dishes now come together in a way that tells a complete story.

Ari Bendersky, Director of Content/Editor-in-Chief of AbesMarket.com:

I'm going out on a limb here but I have to say the best meal I had was at the Ocean Grill on the southern tip of Banderas Bay south of Puerto Vallarta. This place, accessible only by water taxi from the nearest town, boat or a 30-minute hike through the Mexican jungle, is set in the middle of paradise. Its beauty is in its simplicity — and the fact it hangs over the water and sits above a white sandy beach. The food — fresh ceviche, smoked marlin tostadas, just-made guacamole, beautiful octopus, fish just plucked out of the water — was some of the best food I've had in PV and I've been going for 8 years. The margaritas were smooth yet strong. But what made the experience the best was being there with my partner, Drew, and our best friend, Kris, just after going on a whale-watching trip with our friends who live in PV on their boat (they dropped us off for our lunch). We ate until we couldn't. Sat in the sun. And took a rambling bus back into town, totally satisfied.

Per-Anders and Lotta Jorgensen, Editors of Fool Magazine:

Saison, a cutting edge, luxury experience (San Francisco)
Relæ, constantly evolving, just getting better (Copenhagen)
Mugaritz, the fermented apple is destined to be a classic (San Sebastián)
Pepe in Grani, proper pizza! (Caiazzo)
Sugar Shack, mad gluttony personified (Montreal)

Ali Kurshat Altinsoy, MAD Symposium Director:

I've had many great experiences this year, with plenty of honorable mentions (DOM, BROR, Pujol, Troisgros, Kadeau Bornholm), but these are the most memorable... Last August, my mum flew to Copenhagen for a birthday dinner with me at noma. There really is nowhere in the world I would have rather celebrated the occasion. It was both such fun and rather moving. In October, I returned to Osteria Francescana. Massimo [Bottura] and his team are simply on fire right now. It was the best meal I've had there yet. In July, I ate dinner at Louis XV. For many reasons, it was simply magical.

Andrew Zimmern, Host of Bizarre Foods:

A salad and mise en place snacks at Manresa with a beautiful sermon on biodynamic benefits from David Kinch. Not even close. I ate at a ton of great restaurants last year, all over the world, but that meal is one I am still telling people about. 38 ingredients and 9 levels of assembly sometimes distract, but this edible art piece informed and educated as it replicated the vegetal world from the soil to the roots to the air. Grab his new cookbook and be amazed.

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Tom Tep, Ho Chi Minh City. [Photo: Kerry Diamond]

Kerry Diamond, Editor of Cherry Bombe:

Chef Rob Newton, my boyfriend and business partner, and I had an amazing lunch of shrimp and snails at Tom Tep in Ho Chi Minh City this summer. Our friend Calvin Godfrey, a journalist and Vietnam food expert who lives in the city, took us there. We sat outside and had tiny, tiny shrimp served with star fruit; small snails cooked in seasoned salt water until all the liquid evaporated from the pot and coated the shells; big snail shells filled with chopped snail meat and green peppercorns grilled right across from our table. Plus, lots of beer and baguette.

Janice Leung Hayes, blogger behind e_ting in Hong Kong:

Attica in Melbourne, Australia.

Kat Kinsman, Managing Editor of CNN Eatocracy:

The deck was clearly stacked, but the 10-year anniversary dinner at Hearth is a night I'll flash back to for the rest of my life. Not only is it my favorite NYC restaurant anyway, but add in a roster of 10 chefs like Colicchio, Chang, Benno, Wise, Kaden, Frosolone and others showing off for each other and that's a guaranteed win for the sold-out house (not to mention the Trinity Church on 9th Street, to which all proceeds went for their program that feeds 150-200 homeless people a day).

Runners-up:

Lunches at Eleven Madison Park and Torrisi (NYC), Domenica (NOLA) and Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House (Lynchburg, TN).

Dinners at e by Jose Andres (Las Vegas), Five & Ten (Athens), Jean Georges (NYC), the one-night-only Chanterelle redux at Robert, City Grit (especially Bryan Caswell and Toups' Meatery evenings), and Francis Lam's wedding (no kidding — he threw DOWN and even Ruth Reich felt compelled to blog about it).

Also, every single meal at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. Seriously, just read this tomato pie recipe and let your knees go weak.

And I feel compelled to note that, despite this list, I'm usually eating cafeteria salad from a clamshell container at my desk.

Kate Krader, Food & Wine Restaurant Editor:

Dinner, and then breakfast at Faviken. You get to march by the fur coat that Fool Magazine made famous, up the stairs to a loft and eat both meals and they're extraordinary.

My second single best meal was Eleven Madison in the Fall. I thought I'd already had perfect meals there; somehow I had one that was even better.

Bonjwing Lee, photographer and blogger behind the Ulterior Epicure:

How do you compare a $7 empanada and pork rib lunch at Rancho Doña Maria, a roadside hut in Chile, with a $250 tasting menu at Saison? Both were flawless, inspiring, delicious, exciting. I can't decide.

Adam Roberts, Amateur Gourmet blogger and cookbook author:

My dinner at Billy Kwong in Sydney, Australia was totally epic; I loved how Kylie Kwong, the chef, fuses her Chinese heritage with local, indigenous Australian ingredients. So we ate things like crispy organic saltbush cakes and red-braised wallaby tail, and all of it was astonishingly delicious and unlike anything you could eat anywhere else in the world. (Oh, and we ate bugs there, which totally makes me a hypocrite because I made fun of Noma for serving bugs in a previous part of this survey, but the bugs were a minimal part of the meal even though I featured it at the top of my post about it. What can I say, I'm full of contradictions.)

· All Year in Eater 2013 Coverage [-E-]

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