As Eater’s restaurant editor, I’m on the road for much of the year — to eat, to write, and also to photograph. I was a sub-middling Instagrammer before I took this job three years ago; repetition, as an Egyptian saying goes, teaches even a donkey, and I’ve learned a thing or two since my camera became my trustiest companion. Here’s a visually driven encapsulation of my year’s travels and writings, in some cases illustrated with outtake pics not included in the original stories.
My 2016 travels began in Louisiana, exploring the rich, resonant ways that Vietnamese culture has become an intrinsic part of New Orleans’ dining ecology. One wonderful example: the global-minded cooking of New Orleans native Hieu Than at his restaurant Kin, where at lunch he serves creations like ramen with stuffed crawfish in a broth of crawfish bisque.
Javier Plascencia runs restaurants in both Tijuana and San Diego; he’s called both cities home since childhood. How he approaches feeding his customers in each place — serving highly conceptualized beauties like tuna two ways with eggplant tempura at San Diego’s Bracero and pitch-perfect street snacks like shrimp ceviche tostada at Tijuana cafe Erizo — illuminates not just the region’s culinary breadth but Plascencia’s own border identity.
A week spent joyfully racing through the nation’s fourth largest city cemented my opinion that Houston boasts one of the country’s most dynamic dining cultures. Among excursions for Vietnamese pho with bone marrow, Greek greens and cheese pie wrapped in phyllo, and pilaf with lamb shank from China's northwestern Xinjiang province, I savored a Mexican Texas specialty: cabeza, or steamed cow head, at Gerardo’s Drive-In, a meat market and restaurant. Owner Jose Luis Lopez and his family serve delicacies from the cabeza, including cheeks and tongue, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. (The image at the top of this page is the smoked cheeseburger at Houston’s Underbelly.)
At the nation’s most opulent Italian tasting-menu restaurant, Mark Ladner lavishes each recipe with molecular-level attention. Of course there are the unearthly delights of pastas like round, fluted bauletti filled with ricotta and black truffle. But even the bread and butter service proves exceptional — a miniature baguette arrives with a sphere of whipped crème fraîche and cultured cream that is burrata’s cumulus cousin.
My most rewarding collaboration of the year: Teaming with Daniel Vaughn, Jennifer V. Cole, and Nick Solares, as part of Eater’s Barbecue Week blitz, to compile our essential list of dishes built around smoked meat. As an Atlanta resident, I especially championed the spicy Korean pork sandwich from local favorite Heirloom Market BBQ.
One of the great pleasures of my job is seeking out not just hot new openings but also classic restaurants that are important touchstones in their communities. So visiting Madison, Wisconsin at the height of summer to dine at legendary L’Etoile, founded by Odessa Piper in the 1970s, was doubly edifying. On his August menu, current chef-owner Tory Miller took full advantage of the spectacular local fruit, including the addition of intensely sweet blueberries in corn soup that was pure sunshine.
I’m constantly seeking out the most inspiring and remarkable new restaurants opening in every corner of the country. At the eleventh hour of narrowing down this year’s final list, I flew to Miami on the recommendations of friends and colleagues for dinner at Brad Kilgore’s Alter. I’m glad I listened; Alter may be not just the the best new restaurant in Miami, but the city’s best restaurant, period. Kilgore’s shumai in foie gras pho broth was one stellar example of his borderless approach to cooking.
Returning to Baltimore, my hometown, to write about its signature summer food was among the most gratifying assignments of my career. Among many seafood establishments, locals steered me to Schultz’s Crab House in nearby Essex. There, a buddy and I polished off a dozen steamed swimmers from Maryland waters. I also ordered a plate of food that stirred nostalgia more powerfully than anything else I’ve eaten in adulthood. It was crab imperial, served with cucumber and beet salads and a garnish I hadn’t seen in decades: a crimson spiced apple ring set atop a leaf of kale.
An overnight voyage to the literal edge of America — Washington’s Lummi Island is a two hour-plus drive north of Seattle — rewards with three square meals of awesomeness. As much as I relished Blaine Wetzel’s dinnertime tasting menu, I was likewise dazzled by the inn’s comforting breakfast spread of buckwheat crepes and fruits plucked from around the island.
Corey Lee’s new restaurant in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a singular undertaking: The menu rotates to highlight the signature dishes of 80 marquee chefs from around the world, none of them Lee himself (though Lee collaborates with the chefs to master their recipes). It’s heady stuff. Many of the dishes served challenge with their intellectualism or eccentricity, but some, like Michel Guérard’s summery warm tomato and basil tart, offer pure comfort.
Every one of the 38 restaurants included on the Best Restaurants in America list, the annual culmination of my year’s work, embodies the breadth and wonder of dining in our country. I plucked out this picture from Parachute in Chicago because it simply makes me happy. The vividness of the broccoli (united, improbably but winningly, with dates and the North African spice mixture ras el hanout) is a welcome sight at the year’s dark conclusion.
- The 12 Most Utterly Gorgeous Plates of Food Bill Addison Ate This Year [E]
- The 12 Most Stunning Desserts Bill Addison Ate This Year [E]