Friday, December 28, 2018

The Best of 2018: Some Most Memorable Meals

I am someone who actively likes to seek out eateries ranked among The World's 50 Best Restaurants--I've been to six places on this year's list, including two in 2018--or which have earned a 5-Diamond Rating from AAA (eaten at five of these; one this year).

Yet I also love Vienna Beef hot dog stands, Italian beef, tacos and even 7-Eleven taquitos.

I don't think I'm particularly unique in this regard, but I've had wonderful meals costing above $150 and under $5.

So while--much as I celebrate quality, creativity and artistry in many forms and via my other Best of 2018 lists--I think it fun to recall some great food I've enjoyed over the past year, this category always poses a particular quandary.

Even in considering just the food--and somewhat innately the service and ambiance--of a "memorable meal" without factoring in the occasion, my dining companions, etc., the considerable variances make it difficult to compile a single ranked list.

Hence the disparate ways I've handled this post in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

But since I doubt anyone really cares except me, I guess I'll do this:

The Most Memorable Meals I Enjoyed in 2018

1. Lima Splurges - On my June trip to Peru, I ate at the world's #7--Maido--and #39--Astrid y Gaston--ranked restaurants (#6, Central, was closed during my visit). Both were phenomenal. So too was La Rosa Nautica, which sits atop of the Pacific Ocean.

2. Chicagoland Ribs - My single favorite entree is a rack of baby back ribs, and in 2018 I again savored the two best purveyors anywhere--Carson's in Deerfield and L. Woods in Lincolnwood.

3. Prime Steaks - Each year I try to visit some Chicago area chophouses I haven't been to previously. In 2018, three stood out: Mastro's, Kinzie Chophouse and Stefani Prime (the latter in Lincolnwood).

4. Quick & Tasty - In terms of places at which to get a quick bite, often before a show, three places stand out, all in Chicago: Big & little's, Luke's Lobster and 5411 Empanadas. 

5. Boston Bites - In August, I spent four great days in Beantown, with some terrific meals at The Union Oyster House, Legal Sea Foods, Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage (in Cambridge), Durgin-Park and Mike's Pastry for sensational cannoli.

6. Lomo Saltado - A traditional Peruvian dish mixing meat, onions peppers, french fries and rice (on the side). I enjoyed it in Lima at Restaurante Arequipeño Willys and in Aguas Calientes at a restaurant seemingly named El Generalle , but also in Chicago at La Unica, Taste of Peru and Machu-Picchu. I also developed a passion for Peruvian soft drink, Inca Cola.

7. Supreme Pizza - Once again, the year's best was had at Pizano's (deep dish and thin) and Lou Malnati's (deep dish). I also love Gino's East but didn't get there in 2018.

8. Dogs and Beefs - Quite tried and quite true, I love Poochie's in Skokie (char cheddar Polish on French bread) and Al's for Italian Beef.

9. Food Hall Fixings - Food halls, which seem much like food courts with nicer signs, have become popular in Chicago. I've been to a few, in the Merchandise Mart and the Revival Food Hall, but tend to prefer Forum 55 under 55 E. Monroe. I particularly like Pork & Mindy's and their Pig Candy BLT.

10. Up There - Not too long ago, I treated myself to a 3-course dinner at Everest, long one of Chicago's most acclaimed restaurants. With the caveat that their full Prix Fixe menu is much pricier than what I got, it was great and not quite astonishing at the same time.

11. Here and Gone - I was sad to see longtime stalwart, The Bagel, close in my hometown of Skokie, and though Real Urban BBQ remains in other north suburban locations, its Skokie joint came and went too quickly. I enjoyed fine meals at both again in 2018. I'm hoping the new Vietnamese restaurant Pho Phu Linh sticks around. 

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