Friday, December 30, 2016

The Best of 2016: Some Most Memorable Meals

As with most years, I ate at a lot of restaurants in 2016, and this year I kept a list of every one.

Including restaurant meals eaten at home and branded food court selections in a corporate setting (i.e. during a job assignment), the list had over 300 entries.

And entre├ęs. (Though I didn't keep track of specific meals eaten, other than occasional photos.)

I certainly ate at a lot of places I liked, from old standbys to new discoveries. A few cost a pretty penny, but compared to last year--when I was inspired to try several places on a Zagat Top 50 list for Chicago--there were relatively few steakhouse splurges or gourmet explorations.

So I don't think I need to divide a list out by categories like I did last year, but it also seems odd to try to compare $50 meals with $8 meals, or those eaten this week with some consumed last January.

Hence, I'll do this.

Restaurants I Especially Savored in 2016
Not in ranked order. Primarily based on food and perhaps setting & ambiance; not factoring in companions, occasions, etc.

● Meson Sabika - Naperville, IL. Excellent tapas in an exquisite setting.
● Del Frisco's - Chicago. A terrific Restaurant Week choice for a hearty steak.
● Pappy's Smokehouse - St. Louis. Legendary BBQ joint with ribs and sides that merit the hype.
● RJ Grunts - Chicago. The original Lettuce Entertain You joint; was there on a night baby back ribs were available and they were great, along with one of the best salad bars anywhere. Also loved the ribs at LEY's L. Woods in Lincolnwood.
● 90 Miles Cuban Cafe - Lincolnwood, IL. Long a fan on their Chicago locations, the Lincolnwood branch didn't disappoint when I finally got there the other day.
● Glenn's Diner - Chicago. Splendid fresh fish preparations in a casual setting on Montrose; has become a favorite in recent years.
● Las Fuentes - Morton Grove, IL. My "go-to" Mexican restaurant, and I haven't tasted better Mole sauce (on the enchiladas) anywhere else. Other Mexican restaurants I quite enjoyed in 2016 include Mercadito (Chicago), El Mariachi (Chicago), Depot Nuevo (Wilmette) and Tortilla Rounds (Washington, DC).
● Sonny's - Philadelphia. Can't say I really got the fuss about Philly Cheesesteaks before going here; now I do.
● Langostinos Nayarit - Mount Prospect, IL. Stumbled on this Mexican seafood restaurant one evening and found it rather unique and quite enjoyable.
● Shapiro's Delicatessen - Indianapolis. Made a point of stopping here on the way home from Ohio; loved the Reuben. Also had a great Corned Beef sandwich at Ontario St. Cafe in Cleveland.
● Luke's Lobster - Chicago. With top-notch lobster rolls on Lasalle near Randolph, it's now my favorite place to eat before theater at the Cadillac Palace. And the crab roll is just as good, for less.
State & Lake Chicago Tavern - Chicago. Was a lot nicer that I envisioned (given the "tavern" in the name) and served some really good seafood.
Phillips Seafood - Baltimore. While I wasn't as smitten by their famous Maryland Crab Cakes as I was probably supposed to be, eating them al fresco on the Inner Harbor was still rather cool.

(of places visited in 2016)

Pizza: Pizano's - Glenview (both thick & thin). Also: Gino's East, Lou Malnatis
Italian Beef: Al's Beef. Also: Johnnie's, Portillo's
Hot Dogs: Poochie's - Skokie. Also: Superdawg, Little Island (Evanston). (Note: Technically, I prefer and tend to eat Polish Sausage.)
Tacos: Big & little's - Chicago. Also: Taco Nano (Northfield); El Carrito (Chicago); Carbon (Chicago); Taqueria Los Comales (Niles)
Chinese: Great Beijing - Lincolnwood Also: Orange Garden (Chicago)
Italian: The Noodle - Wilmette. Also: Maggiano's, Noodles & Co.
Other Ethnic: Kabul House (Afghan) - Skokie. Also: Shokran (Moroccan; Chicago)
Gyros: Dengeos - Skokie
Burgers: Labriola Cafe - Oak Brook. Also: Hackney's (Glenview), Boba Burger (Niles)
Salad: Pizza Capri (Mixed Greens salad) - Chicago. Hated to see Sweet Tomatoes go.
Fast Food: McDonald's. Also: Taco Bell, Culver's
Local Joints: Sarkis Cafe - Evanston. Also: Curt's Cafe (Evanston), Bill's Drive-In (Evanston)
Buffet: Ginza Buffet - Niles
Standby: Bakers Square. Also: Omega, Panera. Sorry to see Ruby Tuesday disappear.
Breakfast: Annie's - Skokie. Also: Alexander's (Skokie), IHOP
Bagels: New York Bagel & Bialy - Skokie. (Also great coffee cake.)  
Ice Cream: Ted Drewes Custard - St. Louis. Also: Chocolate Shoppe (Chicago)
I also want to give shout-outs to Podhalanka in Chicago and Cozy Corner, a nondescript diner I came across in central Baltimore. While the meals themselves didn't merit mention above, both places appeared to be run by older, immigrant women who couldn't have been nicer in taking care of me and all other customers observed. Made for quite heartwarming and memorable visits.

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