Happy New Year, everybody! In the spirit of the occasion, I thought we’d close out our first year on Root + Revel with a roundup of the best things we ate in 2015. A hodgepodge of restaurant meals and homecooked recipes, there’s a little bit of everything on our list…which let’s face it, as a full-time food writer, it’s pretty hard to narrow down. I’ve managed to keep this list to 20 dishes, but for those of you who follow along on my personal Instagram, you know there were MANY MORE delicious eats this year. So, let’s get into it!
Here are the 20 Best Things We Ate in 2015:
Sloppy Jai at Chai Pani (Atlanta)
Chai Pani is one of my all-time favorite Indian restaurants (right in line with Rasika in D.C.) and they were kind enough to share their recipe for Sloppy Jai’s with me for my cookbook, Atlanta Chef’s Table. The flavors are so incredible and unique, but served up in a comforting classic: sloppy joe’s. This is a great weeknight dinner when you want something new and unique, yet easy and approachable. Photo credit: Heidi Geldhauser.
Nigiri at Umi (Atlanta)
Everyone who knows me knows that my favorite restaurant in the world is Umi, a sushi restaurant in little old Atlanta that serves up the freshest fish I’ve ever tasted (including during my time in Japan!). Their specialty nigiri–like this otoro tuna topped with truffle-soy vinaigrette, fiery serrano and caviar–blows my mind every. single. time.
Every Bite at Bida Manda (Raleigh)
One of the perks of my job is traveling to amazing places to check out the restaurant scene, and Raleigh just may have been my favorite American city to eat in this year. If I lived in Raleigh, I would eat at Bida Manda, a Laotian restaurant, every day–it’s the kind of place that makes everything you’ve eaten before taste like white bread. Shown above: crispy rice lettuce wraps, whole crispy fish in tamarind sauce, papaya salad with sticky rice and duck, and crispy pork belly coconut soup.
Everything at Uncle (Denver)
Another one of the best U.S. cities to eat in: Denver. Wow, I had so many good meals here (from Acorn to Biju’s Little Curry Shop to Stoic & Genuine), but my favorite of the trip has to be Uncle. With every dish, I was more and more blown away. If you go, be sure to get the tofu in a crispy seaweed vinaigrette, crispy chicken-fried gizzards, lamb tataki and, of course, the ramen (our group voted the duck ramen #1).
Grilled Corn with Miso-Bacon Butter
I must admit, I’m slightly addicted to corn. I debated posting four other corn salad recipes in this post, but decided this grilled corn on the cob took the cake–after all, it’s slathered in David Chang’s miso-bacon butter. A definite 20 recipe for the 80-20 rule.
Chiang-Mai Sausage (Thailand)
I’ve already told you about my love of Northern-style Chiang-Mai sausage–it’s herbaceous, it’s bright, it’s spicy, it’s one of the most flavorful dishes I’ve ever eaten. If anyone knows where I can find it in Atlanta, you’ll be my best friend for life (promise!).
Banh Xeo (Hanoi, Vietnam)
This year, Matt and I also traveled to Vietnam where I fell in love with their banh xeo: the best way I can describe this incredibly textured dish is like a Vietnamese version of Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap Supreme…of course only WAY better. It’s made with turmeric crispy rice, shell-on prawns for extra crunch and tender, fatty pork, all wrapped up with loads of fresh herbs and bean sprouts in a soft rice paper wrapper. So many flavors and textures and temperatures. LOVE!
Roman Cauliflower at BoccaLupo (Atlanta)
Easily one of the best restaurants in Atlanta, BoccaLupo makes a fried cauliflower dish that may just be one of my most favorite plates of all time. It’s got tangy capers and spicy peppers, bright mint and a hint of fresh lemon. I’m so glad they agreed to share their recipe with me for my cookbook, Atlanta Chef’s Table. Photo credit: Heidi Geldhauser.
Everything in Charleston
The sheer number of delicious meals we ate in Charleston this year could have made up this entire list. Alas, I felt it important to spread the love. But needless to say, I will always remember the pickled shrimp toast at Edmund’s Oast, the clams at Two Boroughs Larder, the phenomenal pasta at Fig, the okinomiyaki at Xiao Bao Biscuit, the pizza at Indaco (shown above), and perhaps most of all, the genius of chef Jeremiah Bacon at The Macintosh. If you haven’t been yet, you’ve got eatin’ to do!
Coconut Oil Sriracha Popcorn with Nori
This popcorn has easily been my most favorite and most eaten snack of 2015. In just 5 minutes, you can create a healthy, delicious snack full of nutrients. Coconut oil sriracha popcorn with nori is salty and spicy with lots of umami. SO good and good for you!
Cape Cod Lobster
My grandparents spend their summers on Cape Cod, and our annual visits to see them in Chatham are easily one of my most cherished traditions. We always have lobster night at the house, freshly plucked from local waters and dunked in plenty of melted butter. For any other Cape Codders reading, I’m sure you can relate to my love of New England seafood, especially if you’ve had fried clam rolls from Kream’n’Kone and creamy clam chowder at The Squire,.
Everything at Atlas (Atlanta)
I’m honestly not a huge fan of fine dining and prefer to save my money for restaurants that are intimate, charming and just plain delicious. Atlas may be my one exception to the rule. It sounds so simple, but the best way I can describe this Atlanta gem is this: everything just tastes like what it is, like what it’s supposed to taste like, like real food. Asparagus has never tasted so good. Spring onion soup was the season in a bowl. Al dente spring peas and fava beans were perfection. The most well-balanced dessert of chocolate, cream, hazelnut, salt and orange blew my mind. With wine pairings from their amazing somme, Caleb, our meal here was one of the most memorable of my year!
Matt’s Argentine Birthday Dinner
I’ve mentioned before how my mom taught me that cooking is caring. Exhibit A: for Matt’s birthday this year, she prepared this extensive and insanely delicious Argentine-inspired meal to pay tribute to his year spent studying abroad in Buenos Aires. On the menu: grilled toast with provaletta and chorizo, grapefruit and avocado salad, seared short ribs with chimichurri and apple empanadas. #bestmotherinlawever.
Thai Brussels Sprouts at The Spence (Atlanta)
There’s nothing better than crispy Brussels Sprouts–unless of course you bathe them in a sweet and tangy Thai-style vinaigrette, like The Spence does. Thank God they gave me the recipe for my cookbook, Atlanta Chef’s Table. I make a big batch of the vinaigrette and throw it on veggies, fish, chicken, whatever. It goes with everything and that includes drinking it straight from the bowl. Photo credit: Heidi Geldhauser.
Sweet Potato Rounds with Cranberry and Pancetta
Over Thanksgiving, I combined a few different recipes together to create this beautiful appetizer that tasted as good as it looked (maybe better!). The rounds are made from roasted sweet potatoes and topped with a cranberry and pear chutney, blue cheese and crispy pancetta.
I wrote a story this year comparing the various meal kit delivery services available to Atlantans and as part of my research, I tried all of the services. One of my favorite dishes from the dozens of recipes I tested was this Orecchiette Pasta Puttanesca–I loved the tang and bite the capers brought, especially alongside spicy red pepper flakes, sharp pecorino and fragrant basil. I highly recommend adding anchovies for an extra zip!
Hoisin Chicken Meatballs
Likewise, another recipe I LOVED from these meal kit services was this dish of hoisin-glazed chicken meatballs with zucchini from Blue Apron. They were light, full of flavor and got a great veggie boost from the zucchini, plus it was super easy to make and a total crowd pleaser.
Sausage + Sweet Pepper Pizza
As a food writer, I develop recipes for magazines, and one of my favorite developments from 2015 was a healthy pizza feature I did for FITNESS. This chicken sausage pizza was the crowd favorite, at once sweet and spicy and just full of flavor. The sweet peppers totally make it!
Fried cauliflower at Garland (Raleigh)
One of the other best dishes I ate all year also happened to be in Raleigh and also happened to be cauliflower–it came from this awesome husband-wife owned, Korean-meets-Indian spot called Garland. This dish of fried cauliflower with turmeric-yogurt sauce, curry leaves, lime, cilantro and pickled chiles hit all the right notes for me.
Fish Sauce Anything at Nam Phuong (Atlanta)
One of the many perks of living in Atlanta is the access we have to killer ethnic food on Buford Highway. Our most frequent hangout on the strip: a bare bones, BYOB Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall, Nam Phuong. We always try to order something new when we visit, but insist upon a few mainstays: BBQ pork spring rolls, fish sauce glazed chicken wings, salt and pepper squid and my all-time favorite: caramelized catfish in a clay pot. It’s the most authentic spot we’ve found in the city!
Be on the lookout for more roundups like this every month starting in January 2016. There are so many amazing recipes made in our kitchen that don’t get shared on the site, so it’s going to be a great way to collect all those favorites and highlight some of the best restaurants in the world!