Last week, as your fearless food critic, I filled you in on the best bites of food I found in Seattle this year. Now that you’re equipped with your local to-do list, I’d like to help you plan your vacation: with the seven best bites I ate this year all over the world. From nearby neighbors in Portland to around the world in Tel Aviv, I ate my way through fancy tasting menus and around cluttered markets to find the best bites of the year. Here’s where they are—for you to seek out next year or at least drool over right now.
Fried squash with salted egg yolk in Shanghai
At the end of a long taxi ride with a local friend, through an old wall and under a brightly lit green sign, we walked down a hallway and sat at a table next to a sink. Behind us, a brick oven roared. We filled our table with more than a dozen dishes of home-style Shanghaiese dishes, from drunken crab to fried clams, from expertly-cut cucumber to a ceramic pot of chicken soup. But all of the intricate and unfamiliar dishes paled in comparison to one of the most simple, this squash. Coated in salt-cured egg yolks, which add a complex saltiness (imagine a mild soy sauce with the texture of fresh cheese), the squash is fried lightly in a tempura-like batter: the improved pumpkin-French-fry.
Beef rib taco at Feast Portland
Throughout Portland’s annual bacchanal of food and fun, it was an embarrassment of rich foods, and the Night Market, one of the marquee events, is the peak of the weekend’s absurd, over the top eating. But the best bite was pretty simple: Podnah's BBQ taco: after making their tortillas right there at the stand, they filled them with tender beef rib meat and drenched the whole messy pile in a spicy Hatch chili Cheddar cheese sauce.
Jachnun in Jerusalem
One of the highlights of my year was eating through the Shuk—Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda Market. Tour guide “Fun Joel” Haber showed me the best bites from morning through night as we ate, drank, and shopped. But the most surprising, exciting bite I tried was the rolled flatbread called Jachnun, from a Yemenite stall. It comes served with grated tomato, egg, and the wonderfully spicy zhug.
Toast at Sqirl in LA
I’m not the first to talk about the amazing toast at this LA ode to Instagramable food. And I won’t be the last, especially if you go down there and taste this inch-thick, ricotta-spread masterpiece. The crisp, warm toast contrasts with the soft, cool cheese and the sweet, house-made jam brings it all together. Somehow, it becomes more than the sum of its parts, possessing that magical ability to make eaters talk about it—despite the scoffs of, “really, toast?” from their friends.
Cemita in Mexico City
Cemitas are really Puebla’s sandwich. Giant tortas belong to Mexico City and the sesame-bunned cemita comes from the small town a few hours away. But don’t tell that to Ochentaocho, which serves the string-cheesed, high-stacked specimens from locations in the Roma and Centro Historico. After walking all over town with a baby strapped to my front, I picked one up, collapsed into a chair in my hotel room, and had one of the best sandwich experiences of my life.
Tea leaf salad at Daw Yee Myanmar Corner in LA
When I noticed a Burmese restaurant on the corner near our AirBnB, I put my friends on notice: we would be eating there. They had no idea just how good Burmese food is, though, and thus they put it off until the end. A few bites into the tea leaf salad—a mix of the pickled namesake, fried legumes, tomatoes, and cabbage—they were already wishing they’d come earlier, so we would have a chance to return.