We write about food. A lot. And most of the time it’s places we eat in D.C., NYC and Chicago. But we leave those cities and eat while traveling. These are the dishes and drinks that we’re still thinking about. These are the dishes and drink that’ll make you Google flight prices and check Airbnb. They’re listed in order of distance from D.C. Whether you can only afford a train ticket or leaving on a jet plane money, it’s time to take a trip.
Prior to eating at La Cuchara this summer, I had not tasted skate. The fish was once overfished but plentiful locally and still not too common on local menus. I ordered it because I was unfamiliar. After speaking with the chef and doing some basic research on how to prepare skate, I looked back on the meal with even more fondness. I’ve already raved about this place and have no problem doing it again. If a fish you’ve never seen doesn’t sound appealing, their expansive and lauded wine list should get you on the MARC. -Brandon Wetherbee
Beer is a bit like music: No style ever truly goes away. Sure, they may wane in popularity, but there is always a brewery somewhere making an ESB or Cream Ale, just like there is always a band somewhere mining inspiration from Blondie or the Byrds. You might just have to search a little harder to find them.
Look closely and 2018 was quietly a great year for hoppy red ales. Granted, the loosely defined style is far from in vogue again – and given untrendiness of malt character in hop-forward beers, it likely won’t be for quite some time. But I still found myself falling in love with the style again, particularly as brewers have introduced new hops to the equation and peeled back some of the malt thickness associated with the style.
Locally, Ocelot dropped not one but knockout renditions. The first, Twist of Fate, most resembled a red IPA – light in body, but bursting with citrusy flavor and aromatics from copious late additions of Comet and an Amarillo dry-hop. (Ocelot’s now-head brewer Jack Snyder told me that when founder Adrien Widman questioned him on the recipe, he told him, “Just trust me on this one.”) The second, Stumbled – a retooled rebrew – was more of a hoppy red, its maltiness more prominent (by Ocelot standards) and the spotlight on Simcoe, the kind of piney PNW hop people associated with the style. For as long as it was around, it was always the second beer I ordered on a trip to Ocelot. (The first being the newest IPA, naturally.) The refrain on hoppy reds is that they don’t sell, but I was ready to go on my mission with these two beers, spreading the gospel far and wide.
Elsewhere (but not far from Ocelot) upstart Rocket Frog gave us Caps in 5, a red ale that split the different between the previous two – citrusy from Citra and Amarillo hops, but with a distinctly assertive malt character. (It just hit stores in cans and is worth the price of admission.) Outside of NOVA, UNION Craft put its fall seasonal Foxy on a diet, removing the chocolatey malts from previous iterations that had proved divisive. (For the record, I enjoyed them, but the new Foxy is the best Foxy.) And pulling the lends further back, Maine Beer Company (who already produce one of craft beer’s most prominent still-standing hoppy red ales with Zoe), recently introduced a citrusy counterpoint with Red Wheelbarrow.
But the most memorable red ale I had in 2018– and perhaps my favorite beer I consumed outside of DC – came from Reason Beer, a Charlottesville brewery opened a little over a year ago by former Maine Beer Company head brewer Mark Fulton and two childhood friends. (I wrote a long profile on the brewery telling that story back in January.) It’s a beer I’ll never get to try again – at least not in the same form.
Back in November 2017, when I first chatted with Reason, Fulton said he was developing a red ale to showcase New Zealand hops.
“We hadn’t really messed with Southern Hemisphere hops before I left Maine Beer,” he shared. “I always wanted to – I just never found time to get around to playing through them. New Zealand hops are usually big on stone fruit, fig, maybe citrus, but spicy, so I thought it would be fun to do a hoppy red using them. [Reason’s] other hoppy beers are kind of citrus-forward, so this won’t have the same obvious citrus character.”
When I visited Reason again in March, Fulton had indeed started playing through New Zealand hops. In his typical iterative fashion, he was brewing pilot batches single-hopped with one varietal from the country: Rakau, Motueka, Kohatu, Wakatu, Pacifica. The plan was to develop a final red ale that blended the New Zealand cultivars he liked best.
On that particular spring day, the brewery had Rakau Red on tap. It was a revelation. 4.4% and overflowing with flavor. That’s the kind of balancing act I’ve come to expect from Reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s not exceedingly hard to pull off.
Moreover, Rakau Red tasted like nothing I had tried before: peach and berry and pine with an unmistakable black tea quality. The ruby red malts were rich, but not heavy. The more you drink beer, the more you find analogs in everything you try. Almost nothing exists in a vacuum. (Again, much like music.) To find something unlike anything you’ve tasted before is a rare treat – particularly when there are no adjuncts involved. And, you know, when the beer is also delicious. I could have drank that beer all night.
This summer, Fulton finalized the recipe for his red ale, one that incorporated Rakau, Mouteka, and Pacifica. Recently, Reason would bottle that beer for the first time as Band Meeting. Tragically, I haven’t had this beer yet – word on the street is its headed to D.C. soon – but one trusted source of mine calls it “incredibly flavorful for 4.6%.” That sounds about right.
I don’t know if the red revolution will continue in 2019, but if it doesn’t, we’ll always have 2018. And the near-perfect memory of Rakau Red. -Phil Runco
It was raining. I was starving. It was my first time in Philly. After ducking puddles and trying not to get drenched, Monk’s Cafe was the perfect kind of port in a storm. Dark, comfortable and with a long beer list, it had already won me over before I got to food. Made with the cafe’s very own sour ale, the Mexicano mussels come covered in peppers, onions and (most importantly) jalapeños. With a side of the most perfectly golden french fries and a cold glass of an utterly unpronounceable Belgian beer, it felt like I was in heaven. I still think about it. -Kaylee Dugan
Over Memorial Day weekend, my girlfriend and I took a road trip from Chicago to Nashville. We were planning on leaving pretty late at night and had a hotel booked in Indianapolis to stay overnight on the way down. Before hitting the road again, we stopped at Goose The Market, a local marketplace/butcher/sandwich shop the following morning to grab a bite, where I had one of the best sandwiches I’ve eaten all year. While their menu is constantly changing, a few classic offerings stay at the very top of their chalkboard, including the Goose sandwich, a deceptively simple, intensely savory Italian sandwich made with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, basil, black pepper, and olive oil. The quality of all five of those ingredients, plus the perfectly crusty, fresh baked baguette they’re served on, is what elevates this to Favorite Sando tier, for me. They source superb, high quality ingredients throughout all of Goose, a standard that helps this unassuming little market stand out in my mind when looking back at all the food I ate this year. -Matt Byrne
I stumbled upon Long Grain on a road trip to Maine. My wife and I went in for lunch on a Tuesday, and yet nearly all their tables were reserved (we managed to snag one as long as we promised to finish early). The Thai restaurant is modest, and yet the flavors are huge. I ordered the smoked mackerel fried rice, and the sweet/salty mix was a perfect combination of Thai and New England flavors. -Alan Zilberman
When I stumbled upon the Beer Plant online I couldn’t believe it was a real thing. A vegan gastropub smack in the middle of Austin, land of BBQ? But it is real and I went there and it is awesome.
It’s a relatively small venue, open for both brunch and dinner. The dinner menu features items like mac n cheese, “chicken” pot pie and other American classics like buffalo cauliflower wings. We went for brunch, hoping to ease our hangovers from the night before, and we were not disappointed. The carrot lox, served on a bagel with capers and cashew cream cheese was bold and smoky, and the biscuits and gravy was the hangover dish of my dreams. Other diners at my table had the skillet hash, with tofu scramble, and French toast, which was dense, hearty, and sweet, and could easily rival any non-vegan French toast I have had.
Craft beers were also available of course, but we went for classic brunch cocktails like mimosas and bloody Marys, knowing that our time in Austin would include plenty of beer.
When you are in Austin and you get sick of BBQ, visit the Beer Plant. There were plenty of non-vegans dining there, tucking in “chicken” and waffles with a cold beer and having a blast. -Priya Konings
I was in Portland, Oregon (my old stomping grounds), alone and hungry. It was the last night of a long work trip that had taken me across the state, and I finally had the time to myself to finish what I had really come back to PDX to do: feast. In the years since I lived there, Portland’s culinary scene has continued apace, with a “Best of XXX” restaurant opening seemingly every week. And what does one do when forced to choose from a plethora of options in a new town? Crowdsource, obvs. One mass tweet later, and the responses from local food writers and critics started pouring in, with one name rising above the rest: Canard.
Gabriel Rucker, damn near Portland food royalty at this point, is a long-time fixture on the list of Portland’s best restaurateurs. Le Pigeon had opened just before I moved to Portland in 2010; Little Bird followed soon after. But his newest venture, Canard, has gotten even more love. I’m not a huge solo dining fan, but the food angels smiled favorably on me this night – a single spot at the kitchen counter, seemingly waiting just for me. Some six dishes (and numerous cocktails and glasses of wine) later, I was stuffed: foie gras dumplings; dry-fried chicken wings; fresh-shucked oysters; curry-roasted scallops; garlic fries with chilies and a green goddess dressing…I couldn’t say no. And for dessert? The signature dish: a White Castle-esque steamed slider, gooey, cheesy, minerally. As I waddled out the door and toward a flight early the next morning, I was struck by how lucky I was to have had in one of my favorite cities my best meal of the year. Some months later, I learned that Canard had been named Eater Portland’s Restaurant of the Year. I wasn’t surprised. -Logan Hollers
You won’t be at a shortage of delicious things to eat if you’re in Mexico City – from the food stalls on seemingly every corner to the fine dining options like Pujol, most things are fresh, seasonal, and full of flavor. However, you have to give particular credit to a restaurant that has been serving traditional Mexican fare for over a century – and the Café de Tacuba lives up to its reputation as an institution.
I went there on a Sunday morning, half dead from the night before, and their tortilla soup was one of the most unexpectedly delicious dishes I had in all of 2018. The soup combines rich beef and sautéed onion flavor with the smoky, almost sweet umami of pork cracklings. Throw in some house-made tortilla chips – slowly soaking in all the goodness – and you’ve got yourself a bowl of life-restoring broth with all kinds of magical textures. Most of us who’ve had Mexican food are familiar with this dish, but the Café de Tacuba version was the highest expression of it I could have imagined. It’s been a month and I’m still thinking about that first spoonful. -Jose Lopez-Sanchez
The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort is spread across 22 acres about 45 minutes outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Featuring two Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses and spanning across two time zones (literally), this property is just as bougie as it sounds. The real crown jewel contained within can be found seaside at the Mita Mary Bistro Boat. This outdoor food truck adaptation sits on the shore of the Bahía de Banderas, and features a vast selection of incredible Mexican favorites. Local fishermen and women anchor at the resort daily to provide the most fresh fish and shellfish offerings caught earlier that day. In the five days that I spent at the St. Regis Punta Mita, I ate Mita Mary Bistro Boat’s tacos de pescado and homemade salsa verde daily. If you ever find yourself wandering beyond the resort’s gates, this is a must-do food stop. -Sabrina Kent
Tucked in on the Rue Frochot running through the northern Montmartre district, Lulu White Drinking Club has evolved from a non sequitur stop on Parisian trips to a focal point in my memories of a city I wish I could see every six months. Of all the drinks I have had in 2018, the best—a strawberry infusion of herbal citrus and fortified wine with notes of homemade jam—was at Lulu White. This drink was so well-balanced, so layered with comfortable flavors that despite not remembering the name or the ingredients, I can still recount the taste as if I had it 10 minutes ago. Cocktails, for the most part, suck (sorry). But Lulu White Drinking Club doesn’t care what I or anyone else thinks, making it the type of bar deserving of all my Euros. -Ruben Gzirian
Scandinavian Hot Dogs
The three best things I ate while traveling this year all have one thing in common – they’re all hot dogs. You may be going, “Hot dogs?! What’s so great about a goddamn hot dog?!”, but regardless of where you fall on the hot dog love-hate scale, there is without a doubt something special about a Scandinavian wiener. (We can agree to disagree, but I’m right.)
This was my favorite hot dog eating experience, partially because Syverkiosken is basically the last OG dedicated hot dog stand in Oslo that hasn’t fallen victim to the grab ‘n go convenience stores. It’s a super cute hole in the wall run by a very nice man, and the hot dogs there are next-level. I ordered “The Special”, which is a hot dog topped with the normal things you’d expect (ketchup and mustard) in addition to some things I’ve never had on a hot dog before, like potato salad and a potato pancake. I’ve never had anything like it anywhere in the world, and while I was initially skeptical of the pancake on top, I found it actually functioned as an edible blanket that kept the rest of the ultra-messy toppings in place. V. ingenious! if you’re in Oslo, this should be a must-try, but do remember to bring cash – Syverkiosken is one of the few places in Norway that doesn’t accept foreign credit or debit cards.
Hot dogs are SERIOUS BUSINESS in Copenhagen, and you’ll find plenty of carts hawking them all around the city. My personal favorite was DØP, which is admittedly a little bougier than other spots (all ingredients claim to be organic), but still hella affordable for a cheap meal on the go. I went with a roasted dog topped with everything (aka fried onions, raw onions, remoulade, ketchup, mustard, and VERY importantly, pickles), and as is common in Scandinavia, the hot dog was longer than the bun and was also super snappy. This was definitely my favorite hot dog of the three Nordic countries (Norway, Iceland and Denmark) I visited this summer, and I do think the pickles made a big difference in pushing it to the front. I get that when it comes to hot dogs, relish is a thing, and pickle spears are a thing, but never had I had sliced pickles on top of a hot dog before! And I never want to go back to my old life of not being in on this magical secret! Unlike in Norway, you CAN use a card to pay for your dogs. So worry less about cash and focus on the good stuff, aka scarfin’ pølser!
If you find yourself in Reykjavik, you HAVE to grab a hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (it’s the spot that ignited my love for Scandinavian hot dogs back in 2015), but if you’re just doing a layover (like I did this summer), then Mathús will do the trick. What makes Icelandic hot dogs so good? Some people will tell you it’s the snappy lamb that many spots use, but for me, the secret weapon is pylsusinnep, which is a sweet brown mustard that is like crack in condiment form. Get yourself a hot dog, but also snag a bottle of pylsusinnep, which is available for purchase at Mathús, too. -Megan Burns
The first time I tried oreshki, a walnut shaped shortbread cookie filled with dulce de Leche, I was expecting it to be mind blowing. And it was. Sadly, these delectable Russian snacks are only available during the Christmas holidays, but if you want to fake it, just grab some Nutella and a pack of Lorna Doones. -Johnny Fantastic