2022 has come and gone and a new year is already upon us, but before we fully immerse ourselves in 2023 I wanted to take one more look back. I ended my year with a trip to the Philippines to visit family. It was a long-awaited trip that was supposed to take place in 2020; an opportunity for my husband and my extended family to finally meet. Unsurprisingly, I had some wonderful meals during that trip, but I surprised myself by taking fewer photos than I typically would as someone who writes about food and is passionate about all things culinary. The food was, of course, delicious, but what made the meals there so special was being surrounded by family—my husband, my parents and sisters, and my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents who live on the other side of the world.
I’ve always been a big believer in the fact that a great meal doesn’t have to take place at a fancy fine dining restaurant. The occasion, the setting, the people you’re with, and feelings of nostalgia can make even the simplest meals memorable. To pay homage to the many factors that make a dining experience great, I asked chefs from around the country to share their stories on the best dish (or meal) they ate this year. Here’s what they had to say.
Dish: Amêijoas à bulhão pato at Cervejaria Ramiro in Lisbon
“2022 was all about getting back to the places we love and the favorite foods we can find only there. Best of all was revisiting Lisbon and the classic workaday seafood spot, Cervejaria Ramiro. For two years I’d been dreaming of their amêijoas à bulhão pato: a perfect alchemy of luscious clams, garlic, white wine and olive oil, brightened with lemon and fresh cilantro. We paired it with melt-on-your-tongue Cinco Jotas ham and icy cold Sagres beer. The happy chaos of the fluorescent-lit room—a soccer match on TV, waitstaff teasing their regulars while hoisting enormous platters of langoustines to and fro—was everything I’d been missing and the best welcome back I could have hoped for.”
Caroline Schiff, executive pastry chef of Gage & Tollner in New York City
Dish: Smoked spaghetti at LaRina in Brooklyn, New York
“I love being a regular, I love pasta and I’m a creature of habit. My favorite meal over and over is pasta at LaRina, specifically the smoked spaghetti—which might be my favorite dish in NYC. Savory, nutty, unctuous and a little spicy, it’s always on the menu, while the rest of the pastas come and go. I’m usually there once a month and I always insist on a bowl of spaghetti and a seasonal pasta to share with my dining companion. I’ll never tire of the comfort and coziness that comes from sitting at that bar and enjoying those carbs.”
Kyle and Katina Connaughton, executive chef, farmer and floral designer of SingleThread Farm-Restaurant-Inn in Healdsburg, California
Dish: Dinner at their daughter’s wedding
“Our favorite and most memorable meal of 2022 was dinner at our daughter Chloe’s wedding on our farm in October. Chloe and our head farmer got engaged and were married on the farm. It was a beautiful ceremony in the fields followed by a shellfish and wine bar that was made by filling the back of an old pickup truck with ice and turning it into a feast of oysters, prawns, scallops, farm crudité and bottles of Champagne, local beers and wines.
After that, some of our former chefs cooked Thai food for the group from an open makeshift kitchen we built. Ploy and Jeremy met while cooking at SingleThread. She is from Thailand and he is from Taiwan. They fell in love and got married, leaving SingleThread to start their own Thai popup in Healdsburg called Sangsan. They cooked beautiful dishes using produce from the farm, out under the stars in woks and open fire, and we set up long tables to share food and celebrate. It was a beautiful and perfect night celebrating their marriage and bringing people together.”
Dish: Lamb barbacoa at South Philly Barbacoa in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“My girlfriend and I traveled to Philadelphia for the Philadelphia marathon. We planned it as a short trip for the race, and the only other thing we had to do was eat at chef Cristina Martinez’s South Philly Barbacoa. Ever since we watched her Chef’s Table episode, it has been on our bucket list.
“Traditional lamb barbacoa is a very laborious and complicated dish; even in Mexico, finding a place that makes good traditional barbacoa is not easy. It involves cooking a whole lamb covered in agave leaves in a pit overnight. Our expectations were high and South Philly Barbacoa definitely lived up to them. The place is small and it feels reminiscent of Mexico, with colored walls and tables close together—a very intimate environment. There is a line down the street that doesn’t seem to get shorter as the day goes on, and Martinez was both our host and server. You order the barbacoa by the pound as you would do in Mexico and it comes with handmade fresh tortillas, hot salsas and a beautifully rich consommé that was warm and delicious. Everything was perfect and incredibly well executed, warming our bellies and our souls. Definitely worth the trip to South Philly.”
Tyler Malek, co-founder and head of innovation at Salt & Straw
Dish: Tomato, berry and cherry salad with young coconut and coconut vinegar at Kann in Portland, Oregon
“In culinary school my pastry teacher mentioned that, if done right, tomatoes can taste almost identical to strawberries. I spent 15 years refusing to believe that until I tasted this dish at Kann. Somehow, this medley of berries and heirloom tomatoes tossed together and hidden under fresh herbs with plantain chips made for one of the most profound single bites of food I’ve ever had in my life. I can’t wait for berry season next year to taste this again.”
Samuel Kim, senior director of culinary operations at Baekjeong Korean Barbecue
Dish: Fusilli with bone marrow and octopus at Marea in New York City
“The best dish I had this year has been a favorite of mine for a long time: the fusilli with bone marrow and octopus from Marea. I’m so happy this dish has never been taken off the menu! All the pastas at Marea are special because of the care and technique they put into their pastas when making them. The fusilli are rolled traditionally and out of this world. The combination of “surf and turf” using bone marrow and octopus is a genius idea, and the meaty, savory ragu-style pasta blends perfectly with the octopus.”
Ashleigh Fleming, executive chef of Blue Jay Bistro in Littleton, North Carolina
Dish: Smoked meats from Goode Co. Barbecue in Houston, Texas
“Anyone that grows up in barbecue country has a restaurant that is their family’s preferred spot, and it’s just an unspoken covenant that this is where you go. Some places may have better brisket or better atmosphere, but wherever you went growing up just sticks with you. For me, that’s Goode Co. Barbecue. It has always been the first stop when we fly back to Houston, and usually the last stop before we leave. It’s just home.
“My birthday is at the end of March, and I had just bought a house not even a month prior. My brother and I had kicked around ideas for my birthday, but I told him that all I really wanted was some food from home. I found out that Goode Co. could ship from Houston, and that was it! The brisket comes fully smoked, the sausage is unmistakable, the sauce is one-of-a-kind, the ribs are incredible and we all fought over the signature jalapeño cheddar bread. My brother, being the best brother on earth, even found a way to get us Lone Star beer, which isn’t available here in North Carolina. My family was all there to christen my new house, with boxes everywhere and the smell of Texas in my kitchen. We ate ourselves into a brisket coma and had plenty of Lone Star.”
Michael Patria, executive chef of Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
Dish: Huli-huli chicken and smoked ribs at a swap meet in Maui
“One of the first things that comes to mind is my first huli huli chicken and smoked ribs here in Maui! I had been on the island for just two days and asked a few of my cooks to recommend something that was uniquely Maui. I was quickly pointed to a daily “swap meet” on South Kihei Road, where I could find huli-huli chicken and smoked ribs. Coming from the South, anything cooked over open fire is a must-have for me.
“They only have ribs and chicken on Saturdays and Wednesdays, so I stopped by after viewing a house that’s now my home. I ordered one chicken and a slab of ribs (I have been known to order enough food for 20 people when it is only me), and sat at a wood table, surrounded by the lovely sounds of an active swap meet: folks bartering and negotiating, roosters and chickens running around, and a gentleman splitting coconuts directly in front of me. I enjoyed the incredibly tender chicken and ribs which had been slowly smoked over an open fire pit while drinking coconut water from a freshly split coconut and watching the local artisans educating a slew of tourists on Hawaiian culture. It’s one of my favorite food memories, and quite frankly, one of my fondest memories of Maui to date.”
Kevin O’Donnell, chef/owner of Giusto in Newport, Rhode Island
Dish: Fried pizza at La Vera Pizza Fritta da Gennaro in Italy
“My favorite food memory of 2022 took place in Naples, Italy. Sarah and I took a trip there this summer and we stumbled on this fried pizza joint. We were roaming the streets of the Spanish Quarter and had zero expectations; it was a counter service restaurant where you ordered from the street. They had just two options on the menu: small or large. The fried pizza is essentially a calzone stuffed with fior di latte, ricotta and a touch of tomato. We ordered the only beer on the menu (Peroni) and stood in the street loving life. The food was delicious, the beer was ice cold and the owners were so friendly.”
David and Tonya Thomas, executive chefs of H3irloom Food Group in Baltimore, Maryland
Dish: Sourdough buttermilk ice cream at Hestia in Austin, Texas
“While we ate some great food this year, one dish that stood out amongst the rest was a sourdough buttermilk ice cream from chef Travel Bristol’s Hestia restaurant. With buckwheat shoyu caramel, sweet tomato and orange jam, and fermented tomato powder, it was the perfect unexpected bite. It was umami rich with well-balanced, humble ingredients that came together for an experience that left us speechless.”
Mark Zuckerman, executive chef of Harta in New York City
Dish: Araxi at Shabour in Paris
“On a trip to Paris, my fiancé and I made a reservation at Shabour for lunch and it turned out to be my favorite meal of the trip. The cooking island, surrounded by less than 30 seats, offers a complete view into the every working of their beautiful kitchen. The dishes were named after the corresponding cook’s grandmother and even came with a story. It was truly amazing and made you feel like you never wanted to leave. My favorite dish was called ‘Araxi,’ featuring smoked eel, shelling beans, pine nuts and a mousse flavored with deeply toasted rice. It had all of the flavors of a slow-braised dish but it was made with very fresh and bright ingredients; really a wonderfully composed dish. It was also served with a good amount of Israeli olive oil, which enhanced the flavor.”
Tony Inn, executive chef of Taru/Kotaru in New York City
Dish: Kinmedai tiradito at Itamae in Miami, Florida
“Ordering a ceviche or a tiradito seems like a safe bet in Miami. However, what they served me at Itamae was truly a gem. No luxurious ingredients to overcompensate and a balanced flavor that lets everything shine together. I still dream about it. It’s a brother and sister chef team: this is their first solo brick-and-mortar restaurant, a real family affair. They use top-notch ingredients, and make everything in-house. It really is true Nikkei cuisine, with full understanding of each ingredient and a fine-tuned equilibrium without losing focus of the techniques and fundamentals.”
Telly Justice, chef-owner of HAGS in New York City
Dish: Panna cotta at Cool World in Brooklyn, New York
“The most memorable dining experience I’ve had this year was visiting friends and old colleagues at the buzzy but unpretentious Cool World in Brooklyn. While the wines and savory courses were exceptional, I was truly floored by the desserts. It’s often said that pastry programs are slowly going extinct, and so when I get the chance to enjoy a truly talented pastry chef’s work I see it as a treasure. Chef Amanda Perdomo, having worked for pastry giants like Fabian Von Hauske and Natasha Pickowicz, is one of New York’s best kept secrets. The panna cotta I enjoyed at Cool World, with its perfect wobbly texture and waft of vanilla bean, offset by a punchy and impossibly grape-y concord granita, and thoughtfully sweet moments of Thai basil, was a revelation. Amanda’s deft balancing of salt and acid lets her push the boundaries of flavor in a dish that still reads as satisfyingly sweet. I wish I could eat this dish every day. Look out for Amanda, she’s definitely one to watch!”
Rudy Lopez, executive chef of Soulmate in West Hollywood, California
Dish: Cochinita pibil at Ka’teen in Los Angeles, California
“My wife and I don’t get out very much as I’m in Soulmate’s kitchen most nights and we have a 3-year-old, but a while back we were able to get away from our busy lives and have dinner with our good friends at Ka’teen by Wes Avila.
“We were all very excited for dinner and the chef didn’t disappoint. The entire meal was amazing but the star of the show was the cochinita pibil. It comes wrapped in plantain leaves and is served with salsa and housemade tortillas. When it arrives, it’s a showstopper that halts all conversation as the smell overpowers the table. Everyone gets to make their own little taco of this beautiful roasted pork, and the perfect balance of flavors hits you all at once. The flavor of the plantain leaf was very comforting and nostalgic. It transported me back to times when I would enjoy my grandmother’s cooking. I haven’t been back since that night but I think about it often and will definitely make sure to order the cochinita again.”
Andrew Ayala, chef de cuisine of Le Jardinier in New York City
Dish: Culurgiones with razor clams and Osetra caviar at Al Coro in New York City
“I went to Al Coro during their second week of business and ordered the tasting menu. One of the courses that really stood out to me was these luxurious dumplings. Out came these handmade filled pasta glazed in butter with razor clams, Meyer lemon and caviar. I saw the dish arrive and said to myself, ‘there’s no way this can go wrong!’ It was absolutely delicious. Unfortunately there are only two dumplings per order. I could have had a bowl full of those and been set for the night.”
Mitch Emge, executive chef of Superfrico in Las Vegas
Dish: Chinese cabbage at The Yurts at Charter Oak in Napa Valley
“My absolute favorite meal and overall experience in 2022 was dining in the private yurts at the stunning Charter Oak. These moments are precisely what one dreams of when embarking on a journey to Napa. The ambience, service, creativity and execution were incredibly on point. From the moment you are greeted, to the journey through the dining room where your senses can’t help but gravitate towards the meticulously attended hearth, to the final encounter with the gracious staff, it was truly a meal I’ll never forget. My favorite moment of the night was my encounter with the mid-course. There is nothing else that arrives; they do not want you distracted from what’s about to take place. The Chinese cabbage with clams, lardo and kraut was ethereal. Perfection doesn’t exist, but this came pretty damn close to it. I dream of recreating not only that dish, but how it made me feel. Do yourself a favor and go, now!”
Matthew Kammerer, executive chef of Harbor House Inn in Elk, California
Dish: Rockfish soup, made and eaten on the beach
“The best thing I ate this year was a simple steamed rockfish soup. Ejler, a local woodworker in Elk, takes me fishing behind the inn in a small wooden row boat that he built 30 years ago. It’s an experience in itself, as the fog rolls in and out and the sun rises. We caught a few vermillion snapper that I brought home. For lunch we had soup made with a simple kombu dashi, some lightly cooked Tokyo bekana cabbage, daikon from the Harbor House farm and steamed rockfish. Simple ingredients at the peak of freshness, cooked with care. When you have ingredients that are full of life, either swimming or in the garden a few hours earlier, there is no need to cover them up with heavy seasoning or cooking. The fish was just barely cooked, the vegetables still full of life and wilted. Even the 275 steps down to the beach, the cleaning of the boat afterwards and the hike back up adds to a meal like this. A full experience in a bowl.”
Sam Sherman, executive chef of Milady’s in New York City
Dish: Jumbo crabs at Hooper’s Crab House in Ocean City, Maryland
“The best meal I had this year was a dozen jumbo crabs at Hooper’s Crab House. I was only able to get away for a weekend this summer and my girlfriend and I went to the beach for swimming and crabs. The crabs at Hooper’s were large, meaty and spicy. We sat at a picnic table on a pontoon boat and ate the crabs with french fries, cold beer, melted butter and vinegar. They took about two hours and a case of wet wipes to eat and were the perfect late summer meal.”
Jihan Lee, chef-partner of Nami Nori in New York City
Dish: Olive oil cake at Jupiter in New York City
“My favorite meal this year was from the recently opened Jupiter. In addition to the food and vibes being phenomenal overall, it was the olive oil cake that really stood out to me. It raised my whole meal to the next level and I’m still thinking about it. It’s hard to master a simple dessert, and Jupiter does it exquisitely.”
Melissa Sallman, executive chef of JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa
Dish: Lunch at Azure at EDITION in Tampa, Florida
“While dining at the Azure rooftop restaurant at the Tampa EDITION, I enjoyed a wonderful late lunch with some friends. We ordered the fritto misto and hummus bowl, and everything was served tapas style. The gorgeous warm day paired with light, well-executed and flavorful food shared by friends on a quick day trip made this meal so memorable to me and was a highlight of 2022.”
Scott Conant, chef of Cellaio Steak at Resorts World Catskills
Dish: Lunch at Yarbasan Restaurant in Turkey
“Yarbasan Restaurant stopped me in my tracks this summer. It’s located in a small town near my family’s summer home in Turkey. The food was outstanding! From local cheeses and housemade preserves, to fresh fruits, house-cured olives from their own trees and all the freshly baked breads… I’m still dreaming about the gözleme to this day. The orange juice was squeezed from oranges grown on the property where we sat, and the outdoor tables were shaded by stunning decades-old trees. I was blown away by the pride their team took in the food and service—as they should, since it’s such an incredible experience. Yarbasan is only open during the summer so we’ll definitely be making the trip there again in 2023.”
Joseph Harrison, chef de cuisine of Common Thread in Savannah, Georgia
Dish: Dinner at Reverie in Washington, D.C.
“I had the opportunity to dine at Reverie, a restaurant owned and operated by chef Johnny Spero. I went in with high expectations and they were absolutely blown out of the water. There were two separate dishes that were the most memorable for me. The first was a fresh and sweet raw surf clam flavored with simple, perfectly clear tomato water—a nod to pan con tomate. The second dish, which I still can’t stop thinking about, was a sunchoke ice cream, garnished with sunchoke-based miso and topped with crispy sunchoke skins. The depth of flavor the chefs managed to get into the ice cream was amazing, and the miso was complex and earthy without being sweet or overly funky. The chips were air-dried, so they didn’t bring any grease to the equation and gave it a textural component.
“I chose this meal because of the unfortunate circumstances that befell chef Spero and Reverie with the fire that occurred there in 2022. Perhaps these words can serve as a reminder for chef Spero that what he’s done and is doing has a lasting impression on the people who have had the opportunity to dine with them.”