Best Tastes 2017: Restaurant Edition

Here we are.  The very last day of 2017 and all I care about it sharing this list of the best restaurant meals we ate this year.  I write these as the year goes along, then go back and edit/proof-read them at the end and get to re-live all the deliciousness (minus the actual food, wahh!).  It’s really the most fun and honestly, much more uplifting than recapping the year in general.  I want to look back on 2017 and think of lamb burgers, broccoli tempura and chilaquiles, so here we go!

Mushroom & Thyme Tartine from Stowaway Coffee + Kitchen (January 2) // This place can be a little off on efficiency but never on taste.  The mushrooms were plentiful, the labneh had this wasabi zing that I couldn’t get enough of and the toast soaked up that egg in the most beautiful way.  Maybe dramatically fake cried when they took it off the menu.  Seasonal menu changes can be a real mood killer sometimes.  


Share Plates at Community (January 13) // We ate at Community twice this year and were blown away both times, but the first time really sticks out in my mind.  I think the chili and brisket were table favorites but the whole evening felt like a blur of deliciousness and every bite seemed better than the last.


Creole Shrimp Omelet from Four Friends Kitchen (February 19) // Oozy pimento cheese, spicy shrimp, BBQ potatoes with crispy edges and a buttery piece of cornbread to top it all off.  Love at first bite!

Pork Shank Hash from Annette (March 19) // We were burning up in the sun on a unusually warm March morning but I forgot all about it when I gobbled up this perfectly portioned, exceptionally prepared hash.  The potatoes were so crispy, the pork was so juicy, and pickled mustard seeds were the perfect burst of acidity.  


Cascara IPA from Denver Beer Co. (January 7) // The smell, the flavor, the hops.  This beer was everything!


Chicken Kaarage from Mizu Izakaya (January 6) // These adult chicken nuggets were so perfectly breaded and fried so that they were both crispy and moist.  Plus they came with a dipping sauce that complimented the chicken perfectly.  


Tempura Broccoli/Tamarind Pork Ribs/Green-Chile Cheese Fries from Work & Class (April 12) // Technically, this is more than one dish but I’ll be damned if I have to choose between all these incredible things we ate one happy hour before a Rockies game.  This is my blog and I make the rules here.  This meal was heaven on Earth.  


Almond Croissant from Babettes Artisan Breads (January 29) // There is NOTHING like a really good French pastry.  This one was flaky, crunchy from the almonds, with the most delectable almond filling inside.  


Apricot-Ginger Biscuit from Annette (March 19) // Huge, buttery, studded with apricots and sprinkled with gingery sugar.  I couldn’t decide if I liked the crumbly corners or the fluffy insides better, but thankfully, I didn’t have to choose.


Valentine’s Dinner from Tables (February 14) // I feel like this place might be one of Denver’s best kept secrets.  Which is just fine because that means more tempura fried banana, leek hollandaise, chicken roulade and strawberry pocket pie for me!


Joey’s Birthday Dinner from Acorn at The Source (April 2) // Pretzel with gruyère fondue, lobster arancini, morel agnolotti, a 24 oz. (!!!) prime ribeye, crispy potatoes and an au poivre that I wanted to pour straight into my mouth.  Need I say more?


Colorado Lamb Slider from Root Down (February 20) // Joey and I are thinking of becoming a thruple with this slider.  It just completes us, okay?  But for real, a juicier, more flavorful, herbaceous burger patty does not exist and the harissa, cheddar, arugula and mint-yogurt go SO well with that lamb.  


Quinoa Crab Cakes from Fish N Beer (March 7) // I went to Fish N Beer for blowfish tails but when they were out, I ordered the crab cakes instead and they were PHENOMENAL.  What blowfish tails??  That tender crab meat, that perfect crust, that remoulade that took it to a whole different level.  Crab cake of my dreams, for sure.

Alaskan Reindeer from Biker Jim’s (April 1) // Yeah, I said it.  The humble hot dog gets a spot on this list.  Except this is anything but humble.  Coulda sworn I’d ordered this from BJ’s before but I think I would’ve CLEARLY remembered eating something this good so this MUST have been the first time.  Usually the toppings outshine whatever dog I get, but not the case here because even with the wasabi and the shaved cheddar, the dog was the best tasting part.


Clam Pizza from Cart-Driver (April 24) // Yeah, the space is SMALL AS HELL, yeah, you order at the counter and yeah, sometimes you have to figure that out on your own, but don’t let confusion talk you out of eating one of the best pizzas of your life.  The clam is SO GOOD and perfectly salty (that pancetta though!).  Nothing compares!


Uber Burger from Uber Eats (September 17) // We biked to My Brother’s Bar on a Sunday only to find they are closed on Sundays (!!!!!) so instead, we headed up to Uber Eats and what a blessing in disguise because this burger was honestly incredible!  I ate every last bite then almost cried when it was gone.


“Grits for the Table” at 5th & Taylor (May 14) // I’ve never been more delighted with a surprise food delivery than I was when I ate these BEST OF MY LIFE grits.  I don’t know what they put in there, but it was probably pure magic.  


Biscuits & Burritos & Vietnamese Cold Brew at Barista Parlor (May 15 & 16) // Do not make me choose between the egg & maple bacon biscuit sandwich I ate on Monday and the egg & pesto breakfast burrito I ate on Tuesday.  I really couldn’t!  I just know both made me insanely happy to be at Barista Parlor, sipping a cold coffee drink with an actual orchid in it.  


Everything at City House in Nashville (May 15) // beets with cabbage and buttermilk dressing, charred carrots with whipped goat cheese, chard pizza with fennel fonduta.  Need I say more?  Okay, how bout friendliest staff and most “we’re all regulars here!” vibe I’ve ever experienced?  Loved it!


Hot chicken at Hattie B’s (May 16) // The chicken was just spicy enough, fried to perfection and juicy as could be, plus we could not pick a favorite between pimento mac and cheese, stewed greens, crinkle fries and baked beans.  It was all too good!


Spicy Chicken Ramen at Uncle (May 16 & November 22) // Will anything ever dethrone Uncle’s Spicy Chicken as the best ramen? Probably not, so I’ll just keep auto-entering it into this list forever, okay?  Decided the broth tastes like a thinner spicier version of Kraft mac and cheese sauce and I mean that as a good thing.


The Green Machine at Bamboo Sushi (June 1) // The first time I tried Bamboo Sushi, I was with my mom and in order to not totally gross her out of eating her own meal, I ordered vegetarian sushi but what a blessing in disguise that moment turned out to be because the Green Machine roll is THEE BEST.  That sweet chili aioli on top is lick-your-plate good and even now that I’ve tried the non-veggie sushi, this one is still my very favorite!


Dinner at El Five, without a doubt! (July 7) //  I thought Linger and Avanti had Denver’s best skyline views but those are nothing compared to what you get at El Five.  That, plus tapas that BLEW MY TASTE BUDS AWAY, and I was one mega-happy girl.


Rotolo at Dio Mio (August 22) // This rolled up slice of pasta, summer squash, ricotta and drippy egg was decadent and rich but somehow still fresh and light and I couldn’t get over how all of that could exist in one dish, but I wasn’t going to question it.  I was just going to enjoy eating it.


Taco Sushi at TAG Restaurant (September 9) // Let’s not talk about how long it took for this appetizer to come out or how I looked away for a second and Joey had finished the last of the guac or how bad this picture is.  Instead, let’s talk about how this was somehow a taco and also sushi and tasted incredible together.  I wanted to eat about 10 more!


Chilaquiles at Candela Latin Kitchen (September 10) // If chilaquiles are on the menu, I MUST order them!  And these were some of (maybe thee best?!) I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.  Totally decked out in sauce and crema and avocado, plus those perfectly cooked eggs and mix between soft and crispy tortillas chips had me in a food-induced state of pure euphoria.  


Blow Fish Tails at Fish N Beer (September 29) // Shh, let’s pretend I don’t already have this place on this list for another dish.  Blow fish tails sound weird but they seriously taste like chicken and these ones come coated in a just-spicy-enough buffalo sauce.  We got a second order after devouring the first.

Broccoli Dip, Wild Mushrooms and Denver Nuggets at Meadowlark Kitchen (October 17) // I don’t know why I waited so long to finally try this place but after stuffing ourselves on all three of these dishes, I was really kicking myself for wasting so much precious time.  Everything was so flavorful and luscious and I actually couldn’t stop eating it until it was all gone.


Sea Bass at Flight (October 24) //  Have you ever had sea bass?  It is so choice.  If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend picking one up.  Okay, just kidding, but it’s seriously the best fish, so buttery and light.  I love it!  This place wowed me with the flight concept but the sea bass sealed the deal.


Itsy Bitsy Fishwich at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen (November 30) // Honestly, EVERYTHING we ate at Euclid Hall sent me into a tailspin of food happiness but this fishwich was the first thing I tasted and it set the tone for the entire meal by being perfectly portioned, crispy, properly seasoned and just so well balanced between the toasty bun, fish patty, jalapeño aioli and avocado.  More please!


Crispy Fried All Natural Chicken at Chop Shop (December 6) // If you wanna know the truth, I ordered this mainly for the white cheddar polenta and Swiss chard with bacon but then that chicken turned out to be ultra moist and the hint of honey just made the whole thing sing.  Tasted like the best plate of comfort food on a cold December night.

I recently saw a article where the staff from Uproxx shared their single best meal of 2017 and just the thought of having to narrow it down to ONE MEAL made me anxious.  In other words, I won’t be doing that but thank you for letting me share this little not-so-little round up of what made me happiest this year, aka a meal so good you felt the residual euphoria for days to come.  Hope you had many of those this year too!

And with that, I’m out till 2018.  Have a Happy New Year!

Best Tastes 2017: From Our Kitchen

We are very quickly running out of days in 2017, which means it’s time to roll those end-of-the-year “best of” type posts.  Maybe next year, I’ll be organized enough to give you a list that’s more comprehensive of ALL THE THINGS that made 2017 good — i.e. books, podcasts, vacations, albums, TV shows, etc. — but for now, I’m sticking to what I know best… aka food!  First up, homemade meals that wowed me most.  From dinners that turned a regular weeknight into something special to more ambitious baking projects to favorites that we make over and over because they’re just that good, here’s the best things to come from our kitchen in 2017!

United States of Meatloaf // You ain’t never had a friend like me meatloaf like this.  It’s so tender and juicy and that glaze just takes the whole thing to another level.  Every time we make it, we’re astounded at how good it is.  In the vault! 


Ginger Cashew Chicken Curry// I mean, if a recipe calls for five tablespoons of butter, you already know it’s going to be good, but this was even better than I ever could have imagined.  I remember it snowed the day we made/ate this and that winter weather plus this luxurious bowl of comfort food had me straight giddy.


BA’s Best Guacamole // I spent 4 hours makes enchiladas from scratch but I think I liked this 5-minute guacamole better.  My sister makes this recipe all the time and she knows a thing or two about guacamole, so I trusted her on this one and she was so right… this is THE BEST guacamole.  No tomatoes, the way guac should be.  


Garlic & White Wine Pasta with Brussels Sprouts// No joke, I waited all year to make it to Brussels sprout season just so I could make this pasta.  It is SO easy to make and you will not believe how creamy and saucy those noodles get.  This recipe is just incredible!


Charred Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Oranges // When you see Jeff Mauro raving about this recipe, you know it’s gonna be a winner!  The chicken maybe smoked the hell out of our house, but it was worth it because this was an unexpected showstopper.  Joey was less enthused about the seemingly uncomplimentary flavors but I LOVE LOVE LOVED it. 


Spicy Cauliflower Burgers // These take a bit of work.  Especially if you go the extra mile and make the slaw, chipotle mayo and Magic Green Sauce to go with.  And honestly, don’t half ass on those toppings because they might MAKE the burger.  Everything worth doing, is worth doing right.  Joey and I were smitten every time we heated up the leftovers.  Yeah, even as leftovers, these are dang incredible. 


Mardi Gras King Cake// It took several hours, but I was SO DELIGHTED with myself when all was said and done.  The dough came together quickly and the whole rolling and braiding was easier than I thought.  It was my first try and I nailed it!  And as pretty as it looked, it tasted even better.  I was kind of worried it was a little hard on the outside but I ended up loving that crispy exterior over the moist cinnamon sugar-swirled inside.  Sure beat this one


Shrimp Étouffée// To continue the Mardi Gras theme!  The Sunday before, I made my own shrimp stock, then I made this for dinner on actual Fat Tuesday and OH MY GOSH, is there anything better than the smell of butter and flour cooking together??  I didn’t think so, but then I took a bite of the finished product and was like “THIS TASTES EVEN BETTER THAN THE ROUX SMELLED!”  So good, so satisfying, so spicy, so perfect.  It immediately went “in the vault,” aka I hand wrote it in my spiral recipe notebook and that’s not something I take lightly. 


Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin MedallionswithLime, Soy and Maple Drizzle// It’s a two-parter and it ain’t fancy but it’s GOOD.  I made this one Saturday night when Joey was out of town and it felt like the best Treat Yo Self moment.  We both ate the leftovers and with an “OH MY GOD!” Joey confirmed that I had cooked something especially delicious.  That drizzle kind of knocks it out of the park.  


Veggie Shepherd’s Pie // How I made it through 27 years on Earth before combining sweet potato and goat cheese, I’ll never know but I finally did it and I’m never looking back.  I seemed to be the only one so taken aback by this flavor combo but every time I ate it, all I could think was “HOW’S THIS SO GOOD?!” 


Banh Mi Sliders // I probably don’t need to tell you (again) how much I love this meal. 


Grilled Margherita Pizza// If you’ve made as many pizzas in your life as we have, you don’t need a recipe but we were inspired by this one right here.  And if you’ve never grilled a pizza, make this and get ready for a life-changing experience.  Adding pepperoni or mushrooms and olives to your standard margherita is also very very wise. 

Cashew Ice Cream // If it’s gotta be vegan, it’s gotta be THIS cashew ice cream.  Creamy isn’t even strong enough a word for what this is. 


And now we’re reached the salad portion of this post.

Rainbow Chicken Salad // I know, a salad probably shouldn’t be on any Best Of lists, but look, this one has chicken and feta and almonds and grapes and an almond butter dressing that I could actually probably drink.  Joey RAVES about this salad every time we make it and come to think of it, so do I. 

Superfood Salad// I totally thought a dressing of lime juice and olive oil was going to be super boring but I ended loving this entire salad, simple dressing included.  Basically, anything that combines roasted sweet potato and avocado has my heart and this one tasted SO good. 


Rainbow Veggie Bowl with Jalapeño Ranch // There’s our lives before jalapeño ranch and our lives after jalapeño ranch and the after is infinitely better.  That creamy dreamy dressing full of fresh herb flavor, combined with chewy grains, juicy summer vegetables and buttery avocado will have you feeling like you’re living your best life (even if 2017 feels like a tumultuous and terrifying time to be alive…).


Kale Salad Bowl with Tahini // You may not know this, but tahini and feta are Best Friends Forever.  They just go together so perfectly.  And you know anything involving sweet potato is bound to be my favorite thing.  We’ve made this salad lots of times and I’m excited about how dang good it tastes EVERY SINGLE TIME.  

Creamy Thai Sweet Potato Curry  // We love a good curry dinner and I’m head over heels for basically anything involving sweet potato, so this meal is an absolute winner in my book.  Bite after bite, I can’t get over how luscious this tastes.  Plus you can home-make the curry paste and feel like you’re really on your A game.


Dijon-Herb Crusted Salmon with Creamy Dill Sauce + Warm Buttered Radish and Edamame Salad //  I went through a real fish phase this year and this meal helped fuel it.  But just look at that crispy panko topping, creamy yogurt drizzle and herbaceous spring veggies on the side.  Too good to be true. 


Creamy Carrot and Herb Linguine // How’s it made of zoodles but also really good?  I didn’t think those things belonged together until we made this then re-made it later.  Open your heart to zoodles in cream sauce and it will love you back.  Or something like that.  Also, fresh tarragon really makes this dish.


Halibut Foil Packs with Chile Butter// I’ve really come to love a compound butter.  And a foil pack.  And a dinner that only take a few minutes to put together.  I put just a little bit more butter than it called for and I stand by this decision 100%.  


Easy One-Bowl Upside-Down Cake// Bon Appétit really talked this one up as being foolproof but sometimes reality doesn’t live up to expectations.  Happy to report that is is NOT one of those times.  This cake really was dang easy and I was so in love with the look of the smooth pale yellow batter that I wanted to paint my room in it.  That was a weird thing to say, probably.  I made it once with cherries and once with blueberries and both turned out beautifully.  Also: DO NOT SKIP THE WHIPPED SOUR CREAM ON TOP.  


Thai Sweet Potato Noodle Bowls// Probably goes against everything Cooking Light is about to sub full fat coconut milk, use the entire block of tofu and eat four servings in three servings but whatever because that’s probably what made this dish so good.  P.S. Here I am eating sweet potato noodles now?!  Who am I even? 


Garlic Mac n Cheese// We made this A LOT this year and I was shocked at how creamy and “cheesy” it tasted EVERY SINGLE TIME.  I cannot tell you how many times this recipe is the solution to needing a quick dinner because if you roast the garlic earlier in the week, this takes something like 15 minutes to make.  An incredible bonus!


The Easiest (vegan) Pancakes// Turns out the easiest vegan pancake recipe doubles as the easiest vegan waffle.  It’s crispy, it’s just barely sweet, it’s perfect. 


Simple Flaky Crab Cakes // Joey made these (again) and I loved them (again)!  Mostly these are perfect because it’s big on crab flavor and if you get yourself some good crab from the same city your aunt lives in (Slidell, LA, what’s up?!) then you can forget for a second that you live in a landlocked state that has generally poor seafood options. 


BBQ Chicken Burgers // I already had go-to turkey and beef burgers in my arsenal but this chicken burger completes the trifecta and now I think I’m set for life!  We also made them for our summer BBQ and I ate one and couldn’t get over how juicy (I think the secret is shredded cheddar INSIDE the patty!) and perfectly BBQ-flavored it was.


Summer Bliss Bowls with Sweet Potato Falafel// Heirloom cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, roasted corn, fresh dill, falafel made of sweet potatoes (!!!) and a generous drizzle of jalapeño ranch?  INCREDIBLE.  I wrote about a lot of food in this post but none that made me hungrier than this one right here. 

Grilled Chicken Wings with Shishito Peppers and Herbs // Except not with shishito peppers because after getting hooked on them last summer, we could not get our hands on them this summer.  Why?!  But it’s okay because these wings, with their lime vinaigrette and charred bits were the best 4th of July meal almost ever. (July 4)


Charred Broccoli Tacos with “Chorizo” Dip & Avocado Cream // It’s a lot of work to make all the elements of a meal yourself, but sometimes, like when you make panko-crusted broccoli and a smoky dip and a creamy avocado sauce and flour tortillas even, it is so so worth the effort.  This meal was incredibly flavorful and I loved every single bite every time I made them this year.


Summer Squash & Basil Pasta// Did you know you can caramelize zucchini?!  I didn’t until we made this super summery pasta and then life as we knew it had changed for the better.  The sauce is the star (obviously) but honorable mention goes to fresh basil, melty cheese and Aleppo pepper a quick blend of three parts paprika to one part cayenne.  Joey and I were both head over heels for this pasta dinner. 

P.S. We made this again towards the end of summer and cut the squash really thin, then cooked it down for something like 30 minutes and it was EVEN BETTER!


Spaghetti with Tomato & Walnut Pesto //  One of the happiest moments of my life last summer was when I was sitting on the couch, totally engrossed in Summer Olympic coverage, and Joey presented me with this bowl of pasta.  Recreated that moment this summer (minus Olympic swimming, plus outdoor reading) and upon second taste, THIS PASTA IS STILL INCREDIBLE!  The sauce is so luscious and every one of the ingredients that goes into it shines through in the final product.  

Basic B. Burrito // Guys, I don’t know why, but this humble burrito makes me downright giddy every time I pack myself one for lunch and get to unwrap that foil and dive into that bean, mozzarella, goat cheese, avocado, hot sauce combo.  I dunno, maybe I just eat too many lunch salads so this change up feels life-changing?  Let’s not question it. 


Grilled Chicken Tacos // Alright, I’m just going to be honest and tell you I bought jarred tomatillo salsa instead of making it.  Sometimes, shortcuts are where it’s at.  The beauty of this recipe is that you basically don’t even let it marinate and it’s still juicy and flavorful and holds up really well to the avocado, radish, cilantro and salsa that you MUST top your tacos with. 


Grilled Lamb Rib Chops // Sometimes I LOVE lamb and other times, I’m really turned off by it.  Luckily, these chops were a LOVE moment.  We marinated it in some salt, pepper, olive oil, rosemary and garlic then Joey grilled it to perfection and it tasted so incredible, especially alongside those sauces and flatbread.  A lamb win for sure! 


Creamy Kale and Mushroom Quesadillas // Will I ever grow tired of these quesadillas?  All signs point to no.  I think it’s the double cheese action, plus kale and mushroom sautéed in butter and perfectly griddled tortillas.  So I guess I love everything about them! 

P.S. Spicy Tahini Corn on the Cob is pretty great too.

Roasted Veggie Mac & Cheese // My mom and I have a term for the way a particularly cheesy dish makes your mouth feel…”cheesy teeth.”  Pretty self-explanatory I’d say.  This mac and cheese definitely left me with “cheesy teeth” but it’s a small price to pay for such a deliciously comforting bowl of food.  I ate something like 5 bowls of this in a week and loved it every time!


Chicken, Bacon, Date and Brussels Sprouts Quinoa Power Salad// Making salad for one on a Friday night sounds sad but I was ANYTHING BUT SAD when I dove into this decked out bowl of goodness.  Just know that this salad involves everything good in the world.  Aka bacon, dates, avocado and goat cheese.


Simple Cinnamon Pumpkin Pancakes// Life felt so good and happy when the stars aligned and I had everything on hand to make these pumpkin pancakes (even shitty non-fat Greek yogurt that shouldn’t exist and why did I even have that in the fridge??) and then when I took my first bite and they were delightfully soft and cinnamon-y and perfect.


Crispy Baked Chicken Wings+Jalapeño Popper Bean Dip// I am still very new to the homemade wing game but I made the ginger-soy glaze from this recipe and it blew me away!  I was in such a little happy place, sitting on the couch with this plate, not caring whatsoever that the Cowboys were A) playing and B) losing.  And don’t think these wings overshadowed the bean dip because it was EQUALLY GOOD.  Joey couldn’t stop telling me how much he loved it and that’s a win in my book.


Turkey Pot Pie Hand Pies// I usually laugh when I see those “creative ways to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers” articles because um don’t you just eat them like normal for two days and feel really happy about it?  But then I saw this hand pie recipe and thought it looked so good that it changed my mind completely.  Half the credit goes to Dufour Puff Pastry for being so buttery, flaky and straight delectable.


Miso Caramel-Apple Pie// You know when you make something for a crowd and have a feeling of self-consciousness about it and all you’re really hoping for is unanimous praise?  Okay, that did not happen when I brought this pie to Thanksgiving, BUT I happened to think it was incredible.  And I also know that three attempts at caramel sauce went into it, so I’ll just give myself the praise.


Black and Blue Steak Salad + Mini Baked Sweet Potatoes // Joey made me this dinner and though my initial enthusiasm was for his beautiful plating, I had even more enthusiasm for how good this meal tasted!  It was a salad but it somehow still felt like comfort food and I’m starting to think a steak salad is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  

Eggnog Banana Bread // I bought six mini bread loaves at Michael’s then had to go back and switch one out when I got home and realized it was cracked but you know what, it was worth it because these were adorable, unbelievably moist (especially for being whole wheat!) and I loved that little glaze on top.  


Christmas Lunch // Okay, I’m sort of cheating but it’s my last item and I have food writing fatigue.  Plus, I honestly couldn’t single out one dish we made for Christmas that was “the best,” as much as I can say the entire spread together was the best.  We got lots of compliments on all we made and I can think of no better Christmas present than that!

And on that note, I’m signing off.  I’ll be back with the best restaurant meals we ate in 2017 shortly!