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.  

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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.

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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!

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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.  

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

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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.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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.

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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!

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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?

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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“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.  

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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.  

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Nashville!

Nashville, I wasn’t prepared to like you as much as I did ♥

Here’s some things I’m thinking about right now: that first meal of an expertly seasoned rice bowl and kombucha, burger sliders that were blow-away good, standing on a rooftop with a beer in one hand and my husband at my side, live music coming from the door of every bar, BACHELORETTE PARTIES EVERYWHERE, that 7 o’clock hour light, learning what pokeweed is, 10 years with my favorite person, walking to brunch and hearing the words “grits for the table,” strolling to the farmers’ market, baseball and that feeling of contentment when you know you’re in your place, beer snack, grabbing a seat at the bar and people watching while dining on veggie salads and pizza, seeing Jonathan Scott (Property Brothers fans, what’s up!), finding a bright and airy coffee shop that has killer breakfast options, parks and popsicles and shops and Southern neighborhood strolls, bowling on the dreamiest lanes you’ve ever seen, HOT CHICKEN, one last coffee shop stop, the utter joy and peace and happiness of a perfect vacation.

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We got into Nashville around 1:30, checked into our Airbnb apartment, then found a place nearby to grab a quick lunch and walked on over.  Just know Lulu was the best!  Totally our (my?) kind of place because there were big salads and grain bowls and kombucha on tap and neon signs that made for pretty Instagram posts.  Plus I tasted Joey’s sliders and a casual lunch spot has no business making burgers that taste THAT GOOD.  I was in my happy place for sure!

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Every time I told someone we were going to Nashville, I was awkwardly self-conscious about not being a country music fan, but I’m not necessarily NOT a country music fan as much as I’m NOT a Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Zac Brown Band type of country music fan.  Singers who have that twang in their voice and fall under the country music umbrella but don’t sound anything like that pop country stuff are fine by me!  We did the whole Lower Broad thing and yes, we did hear some live music and yes, it was kind of cool but I also felt like we just wanted to get that part out of the way because it was also real touristy and real packed with bachelorette parties.  Shout out to the Australian sister band that covered “What’s Up?” though!

Escaped to dinner at Husk afterwards and when we asked our waiter what “pokeweed” was, his explanation was “it just grows everywhere!”  Great, cleared that right up!  Turns out it’s spinach-like in texture, herbacious in flavor and totally delicious in a cornmeal cake with charcoal butter.  Also ate a charcuterie plate, pork rolls and pork prime rib, which we didn’t even know was a thing but our lives are better for it.  Mostly felt like Husk was maybe a little too stiff for our taste but the food was incredible so I don’t regret going one bit!

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Joey is the smartest and suggested we make a Sunday brunch reservation at 5th & Taylor and then it happened to be in walking distance!  I felt weird when we showed up and it everyone was there with their mother, but then it turned out we weren’t the only couple brunching there.  I ordered a chicken sausage scramble that came out on a piece of avocado-topped sourdough toast.  I WAS DELIGHTED BY IT.  And then just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, they brought grits for the table and I don’t know what was in those grits but they were BY FAR the best grits I’d ever tasted.  Note to Self: just eat the entire bowl of grits for brunch next time.  So good!

Walked to the Nashville Farmers’ Market — which is part indoor food court, part outdoor produce market — afterwards and strolled Bicentennial Park on the way.  We got iced coffee at that cute-as-can-be trailer, perused the market, then sat on a bench outside to stare up at the perfectly blue sky and wonder if the lizard on the wall in front of us was real or fake (it was real!).  In other words, morning time perfection.

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Totally unplanned but the stadium for the Nashville Sounds was minutes from where we were staying AND the Rockies’ Triple-A team, the Albuquerque Isotopes, happened to be in town.  We joked about going but then our Uber driver really talked up the stadium AND Tony Wolters was playing soooo we kind of couldn’t NOT go, right?  The stadium was all kinds of family-friendly so we maybe played a game of Guess Who before finding our seats.  The Isotopes totally won but we also totally left early because a beer snack at Picnic Tap was NEEDED.  Joey picked out a beer for me — Wiseacre Knockout IPA — and I’d like to have him make all ordering decisions for me from now on, please.

For dinner, we walked over to the highly anticipated City House, locked eyes with Jonathan Scott, who was dining out on the porch, then grabbed seats at the bar and proceeded to watch as almost every person who came in hugged and hello-ed with the restaurant staff.  We were starting to think this was a secret regulars-only restaurant but then I overheard it was someone’s last night so I think regulars, friends and employees were just coming out of the woodwork to celebrate.  We were mostly celebrating how good our entire meal was.  If you go to Nashville, please go to City House, order a pizza and a cocktail from the friendly bartender and definitely get the Chess Pie for dessert.

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First thing Monday, we walked ourselves over to Barista Parlor (despite the 3.5 star rating) and get this, everyone on Yelp is WRONG because we loved this place!  It is huge and bright and beautiful, plus they have some crazy-looking coffee brewing setup and breakfast options that I could hardly decide between.  Went with a Vietnamese cold brew — which tasted like a mix between your classic Vietnamese iced coffee and a spicy chai, so ♥♥♥ — and a bacon and egg biscuit and then I was the happiest version of myself for the rest of the day.

Ubered over to “12 South,” aka the strip of boutique shops leading to Sevier Park and, more importantly, Las Paletas.  Having a cute popsicle shop at the entrance to a park is possibly the smartest idea ever.  I got a strawberry and Joey got a banana cream and we walked to a shady park bench and just sat and felt genuine happiness.  That house at the top of the hill inside the park was all kinds of historic too.

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Post-park strolling, we made a pit stop at The Filling Station, where you can buy craft beer to go, fill your growler or grab a drink to enjoy there.  Joey had a beer and followed it up with a cupcake from the Sprinkles ATM.  Felt like he HAD to because it’s not every day you see a cupcake ATM, is it?  I passed on the cupcake, felt virtuous for 45 seconds, then stumbled upon Five Daughters Bakery and right into a “100 Layer Doughnut.”

Then we Ubered off to Pinewood Social and decided we could maybe use some real food made of vegetables.  Giant salads to the rescue!  Okay, so the deal with Pinewood is that… it has everything?  Which is almost as vague as our Husk waiter’s description of pokeweed.  It’s a full-service restaurant with different menus for morning, noon and night, but there’s also a coffee shop and tables for hanging out and working on your laptop and, in the back, bowling lanes!  We bowled three games and I’m fairly certain my final score was 30 for one of those games.  I got better but I’m gonna go ahead and say I don’t have a future in professional bowling.

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Spent our final night in Nashville at Hattie B’s and it was the perfect ending!  We almost thought we needed to find a BBQ place but then I realized Nashville is known for hot chicken and we needed to get ourselves some before we left.  We decided on the West Nashville location and were glad we did.  Sat out on the patio with beers, chicken and sides galore so it was THE BEST.

We maybe went to Barista Parlor one more time and maybe picked up lunch to eat at the airport from Lulu and headed back to Denver and back to snow… in May… I’m over it.

Where We Stayed: 

River Views/Nashville // We really really liked the location because we could walk to restaurants, coffee shops, Bicentennial Park and the Nashville Farmers’ Market but we had some air conditioner issues that I could have done without.

Where We Ate/Drank:

Lulu // Next level grain bowls but don’t miss out on those burger sliders.

Acme Feed & Seed // A bit touristy/busy/loud but it’s big and clean, serves food and local beer and it’s fun to stand on the rooftop patio overlooking the Cumberland River.

Husk // If you’re into food, you’ve probably heard of Husk.  It’s a Nashville culinary staple.  It’s got local, seasonal, veg-creative food going for it and everything we ate was delicious, I just don’t know that I loved the atmosphere/service.

5th & Taylor // When you show up to Sunday brunch and there’s a line outside, you know you’ve made a good choice.  Order anything because it’ll be good and it’s really about the “grits for the table” anyway!  

The Trailer Perk // Located outside at the Nashville Farmers’ Market.  I love a punny food truck name and 20 hour cold brew.

The Picnic Tap // Raise your hand if you think every farmers’ market should have a craft beer watering hole!  Tip: they also serve brats and grilled cheese to go with your beer.

City House // This place is such a gem!  You can make a reservation but know that they reserve the bar, pizza counter and screened-in porch for walk ins.  Order a cocktail, some starters, a pizza and definitely save room for dessert.

Barista Parlor // Look around, it’s beautiful and bright and there’s great care and effort going into the coffee and food, so slow down, be patient and enjoy.  Vietnamese Cold Brew and biscuit sandwiches highly recommended.

Las Paletas // Never had a “gourmet popsicle” before?  You’re in for a treat, no pun intended.  Tastes like real fruit because they’re made with real fruit, imagine that!  Grab one before making your way into Sevier Park for a stroll.

The Filling Station // If you’re a local, fill your growler.  If you’re a visitor, pick a craft beer and enjoy it out front in the sunshine.

Five Daughters Bakery // Okay, I probably didn’t need a mid-day pastry but it looked cute and once you’re inside, how can you turn down a 100 Layer Doughnut?  In essence, it’s a cronut, but labels aside, these are decadently delicious.  Get the chocolate sea salt.

Pinewood Social // A menu for every part of the day, coffee, cocktails, beer and bowling.  I kind of wish we’d had enough time to eat more meals here because everything sounded good!

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken // Do not make the mistake of leaving Nashville without eating real deal hot chicken, aka spicy fried chicken accompanied by sides like pimento mac and cheese and crinkle fries.  Hattie B’s IS my happy place.

What We Did:

Lower Broad // Hard to describe but it’s part Vegas Strip, part Bourbon Street, part downtown bar scene?  No matter where you stop in, you’re bound to hear live music and I think that’s pretty cool.  This is also where all the bachelorette parties, tourists and party people are, so take it as you will.

Bicentennial Mall State Park // There’s a granite wall that runs the length of the park with some interesting state history, if you’re into that.  If not, it’s still a nice place to relax.

Nashville Farmers’ Market // This is an interesting little market in that it’s part indoor-part outdoor, part food court-part produce and mostly, part hip & trendy-part old school.  It’s hard to put your finger on, but we dug it anyway.

Nashville Sounds Game // The stadium is nice, new and fun, plus there’s baseball so we were happy 🙂

12 South // Basically a stretch of boutique shops and restaurants.  We stopped into Imogene + Willie, White’s Mercantile and Draper James and I could afford none of it.

Sevier Park // You can walk the loop around the park (it’s not so big), take a break on a park bench, read about the house on the top of the hill and cross paths with people who are lucky enough to spend their lunch break at the park.