After a couple years off the road, I was back traveling America once again, working my hardest to give myself gout—all for your benefit. As I crisscrossed the country, I couldn’t help but be heartened to see so many places bouncing back after a pandemic that battered the industry. And I couldn’t help but admire all the outstanding food that was on offer from coast-to-coast. The list could have been much longer than this, but here are my 27 favorite restaurant dishes of 2022.
Wild Boar Belly, Carte Blanche, Dallas
If you’re a fan of tasting menu restaurants, you can see many restaurants fall into a familiar pattern, so it’s always refreshing when you see a place mix it up. That’s the case with Carte Blanche in Dallas and its husband-wife chef duo of Casey and Amy La Rue. Their Texan French menu showcases classic technique while utilizing unique proteins such as Texas elk and wild boar belly. This boar course included celery root purée, venison sausage and mustard seed agrodolce. It sounds like it could be heavy, but the dish is lifted by the apple sweetness in the agrodolce, bringing it all back into balance.
Truffle Chopped Cheese, Tatiana, NYC
Honestly, I kind of think truffles are overrated. I don’t go seeking them out or get all weak-kneed about approaching fungus season. However, Kwame Onwuachi’s ode to the Bronx bodega staple—the chopped cheese sandwich—gets a bougie makeover that’s greatly elevated by shavings of black truffle complementing the tiny beef and brioche sandwich it sits atop.
Tuna Carnitas, Este, Austin
When Fermín Núñez described this dish, where he cooks tuna at high heat in a bunch of pork fat, to me, I thought, “Well, that doesn’t sound good.” I figured the heat would dry out the fish and the flavor of the pork would overwhelm the tuna. Well, I was wrong. The porcine is present, but the taste of the tuna still comes through on the finish. The dish is lifted by the pickled onions that cut through the richness, and it’s all made even more memorable by the house-made tortillas it’s served with—some of the best corn tortillas I’ve ever had.
Turbot, Esmé, Chicago
Jenner Tomaska and Katrina Bravo’s Esmé serves a tasting menu where they allow themselves to get inventive and whimsical with dishes. The turbot arrives encased in iridescent plastic that’s cut open table side causing the smoke inside to waft out. In the bowl, there’s the fish draped in thinly sliced king trumpet mushroom and then nestled in a clam emulsion, cherry and vin jaune. The dish is salty and slightly sweet and has a supple creaminess that manages to not be too rich.
Anchovy and Butter, Chi Spacca, LA
Nancy Silverton’s temple to wood-fired meat remains one of LA’s best restaurants. But a recent bite there unexpectedly stuck out: toasted bread topped with a curl of butter and an anchovy. Certain LA food podcasters may think it’s too much butter, but I disagree. It’s fatty and delicious.
Tielle Sétoises, March, Houston
In terms of a beginning-to-end fine dining experience, there may not be a warmer, more welcoming one than June Rodil and Felipe Riccio’s March. The restaurant focuses on the various cuisines around the Mediterranean and twice a year deep-dives into a specific subregion. And at a dinner this spring, my favorite bite from the tasting menu was a little tart called tielle sétoises that’s filled with lobster and octopus, then served with sauce américaine.
Kimchi Jjigae Pozole, San Ho Won, San Francisco
Our winner for Best New Restaurant in America hit on every dish I had, so it was hard to narrow it down here. Michelin three-star chef Corey Lee and Jeong-In Hwang created a restaurant that serves hearty dishes from their native Korea. The duo is also breaking with traditional Korean fare by drawing on influences from around their adopted hometown. So a piping-hot stew looks like a traditional kimchi jjigae when the roiling broth arrives at the table, but then along comes a plate of avocado, radish and fresh cilantro that would normally accompany Mexican posole. It’s their little nod to the heritage of San Francisco’s Mission District, where the restaurant resides. And like everything at San Ho Won, it’s a brilliantly executed dish that’s both comforting and creative.
Grilled Pork Belly, Union Tavern, Nashville
When Union Tavern launched at the Bobby Hotel in Nashville, it was in the very capable hands of chef Ryan Poli, the former head chef of Catbird Seat. On the menu was a grilled hunk of fatty pork belly that was accompanied by a sweet and smoky apple butter. He showed off his pasta skills there with a crab cavatelli that was like an adult mac and cheese. He’s since left Union Tavern, but he’s staying in Nashville to create the pasta-centric Iggy’s with his brother Matthew.
Uni Donut, Kato, LA
Jon Yao and co. moved its scrappy Westside tasting menu spot from a strip mall to a beautiful downtown buildout. The uni donut is simply and incredible bite of food: It’s sweet, creamy, briny and rich with a deep umami flavor. After you finish you want more, but it’s so rich, you know it’s probably best to resist.
Root Vegetable Aguachile, Tomo, White Center, Washington
I come by my work honestly. I grew up the fourth of five boys and we knew how to put the groceries away. We could EAT. So when I stopped back in my hometown on my eating adventures, I relied on one of my longest-tenured dining companions—my brother Andrew—to accompany me to chef Brady Williams’s Tomo just outside of Seattle proper. We both came away from that meal impressed with Williams’s ability to coax flavor from vegetables, like with his root vegetable aguachile, where the earthiness of the beets is elevated by strawberries, and the carrots have a meaty chew.
Mushroom Mille-Feuille, Claud, NYC
This dish encapsulates the rustic and restrained—yet still creative—Claud in the East Village. The mushroom mille-feuille doesn’t arrive in exacting layers like you’d find in a Parisian patisserie, but instead it’s a little lumpy and listing to one side. Inside there are charred mushrooms and duxelles in addition to whitney, an alpine-style cheese made in Vermont. What really sets it off is a slightly sweet and tart jus that counters the dish’s richness.
Tuna Crudo, Rose Mary, Chicago
Joe Flamm is serving a surf and turf, but not how you think. At his Italian-Croatian hit Rose Mary, he offers a starter he served when he won Top Chef. His slices of raw tuna come with a shallot and beef-fat vinaigrette and a veal aioli. Then it’s all topped with crispy capers that give the unctuous dish a nice textural contrast.
Roti, Canje, Austin
Tavel Bristol-Joseph and Kevin Fink’s new restaurant Canje explores the food of Bristol-Joseph’s native Guyana. Roti is something he ate regularly growing up, learning how to make it by watching his grandmother, who could find ways to serve it at multiple meals a day. The Canje roti is exceptional: Buttery, flaky, crisp and decadent, it’s the perfect thing to scoop up nearly everything you eat at the restaurant. You could easily see yourself wanting it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Unagi, Nisei, San Francisco
Nisei finished 2022 strong with a Michelin star and chef-owner David Yoshimura winning the guide’s award for Best Young Chef in California. When I dined there in the spring, the Japanese tasting menu restaurant served me perhaps the best unagi I’ve ever eaten. It’s sourced from the only eel farm in America, and Yoshimura shows great restraint with his unagi, cooking it simply over binchotan charcoal while brushing it with a sticky soy glaze. It isn’t served with a ton of bells and whistles; instead it arrives practically on its own, perhaps because Yoshimura is so confident in how truly delicious it is.
Corn Dog Shrimp, Wild Oats, Houston
I mean, corn dog shrimp: What else am I supposed to say? You know what it is. Delightful.
Pork Bun, Abacá, San Francisco
Listen, I’m that guy: I like pineapple on pizza. I know, some of you are closing your browser now, but I don’t care. I’m someone who enjoys the interplay of sweet and savory, especially when pig is involved. At Abacá, chef Francis Ang cooks food inspired by the flavors of the Philippines, like his sisig fried rice and pork lumpia. But my favorite dish there is the pork steamed bun with the sweet pineapple kimchi.
Ube and Huckleberry Basque Cake, Kasama, Chicago
The tasting menu at Kasama is a sublime experience worthy of more than the one Michelin star it has. On top of that, the restaurant from the married duo Genie Kwon and Timothy Flores (and our 2022 Chefs of the Year) is also a casual all-day affair, serving pastries and longanisa egg sandwiches Chicagoans will line-up down the block for. Numerous dishes could have made this list from the couple, but with me having a sweet tooth, I couldn’t resist Kwon’s pastries, especially the decadent ube and huckleberry Basque cake sold during the day and then given as a parting gift to those partaking in the tasting menu at night.
Cheese Soufflé, Koloman, NYC
How? That’s what I thought as my spoon pierced Markus Glocker’s ethereal cheese soufflé and took a big scoop and a bite. It’s simultaneously airy and creamy, the platonic ideal texture of a soufflé.
Lamb and Beef Kebabs, Saffy’s, LA
Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’s follow-up to their hits Bestia and Bavel is more casual but no less packed. You’ll find Menashe manning the grill on any given night, cooking up superb lamb kebab that’s made with habanero, shallots, ginger, garam masala and cilantro, as well as beef shaslik served with yogurt, mint, garlic, pepper, marjoram and oregano.
Killed Lettuce, Audrey, Nashville
Sean Brock has two new restaurants stacked right on top of each other in Nashville. Audrey is on the ground floor offering a five-course tasting menu that dives into Appalachian cuisine in much the same way the chef pursued Southern fare when he was based in Charleston. For one course, in a truly Brockian touch, a beautiful bowl filled with local greens, lettuces and edible flowers, is finished at the table when a server pours a little carafe of hot ham fat all over it.
Fried Chicken Sandwich, Augie’s on Main, Santa Monica
Josiah Citrin just picked up a Michelin star for his eponymous restaurant to go along with his two stars for Mélisse. But the best bite I had from the chef this year was at his new casual spot Augie’s on Main, where he’s serving a damn fine fried chicken sandwich on brioche with slaw and a spicy pepper sauce.
Zeppole and Ham, Torrisi, NYC
My pursuit of the perfect zeppole has ended. It’s at Torrisi, the newest restaurant from Major Food Group in New York. The little fried ball of dough has a salty crisp exterior that gives way to a cloud inside as I tore it in half to stuff it with a subtly sweet mostarda and Benton’s ham. The pork fat and donut just melt in your mouth.
Cornish Game Hen, Horses, LA
The hottest restaurant in LA for much of the year was Horses (though it did land in some hot water). The menu filled with unfussy bistro fare has packed people in on Sunset Blvd. The standout Cornish game hen with dandelion panzanella is an ode to Zuni Café’s seminal roast chicken. The whole bird is spatchcocked, roasted and then laid over the chunks of bread that soak up its delightful jus. This is what I ate for dinner on my birthday, and it was the most delicious gift.
Caviar Eclairs, Le Fantastique, San Francisco
Chef Robbie Wilson wanted to create a place reminiscent of days on the beach with friends listening to music and downing oysters with great wine. Le Fantastique gets a little fancier than that, though, especially with the delicate little eclairs topped with caviar and accented by an onion maple cream whose sweetness played beautifully with the brine of the roe.
Fried Chicken, Willie Mae’s, LA
Feeding New Orleans since 1957, Willie Mae’s Scotch House expanded west to Los Angeles, bringing its exceptional fried chicken with it. The crunchy exterior of the bird gives away to tender meat below and the spice washes over your palate, giving you heat, but not in a way that blows out your taste buds. It actually adds complexity to the flavor of the chicken.
Kohlrabi Caesar, Meridian, Dallas
There’s a lot to love at chef Junior Borges’s modern Brazilian restaurant and I’m still thinking about a salad. Restaurant menus are flooded with little gem Caesar salads, but he’s opted for a kohlrabi-based version. In Meridian’s rendition, ribbons of the German turnip offer a crisp and refreshing counterpoint to the anchovy-filled aioli they’re nestled in, while fresh mint leaves provide herbal punch to an already flavorful dish.
Crispy Pig Head, Lord’s, NYC
While the crispy, crunchy croquette of pig’s head is the ostensible star of this course, the brothy butter beans here play second fiddle to no one. Serving as the base of the dish and topped with the pig and black pudding, these unctuous, creamy beans have bits of pig trotter floating in them, bringing even more richness to the party. And although this may sound heavy as hell, the flavors are subtle and the seasoning dialed in. Bonus points for the beans being cooked until creamy but still all intact.