02 January 2007

Dining Out: Best of 2006

Consider this post the sequel to last year's Best of 2005 list.

It seems like I traveled more this year than in years past. Unfortunately, a lot of it was to the same places I have been in the last couple of years. That's not really such a bad thing - I don't suppose that I would have wanted to return to the same places if I didn't like it there - but, since fellow ROGUEfooder "wanderingjew" laid down the challenge of only using places that are new this year, I thought I would have a tough time coming up with a Top 10 of just new places. As it turns out, I had to whittle down a list from about twenty. I will deviate from my past rule of only including restaurants recommended by the Sterns. Still, I think that the quality of the following 10 destinations would prove worthy. To rank one ahead of another would be a grave injustice (but, #1 will be considered #1 for those who feel that there should be a definitive "winner."

10) Smitty's; Lockhart, TX

Central Texas is my absolute favorite place for BBQ in the whole country. The picture of my own meal, however, does not nearly sum up the quality of Smitty's the way this picture of one of their smokers in action does. In addition to serving this wonderful food, the staff here was very freindly and cordial - allowing me to take a number of photos, with full run of the place. I enjoyed a plate that consisted of two healthy slices of beef shoulder (brisket) and two pork ribs. I was trying to eat light so that I might also get to Kreuz's Market (and compare the two!), but alas, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, once again. My plan is to make it back to Lockhart sometime in February. The thought of getting my hands on some of that beef is probably what gets me through the next few days!

208 S Commerce St.
Lockhart, TX

9) Tony's Restaurant; Bridgeton, MO (RIP, as of 12/06)

I am glad to say that I made it to this hidden treasure before it's untimely demise in late 2006. This picture doesn't do the size of this omelette justice. If I was told that there were a half-dozen eggs in there, I wouldn't blink. The menu did not mention that this was an item to be served family style, but it fed three healthy adult males with no problem at all. The pancakes, wonderful as they were, had no business being on the table. These two plates made for too much food for three adults. The best part of the whole meal - that cost of that omelette was around five bucks.

8) Grimaldi's Pizza; Brooklyn, NY

This is the scene outside Grimaldi's most of the time that they are open for business. New Yorkers, impatient bunch that we can be, will wait - for something worth waiting for. Grimadli's pizza is one of the things worth waiting for. In my case, excellent company made the wait for a table and the food seem all too short. Don't poke in expecting to grab a slice to go - there are no slices at Grimaldi's. Even calling and ordering in advance may not get you a pie any quicker. Everyone is queued up together, egalitarianism at it's best. Upon completion of your pie, bang a right out the front door and walk a block or two down to the water and grab a fine dessert at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.

19 Old Fulton St.
Brooklyn, NY

7) Dinic's; Philadelphia, PA

Located inside the Reading Terminal Market, Dinic's is destination food in Philly. Pictured above is the roast pork, served "wet," which is just as it sounds - drenched in it's own juices. A side of locally produced Herr's chips is the accompaniment. It would take you weeks to eat your way around RTM without duplicating any single establishment, but Dinic's is on my list of places to hit whenever I am in town. Everyone may tell you that the touristy thing to do in Philadelphia is to get a cheesesteak from Pat's or Geno's. Let the tourists head there while you get a better meal at Dinic's. Everything pictured above was less than $7 (including the fountain drink).

Reading Terminal Market
51 N 12th St.
Philadelphia, PA

6) Pho Van; Portland, OR

This was my first experience with Vietnamese food. I am sure that part of what made this meal exceptional was the company - fellow ROGUEfooder Mr. Chips, and his family - Trudy and Sam. I will be darned if I could remember the name, but the bowl pictured above was my entree, which included BBQ pork, large shrimp, ground pork and veggies in a chicken broth with vermicelli noodles. This bowl followed some excellent spring roll appetizers (well, the bite or two that I managed to sneak in before Sam torched the rest!), and was more than I could finish. What you see pictured above was about $7. I only hope that I didn't set the bar too high with my first Vietnamese experience. The odds of me being able to walk into any other local restaurant expecting to get this same quality is are probably not that high.

1919 SE 82nd Ave.
Portland, OR

5) Puerto Sagua; Miami, FL

The aforementioned "wanderingjew" traveled down to my home state for some baseball and eating, and I met up with him and a friend of his down in Miami. After a sunny afternoon of Marlins baseball, we drove down to Miami Beach to eat some of the best Cuban food served outside of Havana. This picture isn't even my own meal, but upon being served, I immediately regretted not ordering the seafood enchilada.

700 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL

4) Avalon Diner; Houston, TX

Sitting at the counter at the Avalon Diner is like taking a step back in time to the 1950's. I suppose that the 1950's wouldn't have seen the Avalon in as strange a place as a strip mall, but sometimes you just have to roll with the times. A burger, fries, and a shake - All-American comfort food, if ever there was such a designation. In addition to the hand-dipped shakes, the Avalon still squeezes the lemons and limes fresh for their homemade lemonade and limeade, respectively. Seems like every town used to have at least one of these places. Now, they are stretched far and wide.

2417 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX

3) Primanti Brothers, Pittsburgh, PA

When I mentioned to friends that I was heading to Pittsburgh, every single person told me that if I only had time for one meal, that meal should be the sandwich made famous in Pittsburgh - the Primanti Brothers. I will admit to being skpetical - a sandwich with bread, french fries, and cole slaw all slathered on a sandwich together did not really appeal to me. I am a basic fellow - I want to taste the meat in a sandwich, and am usually resistant to any and all condiments. Still, I was told, this slaw is different...the fries add a unique texture....it's an experience. I figued that the worst case scenario would be that I would never have to eat another - and I could claim the experience as done. Instead, the sandwich, and the experience was unforgettable. I was seated at the counter in the original Strip District location, next to two college buddies, in town on summer break. One lived in Pittsburgh his whole life, the other was visiting from NY. For the NYer, this was his "must" experience in Pittsburgh, too.

46 18th St.
Pittsburgh, PA

2) Round Rock Donuts; Round Rock, TX

It is almost hard for me to justify a "Top 10" spot on donuts - but, these donuts are THAT good. I made two visits to the Austin area in 2006. In March, I stayed in Round Rock, and Roadfooder "Bushie" sent me to these fried doughy delights. When I booked my hotel for my October trip, I clearly wasn't thinking about donuts, and booked a hotel on the south side of Austin, near the airport. Waking up and needing a donut fix, I drove about 1/2 hour, in driving rain, to Round Rock to get my hands on these treats. They raised the price from my first visit to my second - up a nickel now, to FIFTY cents a piece. On a recent road trip, I stopped at a roadside Dunkin' Donuts and found donuts had risen in price to 84 cents. I know that it is only 34 cents per donut, but a difference of about 40% in price, for quality that is not anywhere close is a complete injustice. Round Rock Donuts is just one more reason to look forward to that February trip.

106 W Liberty St.
Round Rock, TX

1) Ess-a-Bagel, New York, NY

I try not to throw around the label of "best ever" too often, or it loses its impact. Unfortunately, I don't know any other way to say it - these are the best bagels I have ever eaten. Period. The cinammon raisin that you see right in the middle are fresh and warm out of the oven. I ordered a half-dozen, and walked out towards my hotel. As I was walking, the heat from the bagels permeated the bag and began toasting my hands. Between the physical signs of the warm bagels, and the aroma coming out of the bag, I couldn't resist reaching into the bag and tearing off a hunk of fresh bagel as I walked. The crusty exterior texture blended with the chewy interior to make bagel bliss. My boss often asks me to bring back "real" New York bagels whenever I travel to the Motherland. If she only knew, she would think that anything else I had brought back to this point was absolutely inferior!

831 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10022

As I look back at the remaining restaurants on my 2006 list that didn't make the cut, I could easily make ANOTHER Top 10 list that would rival most anybody's travels. It really was a good year. In the next couple of days, I will try to highlight some of the honorable mentions, some of the places that would have made a Top 10 if there was no "first visit" rule, and feature my biggest disappointment of 2006.

I wish you all good eats and safe travels in 2007!


Lisa Knight said...

Loved Primanti Bros!!! Boy do I miss Pittsburgh sometimes!

The Travelin' Man said...

Primanti Brothers was one of the highlights of my four-day, four-city summer tour. Naturally, I never posted about it before today!

Dan said...

I lived in Pittsburgh and always thought Primanti's was overrated -- their sandwiches never did much for me. Give me a burger from Tessaro's or a polish platter at Bloomfield Bridge Tavern any day.

But as a former Philly resident, damn, that roast pork sandwich made my mouth water. Headed up there in a few weeks for a day of food and drink and Tony Luke's will be one of my first stops after The Wing Bowl (I know your pic was from Reading Terminal but you know what I mean).