When it's your job to eat the world, picking a favorite meal doesn't come easy. So forgive us if we get a little mushy as we think back to these dishes, the eye-widening breakfasts, crispy street snacks, and flame-licked roasts that stopped us in our tracks. Here are our meals to remember in 2015.
Just off the Ruta del Sol, somewhere in Punta Blanca, Ecuador, is a row of open kitchens, all covered by a single shared roof. One of these kitchens belongs to Restaurant & Cevicheria Blanquita. There, a stone's throw from the Pacific coast, cooks in white caps and yellow aprons fry locally-caught fish and make ceviche from fresh shrimp and octopus. They sell tall beers to go with it, which come with small paper cups to drink from. It was New Year's Day, and sitting at a high stool with a bowl of popcorn, an octopus ceviche, and a small hangover, I had the best meal of the year. — Craig Cavallo, Digital Staff Writer
Restaurant & Cevicheria Blanquita
Off the Ruta del Sol, Punta Blanca, Ecuador
I won't lie—it may have been the wine. In fact, it couldn't have been without the wine. The best meal I ate this year was a late spring dinner at Château Cos d’Estournel, in St. Estephe, an appellation tucked up in the northwestern finger of Bordeaux. We began the meal with the Château's mineraly 2010 vintage Chardonnay on their sun-drenched patio, under palm trees and pagoda rooftops. After several rounds of crab canapés, we slid through huge carved wooden Zanzibarian doors to the dining room. The château's chef had prepared a radiating salad of microgreens and baby radishes, each of which burst with peppery flavor. More wine was poured, each glass more aged than the last.
We feasted on bright salty sea bass, roasted heirloom carrots, and unbelievable lemon custard tarts. Every sip of wine, perfectly paired with its course, lifted the flavors up out of the dish itself. It made me realize the power of the relationship between wine and food—the experience of a meal as a whole. — Allie Wist, Associate Art Director
Château Cos d’Estournel
Cos S, 33180 Saint-Estèphe, France
When you get invited to a shooting weekend with posh friends in Northern Ireland at a Downtown Abbey-esque country home, you say yes (particularly if you're from the Upper West Side of New York and the closest you've ever gotten to hunting ducks has been on a Nintendo console, circa 1992). Baronscourt, a family-run estate an hour's drive from Belfast, opens itself up to paying weekenders during hunting season, organizing shoots—for grouse and pheasant when we were there—and meals, all you have to do is bring your wellies. There were grand breakfasts in the breakfast room, complete with a ham plunked onto an ornate cutting board, and better-clean-yourself-up-nice dinners in the evenings that rounded out with port and cigars.
But my favorite meal happened late morning after we'd been tromping around in muddy muck after a first shoot. They steered us all into a tin-roofed shack and served us sausage rolls—think: the best pig in a blanket ever—and consommé poured into enamel camping mugs, with a fortifying shot of sloe gin on the side. It was the perfect pick-me-up, salty and comforting and exactly what you want when it's damp and cold out. Now that's it's finally feeling like winter outside, I've half a mind to do an 11 a.m. sausage roll break in the office, sloe gin optional. — Sophie Brickman, Senior Editor
Here's what I remember most from a recent road trip through the South: fat skirt steak fajitas, dripping with meat and pico de gallo juice, at Superior Grill, a Tex-Mex spot in Shreveport, Louisiana. Plus, tart margaritas, carafes (yes, carafes) of salsa on every table, and neon lights and sombreros hanging down over it all. After days of Cracker Barrel and fried chicken, finding a fiesta (did I mention Superior had live music?) in an unexpected place felt like jumping through a vacation wormhole and getting a whole other trip on top of my sweet Southern one. Sure, you could argue that Louisiana isn't exactly known for its Tex-Mex—that perhaps my time would have been better spent over a pound of crawfish. But I'd just argue that you've never been to Superior Grill. — Jessica Glavin, Digital Director
6123 Line Avenue, Shreveport, Louisiana
After a long day of traveling and a long night out exploring, a friend and I stumbled upon an al pastor vendor on the quiet corner of Puebla and Guadalajara Streets in Mexico City's Roma Norte neighborhood. We were famished. By simply signaling the number 4 with my fingers, I quickly received two plates. Each held two freshly blistered corn tortillas, and were piled high with tender caramelized pork shaved from the spit and topped, con todo, with a fling of raw white onions and cilantro. We doused them in salsa, then stood on the sidewalk, quietly eating while the juices dripped down our forearms. We gave each other the same look: a nod of silent agreement that everything we'd ever wanted—nourishment, happiness, an authentic experience—was in those tacos at that moment in time. — Ben Mims, Food Editor
Partly because it was unexpected coming from this small, unpretentious "neo-bistro" on a nondescript block in lower Manhattan, the dinner I had at the tiny chef's counter at Racines was one of the best I had all year. Chef Frederic Duca's ethereal black sea bass served with slivers of roasted cauliflower in a curry vinaigrette; minced lobster with pears, capers, and macadamia nuts in a parsnip purée; and perfectly grilled pollock (a fish I had never had before) were all amazingly delicious. To finish, the salted chocolate caramel tart was the perfect not-too-sweet dessert. And of course, the wines were exceptional, this being an offshoot of the much loved Racines wine bar cum bistro in Paris. — Camille Rankin, Managing Editor
94 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007
After spending the day hiking nearly 6,000 feet above Lake Bohinj in Slovenia's Julian Alps, the faint ringing of cowbells in the distance broke the silence of the wilderness. Small fairytale-like villages and farms dot the mountains, and if you know which doors to knock on, locals are more than happy to serve hikers a home-cooked meal. Eagerly joining a lively bunch of hikers sitting around a group of picnic tables, my host for the evening prepared hearty, filling buckwheat porridge, a traditional dish in this part of Slovenia, along with some local cheese, dried sausage, and pleasantly doughy dumplings filled with cottage cheese and topped with honey.
It's the kind of simple but utterly delicious food you only find in home kitchens, not restaurants. And the hospitality couldn't be better. Dinner's not dinner in the Alps without a round of shots to finish off the night. Our host poured us glasses of local schnapps, kosutnik, made from a flower with a bracing, bitter kick, and we toasted to the Perseid meteor shower twinkling above us. — Michelle Heimerman, Photo Editor
I was standing on a sailboat in the middle of the Caribbean as the sun was setting, trying to keep my balance as the boat steered through the choppy waters off the coast of Frederiksted, St. Croix. In one hand, I clutched a glass of homemade guavaberry wine; in the other, a plate of conch carpaccio, fried breadfruit, and hunks of fish a local chef had picked up just that morning. In the food world, we're jaded by words like "foraged" and "local," but accompanying this chef to the markets, watching him pick out fish and lobsters and sour oranges and avocados (known as "pears" in the Caribbean), and then watching him use it all in fresh dishes that I would later eat on that very sailboat was pretty damn amazing. — Amanda Arnold, Assistant Digital Editor
Few countries do breakfast better than Taiwan. Yes, that's a bold, indefensible claim. But try for yourself: Pay a visit to Taipei's Yonghe Soy Milk King (as I did for the first time in May when reporting on Taiwan's tea tourism trail). Order a freshly fried you tiao (a savory doughnut shaped like a foot-long baton) with a bowl of piping-hot soy milk, creamy and beany-sweet the way you only get when it's really, truly fresh, and a crisp griddled pancake with an egg omelet tucked inside. Take a bite and relish in the crispy crunch and soy-milky delight and tell me you still want bacon and eggs. You might, but I sure don't. — Max Falkowitz, Senior Digital Editor
Yonghe Soy Milk King
102 Fuxing South Road, Sec. 2, Taipei, Taiwan
Early in the summer I took an impromptu getaway trip up to a friend's family home in Vermont. The house is surrounded by forest, and a short walk brings you to a little grotto complete with a centuries-old hearth built into a pile of stone. After finding a grill grate tucked away to the side, we immediately began planning the meal we'd cook there. We rubbed bone-in ribeye steaks with salt and let them cure in the fridge overnight, and just as the sun began to set we toted them out to the hearth, struck up a wood fire, and gave them a quick, smoky sear. Guzzled in between gulps of Salice Salentino, a dark, clay-like red wine, it was the perfect way to kick off the summer. — Alex Testere, Assistant Editor
And Right at Home
This was the year of polenta and grits for me. Not only did we test numerous recipes that included grits; I also made them constantly at home. I would whip up a straightforward and comforting bowl on the weekends while nursing a hangover and top it with a fried egg. But my favorite way that I made them this year? This one. Packed with milk, butter, and crème fraîche, and topped with a bright tomato salad and chimichurri, it's the dish that I constantly turned to to impress guests–and the leftovers weren't bad, either. — Farideh Sadeghin, Test Kitchen Director