I have had the great pleasure of eating at some fabulous restaurants. I will update irregularly, with new ones added at the top. Here are a few favorites:
Los Amigos, Federal Way, WA: a non-descript family place in a former burger joint, nestled in next to a Payless Shoes and an Office Max, this place has the most amazing menudo and posole. The menudo is studded with fresh tripe, a power food for the ages. The posole comes complete with a knuckle or two of pigs feet. Both come with fresh garnishes (onion, jalepeno, cilantro, radishes, lime) and tortillas. No chips. If the world were fair, the lunch taco special would put Taco Bell and Chipotle out of business
Ristorante Avanti, Santa Cruz, CA: Farm-to-table before it was trendy. Sure, I like things like “sustainability” and “organic” and “humanely raised.” But for me, the biggest aspect of doing your part is respecting the food enough to make great tasting meals. Enter Avanti. Avanti was the first restaurant I ate at in the Cruz (lunch when job interviewing) it’s still #1 on my list in Surf City. California crossed with Spain/France.
Al’s Breakfast: world’s best blueberry pancakes. Hands down. My homemade hollandaise is modeled after Al’s. Minneapolis. I mean Dinkytown.
Le Bernardin: I have eaten at Le Bern twice. Oh. My. God. A culinary experience that soars beyond eating. Eric Ripert is a fvcking genius. NYC
San Sebastian: spent one week in SS that was easily the most inspiring food week of my life. Impossible to single out even just a few places. Every taberno had the most eye-popping pinxtos imaginable. Squid in its own ink, Basque fish soup, pulpo, calamari, hake, the list goes on and on. The center of the culinary universe today.
Pacific Grill, Tacoma, WA: I am biased because Chef Gordon Nacarrato is a dear friend and let me volunteer in his kitchen, it is only a 5 minute drive from my house, and the food is fabulous. Plus, it is a swanky space.
Frontera Grill, Chicago: I am a Rick Bayless disciple. His flavors verily pop on the palate. This place in Chicago is packed nightly for good reason. Allow 8 weeks for a reservation, or come in early, get on the walk-in list and come back in a couple hours. It’s that good.
Tamarind Tree, Seattle: Tucked behind a hideous looking strip mall on Jackson in Seattle is this gem. Cheap, fabulous Vietnamese fare in an atmosphere that is at once casual and swank.
Wild Ginger, Seattle: I liked the old space more, but listing here for two reasons: a) my daughter Claire loves it and 2) the Fragrant Duck.
HerbFarm: Your best bet is to book a room at the Willows. Multiple courses of inventive, seasonal cuisine (often foraged) expertly paired with NW wines. Allow 4 hours and don’t even think about driving home. $175 per person and worth every penny.
Walrus and the Carpenter: ode to an oyster. This Ballard bivalve joint was one of Bon Appetite’s best new restaurants of 2011 – and for good reason. Its casual vibe is spot-on Ballard, and the food is small-plate perfection. In season, expect at least 15 different oyster varieties, plus a varied menu of small plates. If they have chantrelles with poached quail egg, don’t ask questions, just get it. Want cocktail sauce with your half-shells? Forget it. Fresh grated horseradish and mignonette only.
Serious Pie: I am a huge Tom Douglas fan and this is perhaps my favorite of his places. Amazing gourmet pizza. I once had the chanterelle and truffle cheese pie and went to heaven. Thank you Jesus.
Cafe Campagne: Now that Campagne is closed, we make due with the rustic cafe below the original place. Pate de campagne with a bloody mary might be the most perfect breakfast ever.
Boulevard: This San Francisco restaurant knocks it into McCovey Cove every time. Just incredible food in an energetic atmosphere.
Clarke’s: Chef/Owner Sally Clarke is an Alice Waters protege gone abroad. Her restaurant and adjoining store/bakery on Kensington-Church Street in London is pure farm-to-table genius.
Spring Bistro: Daniel Rose’s new, trendy digs on the Right Bank just off rue du Rivoli are more spacious than the original Spring, which means you only have to call for reservations a month in advance now, rather than a year. There is no menu and substitutions are rare. This is not your place if you have food allergies/sensitivity. Eight courses of pure culinary bliss. We took two 16 year old girls and they were blown away by the inventive flavors. Everything at Spring is perfectly executed.
Pleasure Pizza: This hole in the wall used to be just down at the end of my block when we lived in Santa Cruz. A surfer hangout with ‘za that can only be described as “most righteous”. Snag a beer around the corner at the mini-mart and gnaw on your slice (recommend jumbo shrimp with pesto) outside as the neoprene-encased dudes and chicks amble by with their longboard on their way to the Hook.