From empanadas at the 32nd Street Farmers Market, to pork dumplings at Mt. Vernon Marketplace, to countless creations at fine-dining temples, I consumed a lot this year. These are the dishes that stick with me still.
Queso Fundido at Clavel: Though hot and bubbly cheese + anything, is a winning combination, the queso fundido at Lane Harlan’s new mezcal bar puts the “fun” in fundido—a sizzling skillet of Chihuahua cheese topped with spicy chorizo and supported by a side of chunky guacamole and frijoles puercos (blended beans and pork). I scooped aggressively with the house-made chips, then, maybe it was the carefully crafted margarita talking, I used my nails to peel the last layer of remaining cheese. It wasn’t pretty, but it was memorably delicious.
Risotto at Magdalena: On most menus, the vegetarian offering is usually a ho-hum concession to non-meat eaters. At Magdalena, a bed of vegetable risotto—flecked with fresh peas, carrots, and shaved truffles—is a throne for a fried poached egg. Think: downright menu miracle.
Korean Fried Chicken Wings at 1157 Bar + Kitchen: Even when they’re not great, fried chicken wings are always good. But at Jason Ambrose’s dazzling new Locust Point bar-restaurant, the wings—lacquered in chili paste and soy—truly soar.
Lobster Roll at Thames Street Oyster House: Now that my daughter attends college in Maine, this lobster lover considers herself an expert. Having had my fill this year from Portland hotspot J’s Oyster and Fisherman’s Grill, I still say the best damned iteration of a lobster roll is right here in the mid-Atlantic. No mystery here: former lobsterman turned chef Eric Houseknecht butter poaches the meat, sprinkles it with sea salt, and then serves it on a griddled, buttered brioche split-top bun.
Scallop Chip at Arômes: On the chef-driven menu at this prix-fixe dining darling, when the “scallops” (above) arrived, I assumed there’d been a mix-up. More akin to pork rinds than bivalve mollusks in appearance, this iteration was puréed, dehydrated, and flash-fried into crunchy chicharónnes. Instantly addictive, I was hooked.
Charred Escarole at Bottega: This starter, served with white bean and anchovy dressing, was a fresh take on a grilled romaine Caesar salad. Simple, but so satisfying. I could have ordered two—or three—and called it a night.
Chocolate Almond Croissant at Bonjour: This charming French bakery turns out authentic pastries—pain au raisin, macaroons, French cigars. But for me, the chocolate-almond croissants equaled amour at first bite. Flaky, buttery, with a kiss of dark chocolate in every fold. Pair it with a cup of café au lait, and you’ll swear you’re in Paris.
Bronzini with Prosciutto at La Cuchara: This Basque-Country stunner knows its way around the Pyrenees. I’m still dreaming of this late spring fish dish—a bronzini kept moist under a roof of crisp skin and the unusual addition of prosciutto, which added smokiness to the sweetness of the fish flesh.
Fried Oysters at Charleston: These melting morsels coated in cornmeal simply slide down the throat, and they stop me in my tracks whenever they’re listed on Charleston’s menu. Anyone who thinks they don’t like oysters should give these a try. Whether you’re a novice or oyster-initiated, I dare you not to love them.
Arepas at Alma Cucina Latina: Irena Stein’s new outpost has a menu rife with Venezuelan specialties. The arepas, thick flatbreads made from maize, come with a variety of fillings. I have two favorites: the Luis Brito’s pig arepa packed with succulent pulled pork, avocado purée and tomato mojo and the criolla, consisting of black beans caramelized plantains, avocado, and cilantro mojo.
Honorable mention: Though it has yet to open, I have high hopes for Donna Crivello’s Cosima, opening soon in Mill No. 1. On a recent interview, in the kitchen of her Canton Cove apartment, Donna’s owner made me a fig-and-pear pizza with pomegranate glaze. Maybe the mix of good company and conversation helped, but this particular pie was crisp-crusted, savory, and sweet. I know Crivello plans on pies at Cosima—I’m counting on meeting this one again.