Note: This post is an archive of multiple food-related recaps that I have posted over the years. Scroll down to read all of the articles.
The 6 Most Interesting Places I Ate This Year
Originally posted 2014
From the constantly-changing cultural hotspot in Pittsburgh to the monochrome fine dining establishment in Mexico to the rural Louisiana general store that sells both steaks and toilet paper, I had an opportunity to eat at a bunch of interesting places over the past 12 months.
Regular readers know that I freely acknowledge not being the most sophisticated foodie in the world, but I always enjoy discovering unique and offbeat restaurants while traveling, places that stand out from the rest. And while “interesting” doesn’t necessarily equal “good,” I can say that I did enjoy my meals at each location listed.
These were the six most interesting restaurants I dined at this year.
Conflict Kitchen is a brilliant concept. This nationally-recognized outdoor food stand only serves food from countries the U.S. is in conflict with. Every month, it’s a new nation. Past editions have included cuisine from Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba. When I visited this summer, the focus was Venezuela, so I got to enjoy shredded beef with beans, plantains, and rice pudding.
The restaurant’s mission goes way beyond just food. CK holds regular discussion panels in which people from the countries in question interact with attendees, discussing politics, culture, and their everyday lives. Sometimes, the panels create a bit of controversy, like earlier this year when some locals were upset with the kitchen’s focus on Palestinian cuisine, but most open-minded folks recognize the value in learning about marginalized cultures and countries.
Conflict Kitchen is yet another reason why I love my hometown of Pittsburgh.
In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I discovered the wondrously white establishment La Leche, which features totally white walls, tables, and chairs, in addition to an ever-changing menu of innovative dishes using local ingredients. Where else could you possibly get an escargot quesadilla? The lychee, mango, and guava margaritas are awesome as well.
As cool as the all-white main dining room is, the upstairs bar is even cooler because all the furniture and decorations up there are black. Even the lighting is dim. The dark lounge is the polar opposite of the downstairs area and maintains the restaurant’s winning monochrome color scheme.
Of the many offbeat restaurants I visited in the Shreveport, Louisiana area, none could match the endearing wackiness of Longwood General Store. Picture the basic setup: It’s a general store with aisles of groceries and household supplies like toilet paper, laundry detergent, and shaving cream. In the middle of those aisles are tables where people can eat dinner, since the store also doubles as a restaurant.
It’s very strange eating a ribeye next to shelves of dish detergent, but the steaks are delicious (and massive), so the unusual setup gets quickly overlooked. Longwood has a rotating daily menu of alcoholic drinks featuring special touches dreamed up by Tammie, who serves drinks here and at the attached casino.
When I stopped by in October, all the adult beverages were Halloween-themed. Offerings included the Dracula’s Kiss (Cherry Coke and liqueur with a “bloody” red syrup around the rim), the Ghostbuster (peach schnapps with a “ghostly” white cream on top), and the Bleeding Heart Martini (which featured a beet with a wooden stake through it to represent the heart.) What fantastically original concoctions!
Is it possible that some of the nation’s most creative mixologists are lurking in obscurity in a general store in rural Louisiana? This satisfied lush says yes. And did I mention that the cocktails were only $3 each? Score! Teetotalers, don’t despair – the food is surprisingly good, so you’ll get your money’s worth even without boozing it up.
For as many tacos, burritos, and enchiladas as I consume on a regular basis, I’m practically an honorary Mexican at this point. Lone Star Taco in Houston isn’t traditional Mexican, and that’s fine – it’s fast-casual Tex-Mex, sort of like a hipper version of Chipotle, with a much longer and more ambitious menu.
In terms of originality, Chipotle can’t possibly compete with dishes like these: The Ross Perot Taco, made of citrus-marinated pork, onions, and fire-breathin’ habanero sauce, in honor of its namesake; the Carol Burnett, a taco comprised of braised beef, avocado, and black beans; and the Sissy Spacek, a pork chop taco with green and tomatillo sauces. My mouth is watering just thinking about these tacos again. Someday, I’ll visit you again, Lone Star Taco.
Any business that’s been around since 1917 deserves props, so even though I’m not a big hot dog fan, I visited American Coney Island in Detroit to get a taste of one of the city’s oldest culinary establishments. I can see the appeal – the dogs were tasty and were loaded with a mountain of cheese, while the chili was hearty.
Part of what made my visit to the downtown location interesting was the old-timey interior design of the store, featuring black and white checkered tile floors and a decor that could be generously regarded as “retro.” It feels like a time warp back to the ’60s or ’70s, and that’s a cool vibe to experience in these modern times.
The name says it all. This fast casual establishment (best for take-out) serves only food made from turkey. So many quirky foods! They’ve got it all: Turkey burgers, Italian turkey sandwiches, turkey lasagna, turkey ribs, turkey chili, turkey tacos, turkey wraps, turkey dogs, turkey salad, and a delicious fermented turkey drink.
I’m kidding about that last one, but don’t be surprised if they’ve got something like that in the works. I enjoyed the jalapeno turkey burger and the turkey tips with fries, which were smothered in a smoky sauce.
Where was the most interesting place you ate this year?
The Unusual & Quirky Foods I Ate This Year
Originally posted 2017
I never thought I would eat fried grasshoppers or fermented shark, but both ended up on my plate this year while traveling abroad. The list of the quirky and unusual foods I ate in 2017 includes a few main courses and plenty of desserts.
Many of my most memorable dishes were milkshakes, churros, and odd ice cream treats, which should not be surprising for anyone who knows my ice cream obsession. Check out the strangest and most memorable foods I consumed this year. Which ones would you eat?
Known as hakarl, fermented Greenland shark is served in some traditional Icelandic restaurants and in many grocery stores. The little cubes of shark meat were pretty bad, though I was proud that I found them less repulsive than some visitors, who often gag from the smell alone. Rating (1-10): 2
Rye Bread Ice Cream
Icelanders love their rye bread. It’s used as a base for many traditional meals of mashed potatoes and various kinds of fish. And they even put it in their ice cream! This strange-sounding treat was delicious. With whipped cream and a caramel drizzle on top, the ice cream was sweet enough that it was still tasty even with a non-sweet component like bread. The bread was chopped up tiny, like cookies & cream. Rating: 8
Seattle Hot Dog
I had no idea there was such a thing as a Seattle Hot Dog until I saw a Capitol Hill street vendor selling them one night. The Seattle Hot Dog uses cream cheese(!) as the primary topping. I tried one with a little bit of sauerkraut. I would not do it again. The juicy sausage was great, but adding a condiment with the taste and consistency of paste is not the way to improve a hot dog. This sandwich is going to make folks in the heartland laugh at your peculiar taste, Seattle. Smother that dog in ketchup or chili instead! Rating: 5
Churro Ice Cream Sandwich
This may be the most incredible dessert ever created! An ice cream sandwich made from churros, the delicious, cinnamon- and sugar-coated fried breadsticks that are a Mexican dessert staple. Churreria El Moro created the sandwich from round churro patties. This place was so popular that it always had a line out the door. I simply cannot imagine a more perfect junk food treat on the planet. Rating: 10
At many street markets in Mexico, you’ll see vendors with buckets of dried-out grasshoppers, or chapulines. People toast them up, coat them with lime juice and salt, and use them as a taco filling or eat them plain. I tried some at a restaurant one evening. They were surprisingly chewy rather than crunchy. But the lime taste was too powerful. I could eat one taco full of chapulines, but not an entire bowl. Rating: 3
Spam has been a staple of the Hawaiian menu for years. Spam musubi is a popular snack or side dish featuring a hunk of spam atop a hunk of rice, held together with nori (seaweed) like sushi. The spam had a light sauce that gave it a pleasant smoky taste. Not earth-shattering, but decent. I could get used to eating this if I had to. Rating: 6
Paletas are the amazing Mexican ice cream bars or popsicles that come in various flavors. Here in the U.S., we can get paletas at Mexican stores in a few basic flavors (butter pecan, strawberry, coconut), but in Mexico City, there are many more options. Helados Y Paletas Gloria in Coyoacan had dozens of different varieties. The one that stood out for me was cheesecake. It was a super-rich cheesecake-flavored dessert coated with graham cracker dust. Amazing! Rating: 8
Sausage and Maple Syrup Pizza
Leave it to those wacky Canadians to put maple syrup on their pizza! In the fun little city of Saskatoon, I found UNA Pizza + Wine and their Broadway Pizza, which featured a maple syrup glaze over the cheese and sausage. The sweet and savory mix was spectacular. Rating: 9
Crazy Dessert Milkshake
At Regrub in Calgary, you can get ridiculously decadent milkshakes topped with donuts, cheesecake slices, and stacks of pancakes! I opted for a red velvet shake topped with a rainbow Rice Krispies treat, blue whipped cream, marshmallows, and red velvet cake crumbles. It was glorious. I’m glad I don’t live in Calgary, because I’d be here everyday. Rating: 9
I could not believe my eyes when I saw the Chizza at KFC Mexico. It’s a pizza made with a base of chicken instead of crust! It was…ok. The pepperoni and cheese were nice, but once those wore off, it was just a lot of big hunks of plain chicken. Apparently the Chizza never made its way to America. Tragedy! Rating: 6
During a quick trip to Philadelphia for a magazine assignment, I stopped by Reading Terminal Market, where Mueller Chocolate was showing off its giant chocolate body organs. I appreciated the kidneys most, although the lungs and brain were cool too. Very quirky foods in the chocolate realm! Rating: 7
Have you tried any quirky foods recently?
The 10 Best Things I Ate & Drank This Year
Originally posted 2013
Let’s talk about foodstuffs. And not just because I enjoy using the word “foodstuffs.” This year I made an effort to keep a running tally of the best dishes and beverages that passed by my lips. So now, in addition to being able to write off all of these meals (just kidding, IRS), I can present this rundown of the 10 best things I ate and drank in 2013. Get read for some delicious and quirky foods!
If you’re new around these parts, I should warn you: I’m not a hardcore foodie. I appreciate a good fast food French fry just as much as five-star cuisine, and you’ll see that reflected in my choices. Let’s go!
10 BBQ dinner, Klondike Kate’s (Dawson City, Yukon)
I discovered many amazing things in the Yukon, but I can’t say great cuisine was one of them. That’s understandable, since local produce is harder to come by when there’s such a short growing season. At most places, it was difficult just to get a decent side salad with fresh lettuce.
But one restaurant in Canada’s northwestern territory that does in fact use locally-sourced ingredients during the summer is Klondike Kate’s, where I sampled a little of everything, including a BBQ pork sandwich, black beans, pulled chicken, and sweet potato fries. If I ever make good on my desire to live in Dawson City for a year, I’ll be spending a lot of time at Kate’s.
9 White Chocolate Bread Pudding, Fiddler’s Hearth (South Bend, Indiana)
As quirky foods go, bread pudding isn’t necessarily my favorite dessert. But throw in some white chocolate chips, and now we’re talking. This rich treat was a great way to cap off a nice Irish meal at Fiddler’s Hearth in South Bend, Indiana. After a filling dinner of fish & chips, you may need a friend to finish this large dessert.
8 Amish Meat Loaf Dinner, Boyd & Wurthmann (Berlin, Ohio)
Boyd & Wurthmann is one of many family restaurants in Berlin, Ohio, the heart of Amish Country. They serve homestyle meals prepared by local Amish cooks. This simple dinner of meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas and bread was hearty and rich and reminded me of the Sunday afternoon meals Grandma used to make. They also had more than a dozen varieties of homemade pies, so of course I had to indulge. You can never go wrong with coconut cream!
7 Puffy Taco & Enchilada Dinner, Henry’s Puffy Tacos Cantina (San Antonio)
I ate a lot of Tex-Mex while in southern Texas, but I especially enjoyed dinner at Henry’s because of the novelty factor. The center of the meal is the restaurant’s signature puffy taco, an unusual fluffy contraption that is neither crunchy nor soft. It’s sort of like a fancier version of the Taco Bell chalupa, and it’s tasty. Don’t tell anyone, but I actually enjoyed the gooey, cheesy enchilada even more than the puffy taco.
6 Chocolate-Covered Maple-Smoked Bacon Cola, Pops Soda Ranch (Arcadia, Oklahoma)
Pops is the coolest little shop on Route 66 in Oklahoma. They serve up hundreds of different kinds of soda. Name a flavor, they’ve got it, including: Lemon Meringue Pie, Pear, Peanut Butter & Jelly, Sweet Corn, Coffee, and Sopranos Chianti Soda. While certain flavors (Buffalo Wing) were repulsive, the winner in my unofficial taste test was Chocolate-Covered Maple-Smoked Bacon, which tasted exactly like it sounds. It’s a fizzy chocolate drink with hints of syrup and bacon.
5 Lobster Mac & Cheese, Latitude 41 (Columbus)
A few of the items at Latitude 41 could’ve made this list, including the beet salad and house-made pizza. But my favorite was the mac & cheese, which transformed the traditional kids’ favorite into something special with the addition of lobster, mascarpone and parmesan cheeses, chives, and orechiette (“Little Ear”) pasta.
4 Gates BarBQ Chicken (Kansas City)
One of the most well-known barbecue places in KC is Gates, which I was fortunate to visit in March. Our table was loaded with BBQ chicken, ham, shredded beef and ribs, with fries and beans on the side, though I spent most of my time on the chicken. The sauce was just perfect, providing a nice kick without being too spicy.
3 The 38 East Cocktail, Plat 99 (Indianapolis)
This delicious concoction at Plat 99 inside the Alexander Hotel was made from mezcal and tequila with Thai basil, strawberry, lemon, and a balsamic honey reduction. The 38 East triumphed over a number of excellent cocktails I tried in Indy, including the Rose Nylund at Libertine and the John Daly at Bluebeard.
2 Steam Buns, Noodlecat (Cleveland)
The steam buns are Noodlecat’s version of Japanese-themed sliders. Soft Japanese white bread is folded over into a mini sandwich, and filling options include pulled pork, fried chicken or pork cutlet, tempura perch, and tempura veggie. I selected pork and chicken options, both of which were topped with dressings and served with slivers of carrots and other veggies. I could eat these all day.
1 Oatmeal Ice Cream Sandwich, Jeni’s (Columbus)
Jeni’s is known for its cool branding and creative flavors, which is why its store on Columbus’s Short North neighborhood is always packed. Even late on Friday and Saturday nights while most folks were out drinking, there’s a dedicated crowd inside gobbling down scoops of flavors like “whiskey & pecans” and “goat cheese with red cherries.”
The oatmeal cookie ice cream sandwich at Jeni’s was one of the most amazing frozen treats I have ever consumed: Two rich, chewy, buttery homemade oatmeal cookies with a healthy slab of Ugandan Vanilla Bean ice cream in between. The sandwich is chilled so the ice cream doesn’t ooze out the side when you take a bite, which is typically the problem with homemade sandwiches like this. Take it from an ice cream expert – it doesn’t get much better than this.
Now that Jeni’s has opened a Chicago location, I’m afraid I will have to spend a great deal of time and money on these sandwiches. And I am going to enjoy it.
What was the best thing you ate this year?