So far in this 12 Days of Travel series, I’ve talked about my top items of the year that I checked off my bucket list and I posted about my favorite fictional finds of the year.
Now it’s time to talk about my real love: food.
Most people who love travel also love food. A nearly inextricable part of traveling, eating is often one of the best parts of a trip for me. I love to spend time seeking out local places, sampling the local cuisine, and sometimes replicating those flavors back at home.
I present my top ten eats of the year, a listicle tradition I hope to continue for many years to come.
#10. Shyndigz | Richmond, Virginia
Salted Chocolate Caramel Cake
Even though I’m supposed to be staying away from sugar, I made an exception at this place, where desserts are all they serve, and chocolate cake is their specialty.
Everything about this place is sweet, from the menu to the decor. All the confections are homemade, and you’re sure to leave with a smile on your face. My word of warning, though: share whatever you get. The portions are enormous!
#9. The Leaky Cauldron| Diagon Alley; Orlando, Florida
Beef, Lamb, & Guinness Stew
I could not have been more surprised by how delicious this meal was. For one, it was in a theme park, a place notorious for poor food that’s overpriced. For two, I was ordering in the fictional location of a beloved book series, an experience I had my expectations set far too high for. And yet, this stew was delicious! All of my companions were pleased with our meals here, and my husband was particularly happy with his beer, custom-brewed for Wizarding World. If you visit, The Leaky Cauldron is definitely not to be missed.
#8. Siam Thai | Decatur, Georgia
When I was narrowing down what should go on this list, this duck dish kept coming to mind. Siam Thai’s perfectly crispy Royal Duck is served in a sweet (but not too sweet!) ginger-cherry wine sauce, and was rich and delectable without overwhelming me. And enticing enough that I can’t stop thinking about it, nearly a year later.
#7. A little Turkish kebab shop | Pisa, Italy
Just outside the Pisa train station stands a small, hole-in-the-wall Turkish shop selling excellent kebabs. Filled with juicy lamb that also had a perfect sear to it, these kebabs hit the spot. They were also stuffed with French fries and a spicy slaw, rounding them out and giving each bite of burst of flavor and texture. I know it sounds over the top for a humble kebab shop, but I know my husband and I will long remember that meal as one of the best we’ve had.
#6. Maple Street Biscuit Company | Jacksonville, Florida + Chattanooga, Tennessee
Maple Street gets biscuits, and that means a lot coming from me, someone who typically prefers my own homemade biscuit recipe.
The first time I tried this place was in its natural habitat, Jacksonville, Florida. That time, I went for the Squawking Goat, made up of a biscuit, fried chicken, goat cheese, and pepper jelly. With some smokey mountain mac-n-cheese and coffee on the side, it was definitely a fantastic way to start the day.
The second time, I was in Chattanooga, where Maple Street recently opened another of their seven locations, and that time I had The Ralphie Deluxe, biscuits and gravy with a fried egg.
With the friendliest staff, simple but locally sourced ingredients, and an inventive but uncomplicated menu, I expect Maple Street to continue expanding.
#5. Cochon Butcher| New Orleans, Louisiana
My last food stop in New Orleans, this place didn’t disappoint. I kept seeing it on list after list for unmissable places in NOLA, but it wasn’t until I took my first bite of their massive muffaletta sandwich that I understood why. Served on homemade bread and topped with at least an inch of house-cured meats plus olive tapenade, the muffaletta is a sandwich to be reckoned with. To make this place even more legitimate, I encountered locals on either side of me at the bar, both of whom ate at Butcher regularly. Don’t miss this place!
#4. Bida Manda | Raleigh, North Carolina
Though I knew it was popular, I hadn’t made it here until some visiting friends treated us to dinner there as a thank-you for housing them. (Alexa and Mike, you’re too nice!)
And boy, are we ever glad that they did! In just one meal, Bida Manda shot to the top of my list for restaurants in Raleigh-Durham. Every part of our meal was outstanding, but I enjoyed their lettuce wraps so much that hardly a week passed before I was Googling for the recipe, which I found. (Score! The secret is this crunch fried rice they add; it’s amazing.) It’s the perfect way to tied myself over until our next visit.
#3. Royal House Oyster Bar | New Orleans, Louisiana
Oysters Duo + Redfish Beignets
Before this place, I was ambivalent on oysters. I’d never hated them, but I’d also never loved them. But I was in New Orleans, and I knew that if I picked wisely, the oysters would be fresh. So after some research and a bit of on-the-street scouting, I walked into Royal House and sat at the bar. Because I wanted oysters, I went for the Oysters Duo, a mix of Oysters Royale and Oysters Rockefeller. After downing that so fast I didn’t even think to take a picture of it, the locals sitting next to me insisted I had to try the redfish beignets, essentially fish donuts. I admit I was skeptical, but I’m never one to go against a local recommendation, so I went for it. Tentatively, I took my first bite, then quickly gave them my thanks for such a great recommendation. With the perfect mix of sweet, salty, crispy, and a hint of fishiness, I found myself enjoying it more than I expected. For great NOLA seafood, both traditional and innovative takes, Royal House is a great choice.
#2. White Duck Taco | Asheville, North Carolina
This place is so simple, almost down home, I’d say. Most of the seating is outdoors, just brightly painted picnic tables and umbrellas. But it’s so popular that it regularly has a line out the door. And no wonder: top notch flavors, reasonable prices, and no fuss.
I enjoyed my taco, but what I loved best was the gazpacho, made with apples for a hint of sweetness mixed into the acidity. It was the best gazpacho I’d had since Spain.
#1. Seafood in Italy
Is it cheating to make a category this broad my number one? I don’t even care.
All of the seafood we had in Italy was fresher and better than any I’ve had before, excepting maybe a handful of coastal restaurant experiences in the U.S. I’m not sure how they do it, but if I lived in Italy, I’d probably have turned into a fish by now.
The highlights? Seafood pasta in Manarola. Anchovy pasta in Milan. Seafood pasta in crust in Milan. And monkfish in Venice. All delicious, all fresh, all prepared in flavorful ways that brought out the best of the fishes they contained. Cheers to Italy, and its unbelievable food scene!
What’s the best thing you ate this year? Tell me about it in the comments!
This is day 10 in the 12 Days of Travel on The Globe Turner. Stop by tomorrow for day 11 of #12DaysofTravel, a series of travel memories from 2015. There will be a post every day ’til Christmas!