As 2013 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect upon the dishes that defined my year in delicious. The City of Angels fed me well, as always, contributing to half of the list—Eastside, represent! Travels to Shanghai, Tokyo, Chengdu, and Portland rounded out the top ten. While last minute trips to Las Vegas and Charleston provided some solid contenders, all were ultimately shut out this year—it’s tough competing for my noodle-loving heart.
Thank you for reading Gastronomy, and without further ado, here are the 10 best savory dishes that I ate this year…
Ikura from Sushi Kanesaka in Tokyo, Japan
Impeccably fresh salmon eggs do not pop when bitten into. Instead, each orb smoothly unleashes its oily sheen with the gentlest of pressure, flooding the palate with oceanic bliss. Topped with grated yuzu zest and served over warm rice, the ikura was unforgettable.
Bun Mam from Hà Tiên Quán in San Gabriel, California
An anchovy-laced brew brimming with pork belly, chunks of catfish, shrimp, Japanese eggplant, and chives won my heart completely with its heady, unabashed funk. Hidden beneath the dark broth were smooth and slippery rice noodles.
Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings from Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon
One of Pok Pok’s most storied dishes. Marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, deep fried, then tossed in more fish sauce and fried garlic, these wings tasted as awesome as I had imagined all these years. Sticky, sweet, and salty, these clucks had it all.
Zaru Udon from Marugame Monzo in Los Angeles, California
Served chilled on a bamboo mat, these noodles had the most wonderfully satisfying bite. After dressing up the equally chilled broth served on the side with grated ginger and daikon, scallions, and a few panko crumbles, I dipped and slurped until all the noodles were gone.
Ci Fan Tuan from South Yunnan Road in Shanghai, China
My favorite morning-time delight while in Shanghai: a carbohydrate bomb comprised of sticky rice, a freshly-fried you tiao (cruller), pork floss, and pickled mustard greens, all mashed together like a snowball. Every morning ought to start with one of these, along with a warm cup of soy milk.
Twice-Cooked Pork from Zha Zha Mian Jia Chang Cai in Chengdu, China
The process of preparing this Sichuan specialty involves simmering pork belly in water and aromatics, refrigerating the belly until firm, slicing it thinly, and then cooking it once more in a scorching wok. The result is intensely flavorful meat with beautifully caramelized edges simply flavored with scallions and chili oil. The best!
Cavatelli alla Norcina from Bestia in Los Angeles, California
It’s impossible to say which element of this dish was tops. From the house-made pork sausage crumbles to the delicate ricotta cavatelli to the avalanche of black truffles—goodness gracious this dish was great. Best of all was the intense aroma released by the black truffles, a whoosh really, that sent everyone at the table into a tizzy.
Henan-Style Hand-Pulled Noodles from Zheng Zong He Nan La Mian Guan in Shanghai, China
These “dry” hand-pulled noodles, delicately flavored with browned, almost burnt, scallions, and a bit of soy sauce, were nothing short of stupendous. I live for noodles.
“Bread and Butter” from Allumette in Echo Park, California
Allumette gets my vote for the greatest complimentary bread course in Los Angeles—a spear of grilled and buttered focaccia served alongside a thyme- and mascarpone-infused “tater tot.” While Chef Miles Thompson may have intended for the latter to be slathered upon the former, I enjoyed each component separately, with each rich bite balanced by bread and char.
Cold Noodle with Garlic Sauce from Chengdu Taste in Alhambra, California
The sauce, a mixture of crushed garlic, vinegar, and chili oil, is potent yet well-balanced, while the toothsome strands soak up the flavors just so. Sichuan cuisine isn’t always about the numbing heat.
Honorable mentions: Fried Chicken at Martha Lou’s Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina; Pimiento Cheese Fritters at Poogan’s Porch in Charleston, South Carolina; Pommes Puree at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas, Nevada; 18 ounce Bone-in Ribeye at Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak in Las Vegas, Nevada.