#20: Turkey Burger with Cilantro Chimichurri
#19 SPICY CHICKEN SANDWICH at CHICK-FIL-A
The standard by which all fast food sandwiches should be measured.
#18 LOBSTER ROLL at IZAKAYA ON SMITH
In June, my brother and his crew showed up in Brooklyn to build a set for a reality TV show - actually, it has occurred now so I can tell you, it was for the season finale of The Amazing Race - and we all went out to dinner at Izakaya on Smith. I ordered many things, and most were good, but this was by far my favorite. I often say something melts in my mouth, though really that's just an expression. But these sushi rolls actually felt like they were melting on my tongue.
#17: WATERMELON CUPCAKE at CRUMBS
The frosting on this thing actually tasted like watermelon. A perfect dessert on a hot summer evening.
#16 LONGADOG at MAHARLIKA (DEKALB MARKET)
Over the summer I had the longanisa at Maharlika, diced and served over rice. It was good, but the sausage was a touch fatty and something was missing. Around Labor Day, I accompanied Fritos and Foie Gras to Dekalb Market, and she ordered the longadog: the longanisa on a bun with pickled carrots and scallions and a garlicky sauce. She gave me a bite and it was much, much better than the way I'd previously eaten the sausage. It either wasn't as fatty or the taste of fat disappeared amongst the veggies and bread. Just outstanding this way.
#15 LUMP CRAB AND LOBSTER CREOLE at BLUE-EYED CRAB GRILL
The Blue Eyed Crab in Plymouth, MA - one of the best meals I've had all year, one of the prettiest locations, and unequivocally the worst service. But this is a rundown of items I ate, not restaurant experiences, and this lobster and crab mix in a creole sauce was outstanding.
#14 "THE BACK ABBEY" BURGER at, well, THE BACK ABBEY
I'd heard about this burger for quite some time. My brother assured me it was great, and he is someone who rarely eats burgers. So we headed out there for lunch one day just a short time before I moved away. It was one of the five best restaurant burgers I have ever had: perfectly cooked (to my liking) beef, aged gouda, mustard aioli, caramelized onions, crispy bacon, and delicious greens on a soft bun.
#13 ROCK SHRIMP WITH SWEET MUSTARD AND WHITE WINE SAUCE at IRON CHEF HOUSE
The shrimp themselves were wonderful, but combined with the mustard and white wine sauce - I am truly baffled about how to make it - it made them the second-best shrimp I had all year. Speaking of which...
#12 FRIED SHRIMP & REMOULADE
I've made lots of different kinds of fried shrimp in my life, but these - made with Zatarain's "seasoned shrimp-fri" - were the best I have ever made. Also killer was the remoulade: creole mustard, local Brooklyn pickles, and a few other items.
#11 GARLICKY CARNITAS CHIMICHANGAS
I did not have anyone with whom I could watch college football games this fall, but that had one advantage: I could dedicate more energy to making whatever I wanted to eat as football snacks. These chimichangas may have been the most time-consuming thing I cooked, but they were also almost the best: slow-cooked pork in garlic sauce, shredded and tucked into tortillas with cheese and onion, then fried crisp.
#10 QUESO FUNDIDO at ROCIO'S MOLES DE LOS DIOSES
Oily and salty in the way that the best queso fundido always is, the chorizo, onions, and touch of chipotle - not too strong - made this the best version of the dish that I have had in at least a few years.
Shrimp tempura and spicy crab with jalapeño, cilantro, and seared white tuna. I am sure at some point over the last decade (since I started loving sushi) I have had a better roll, but I sure as hell can't think of one at the moment.
#8 SZECHWAN SPICY BEEF at CHANG'S GARDEN
One afternoon in early March, I stopped by Chang's Garden in Arcadia for lunch with Bryce and little Lucy. I ordered the Spicy Szechwan Beef, despite the waitress's warning that it was "really spicy." It wasn't, though after a few minutes I did feel a light sweat breaking out on my forehead. But the spiciness or lack thereof didn't bother me one bit, because it was absolutely delicious.
#7 STEAKHOUSE BURGER POTATO SKINS
The best of the Football Eats, even better than the chimichangas. I cooked a brisket/short rib blend of beef, crumbled it and added it to baked potato halves, with crispy bacon, blue cheese and steak sauce. I've made dozens of different kinds of potato skins in my life; these were probably the best.
#6 FRIED CHICKEN BISCUIT at CHEEKY'S SANDWICHES (DEKALB MARKET)
I definitely miss Dekalb Market, that collection of repurposed shipping containers housing shops and food stands. I ate quite a few good things there, but my favorite were these biscuits: a chicken piece that was battered and fried right before my eyes, then placed on a warm, flaky roll, with red cabbage slaw and gravy.
#5 COCHINITA PIBIL at PAPATZUL
I never wrote about an autumn dinner I ate at Papatzul, and I don't plan to in much detail. The service was unfriendly and glacier-slow. The restaurant was unnecessarily dark and extremely loud. And it provided me the single-worst thing I ate in 2012: their take on churros, which were the size of licorice vines, burnt crisp and falling apart like charcoal embers. But the cochinita pibil I had as an entree was just awesome: citrusy, a touch sour, with sauteed corn and assorted veggies. It was the best cochinita I have had in years.
#4 CHILEAN SEA BASS AND LOBSTER RISOTTO at RED BRICK TAVERN
When my parents were visiting in July, we spent a few days in the Hudson Valley and went to dinner with Elizabeth and her parents at Red Brick Tavern, a restaurant her dad had been raving about for two years. Elizabeth ordered one of that evening's specials: the Chilean Sea Bass. We both agreed that it was simply perfect, that nothing could have been done to improve upon the fish. I had several bites; I do not remember ever having better non-fried fish. And the lobster risotto was without question the best risotto I have ever had.
#3 STEAK SANDWICHES
Back at the beginning of the year in South Pasadena, I had a few friends over for dinner one night. I grilled flat iron steaks and sliced them thinly, then placed them on soft, Armenian rolls, with arugula tossed in olive oil, blue cheese, and onions that Tracie had caramelized. They were the best steak sandwiches I have ever made.
#2 ROSEMARY FRIES WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATO KETCHUP at STRONG PLACE
The fries themselves were wonderful: crispy, hot Belgian fries. But each new wrinkle pushed them a little higher: 1) the wonderful aroma of fresh rosemary. 2) A seasoning that was intense with flavor yet not too salty - which almost never happens. 3) Several whole cloves of roasted garlic, buried within the bucket like little depth charges. And 4) The house-made, sundried tomato ketchup, as good as any ketchup I have ever eaten.
#1 BLACK GARLIC MAYO BLUE CHEESE PEPPERCORN BURGER
I've made some damn good burgers this year after discovering the short rib/brisket patties at Paisanos. But this was my magnum opus: Empire Mayonnaise Company's "black garlic mayo," caramelized onions, A.1. peppercorn steak sauce, and blue cheese.