Next up in the "My 5 Favorite" series: My 5 Favorite Meals Around the World!
I'll be honest, I don't know what I was thinking when I promised to write about my favorite meals around the world. It's not easy picking only five meals you have decided are better than every other meal you've EVER EATEN. You tell me if that sounds easy. Trust me, it's not. Especially if you love trying different foods like I do. So, with that said, there are a few caveats: 1. These are my five favorite meals around the world that I can remember. My memory can sometimes be faulty so for all I know I could have had an amazing, out-of-this-world meal 10 years ago and completely forgotten about it. 2. My favorite meals change as I continue to eat out and try new things, so don't hold me to this list forever. Perhaps a more apt title would be "My 5 Favorite Meals Around the World, For Now." 3. In picking my favorite meals, much of my decision making has to do with the element of surprise. Almost everything on this list surprised and exceeded my expectations (which are often high) in some way. I have a lot of good meals, but these were great because the overall experience was more than I anticipated. With that said, here is my list of favorite meals, in no particular order:
AUNT MAY'S, HELLSHIRE BEACH, JAMAICA
The Meal: Lobster, fried fish, festival and bammy.
Why I Love It: I'm taking it back to my roots with this meal. My family is from Jamaica and so I grew up visiting the island more times than I can count. Every time my family is in Kingston, one thing we must do is visit Hellshire Beach to enjoy some lobster, fried fish, festival (a cornmeal fritter with a slightly sweet taste) and bammy (cassava flatbread). There is a lot of frying involved but it's never greasy or heavy, and though there are a ton of options to choose from at Hellshire Beach, Aunt May's is my favorite. The food here is always flavorful and a great value. Then there's the atmosphere: ocean, sand, picnic tables, music and a bunch of people enjoying their food just as much as you are.
Why It's Worth It: There's nothing like enjoying freshly cooked seafood on the beach. It's delicious and there's a good view to go along with it. Just make sure you bring your sunglasses and prepare for the sand, which can sometimes find its way to your table.
ROCKAWAY TACO, QUEENS, NEW YORK (Update: Unfortunately, Rockaway Taco has closed! BUT, you can still get this same great food at the nearby Tacoway Beach)
The Meal: Fish tacos with guacamole and tortilla chips
Why I Love It: I like to refer to myself as an unofficial taco judge who is waiting to one day be made an official taco judge by some sort of taco organization, so it's no surprise that tacos are on my list. I LOVE tacos. Love, love, love tacos. And I'm not talking about that hard shell, Taco Bell stuff. My favorite tacos come from the food trucks and hole-in-the-wall places where prices are cheap, corn tortillas are in abundance and the flavor is crazy good. Rockaway Taco is one of these spots. The fish tacos are what dreams are made of: warm crunchy fish with red cabbage, warm corn tortillas, cilantro, radish, lime and a spicy mayo that brings it all together beautifully, topped with some guac and a side of tortilla chips.
Why It's Worth It: It's like a taste of California and Mexico in Queens, NY. You can grab a spot in the tiny but cute Rockaway Taco eating area or you can take your meal to go and snag a beachfront seat several feet from the water (my preference). Either way, get ready for one of the most memorable fish tacos ever.
LITTLE PARK, TRIBECA, NEW YORK
The Meal: Too many dishes to list, but highlights include the beetroot risotto, brussels sprouts, scallop, celery root pastrami, winter apple sundae, cinnamon toast crunch ice cream and chocolate rye cake with hazelnut ice cream.
Why I Love It: So this is a very recent addition to my list, as in I ate here just a few weeks ago, but man was I impressed. I honestly was only mildly excited to go here, but by the end I felt like telling random strangers to eat at Little Park. The food was so well done — from the perfectly executed beetroot risotto, which I compared to a warm blanket on a cold, winter night — to the chocolate rye cake, which was perhaps the biggest surprise. I love chocolate cake but it often tastes the same, no matter the restaurant. As the waitress so correctly desribed it, this dessert forced us to taste the rye, but in a good way! Throw in the winter apple sundae and cinnamon toast crunch ice cream, and I was floating on cloud nine.
Why It's Worth It: It just is. Trust me. I've eaten at a few of chef Andrew Carmellini's restaurants and have found them to be good but not amazing, until now. Anyone who can make vegetables so damn tasty deserves my vote.
THE CODFATHER, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
The Meal: Sushi, grilled calamari, butter fish, langoustines, prawns, sautéed vegetables, rice and french fries
Why I Love It: By now you may have guessed that I really love seafood, even more than I love pork, which I unashamedly really love. So it's no surprise that when I was in Cape Town, I was on the hunt for good seafood. My family and I had just spent days eating red meat and, quite frankly, my digestive system was pretty miffed. But then we arrived in Cape Town and the seafood started flowing. Of all the meals we enjoyed, The Codfather was our favorite. First of all, how fun is the name of this place? Second of all, this restaurant has THE BEST calamari you will EVER eat in your LIFE (all of those caps were completely necessary). Not to mention amazing sushi and even great French fries — crispy, hot and just the right amount of salt.
Why It's Worth It: Besides life-changing calamari, the concept of this place is pretty cool. You pick out the seafood you want and the quantity. They'll then weigh it and give you an estimate of how much it will cost. It's pretty reasonably priced and the restaurant is located not too far from the main Camps Bay strip, where you can grab a sunset cocktail before dinner.
CHERI BIBI, MONTMARTRE, PARIS
The Meal: Leek risotto with a poached egg, roasted lamb and roasted potatoes
Why I Love It: The above mentioned meal was actually one of two great meals I've enjoyed at Cheri Bibi. Recommended by a Parisian friend, this bohemian chic restaurant is on a somewhat questionable street in Montmartre. Sketchiness aside, the food here is great. So flavorful and well done with an atmosphere that just makes you feel a little bit cooler for being there. They only offer a prix-fixe and the menu is always changing, but the quality is consistently great.
Why It's Worth It: Though I'm not sure if Parisians consider this a hidden gem, it feels like it to me. The place isn't huge and it isn't listed in any Paris guide book that I've seen, but it has a cool vibe with food to match.
Oh man, I have so many honorable mentions. I won't go into detail about these, but I feel it's worth mentioning my love for Taverna Kyclades (fresh Greek seafood in Queens, NY), Kappacasein (creator of the best grilled cheese sandwich in London and the entire planet, basically), Sripraphai (great Thai food in Queens — try the coconut rice!) Gomo Gomo Game Lodge (home of some amazing boma dinners and a cauliflower and cheese soup that doesn't sound like it would be amazing but it was!) and my mom's cooking (had to do it).
Next up: my five favorite beaches around the world!