Please keep in mind that I have been to select cities throughout the US this year so this list is far from comprehensive. I have, however, been to enough to warrant a list paying homage to restaurants which stood out during my travels.
10. Voulas Offshore Cafe– Seattle
This cute, old school diner is not far from the University of Washington’s beautiful campus. The staff are friendly and courteous. Watching them set up the coffee station for the line of people who couldn’t get there early enough to beat the lines is endearing. It has a great feel with an amazing biscuits and gravy you wouldn’t expect on the West Coast. The greek omelette was a reflection of good old fashioned family values.
9. Bop ‘n Grill– Chicago
Featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, this joint has burgers and bop plates (essentially rice plates topped with a number of choices). I went with asian flare and tried the umami and kimchi burgers although other unique combinations are available. The deep flavours lovingly punch you in the mouth while filling it with bite after bite of moist, meaty goodness. This ain’t McDonald’s.
8. Tamale Place– Indianapolis
You wouldn’t expect Indianapolis to be a hotspot for Mexican food but the aptly named Tamale place is amazing. The passion and care in the preparation of each one is clear with every bite. If you can, try one of the dessert tamales. The nachos and salsa are brilliant too. It’s clean but not fancy but with those tamales, it doesn’t need to be.
7. Pastabilities- Syracuse
A pasta lunch set up like a cafeteria in downtown Syracuse doesn’t sound like a top 10 candidate…until you eat there. The place is always packed for a reason. First, the food is amazing. Whether it is the pasta bowl doused in their famous hot tomato oil, the moist and flavourful meatball sub, the freshly made side salads or the delicate but delicious pizza, this place would appeal to anybody from age 1 to 100. Second, the prices are terrific. It’s open for a more formal sit down dinner at night which I imagine is just as good.
6. Roast– Detroit
Michael Symon offers a fine dining experience in downtown Detroit, especially for the carnivorous at heart. One highlight is the wood fired grill which, despite the volatility and unpredictability of the open flame, produced a fantastic medium rare new york strip. There’s something about slurping bone marrow and eating sweetbreads while watching a pig spin around on a spit that just works for me. Oh, they have naughty deep fried brussel sprouts too.
5. Union Woodshop– Clarkston (Detroit)
Union woodshop in Clarkston (just north of Detroit) was featured on triple D in the Kid Rock episode. Although somewhat reluctant to take advice from somebody who wears fur coats yet married PETA-happy Pam Anderson, I was excited to try it. My best advice is to act like your parents and show up for dinner when this place opens at 4 pm. There are two reasons for this. First, you may have a chance at the sauce laden burnt ends (brisket) which are delicious but when they’re gone, they are gone. Second, good luck getting a seat after 430 without having to wait an hour. Sorry, no reservations. It has everything you would expect in a smokehouse and more. It produced some of the best pulled pork I’ve had in while. Otherwise, everything from the sauces (try the Chinese Char Siu) to the butterscotch pudding are delicious. They also have a gluten free menu, pizza and even a steak if you want it. The price is right too.
4. Clarkston Union– Clarkston (Detroit)
Kid Rock also brought Guy down the Road to the Clarkston Union. Built in an old church, it comes complete with church pews, a bingo board and yes, huge lines. It sports one of the best craft beer menus in Detroit, offering regional and national brews in taster sizes if you want a variety. It has a gastropub menu with its famous mac and cheese (with or without lobster), sandwiches, burgers with pot pie and meatloaf specials. Even the plowshare platter, a delicious array of meat, cheese and veggies is abundant and delicious. This church offers the holy trinity of a great dining experience: Great service, great food and great atmosphere.
3. Lucky’s Cafe– Cleveland
I do not go to Cleveland without going to Lucky’s. In fact, I think once I went to Cleveland to go to Lucky’s. Also featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Michael Symon showed up to promote this local gem. It’s all about fresh. The front is filled with fresh baked goods and the staff is busy picking ingredients out of the garden you see through the window during the summer months. The “biscuits” is one of the best breakfasts I have ever eaten. From the fluffy cheddar biscuits and eggs to the sensual sausage gravy, it is complete nirvana. In fact, I awake craving it at times. In addition, there are great beverages and lovely lunch items like a delicious curried chicken sandwich and a made from scratch Reuben that’s to die for.
2. Topolobampo– Chicago
Rick Bayless is considered one of the best Mexican chefs in North America. Now I know why. Once you navigate through the loud and hectic sister restaurant Frontera, doors open and you enter the serenity of Topolobampo. From the minute you are seated you are treated like royalty. Hands down the best service I had all year. The waitstaff part like the red sea when you walk through the front of the kitchen to get to the washroom. The sommelier was informative and not pushy. Our waiter knew everything about every dish. The menu changes frequently but you can always count on a delicious selection of nouveau Mexican dishes with bold, explosive flavours. Even better is everybody at the table can order what they want without the need to have a complete consensus in order to opt for one of the many tasting menus ranging from vegetarian to one dedicated to mole, Mexico’s most prized dish. Topolobampo is proof that not all eateries run by celebrity chefs are overrated…some are just “increible”!
1. Girl and the Goat– Chicago
Stephanie Izard in many ways has redefined what a great chef is. Her infectious smile, lovely attitude and commitment to working vigorously within the walls of her two West Randolph restaurants have been rewarded with numerous accolades including a James Beard award. The menu is a mosaic of tastes and textures which tickles every sense. Whether it’s the escargot ravioli, the pig face which gets smothered in egg yolk or the goat belly confit, the attention to detail from both a visual and taste perspective were amazing. Translating passion to a plate is an art and Izard is Picasso. I’d tour this gallery anytime.