The National (Athens, GA): Five & Ten may have put Hugh Acheson on the map, but I think this is his finest work. It is with a clear conscious that I can say the Warm Okra and Chickpea Salad is one of the top 10 things I’ve ever consumed. And I’ve consumed a lot.
Parkway Bakery and Tavern (New Orleans, LA): As far as I’m concerned, the Parkway cranks out the king of po’ boys. During past visits I’ve typically focussed on the their roast beef PB — but during my latest stop the shrimp called to me. I’m counting down the days in my head until I can get my hands on another.
Dyer’s Burgers (Memphis, TN): Britton from Gibson’s told me that this establishment has been frying the burgers in the same pot of fat since 1912. So one might assume the resulting burgers to be nasty grease balls. That’s what I assumed and I was wrong. I’m not going to say this is the best burger in the South, but just like that bowl of ratatouille in the movie of the same name, that burger immediately transported me to an early, and yes … tastier time.
Gus’s Famous Fried Chicken (Memphis, TN): I’m from the South so I like to think I know from fried chicken. Furthermore I’d like to think that from time to time I crank out a decent bucket of GB&D myself. But I’ve just about decided (one small establishment in Lorman, Mississippi notwithstanding, Gus’s is making my favorite fried chicken on earth; crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside and with a spicy kick that reminds you who’s boss. I will never again venture to Memphis without stopping for a couple of thighs and an order of seasoned fries.
Fuel City Tacos (Dallas, TX): Make no mistake, there are a lot of tacos in Dallas. And I plan on coming back for a full exploration at a future date. But after the show, I ventured away from the theater to a 24-hour taco joint in a gas station. I have 3 words for you: tacos al pastor. Oh, and if the roast corn stand is open, get that too.
Fong’s Pizza (Des Moines, IA): You ready for this? Fong’s Pizza is one of the coolest establishment’s I’ve ever pulled up a padded vinyl chair in. Allow me to set the scene: old-school Chinese decor, tiki drinks and pizza … serious pizza. Eating (and drinking) there with my crew was the most fun I had on the fall ’14 tour. I’d recommend the Crab Rangoon pizza, the Beef and Broccoli pizza, and if they have it … the special Jalapeno Mac and Cheese pizza. Oh, and if you order a kamikaze, don’t forget to wear one of the vintage fighter jet helmets. You’ll need it.
Block 16 (Omaha, NE): I first announced this on Twitter and I stand by it still: the Croque Garcon burger available at Block 16 is on my top five burger list. There was a perfect ratio of meat-to-bun, which so many people overlook. And the condiments were just right, including that mustard.
Slyman’s Deli (Cleveland, OH): This is the corned beef sandwich that corned beef was invented for. They may have other stuff there but frankly I just can’t remember. That sandwich … that I’ll never forget.
Noodlecat (Cleveland, OH): This Japanese-American mash-up noodle house is one of Chef Jonathon Sawyer’s quirkier projects and one well worth your time. I ordered the classic Pork Miso Ramen (with extra noodles) and wish I had ordered more for the days ahead. It was comforting and perfectly salty and seasoned. Sawyer is definitely on the front lines of the ramen revolution.
Tommy DiNic’s (Philadelphia, PA): I couldn’t come to Philly without having a DiNic’s roast pork sandwich. Filled with a sharp, nutty provolone cheese and greens (I got mine with broccoli rabe), the sandwich exists in perfect culinary balance. I’d happily order another … like right now. I’m not kidding. Get me one.
Federal Donuts (Philadelphia, PA): This is going to sound weird, but here goes. I liked their doughnuts, but Federal’s fried chicken, was without a doubt, the best bite of the day in Philly. Federal uses a za’atar spice dusting over their chicken and it’s a genius move that I’m going to flat out steal.
Ben’s Chili Bowl (Washington, D.C.): Believe it or not, 2014 brought my first visit to this D.C. institution. And boy do I wish I had tried it sooner. I ordered the half smoke (a charred hotdog composed of equal portions pork and beef) with mustard, onions and Ben’s chili. Here’s the only problem: I ordered one. The jukebox is also one of the best-stocked I’ve seen in years. I’ll be back Ben. Please be ready.
Oyamel (Washington, D.C.): Thanks to Chef Jose Andres, I was able to take a couple of my tour crew members here and feed them really well. I’d also never been here before and loved everything from the decor to the food to the cocktails. We had an especially good time and look forward to more helpings of Carnitas Tacos, Queso Fundido and Salt Air Margaritas in the future.
Duckfat (Portland, ME): Alright. Canada might get mad at me for this, but this restaurant is serving some pretty serious poutine and Belgian fries. That’s right. I ordered two different orders of fries and both were equally addictive. Wow. These are good fries. Nice job guys. I look forward to more in the future.
Eventide (Portland, ME): I was in Portland for less than 24 hours and I visited Eventide twice. And there wasn’t just one good thing on the menu. There were multiple, including the best varieties of oyster I’ve ever had (all from Maine waters). If you twisted my arm and made me choose one thing, I would probably have to go with the Fried Oyster Bun or perhaps the Brown Butter Lobster Roll. Who am I kidding, I’d go with both and so should you. Oh, and the dirty martini is ridiculous.
Dumpling Cafe (Boston, MA): The Taiwan-style noodles with pork and vegetables was hands down the best bite of the day while I was in Boston. They weren’t greasy. They weren’t dry or over-cooked. There were so many layers of flavor in this dish and they all complemented each other. I can admit that I horded this dish and didn’t share as much as I should have.
Shake Shack (New York, NY): I’ve mentioned that I have a list of top five burgers and this happens to be one of them. There’s nothing like this burger. It’s no frills and better for it. The focus is on the meat (and shack sauce). The problem with these burgers is you eat them too fast (hence no photo). I may or may not order two sometimes. Make sure to get a side of fries and a (chocolate) shake too.
Images © Alton Brown, 2014