Composite image by MUNCHIES staff

The Best Things the MUNCHIES Staff Ate This Year

Take it from people who eat a lot of things.

Dec 19 2018, 3:00pm

Composite image by MUNCHIES staff

As you can probably imagine, we do quite a bit of eating both for work and for pleasure here at MUNCHIES—nibbling on samples of new products we’ve been sent, sneaking bites of recipes the Test Kitchen is working on, trying new recipes from the cookbooks of chefs and authors we love, and of course, going out to eat at restaurants big and small. This can make it extremely difficult to single out a favorite meal—but it also means that when we do, you know it's the real cream of the crop.

John Martin, Publisher

Culver's North Atlantic Cod Sandwich is my new contender for best fish sandwich. Though I am historically a Filet-o-Fish loyalist—and often double, triple, or quadruple stack it—Culver's fish sandwich is crispy, flaky, and moist, which is hard to achieve. Plus, it's sizable enough that you don't even need to double up on filets.

Amanda Catrini, Test Kitchen Manager

One of my first days at MUNCHIES I was asked to make Paul Kahan's mole Poblano recipe. It was one of the most complex and flavorful sauces I have ever encountered (and hands-down my favorite mole). Chef Kahan himself came in to make it days later for a shoot and it was elevated further when I saw how deeply he blackened the ingredients. He essentially burned the chiles/veggies/spices/nuts under the broiler, which gave it an insurmountable depth of flavor. Awesome intro to the MUNCHIES universe!

Runner up: I had one of the most inventive takes on paneer butter masala at Corner Delhi, an Anglo-Indian restaurant that opened this year in Park Slope. The paneer is house-made, incredibly fresh, and perfectly balanced by a tangy, warming sauce accented by bitter broccoli rabe and lemon basmati. The poori fry bread sent it over the top.

Ike Rofe, Associate Producer

Every year it's the same answer: the Apple Pan Hickory Burger, which features smoky hickory sauce, sharp Tillamook cheddar, crunchy lettuce, and pickles, and, of course, the juiciest beef patty Los Angeles has to offer. Get the banana cream pie afterwards to top it off. It’s a 10 out of 10 meal every time.

Hilary Pollack, Senior Editor

toro sushi
Photo by Hilary Pollack

Overfishing is bad. The overfishing of tuna is really bad. That being said, there is truly nothing that tastes better than a beautifully marbled, melt-in-your-mouth piece of toro, or fatty tuna belly. Outside the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, I've found no better place to consume it than New York City's Shuko. Yes, the omakase costs a zillion dollars; I promise it is worth it. Save up your dollars until you have a zillion, and then go eat this sushi.

Farideh Sadeghin, Culinary Director

Ok, I don't mean to be lame and choose something that I made myself, but FUCK this recipe I made for baked bacon and eggs is REALLY TIGHT. Probably the best hangover cure—or just something to eat when you don't know what else to make. The bread soaks up all that cream and bacon grease and gets, like, crispy at the edges but super soft and squishy throughout. I shared it with everyone in the office but didn't want to share it at all, tbh. It also could be the worst thing I ate in terms of caloric consumption, but luckily I don't count calories!

Bettina Makalintal, Staff Writer

I didn’t expect an arcade bar to turn out good food, but the garlic noodles from Button Mash in Los Angeles were an unexpected favorite. Perfectly chewy fresh ramen noodles are tossed in a slippery mixture of brown butter, oyster sauce, and chicken fat, then covered in fried garlic. It’s super simple and savory and made the bad breath after so, so worth it.

Runner up: Living a ten minute walk away from Sarma in Somerville, Massachusetts was a blessing, if only to have their halva caramel. According to a recipe online, the caramel is cooked lightly before adding halva, which gives it a toastiness like brown butter. I’d get it as a side for the ricotta doughnuts, but really, those were just a way to get more of this caramel in my mouth.

Rupa Bhattacharya, Editor-in-Chief

I ate a lot of really excellent things all year—basically everything that came out of the test kitchen, especially this fish sauce steak where I kept pretending there were problems with the recipe, triggering a retest, so I could eat it again—but the absolute best thing I ate was my first bite this year of an Indian mango (specifically, my first bite of the first case of several that I went through during mango season). I'm turning into an Indian dad, and I'm entirely OK with it.

Danielle Wayda, Editorial Assistant

If I’m being honest, the best thing I’ve eaten on any day/week/month/year is a beef patty from Tropical House Baking Co. in Crown Heights. HOWEVER, for the sake of this assignment: the best thing I had this year is a tie between this savory chickpea pancake from Coquine in Portland and a tasting portion of a $400 bottle of 1983 burgundy that I had at a wine tasting for my birthday at the Institute of Culinary Education.

Hannah Keyser, Associate Editor

I was a sports writer when I went to South Korea to cover the Winter Olympics. Now I am a food writer. The combination of those two things means that often people ask me how the food was in Korea. Unfortunately, since I ate most of my meals in press boxes and on long bus trips, I don't really know how the food is in Korea (lotta instant ramen at the sporting venues, though!). But eventually, after three weeks, I had a night off and was able eat food that was designed with taste and not efficiency in mind. Gangneung, the coastal city where the various ice rink events were held, was home to an incredible array of seafood. On the first day, I ate live abalone (which was interesting, but frankly I remember more as a fact than as a flavor) but what I really wanted, what I wasn’t leaving without (because maybe I would come back to Seoul someday but once the closing ceremonies wrapped I was never making it back to the otherwise uninteresting city on the other side of Korea) was snow crabs. And on the last night of the Olympics, I took someone’s indispensable recommendation and ended up at a small restaurant that served nothing but sheet trays of snow crab. There was nothing to order. You paid them a flat fee and in exchange they brought you tray after tray of all-you-can-eat snow crab, unadorned and unencumbered by seasoning or sauce or sides (except, of course, kimchi). The only flaw was that by the time I got towards the end of one tray, I was determined to finish what was in front of me so they’d have to bring a whole new batch of warmer, even momentarily fresher snow crabs, which created an almost Sisyphean cycle. On second thought, maybe I will go back to Gangneung—just for the snow crabs.

Ruby Lott-Lavigna, Staff Writer, Munchies UK

Asking me to name the best thing I ate in 2018 is like asking me to pick my favorite (fictional) child: INSULTING, considering I eat beautiful, precious things every day and it would be too hard to choose. While I obviously love all my food children equally, my actual favorite (don’t tell the others) would have to be the raspberry and fig leaf ice cream from Kitty Travers’ La Grotta Ices, that I tried after we got sent her cookbook. Meeting her eventually led to me foraging my own fig leaves from a square in East London, pruning a tree while businessmen ate their lunch, so I could make my own version.

Runner up: Another thing I ate and loved was a mushroom katsu sando from TaTa Eatery—a Portuguese and Chinese pop-up currently serving food in a wine shop in North West London. I tried this sandwich at an event after they fobbed me off with a vegetarian version of their more famous Iberico pork sando, but the joke’s on them because it was unbelievable.

Cliff Gulibert, Director of Video

I don’t like this question… because my life is dope and I eat dope shit.

(As shitty as the prior statement sounds, trying to think back on the last year to find a great dish just made me realize how lucky I am to get to be able to do this for a living. I have traveled around the world in the last year, eating at every type of restaurant for work, and that is a privilege I don’t take for granted. So in trying to muddle through that privilege to pull something profound, I just decided to modify a quote by Kanye because… Kanye.)

Cole Carbone, Junior Video Editor

Seafood is obviously a must in Tisno, which is a fishing village located just off the Adriatic Sea in Croatia. There, I ate a 15-inch-long roasted sea bass while watching the sun set over the sea. Easily my favorite meal of the year.

Brad Barrett, Video Editor

Since it was my first time to Montreal, I had to make a stop at Schwartz’s. After waiting in line for what seemed like an hour, I was ushered to a stool at the bar and given a menu. My mother, who had tagged along, is not a big fan of pastrami and she tried to order a turkey sandwich—but the man behind the counter rejected her request. “If you’re going to wait all this time and not try the smoked meat, you’re crazy,” he told us. So we ordered the smoked meat, a side of fries, and dill pickles. The smoked meat was so tender and juicy that even my mother finished hers.

Phoebe Hurst, UK Editor

The best thing I ate this year is also the best thing I ate last year and, unless 2019 has some really freaky stuff in store, will probably be the best thing I eat next year too. Hello you, vegetarian mezze from Nandine in South London. My one-and-only, forever-and-always, ride-or-die dish. A perfect platter of hummus and stuffed vine leaves and falafel and dill-flecked rice. A kaleidoscope of Kurdish bites so pretty that it recently inspired me to re-install Instagram (after I deleted it when I got scared by a New York Times article about attention spans and smartphones). Nandine’s veggie mezze is so beautiful it makes you not care about your brain!

Katinka Oppeck, Switzerland/Germany/Austria Editor

Guys, I'll never have to choose between banana bread and chocolate cake ever again—and neither do you! With this super easy and breathtakingly yummy recipe for Marbled Banana Bread by Smitten Kitchen, you can too combine the best of both worlds: the texture and taste of chocolate cake, combined with the creamy-sweet joy of freshly baked banana bread. It's made in no time and you'll be the star of every birthday at the office. Or of your own four walls, in which you will devour this marbled loaf by your lonesome and most definitely in one sitting.

Lars Hinnerskov Eriksen, Denmark Editor

Yes, there were better meals, better dining experiences, and technically better-crafted dishes I ate this year; but a random hospital lunch during my mum’s cancer treatment somehow stands out from the pack. At the ward where she was treated before her death, a makeshift lunch station would be set up in the hallway each day. There were open-faced sandwiches—smørrebrød—with the fillings presented neatly in small containers next to buttered rye bread: pickled herring with curried eggs, cold roast beef with horseradish. There was tomato soup and fresh-baked pancakes from the hospital kitchen. Patients gathered and queued by the lunch cart, and for a brief moment—whatever their ailment and the severity of the diagnosis these people were facing—there was lunch. A simple Danish lunch. Before people took their plates back to their rooms, patients and visitors stood in line and talked about food. We joked. A young man, leaning on a walker and wearing a white hospital gown, wanted to know why we weren’t having akvavit with the herring. A light-hearted, seemingly frivolous moment of respite amid such heart-wrenching circumstances. This lunch was truly transcending in terms of what cooking and feeding people means. It was just a lunch, a traditional Danish lunch produced in a large-scale industrial public service kitchen, but it meant so much more to me.