Where the Wild Things Grow
Jonah crab salad with waffle fries
GiantAddress and Info
A big part of the reason Thrillist tapped Jason Vincent as its chef of the year is his uncanny ability to craft dishes that seem relatively simple on the surface, yet possess an underlying complexity (you know, along with the fact that they taste ridiculously good). Such is the case with this smash-hit dish from Vincent's Giant. The notion of a platter incorporating some seafood, some fries, and some spicy cocktail sauce is hardly revolutionary. Yet when you taste the delicate crab salad paired with the revelatory fries (which are actually deep-fried mashed potatoes and pâte à choux dough) you realize you're having an entirely new experience, all while wishing the serving size were about 10 times larger.
Hot chicken sandwich
Howlin' Ray'sAddress and Info
Los Angeles, California
The restaurant is called Howlin' Ray's because of the howling sound grown men make when they bite into its already-legendary hot chicken sandwich. Yeah OK, that's not true. But this Nashville-inspired, spicy-as-hell chicken sandwich is nothing to mess with. Coated with a blast of dried peppers and garlic, it's served hot straight out of the fryer, still glistening. The sandwich gets an extra boost of heat from "comeback sauce" (that's mayo mixed with chili sauce for the uninitiated). A pile of coleslaw and pickles offsets the juicy meat with a vinegary crunch. It's hot, yes, but it's also one of the best no-frills chicken sandwiches in Los Angeles.
Roast duck flambé
Beatrice InnAddress and Info
New York, New York
In a city besotted with carrot crepes and fried cauliflower, chef Angie Mar's (our New York chef of the year) Beatrice Inn feels like a throwback in more ways than one, with its big, hulking cuts of meat and old-school tableside flair. Take the Peking duck-inspired roast duck flambé: A whole bird is salt-cured for four days, cold-smoked over applewood, and then slowly roasted. On delivery to the table, it is drenched with booze and set ablaze in a process more elegant than the time sloshed Uncle Tony decided to fry a turkey. Even New York’s most Instagrammable grain bowls ain't got nothing on this.
Fried chicken with curry
Hat YaiAddress and Info
Two years ago, chef Earl Ninsom opened Langbaan, a prix fixe dinner club in the back of his Thai restaurant PaaDee that quickly became one of Portland's most lauded restaurants. How do you follow that? By opening up an unassuming counter-service fried chicken and curry spot on a nondescript stretch of a thoroughfare, apparently. But that fried chicken is anything but unassuming. Plump and exploding with fresh-ground pepper spice, the bird comes alongside a complex bowl of curry, teeming with cumin, chili, and coconut milk. The curry can be used to dunk roti (flatbread), pour over rice, or just drink. Nobody will judge.
DestroyerAddress and Info
Culver City, California
The phrase "raw food" tends to conjure up images of green juice-chugging, yoga-doing health fanatics who insist eating a pound of carrots a day is the path to enlightenment. But this oatmeal will, well, destroy any notions you have about munching on some dry oats. But you shouldn't expect anything else from chef Jordan Kahn, who has made a career on getting a little bit weird. Infused with almond milk and red currants, and topped with an otherworldly looking vanilla-flavored disk, this futuristic-looking bowl of oats is far from boring. More importantly, it's warm, creamy, and outrageously delicious.
Grey GhostAddress and Info
You don't land on "best restaurant" lists (including ours!) in a city in the midst of a food renaissance without doing something special. You don't set up shop in the former home of Midtown's legendary Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe unless you're bringing some serious meat game. And you sure as hell don't put fried bologna on a menu full of masterful house charcuterie and dry-aged rib-eye unless you know what you're doing. Luckily, Chicago natives John Vermiglio and Josef Giacomino know exactly what they're doing, and what they're doing is loading house-made fried bologna onto a waffle, then piling on sharp cheddar and jalapeños in a way that will forever change how you view lunch's most misunderstood cold cut.
Oxtail French onion soup
The FederalAddress and Info
Between projects like YEAH! BURGER and casual fried/roasted chicken spot Bantam + Biddy, Atlanta restaurateur Shaun Doty's got plenty of cred. So it's unsurprising that The Federal -- his newest venture -- isn't messing around with its melding of pan-Euro bistro and Southern flair. For proof, look no further than the oxtail French onion soup. Why? Because it takes everything about the dish to the next level: Tender chunks of oxtail commingle with plenty of cave-aged Gruyere and onion to create a gooey, savory masterpiece that makes soup for dinner an exciting proposition.
The Jewbano pizza
Paulie Gee's MiamiAddress and Info
Paulie Gee's makes some of the best damn pizza in New York City. That's a difficult thing to achieve considering that the streets of NYC are practically paved with pizza. The chain recently opened an outpost in Miami, where it debuted a pie reflective of its new home: the Jewbano, a riff on the popular Cubano sandwich. Atop a pillowy Neapolitan-style crust, scorched in all the right places, is a meaty mash-up of melty Swiss cheese, whisper-thin slices of kosher dill pickles, yellow mustard, and two decidedly not-kosher elements: Cuban pulled pork and Canadian bacon. Somehow the briny, meaty, cheesy combination works. Just maybe don't tell your rabbi.
All of the Meats charcuterie platter
MorcillaAddress and Info
Why have just one of the meats, when you can have all of them? Especially when you're dining at Morcilla, one of the Steel City's finest new restaurants. The restaurant, which is an ode to Spain's Basque Country, is known for its house-made charcuterie program -- meaning there are no Lunchables pepperoni slices in sight. When the platter comes to the table make sure to be the first to grab the namesake morcilla (Spanish blood sausage) and legendary jamon Iberico de bellota before your friends do -- or better yet, just order a platter for yourself.
Poutine o' the Sea
The White Swan Public HouseAddress and Info
There is only one way to improve The White Swan Public House's beloved chowder, which is one of the best things to eat in Seattle. Spoon it over some fries and transform it into poutine. The Poutine o’ the Sea doesn't come with cheese curds like most versions of poutine. But don't fret: Instead you are rewarded with a healthy amount of littleneck clams, bacon, and scallions. It's hard to be sad about that!
Mile High Funfetti Cake
Hail MaryAddress and Info
Brooklyn, New York
Imagine that beloved, but definitely subpar boxed mix of Funfetti cake from high school parties went to an Ivy League university and grew up to be the president of all Funfetti cakes. That would be this cake. Co-owner Sohla El-Waylly makes everything for it from scratch, including the giant rose-flavored rainbow sprinkles that adorn it. The tender cake, swathed in lush buttercream and oversized Funfetti the size of pick-up sticks, has become so popular, that the restaurant only serves it Friday-Sunday. And yes, fine, the cake isn't literally a mile high, but you'll sure wish it were after eating it.
Hot dog bun
The Bakery at Fat RiceAddress and Info
While Fat Rice has been wowing Chicagoans with its Macau-inspired culinary wizardry for a few years now, this year saw the restaurant expand into the space next door. The expansion, to much rejoicing, included a bakery. There was even more rejoicing when people discovered that said bakery included this beautiful marriage between the delicately sweet dough of a Chinese bun and the iconic toppings of a Chicago-style dog (Vienna Beef, of course). They're all there, the poppy seeds, the neon relish, the sport pepper jutting (phallically) out of the center. You'll notice the mustard's a little spicier than what you might normally expect, but on the plus side it's baked on, which will spare your shirt when you end up eating five in one sitting.
Cacio e pepe
Emmer & RyeAddress and Info
Despite this era of gluten-free everything (applesauce? Really?), both house-milled grains and the ridiculously simple pasta dish cacio e pepe, literally cheese and pepper, are having something of a moment. The two reach their elemental peak at Emmer & Rye, where chef Kevin Fink mills Blue Beard durum wheat himself for the spaghetti, along with 15 other grains he uses in the restaurant. It gives his crazy-rich version of cacio e pepe its toothy bite, while the 10-month-aged, raw-milk Challerhocker cheese provides its creamy, nutty depth. Don't be surprised if you convert the gluten-averse at your table for just one... more... bite.
Edamame and truffle dumplings
Double KnotAddress and Info
You'd think that a place that pulls quadruple duty as a coffee shop, lunchtime destination, thriving bar, and lauded, semi-hidden izakaya/sushi restaurant would have a bit of an identity crisis. Yet Michael Schulson's new restaurant does it all, and well! Perfectly mushy, truffle-kissed mashed edamame beans are stuffed into tender, poppable little dumplings which get bathed in tangy sake broth. They're only $4 at happy hour, and you don't need to score a seat downstairs to get them. But you really should. That robatayaki spread includes lamb chops and venison -- the best chaser to veggie dumplings after all.
Sourdough biscuits with crab fat butter
Toups SouthAddress and Info
New Orleans, Louisiana
Chef Isaac Toups is known for his love of meat -- his first restaurant is called Toups Meatery after all. But at his newest venture, the real star of the menu is surprisingly a biscuit, which speaks to how damn good it is. Toups makes his puffy, golden version with sourdough for an extra tang. More importantly, it comes covered with with an über-rich spread of butter melded with custardy crab fat, a trick he picked up in South Carolina's Lowcountry. Take that, Popeyes.
Concord grape sorbet & fior di latte ice cream
Tartine ManufactoryAddress and Info
San Francisco, California
Sorry Chubby Hubby, there's a new ice cream flavor worth obsessing over thanks to San Francisco's Tartine Manufactory. While co-owners Chad Robertson and Liz Prueitt built their mini-empire by baking some very excellent bread, it turns out they have some serious ice cream chops, too. The duo is now making a deeply hued Concord grape sorbet (a very rare ice cream flavor) that is served swirled with a rich-but-tangy fior di latte soft serve that you'll have no choice but to Instagram. If a cone won't do, the restaurant also serves the ice cream in a shell made from peanut butter cookie dough, making it the PB&J pie of your dreams.
Fried chicken coq au vin
ConvivialAddress and Info
Not content with offering one of America's best brunches, French chef Cedric Maupillier took Franco-American fusion to new heights this year at his Shaw-neighborhood destination Convivial. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment? A take on the classic wine-braised chicken dish known as coq au vin. Maupillier subs in the slow-cooked chicken for crispy, pressure-fried thighs and serves the meat over a bed of potatoes that is loaded with mushrooms and lardons (that's a fancy word for bacon), and glazed with a wine sauce. Basically, it's a fusion of French and North American sensibilities that gives poutine a run for its money.