Good Food’s most memorable meals of 2017

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Putting it mildly, this was an eventful year: there’s a new administration in Washington, the Dodgers went 7 games in the World Series (and lost), Good Food got two new producers (hi!). We also ate a lot in a lot of great places. As the year ends, we’ve racked our brains for the most satisfying bites of the last year. Whether you’re touring Europe, vacationing in Mexico, roadtripping through the Bible Belt, or staying local in Los Angeles– eat something memorable.

Cacio e Pepe | Flavio Velavevodetto: Rome, Italy

Photo by Elizabeth Minchilli (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Evan Kleiman, host: Because I believe the best thing I ate is what I’m eating right now, I have an irrational fear of choosing one thing. Live in the now people! But if I must, it’s no surprise to anyone that it would be something eaten during my trips to Italy this past year. I was lucky enough to go twice, taking groups through my favorite city, Rome, to see wonderful monuments as we walked by them on our way to many, many, many meals.

Cacio e Pepe is having a moment here in Los Angeles. It’s been having a moment in Rome for, well, centuries, ever since a shepherd was able to carry a hunk of aged cheese from his sheep, some dried pasta and a few grains of peppercorns.

The genius of the dish is the alchemy created when pasta cooking water hits the grated cheese and turns it into a creamy mass that coats each strand of pasta. One could spend the entirety of a trip to Rome just eating Cacio e Pepe debating the merits of each version. But I’ve found my Cacio e Pepe culinary leitmotiv at Flavio Velavevodetto in Testaccio. I shouldn’t like it but, in fact, I’m obsessed. They make it with (if you’ve read my feelings about dry pasta you understand what’s coming) – horror of horrors – fresh tonnarelli, which is a square spaghetti. They don’t make it in house nor do they share where they get it. But the perfect toothsome accompaniment to the uber-creamy black pepper spicy sauce which is made with bottled fizzy water (at least Flavio says it is). Who cares. All I know is that it’s a huge portion and every time it’s put in front of me I think, wow, I’ll never finish this and before I know it I’m looking at an empty bowl wondering if I should have seconds.

Flavio Velavevodetto: Via di Monte Testaccio, 97, 00153 Roma, Italy | +39 06 574 4194

Lechón al horno | Taquiera Honorio: Tulum, Mexico

Photo by Laryl Garcia (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Laryl Garcia, producer: I went for the ant egg tostada, I’ll go back for the eighty-cent tacos.

What gal wouldn’t be excited to land a reservation for the pop-up at the world’s best restaurant for her birthday? I was in Tulum last April to celebrate being as ancient as the beach resort’s ruins. Aside from the locals, it seems like everyone in town was anticipating their table at Noma Mexico (including Jonathan Gold, who I ran into on the beach, resplendent in a long-sleeved, pink button-down and suspenders). Every which way you turned it was, “Have you been yet?” or “When are you going?” The privilege was/is admittedly kinda gnarly.

I ended up at a nondescript restaurant at a communal table with newlyweds from London, accountants from Hungary and Australia, and one of David Chang’s cooks – all of us failures at landing a spot at Hartwood that particular evening. As we compared culinary notes and recommendations, Chang’s cook insisted, “You have to get downtown for the lechón al horno at Taqueria Honorio.”

The next morning, we hopped in the rental car with a dent on her haunch and hightailed to this no-frills joint for breakfast. The tender pork is cooked for twelve hours in a big hole with hot coals just outside of town and makes its way to the jerry-built restaurant by 5:30 a.m. The lechón is served simply, topped with chicharrón, and comes on a plastic-wrapped plate for what I imagine to be a quick clean-up. And when they’re gone, they’re gone – usually sold out by 2 p.m.

While my birthday dinner was memorable and surreal (René Redzepi running around with his phone and downloaded app, knowing precisely when the raincloud would pass as diners were ushered under shelter in what was clearly a ballet choreographed for a downpour), it’s those pork tacos with a Mexican Coke that I crave and remember. They hit the trinity of dining – fresh, inexpensive, and stupid delicious.

Taqueria Honorio: Satélite Sur Tulum Q.R. Mexico, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico | +52 984 134 8731

Shrimp and grits | Seabear Oyster Bar: Athens, Georgia

Photo by Patrick Stubbers (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Rosalie Atkinson, associate producer: This year, I spent some time in both Georgia and Alabama, in search of Allman Brothers factoids and quality time with my mother. We’d just flown for 4.5 hours, gone through the fiasco that is renting a car, and driven two hours to get to the home of both R.E.M. and the B-52’s: Athens, Georgia, where a cursory drive around the downtown area landed us at the Edison-bulb lit Seabear Oyster Bar. We were given a balcony table, cold drinks and a handsome server.

I’m never really one to choose seafood dishes but my mom is a crustacean-queen and ordered us a plate of shrimp and grits large enough for two. This dish, paired with some hoppy and local beer from Creature Comforts, made for the perfect introductory meal and my most memorable bite of 2017.

The shrimp was sourced from Tybee Island, on the Atlantic coast of Georgia, about two and a half hours away. They were light and crisp, soaking up the andouille spices from the sausage in the grits. The sausage is made two states over in Louisiana. It’s an exciting feeling when you see the staunch commitment some eateries have to their region and its local flavors. The shrimp and sausage paired with locally sourced kale, vegetable stock, and creamy white grits made this plate the perfect combination of savory, fresh flavors for two travelers in need of something effortlessly wonderful.

Seabear Oyster Bar: 297 Prince Ave | Suite 10 | Athens, GA 30601 | (706) 850-4367

Dürüm Kebab | Dürüm Symfoni: Copenhagen, Denmark

Photo by Alex Berger (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Ronny Mikkelsen, sound engineer: With the world’s culinary attention focused on new Nordic cuisine and its orbiting fine dining restaurants, it’s easy to overlook what I like to call Denmark’s ‘shadow cuisine.’

One standout in this less talked about culinary landscape, and my pick for most memorable bite of 2017, is Dürüm Symfoni.

Owned and operated by Turkish immigrant Dennis ‘Imam’ Gur, a passionate 31 year veteran of the kebab slinging game, the modest shop is located in Copenhagen’s trendy Nørrebro neighborhood, and offers up a fantastic Dürüm Kebab (Dönner Kebab) roll.

Made with high-quality meat, from a halal butcher, expertly seasoned and freshly prepared by Gur and his staff daily, the grilled meat is sliced off a traditional rotating kebab spit, and wrapped, with choose-your-own-adventure veg, in a steamy made to order flatbread. The delicious kebab roll pairs excellently with a cold, local microbrew enjoyed on a sunny day at the conveniently placed wooden picnic tables just outside the shop.

So, on your next culinary adventure to Copenhagen, take a walk on the shadow side and enjoy a delicious Dürüm Kebab or Falafel at Dürüm Symfoni, you won’t be sad that you did.

Dürüm Symfoni: Nørrebrogade 104, 2200 København N, Denmark | +45 35 35 35 34

Okonomiyaki | Doya Doya: Torrance, California [closed]

Photo by Nick Liao (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Nick Liao, managing producer: In the U.S., the Japanese savory pancake okonomiyaki hasn’t yet achieved the same popularity as other imports like ramen or udon. Perhaps it’s the dish’s relative obscurity that hastened the recent demise of Doya Doya in Torrance, which at the beginning of the year was one of LA’s two remaining okonomiyaki specialists, serving a largely Japanese clientele.

The last one standing is Chinchikurin on Sawtelle, which majors in the okonomiyaki style favored in Hiroshima, built on a sturdy base of fried noodles and cabbage. Doya Doya, on the other hand, served the Osaka version that I prefer, made from a batter leavened with the grated Japanese mountain yam nagaimo. The result was a moist, light interior that reminded me more of a Korean pajeon.

Doya Doya’s okonomiyaki was a customizable affair, with toppings that included pork belly, shrimp, egg, cheese, and beef tendon. The pancakes arrived sizzling hot on a cast iron plate, draped in a sweet and savory okonomi sauce, a healthy drizzle of Kewpie mayo, and a heap of katsuobushi, or bonito flakes. The individual flakes seemed to come alive as they gently waved in the steam—a visual you might have found slightly unsettling if it weren’t for the insanely delicious aromas wafting off the platter.

Given that okonomiyaki is typically a communal experience, I often found myself wishing Doya Doya had an alcohol license—and perhaps that was another factor that led to its closure. But the okonomiyaki served here was good enough to stand on its own. I’m sad to see it go, knowing that a replacement might not be on the way anytime soon.

Doya Doya: 2140 Artesia Blvd, Torrance, CA 90504 | (310) 324-2048

Teriyaki Bowl | Golden Burger: Westlake, Los Angeles, California

Photo by Joseph Stone (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Joseph Stone, Market Report producer: Is there anything worse than the taste of a Dodger Dog? Not likely! And to think, Angelenos revere this ho-hum hotdog!? I’ve never understood it. But I was still able to choke down a couple when I went to Dodger Stadium and sat in the all-you-can-eat bleacher section. Despite it being a free ticket (who doesn’t love free food?), this was by far my worst meal of 2017, but it did, eventually, lead me to my best.

Determined not to repeat my gut-busting, flavorless experience at Chavez Ravine, the next time I went to see the Boys in Blue, I stopped off at a hole-in-the-wall in nearby Westlake, a ten-minute drive from the stadium.

Nestled next to a scuzzy motel with plenty of sordid types lingering in the front, and tucked in the back of a dusty strip mall, lays a hidden food oasis called Golden Burger. But don’t be fooled by the name, you’re here for one thing only: the teriyaki bowl. This version of the Japanese staple is not necessarily fancy, and will never compete for a James Beard Award, but it’s delicious, fresh and affordable. Whether you order chicken or beef, it’s freshly charbroiled and served on a large, fluffy bed of white rice. It’s topped with chopped green onion, a flavorful teriyaki sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Adding avocado to the order is optional, but in my world, it’s a must!

As much as my admiration for this place lies in the fact that it’s hidden, unknown, and is a true diamond in the rough. You can’t ignore that it’s in an area that hasn’t yet been touched by gentrification, the last bastion perhaps, but when you’re inside, you feel at home. It’s safe to say I’ll be back soon. 

Golden Burger Teriyaki: 1938 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90057 | (213) 484-2868