The Best Meals We Ate in 2019

From high end destinations to neighborhood fast casual, these meals are what we loved eating the most


In approximately chronological order:

1. Dungeness Crab from Half Moon Bay, California, Boiled at Home

For Tiffany’s birthday, we drove over the mountains to Half Moon Bay, and went out on a boat to buy some dungeness crab. The guy on the boat gave us a “special offer” on the crab, talking us into buying a ridiculous amount of crab: 10 crabs for 5 people.

The crab was wonderful. We haven't had fresher or meatier crabs than these.

We had leftover crab for weeks, pulling it out of the freezer to go into omelettes, mac-n-cheese, and whatever else we could think of. 10 crabs was the perfect number of crabs.

2. Sushi at Ju-Ni in San Francisco

For Brian's birthday, we did a 12-course sushi tasting menu at Ju-Ni.

Ju-Ni’s preparation of fish is straightforward and exquisite. Highest category fish, a simple brush of soy sauce. They advise you not to add anything to the bites, and they’re right - what they place in front of you is nearly perfect.

At the end of the tasting menu, they offer seconds of any of the dishes, plus a few additional items on a set menu. It was tempting, as we really didn’t want the experience to end. But it was hard to choose one or two out of the lot, because everything is a standout.

Ju-Ni has 12 seats and 3 chefs so each chef serves 4 people. Unfortunately we were seated next to a super pretentious couple instead of the couple that bought wine for their fellow diners. But the sushi was so amazing that this only slightly detracted from the experience.

3. Xiao Long Bao at Bing's Dumpling in Fremont, California

Bing's might be our favorite restaurant in the Bay Area. Anytime family or friends visited, we took them to Bing's. Brian even introduced Bing's to co-workers who lived around the corner and hadn't visited, and they became fans.

The XLB might be the best in the States. Heck, their XLB is better than the XLB we ate in Taiwan this year. Definitely worth the $6 toll we had to pay to cross the Dumbarton Bridge.

4. One Fish Three Ways in Hualien, Taiwan

Our visit with Tiffany's family in Taiwan was full of amazing and memorable meals all across the country. They love eating and know a ridiculous number of restaurants and exactly what to order at each one (i.e. the 7-10 dishes to order at each restaurant).

During a drive down the Hualien coastline, we pulled off at a seemingly random farmhouse on the side of the road. There were no other cars around, and nobody inside. Was it open? Yes, and thank goodness it was.

It turns out Tiffany’s aunt (a successful restauranteur in her own right) knew the chef/boss and this meant we got the best dishes. A seemingly endless parade of delicious food came to our table. The standout was a fresh-caught fish, which was then prepared three different ways: steamed, pan-fried, and in a soup. This was an incredible meal end to end.

5. Phở Thìn in Hanoi

While in Vietnam in March, we learned that locals eat phở for breakfast. Our Airbnb host told us we had to eat at Phở Thìn, so we decided to go for breakfast our first morning in town. The temperature was at least 90 degrees outside and humidity about 90%, which left us a little sweaty after the 20 minute walk to the restaurant. We were used to enjoying phở in Chicago during the winter, where the steaming broth is the perfect foil for frigid temperatures, so we weren’t quite sure about eating it in suffocating heat.

However, our fears were put to rest once we arrived. They prepare the soup in a giant pot right up against the street, so you’re greeted by the wonderful aroma of broth as you approach.

The tiny restaurant was packed full of locals. We shoved our way through the crowd, ordered two bowls, and sat down literally shoulder to shoulder. After a few excruciating minutes waiting, smelling the soup cooking, and watching those around you scarf down their phở, our soup finally arrived.

From the first sip, it was clear we were eating better soup than anything we had in the States. The broth is incredible - richer, spicier, and meatier. And then a bite of meat and noodles - Phở Thin stir fries the meat before it goes into the soup, so the meat is extra-delicious - and our minds were blown. Oh, and there are also fried doughnuts in the entryway that go in the soup.

The combination of hot soup and the outside temperature means you not only wipe your mouth but also sweat from your brow, but it’s totally worth it. We returned for another breakfast before we left and were thoroughly disappointed by all phởs in the Bay Area upon our return to the states.

6. Oren's Hummus in San Francisco

Oren's became a standby for us while we lived in California. Brian ate it for lunch at least weekly.

Once you eat freshly baked Oren’s pita, you can’t enjoy pita anywhere else. It is simply terrific pita. Also the hummus is the smoothest hummus ever.

We used to order a variety of dips to share… labane, Romanian eggplant, Moroccan carrots, marinated beets, baba ganoush, and one of their many varieties of hummus. All of it is wonderful.

This was our last meal in the Bay Area before we embarked on our road trip and extended travels, and we can’t think of a better place for the occasion.

7. Barbacoa Estilo Taxco in Los Angeles

We came across this place when researching street food in LA, a weekend-only authentic barbacoa taco stand. Brian had fallen in love with lamb barbacoa at El Hidalguense in Mexico City, so was really pushing to go here. It was a little out of the way from where we were staying, near the wonderful Chinese food mecca San Gabriel Valley, so we stopped for Taiwanese breakfast before heading west.

Barbacoa Estilo Taxco is basically a food truck with a tarp-covered patio, so not much to look at from the outside. LA was having a heat wave the weekend we arrived, with the temperature soaring to about 90 degrees. We parked ourselves beneath a fan and ordered one taco each and a consommé to share.

We think this is the best taco outside of Mexico. If there's a better one, give it to us right now. The lamb takes on a mature, smoky character, which reduces the usual gamey flavor of lamb, and elevates the whole thing to the next level. And pairing the taco with the consommé is essential - the rich broth could wake up a corpse.

Our only regret was having eaten a little too much at breakfast that morning, so we could only enjoy one taco.

8. Cochon Butcher in New Orleans

Two years ago, we stopped eating cured meat. We were delighted to discover that this butchery in New Orleans specializes in uncured bacon - well, that and everyth other Cajun pork delicacy.

We ate many wonderful pork dishes all over the world in 2019, and nowhere better than Cochon Butcher. What this place does with pork is nothing short of magisterial.

Among the delightful treats we enjoyed at Cochon Butcher: a bacon melt, boudin, and bacon pralines. We left with a greater appreciation for Cajun cuisine and a desire to return soon.

9. Central in Lima

Attempts to describe the experience at Central all kind of sound silly. It is an utterly unique dining experience. The 16-course tasting menu takes you on a journey across 16 different Peruvian ecosystems, organized by altitudes. Every dish is delicious; some admittedly more welcoming to the palette, while others are a bit more challenging. The presentation is exquisite, and there are few, if any, places we've had better service. Add to it an amazing bar with original cocktails to match their creative food. From beginning to end, every detail about Central is simply wonderful.

10. Proper in Buenos Aires

Argentina is known for highest-quality beef. And Buenos Aires is the epicenter of beef culture, with its myriad parillas and asadores. On our first night in BsAs, we went to a small plates restaurant which had a ribeye on special. We were coming off nearly three weeks in Patagonia, where the food was really hit or miss (see our post about pizza in Chile for quite a horror story), so we were anxious for a good meal.

Each of the small plates was great and left us excited for the next plate. But the star was the ribeye which was at least two inches thick. They cook it in a cast-iron skillet inside a wood-fired oven. The steak comes with a beautiful crust on the edge, the perfect amount of seasoning on the meat. The knife slides through the meat as easily as any steak either of us has had. A sweet mesquite sauce that's almost reminiscent of bacon.

One knock - at its thickest point, the steak was a perfect jugoso (medium rare), but towards the edges was definitely more towards medium. But take this as our endorsement of the seasoning, the wood smoke flavor, and the quality of the beef -- it was still absolutely amazing even without being perfectly cooked.

Honorable Mention

  • Rich Table in San Francisco
  • Oyster Bar in Las Vegas
  • Ramen Nagi in Palo Alto (worth waiting outside for 45 minutes every time)
  • Pliny's Younger and Elder at Russian River Brewing (and some randos paid for everything!)
  • Back-a-yard Jamaican Cuisine in Menlo Park, California (second-favorite Bay Area restaurant)
  • Sonoratown Tacos in LA (chimichanga)
  • Himalaya Restaurant in Houston (ridiculous fried chicken)
  • Bevi Seafood Co. in New Orleans (po boys)
  • Andrés Carne de Res in Chia, Colombia (fabulous cuchuco)
  • La Mar Cebicheria in Lima (not even 300 raucous Brazilian soccer fans could spoil that meal)
  • Siete in Lima
  • Gran Dabbang in Buenos Aires (we went twice to make sure we tried everything)
  • La Carniceria in Buenos Aires (sweetbreads on cornbread FTW)