In no particular order, this is what rocked my taste buds in 2017.
Katsu curry at Abiko Curry. I used to get the katsu curry at Go! Go! Curry whenever I went to New York. The rich curry roux was a reliable flavor staple under the benevolent eye of the chain’s gorilla mascot. Abiko’s version takes that gorilla, pummels it and purees it. This is the “medium” spice level, which is hotter than any of the four-pepper numbing dishes at Joe’s Noodle House (see below).
2 W 32nd Street, NY, NY.
Everything at Back in the Day in Savannah. From the cookies to the Honeycup mustard (which turns out to be available at your local Giant) to the flaky biscuits to the bacon and pastries, everything here is fresh and flavorful. And there’s a record store next door.
2403 Bull Street, Savannah, GA.
Hiyashi Chuka at Bantam King. In a DCist (RIP) piece on cold noodles, I wrote, “Much as a power-pop band like Big Star reinvents The Beatles’ basic elements by remixing them, this dish seems to turn spaghetti and meat sauce upside-down and backwards. It’s cold leftovers, a breakfast pasta, and spicy ramen all in one. The sesame dressing recalls the popular appetizer chilled sesame noodles, and the ramen bowl’s spice bomb comes in the solid protein form of spicy chorizo.”
Bantam King. 501 G St. NW, Washington, DC.
Chacha-based cocktails at ARTECHHOUSE. The L’Enfant Plaza gallery opened this year with dazzling interactive digital art, but the real revelation was this Georgian grappa that went down like smooth moonshine. Straight up, it pinches you like an alcoholic needle before filling your body with an immersive, protective cocoon of warm well-being. It’s probably a good thing I have yet to track down a local source.
ARTECHHOUSE. 1238 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington, D.C.
Spicy Tasty Pork Chop at Joe’s Noodle House.. I’ve been going to this Rockville Szechuan joint for close to 20 years but had gotten out of the habit. On return visits this fall the restaurant was oddly quiet, with plenty of empty tables on what should be busy Friday nights. The reason can’t be the food, which hasn’t lost a step. This dish is the perfect balance of meat flavor and the eatery’s signature numbing spices. It goes great with a beer.
Joe’s Noodle House. 1488-C Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD.
Almost everything at Mission Chinese. You need to go with at least three people to be able to sample as many dishes as possible; keep in mind that the weirder it sounds, the more likely it is to work. Like the Kung Pao pastrami,or the green tea noodles, or (pictured), the shaved ice dessert with cottage cheese, Grape Nuts and pop rocks, which takes familiar flavors and placed them in a completely new context that is a refreshing chaser to the chef’s spicier dishes.
Mission Chinese. 171 East Broadway, NY, NY.
Giant Babka at Paris Baguette. Staying in Manhattan’s Koreatown, my wife and I were in thrall to a seemingly bottomless supply of great restaurants; over three trips this summer we never went to the same Koreatown place twice and have yet to hit a clunker. An exception to the no-repeat rule: bakeries. Along with Tous Les Jours, we discovered the joys of Korean French bakeries. Just look at that thing!
Paris Baguette. 6 W 32nd St., NY, NY.
Bagoong Fried Rice at Purple Patch. When my mother would cook with bagoong, a pungent shrimp paste, the whole house would smell like the hot sea, and I refused to eat it when I was a kid. This Mt. Pleasant favorite perhaps dials down that pungency a bit, but the result is perfect, comforting brunch food.
Purple Patch. 3155 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, Washington, DC.
The Bulgogi Sub at Wassub. The best kind of food truck lunch: a freshly grilled cheesesteak, except with kimchi and marinated bulgogi. This may be my favorite sammich in the Washington area–follow them on Twitter to see if they’re in your neighborhood.
Wassub. Wherever better Washington, DC food trucks are found.
Creamy Spicy Spaghetti at Yupduk.
Another Koreatown revelation: curry spaghetti.
Yupduk. 2 W 32nd St., NY, NY.