The past year wasn’t an easy one to sum up. Restaurants opened, restaurants closed. Food trucks hit town with a vengeance. Iconic spots like Mise En Place and Mad Dogs and Englishmen celebrated serious anniversaries (25th and 20th, respectively). But in the end, what I remember the most (always) is the food. There are some things I ate that I just can’t shake, that keep me up at night with cravings or just got under my skin, including some food I first tasted years ago that still comes back to haunt me with delicious withdrawal.
And now I'll have to spend the next week rounding up another portion of each. Stupid top 10 list.
Chris Ponte’s steak frites burger at Burger 21. What happens when one of the Bay area’s best chefs plants his culinary flag in a burgeoning fast food chain, serving burgers no less? Something awesome. Brioche bun, airy but sturdy. Sweet red onion jam, garlic butter, French fries. And, of course, a beautiful hand-packed patty griddled crisp on the outside, just this side of raw on the inside. For $7. Burger 21, 9664 W. Linebaugh Ave., Tampa, 813-475-5921, burger21.com.
Bo tai chanh at Restaurant BT. B.T. Nguyen has found her footing as a chef in her new, smaller space on MacDill, that elegant Vietnamese fusion expressing itself in items like the Bo tai chanh. A take on steak tartare, she blends coarsely ground beef tenderloin with peanuts, basil, cilantro, garlic, lime and chilies. Powerful stuff, but the meat shines through the strong heat, bright acidity and fragrant herbs. Restaurant BT, 2507 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-258-1916, restaurantbt.com
Mushroom and shrimp puff soup at Restaurant BT. There’s no rule that says I can’t pick B.T. twice, right? The broth at the base of this soup is the kind of thing you could drink three times a day, every day, never wearying of its rich but delicate flavor. The incredible roasted shiitakes are carried by the elegant eggplant in the soup, while the scattered hunks of crab serve almost as subtle seasoning, transforming a delicious broth into a well-composed symphony.
Banh mi (and tomato soup) at Alesia. I could have picked a couple of things off the menu at this surprising spot in Grand Central, but every time I return I always order the same thing, Alesia’s take on one of the greatest sandwiches in the world. Theirs is more elegant than what you find at Saigon Deli, but doesn’t lose anything in the process, a picture perfect mountain of pate, salami, ham, pickled veggies, cilantro and jalapeno slices crammed into a fresh and crusty loaf. The fantastic side of tomato soup is almost a gift, considering the price of the sandwich. Alésia Restaurant, 57204 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-345-9701, alesiarestaurant.com.
Homemade XO noodles at Yummy House China Bistro. Available during dim sum on the weekends only, these rolled noodles are gooey soft, studded with shallot and garlic and dripping in the spicy, vinegary XO sauce that Yummy’s Hong Kong chefs do so well. Yummy House China Bistro, 2620 E. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, 813-237-3838
Everything but the roast chicken on the roast chicken plate at Tryst Gastro Lounge. Bland meat and rubbery skin mar the bird, but the dish is rescued by everything else on the side. Buttery rich reduced sauce; fingerling potatoes that are creamy, crisp and salty with a hint of fresh rosemary; roasted squash, green beans and more that are seasoned perfectly to go with the sauce. By the end, the only thing left is skin and bones. Tryst Gastro Lounge, 240 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 727-821-4567, trystgastrolounge.com.
Pistachio pie at Wood Fired Pizza. The only reason I picked this particular Wood Fired pizza is because I never head to Peter Taylor’s pizza workshop without a crew in tow, which means we can order pies with abandon and sample around the table. But this one, each bite infused with the resiny flavor of charred rosemary, the crunch of half-cooked red onions, gooey fresh mozz and sharp pecorino, has become my benchmark pie. Wood Fired Pizza, 2822 E. Bearss Ave., Tampa, 813-341-2900, wood-firedpizza.com
Grilled cheese at the Tampa Independent. Built on toasted rye with a base of gooey Gouda and tender-crisp slices of pears poached in honey and dusted with five-spice powder, each bite combines fat, sweet, crunchy and soft in almost perfect harmony. Plus, beer. The Independent, 5016 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-341-4883, independenttampa.com
Kitfo at Queen of Sheba. Second steak tartare on the list — maybe I have an iron deficiency? Like B.T.‘s version this is decidedly non-Western in style, the lukewarm ground beef thoroughly mixed with Ethiopian spices and fortified with clarified butter. An utterly simple dish that will quickly cure you of a raw meat phobia. Queen of Sheba, 3636 Henderson Blvd., Tampa, 813-872-6000, ethiopianrestauranttampa.com
Deep-fried twinkie at the Burg Bar. And for dessert, a deep-fried Twinkie, with ice cream dolloped on top and a slick of grease underneath the crisp and gooey snack cake. There's no better, or tastier, way to end a meal. Or a year. The Burg Bar Bar & Grill, 1752 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-894-2874, theburgbar.com
I agree with you, I love Cena!
$9 for 16oz, yes its organic
Victoria & Albert's at Disney could be the best restaurant but Oviedo pizza is one…
I couldn't agree more with the Creative Loafing review. the food is amazing, but what…