2021 saw a weird transition period for the food and beverage industry — from nearly a year of strictly takeout to slowly re-opening dining rooms, it was certainly a strange experience. Nevertheless, that strangeness didn’t stop our staff from finding memorable meals and delicious drinks this past year. These are the ones we remembered in the midst of it all.
Pork Lumpia, Lola’s Lumpia
I had heard from friends that this food truck was a must-try, and that was validated when they had one of the longest lines at Riverfront Park. The crispy lumpia with the juicy filling and sweet chili sauce was pure heaven. Now I constantly stalk their Instagram to find out where I can get more!
Brown Derby, Paddock & Whisky
I am a tequila girl, so when I saw my favorite mixers, just with bourbon instead of tequila, I decided to give it a shot. This drink was perfectly balanced between the tartness of the grapefruit, spice from the jalapeno, sweetness from the honey syrup, and a slight smokiness from the bourbon.
Smash Burger, Commonhouse Aleworks
There’s a lot of competition in the smash burger category and one sleeper pick is Commonhouse Aleworks. Chef Brannon Florie’s kitchen keeps it simple with two thin patties, white onion, American cheese, burger sauce and sweet pickles, served on a potato roll. The ratio of the ingredients are made for a perfect bite that pairs perfectly with a pint of Commonhouse’s beer.
Samosa Chaat, Malika Pakistani Chai Canteen
For me, walking into Malika results in instant mouth-watering as the air is filled with the smell of delicious spices that I can’t wait to eat. Samosa chaat is listed as a starter, but I would be happy with it as my whole meal. The perfectly spiced and crunchy samosa sits atop curried chickpeas for the perfect combination of stewed comfort food and a crunchy treat.
San Pablo Ave, Dalila’s
If you want to be pleasantly surprised by a cocktail, order the San Pablo Ave. With ingredients like vanilla chai bourbon and banana, I was expecting a heavy, winter cocktail, but what I experienced was a tropical delight that was a little too easy to drink if you catch my drift.
Curry crab soup with a side of coconut rice, Bistronomy
As a self-proclaimed soup connoisseur, I know a good soup when I taste one — and this curry crab soup was a winner. The rich crab flavor mixed with the spicy, sweetness of the curry broth was only enhanced by the side of fluffy coconut rice, which I added to the soup by the spoonful. And of course, no soup is complete without a toasted crostini.
Butterbean cassoulet, Chasing Sage
With a frequently rotating menu, Chasing Sage has served many exceptional dishes during each of my visits, but the butterbean cassoulet remains a standout for me. Mixed with tomato and chicken of the woods mushrooms, this cassoulet is flavorful, filling and uniquely delicious. The salty, savory taste of bacon is heavily prevalent, but vegetarians rejoice! This cassoulet is completely meat-free.
Tres chocolates, Maya
I first had this cake back in October when Maya opened its doors on King Street, and there’s a day that hasn’t gone by when I don’t think about it. It’s a wonderful balance of dark, milk and Mexican chocolates that melts in your mouth with each bite. The tres chocolates is flourless, too, so those with gluten-free diets can experience the chocolatey blend on the tongue.
Ham and Butter Sandwich, Babas on Cannon/Meeting
Just three things — ham, butter, bread. It’s simple, but elegant. Quality ingredients really do make the difference. It’s the perfect snack to start your day or have in between meals. The menu describes it as “a great baguette with great ham and great butter,” and the sandwich checks all those boxes.
Very Cold Coffee, Babas on Cannon/Meeting|
Another one for Babas — it’s one of the smoothest cold coffees I’ve had. Again, it’s simple — a shaken cold brew — but it just works. Drinking it at the bar or table in either of Babas’ locations, the drink is served up, but remains cold throughout the duration of a meal. When you get it to-go, it’s served over crushed ice to make it even colder. For me, I can drink this in any weather.
Coney Smash Burger, Coney Island Hot Wieners
I grew up on the West Coast eating In-N-Out Burger, and anytime I can find a place that suits those childhood taste buds of a delicious smash burger, it instantly becomes a favorite. Coney Island is one of those places. It’s not quite an In-N-Out burger, but the simplicity of two burgers, two slices of cheese, grilled onions and pickles is always a great combo. Bonus: the burger is served with Coney Island’s “special sauce,” an homage to the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) Animal Style sauce.
Chilaquiles, Maya del Sol Kitchen
Walk into Maya del Sol Kitchen for its Sunday brunch and there’s one dish that you’ll have to try — if there is any left. Take a bite and you’ll see why chilaquiles are such a classic: Crispy, yet soggy, fried corn tortilla chips bathed in a tangy and slightly spicy salsa verde. Overall it’s a perfect breakfast that will fill you up without weighing you down for the day.
Smoked fish, Abundant Seafood
Smoked fish is having a moment, for sure. Rappahannock Oyster Co. has had it on its hidden-gem happy hour forever. Jackrabbit Filly’s fish tartare is a must-order. And newcomer Three Sirens stuffs it into crispy croquetas. But on the other side of Park Circle, you can buy the stuff by the pound at Abundant Seafood’s North Charleston outpost. (It’s also available on the docks in Mount Pleasant.) Fair warning: This stuff will spoil you — it is smoked from the top-notch fresh catch from owner Mark Marhefka and his crew, after all. The prep for a quick dip is simple: Gently squeeze the filet apart with your fingers or the back of a spoon, add some mayo, lemon juice and a little spice of your choice (I like smoked paprika), and you’ve got the best snack you’ll have all week.
Fresh madeleines, Maison
Maison’s madeleines may be the best sugary treat you’ll ever taste. Heck, it might be the best treat, full stop. The King Street restaurant’s French cuisine makes for a delightful, decadent dinner, leaving enough room for warm madeleines. Forget whatever you think of about the scalloped cookies from the Pepperidge Farm bag — which is frankly a shame and a disservice. Maison’s light and delicate madeleines and espresso are the perfect way to end a meal. I’d get them delivered for dessert everywhere if it weren’t a faux pas.
Siam Salad, Leon’s Oyster Shop
It was a bowlful of delightful flavors and unexpected treats like crunchy cabbage and nuts with the tang of oranges and smooth avocado. A great meal to share or eat alone.