Queso Fundido, La Hacienda de San Angel (Orlando, Florida) from The Best Things We Ate and Drank in 2018 Gallery

The Best Things We Ate and Drank in 2018 Gallery

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The Best Things We Ate and Drank in 2018
Taylor Rock

The Best Things We Ate and Drank in 2018

At The Daily Meal, our motto is pretty simple: “All things food and drink.” We live for good food and fine beverages, and throughout the year we spend a solid portion of our free time exploring new restaurants and bars, cooking up crazy new concoctions at home and wandering around the globe trying to find just that perfect bite of food. The end of the year brings with it some level of reflection. It’s unavoidable. And for our staff, that means reflecting on the best things we ate and drank.

By the “best things we ate and drank,” we don’t just mean fancy dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants, though those are always wonderful experiences. The best meals and beverages for most of us were those simple things, shared with loved ones and tied to particular places and times in our life. A leftover slice of vanilla birthday cake eaten with friends the morning after you turn 30, a gooey queso dip at a theme park as you watch the fireworks with your husband and a plain slice of pizza after a long week at work all made the cut for our best food and drink of 2018, even though none of it was particularly fancy.

From calamari in the streets of Italy to hot cocoa in New York and every meal everywhere in between, The Daily Meal presents the very best things we ate and drank in 2018.

Queso Fundido, La Hacienda de San Angel (Orlando, Florida)
Carolyn Menyes

Queso Fundido, La Hacienda de San Angel (Orlando, Florida)

Anyone who knows me knows that my No. 1 favorite place on Earth is Walt Disney World, so of course my favorite meal of the year was at one of the best restaurants at Epcot, La Hacienda de San Angel. My husband and I were able to nab a last-minute reservation to this Mexican restaurant during Epcot’s stunning Illuminations fireworks show. While the entire meal was some of the best Mexican food I ever had, the queso fundido took the cake. Topped with a spicy yet flavorful chorizo and roasted peppers, this appetizer was just one big plate of melted cheesy deliciousness. Folding this stretchy queso onto the homemade tortillas was a slight challenge, but it made for a memorable dining experience. This dish was made even better by our window-side view of Epcot’s stunning nighttime spectacular. Little did I know at the time, but Illuminations is closing next year, so this was my very last time seeing the show. It was the perfect way to bid adieu to this piece of Disney theme park history. – Carolyn Menyes, entertain editor

Funky Buddha Morning Wood, Funky Buddha Brewery (Oakland Park, Florida)
Carolyn Menyes

Funky Buddha Morning Wood, Funky Buddha Brewery (Oakland Park, Florida)

Drinking craft beer and visiting breweries is one of my favorite hobbies. Almost every weekend, you’ll find my husband and me bar-hopping and discovering new beers. So even though visiting breweries is slightly old hat to us, I was thrilled when we had a 10-hour layover in Ft. Lauderdale this November and were able to visit Funky Buddha Brewery. It’s been on my bucket list for some time and did not disappoint. The highlight of our trip there was finally getting to taste Morning Wood, a barrel-aged maple bacon coffee porter. This singular beer had everything: coffee notes, chocolate richness, a syrupy texture and just the teeniest hint of smoke to balance it all out. In a year where I’ve tried over 600 new beers, this was by far the standout brew. – Carolyn Menyes, entertain editor

Lamb Over Mushrooms With Polenta, Phillipponat (Champagne, France)
Holly Van Hare

Lamb Over Mushrooms With Polenta, Phillipponat (Champagne, France)

As pretentious as this choice sounds, my eating habits are far from fancy. I was honestly stumped between choosing French food or french fries. But as much as I love fried potatoes, the lamb over mushrooms with polenta in Champagne, France, was incroyable. Phillipponat was generous enough to treat us poor, hungry food writers to a multiple-course meal, one of which was fried strips of polenta and lamb, served on top of mushrooms and drenched in sauce. My taste buds may have been skewed by a few (OK, five) glasses of Champagne prior to taking the first bite. But when I did, mon Dieu. I still dream of that sauce. But I’ll have to wait until I return to France to eat this dish again. In the meantime, I’ll quell my French food cravings with fries. – Holly Van Hare, healthy eating editor

Pipeworks Baklabot, Bar Great Harry (Brooklyn, New York)

Pipeworks Baklabot, Bar Great Harry (Brooklyn, New York)

Bar Great Harry is one of my favorite spots in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, mostly because of its friendly staff and rotating craft beer menu. One night, I ordered this beer on a whim; unbeknownst to me, I was about to taste a drink I’d be talking about for weeks afterward. Baklabot is an American strong ale brewed with honey, pistachios, lemon, and toasted coconut — all the ingredients of the classic Mediterranean dessert baklava. And it tastes exactly like baklava. But it’s a beer! My mind was blown. I went back two nights later to taste it again before they switched out the tap. – Holly Van Hare, healthy eating editor

Ravioli, Cumpa Cosimo (Ravello, Italy)
Lily Rose

Ravioli, Cumpa Cosimo (Ravello, Italy)

The pasta that I put into my mouth at Cumpa Cosimo was easily the best pasta I have ever had in my life. They say that when you go to Italy you’re going to eat well, and you expect to, but you never really expect it to be life-changing. This pasta was life-changing. It was magic. I dream about this pasta and its perfectly al dente edges and pillow-y ricotta center. Someone please give “Mama” — as everyone was calling the chef here at this little Italian mountain restaurant — all the awards! – Lily Rose, news editor

Potato Fry Bread, Bad Hunter (Chicago, Illinois)
Lily Rose

Potato Fry Bread, Bad Hunter (Chicago, Illinois)

I could honestly talk about the fry bread at Bad Hunter for hours. Yes, Bad Hunter is a super-trendy West Loop Chicago spot serving vegetable-forward dishes that don’t necessarily come to mind when you hear “Chicago,” but this potato fry bread could probably go toe-to-toe with any slice of pizza (Sorry, Pequod’s, but it’s true). It’s crispy, it’s a little greasy, and it’s topped with sour cherry chutney that is zingy and burrata that I want to smash into my face the second I get it. Plus, it has chile oil for a little spice and some basil to make it sweet. My mouth is watering as I type this right now. – Lily Rose, news editor

Prime Rib, The Grill (New York, New York)
Dan Myers

Prime Rib, The Grill (New York, New York)

The best thing I ate all year was the prime rib at The Grill in New York City, which was the Four Seasons’ legendary Grill Room in a previous life. It’s absolutely ridiculous: It’s rubbed with Montreal-style seasoning, slow-roasted for hours on a custom-made spit, blasted with super-high heat to give it a deep crust, wheeled to the table in a stainless steel cart, sliced to order, and served with jus, the spice-rubbed bone, and a grating of fresh horseradish. Yes, it cost $72, but it was my birthday, damn it, and it was exactly as delicious as I hoped it would be. – Dan Myers, eat/dine editor

Passionate From Miles Away, Michael Mina (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Dan Myers

Passionate From Miles Away, Michael Mina (Las Vegas, Nevada)

The best thing I drank all year was a cocktail called Passionate From Miles Away, at chef Michael Mina’s namesake Las Vegas flagship in the Bellagio. I’ll admit that the puffer fish-shaped glass definitely played a role in my falling in love with it, but the cocktail itself was also just about perfect: a concoction of Bombay gin, passion fruit, orange, and lime, garnished with Thai basil and a pineapple leaf. I’m a sucker for anything passion fruity, and this drink was bright, balanced, and boozy, with a tropical vibe that made it perfect for a warm Vegas night. – Dan Myers, eat/dine editor

Taco Supreme Pizza, Happy Joe’s (Dubuque, Iowa)
Jacqui Wedewer

Taco Supreme Pizza, Happy Joe’s (Dubuque, Iowa)

I moved to New York a little more than a year ago, and while this city claims to have the best pizza in the country, I happen to believe the best comes from Happy Joe’s in Dubuque, Iowa. Unless you’re from Iowa, you probably don’t believe me, and I don’t care. Earlier this year, when I traveled back to my hometown for the first time after moving, my wonderful mother timed it out to have a Happy Joe’s pizza delivered the minute I arrived. I enjoy all their pies, but the fan favorite is their Taco Supreme Pizza, loaded up with refried beans, sausage, tomatoes, sour cream, and crushed taco Doritos. While this "taco" pizza sounds odd and inauthentic, trust me, it’s delicious. And like any true Dubuquer, we always ask for extra "taco sauce" to drizzle on top even though you know Mom has a whole stash of those little packets in the fridge. – Jacqui Wedewer, video producer

Ciampino, The Nomad Bar (New York, New York)
NoMad Bar

Ciampino, The Nomad Bar (New York, New York)

The best thing I drank this year was Ciampino, a boozy hot chocolate at The Nomad Bar in New York, made with fernet, green chartreuse and a dollop of Angostura cream. It’s decadent but not overdone, and the touch of fernet adds a tiny bit of seasonal spice. Not to mention The Nomad Bar is one of the coziest bars in the city, making this drink the perfect cocktail to warm your belly on a cold winter night after a long day of work in Manhattan. – Jacqui Wedewer, video producer

Rolled Ice Cream, I CE NY (New York, New York)
Syjil Ashraf

Rolled Ice Cream, I CE NY (New York, New York)

This year, I finally had the chance to try rolled ice cream, a Thai specialty that seems made for your Instagram feed. I stumbled upon I CE NY's Manhattan location while exploring the West Village, and it's definitely become one of my top dessert spots in the city. There are many delicious and unique combinations, such as the award-winning Mango Sticky Rice (mango ice cream mixed with Ataulfo mango and topped with more mango as well as Thai coconut milk-infused sticky rice and coconut sauce) and Matcha Mania (green tea ice cream mixed with corn flakes and topped with mochi, red bean, coconut flakes, and condensed milk). On my first visit here, they had a rose lychee ice cream mixed with lychee and topped in condensed milk; it was so good that it haunts my dreams and is half the reason I go back, hoping it's on the menu again. – Syjil Ashraf, travel editor

Fried Calamari, Random Food Stand (Vernazza, Italy)
Syjil Ashraf

Fried Calamari, Random Food Stand (Vernazza, Italy)

While on our honeymoon this year in the Western Mediterranean, my husband and I took a day trip to the Cinque Terre area of the Italian Riviera, where we found ourselves in the village of Vernazza. Thanks to their location, the five villages of the Cinque Terre are known for their excellent seafood, but I had no idea just how amazing it could be until I took a bite of the fried calamari we bought at a small food stand hidden away in a corner. Extremely juicy, complemented with a squeeze of lemon, and remarkably fresh in the best way, I still have dreams about this calamari. Served with fries on the side, we also bought a couple of fried crab claws that deserve an honorary mention as well. – Syjil Ashraf, travel editor

Lobster Roll, Luke’s Lobster (New York, New York)

Lobster Roll, Luke’s Lobster (New York, New York)

As an editor at a food site working in New York City and living in suburban New Jersey (the land of disco fries and Taylor ham) I get to nosh on a lot of amazing food. Whether it is chowing down on some of the 101 best pizzas in America at Joe’s in the West Village or Bruno’s in Clifton, New Jersey, brunching on the sublime pancakes at Norma’s in midtown, or enjoying a date night at one of America’s 50 best steakhouses, many of my weekends involve finding and consuming great food. But honestly, for lunch most weekdays you’ll find me at my desk eating my daily avocado-heavy superfood salad from Just Salad (when there isn’t a romaine recall, that is). So this year, on my mid-July birthday, I decided to venture out of the office and treat myself to a solo lunch. When summer rolls around, I’m always craving a great lobster roll, and this year I was lucky enough to be within walking distance of one of the best lobster rolls outside of Maine. Luke’s Lobster has several locations, but the one near our office is a charming storefront in the Wall Street area. The minute I stepped in, it was like I was at a sea shack on the Maine coastline, and the lobster roll — on a toasted split-topped bun, light on the mayo and a celery salt-heavy secret seasoning blend — was perfect in every way. I savored every bite and then washed it down with a side of their poppyseed coleslaw. Yum. – Susan Houriet, editor-in-chief

 Savory Corn Pudding (Clifton, New Jersey)
Susan Houriet

Savory Corn Pudding (Clifton, New Jersey)

I’m very proud to proclaim that my 5-year-old daughter is already a better cook than I am. Those who know me well would say that that is not a towering achievement, as I’m pretty much the queen of takeout, but seriously, she’s on her way to becoming a really great cook. She’s been baking cookies with her grandma since she could wield a wooden spoon and has now moved on to more elaborate creations and mastering the KitchenAid mixer. This fall, that same very wise grandma heard about Raddish Kids, a new subscription cooking box for children, and signed her up. The first box she got was for October and came with a cute apron and cookie cutters shaped like cats and bats. The box came with laminated recipes, easy-to-follow instructions and fun dinnertime games. The bat and cat chocolate cookies she whipped up were decadently delicious as well as being adorable. For the November box, of course, the theme was Thanksgiving, and one of the best recipes she made was the savory corn pudding. We brought it with us to a big family dinner and it was devoured. The funny thing is I don’t think my daughter even tasted it, but I told her it was delicious — and it was! – Susan Houriet, editor-in-chief

Plain Slice, Smiling Pizza (Brooklyn, New York)
Jeremy Rose

Margherita Slice With Olives, Smiling Pizza (Brooklyn, New York)

It felt like it took me an entire month to edit this year’s 101 Best Pizzas in America — and circumstances were such that I didn’t actually eat any pizza while reading about our nation’s finest pies. So after I finally finished the last slide, I practically ran to meet a friend at Smiling Pizza in Brooklyn. The restaurants on our list tend to be pretty ambitious — some strain to evoke pizza’s Old World roots, and some newer additions painstakingly emulate a sort of ‘80s-ish New York City that I’ve only ever known from movies. But my favorite thing about pizza is just that it’s everywhere, and it’s always fine. Smiling Pizza isn’t reaching to be anything it isn’t. It’s a slice joint with a goofy logo in an OK neighborhood, and it’s just been there with the same tacky orange booths since… a long time, I guess. After reading 20,000 breathless words about pizza, I just wanted a decent New York slice. The pie was tasty, the atmosphere was warm and lively, and the experience was a reminder of why pizza can justifiably inspire entire volumes of prose. – Jeremy Rose, copy editor

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Extra Añejo Tequila, Jose Cuervo Distillery (Tequila, Mexico)
Jeremy Rose

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Extra Añejo Tequila, Jose Cuervo Distillery (Tequila, Mexico)

My early experiences with tequila consisted of bros screaming shots! and then pounding whatever arrived from behind the bar. I’ve since learned there are classier ways to enjoy the same volume of booze — but you’ll need a tequila meant for sipping. After a morning spent in the agave fields that surround the charming town of Tequila (yes, it is a real place), a few ounces of Jose Cuervo’s dark, oaky Reserva de la Familia Extra Añejo — served at room temperature, in a flute glass, within the palatial grounds of Cuervo’s distillery — seemed an especially guilty pleasure, even when demurely sipped. Aged tequila hasn’t typically enjoyed the gravitas ascribed to fine whiskies, but I’m learning that the good stuff is absolutely worth savoring. – Jeremy Rose, copy editor

Maple Old Fashioned (New York, New York)
iStock

Maple Old Fashioned (New York, New York)

As someone who is slightly maple-syrup obsessed, the most delicious thing I had to drink this year was a homemade old-fashioned cocktail, sweetened with maple syrup and some clementine juice instead of the usual plain white sugar and twist of orange. This drink was phenomenal—fiery, strong, slightly citrusy with the most delicious hint of maple. It is the perfect drink to enjoy when the weather outside is foul and you just want to curl up with a blanket and watch a good film. – Daisy Nichols, cook editor

Cremant Rose (Umbria, Italy)
Daisy Nichols

Cremant Rose (Umbria, Italy)

I went home to Italy to help my mother move from a home she had lived in for the past 20 years. To say it was challenging is an understatement. After days and days of packing, sorting through, donating, and throwing away all kinds of things, we were almost done. Then more days of unpacking, hanging pictures, and moving furniture ensued. Finally things were beginning to settle. On that first day of being moved in, as the sun was setting, my mother and I opened a bottle of Cremant — a sparkling rose and family favorite — sat down outside and relaxed for the first time in her new home. The pink bubbles were the most delicious thing either of us had had in a while! – Daisy Nichols, cook editor

Leftover Birthday Cake (New York, New York)
Daisy Nichols

Leftover Birthday Cake (New York, New York)

One of the most satisfying things to do is eat dessert for breakfast, right? That’s why one of the best things I had the pleasure of eating this year has got to be leftover birthday cake that had been cut into and enjoyed the night before, on the eve of my 30th birthday. It was sweet, plain vanilla sponge cake and the icing was teeth-numbingly sugary — paired with a cup of coffee it was the perfect way to ring in the big 3-0. – Daisy Nichols, cook editor

A Perfect Boiled Egg (Umbria, Italy)
Daisy Nichols

A Perfect Boiled Egg (Umbria, Italy)

Eggs are a dime a dozen, sure, but a really perfect egg? Now that’s a rare and delicious thing! I was lucky enough to enjoy a couple of soft-boiled eggs laid by my mother’s hens that morning, along with some homemade sourdough toast and plenty of butter. It was a simple, bare-bones dinner, but each of the components was absolutely perfect. – Daisy Nichols, cook editor

Coconut Shrimp, Kingston Hall (New York, New York)
Eric Vasquez

Coconut Shrimp, Kingston Hall (New York, New York)

It’s easy to get distracted by the long lines and loud college students hustling into The Step on 10th Street and Second Avenue, but above all the noise is Kingston Hall. Kingston Hall is a Caribbean-themed cocktail bar, with a pool table in the back and drinks made in coconuts, but they also have a delicious food menu. My favorite item is the coconut shrimp. It is crispy and sweetened with just the right amount of coconut. They only give you six shrimp, but I definitely wish they gave you more. – Kathleen Collins, photo editor

Chicken Club, La Comète (Paris, France)
Kathleen Collins

Chicken Club, La Comète (Paris, France)

After a seven-hour flight, pasta on the plane and getting lost in the streets of Paris with my suitcase, it was time to find a proper meal. I went into La Comète, which was conveniently located across the street from my hotel. After mulling over a few options, I chose the chicken club with french fries. It was an excellent choice! The sandwich had the perfect amount of chicken, so that it wasn’t falling out, which tends to happen. The bread was also well toasted, and the fries were the perfect amount of crispy. Basically every aspect of this meal was perfect and foreshadowed the other delicious meals I encountered on my trip. – Kathleen Collins, photo editor

Country Ham Board, Wm. Farmer & Sons (Hudson, New York)
Courtesy of Wm Farmer & Sons

Country Ham Board, Wm. Farmer & Sons (Hudson, New York)

One of the best things I ate this year was the country ham board at Wm. Farmer & Sons in Hudson, New York. We’d been up in the Hudson Valley for a little fall getaway, and wound up in this cozy barroom upstate. We chose the double portion of the chef’s reserve ham selection, and it arrived with the works (a.k.a. heaven): bread and butter pickles, biscuits with honey butter, pepper jelly, and pimento cheese (all homemade). Sometimes giant appetizers make the best dinner! It didn’t hurt that it was all washed down with a whiskey cocktail (or four…).­ – Shannon Darnall, editorial coordinator

Mussel Pot, Trading Post (New York, New York)
Courtesy of Trading Post

Mussel Pot, Trading Post (New York, New York)

This may seem like shameless self-promotion but I’m honestly obsessed with the mussel pot at Trading Post, my family’s restaurant in the Seaport District in lower Manhattan. They’ve been on the menu since we opened five and a half years ago, and I still salivate when they arrive at the table in their little cast-iron pot. Tender PEI mussels are steamed in a white wine and thyme broth, with roasted tomatoes and chunks of perfectly seasoned chorizo. Bonus points for pairing them with hand-cut french fries dipped in our homemade curry mayo (which could stand by itself as one of the best things I’ve eaten all year!). ­– Shannon Darnall, editorial coordinator

Snowflake Roll, Koto Japanese Steakhouse (Plattsburgh, New York)
Taylor Rock

Snowflake Roll, Koto Japanese Steakhouse (Plattsburgh, New York)

I am a huge sushi buff, and whenever I scour menus looking for a roll, I look for one as similar as possible to the snowflake roll. It features red and white tuna, avocado, lobster salad and sushi rice wrapped in pretty pink soy paper topped with crunch, eel sauce and spicy mayo. All the different textures and flavors are unmatched. If it were humanly possible to marry a sushi roll, I’d put a ring on this one in a heartbeat. — Taylor Rock, news editor

Tomatoes, Le Cesarine (Bologna, Italy)
Taylor Rock

Tomatoes, Le Cesarine (Bologna, Italy)

Although this seems like such a simple food to rave about, tomatoes grown in Bologna, Italy, are unlike any others. These were prepared at the home of a woman who is part of Le Cesarine, a network of home cooks who hook up hungry travelers with a true Italian meal. The quality of these tomatoes was top-notch. Our host added only olive oil and basil, then roasted them in the oven for a short amount of time. The result? Heaven on Earth. They were so soft and juicy, and they were bursting with flavor. So now, the one thing I tell people they have to do when they go to Italy? Eat the tomatoes. — Taylor Rock, news editor

Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos (Brooklyn, New York)
Taylor Rock

Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos (Brooklyn, New York)

This summer, I demo’d a Purple Carrot plant-based meal kit. I am not vegan, and I mostly stray from vegan foods because things without butter and such typically aren’t as satisfying. Sorry! But these tacos? They made me a believer. Pan-crisped tortillas enveloped a holy combination of roasted sweet potatoes, peach, kimchi, scallion, black beans, cabbage and vegan citrus aioli. The crunch of the tortilla was perfect, the combination of flavors was divine, and perhaps best of all, it tasted healthy. I don’t cook much, but I’ll re-create this meal until the day I die. Someone put this recipe on my gravestone because this dish is better than the best restaurant dishes in America. — Taylor Rock, news editor

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The Best Bar in Every State

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