Sky Full of Bacon


I was in Toronto early this year, and I’m heading to Mexico City at the end of the year. So I may yet have better things in 2023… but I’m declaring the year closed once this publishes.

10. Ribeye and cobb salad, Gibsons
I’d say Gibsons is probably the most popular and successful restaurant in town I’d never been to, except it’s also pretty much the most successful restaurant any of us have been to in Chicago, one of the highest-grossing spots in the country. Anyway, I had to interview a couple of the guys in charge for my book, and they very kindly offered me lunch. I’ve had more steaks than I normally go out for this year, I tend to cook steak at home rather than eat it out, but… these guys know what they’re doing with hunks of cow. Classics, done exceptionally well.

9. Shrimp po-boy, Daisy’s Po-Boy and Tavern
As good as the po-boys I’ve had in New Orleans? Probably not. Good enough that you can legitimately ask the question? Yeah.

8. Grouper, Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill, Jupiter, Florida
I had some nice meals (La Goulue in particular) in Palm Beach, first time there, but honestly being around money (especially retirees with money) makes me feel jumpy after a while. (See photo.) The perfect antidote came from a Titus Ruscitti post—-a blue collar-feeling fish diner in Jupiter, busy as hell but also efficient as hell, and delivering totally solid, entirely reasonable fish dishes for regular people.

7. Mantu, Helmand
I’m bummed by two things about this very sincere mom and pop Afghan place on Kedzie, one, that the group of people I took to check it out didn’t love it like I did, and two, that it has “temporarily” closed—-who knows if they will be back. But I really liked the mantu, the dumplings with things like squash in them, and the grilled meats which I (but apparently not my friends) thought were first-rate.

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6. Som tum salad, grilled chicken, Lao Lao Bar, Toronto
People have raved about a couple of new Thai spots in town, but the best new southeast Asian meal I had in 2023 was at a chic place in Toronto (recommendation of Renee Suen). It’s amazing how something as simple as cutting the papaya thicker can make such a difference with a familiar classic like papaya salad.

5. Fish sandwich, Omarcito
I liked other things, like the Cuban sandwich, at this stand in a container at some sort of oddball community center. But the fish sandwich, in which expertly-fried fish is topped with a spicy, lively Ecuadoran kind of salsa or relish, leapt to another, higher level and was pretty much the cheap eats of the year, while Omar himself is like the Hot Doug of Latin container stand joints.

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4. Borsch, halushki, Anelya
Eastern European food rarely looks like more than a bucket of stuff, so the photos are fairly randomly from the appetizer (zakusky) portion of my meal at Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim’s Ukrainian restaurant, but the borsch (who stole the T?) and the short rib with huckleberries (!) managed to pull off both a grandmotherly rusticness and a cheffy delicacy.

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3. Enmolada, Calli
Jonathan Zaragoza’s restaurant in Soho House is already gone, but this dish—-somewhere between an enchilada and a burrito, covered in an amazingly good, surprisingly nut-free mole–was so widely praised I suspect and hope we will hear from it again.


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2. Sambusa with gomen wat and berber spice, Atelier
Not sure I’d actually call this the single best thing I had at Atelier, but in my memory it was a good example of what this place does: collard green and African spices in a samosa-like wrapping is not what you expect to find on a tasting menu, but Atelier chef Christian Hunter surprised us with course after course that was not what you expected next in a tasting menu.

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1. Lobster with avocado, Kyoten
Kyoten has split into two places—-Kyoten, $400+ a person, and Kyoten Next Door, which is a mere $150ish a person. Which is still expensive, but given the quality, seems a relative bargain, so check it out. That said, I did go to Kyoten Crazy Expensive, and this dish was a good example of what Chef Otto Phan does on his top-of-the-line menu to go beyond standard sushi and take it to new dishes with Japanese influence.

I’ve been making ten best lists forever at different places; here’s the whole list of them:
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