I’ve never done a “best of” post before but after the year I have had in 2018 . . . there was no way I couldn’t. Between finishing Cheap Eats Season 4, shooting all of Season 5, plus numerous excursions to NYC and LA and appearing on Best Thing I Ever Ate, there are a lot of great meals to muse over. So take one long last look at the best bites I had in 2018 . . . my best year of eats yet!
the spot: Micklethwait Craft Meats 1309 Rosewood Ave Austin TX 78722
best bite of 2018: pulled lamb
the bucks: $20 per pound
the full nelson: the most intriguing bite of smoked meat is also the most underserved
It has been often said that Americans simply don’t enough lamb and that’s just too baaad. Sorry, I mean, I had to. Back to task at hand, Micklethwait Craft Meats is an Austin BBQ standout because they do great brisket AND find time to pull off more unique feats like smoking beef cheeks(barbacoa), making their own sausages and the jalapeño cheese grits might be the best BBQ side dish in town. I love all of the aforementioned but that pulled lamb just steals the show. Not a hint of gaminess and melts in your mouth like butter, Micklethwait’s pulled lamb was without doubt one of the best bites of 2018.
the spot: Lucha Libre Taco Shop 3016 University Ave San Diego CA 92104
best bite of 2018: Surfin’ Cali Burrito
the bucks: $9.50 or $8.07 with the Lucha mask discount!
the full nelson: Why french fries and carne asada were simply meant to be
If you do your homework when scouting local eats in San Diego, it won’t take long before you come to the conclusion that carne asada and french fries are a celebrated local pairing. Sure, you can get carne asada fries but do your self a solid and get that delicious combination wrapped up in a tortilla where each bite of steak and fried potato is guaranteed. Lucha Libre Taco Shop one ups that with some shrimp and their skirt steak is top shelf: quality beef and cooked to a nice medium/ medium rare. I lived in LA for 20 years and had many burritos but I never came across a burrito in LA that I would not prefer in taco form. The Surfin’ Cali simply can’t fit in a single taco and it easily ranks as not only one of the best bites of 2018, but one of the best burritos I have ever had.
the spot: Zuppardi’s Apizza 179 Union Ave West Haven CT 06516
best bite of 2018s: The Special a red sauce pizza topped with mozzarella, mushrooms and house made fennel sausage
the bucks: $11.25
the full nelson: my favorite pizza style ever with my favorite topping ever
Going to New Haven to have pizza is a foodie right of passage and for me, Zuppardi’s was a perfect introduction to the venerable pizza style. The char on the crust plus its overall chew means no crust will be left behind. But what made me really swoon for this pie was the sausage which is made in house. Loaded with fennel, the sausage is superbly juicy because it goes on raw and gets cooked along with the rest of the pizza in the oven. While Zuppardi’s was my first foray into a new genre of pizza, the experience was instantly familiar, a pizza style I wished I had grown up with and one of the best bites of 2018.
the spot: Tumble 22 7211 Burnett road Austin TX 78757
best bite of 2018: The OG Classic Hot Chicken Sandwich
the bucks: $8.50
the full nelson: a perfect fried chicken experience captured in a bun
Tumble 22 is my latest food crush and does cover an area of the Austin food scene that needs a little work: fried chicken. There are a few places in town to scratch the itch but Tumble 22 offers up a whole new addiction: Nashville Hot Chicken on a bun. The heat is spot on perfect(I got Dang Hot, the second hottest), the chicken is super crisp and well seasoned, and the sandwich is dressed perfectly with hearty slaw and Duke’s Mayo. The brioche bun wasn’t the freshest but I could let that part go because it was still brioche and pretty darn big. This is my kinda sandwich, one that needs no side save a beer. Without doubt the best chicken on a bun I have ever had and easily one of the best bites of 2018.
the spot: Defonte’s 379 Columbia St Brooklyn NY 11231
best bite of 2018: Roast Beef sandwich
the bucks: $9.90
the full nelson: the NYC sandwich place you dream of going to the moment you get off the plane
If you saw Cheap Eats Brooklyn you know that we went for the Eggplant Parm and believe me if you get that sandwich you will have zero regrets. But if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m big on the meat and the guys at Defonte’s picked up on this and made sure that I tried their roast beef before I left. Of course it’s nice to have a deli slicer but man can these guys roast some beef. With their dynamite bread, fresh in house made mozzarella quality olive oil, the roast beef sandwich at Defonte’s was easily the best roast beef sandwich I have ever had and one of the best bites of 2018.
the spot: Launderette 2115 Holly St. Austin TX 78702
best bite of 2018: Birthday Cake Ice Cream Sandwich
the bucks: $7
the full nelson: because ice cream should come with more flavors than just chocolate
When it comes to sweets, I’m a simple man with simple tastes. Give me some quality chocolate ice cream and I am all set. That being said, an intriguing meal should not come to an abrupt end at dessert, and ice cream should come in more flavors than chocolate and vanilla. The Birthday Cake Ice cream sandwich absolutely nails the taste of birthday cake in a rich vehicle of ice cream. It is a dessert that will hit you with the nostalgia of children’s birthday parties, minus the sugar high and subsequent crash because much like everything else at Launderette, the food is made with nothing but the best ingredients and techniques.
the spot: Red Mesa Mercado 1100 First Ave N St. Petersburg FL 33705
best bite of 2018: Chile Relleno Burrito with Pork Colorado,
the bucks: $7.95
the full nelson: The best Bang for your Burrito Buck outside of Mexico
I guess I have been slacking in burritos but yeah, two of ’em made my best of 2018 list. What really sets Red Mesa apart is their flour tortilla, which they make in house and was easily the best tortilla I have had in a burrito dish. Like Carne Asada and French Fries, Chile Relleno can’t be served in a taco so once again a unique filling makes for a memorable burrito experience. Now Chile Relleno is totally fine on its own, I mean a Poblano or Anaheim pepper stuffed with loads of jack cheese is a full on meal. But you add some pork braised in chipotle and make that all hand held and you have an EPIC burrito experience. Seriously the BEST burrito ever.
the spot: Joe Junior 167 3rd Ave New York NY 10003
best bite of 2018: Cheeseburger
the bucks: $5.85
the full nelson: can a burger with the appeal of a picky 5 year old indeed be the best burger in NYC?
Of course a burger was going to make this list but there was no shortage of great burgers in 2018. What made Joe Junior stand out was that it was one of the very best, the most simple and straightforward and by far the cheapest. Somehow in the middle of Manhattan, one of the best burgers I have ever had is well under $6. Joe Junior has been on my list for years and did it live up to the hype. This best of 2018 bite is a Cheap Eats MUST.
the spot: Suerte 1600 E 6th st Austin TX 78702
best bite of 2018: Suadero Tacos
the bucks: $15
the full nelson: the best tacos ever have valet parking . . .
One of the great joys of tacos for me has been going into liquor stores, private homes and stands in the hood for a taste of authentic Mexican cooking. For years I shunned the idea of going to a sit down Mexican restaurant for street fair like tacos but desperate times call for desperate measures. Upon moving to Austin, one of my beloved taco fillings became painfully more elusive: suadero. If you have not tried them, suadero is like beef carnitas: chunks of tough beef made insanely tender and delectably by a slow simmer in lard. Suerte’s version is loaded with chef driven technique and carries a stiff price tag. Still these are the best suadero tacos I have had and to prove it, I flew to LA with them to compare side by side with a taco truck I frequented back in the day. Even 5 hours later, these tacos reigned supreme. Easily one of the best bites of 2018.
the spot: Sour Duck Market 1814 E. Martin Luther King Blvd Austin TX 78702
best bite of 2018: Goat Chorizo Breakfast Sandwich
the bucks: $9
the full nelson: it looks like a burger. it tastes like legit Mexican food. And its for breakfast.
Yet another joint featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate made my list of best of 2018 and I guess that just makes a lot of sense. Although the goat chorizo sandwich is not regularly featured on the menu it is by far one of the best breakfast sandwiches, or really any breakfast I have I have had. Don’t let the goat intimidate you, the taste is far more similar to a classic pork sausage patty. Sour Duck makes their own bread and that Parker Bun is as good as it looks.
the spot: Bufalina 1519 E.Caesar Chavez st Austin TX 78702
best bite of 2018: any pizza you want but I went for the Anchovy and the Fresca
the bucks: $15 and $17 respectively. One will feed two easyily.
the full nelson: i’ve finally understood what the fuss about wood fired Neapolitan pizza is about.
Look, I have not been to Napoli and I have never lived in a true pizza metropolis, but in 2018 I think I finally “got” what everyone has been trying to convey about wood fired Neapolitan pizza: it is a precious food that is on another level. I have grown up with Italian American pizza and have experience different versions of Italian American pizza but the pizza at Bufalina is simply a different beast. I would say it is on a higher level but that would somehow shame the pie that is being slung in New Haven, and that I won’t do. Instead I will say that the composition of arugula, lemon, parmesan and prosciutto is heavenly, so precious, and deserves a different audience. One should not be inebriated for this pizza but rather be on the verge of getting inebriated. As far as the anchovy pie goes, well I hope at this point you get the idea of Spanish anchovy and runny yolk egg as a truly righteous meal. If you don’t, then a Margherita or Sausage pie await. This pizza made me rethink what pizza can be and that most certainly makes it one of my very best bites of 2018.
And so it goes for my year of eating well in 2018. I feel blessed and fortunate to have been able to share these experiences with you and hope that the coming year offers even more.
Happy New Year and cheers to 2019!!!