It’s been an incredible year of extraordinary restaurants. As we begin the New Year, I thought I’d share my favorite dining spots of 2016:
Fiola Mare: DC’s Best Restaurant Has Extraordinary Views & Food
This restaurant from Fabio and Maria Trabocchi is a gift to residents and visitors of Washington DC. Fiola Mare has romance, one of the best views in Washington, dishes that look as fine as they taste, first class service and clever, refreshing mocktails. This place is where I want to go on every Very Special Occasion. It is where President Obama and the First Lady dined on their wedding anniversary, so my enthusiasm is shared by the highest levels of American government.
The Biltmore Hotel in Asheville: Where History Meets Luxury
I don’t know what is better, the view or the food? Everything coming out of the kitchen makes me smile. This resort located on the property of the sublime Vanderbilt Mansion is one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever seen. Every dining venue in the resort is first class. The chefs here are blessed with access to the freshest local ingredients. Some are actually harvested on the property. The wine is produced on the property, and the beers are from many craft breweries outside of Asheville. The menu is filled with Southern Comfort food like grits and barbecue.I could live at this hotel. If you have time, come for Afternoon Tea. A resort at the height of elegance and hospitality.
Grotto’s Pizza: A Delaware Beach Institution
Not saying this is a gourmet restaurant, but I could not survive summer without just one pie, or two, or three. Grotto’s uses cheddar cheese, not mozzarella, and the sauce is tangy, spicy and sweet. The crust is perfectly charred, not too thin, not too thick. Just take a look at that gorgeous saucy, cheesy perfection! I will never tire of this pizza. Check out one of the many eateries located in Bethany and Rehoboth Beaches at Delaware’s Atlantic beaches.
Casa do Criado: Mountain Feast for the Senses in Northern Portugal
This is a family-run inn in the mountains of Northern Portugal. The tiny hamlet of Ermida is located inside Peneda Geres Nacional Park. Mama Rosa owns the inn, and her family helps to cook and serve the meals on the outdoor terrace. If it’s cool outside, you’ll eat beside a roaring fire. You will have to unbutton your pants, because you will have to eat all the courses—the kale soup, homemade chorizo from her goats, chicken gizzards in local Port wine, yellow plums from her orchard, fried cod cakes, green melon, handmade Serrano cheese, crusty bread, shaved prosciutto, and local Vino Verdhe wines. To get there you must drive one-hour north from Porto on a treacherous road up the Geres Mountains. But it’s so worth it.
Kimball’s Kitchen at the Sanderling Inn: Seafood at it’s Finest
Located in the blissfully beautiful town of Duck, in the northern tip of the Outer Banks, Kimball’s Kitchen in the Sanderling Inn comes with a panoramic view of the Currituck Sound. A modern fine dining restaurant, it features a bounty of local seafood—crab, oysters, tuna, snapper—on its menu. The tower of seafood is so beautiful and so fresh, you will gasp. Chef John Lawrence is a skilled artist in his lovely open kitchen. He puts together flavorful sauces, interesting twists on favorites like ahi tuna with radish and watercress—definitely one of the best bites I have put in my mouth. If you are in the Outer Banks, treat yourself to an evening at this restaurant.
Glen Gordon Manor: Old World Style in Virginia’s Piedmont
Recognized by the prestigious Select Registry, this small inn is located near Shenandoah National Park. Glen Gordon Manor sits on acres of rolling horse country and is surrounded by picturesque Virginia vineyards. The Chefs, Dayn and Trent Smith, use eggs from their chickens to prepare the most unforgettable soufflés. The woodsy mushroom soup is like manna from heaven. Wallis Simpson’s sister formerly owned Glen Gordon Manor; you may remember that Simpson was the famous divorcee who became the wife of King Edward of England. The British King was forbidden to marry a divorced person, but so in love, he abdicated his throne to marry her. They came here to escape the paparrazi. Thus when staying here, you are staying in a house in which a King of England slept. Not too shabby.
Nando’s Peri Peri: South African Street Food at its Best
This worldwide chain of restaurants never disappoints. I could probably eat there once a week and not tire of the roasted chicken with Peri Peri sauce, or their spicy Macho Peas. I’m thankful that they continue to expand in our region. Here I am dining with fellow travel writers, Charles and Julie McCool. For more information, read my review in VivaTysons Magazine.
Zaytinya: Chef Jose Andres’s Serves Modern Middle Eastern
When people visit me in DC, I like to take them here. I love this cavernous Greek/Turkish restaurant located in Washington’s dynamic Penn Quarter. They have so many iconic dishes and a beautiful open kitchen where you can watch the preparation. I haven’t ordered anything I didn’t love, but the brussel sprouts and eggplant dip are always the first dishes we choose. Founded by Chef Jose Andres, Mike Isabella went on Top Chef after leading Zatinya’s kitchen. It’s been around awhile, but it’s still great!
El Agave: San Diego’s Iconic Old Town Mexican Restaurant
San Diego has an incredible array of excellent food. I’ve rarely eaten there and not been impressed; from In and Out Burger, to the fish taco stands, to the daring craft breweries and the beach bars. They all satisfy my taste buds. But one place stands out—El Agave. Located in Old Town San Diego, among the historic Mission-style buildings, El Agave is known for its unparalleled 3,000 brands of Tequila. But I’m there for the food. Try the mole, the duck or octopus tacos, ceviche, guacamole and just about everything else. The outdoor patio upstairs is a charming quiet place to dine. Inside it’s a busy bar with a combination of locals and tourists. I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend a few other San Diego institutions: Check out Extraordinary Desserts for the most beautiful collection of desserts I’ve ever seen. And for the perfect breakfast, visit the Hummingbird Cafe in Ocean Beach for their addicting Acai Bowls!
Tanoreen: Brooklyn’s Beloved Neighborhood Treasure
Brooklyn has a list of superb restaurants a mile long, but this place is one of the best. Located in the Bay Ridge neighborhood, this cozy bistro has taken traditional Middle Eastern/Turkish delicacies and modernized them. The regional delicacies are healthier, more exotic and unique. Every dish has homemade sauces that kick up the savory flavors. Don’t miss the cauliflower steak or lamb stuffed eggplant.
True Food Kitchen: Healthy Never Tasted So Delicious
Located in the Mosaic District of Northern Virginia, I am blown away by how they make exceedingly healthy food taste so decadently great. You have never eaten vegetables like these before. You will rarely find a fresher cocktail then at this restaurant; they are bursting with ingredients harvested at their peak. In fact, you can sit at the bar and watch them juice the veggies and fruits right in front of you. Dr. Andrew Weil, the U.S. guru of health, founded this restaurant. For decades, he taught his fans how to eat nutritiously and well. Now Weil’s restaurant serves those dishes. True Food Kitchen’s other locations include San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Newport Beach, Phoenix, Santa Monica and Scottsdale Arizona. After one meal here, I am a convert.
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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.