XtremeFoodies Founder: My 8 Favorite Restaurant Meals of 2018

By jeffrey_merrihue on December 23rd, 2018

The fun thing about compiling end-of-year lists is you are forced to look back and relive your best memories. 2018 was a good year for restaurants, as social media continued to shine a spotlight on the best. One dark side of this trend? Instagram needs to be fed dramatic shots, so there is an irresistible trend to top everything with luxury ingredients like lobster, truffles, foie gras, uni and caviar. Ironically, this trend has made me like those ingredients less, because when they are used for show, they rarely fit into the dish they have been spooned or sliced onto. 

The other notable impact is that restaurants that are fun and/or different are appearing more often. In past years, I have listed Lido 84, Ultraviolet, Noma Mexico and Le Chique. Last year, Den in Tokyo was my favorite restaurant. This year, half the listed restaurants have big fun factors. Long may that trend continue.

8. Teruzushi: Fukuoka, Japan

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Teruzushi is a far cry from the hushed sushi temples of Tokyo where whispers and protocol are paramount. By contrast, this is the most fun you can possibly have at a sushi counter. Everything starts with first-class seafood, which is then transformed into something of a Japanese circus led by ringleader Takayoshi Watanabe. He is a very nice and funny man who simply loves to entertain people. He became famous by inventing the glare-down arm stare that went viral and then became the most copied move in food - a bit like the salting move from Salt Bae.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

At times, sushi purists are offended by his antics -- with double-decker bus prawns that fit in your pocket but not your mouth, Big Mac sushi sandwiches and swords. This restaurant is less about technical skills and more about foodie entertainment underpinned by fantastic ingredients. I would take my wife to Tenzushi, but will be back to Teruzushi with my 9-year-old son! Great fun.

Shout out to my dining companion Neil Walker, who is a lot like this restaurant.

7. Deckman’s: Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Courtesy of Deckman's

Deckman's call it table-to-farm cooking, as they set up tables on their farm and practice zero kilometre sustainable sourcing. Enter the garden and enjoy oysters, snacks and drinks while admiring the sunset from your hilltop perch.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

The main event will be all manor of meats, fish and vegetables roasted over gorgeous, wood-burning grills. The local wines from the Valle de Guadalupe are surprisingly robust.

Shout out to Scott Koenig, who steered me to the Valle.

6. Mãos: London, England

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

As Nuno Mendes is a good friend of mine, I struggled to determine if the meal here was as good as I remember or if I was just happy to be back together with my friend. The answer is YES, it is that good. As I look back at the pictures, the memory of the plating, lovely smells and delicious tastes come flooding back. There were lovely combinations of sauces and meats and vegetables served in a convivial environment with the ever-gracious Nuno and his team invisible in their service and omnipresent in their hospitality.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Shout out to Romy Hardeep Gill and Michael Price for joining me for this lovely dinner.

5. Frantzén: Stockholm, Sweden

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Foodies have gone crazy for World’s 50 Best darlings and newly minted 3 Michelin star Frantzén, and for good reason. The new restaurant is very relaxed with salons for snacks and drinks and a terrace for smokers. The integrated kitchen/dining room feels a bit like someone’s home. The procession of dishes that follows is perfectly executed. From the gorgeous, fried Norwegian prawns; the signature sourdough French toast filled with caramelised onions; Parmesan custard topped with century-old balsamic vinegar and Perigord black truffles; and a finale of a creme caramel snickers bar, this is flawless cooking in a warm environment with superb service.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Shout out to David Dudi Califa, who has dined at Frantzén every night since it reopened.

4. Vespertine: Los Angeles, California

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

If Frantzén is effortless, Vespertine is boot camp. If you leave Frantzén satisfied and tranquil, you will leave Vespertine worn out and ready for bed. It’s a full-on affront to your senses with strange music, coursings and floor plans reminiscent of what eating dinner in a parallel universe might be like. The flavors are acidic and the plating is spectacular.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Jordan achieves greatness in every dish and he does so without resorting to uni, caviar, foie gras or truffles. This restaurant is not for everyone, but it is for me. If chef Jordan Kahn wanted to, I suspect he could make it on everyone’s favorite restaurant list. Instead, he has decided to play with your head. Take a nap before you go!

Shout out to Jonathan Gold (RIP) who named it LA’s best restaurant in his final list.

3. Enoteca Pinchiorri: Florence, Italy

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

If you really have the urge to go back in time to 1500 AD and eat like Medici royalty, you’re in luck. Head on over to Enoteca Pinchiorri, where everything is gilded and shiny and old school, with chandeliers, pianos and white tablecloths at every turn. Even the two elegant owners seem to have been frozen in time. While you might suspect this is all pomp and circumstance, you’re wrong. The food is expensive and gold-plated, but also blow-out delicious. The Spaghetti Alla Chitarra (guitar pasta), with seafood, bottarga and crunchy breadcrumbs, is possibly the tastiest plate of pasta in the world. Desserts are incredible, as is the enormous wine cellar. I read complaints online that EP is too expensive. Duh. That is the whole point. In a world of spiralling labor and restaurant-operating costs, all of the excess in gastronomic luxury is being stripped out. Isn’t it nice to know that if you win the lottery, there still is some place on Earth where you can spend €1,000 and be treated like royalty?

Shout out to Marco Regni for being an excellent dinner date with charm and flair to match this restaurant.

2. Sumibi Yakiniku Nakahara: Tokyo, Japan

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From nose to tail, you are served all parts of the cow, including a “forbidden fruit” or two that cannot be mentioned for fear of incrimination. So, why is this restaurant great? Is it due to the exceptional quality of wagyu beef? The way it is grilled? The wine list? Nope. I would like to argue that this is the best restaurant in the world due overwhelmingly to an aspect I don't care much about. Service! Not everyone can experience the “Full Nakahara,” because there is only one Nakahara.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

I have been to many dinners during which the chefs -- from René Redzepi to Ferran Adrià -- came out and personally explained every course before returning to the kitchen or other diners. During our “Full Nakahara,”  Chef Kentaro Nakahara never moved from our bar position. He cooked every course and explained it in detail -- telling jokes, posing for videos and serving a bottle of mezcal John Bruno Scherrer had gifted him on a previous visit. This would be a very good restaurant under any circumstance. But the Full Nakahara is in a class all its own.

Shout out to John Bruno Scherrer, one of LA’s Foodie Fools, for making this happen.

1.  Schwarzwaldstube: Black Forest, Germany

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

My favorite restaurant of the year (like last year’s Auberge du Vieux Puits) crowns this list by a wide margin, as it exemplifies everything one might seek in fine dining. Many of my favorite restaurants in 2018 featured humorous elements, like Teruzushi, Vespertine, Nakahara and Pinchiorri. This restaurant is simply all about the food. The level of technical ability in each dish -- from amuse bouche to petit fours -- is a dying art found only in 15 to 20 restaurants running in a swathe from the Black Forest down to the Pyrenees. Each dish is a mini-masterpiece comprising structural, taste, texture and color perfection. There was a quintet of middle dishes that were simply perfect: from oysters and caviar to mullet and sweetbreads to deer and lamb, each served in a distinctive sauce that would make Auguste Escoffier weep. The four big proteins are devilishly hard to make great individually. Here, the chef riffed them out seemingly effortlessly. Simply spectacular.

Shout out to Andy Hayler, whose taste in food I share.


Meet the author

Jeffrey Merrihue is the Founder of XtremeFoodies which is the world's largest network of local food experts. He has eaten at all 125 restaurants that have been on the World's 50 Best Restaurants lists since 2005. He is currently a judge on Iron Chef and has published a book: The History and Science Behind the World's Best Pizzas. You can visit Jeffrey at his Santa Monica restaurant Heroic Deli and Wine Bar. Follow…... More