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Feature

December 7, 2020
The Restaurant Meals That Got Us Through The Year
From hand-pulled noodles in London to burritos in LA, these are the 20 meals we’ll still be thinking about next year.

We’re just going to say it. This year was an emotional black-hole of epic proportions. We cried. We napped. And sometimes, on really special days, we showered. But in the midst of all of the news alerts and desperate urges to hug another human being, restaurants continued to do what they’ve always done - create some of the best moments of the year (even if it’s one we’d like to forget). Over the course of 2020, we found comfort in old friends in food form, exciting new delivery options, and Sicilian square pies secured through a seven-mile bike ride. These are the 20 meals - from Los Angeles to New York to London - that got us through this year.

All restaurants featured on The Infatuation are selected by our editorial team. The Most Exciting New Restaurants Of 2020 is presented by Capital One.

The Meals That Got Us Through 2020, From LA to London

Sandy Noto

Shrimp Korma, Lamb Vindaloo, and Vegetable Biryani from Vajra in Chicago

“I ordered carryout from Vajra on New Year’s Eve, feeling a little smug about my decision to stay home, sit on the couch, and avoid people. The irony of this is not lost on me. Nor is the heavy foreshadowing, because I ended up eating Vajra on my couch a lot this year. When things were really scary in March, I desperately needed the comforting hug of its delicious shrimp korma. During the dull, interminable hallway that was May, the spicy jolt I got from the lamb vindaloo provided some excitement. And when the city started reopening... then closed… then reopened again, the layers of spices in the vegetable biryani helped me to process my feelings. In other words, Vajra became my emotional support restaurant. I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

-Adrian Kane, Chicago Editor


Tasty Planet

Arepas from Doggi’s Arepa Bar in Miami

“When I get sad, I seek out cheeseburgers. It’s probably something I should address in therapy at some point, but it’s my truth for the time being. Sadly, cheeseburgers are one of those foods that have a high risk of turning into a soggy mess during the delivery process. So when delivery and takeout became my only option, I needed an alternative. Then, it hit me: the arepa. It’s a similar concept - delicious stuff held together by carbs - but the arepa, unlike the cheeseburger, travels extremely well. These things could run a marathon and still be photoshoot-ready. Another plus: I happen to live within walking distance of Doggi’s, a Venezuelan spot home to some of the best arepas in Miami. And so, on those nights when gloom fell like soft rain, and a wet cheeseburger could risk turning that drizzle into a thunderstorm, the arepa came to my rescue. Give it a try yourself next time you’re feeling a little blue. I think it’ll help.”

-Ryan Pfeffer, Miami Editor


Jakob Layman

Uni, Seafood Mafaldine, and Salmon Belly Toast from Little Dom’s Seafood in Carpenteria, CA

“When I visited Little Dom’s Seafood over the summer, it was the first time I’d left LA in over four months. Perhaps it was the salt air wafting into my sh*tty Ford Focus as we drove up PCH, or the stroll we took around the artsy little beach town beforehand - but dinner at this place wasn’t just a meal, it was therapy. We sat on the wraparound sidewalk patio, ate some local uni, and watched the sun slowly set over downtown. It wasn’t until we were on our way home - after polishing off some incredible dishes like squid ink mafaldine and a salmon belly toast that still ranks among my favorite bites of food of 2020 - that it finally dawned on me: I hadn’t thought about COVID or the lockdown or whatever else this godforsaken year has thrown at us for almost the entire day. The food at Little Dom’s Seafood might’ve been excellent, but it also completely cleared my mind - something I wish I could say for all therapy sessions.”

-Brant Cox, LA Editorial Lead


Susie Lacocque

Steamed Buns from Three Star Restaurant in San Francisco

“My family group chat gets a “bun run?” text from my dad at least once a month. We’ve been going to this dim sum bakery in the Sunset for a while, but never as regularly as we are now - and I’m extremely glad the pandemic has driven us to find carby solace in bags upon bags of fluffy, re-steamable char siu, plain, and custard bao. They’ve quickly become my go-to quarantine breakfast, and are a freezer staple in my apartment. Plus, they remind me of Saturdays spent spinning lazy susans at dim sum restaurants with my family, and that nostalgia is a welcome form of comfort this year.”

-Julia Chen, SF Editorial Assistant


Emily Schindler

Meat & Vegetarian Combo at Haile in NYC

“Whenever my mom comes to town, she likes to tell everybody we interact with that she’s visiting her daughter, the grown woman standing beside her, in New York City. During this particular instance, on a sticky Saturday in July, the person on the receiving end happened to be one of the two sisters who owns Haile, an excellent Ethiopian restaurant on Avenue B in the East Village. After hearing about our mom-daughter meal, she disappeared without taking our order, returning with a massive platter of shiro wot, braised collard greens, and chicken falling off the bone. Throughout the night, she kept coming back to our sidewalk table to swap stories about the women in our respective families and talk through what it felt like to run a business right now. In a year filled with robotic, sterilized moments, I’ll remember this one - when women sharing stew-sopped injera was the priority and hand sanitizer was just there to help.”

-Hannah Albertine, NYC Staff Writer


Nate Watters

Prosciutto di San Daniele from DeLaurenti Food & Wine in Seattle

“If there were a reality competition called So You Think You Can Quarantine, my partner Ben and I would win that thing for all the marbles. No grocery stores. No public transportation. No seeing our families back in New York until there’s a vaccine. Even our Animal Crossing avatars wear masks. So instead of real vacations, we’ve done truly weird AirBnb stays, like this one chic post-apocalyptic bunker isolated on a vineyard construction site. Every time I’d order supplies for a “vacation,” my first virtual stop would be DeLaurenti, an Italian market with same-day delivery. Their decadent, buttery prosciutto di San Daniele (a.k.a. The Lamborghini of ham) always found its way into my online cart. Now I associate this ultra-aged, paper-thin cured pork with moments spent reconnecting with a person I’m incredibly grateful to have - all while taking a beat from this dark, water-doused grease fire of a year.”

-Aimee Rizzo, Seattle Staff Writer


Stan Lee

Biang Biang Noodles from Xi’an Impression in London

“What a year. On one hand, a global pandemic. On the other, excellent north London Chinese restaurant, Xi’an Impression expanded their delivery radius to include my road. Their hand-pulled noodles were more than lockdown sustenance, they were a chilli-packed gateway back to my old life. A ticket to a lovely past where I did wild, fabulous things like brush my hair, max more than 82 steps per day, and eat biang biang noodles at my desk surrounded by my co-workers. I have ordered them more times than I care to admit, and yes, on one particularly vicious wobble day, I considered wrapping myself in one of the long, thick, chewy noodles as an alternative to social interaction. Instead I ate them. Turns out that all you need for a trip down memory lane is some chili oil, tender chunks of beef, and London’s best hand-pulled noodles.”

-Heidi Lauth Beasley, London Staff Writer


Natalie Ann Schaefer

Beef Sambusas and Coconut Milk Grits from Tawakal Cafe in Boston

“In January of this year, I wrote my first review for The Infatuation and I raved about the beef sambusas and coconut milk grits from Tawakal Cafe. Now, one impossible year and countless takeouts from Tawakal later, I still believe these are some of the best things to order in Boston. While the beef sambusas are fried and therefore best eaten as soon as possible, the grits with chickpeas and spinach is easily reheatable, which makes them ideal for many life situations: Monday morning breakfasts when I have no motivation to work, Wednesday evenings when I don’t want to cook, and Friday midnight snacks when sleep is elusive. So if you see me at Tawakal this winter, holding up the line with my five-gallon bucket order of grits, I hope you’ll understand.”

-Joel Ang, Boston Staff Writer


Nicolai McCrary

Breakfast Tacos from Marcelino’s in Austin

“For years, I’ve stumbled into Marcelino’s on weekend mornings, groggy from whatever adventures took place the night before. These days, the adventures are, well, a bit closer to home (and somehow, I’m no less groggy). But this place continues to stand as my Saturday stronghold. Their breakfast tacos are simple - a recent order included two tacos filled with french fries, American cheese, eggs, and chorizo - but they’re nothing short of delicious. And something that becomes apparent if you’ve had even the briefest of conversations with anyone behind the counter is that they really care about what they’re doing here. Marcelino’s was also instrumental in increasing voter turnout during this year’s election - serving not only as a location to register, but providing all voters with a free breakfast taco. Somehow, that makes the food taste just a little bit better. In these long months of uncertainty, it’s the brief moments of tasty and familiar comfort that remind me why I love Austin. And breakfast tacos.”

-Nicolai McCrary, Austin Staff Writer


Jakob Layman

Moo Ping from Luv2Eat Thai Bistro in LA

“When people talk about sheet masks as an act of self-care, I get confused. To me, self-care means driving to my favorite place on Sunset (Luv2eat Thai), picking up an order of moo ping and exactly one-too-many entrees for however many people will be eating, and treating myself to a sweet grilled pork skewer en route to my second favorite place on Sunset (the oldest dispensary in LA).”

-Arden Shore, Senior Editor


Giulia Verdinelli

Streaky Bacon from The Ginger Pig in London

“It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that, pre-pandemic, the foxes going through the neighbour’s bins ate better-quality meals at home than my housemate and I. It’s not that we’re incapable (he is) but we’re just out people more than we’re in people. Both these things soon changed, and so too did the contents of our fridge. What it suddenly had, and continues to have most often, is smoked streaky bacon from The Ginger Pig - one of the best butchers in London, and just around the corner from us. Their bacon, thick but not too thick, with a rind that gets your molars working, isn’t run-of-the-mill stuff. Its smell is siren-like, its price reasonable, and the first time we ate it (standing, next to the frying pan, in underwear) we said something poignant like ‘fuck me this bacon good.’ And it is. Between two slices. In an oily, parsley-heavy spaghetti. Or thrown into some fried rice.”

-Jake Missing, London Staff Writer


Jeremy Chen

Char Siu Bao from Tao Yuen Pastry in Oakland

“When I was in grade school, I went to Oakland’s Chinatown every weekend to buy groceries with my mom and grandma. We’d also stop by Tao Yuen Pastry to pick up delicious steamed char siu bao to eat on the car ride home. As I got older, these family trips - and Saturday BBQ pork buns - became more infrequent, until they eventually turned into childhood memories I clutched tightly, especially after my grandma passed on. When the world caved and quarantine happened, I sought a bit of comfort to ease the uncertainty. This is probably why I often found myself in line at the takeout-only dim sum spot for their char siu bao. Going back always reminds me of easier times, and in the COVID era, makes me want to spend an afternoon with my family where my biggest worry was the bao getting cold.”

-Lani Conway, SF Editor


Rachel Lerro

The Peanut Avocado Roll from Kabuki Sushi in Philadelphia

“During a recent late-lunch run, the cashier at Kabuki Sushi told me, ‘See you tomorrow! You’re here every day!’ I immediately thought, ‘Now she knows she has me. I’m Reek to her Ramsay Bolton.’ Only without the torturous relationship, of course. But she was right, I was basically at this spot near the Convention Center every day. And with all of the restrictions in town, I’ll take small victories where I can find them - which for me means biting into a fresh avocado peanut roll and pouring heaps of ginger dressing on their house salad. I don’t know if it’s the wasabi that makes me tear up when eating it, or if it’s the comfort of a good meal, but each bite keeps me coming back for more, literally.”

-Candis R. McLean, Philadelphia Contributor


Talia Mayden

Paletas from Mateo’s Paletas and Ice Cream in LA

“Does this count as a meal? Who knows. In a year dominated by pop-ups, cooking at home, and an unprecedented amount of food eaten in bed (RIP my sheets), the definition of a ‘meal’ seems more nebulous than ever before. So I’m just going to say yes, it does - because Mateo’s is my favorite place on Earth. No joke, I come here four to five times a week. While there’s an entire wall filled with more than 30 different types of Oaxaca-style paletas to choose from, there’s only one apple (ap-paleta? I’ll workshop it) of my eye: their mango flavor. Packed with nothing but pure fruit, this immaculate pop has gotten me through everything from 110-degree weather to that month when I started washing my loose change just for fun.”

-Kat Hong, LA Staff Writer


Square Pie from L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn

“After months of eating plain oatmeal and watching America’s Next Top Model reruns during New York’s COVID lockdown, I finally decided to address the shortage of great pizza in my life. So I biked seven miles south to L&B Spumoni Gardens, a legendary, 1930s-era Brooklyn pizza spot that’s known for its chewy, Sicilian square pies. This was the first time I’d ever made such an extensive pizza journey in my life, but the way I saw it, I had lots of free time to spend seeing what all of the hype was about. And now, I can tell you: each crispy cut of my tomato sauce-covered Sicilian pie tasted like the doughy cheese breadwinner of a reality competition show. Eating it in an alley behind this classic establishment was a crucial turning point in a year from hell. The only downside is that I now have to bike seven miles anytime I want to pick up an order of my favorite pizza on the planet.”

-Nikko Duren, NYC Editorial Assistant


Erin Lodi

Spicy Tenders from Ezell’s Famous Chicken in Seattle

“Whenever my girlfriend and I visit her family in Seattle, her mom always has some delicious spicy fried chicken from Ezell’s waiting for us when we get to their house from the airport. And this was no different when we flew there at the end of July. During the whole six-hour flight, the only two things I was thinking about were the effectiveness of HEPA filters and how good those tenders were going to taste. After that stressful trip, the only things that kept me calm before I got a negative test a few days later were Ezell’s crispy chicken, sweet brioche rolls, and copious amounts of BBQ sauce.”

-Carlo Mantuano, Staff Editor


Krystal Thompson

The Chile Relleno Burrito from La Azteca Tortilleria in LA

“This year, much of the West Coast experienced a double-whammy of existential crises: the pandemic and catastrophic wildfires. And on one of those deeply disconcerting September mornings - when I’d walk outside and my car would be gray from the ash raining down from the sky - I drove straight to La Azteca for a Chile Relleno burrito. This Mexican takeout spot in East LA is the grandmaster of tortillerias, and they make my favorite burrito in town. It’s a comforting, dachshund-sized wonder, filled with deep-fried poblano chilies, three kinds of cheese, and a healthy portion of pinto beans and carnitas. And it’s all wrapped up in one of their remarkably tasty flour tortillas, made with enough salty rendered pork fat that I’d happily eat them on their own. It was almost enough to make me forget about any of the numerous terrible things about 2020. Or at least give me the energy to rinse the ash off my car.”

-Brett Keating, LA Staff Writer


Noah Devereaux

Hummus And Pita from Miss Ada in NYC

“Before NYC restaurants reopened for outdoor dining in late June, Fort Greene Park was basically my surrogate patio and dining room. It’s where I dog watched and met up with friends for picnics, and asked things like, ‘When do you think we’ll get to sit at a bar again?’ and ‘How is Kacey Musgraves spending lockdown? I hope she’s well.’ Besides far too much wine from a Hydro Flask, those park dinners always included freshly-baked pita and a few dips from nearby Miss Ada. The sweet potato hummus, whipped ricotta with honey, and lamb shawarma hummus are what got me through the first few months of this disaster - and became something I looked forward to almost as much as seeing a familiar masked-up face, or spotting a corgi (or three).”

-Max Bonem, Senior Editor


Giulia Verdinelli

Bubble Tea Kit from Dragon Cat Cafe in London

“Living outside the delivery radius of most of my favourite restaurants meant that from mid-March to July 4th (when restaurants in London finally reopened), my days consisted mostly of dramatic sighs, YouTube tutorials on how to use Russian piping nozzles, and watching enviously whenever someone on my Instagram ordered anything that wasn’t a filet-o-fish. And seeing as UK government guidelines didn’t deem bubble tea an ‘essential,’ this little Hammersmith spot was closed for two months. But then they bounced back with a line of bubble tea kits that soon became the only source of excitement in my household. Even when restaurants reopened and I wasn’t stuck at home all the time, I still liked to have a back-up Oreo milk tea kit in my house. You know, just in case. Each kit has enough to make five drinks, some fool-proof instructions, and the ability to fill me with hope and bubble-tea-induced-happiness.”

-Rianne Shlebak, London Editorial Assistant


Every type of bread imaginable from Barrio Bread in Tucson, AZ

“Right around the time the entire world was learning how to make sourdough, I discovered the reason I’d never have to: Barrio Bread. Living in Tucson earlier this year, my weeks revolved around one all-important ritual: my Saturday morning bread pickup at Barrio, where I’d stand in a long, socially-distanced line to pick up some of baker Don Guerra’s incredible loaves. Over the course of several months, I worked my way through his entire offering: baguettes (which never made it past the car ride home), sesame, jalapeño cheese, olive, 9-grain, emmer & rye, and my favorite, the Heritage, Barrio Bread’s signature loaf stamped with a flour cactus. It was my quarantine constant - more than any Netflix binge or reoccurring Zoom call, it brought me a real sense of comfort and security knowing I had one of these cactus-tattooed loaves in my kitchen. And for the record, I did end up trying my hand at sourdough-making - which would have been a complete and utter failure without Barrio Bread’s flour and Don Guerra’s instructional videos.”

-Katherine Lewin, Editorial Director

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