As we wrap up the year, ’tis the season for “best of” lists. This year, I’m sharing two lists: top restaurants of 2019 and 2019 recap because it’s been an especially memorable and delicious year. I thought it’d be hard to pick ten restaurants, but it literally took me 30 seconds to assemble this list. I guess when you know, you know. If we’ve grabbed a meal together sometime this year, I’m sure I’ve recommended or introduced you to one or more of these restaurants. Many are 2019 newcomers, some are my go-to spots, and others are standouts from my trips to Singapore and Bali.
Top Restaurants of 2019
On my list of top restaurants of 2019, there’s locavore upscale dining, wood-fired pizza from a cart, addictive hand pulled noodles, Asian-inspired burgers, Italian comfort food, a hawker center set meal, and more.
33 Vegetarian, Singapore
A trip to Singapore isn’t complete without chicken rice. Luckily for me, 33 Vegetarian serves a vegan version of my childhood favorite. The chicken, available steamed and roasted, is served alongside the usual fixings. The rice is so fragrant and delicious that I would happily eat it alone. It’s not everyday that the vegan stall is the busiest one in a hawker center.
Baby Blue Pizza, Portland
You guys know I love pizza (understatement of the decade, lol), and this year, I discovered a new favorite. Baby Blue is the story of a successful popup turned food cart, which happens to be located delightfully and dangerously close to my house. These wood-fired pies have the perfect amount of char and chewiness. My personal favorites are the margerita and rosemary, but the specials have always been winners too.
I was lucky enough to visit Berlu twice this year; once for the summer tasting menu and again for the fall tasting menu. This squash and chanterelles dish with a savory broth and cilantro stems for garnish was one of many highlights from my latest visit. Chef Vince Nguyen treats every ingredient with artful intention, and each dish makes you pause and contemplate the components individually and collectively. I’ve experienced meals like this in NYC, but this kind of magic is rare in Portland.
Estes x Dame, Portland
Elevated Italian comfort foods at a natural wine bar. Yes, please! Estes’ default menu isn’t exactly vegan-friendly, but Chef Patrick McKee is happy to cook up vegan Italian by request, and each bite is glorious. The vegetable dishes, like this summery bruschetta, are lovely, and unsurprisingly, the pasta with seasonal produce is a must order. Don’t miss the orange wines on Dame’s wine list.
Farm Spirit, Portland
Farm Spirit has been a favorite of mine for some time, and it keeps getting better. This year, with the move to the larger space on Belmont, Chef Scott Winegard stepping into the kitchen, and with Fermenter and Folklore now in the Farm Spirit family, there’s so much vegetable magic happening. The broken squash with red beans, cranberry sauce, and Abenaki cornbread was a standout on the fall tasting menu, along with the earthy fire-roasted maitakes, silky mashed potatoes, and herbed gravy that followed.
On my trip to Bali, I saved the best for last. Indonesian ingredients meet modern French gastronomy at Mozaic, and the results are phenomenal. I originally selected the 6-course tasting menu, then switched to 8 courses because I was blown away by first couple dishes. This caramelized bedugul cauliflower with cepe mushrooms and walnuts in a creamy curry leaf infusion was absolutely divine. The service was excellent, and the garden room was picturesque.
Quaintrelle remains one of the best non-vegan restaurants to enjoy amazing vegetable plates. I had the pleasure of working with Quaintrelle again on another Veganizer popup, and the summer menu was incredible from start to finish. Everything that comes out of Chef Ryley Eckerley’s kitchen is so special, like this summer tomatoes dish with embered cucumber, blistered peppers, ripe peach, earthy porcini, creamy miso tahini, and basil.
Stretch the Noodle, Portland
Stretch the Noodle holds a special place in my heart and stomach this year.The chow mein and dumplings are excellent, but the Biang Biang extra wide, chewy noodles with chili oil and black vinegar garlic sauce are my favorite. One bowl is enough for two people to share. Who would have guessed that some of the best noodles around come out of a little food cart in Downtown Portland?
Burgers were not exactly high on my “to eat” list when visiting Singapore, but I visited Veganburg to see what all the fuss was about. Yes, it’s a fast-food burger, but it sure is tasty. I recommend the local flavors at Veganburg Singapore, like the char-grilled satay and chili krab, and I won’t judge if you order more than one burger because that’s what I did. ;)
Wajan is one of those restaurants that I keep returning to. Even after my trip to Bali, it never disappoints. Wajan offers plenty of vegan versions of Indonesian classics like gado gado, nasi campur, and bubur ayam. The winner is this vegan trio is the soothing savory porridge that I dream about on the regular. I can’t wait for them to add nasi goreng to the menu.
Bonus: Eem, Portland
I’m listing Eem as a special bonus on this list as I have yet to visit for regular lunch/dinner service, only for a Feast 2019 media event. That said, the smoked soy curls and red curry were insanely delicious. Hands down the best soy curls I’ve ever had. It’s no surprise that Eem was named the Best New Restaurant of the Year by multiple publications.
Note: In the past, I have partnered with some of these restaurants, but this list is in no way sponsored or affiliated with the restaurants. As always, all opinions expressed here are my own.