The Order: Lamb Gyro at Kwik Chek
Rebecca Bates, senior editor, @re.beccabates
Where It Was: Memphis, Tennessee
Why I Can Still Taste It: Kwik Chek was not historically a "restaurant." It used to be a convenience store with a food counter, but the gyros they made were so strangely good that every college student in Memphis now shows up on Saturday and Sunday mornings after a late night out, swapping tales of the previous evening's misadventures. It's easy to understand why: the meat is always just right, the onions are sliced thick, the tomato is always bright red.
The foot traffic from college students' business on weekends alone has turned Kwik Chek into a legitimate place to eat. They've redecorated, sort of, but they still sell batteries and matches and other random items behind the cash register. Kwik Chek is a weird, weird place to have found the perfect gyro, but it's just an incredibly simple meal that no halal food cart, no other brick-and-mortar restaurant, has ever been able to truly replicate for me. Every time I visit Memphis, I go there. If I'm there for 48 hours, I go there. If I'm there for a week, I go there twice. The Kwik Chek gyro ruined all other gyros for me.
2013 Madison Avenue, Memphis, TN, no website.
The Order: Pulled Pork, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Key Lime Pie at Porky's Bayside BBQ
Mallory Rice, deputy editor, @mallory-rice
Where It Was: The Florida Keys
Why I Can Still Taste It: As a person who often plans trips around food, I could easily list a bunch of meals I'd hop on a plane to have again. The reason why Porky's stands out in my mind is because I stumbled upon it after a very fun, although not altogether nourishing, camping experience with my best friends (which is to say: I found the restaurant when I needed food more than I normally do).
The experience of discovering the food at Porky's on our drive back home was basically like seeing something that seems so ideal you can only assume it's a mirage, but then it turns out to not be a mirage, and then you eat it. And oh, did we eat it: smoky pulled pork dipped in sweet barbecue sauce, fried green tomatoes that were perfectly crispy on the outside and soft and slightly tart on the inside, and a bright, silky slice of key lime pie. When I ordered a Coke and the server came back not with a glass, but a carafe, of Coke, I couldn't have been happier than if a dolphin swam into the marina right next to our table. Which it did. Best meal ever.
1410 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL, porkysbaysidebbq.com.
The Order: Sausage-and-Cheese Kolache at Czech Stop
Chantal Strasburger, assistant editor, @chantagold
Where It Was: West, Texas
Why I Can Still Taste It: West, Texas, is a place I've only found myself in a handful of times, and it was always while stuffed into the backseat of the family car with my three sisters on a hot summer day. Czech Stop, a bakery in West, was a favorite Strasburger pit stop on the way from Austin to my grandparents' house on Lake Whitney—about an hour south of Dallas. With a population just shy of 3,000, the town doesn't have much to offer, but damn, do they have good Kolaches.
Kolaches, for the uninitiated, are Central European pastries that traditionally hold fruit in the middle and have since evolved to contain fillings of anything you can imagine (my personal favorite includes a medley of cheese, potato, eggs, and sausage). I've since found my Kolache fixes in Austin, but my love for them started in this lone bakery/deli/convenience store in the middle of nowhere. If you're ever in West, Texas, you can't miss it—literally.
104 South George Kacir Drive, West, TX, czechstop.net.
The Order: Falafel at L'As du Fallafel
Abbey Maxbauer, editorial intern, @abbeymaxbauer
Where It Was: Paris, France
Why I Can Still Taste It: I traveled to Paris alone for the weekend while living in Florence, Italy, earlier this year. I spent most of the weekend getting my flaneur on, simply walking around the city, which was a great choice that felt like a bad choice by the time I became hungry for lunch.
A line that stretched halfway down the block at L'As du Fallafel required some willpower to stay on, but after my first bite, it was clear my patience was worth it. I hit the road with my new companion—a very rotund stuffed pita—and immediately stumbled upon some jazz musicians. I ate one of the best sandwiches of my life to some well-executed George Gershwin and was happily full as I continued on my Parisian adventure.
34, rue des Rosiers, Paris, no website.
The Order: Chile Verde Burrito at El Metate
Stefan Marolachakis, senior editor, @stefanmymind
Where It Was: San Francisco
Why I Can Still Taste It: The chile verde at El Metate is spicy. Too spicy, some might say. It's so spicy, in fact, that I sometimes fall a touch ill within hours of eating it—but I will still eat this burrito anytime I have the chance, and no one will ever be able to stop me. The pork in El Metate's chile verde is stewed in green chili peppers, yielding a distinctly rich and robust flavor. As with most of the taquerias in San Francisco, all dishes at El Metate come with all-you-can-eat chips, with your choice of numerous devastating salsas on the side (those chips will come in handy as your mouth starts to heat up).
2406 Bryant Street, San Francisco, CA, elmetatesf.com.
The Order: Tortiglioni al Ragu at Trattoria Mario
Maia Schoenfelder, social media editor, @maiaschoenf
Where It Was: Florence, Italy
Why I Can Still Taste It: Pasta is, and always has been, my favorite food. But of the thousands of plates of pasta I've consumed over the years, nothing, literally nothing, compares to this dish. There isn't anything obviously special about it—the dish is simple, as is the restaurant, where families and random locals share tables and order from a handwritten paper menu hanging on the wall—but everything about it is perfect. The sauce is just thick enough, the pasta has the perfect bite, and the flavor profile is deeper than any red sauce I've ever had. Most people stop in for their popular Florentine steak, but now you know better: order the pasta! Or both, whatever.
Via Rosina 2r, Firenze, trattoria-mario.com.
The Order: Tapas at Museo del Jamón
Catherine Fuentes, managing editor, @cat_fuentes
Where It Was: Madrid, Spain
Why I Can Still Taste It: Madrid might very well be my favorite city on earth, and the first place I go as soon as I land is always Museo del Jamón. The restaurant is a local chain that is beloved by residents of Madrid and tourists alike, and it's famous for the hams hanging from the ceiling, delicious tapas, and affordable prices. My go-to order has remained the same since my first visit: all the jamón Serrano y Ibérico that I can eat—a platter of the Spanish cured hams with melon, followed by a sandwich with ham and Manchego cheese. I don't think there's anything better than enjoying tapas with friends and family, which is why I love eating in Spain so much, but Museo del Jamón has become a restaurant that I daydream about and get excited for in a country with so much absurdly delicious food.
Calle de Atocha, 54, Madrid, museodeljamon.es.
The Order: Breakfast Risotto and French Toast at Blu Jam
Rebecca Deczynski, editorial assistant, @rebeccadecz
Where It Was: Los Angeles
Why I Can Still Taste It: The hour-long wait for a table for five on New Year's Day at Blu Jam seemed like infinity, but the wait was well worth it. Once we were seated, my friends and I selected our individual savory meals, as well as one sweet dish to share. What we ended up with was a feast. My order consisted of golden, buttery, mushroom-filled pesto breakfast risotto, crowned with two poached eggs just waiting to be sliced into. I also enjoyed joint ownership of cornflake-crusted brioche French toast sprinkled with fresh berries and doused in a generous drizzle of vanilla bean sauce.
In addition to that harmonious blend of savory and sweet, I ordered a cup of coffee and was nearly brought to happy tears when, lo and behold, I received an entire French press to myself. I still dream about that risotto from time to time when my brunch options fall short of the splendor I enjoyed on the first day of 2016, but until I eventually make my way back to the West Coast, I'll remember what Robert Frost once said: nothing gold can stay.
15045 Ventura Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, blujamcafe.com.
Hungry? Time to book those flights!