Photo by Claes Bech-Poulsen
Photo by Charity Burggraaf
Inspired by the spirit of Noma’s foraging ethos, the Willows Inn on Lummi Island is an ode to the flavors of the Pacific Northwest.
Eat your heart out: AFAR staffers dish on their favorite meals that lived up to the hype.
Eat to live or live to eat? The answer is clear for many AFAR staffers: There is no flight too long nor hike too arduous when it comes to indulging in remarkable meals. Some experiences are so phenomenal that they become the stuff of legend, but these restaurants somehow surpassed our already lofty expectations. Here are the restaurants we’ve personally vetted as worth the flight.
When planning my trip to the Faroe Islands, I made a reservation at Koks before I even booked my flight. The two-Michelin-starred restaurant sits about 30 minutes outside the capital city of Tórshavn, in a river valley at the edge of Leynavatn Lake. Arriving there is like walking into a gourmet fairy tale. After parking, you’re escorted to the restaurant’s own hajllur (a small, slated storehouse used for fermenting), where you’re treated to traditional snacks and beer. Then, you pile into a Jeep for the short drive through the valley to the restaurant, which is housed in a traditional Faroese building with a grass roof. The entire staff greets you at the door and leads you to your seat for a parade of 18 beautiful dishes made with local ingredients like scallops, crab, and bacalao. Some were more delicious than others—try as I might, fermented lamb is not for me—but each captured something essential about the surrounding landscape, summarizing my entire trip in a single meal. –Natalie Beauregard, guides editor
In London, a restaurant called Dishoom pays homage to the Irani cafés that once dotted Mumbai. Enchanted by the place’s meticulous decor and frothy chai, I became determined to see the real thing. There are very few left of the hundreds of Parsi cafés that thrived in the 1900s, and Kyani & Co. is one of the oldest. Far more boisterous and cramped than Dishoom, Kyani was exactly the experience I’d hoped for, with tile-work floors and wooden chairs that date back to 1904, hearty eggs laced with onions and chili, and that frothy chai served in a sturdy, stout glass. –Maggie Fuller, associate editor
It takes some doing to get to the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, a restaurant with guest rooms tucked away in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. But the extra trek is part of the adventure as visitors head to the source of the flavors they’re about to experience. From Bellingham, take the seven-minute ferry ride to tiny Lummi Island. Chef and Washington native Blaine Wetzel, who trained at the world-famous, foraging-driven Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, moved back home in 2010 to run the Willows Inn’s restaurant when he was just 25. Inspired by the spirit of Noma’s foraging ethos, the Willows Inn is an ode to the flavors of the Pacific Northwest, where I spent my childhood summers: In a candlelit, wood-ceilinged dining room, he serves inventive preparations of smoked sockeye salmon, geoduck skewers, and rockfish with poblano peppers. –Jennifer Flowers, deputy editor
The best falafel in the world is served at L’As du Fallafel in Paris, and I regularly think about booking a spontaneous weekend trip just to eat it again. Extra-crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, and packed with countless spices, each bite of falafel made me want to cry into my pita. I actually did cry when I tried to go back on a Saturday, the only day they’re closed (for Shabbat). –Ciera Velarde, newsletter engagement editor
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I entered Galit expecting a great meal; I left trying to figure out how we could wrangle a second tour of Chef Zach Engel’s leveled-up take on Israeli classics before leaving Chicago. The space isn’t overly fancy or pretentious—it’s tasteful and bright and energizing, all qualities mirrored in the food. You can’t go wrong, whether you order from the tasting menu (officially monikered the “Other Menu”) or an à la carte option. Whichever adventure you choose, make sure it includes the salatim, a collection of dips and small dishes served with pita (baked on-site, of course). I’ve long abhorred cipollini onions, but I couldn’t stop eating the ones Engel put in front of me, paired with coriander and feta. I couldn’t stop eating, period. The fluffy pita, the hummus strewn with smoky brisket, the fried halloumi married with corn and blueberries, the crispy-skinned, harissa-happy chicken thigh . . . it is not an exaggeration to say I rolled out of there. But not before finding room for a pistachio semifreddo (gently accented by roasted peaches) and a glass of arak, served per tradition with a side of ice and water. –Aislyn Greene, senior editor
I didn’t like fish until I visited the Mercado de Mariscos. But Panama City’s fish is as much a tourist attraction as a restaurant, and I figured, when in Panama . . . After 20 minutes of wandering around the market, marveling at the piles of silvery fish and weird-looking sea creatures, I finally plucked up the courage to try some fresh-as-it-comes ceviche, ladled from a large vat into a Styrofoam cup at one of the stalls. ¡Que rico! The taste was lime-y, just the right amount of briny, and not fishy at all. And it was legitimately life-changing: I’ve been a seafood lover ever since. Be aware, fine dining this is not. It’s not even a restaurant really, more just a cluster of flimsy tables and plastic chairs over to one side of the enclosed seafood market. The space is loud and, at times, crowded, and it smells like fish and the nearby ocean. But for ceviche aficionados and people-watchers, it’s entirely worth a trip to Panama. –Maggie Fuller, associate editor
Chef Alex Atala cares so deeply about the Brazilian Amazon that he has dedicated his life to getting others to fall in love with it, too. His inventive tasting menus at D.O.M. in São Paulo are an homage to Amazonian ingredients, which he goes to great lengths to source both sustainably and in a way that benefits the communities that live off the rain forest. He was also a pioneer when he elevated pre-colonialist ingredients in his spare, wood-floored dining room. He treated cassava root like mille-feuille, showcased the delicate perfume of the indigenous priprioca root in ice cream form, and turned pupuna hearts of palm into a nutty, slightly crunchy version of fettuccine. –Jennifer Flowers, deputy editor
As a kid, I grew up eating Thomas Keller’s famed roast chicken recipe, which my father cooked often for family dinner. As an adult who loves food, the idea of a meal at Chef Keller’s Yountville restaurant the French Laundry, with its long-standing reputation, was more alluring than the chicken at home (though a lot further out of reach). What would it be like to dine at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, anyway?
So a few years ago when my best friend and her husband nabbed reservations through his work (which would be covering the whole meal), I was stoked. That evening, we ate our way through the eight-course tasting menu. Ironically, I don’t remember any of the specific dishes we had except the chocolates, which were like colorful little planets so beautiful I almost didn’t want to eat them. What I remember is this: Everything was delicious and decadent. I tasted new flavors and ingredients; our plates emerged and disappeared like magic. At the end of the night, they sent us home with shortbread cookies in a little French Laundry tin, which I use now to hold jewelry, a nice memento of probably the best (and fanciest) meal of my life. –Sara Button, assistant editor
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My mom was less than thrilled when I told her we needed to set our alarms for breakfast on the other side of town. A friend had told me that we absolutely must eat at La Cova Fumada while in Barcelona, even if it meant waiting for an hour or more. I hate needless waiting—just like my mom—so we set out for 10 a.m. tapas in an attempt to beat the lunch crowds. The walk took us through meandering residential streets and landed us at a battered doorway with no sign. I hoped my foodie friend hadn’t steered us wrong as the host wove through the packed space to seat us at a four-top with a couple who were halfway through their meal.
All our apprehensions dissipated after the first bite of toast slathered in garlic butter. We could have sat there all day eating pan-fried artichokes, delicate sardines drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, mammoth prawns with a side of chorizo, and literally anything else our server recommended. Our tablemates (who were visiting from Florida, it turned out) suggested the “bomba,” which was a surprisingly airy ball of deep-fried mashed potatoes encasing a chorizo core. We ordered two. –Nicole Antonio, managing editor
When I’m dining in Tokyo on Japanese kaiseki ryori cuisine—formal, multicourse tasting menus—I expect the air of formality that normally accompanies them. All those notions went out the window as soon as I stepped through the threshold of the informal 20-seat dining room at Den. In the hands of Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa, I got a taste of his whimsical approach to fine dining. A Japanese wafer called monaka gets a French twist with foie gras instead of the traditional red beans, while in salads, carrots shaped like emojis smile back at you. The restaurant has since moved from its original two-story location in Jinbocho to Shibuya, but I have no doubt that the warm hospitality and fun-loving spirit of Den remains the same. –Jennifer Flowers, deputy editor
The day before a friend’s wedding in Whitianga on New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula, the bride took me 20 minutes up the winding, overgrown coast to Luke’s Kitchen. The owner and chef, she explained, ditched a life at big-name restaurants to open this out-of-the-way, wood-fired pizza spot by the beach. The pies were the most flavorful I’ve ever had—from the classics to creative combinations with local toppings like BBQ jackfruit and watercress pesto. Better still, Luke’s serves a gluten-free crust that tasted way too good to be true. (It was true.) I could have stayed for days at that laid-back, beachy restaurant (and the adjacent art-gallery-slash-coffee-shop). I even went back after the wedding and have been plotting my return ever since. –Maggie Fuller, associate editor
Dempsey Hill, formerly a nutmeg plantation, feels worlds away from the bustle and lights of Orchard Road. Inside Candlenut, even more of that sense of otherworldliness awaits, thanks to the decor (spare but sleek, with bamboo lampshades and a painted floor) and the dishes (traditional with a contemporary twist). The first and only Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant in the world, Candlenut celebrates a culture in danger of dying, and Chef Malcolm Lee’s reverence for the cuisines of his childhood comes across loud and clear: Standouts are the crispy ngoh hiang bean curd wrapped around minced pork, prawns, and water chestnut; and a thick pong teh stew with pork cheek, fermented soybean paste, and red and green chili. My favorite, though, is the silky blue swimmer crab curry, a dish with notes of galangal, turmeric, and kaffir lime leaf that deepen in flavor, scoop after scoop. –Katherine LaGrave, digital features editor
Four words: Brown. Butter. Lobster. Roll. One bite and my posture softened—I would have gone weak in the knees if my friends and I weren’t sitting. After the second bite, my boyfriend asked if I was going to cry. I closed my eyes, silently shooing him away. The steamed bun was reminiscent of Chinese bao: tender and springy but a tiny bit more savory to complement the richness of fresh Maine lobster drenched in browned butter. I’ve never felt worse about enjoying food than I did devouring that lobster roll in front of a friend who was nibbling at the gluten-free, dairy-free version. Good for Eventide to offer an allergen-friendly version of the dish, but truly, the signature preparation is the only way to go. —Nicole Antonio, managing editor
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