2017 | chicago foodie girl

12.04.2017

Holiday Cookie Exchange: Chai Eggnog with RumChata Glaze

Happy Monday and happy National Cookie Day! Woo-hoo! I hope everyone is having a fab month; after an extraordinarily busy and stressful November, I am so ready to slow down and switch to hardcore holiday eating, baking, and shopping mode. We have a week and a half left in the semester (both for the classes I'm teaching and the classes I'm taking) - let me just say that I cannot wait to submit my final paper, finish with grading, and send my students on their merry way (or their not-so-merry way, depending on how many times they claimed a spot on my End of Semester Bingo Board 😆).

After fours years of some really awesome cookies (including the always popular Double Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies and Mexican Hot Chocolate Sugar Cookies), I decided to take a break from the annual food blogger cookie exchange last year. As with this year, I totally overcommitted during November and felt like I simply could not meet yet another deadline; of course, as soon as I saw the cookie posts start trickling in on Instagram, I felt super sad and wished I had participated. I didn't want to be left with major cookie fomo this year, so I made sure to get it together in time to join up and swap some goodies! For this year's exchange, I decided to explore a few of my favorite holiday flavors other than peppermint: chai and eggnog. The chai spices give these soft sugar cookies a kick and they're perfectly balanced by the creamy sweetness of the eggnog. As much as I loved my holiday cookies of the past, I think these are officially the best cookies I've ever made!
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11.20.2017

24 Hours in Tucson, Arizona

While the majority of my visit to Arizona was centered in the Phoenix area, I did have the chance to make my way two hours south to the funky, artsy, and foodie-oriented city of Tucson for a quick 24-hour tour. As soon as I mentioned to my friends that I was headed to AZ, those who have visited or lived there immediately mentioned three places that should be on my must-see list: Sedona (because it's gorgeous), Flagstaff (because there are actual seasons), and Tucson (because it's totally my type of town). As much as I would have loved to check out all three places, there just wasn't enough time. However, my friends were totally right on track with Tucson - while I enjoyed the entire trip to AZ, I totally fell hard for the little southwestern city with its fun street art, low-key vibe, and thriving multicultural food scene.

In some ways, Tucson is a bit of a hidden gem in the food world. When we think about foodie destinations in the U.S., there are the large city power players with tons of celebrity chefs (e.g. New York, L.A., Chicago, NOLA) and there are the smaller cities with a huge draw (e.g. Asheville, Aspen, Portland). For some reason, Tucson is undeservedly often absent from those best of/must-visit lists. However, not only does the city have a deep and vibrant food history, incredible Mexican food options, numerous independently owned restaurants and local artisanal producers, a booming craft beer and wine scene, and two James Beard Award winners, it's also the only place in the United States to be designated a City of Gastronomy by UNESCO. How cool is that?! Tucson is not just a spot for sun-worshippers (I've heard they have close to 300 sunny days per year!) - it is also most definitely the place for foodies.
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11.14.2017

Arizona's Fresh Foodie Trail

For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed via my Stories that I've been on a bit of a foodie travel bender over the last month. I started by working my way through the cute towns in Hamilton County, IN (donuts! apples! pumpkins! all things fall!) and most recently made my way to the Southwest to explore the culinary scene in Arizona. I know some of you are scratching your head right about now... Arizona? For food? Really?! I know, I know. I have to admit that before my trip, I was one of those people who didn't think of Arizona as a foodie destination - along with blue skies and sunshine, it's the land of cacti, the Grand Canyon, miles of deserts, spring training, golfers, and In-N-Out Burger. While all of the above is true, I discovered that there's also a vibrant food scene that includes an extensively developed system of agritourism, year-round access to food trucks and events highlighting Southwestern and Navajo-inspired dishes, and a bevy of restaurants in which locally grown/sourced offerings are truly local in the sense that the grains, dairy, meat, and produce are all sourced within a 20-mile radius. Not only is it a perfect destination for sun seekers but also, as I learned during my five days of exploration, it's also a must-visit spot for foodies.

While I spent plenty of time during my trip working my way through the restaurant scene, I also had the opportunity to spend a day partaking in the agritourism side of the state via the Fresh Foodie Trail. One of the most unique and interesting culinary experiences in AZ, the FFT consists of a guided tour through Mesa, Queen Creek, and Gilbert. Launched in 2016, the tour gives visitors and locals alike a chance to not only explore the fertile countryside but also a way to learn more about where food comes from and why the food choices we make matter. The tour is built on a linked network of various attractions that includes stops such as a peach orchard, an olive mill, a citrus grove, and a flour mill. Through demonstrations and tastings, you get a behind the scenes look at food production from the perspective of the growers/producers and a chance to meet some chefs who are working hand in hand with the farmers to keep it local.
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10.31.2017

Hello Kitty Cafe Truck







Those who really know me (and those who follow my awesome board on Pinterest) know that I am a massive Hello Kitty lover. I've been a fan and collector of Hello Kitty awesomeness since I was a wee one in the in suburbs of Michigan; back then, I had no idea that my love would follow me well into adulthood. When I was a kid, it was all about having everything Hello Kitty - no matter what it was, if I had HK's face on it (or any of her adorable friends' faces), I had to have it! While I still have a large collection, it is definitely more refined and fab (ranging from this adorable toaster that gives you the cutest toast ever to my gorgeous HK diamond studs Mario gave me for our anniversary) than it was back in the day.

Being a Hello Kitty super fan, of course, as soon as I heard the Hello Kitty Cafe Truck was making its way to the Chicago-area, you know I immediately cleared my schedule, rallied my Hello Kitty-lovin' friends, and prepared myself for a day of extreme cuteness and sweetness (there may have even been some high pitched excited girlie squealing involved). I mean, how could I not get mega excited?! Hello Kitty and food?! Best day ever!
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9.20.2017

Revival Social Club

While I've spent the last five years blogging my way through the city, suburbs, nearby states, and even Mexico, I've sadly been lacking in coverage from my own neighborhood. Typically, when I go out to eat in the Andersonville/Edgewater area, it's for a relaxed meal with Mario or a catch-up session with my girlfriends. I tend to gravitate toward my 'hood favorites and then spend those meals disconnected from blogger mode (which is no small feat for me, as I automatically start composing shots the minute I walk into a restaurant!). As much as I enjoy those non-blogger meals, it means that I typically never end up sharing the fab eats in my neighborhood (despite what some far north side-phobic people may assume, there are plenty of awesome spots north of Lincoln Park!).

Located just off the Granville stop, in the space that once hosted M. Henrietta (sister restaurant to the uber-popular Andersonville spot M. Henry), Revival Social Club is one of those neighborhood hangouts that I have long neglected to share on the blog. After learning that the restaurant recently went through a bit of a transformation that led to a new bar program and a revamped menu, I knew it was finally time to get back over there (with my camera this time!) to document some of what Edgewater has to offer.
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9.19.2017

Welcome (Back) to Chicago, Benihana!

Happy Tuesday! I hope everyone had a fab weekend. While I spent most of my free time over the last week hunkered down at home (catching up on grading + getting a handle on the two grad classes I'm taking this semester), I did manage to sneak away for an evening to finally check one very popular restaurant off of my "I really should visit there one day" list. Yes, my friends, I (finally!) made my very first visit to Benihana! Not only did I get to check the well-known spot off my to-visit list, but I also did it at the gorgeous newly opened location in the John Hancock Center. Talk about the perfect introduction to an iconic restaurant!

Benihana is definitely one of those restaurants in which practically everyone seems to have fond memories of either from their childhood or from friends/family nights out. While I was first introduced to the concept of teppanyaki at a short-lived hibachi restaurant in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin (and yes, that's exactly why it was so short-lived), I never seemed to live anywhere in which there was a Benihana. It seemed like every time I moved away from somewhere, a new location would then open (once it happened within the exact same week!). Now, after a decade without a Chicago location, the chain is finally in the city and settled into the perfect spot for tourists and city-dwellers alike (yay for me!).
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9.07.2017

The Bristol

Located on a quiet stretch of Damen Ave. in Bucktown, The Bristol has long occupied one of the few spots on my all-time favorites list. I was introduced to it close to nine years ago during a class at The Chopping Block, in which the chef raved about the savory monkey bread. Her description was so lush, I spent the next month dreaming nonstop of that monkey bread until the moment came in which I was finally able to sink my teeth into those savory little pillows of salty, dill-flecked, buttery deliciousness. *drool* Needless to say, I was instantly hooked.

Earlier this summer, I was invited to check out the new iteration of The Bristol under the guidance of recently instated Executive Chef Todd Stein. I have to admit I was a tiny bit nervous when I learned that one of my longtime favorites was going through such a major change, but after meeting Chef Stein and sampling some of his new dishes, along with his take on the classics, my fears were put to rest. The restaurant retains the charm and deliciousness (including my beloved monkey bread) from the previous years, and also offers diners some fab new vegetable-heavy dishes focused on showcasing seasonal flavors from around the country.
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7.06.2017

Huntley Food Adventure

As most of you know, while I live in the city, I spend four days a week commuting to the far northwest suburbs. On paper (well, according to trusty Google Maps), the commute is an hour and a half, but realistically, with traffic, construction, train delays, and the inevitable run-in with random farm equipment (it's reallllly far outside of the city), it's more like a two-hour-plus commute door to door. Needless to say, my massive commute doesn't leave me much time to explore the area during the work week (the train back into the city waits for no one!), so when the fab folks at McHenry County Living reached out to offer me the chance to spend a Saturday checking out the Huntley food scene, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to finally learn about some of what the northwest 'burbs have to offer.
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6.06.2017

Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Tuesday! I hope everyone had a fab start to the week. Can you believe it's already June?! Only a few weeks ago, I was staring down a seemingly never-ending pile of work (final portfolios, grades, special assessment projects); there were numerous moments in which I swore the month would go on and on forever (yes, I tend to get a tad bit melodramatic at the end of the semester). Then the moment finally came in which I gave my final presentation and submitted the last scrap of paperwork... and boom! It's June, the summer weather is here, cookout smells are permeating the neighborhood, and I am firmly settled into vacation mode.

I spent most of the first week of my break settled on the couch in a woozy fog (thanks to a nasty allergic reaction and some strong steroids), but I was finally able to get out and jump back into the world over the weekend. I paid a visit to Forno Rosso to check out their fab new brunch menu, as well as the Cherry Pit Cafe in Deerfield for an event hosted by the lovely Eat The Burbs. For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you may have also seen my day spent eating my way through Huntley, via McHenry County Living - it was such a fun time and I can't wait to share all of my northwestern Illinois foodie finds with you!

Here are a few of my recent foodie finds (follow me on Instagram or Facebook for even more)...


Diana and I made our way out to the 'burbs to check out brunch at The Craftsman, a multi-level market café/farm-to-table tavern restaurant/cocktail bar located in the heart of downtown Naperville. As a hardcore lover of eggs benedict (it's my go-to brunch dish, along with chilaquiles), of course, I had to try the highly recommended Cuban Benedict with pork loin, city ham, poached eggs, Swiss cheese, and sherry mustard hollandaise. OMG, this benedict officially ruined all others for me - it's the perfect combination of salty, cheesy, rich, tart and oozy. So decadent and incredibly delicious!

One of the best bennies of my life was then followed by a plate of absolutely perfect Blueberry Lemon Pancakes with ricotta and lemon curd. Diana and I both loved the light and fluffy pancakes, along with the tart lemon curd. We literally cleaned the plate of every last drop of that curd!

Not only were the pancakes super fluffy, they were also stuffed with giant fresh blueberries!

Wild Orchid Hawaiian Martini at Bonefish Grill. Mario and I stopped by Bonefish to check out their summer Creole-inspired menu and we both fell hard for this sweet and refreshing cocktail made with Cruzan Guava rum, pineapple juice, and Zico coconut water, topped with an edible orchid.




Fresh Maryland Soft Shell Crab stuffed with a Maryland-style crab cake and topped with a lemon caper sauce, served with white truffle mac & cheese and garlic whipped mashed potatoes at Bonefish Grill. If you're a lover of crab, this dish is definitely a must-try! The soft shell crab is super delicate and pairs perfectly with the lemony sauce.



Creole-Style Redfish topped with crawfish and a Creole-style sauce served with sweet corn spoonbread and French green beans at Bonefish Grill. While the soft shell crab was my favorite dish from their new menu, I could not get enough of tangy, slightly spicy sauce on the redfish!










Gigi and I spent the afternoon dreaming of Paris at the adorable Patisserie Coralie in Evanston. Salmon and chive cream cheese on crusty French bread, sugar-crusted brioche filled with pastry cream, noix de pecan, almond-filled croissants, sablés breton... oui, oui! 👄 Also, how gorgeous is the table?! *swoon*

I stopped by Gayle's Best Ever Grilled Cheese to pick up two of her epic Lobster Grilled Cheese Sandwiches in honor of National Grilled Cheese Day (as I love a good food holiday!). Her sandwiches are always so fantastic (and photogenic) and definitely worth trying. The lobster is my all-time favorite, but I also love The Duke with cranberry mustard and The Southport.

Stuffed Beef Burger: 1/2 pound all-natural beef patty stuffed with BBQ sauce, Wisconsin cheddar, and smoked bacon at busyburger. Located in Little Italy, this tiny burger joint is serving up some solid hand-made, all-natural burgers, fresh-cut fries, and seriously addictive hand-spun milkshakes. Along with the burgers, I'm also a fan of their Busy Blob Fries topped with beef chili and Wisconsin cheddar, and the thick Spotted Cow Milkshake.



Red Sangria served in a cutoff bottle of Avión tequila at Federales. There's nothing like a good patio session filled with trays of tacos and the cutest cocktail glasses!

Kimchi Fries: caramelized kimchi, cheese sauce, bacon, scallions, sesame seeds, at truffle oil at bopNgrill. Out of all of our neighborhood spots that Mario and I frequent, bopNgrill is definitely our longtime favorite. I can never stop by without picking up an order of the kimchi fries - they are absolultely bursting with flavor and top my list as my favorite version in the city!

The Steak & Eggs over ciabatta with spinach and a rich red wine reduction at Dolce Italian is officially my new favorite version of the dish. Holy brunchy deliciousness! 🙌🙌

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5.30.2017

Saved by the Max

From the late '80s to the early 90s, I was all about Saved by the Bell. My best friend and I watched it every Saturday morning (and later on Tuesdays and Wednesdays once it moved into syndication); after each new episode, we would immediately hop on the phone in order to dissect every moment. My heart firmly belonged to Slater, my best friend was totally a Zack girl, and we both semi hated/wanted to be Kelly and Jessie, so we were a perfect match. We each even had the SBTB board game, so we were able to cultivate our devotion to the Bayside crew outside of our TV screens. While my hardcore devotion eventually died out (Beverly Hills, 90210 stole my heart), I continued watching through the (horrible) season of the college years... and I may even still watch the occasional rerun (don't judge me!)

Needless to say, as soon as I heard about the Saved by the Bell pop-up diner in Wicker Park, I knew I had to make my way over there to live out my twelve-year-old fantasies. Saved by the Max opened last June was initially slated to run only for the month, but due to its popularity (the '90s geeks all came out of the woodwork!), the diner extended its run in Chicago twice; now, it's about to close its doors and head out on tour. Luckily, I was able to snag one of the coveted reservations... and I may have spent the entire week leading up to our dinner alternately singing the theme song and reenacting my favorite scenes from the series (of course, the classic "I’m so excited. I’m so excited. I'm so SCARED" scene topped the list!).
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5.22.2017

Tangy Mango Steak Noodles


Happy Monday! I am two weeks from being done with school and I have to say that I am so ready for a break (technically, the spring semester ended on the 12th, but I'm working on some special assessment projects, so I'm on campus for a few extra weeks this year). Between all of the end-of-semester conferences, grading craziness, and the end of my own classes (I'm five classes away from finishing my second master's degree!), I'm a tiny bit burned out. While I am teaching over the summer, it's all online, so I have a few months sans two-hour commute.

Along with the mini mental break, I'm also looking forward to spending some time in the kitchen. While the hottest parts of the summer are mostly filled with restaurant leftovers, takeout, and salads, (we have a tiny apartment with no AC, so the stove sees very little action), the late spring/early summer is one of my favorite times, as there's so much fantastic produce, along with the perfect grilling weather. I don't know about you, but as soon as we hit May, I want all of my meat grilled and accompanied by all the fruits!
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5.02.2017

Eddie V's Prime Seafood


Thanks to our conflicting work schedules, there are long stretches in which Mario and I don't have much time to hang out together. Mario works a rotating schedule and there are months in which he's just getting off shift as I'm heading out the door, or I'm getting home just as he's about to start the overnight hours. During those stretches, we spend maybe an hour or two together vegging on the couch before one of us has to crawl into bed for an early morning wake up call, but long gone are the days of leisurely weekend brunches and movie dates. After a particularly crazy stretch, we recently realized we hadn't been out together in almost four months (which is a bit of long time even for us!), so as soon as our schedules actually aligned, we knew it was finally time to break our dry spell with night of potent cocktails, delicious seafood, and live jazz at Eddie V's Prime Seafood.

Located in The Shops at North Bridge, the fine dining restaurant offers diners a variety of seasonal seafood from the Atlantic and Pacific (with a 72-hour ocean to plate policy, ensuring the freshness), premium hand-carved steaks, and a wine list with over 200 bottles from around the world (showcased in a very cool floor-to-ceiling glass-encased wine cellar). Eddie V's also features a rotating schedule of  jazz and blues trios in a swanky atmosphere filled with a super attentive waitstaff. The restaurant is sexy, modern, and luxurious, making it the perfect spot for a special occasion, a fun girls night out, or as with us, a long-awaited date night.
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4.11.2017

Recent Foodie Finds

Happy spring! I hope everyone had a chance to enjoy some of the fab weather we had over the weekend. I know for some of you it has been spring for at least a month now, but up until recently, it was still very much winter here (there's nothing quite like those late March surprise snowstorms to simultaneously dash your hopes and get your blood boiling). I have to say even with the somewhat warmer temperatures, it's still hard to believe we are already mid-April! Between my trip to Mexico, a spring break mini girls getaway to the Kohler Waters Spa with Diana (soooo fantastic), and all of the usual grading insanity this time of the year brings, it suddenly jumped from early March to mid-April.

After a bit of a Chicago restaurant visit hiatus, I finally got back on track over the weekend. I spent Friday checking out Toscano, the newest pop-up restaurant at Eataly (make your reservations now, as it's only around through the end of the month!) and Gayle's Best Ever Grilled Cheese, in anticipation of National Grilled Cheese Day. On Saturday, Jess and I ate our way through the new Almost Famous brunch at SteakBar... and then promptly fell into massive food comas. I had to spend the rest of the day working on homework - that was a serious struggle after tackling such a massive spread! Finally, on Sunday, I headed out once again to check out the new brunch options at Maggiano's; the lemon ricotta pancakes and meatball benedict were both clear winners.

Here are a few of my recent foodie finds (follow me on Instagram for even more - make sure you swing by today to enter my awesome giveaway with Renaissance Chicago O'Hare/Asado Urban Grill!)...

Breakfast Sandwich with fried mortadella, egg, cheese, housemade giardiniera, and pistachio pesto at Bar Lupo. This was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I've had in a long time! I absolutely loved the addition of the pistachio pesto - it perfectly complemented the salty mortadella and gave the sandwich a unique twist.
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3.30.2017

Mexico Memories: The Food

Along with the picture perfect postcard views everywhere you look, fabulous spa services that will leave you feeling like putty, and an amazingly friendly staff, Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya also offers vacationers a non-stop smorgasbord of fantastic food options. Being that it is an all-inclusive resort, you have the opportunity to sample everything your heart (and stomach!) desires; between the nine dining options, including six gourmet á la carte restaurants, you can happily eat and drink your way from Mexico to Japan.

While Barb and I put in plenty of quality time at the beach and at our favorite swim-up bar, we also spent just as much time exploring all of the food options the resort has to offer. During our entire stay, there wasn't a single meal we didn't enjoy - and we made sure to sample everything from the buffet-style breakfast spot through all of the formal dinner restaurants. Every single restaurant was on point with their food preparation, presentation, and service (there was *so* much delicious food!). Needless to say, I could easily fill ten posts with photos from every meal, but for brevity's sake, I narrowed it down to a few of my favorites from our time in foodie paradise...
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3.20.2017

Mexico Memories: The Resort



Despite my aversion to hot weather and my tendency to shift into crispy tomato mode within minutes baring my blindingly white skin to direct sunlight, I've had it in my mind all winter that I really needed to escape to someone warm. I imagined white sandy beaches, tropical drinks, heated pools, and yes, even loads of sunshine. That urge grew stronger and stronger as the weeks went by, thanks to a crazy amount of work-related stress that popped up early in the year. By mid-February, I was desperate for a break and in need of a serene place to unplug and recharge.

Fast forward to a few weeks later in which I was unexpectedly offered the chance to plan a girls getaway at the gorgeous Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya (aka a little slice of paradise right along the Caribbean coastline) in conjunction with Apple Vacations. Now, I'm not someone to attribute fantastic opportunities to random occurrences of fate or manifestations, but in the midst of a particularly stressful few days, it was as if the universe finally threw me a bone: a gold-plated bone in the form of a luxurious all-inclusive resort in beautiful Mexico. #lifedoesnotsuck
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1.23.2017

Winter Menu at Bonefish Grill


Practically from the moment we bonded over our mutual hardcore love of seafood, Ashley began urging me to go to Bonefish Grill in order to try their famed Bang Bang Shrimp. She swore up and down that I would fall in love with the spicy sauce, crispy breading, and juicy shrimp. Based on her recommendation, I added it to my restaurant list years ago, but let's be honest, that list is ridiculously long (but not quite as long as my to-read books list - yikes!). Years flew by and I was still Bang Bang Shrimp-less... until one day earlier this month in which I was invited to stop by the Skokie location to sample some favorites from their winter menu.

Bonefish Grill is an upscale casual seafood restaurant chain that originated in Florida; they started out as a family joint and slowly grew from that one location to over 200 locations across the country. As they shifted from a local spot to a nationally-known chain, they worked to maintain their roots - many of the recipes found on the menu today originated from various family members and friends. Bonefish is also committed to seafood sustainability and responsible fishing practices, along with the original owners' daily ritual of receiving, inspecting, and hand cutting the fish (now practiced by the partners at each individual location).

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1.10.2017

16 from '16

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday season and an uneventful start to 2017; after the craziness/sadness/ridiculousness of last year, I know that's about all many of you were hoping for (sigh). As per usual, I spent the first few weeks of my winter break in perpetual party mode (well, as much of a party mode a thirty-something who likes to be in bed by 10pm can shift into): it was all day drinking, Christmas celebrations, movie marathons, and restaurant visits. Alas, the time has come for me to stop acting like I'm a professional lady of leisure; not only do I need to put the finishing touches on my syllabi (classes start next week), but also, I have to shift back into student mode, as my next graduate course begins tomorrow.

Before I dive headfirst into my big plans for the year, I thought I would take a look back at some of the foodie highlights of 2016. I know I say it every year, but 2016 was truly an epic food year! As I did in 2015, I used the summer to make a nice dent in my must-visit restaurants list, as well as discover an abundance of new spots with my lovely group of foodie friends. I also had the opportunity to take a mini-trip to Canada with Diana, in which we ate our way through two cities (more to come on this!). While there were quite a few events during the year that left me puzzled, angry, and devastated, overall, it was still a fab year of food. :-)

Here are 16 of my favorites from 2016:

Lobster Mac & Cheese, with Tallegio and sweet corn from Smack Shack. I don't know what sort of mac & cheese wizardry they have going over there, but this was not only my favorite of their dishes, but also my favorite version of lobster mac I've *ever* had. The mild, tangy cheese pairs perfectly with the buttery lobster, and the breadcrumbs add a crunchy texture to the dish (which helps to cut through the richness). So much deliciousness!
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