Mike Winston’s Best Bites of 2014

What a year!! I did something like this last year too, but oh boy was 2014 a doozy. I started off living in NYC, then a started a new job that whisked me off the San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a few months before ultimately relocating to San Francisco permanently. And along the way, I squeezed in a couple of vacations too.Sooooo, I did a LOT of epic eating this year. And truth be told, I found it particularly difficult to narrow down my list as concisely as last year's, but I somehow managed. So, without further ado, I present the winners (and runner-ups) broken down by category. I tried to cluster similar dish types together, but really they are in no particular order. Let's begin!And if you wanna hear about the 2014's Best Cocktails, read more here.

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The Very Best Airport Food I’ve Ever Eaten

airport_signIt's getting to be that time when we look back on the year in review and 2014 was a very big year of travel for me. Between working remotely in Silicon Valley while still officially living in NYC, moving from NYC to SF, and other miscellaneous leisure travel, I spent a lot of time in airports.I know that airports get a bad rap when it comes to dining options and you know what, most of the time the food really does suck. But, every now and then I've been able to come across some truly excellent dishes. Beyond that, I've even managed to find a number of dishes served in airports that blew me away – the overacheivers – the kinds of things I would get even if I wasn't stuck eating in an airport. Without further ado, read on below to see the best of the best to eat before you fly in the sky.

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Lockhart, Texas: Home of the Best Damn BBQ in the World

October 11, 2012: my life would never be the same. That was the first time Amy brought me out of Austin to the outlying barbecue mecca Lockhart to experience truly authentic Texas barbecue. That day, we hit three BBQ pits in a row and on this day, two years later, I was back to relive the best of the best.There are a number of places in Lockhart to get 'cue, but for my money, Black's Barbecue is the place to go for their truly iconic Moist Brisket. As we pulled up to the place, I could hardly hold back my excitement. I whispered as we walked towards the building "Amy, this is my Disneyland," as a grin uncontrollably spilled across my face. For me, this is the Happiest Place on Earth. As far as I'm concerned, the stuff served at Black's is nothing short of the best barbecue beef brisket in the entire world.

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This Jew Loves the Pastrami at Miller’s East Coast in Nob Hill

As a recently departed New York Jew on his way to San Francisco, one of my biggest concerns about the relocation was the ease of access to quality Jewish deli meat. I kid you not, I was really worried. I'm happy to report that this is no longer a concern for me as I've found Miller's East Coast only a few blocks from my new San Francisco apartment and it is able to completely fill that gaping void in my life.

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BBQ from a Gas Station Shack at Randy’s Bar-B-Que in Denison, Texas

DSC_4938_editContrary to popular belief, awesome barbecue does not just fall from the sky in Texas. In fact, most of the dining options in smaller North Texas towns like Denison are just chain restaurants with names like North Rig Grill, Cotton Patch Cafe, and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. But, through the haze of generic chains, a different more familiar kind of haze caught my eye. Yes, that smoke was emitting from a barbecue smokehouse.In a shack, set back behind a gas station off the highway, I noticed grey smoke billowing up into the sky. And next to it, another slightly larger shack bearing both the name Lew's and Randy's with a line of people leading up to the ordering window.

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Pig Out with NYC’s Best Texas Style BBQ at Fette Sau in Williamsburg

DSC_4456_editWith my Texan girlfriend leading the way and teaching me everything there is to know about true Texas 'cue, I've become a bit of a barbecue aficionado, as regrettably also a bit of a snob. I've had enough experience consuming the real stuff to know what makes good and bad BBQ and NYC has plenty of each. I've travelled around NYC, throughout the boroughs, to Cochon 555, and The Big Apple Barbecue Festival a number of times. Hell, I've even been to a barbecue head-to-head event where many of NYC's top BBQ producers go to show off their chops. I think I've got a pretty good handle on what's what in the New York BBQ world.There's been much written lately about the booming NYC barbecue scene, but I've often found myself disappointed with many of the most highly-regarded, hyped, big-name places. But there also really is some incredible barbecue to be had around NYC. I've written previously about my love for Mighty Quinn's and I think that Danny Meyer's Blue Smoke is pretty phenomenal, but I think the best of the best might be at the old Brooklyn mainstay Fette Sau in South Williamsburg. Fette Sau's name means “Fat Pig” in German and that's exactly how you'll feel after indulging in a meat-tastic gorge-fest there.

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Big, Hot, Soothing, Bowls of Noodle Soup at Pho Vi Hoa in Los Altos
Big, Hot, Soothing, Bowls of Noodle Soup at Pho Vi Hoa in Los Altos

Big, Hot, Soothing, Bowls of Noodle Soup at Pho Vi Hoa in Los Altos

DSC_3551_editTucked away on the outskirts of Mountain View, CA you'll find the lesser-known, tiny town of Los Altos. In this town, situated in a nondescript shopping center on the main highway there's a restaurant called Pho Vi Hoa that serves phenomenal bowls of pho 'til 10 PM. When rain strikes in Silicon Valley, I've found nothing more comforting than a big, steaming bowl of Asian noodle soup and I thank Pho Vi Hoa for providing a great one to me.

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Mike Winston’s Best Bites of 2013

Given the number of insanely delicious things I've eaten over the past year, selecting the best of the bunch is a very difficult task. Over on Foodspotting I've released a long version that's over 200 items long which includes every single dish jaw-dropping dish from the last year. Here, instead, I've chosen the very best in select categories. In no particular order, let's begin!

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Real Deal Texas Barbecue Burrito Bowls in NYC at Tres Carnes
Real Deal Texas Barbecue Burrito Bowls in NYC at Tres Carnes

Real Deal Texas Barbecue Burrito Bowls in NYC at Tres Carnes

20131205_201332_editOver the past few years NYC has been going through a sort of Texas style barbecue renaissance. With many new massive traditional smokehouses popping up, the competition is fierce and some will obviously succeed where others fail. While most of the places serving 'cue are in the traditional format of counter, line, butcher paper, and meat by weight, Tres Carnes takes a completely different approach. Their menu consists mostly of tacos, burritos, and burrito bowls which get loaded with authentic Texas smoked meats like brisket and pulled pork in a Chipotle-esque construction line. At Tres Carnes, the smoker is helmed by pitmaster Mike Rodriguez who has a pedigree that includes the very famous Salt Lick in Austin. This guy knows what he's doing.

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Vist Elgin, Texas for an Epic ‘Hot Guts’ BBQ Sausage Face-off

From the moment I first heard the term "hot guts" I knew I had to have it. There's a small barbecue town called Elgin (pronounced with a hard-G like "guy") located only 45 minutes outside of Austin, Texas and not far from my beloved brisket mecca Lockhart. We were already in town for Austin City Limits, so it seemed like a completely necessary quick day-trip. Elgin is world famous for their hot guts. What are hot guts you ask? Sausage! Ahh, that makes sense now, doesn't it?

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