Vibrant, Authentic, & Upscale Thai at Kin Khao in Union Sq.

Kin Khao is a restaurant that's been on the tip of everybody's tongue from the moment it opened just over a year ago. Nearly everybody loves Thai food, but there is just something totally unique about the twists that Kin Khao interweaves to these regional classics that gets people buzzing. It's been written up in nearly every Bay Area publication – Hell, it's even been written up in the New York Times by Mark Bittman and was included as #6 on Alan Richman's 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015 in GQ. What could it be about this Thai spot that makes it so damned special?I guess it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that both the chef and owner of Kin Khao have a pretty impressive food industry pedigree. Chef Mike Gaines spent a good chunk of time working at David Kinch's famed molecular gastronomy hot spot Manresa and the owner and restauranteur behind Kin Khao is a famed Bay Area food blogger named Pim Techamuanvivit whose passion for her Thai heritage guides the restaurant's concept. She also happens to be dating famed and celebrated Chef David Kinch who I'm sure has some tangential effect on the place. Yet somehow, with all of these compelling reasons to check this place out laid out in front of me, this was still only the first time I had gotten the chance to visit.

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Magnificent, Modern Southern Cuisine at Odd Duck in Austin

Another day, another awesome, upscale dinner out in Austin. This place called Odd Duck is the sibling restaurant to chef Bryce Gilmore's also amazing, tasting menu-only hot spot Barley Swine which I had visited only a few night earlier. Similar to Barley Swine, the theme of this meal seemed to be small plates with either a pickled element, runny egg yolks, or both.The menu leans heavily toward Southern gastropub fare with plenty of clean, modern, cheffy flair and even a bit of molecular gastronomy trickery thrown in. The vibe of the decor matches the tone of the food with its use of mismatched country miscellany carefully arranged by an smart, upscale, interior designer's touch. This restaurant is pretty well known in the Austin food scene as one of the more exciting places to have a meal and it makes sense why. It has such an interesting menu that continues to experiment and evolve over time – the fervor is only going to grow as this place continues to get the industry recognition it rightly deserves like the James Beard Award Rising Star nod it just recieved.

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A Meticulous, Experimental Tasting Menu at Barley Swine

*Editor's Note 3/29/16: Barley Swine has relocated its entire operation to a larger space at 6555 Burnet Road since my visit.Many of my previous visits to Austin had been during Austin City Limits where my schedule was jam-packed full of concert-going and nearly every moment of my usual 3-day stay was booked up. But, this Christmas-time trip was a little different. We were in town for a full week with plenty of time to relax and do bit of gastronomic exploration.I've experienced a variety of Austin's lower-key options including mini-trips to the outlying barbecue towns of Lockhart and Elgin, but I had never before really experienced Austin's more elevated dining scene. First on my list of places to try was a little, Southern, tasting menu-only restaurant called Barley Swine and sister to another amazing Austin hot spot called Odd Duck – both which recently received 2015 James Beard Award nods.

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Serious Sausage Sandwiches & Epic Meats at 4505 Butcher in the Mission

*Editor's Note: I'm sad to report that this butcher shop is no longer open.4505 Butcher Shop is a big deal in SF. Formerly an extremely popular farmers market stall, this brick-and-mortar shop functions primarily as a permanent place to purchase really high-quality meats for home use. But, beyond the gorgeous cuts of steak and other game meats sold, they also make a variety of awesome sausages and hot dogs in-house. In fact, I hear that's really how they made their name and became so popular.All of their hot dogs, sausages, and cuts of meat are made sustainably from animals raised locally in Northern California and come with a glowing reputation for being some of the very best butchery around. In fact, these days there are many bars and fine dining establishments that proudly serve 4505 bacon-studded hot dogs in a variety of fancy preparations.

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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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Muncan Food Corp: Incredible Romanian Bacon & Butchery in Queens

Welcome to the Romanian Willy Wonka factory of cured meats. After demolishing some BBQ with Tom at John Brown Smokehouse, our meat-filled adventure in Queens wasn't even close to over. I recently watched the Queens episode of Bizarre Foods featuring one of my eating idols, Andrew Zimmern, and saw something I knew I had to have. He went to a magical place called Muncan Food Corps that he described as a meat processing plant. I think this was a pretty sterile name for a place as incredible as this.

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