Through the course of my book tour travels, I have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people, experience everything from big cities to small towns, and enjoy a wide array of wonder that different communities have to offer. One of my favorite ways to get to know a place is through its food. I LOVE food and I spend a lot of time researching in advance places to try when I am headed to a new locale. Combining that with local recommendations once I’m there, it’s a fun, foodie adventure at every turn. There are some hits and there are some misses. There are restaurants hundreds of thousands of miles away that I think about long after I leave them behind. There are restaurants that I’d rather forget. Either way it is an experience and I am using this page on my website to highlight different fantastic spots I’ve found through my restaurant reviews. Because not only do I love food, but I love supporting local businesses. It’s a huge passion of mine! If you are ever in any of the cities or towns I mention below, be sure to check out these restaurants. When I add a new one to the page, it’ll be at the top!
Takato | Fort Lauderdale, FL
551 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304
I never would have guessed that one of the best Japanese restaurants I would ever go to would be in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That’s coming from someone who has been to actual Japan. To be fair, this is a Japanese-Korean fusion concept, but I would honestly say of ANY kind of restaurant I have ever been to @takatorestaurant is easily in the top ten, and probably in the top five. In that ranking I am including every city, state, and country I have travelled to.
I ate at this magical spot two nights in a row in my effort to continue plowing my way through the menu. Because the truth is, sometimes at restaurants you get lucky; you order the right thing and it works out, but that doesn’t mean EVERYTHING at the restaurant is delicious. After my time here, I would definitely believe that EVERYTHING is. To experience so many different dishes in the course of two days affirms that this restaurant knows what it’s doing on all fronts. And the translation of the name “Takato” to “a state of extreme happiness” could not more accurately describe how you feel eating there.
The restaurant “blends the beloved soul of Executive Chef Taek Lee’s ancestry.” The menu is diverse and one-of-a-kind, the ingredients are as fresh as can be, the atmosphere is popping, the service is friendly and accommodating, and the execution of the complex dishes is exemplary. The highlights include:
Duck Bao Bun with maple teriyaki (appetizer), which is so heavenly you’re instantly transported to another universe. The dish is an amazing juxtaposition of textures and flavors. The Crispy Tuna with spicy aioli (appetizer) is tasty, but the real highlight is their unparalleled homemade soy sauce, which I dunked these in.
Wagyu Skirt Steak (entrée) was perfectly cooked and came with a wasabi chimichurri unlike any sauce I’d had before. The Wagyu Bulgogi (entrée) is just on another level entirely. Delicious meat served in a sizzling dish of sauce, mushrooms, and onion—it’s presented to you on a tray with a bowl of steamed white rice and crisp lettuce cups so you can build your own experience, and the meat and sauce itself is over a continuously burning fire. As a girl who loves meat, really hot food, and sauces, this was a tray of pure joy. The Chef Choice Nigiri (sushi platter) was probably the best “Chef’s Choice” sushi experience I’ve ever had with fish so fresh, diverse, and delicious, I feel like the chef has to be a Merman who dives into the ocean every morning to bring back his fare.
I also had an incredible sushi roll inspired dessert where the filling was vanilla ice cream, the shell was Rice Krispies Treats™, and a divine chocolate dipping sauce was served on the side. A special shoutout goes to this dessert because many Japanese restaurants attempt some sort of tempura, fried ice cream dessert and I have never had it executed correctly. The chef that makes Takato’s has it all figured out. Last thing I just want to call out is the wonderful non-alcoholic special drink menu. I had the “Takasan,” which was made with watermelon, Thai basil, chili, and agave. It was awesome and I felt so fancy drinking it. 🙂
If you’re ever in Fort Lauderdale, you must eat here! It’s easily the best restaurant in that city AND that state. Chef Taek Lee, please open more @takatorestaurant restaurants across the country and globe! The people need to experience this!!
Ironside Fish & Oyster | San Diego, CA
1654 India St, San Diego, CA 92101
Lobster rolls are amazing. Most of the time if you order one, wherever you are, it’s going to be pretty good because it’s hard to screw up such delicious ingredients. However, of all the countries, states, restaurants, food trucks, fair grounds, etc. there is no better Lobster Roll than this treasure in San Diego. Getting to this restaurant is a bit of a long drive and parking is crazy because the restaurant is in the heart of their Little Italy district downtown. But when I have book events in this area I always love to eat here.
One of the things that people screw up when they make a lobster roll is that they overcomplicate things–chopping in celery, too much mayo, and other shenanigans. Lobster is such a lush ingredient it is best served in a purer form. Ironside’s lobster roll’s lobster is simply complemented with some brown butter mayo and chives. It’s topped with crispy shallots. And it comes with a side of fries and some delightful aioli for dipping. As you hold that warm creation in your hand, you take a moment to look it over and appreciate it, then you expand your jaw so you can get all the fixings in one bite. The combination is a symphony of textures. You bite down on that buttery, toasty brioche bun, the squish of the thick lobster, the crunch of the shallots . . . hmm I wonder if there is enough gas in my car to drive there now LOL. If you love a lobster roll, this is a journey you must make!
Sushi Kashiba | Seattle, WA
86 Pine St Suite #1, Seattle, WA 98101
In 1970, Chef Shiro Kashiba introduced the city of Seattle to its first sushi bar. Chef Kashiba had just completed years of grueling apprenticeships in Tokyo under the watchful eye of his senior supervisor, sushi maestro, Jiro Ono of Jiro Dreams of Sushi. This is my favorite place in all of Seattle. Every bite of food makes you want to close your eyes because you’re so overwhelmed by deliciousness. And then when you close your eyes, you see all these colors like you’re Remy from Ratatouille. Sometimes when that happens to me, when I reopen my eyes I’ll see the talented chefs at the sushi bar looking at me and smiling. I smile back and give the thumbs up and a respectful head nod–Good work, sir. I tip my hat to you. There are hot a la carte options, cold a la carte options, and sushi course dinners. Their Chef’s Choice and Omakase specials are quite the magnificent experience. So many wonderful different flavors and surprises . . . it’s a culinary adventure any lover of Japanese cuisine will adore.
Briarpatch Restaurant | Winter Park, FL
252 Park Avenue North, Winter Park, fl 32789
I’ve been to Winter Park, FL several times for school events and book festivals. And let me tell you, Winter Park is a gem of a community. There are so many cute shops and wonderful restaurants. The area is full of kind, pleasant people. There are always dogs walking around to pet and play with. I love this place. Briarpatch is THE place to get brunch in the area if you ask me. I particularly recommend the different Benedicts on their menu. The traditional Canadian Bacon Eggs Benedict is made with Nueske’s Canadian bacon, and comes with a choice of grits or home fries. I am usually more of a traditional Benedict girl, and this one is great, but I actually recommend the California Benedict more. It comes with roasted plum tomatoes, avocado, bacon, chipotle hollandaise, and a choice between grits or home fries.
My favorite thing on the menu though is the Crimini Mushroom Sandwich. I am a mushroom aficionado, but crimini mushrooms are my favorite; they have this nice meaty texture that make them the perfect complement to most ingredients within sandwiches, omelettes, pastas, pizzas. This sandwich is served on warm, housemade ciabatta. On the inside, provolone cheese melts over the egg, mushrooms, and a touch of spinach (not enough to take away from the richness of what’s happening, but a slight amount to cut through it). The housemade aioli perks everything up and the home fries on the side add a little extra crunch when you pop one in your mouth with a bite of sandwich.
Ivan Ramen | New York, NY
25 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002
My family and I first learned about Chef Ivan through the amazing Netflix documentary series CHEF’S TABLE. If you love food, definitely add this to your watch list; it’s so awesome to learn about culinary masters from across the globe, their unique backgrounds, and their passionate, creative approaches to cuisine. Anyway, Chef Ivan has a really fascinating story. Some of the highlights are that after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and working in different US restaurants for a while, he returned to Tokyo to pursue his passions for Japanese food and culture. His wife suggested he channel those loves into opening a ramen shop. Ivan’s place became one of the top ramen shops in Tokyo, an unheard of accomplishment for a foreigner. He has earned incredible critical acclaim for his ramen for many years since.
Now a ramen restauranteur in New York, Ivan is “widely recognized as the American authority on ramen and all things Japanese.” I travel to New York on average once a year for book events and business, so after watching his episode of Chef’s Table, I added this ramen shop to my “Restaurants to Visit” list. It didn’t disappoint. We sat at the counter, which is always fun in a ramen shop, and got to enjoy the rich, hot nourishment of complex broths gliding down our throats and nestling in our stomaches. You know the feeling right? When you ingest something so warm and rich that you feel like you’re glowing on the inside. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.
We tried two ramens there. The first was the CHICKEN PAITAN ramen, which consists of rich chicken broth, minced chicken, egg yolk, and shio kombu. The second was the TOKYO SHOYU, which had soy sauce, dashi + chicken broth, pork belly, soft egg, and toasted nori. The restaurant also has many other tasty things to try in terms of ramens, starters, tsukemen (dipping style noodles), rice dishes, sandwiches, and even a Japanese style New York Cheesecake. Sigh. It’s places like these that make you sad to leave town because you would love to work your way down the menu and experience so many other dishes. Oh, Ivan Ramen, you are so far away from me now and tragically Postmates doesn’t deliver things from the East Coast to the West Coast.
Otium | Los Angeles, CA
222 S Hope St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
I love watching high caliber cooking competitions. In my opinion, there is none better that has ever been produced than The Final Table on Netflix. Here’s the premise: Hosted by renowned food writer and critic Andrew Knowlton, this 2018 show features twelve international teams (two professional chefs on each team) competing to create elevated dishes based on the country chosen for each episode. Each episode has two rounds. Round One is judged by a three-person panel including a food critic and two culturally significant citizens, all representing the episode’s chosen country. Round Two pits the bottom three teams from Round One in “The Final Plate Challenge” in which a renowned chef, who already has an honorary seat at “The Final Table,” picks an ingredient representing their country’s cooking culture, and the teams must create unique dishes to highlight this ingredient and their mastery of fine dining.
Okay, now that you know you have to watch this show, WITHOUT SPOILERS, let me just say that one of my favorite teams from the beginning was Timothy Hollingsworth of the United States and Darren MacLean of Calgary.
I seriously hope to eat at Darren’s restaurant Shokunin in Canada someday. That’s faraway though. What isn’t that far away is Timothy’s restaurant Otium in Los Angeles. I went there for a birthday recently and it was an amazing experience. First, I have to talk about the atmosphere. Short version: it’s amazing. Longer version: it’s open, inviting, warm, and you can see the chefs at work from where you’re sitting. Love that. Anyway, to the food. I tried a BUNCH of stuff! It was my birthday, yo. I wasn’t holding back. You start the meal with some of their delicious Wuthrich Butter with Maldon Salt and hot Country Ciabatta. My mom asked for extra butter to go. That’s how you know it was good butter; it’s like, I could buy some at the store, but I’d rather put a plastic container of this stuff in my purse and carry it around for the rest of the day risking it melting over my cellphone.
Anyway, after that you cool it down with their Hamachi starter. Those cool, supple slices of yellowtail come with Sunomono, Kabayaki Sauce, Avocado, and Tamaki Rice (pic featured bottom right). I also tried two pasta dishes. The first was the Potato Gnocchi with Guanciale, Parmesan, Sage, and Black Truffle. The second was the Trecce pasta with Octopus, Calabrian Chili, Green Onions, Brown Butter, and Fennel (pic featured bottom middle). My top dish, though, was the Chicken with Potato, Onion, Shishito, and Aji Verde (pic featured top left). The chicken was cooked TO PERFECTION, but my favorite part was the sauce. I asked for extra of THAT to go, which I enjoyed putting over chicken quesadillas I made later that week. Whoo! Goodness, I love a good sauce!!
Lazy Betty | Atlanta, GA
1530 Dekalb Ave. NE, Atlanta, Ga 30307
Since we were already talking about The Final Table, let’s jump into the other chef on that show whose cuisine I’ve had the privilege of trying on one of my book tour adventures. Atlanta, GA is a hub of culture and fabulous food. Lazy Betty is a tasting menu restaurant where the ingredients change regularly as new ingredients come into season. The restaurant is helmed by Chef Ronald Hsu and Chef Aaron Phillips. The former competed on the Netflix show alongside his partner and former mentor Shin Takagi of Zeniya, a kaiseki restaurant in Kanasawa, Japan that holds two Michelin stars. I had to save up to eat here, but it was well worth it!
On the website’s ABOUT section it talks about how Lazy Betty is a culmination of love for food and community. Ron’s mother Betty always welcomed friends and family to her restaurant as if it were her home. I definitely felt welcomed as part of the family when I ate here. We sat right up at the counter so that we were mere feet away from the talented chefs expertly preparing the various courses of our meal. We laughed, talked, and by the end were taking group pictures with the staff, exchanging emails, and showing off pictures of babies and dogs. Below are pics of some of the courses that were available that night. One of my favorites was the dish featured on the bottom left. which was called “Earth” or something like that. The “dirt” in the dish is some crispy potato stuff that a girl could happily eat a bowl of with a spoon. In the bottom right pic you’ll see their dessert for that evening, crafted by expert pastry chef Carelys Vazquez. It’s a chocolate work of art with a cherry sorbet stuffed inside!
Trappe Door | Greenville, SC
23 W Washington St, Greenville, SC 29601
This is the only Belgian restaurant I’ve ever eaten at and man oh man, it’s a HARD 10/10. Trappe Door is actually one of my favorite restaurants I’ve eaten at over the course of ALL my travels. Because here’s the thing, when you go to a restaurant, you can happen upon a dish that’s a 10/10. However, the more items you try, the higher the chance that you will come across a dish that is less than perfect. There aren’t many restaurants where LITERALLY everything you try is a 10/10, and Trappe Door is one such restaurant. This literally underground gem in Greenville has an old-world atmosphere that transports your spirit to Belgium. Some things I tried included the Wild Mushroom Vol Au Vont appetizer prepared with seasonal wild mushrooms cooked in a white wine and garlic cream sauce served in a puff pastry boat. I mean, come on? How could I not order that–sauce, mushrooms pastry boat?? Sign me up!
The restaurant has a selection of “MOULES FRITES,” that’s a pot of mussels served in a hot, flavored broth with a side of French fries. I tried the more traditional Mariniere broth made with white wine, garlic, and shallots (pic featured top left). My mom and I shared two entrees so we could maximize how many things we tried. The first was the Sautéed Duck Breast. In my travels, I have found that no one makes duck quite like the English do in Great Britain. I’m talking about that crispy, fatty skin paired with juicy plump meat, which sadly too many people dry out. This duck dish took me back to my time in the UK in a blissful way. The entree (pic featured bottom left) was served with a cherry beer sauce, shallot and bacon-diced potatoes, and asparagus. My FAVORITE thing on the menu though was their house special meatballs. I am not kidding you — I ordered a LARGE JAR of these to-go and carried them home with me on the airplane. Soft and bouncy texture, moist contents, a flavor rich and indulgent. Dude . . . I need to get back to this restaurant one day.