The Food and Drinks We Discovered in 2023
(L to R): Heavenly Creatures, Andrew Reiner, Andy Lee, Canteen, Dylan Harkavy, Aaron Hall
Catching up, learning someone new, sitting alone with a novel. It's always best when accompanied by a plate of food. We nourish ourselves with food, but it has the proclivity to take us to magical places. In 2023, Wildsam did plenty of traveling for work and pleasure and the cuisine we experienced ran the gamut–bagels, burgers, oysters, donuts, ice cream. We savored every single bite. Here are our favorite food and drink discoveries of 2023.
La Hamburgesa, Bar Toti, Austin, TX
Este is a star. In a little under a year, the restaurant has earned praise from the New York Times, Eater, Bon Appetit and Esquire to name a few. It's for good reason. If you were lucky enough to have a meal at Este this year, then chef Fermín Nuñez's take on coastal Mexican cuisine was easily among the best meals you've ever had. However, its sister restaurant which sits right next door, demands your attention too. Bar Toti takes its inspiration from bar culture in Spain, France, and Mexico and has a menu jam packed with delicious eats, but the smash hamburgesa, made with a tart escabeche relish is so good after three bites, it'll make you levitate.
Caviar + Fried Polenta, Gigi's Italian Kitchen, Atlanta, GA
I was in Atlanta visiting family this summer and stumbled upon Gigi's Italian Kitchen, a tiny little Italian restaurant out near Candler Park. We're talking six tables and seven seats at the the bar tiny. Cozy and dimly lit in the most romantic way. The ambiance was great, and yet the food is even more remarkable. The standout on my visit was fried polenta with a huge dollop of caviar and creme fraiche on top. Crispy, creamy, salty. Everything I had at Gigi's was fantastic, but this is the one that will forever be seared into my memory and is the reason I absolutely must go here, no questions asked, every time I make that trip out to Georgia.
– H. Drew Blackburn, Digital Editor
Plain Bagel, Local Crumb, Mount Vernon, IA
I will admit that I did not expect to find a great bagel in Iowa. Call it a stereotype! I had, however, heard rumors of Local Crumb, delivery-only creator of loaves chased by knowledgeable folk in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and this very small crossroads town in farm country. The local coffeeshop, FUEL, provided Local Crumb’s miraculously dense (but lively), chewy (but not too chewy) champion of bagelcraft, lightly toasted and schmeared. So good, I went back for it the next time I was in Iowa, six months later.
Heavenly Creatures Portland, OR
I live in Portland, where we sit five years into the “we used to be cooler” phase of the cultural cycle. (Don’t worry–we’ll swing back around to “we are too cool for our own good” soon.) Can committed eccentrics still create distinctive spaces in this here town … or any big, pricier American city? Check out this den, candle-lit and floral, stocked with natural wines sourced from deep within fairytale Europe. (Far corners of France are a specialty.) Sit for awhile, order the picholines, ask a question and prepare to settle into serious know-how, delivered with charm.
– Zachary Dundas, Editorial Director
Pozole and Tamales, Lupes at Flagstaff Farmers’ Market, Flagstaff, AZ
I’d been on a pozole kick while traveling down Route 66. If I saw it on a menu, I ordered it. But as it happens, the surprise encounter was the best. I’d accidentally stumbled on the excellent Flagstaff Community Farmers’ Market where a stand called Lupes sold paper bowls of green pozole, thick with tender shredded chicken and hominy in the tang of blended tomatillos and green chile. The soup fortified the drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. And once we arrived, the bean tamales from the same stand were fuel for the hike.
Biscuits, Scott Peacock's Biscuit Experience, Marion, AL
I’m the kind of person who will drive about eight hours round trip to take a biscuit class, and this particular experience paid off in more than just a recipe. Chef Scott Peacock has many professional restaurant accolades as well as co-writing a cookbook, The Gift of Southern Cooking, with the late legend (and his longtime friend) Edna Lewis. But his biscuit experience–taught from a historic home, deep in the beautiful and complex Black Belt–was one of the most quietly poignant experiences of my 2023. “This is about noticing much more than doing,” he would say while also sharing stories of biscuit as personal expression, stewardship and place.
Tamale with red chile mole, The Love Apple, Taos, NM
You have to love a restaurant that still requires an old-fashioned telephone call to make a reservation–and no time sooner than a couple weeks out. That’s the deal with Love Apple in Taos, the restaurant with about 13 tables inside tiny Placitas Chapel, a white-painted adobe Catholic church built in the 1800s and operated as such for about 100 years. Sepia-toned light fills the space between the wood-beamed ceiling and the old hardwood floors. The menu changes regularly, but on the day I visited a sweet corn baked tamale arrived under a scoop of red mole with sauteed greens from a local farm and a perfect sunny-side-up egg. Another charming detail in 2023: It’s still cash only.
– Jennifer Justus, Editor
Weekend Donuts, Alna Store, Alna, ME
Local girl moves home to midcoast Maine after a decade-plus out west. She and her husband buy the back-of-beyond general store where she got snacks growing up. They renovate it to the studs and reopen with a hotshot chef, a farm-to-table menu and a cocktail and espresso bar–all ensconced within what’s still a (now schmancier) convenience store. Among the draws: pastry chef Kristen LaMontagne’s fried-to-order milk-bun donuts. World recently rocked by one filled with warm peach preserves and glazed in white chocolate, but they’re reinvented every weekend. Grab a six-pack and chips on the way out.
– Brian Kevin, Managing Editor
Maple Creemee, Canteen Creemee Co., Waitsfield, VT
I grew up eating creemees, catching the drips before they were wasted. They were always best still in my bathing suit, right after a float down the Mad River. Back then, the corner window in the Waitsfield shopping center was Country Creemee & Grill. These days, Canteen Creemee Company turns out luscious twists that still feel just like those summers, in flavors (maple forever, but still!) like blueberry and honey lemon. Hit Mad Taco across the parking lot, then hit the Canteen line for Vermont’s summer glory.
Apple Cider Donut, Mighty Donuts, Red Hook, NY
I’ll always travel for food, and my apple cider donut hunt is on as soon as the mornings get cold in September. In the Hudson Valley where I live, it’s land of apples: Rose Hill Farm is a quick drive from my house, where the Fraleigh family has been steward to its fruit orchards for six generations. During pick-your-own season, prioritize: a Pomquette Rouge from the cidery, a donut and apple fritter from the Mighty Donuts stand and a hang by the fire. Your walk up the hill to decide on apple varieties will be fun, and well-fueled.
– Sam Alviani, Editor
Gilhooley's Oyster Bar, San Leon, TX
Gilhooley's is a vibe. A vibe that I can only describe as Margaritaville-meets-biker-bar. With a parking lot covered in oyster shells and packed full of locals' golf carts, Gilhooley's makes no apologies. Especially when it comes to their no kids and no credit card policies. But the rough-around-the-edges scene is why you go, well, half the reason you go. The main being the Oysters Gilhooley. Flame-grilled, bubbling with garlic butter, and incredibly juicy. These roasted gulf oysters are arguably the best I’ve ever had. And as quick as they arrived, they're gone, and the shells ready for the parking lot.
Milwaukee Mud Pie, Honeypie, Milwaukee, WI
I wasn’t sure what to expect while visiting Milwaukee for the time, but I had a list of recommendations from locals and a desperate need to get inside and out of the cold (this Texan does not do cold). That’s when I found myself at Honeypie Cafe. It’s everything you could imagine a midwestern, modern diner to be–warm, cozy, and a friendly atmosphere. I strategically sat next to the pie case so I had time to take my pick while eating my lunch. I decided (with the help from my waitress) on the Milwaukee Mud pie. It was perfectly chocolatey, unbelievably silky, and had a crust that crumbled upon touch. The entire Bay View neighborhood is a gem for those looking for food and drinks, but Honeypie truly is the star of the show.
– Ashley Burch, Design Director