In keeping with Eater tradition, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, and bloggers. To kick it off in the Carolinas, Eater asked the group eight questions, ranging from the restaurants they frequented for takeout to the saddest surprises of the year. Responses are in no particular order, and readers are encouraged to leave answers in the comments.
Q. What was your best restaurant meal of 2020, either takeout or dine-in?
Kenneth Andrews, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering SC
I was very lucky in snagging a ticket for the West Africa to the Lowcountry: A Gullah Experience event at Charleston Wine + Food festival which BJ Dennis put together with a bevy of talented chefs from around the corner to around the world. It was delicious food served up with history and personal stories told by the chefs themselves. And before dinner getting to tour the Avery Research Center and take in the history and art there was a perfect way to start the night. It will be hard to ever compete with that experience for sure.
Erin Perkins, editor Eater Carolinas
The first time my boyfriend and I ordered takeout from Tu, I was blown away. The restaurant pivoted to Asian street food this year, and the flavors from the glass noodle salad were on point (the best since my visit to Night + Market in Los Angeles a few years ago) and the pork satay with a whole box full of fresh herbs was sublime — the leftovers were even great for breakfast the next morning.
Jenn Rice, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
It’s a tie between Mothers & Sons and Garland. They’ve both done a great job of keeping ambiance dialed up while obliging to safety guidelines. I don’t go often but when I visit either spot it’s a world of escapism with all of my favorite dishes and people.
Matthew Lardie, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering NC
I had a burger from On The Square in Tarboro as I sat in the nearly-empty Tarboro Brewing Company late last spring. It was the first time I had sat down and eaten a meal out since March, and it almost made me cry with joy. The burger was damn good too!
KJ Kearney, Founder of Black Food Fridays
If I had to pick ONE meal it would be that time I had the bright idea to order the formaggio and champignon pizza with a side of fries and crispy konjac shrimp from Neon Tiger. I only ordered this combination once (which, now that I’m writing it out, is an error I need to rectify post haste), but I punished that joint!
Hanna Raskin, Food writer and critic for the Post & Courier
Neither outdoor dining nor eating at home can perfectly approximate the pre-pandemic experience of going to a restaurant: In both cases, it’s all too apparent what’s missing. But one meal which didn’t feel like a sad imitation of something else — and thereby wins the “best” title — was Bar George’s outstanding sidewalk oyster service.
Barbara Skidmore, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering SC and Savannah
Obstinate Daughter — cavatelli with a glass of red
Brooks Reitz, Restaurateur (Melfi’s, Little Jack’s Tavern, Leon’s Oyster Shop)
This has been a year for simple pleasures. I’d say Lewis Barbecue’s nachos on the patio, with a cold draft Modelo. (My wife insists it was our meal at Melfi’s when we reopened, but you know, I can’t play all the hits for this thing …)
Dave Schuttenberg, owner/chef at Kwei Fei and Micho
At the front end of the year, we took Kwei Fei on the road, doing pop-ups in Nashville, TN and Birmingham, AL. In Nashville we had an excellent meal at Folk, and the sardine toast at Peninsula might have been the bite of the year for me. Automatic Seafood in Birmingham earned their Best New Restaurant nom, for sure. They are doing great work there. Tina has been raving about the tuna crudo with marigold sabayon and lemon oil at Delaney Oyster House.
Scott Crawford, chef/owner of Crawford and Son
Easy. The opening of EVER in Chicago, July 25. Nothing will compare to that for the next 5 years. It was mind blowing; such an amazing and emotional experience, and meant a lot to be there for my friend Curtis Duffy who opened during the pandemic. I cried! I said to my wife, “this cannot go away.”
Sunny Gerhart, chef/owner of St. Roch Fine Oysters & Bar
My first meal out in Durham at Vin Rouge over the summer. It was just after all of the protests in Raleigh and Durham. Vin Rouge had just opened up and I wanted to go support Matt Kelly. Vin Rouge is one of the first restaurants that I went to when I first moved to Raleigh 15 years ago and is always one of my favorites, even if I had not been in a few years. It felt nice to support those guys as they were trying to get their legs back under them. It was a really hard time back and we all just seemed really lost and taken back with everything that had happened, the start of the pandemic, civil unrest and we were just getting started!