When we look back at all of the meals we consumed in 2019, it’s hard to say which were the top 10 eats. There are many components that go into making a meal memorable. Obviously the food ranks high, but let’s not overlook the atmosphere, service, and total experience. In this article, we try to identify two hands full of places that stand out in our minds. Rest assured that these are not the only good meals we encountered and experiences are also subject to the perception of the diner. Each of the eateries in this article stands out for their ability to make us say “Wow” for one reason or another. Enough disclaimers, let’s dig in!
We want to thank all of these businesses for hosting our visits. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
A Sweet Start
We have watched the growing trend of restaurants sourcing local ingredients. This has allowed for fresher food packed with more flavor. It seems that this is especially true in the urban kitchens found in many of the large downtown areas of metropolitan cities. In 2019, we made our first return blogging visit. We had missed a couple of key attractions during our 2018 stop in Oklahoma City. A Route 66 road trip brought us back in striking distance, so we planned a 24-hour stay in this capital city.
Kitchen 324 – Oklahoma City
Our standard approach to larger cities is to focus our visits on the urban core. After identifying our lodging, the next step is to look for dining options that are within walking distance. When we spotted Kitchen 324, we knew we had a hit. The combination of urban chic decor, friendly service, and unique dishes had us hitting the trifecta of breakfast meals. Seeing the amazing bakery creations, laid out in a fanciful display, had us licking our lips. Sure it meant more calories, but it was early in the day, so there was plenty of time to burn them off. (See more of this urban eatery here.)
Frank’s Diner – Kenosha, Wisconsin
Our visit to Kenosha allowed us to add Wisconsin to our list of states. While we are sure to include more cities in the future, this one sets the bar pretty high for comfort foods. Frank’s Diner is so old-school that it has been in business for over 90 years. You just don’t last that long if you aren’t giving your customers what they want. With that kind of longevity, we just had to find out their secret. Guess what? It comes from serving up massive plates of delectable dishes. That recipe seems simple enough, but it seems to elude many modern-day dining establishments. (Check out Frank’s massive plates here.)
GG’s Barbacoa Cafe – Kansas City, Kansas
Being natives of Kansas City, we are always keeping our eyes and ears peeled for new spots to sample. When a friend clued us in on this diminutive diner, we just had to give it a try. GG’s Barbacoa Cafe is easy to overlook from the outside, but you would be doing your taste buds a disservice. What we discovered inside this unassuming building is chef-created dishes served up with a smile. Not only were the plates beautiful to view, but the flavors were also just as amazing. We are looking forward to many return visits to this fun and affordable local eatery. (Take a peek inside GG’s here.)
1st & Main – Dubuque, Iowa
In 2019, we had the opportunity to visit some first cities. Dubuque happens to be the first settlement in the territory that would become Iowa. In a city filled with some fun attractions, we also had a foodie first. Our visit to 1st & Main opened up a new flavor combination for me. Crystal and I have never lost our taste for PB&J sandwiches. When I spotted a burger that adds those two ingredients into the mix, it seemed like a match made in heaven. Sure enough, the creamy texture of the peanut butter and sweet taste of the jelly were a perfect match for their hearty burger. The addition of bacon just topped off this dish, because everything is better with bacon! (Explore 1st & Main here.)
Long Nine Junction – Springfield, Illinois
Our top eats actually include a variety of unique dishes. During a visit to Springfield, we joined some staff members from the local CVB for lunch at Long Nine Junction. This place gets bonus points for one of the most interesting names we have happened upon. Their name is a reference to a group of Illinois legislators from the 1800s who all happened to be over six feet tall. This colorful background matched well with the vivid dishes that they serve up in this historic Midwest city. (Read about the dishes at Long Nine here.)
Braceros Mexican Grill & Cantina – Amarillo, Texas
We are huge fans of Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisines. While we have enjoyed some amazing meals in Old Mexico, we have found some delectable dishes North of the Border, as well. A prime example was our lunch at Braceros Mexican Grill in Amarillo. Here we shared a meal with another friend from the local CVB. Each plate they brought out added a punch of color to our table. When the owner served up a special dish of blue corn tacos, it took our meal over the top. (Check out the colorful dishes here.)
Crooner’s Lounge – Fort Scott, Kansas
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned the surprises that we found on the road. One stop that epitomized this for us was found in downtown Fort Scott. Enjoying dinner at Crooner’s Lounge opened our eyes to an upscale experience in this historic frontier fort town. This place was packed with locals who know what a special place they have here. The meals were artistic masterpieces, that had us eating with our eyes. Of course, when we spotted one of their desserts we just knew it was a “must-have”. (Whet your appetite here.)
Thai Orchid – Mission, Kansas
Since we are on the subject of artistic displays, we just have to include this Kansas City eatery in our top 10 eats. Thai Orchid sits quietly in a small strip mall off of the main drag in Mission. Don’t let its placid appearance fool you. Inside we discovered an array of tastes that opened up new worlds of flavor to us. The explosion of colors that decorated our table seemed to be unending. While our foray into Thai food has been slow, we now have a local favorite that will help us expand our culinary world. (Explore some Thai dishes here.)
Faite á l’os – Quebec City, Canada
Being from Kansas City, we keep our eyes open to the chance to sample barbecue, whenever possible. The idea of dining at a smokehouse (Their name for a BBQ joint.) in Quebec City was an opportunity not to be passed on. We may not be BBQ judges, but we have had our fair share all across North America. What we found at Faite á l’os tipped the scales far to the North. If you have ever dined on French food then you know their dedication to perfection. Imagine that same perseverance being applied to a backwoods cuisine that draws thousands to local competitions. It’s fair to say that this was unlike any BBQ that we have ever sampled before. (See why Quebec BBQ rocks here.)
Betty Jane Candies – Dubuque, Iowa
With all of these filling meals in our top 10 eats, you know we would leave a little room for dessert. In this case, we are talking about a premier chocolatier located in Dubuque, Iowa. Betty Jane Candies has been doling out sweet treats for over 70 years. While the ownership has changed, the commitment to the original recipes remains the same. As a matter of fact, their candies are so delicious that they have been featured in swag bags at the Academy Awards and Emmys. Now that there is some notable recognition. What we discovered is that the staff is the real reason for their continued success. Day in and day out they serve up their creamy creations with big smiles. (Enjoy a sweet write-up on Betty Jane here.)
Back to the Dining Table
With our Top 10 Eats of 2019 wrapped up, it’s time to start seeking out new frontiers for this year. So many more cities to be explored, and with each one comes a chance to uncover new culinary masterpieces. We hope this article, and all of our other ones, will inspire you to check out some eateries that you have passed up for too long. We know they won’t all be the greatest, but each one has a story to tell. What were some of your favorite new dining destinations in 2019?