With the year already halfway over, Zagat's city experts are taking stock of the best bites they've had in the last six months. So far, they've been impressed by a wide range of dishes, from a showstopping, avant-garde egg-yolk beignet in San Francisco to a traditional Georgian cheese bread in Washington D.C. Check out more must-try dishes in our gallery below and head on over to the city pages to see what else our intrepid eaters recommend.
Why We Love It: Intricately layered, tender, Cointreau-glazed baumkuchen stands in subtle contrast to the light, bright, savory-sweet notes of rosemary-honey cheesecake over salted, roasted-orange gel — and goes to show this brand-new Congress Park sushi bar and dessert lounge has already mastered the art of balance.
1160 Madison St.; 720-387-7890
Why We Love It: If you still haven't tried the prix fixe Peking-duck feast being sold in the space below RedFarm in the West Village, you're missing out. Chef Joe Ng does the classic whole roast Peking duck proud with his insanely delicious take, featuring skin so perfectly crisp and meat so moist, it doesn't need a drop of sauce (that's not to say that you shouldn't add a little cranberry compote or hoisin). What also stands out here are the housemade pancakes, which are made the old-school way — steamed until puffy and then smacked flat. For $65 a head, dinner for two includes two small plates, one whole Peking duck, one vegetable fried rice or one side dish — for the quality and quantity of food you receive, this meal is a steal.
529 1/2 Hudson St.; 212-691-9700
Why We Love It: Craigie on Main's legendary Craigie Burger officially has competition from this icon in the making. Though off-menu permutations change often, the listed version is patty perfection in and of itself. Available in limited quantities per day, it's a three-way Creekstone blend of short rib, brisket and an obscure cut called the short plate topped with a no-name sauce (inspired by a recipe from Scelfo's grandmother), little gem lettuce, salted onions, Cabot cheese tuile and bread and butter pickles.
40 Brattle St.; 617-864-2100
Why We Love It: The metallic taste of chicken liver often throws us, but chef Allison Jenkins’ silky rendition can only be described as flawless. Housemade brioche, cornichons and house mustard round out a solid plate.
1501 E. Seventh St.; 512-391-1888
Why We Love It: This shareable boat of egg, cheese and butter is about as comforting as it comes. We have the feeling this Georgian specialty would be just as addictive even without the care that has obviously been given to this version, but the careful treatment by top-notch chef John Paul Damato takes it to another level. This is a dish that has Washington food lovers talking.
1346 T St. NW; 202-506-4765
Why We Love It: The richly delicious, Peruvian-style stir-fry (beef tenderloin, red bell peppers, red onions, tomatoes and sauce) is served with crispy fries and white rice.
2311 Canal St.; 832-659-0063
Why We Love It: It's the essence of just about everything Roy Choi creates — flavor, baby. Out of all of the uni dishes we've had so far this year, and there have been plenty, the Beep Beep uni dynamite bowl is one thing you’ll be hearing about for months and months to come. The spicy, salty rice drenched in creamy sauce with lobes of fresh uni on top is hard to beat.
3515 Wilshire Blvd.; 213-368-3030
Why We Love It: We've been harboring a love affair with each one of executive chef Carlos Sanmartano’s sausage creations, and it all began with his rib-eye sausage — practically a full-fledged Sunday meal on a toasted bun. It starts with bone-in rib-eye that's mixed with brisket, chipotle peppers, caramelized onions and a liquid mixture of raw veggies (including garlic and fennel), then packed into a link. After the sausage is cooked, goat cheese and a Brussels sprout slaw finish this beguiling creation.
3805 Fifth Ave.; 619-756-6677
Why We Love It: Corn nuts and sweet potato? In Jonathan and Justin Petruce’s wood-fired Walnut Street kitchen, yes, very much so. Roasted hunks of bright-orange flesh tumble Southwestern-style with those crunchy bits, avocado purée, tomatillo salsa and queso fresco, and the unexpected becomes a taste you’ll crave again ($10).
1121 Walnut St.; 267-225-8232
Why We Love It: A real showstopper, this giant, warm beignet ($25) arrives oozing egg yolk and wrapped decadently in thin sheets of Wagyu beef and silky-fat lardo dashed with trotter sauce. A visionary, extravagant dish...and maybe the most drool-inducing.
490 Geary St.; 415-292-6430
Why We Love It: Five mildly spiced serrano peppers are split open, stuffed with oozy Oaxaca cheese and wrapped in bacon. The resulting snack connects the dots between the American jalapeño popper and the salty, smoky bacon-wrapped hot dogs found in street carts across northern Mexico and the American Southwest. Careful not to devour too quickly, as you'll encounter toothpicks holding 'em together. And skip the mint-ranch dipping sauce. It's good in theory…but a more than a little toothpastey.
1133 Huff Rd. NW, Ste. C; 404-464-5250
Why We Love It: This newbie on Capitol Hill is making a big impression with chef Eric Sakai's thoughtful preparations, the meaty, locally foraged porcini in bone-marrow broth rising to the top of the dishes that will make you go mmm. Take note, though, the menu is constantly changing, so this spectacular dish might soon disappear. Get it while it's haute.
806 E. Roy St.; 206-322-0409
Why We Love It: This recent addition to the menu made us believe in chicken as hamburger patty. The green chiles, salsa verde and Tillamook pepper jack didn’t hurt, either.
6030 Luther Ln.; 214-363-2337