My favorite meals of 2018

The absolute best thing about working for yourself is flexibility. I was going to say freedom, but I'd argue that self-employed people don't have much freedom. We have no boundaries when it comes to emails and work hours. But flexibility, for me, is worth more than a better paycheck because it means I get to travel a lot. And go to the grocery store at 2 pm on Tuesday when no one else is there.

This year was a doozy for travel. We visited a lot of new places and many we've been to countless times. I wanted to remember this year by listing the top 10 meals I was fortunate enough to enjoy. Not all of them are fancy places, sometimes the best meals are because of the memories attached to them. So here is my list...

10. India Oak | Columbus, OH

2018 was the year of the sub for me. This place, also on my list of where I eat in Columbus, is where I go to decompress. Want to catch up with friends? Subs. Not pregnant? Subs. Girlfriend convinced you to try aerial yoga, and you pulled a hammy? Subs.

9. Bodega | St. Petersburg, FL

I've been to St. Petersburg a few times, but rarely ventured off the beach. This year we wanted to find good food, so we headed to the main strip and found this gem. We grabbed a few sandwiches and sides and headed over to Green Bench Brewing to enjoy them.

8. Ima | Detroit, MI

This place wasn't even on the list when we were planning a trip to Detroit but ended up being my favorite. Killer ramen and edamame with some kind of witchcraft on top.

7. N.E. Chinese | Columbus, OH

On special occasions, we have resorted to just ordering 5-10 dishes from N.E. and putting them out for everyone to share. These are some of the best nights with what I consider to be some of the best food in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

6. Willa Jean | New Orleans, LA

There have been a few times when people who shouldn't respond to my messages on Instagram do. One of those times was when we were headed to New Orleans for the first time and needed help picking out places to eat. So I thought I'll message chef Kelly Fields, who I followed on Instagram, to see what she had to say. She not only responded, she sent back an excel chart complete with names, cuisine, price range, when to go where and a short description of each. Willa Jean was of course on her list; I'm guessing because she owns the place. I'm not just putting this on the list because of her kindness. This was the first meal we had in New Orleans, and it was one of the best. Right down to the server asking us if we'd like a can of beer to go at 10 am.

5. Duck Duck Goat | Chicago, IL

This might make the list every year because I do what I want. We go to Chicago quite a bit. I have always loved the city, but my obsession grew when Stephanie Izard started opening restaurants. My fav used to be Girl and the Goat, but my love for Asian the last few years bumped it out of first place. I keep asking Stephanie to publish her Chongqing recipe but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read my messages. Pff.

4. Osteria Mozza | Los Angeles, CA

I was worried about this place after reading the reviews on Yelp. I don't think yelp is always right, but I do find it to be generally helpful. I had always wanted to try Nancy Silverton's food, but the reviews made me so nervous that I'd waste a precious meal in LA. But I thought...F it. It's Nancy Silverton. Who by the way is seen there often at the Mozzarela bar. So we went. The food was so simple and so insanely good. Even the damn bread service was so good that my brother-in-law went back the next night to ask if he could get some more in a to-go container while we waited for a table next door at her pizza joint. Yelp was completely wrong this time.

3. Turkey and the Wolf | New Orleans, LA

I love everything about this place. I love that the chef doesn't give a crap about being fancy even though he is one of the best. This food was so unique and interesting. I ended up going home and trying out two of the dishes we had there that night only to catch a faint glimpse of the meal we had there.

2. Spoon and Stable | Minneapolis, MN

We went for Prince, but I'd go back for this food. Not only was the food incredible, but the service was almost as good. I love good service, the kind where they make you feel like the most important person in the place even if you aren't buying bottles of vintage wine. Top all of that with free cotton candy at the end of your meal carried out like clouds floating through the restaurant.

1. Mission Chinese | New York, NY

This was just one of those magical nights where the company, mood, and food all just came together exactly right. We went to NY with some friends and I had a few food requests. Mission was number one. I was worried about a couple of friends as they don't like spice and can be somewhat apprehensive about food they've never had. We had a large party, so we were able to order 10-12 different dishes and drinks that we all shared. There wasn't a thing on the table that didn't get devoured by the time we were done. Even the not-so-adventurous in the group were going home and talking about this meal for weeks.