I ate my share of great food in 2018, but there were a number dishes that I simply can’t get out of my head. Most weren’t particularly fancy or fussy; in fact many were simple … or simply delicious. And each one is something I foresee going back for again and again.
1. Smoked trout deviled eggs
These gorgeous, slightly smoky deviled eggs from Bavette, 330 E. Menomonee St., pop on and off of the menu. They’re simple as can be, but they’ve all but replaced my cravings for regular old deviled eggs that I can easily make at home.
2. Dandan noodles
Momo Mee. 110 E. Greenfield Ave., is still getting its stride in the Harbor District, but I’ve already found it difficult to stay away. Among the dishes I could eat again and again are the Dandan noodles. My obsession begins with the springy housemade noodles and continues with the sauce made with umami-rich spicy bean paste and chili sesame oil. Of course, there’s also the ground pork, spiked with just enough mouth-numbing Szechuan peppercorns and balanced out by fresh bits of cilantro and cucumber.
3. The Diplomac
Scores aside, this was one of the burgers I ate this year that I kept finding myself thinking about for weeks after the fact. From its housemade bun and tangy sauce to the burgers themselves, which possess just the right amount of beefy greasiness, this burger is among my favorites in the city. You can find it at The Diplomat, 815 E. Brady St.
It’s so, so simple, but this beautiful salmon ceviche from Rice N Roll Bistro, 1952 N. Farwell Ave., is just lovely. The fish itself is firm and sweet, and the sauce is an umami-rich celebration of sweet, salty and garlicky with just the right amount of subtle heat.
This beautifully silky hummus from Blue Star Cafe, 1619 N. Farwell Ave., is served with warm toasted flatbread and topped artfully with cucumber, tomato and the prerequisite drizzle of flavorful olive oil was among the best snacks I’ve eaten all year.
6. Sliced pork belly in garlic sauce
A cold Chinese dish? If you'd have asked me 10 months ago if a dish like this would've been on my list to try, I'd have likely said no. But this year, I've found myself eating my way through the menu at Sze Chuan, 11102 W. National Ave., in West Allis, and this is among the dishes I just can't stop thinking about. The pork is sliced ultra thin, tossed with fine shards of scallion, and coated in a beautifully salty, tangy, garlicky sauce that somehow elevates the entire dish far beyond the sum of its parts.
7. Rice cakes
I have no idea what it is about these sticky sweet rice cakes from Merge, 1932 E. Kenilworth Pl. But they’re strangely addictive. Vaguely crispy and chewy, they’re coated with sticky sweet dukbokki sauce and crushed peanuts.
8. Buffalo cauliflower bites
As bar fare goes, these addictively spicy bites at Cloud Red, 4488 N. Oakland Ave., were among the best I’ve had this year. They’re tender and spicy (even crispy at first, before the sauce starts settling into the breading) and perfect alongside a pint of grapefruity IPA.
9. Lao sausage
Among the must-try gems at Vientiane Noodle Shop, 3422 W. National Ave., is the housemade Vientiane sausage (sai oua). It's a textural explosion, with a deeply crisp fried exterior (you'll want to fight over the end pieces) and a juicy, almost springy interior that possesses a deep, porky flavor enhanced by bright citrusy lemongrass and vegetal notes of dill weed. If you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to get it out of your head.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.