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Friends of Eater Pick Their Single Best Meals of 2014

From under-the-radar Blackbird & Henry to hot-as-hell Qui, restaurant obsessives dish on their best dining.

Salt & Time
Salt & Time
Robert J. Lerma/EATX

Melanie Haupt, restaurant critic for The Chronicle and author of Historic Austin Restaurants
Calamari salad at Blackbird & Henry. It was the perfect combination of light, crunchy, spicy, and the calamari was both delicate and satisfying.

Megan Giller, editor of Zagat Austin
Barlata is really an underrated gem. I had several great meals there this year, but in particular I had one experience that was outstanding: octopus lata, kale a la catalana, an incredibly tender seared Iberico tenderloin, and arros negre.

Jane Ko, editor at A Taste of Koko and food photographer
Soup dumplings on the streets of Taipei. Sorry Austin, but you just can't beat a $1 lunch.

Dan Gentile, staff writer at Thrillist
My editor was visiting from New York and we got tickets to the chef's table tasting at Qui. I mention the tickets because it really was a show. Paul was traveling, but his crew delivered just about the best service I've ever had. Every time they introduced a dish it was like a talk show host delivering a monologue. A good talk show host! The jokes actually made us laugh. And the food made us... cry?

Okay, we didn't cry. But we damn near lost it over just about every element of every dish. At one point my coworker turned to me and whispered, "Is it just me, or are these guys on fire right now?" We're talking NBA Jam-style, 3-pointers for days. And surprisingly it wasn't the proteins or the vegetables that most blew our minds, but the broths. I would totally come back for the broths alone.

Meredith Bethune, CultureMap and Serious Eats contributor
Tied with Hoy Joy in San Antonio or last month's meal at Underbelly in Houston (Watch out, Austin!)

Veronica Meewes, CultureMap and Austin Monthly contributor
I hate these questions because it's impossible for me to just pick one! My most memorable meals tend to be when traveling because I really go all out and try as many dishes as possible. Stand-out meals from this past year include a decadent lunch at an olive oil farm in Tuscany, an epic feast at Girl & the Goat in Chicago, and a recent late night dinner at Ink in Los Angeles. As for Austin favorites, my husband and I had an amazing anniversary dinner at Jeffrey's both the food and the service were impeccable and attended a memorably delicious all vegetarian Food & Wine Project dinner at Uchiko this summer.

Tom Thornton, CultureMap food and drink editor
qui's omakase in July. Best $55 I've spent all year. Even with the 'all tasting' format, I think that qui has really delivered during all of our visits...and it's nice to see them getting better with age. They always seem to be having fun, and that spirit comes through in the cooking.

Patricia Sharpe, executive editor/food writer, Texas Monthly
At Olamaie, one night I went alone and had a wonderful mushroom dish in country-ham vinaigrette and a smoked wahoo dip with Alabama "white" barbecue sauce (mayo base), both beautiful and delicious. The food’s impossible to describe in a few words. I see chefs eating there, checking it out—Emmett Fox and Jesse Griffiths being two of them.

Melody Fury, Serious Eats and Eater Austin contributor and blogger at Gourmet Fury
I’m torn between dining in LaV's wine cellar and the wild game & whiskey dinner at Blackbird & Henry. LaV manages to charm me over time and time again so it’s no surprise that they’re on the top of my list. However, our wedding anniversary dinner at B&H was also very memorable. Chef Mark Schmidt prepared a variety of game meats to pair with High West whiskeys. I still think about the seared elk carpaccio with spiced pepitas and the Parisian gnocchi with rabbit confit and smoked mushrooms.

Nadia Chaudhury, associate editor at Eater Austin
I’m cheating and putting three, because they were all so different. I was overly pleasantly surprised by Uchi, having gone there for the first time last February. I was expecting a ridiculously overpriced restaurant for regular go-to sushi and sashimi, but it was nothing like that. As soon as I put the hotate sushi in my mouth, I knew my definition of Japanese food changed forever. It’s the one thing I order every time I go there. Then, during a wedding anniversary trip to San Antonio this summer, my husband took us to Hot Joy, which had just been placed on Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants list for the year. Everything from the decor (there’s a Totoro on the wall of the women’s bathroom) to the food and drinks, it was all excellent. We ordered the tater tot chaat, and it reminded me of a grown-up take on my childhood (a mix of good school lunch and my mom’s Indian snacks), and it was brilliant and delicious. Then there’s the real winner: the burger at Salt & Time. The butcher shop makes their patties using leftover trimmings from whatever meats are cut that day, so the ingredients change every day. I can still feel the texture of the burger in my mouth when I think about it.

Meghan McCarron, editor at Eater Austin
Like Dan, my single best meal this year was at Qui's tasting room. My girlfriend and I went a few weeks after they opened it, and the excitement and energy was palpable. We usually get slaughtered by tasting menus, and we could not help but eat every bite. At the end of the meal, we were still trying to force down broccoli. Broccoli. It's also one of the only times I regret not going for the wine pairing -- Rachel DelRocco is doing some incredible things with their program.

It was the most expensive meal I had in Austin this year at $120/ticket. It was also entirely one hundred percent worth it. A similar meal in a bigger city could easily run $200, or even $250 -- I've paid that much for lesser experiences. At over 20 courses, staged between two different seating areas, there's nothing else like it in town. The night I went, Jorge Hernandez was running that side of the kitchen, and the chefs and other staff were clearly pumped to finally roll this format out. I have no idea when I'll be able to go again, but I do recommend saving your pennies for this one.

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