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Spam musubi. Mmmm.

The Internet is in the midst of year-end list madness. Allow us to prolong the season one more week as Food Republic editors weigh in on all things food and drink from 2016. Here are the staff’s recaps of what was quite the busy year in food-related travel.

Daniel Carnaje, Social Media Manager

My most memorable travel destination of 2016 was Hawaii, where I spent a week lounging on the beach with either a beer, a cocktail, a musubi or some combination of all three in hand at all times. Beyond working on my tan, snapping pictures on my film cameras and quick dips into the serene, cooling waters of the Pacific, the rest of my time was dedicated to consuming the best of what the islands had to offer.

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The Kilauea Lighthouse on the island of Kauai in Hawaii

I started my trip on the island of Kauai. I arrived starving from a long flight and exhausted from my wedding (yes, this is the reason why I was in Hawaii in the first place — thanks for wishing me a fruitful future), and my wife and I decided to head to the nearest sit-down spot, Kountry Kitchen Restaurant & Café. I wanted something comforting, bold and filling for my first of many meals. So going with a loco — two beef patties set on a bed of white rice, topped with runny eggs  and smothered in gravy — was definitely the right move.

The top button of my pants just popped. #cc⚡️dc and cg and jc

A video posted by Daniel, my brother (@dannycarnaje) on

After a few days on Kauai with a couple dozen more beers, cocktails, musubis or combination of the three, we took the quick plane ride back to Oahu to complete our eating journey. Here, I met up with my best friend’s uncle, Uncle Jim, whose family has owned the Rainbow Drive-In for more than 50 years. I spent hours listening to Uncle Jim recount the drive-in culture of the ’50s and how the landscape of the restaurant and others like it has changed drastically through the decades, all while eating a lunch plate — two hot dogs smothered in chili, heaped over two scoops of white rice and served with a side of mac salad.

Afterward, I spent a full day checking out various food trucks and small shacks around the island. Cruising in a Jeep Wrangler — the telltale sign that you’re not a local — we made pitstops at Giovanni’s Shrimp Shack and Hula Dog. We enjoyed malasadas from Leonard’s bakery, shaved ice from Matsumotos, açai bowls at Haleiwa Bowls and the offerings at Musubi Cafe Iyasume and topped it off with omakase at Sushi Sasabune. Don’t believe me? Check out the Food Republic Instagram. After a gluttonous week, I left with a little more baggage in the hips, a lighter wallet and an appreciation for the island way of life. Regardless, I’m already set on going back…as long as I have a beer, cocktail, musubi or combination of the three in my hand at all times.


George Embiricos, Associate Editor

Where to begin? I set out to make 2016 the year of exploring some of our country’s best food cities from coast to coast, promising to keep an open mind despite having come down with a severe case of “East Coast bias” over the past several years. A winter weekend in Philly only strengthened said diagnosis, as the city continues to impress with a continuous flow of quality openings that highlight a diverse number of cuisines.

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Fried cheese curds at Tory Miller’s Graze in Madison, Wisconsin

An early-spring (it may as well have been winter) jaunt to Madison, Wisconsin, introduced me to a surprisingly large bounty of fresh produce in a Midwestern city not named Chicago. It was here that I came to the revelation that visiting all the restaurants of a single acclaimed chef (Tory Miller) is an easy way to get a good read on the scope of a smaller city’s food scene.

Fall brought with it my first-ever trip — over 26 years in the making — to California. While I hesitate to take on the daunting task of comparing the restaurant scenes in Los Angeles and San Francisco to the one in New York, I will say that I enjoyed some incredible meals. Animal and Maude stuck out as winners in L.A., while State Bird Provisions took the cake in S.F. A visit to the French Laundry fulfilled my fine-dining dreams for the foreseeable future. One big qualm: In-N-Out = overrated.

My sole stop outside the U.S. was a wonderfully sunny week in Aruba, where I mingled with flamingos while eating the freshest ceviche of my life.

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“Breakfast” (fried-chicken biscuit) at John Besh’s Willa Jean in New Orleans

And finally, my most gluttonous journey of the year brought me to New Orleans, which I had visited previously only during Mardi Gras (and thus, decidedly did not resemble anything like the rich cultural experience of New Orleans). Following the lead of renowned chef John Besh, I was able to weave together traditional city dining with new-wave cuisine (Shaya!) over the course of three days, making sure to save room for a myriad of beignets and po’boys along the way.

Conclusion: Consider my “East Coast bias” illness officially cured.


Jess Kapadia, Senior Editor

My big trip this year was to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. A big highlight was lunch at At.mosphere, near the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 163 floors and on the less-fancy side (but no less delicious). Another came during lunch with 50 other foreigners at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. There, we participated in a spirited Q&A with a local professor of Arab studies and afterward, sat cross-legged on the floor and shared from massive platters of biryani, curried chicken, fresh vegetables and rosewater pastries. From there, we walked around the meat, produce and fish markets, perusing an enormous selection of each — including a whole section dedicated to sheep, cow and goat heads, feet and offal.

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Lunch at At.Mosphere, located near the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

I consumed camel’s milk in a few applications: in a frothy coffee drink known affectionately as a “camelccino,” in chocolate (resulting in the only milk chocolate I’ve ever loved) and in gelato. The spice souk proved fertile ground for ingredient exploration and I also learned that NYC, contrary to popular opinion, is not the brunch capital of the world. It’s not even close. Dubai is home to all-day, free-flowing, ridiculously decked-out brunches, very much in the Western style but with the kind of unbridled opulence the UAE prides itself on. Think prime-rib carving stations, sushi chefs, raw bars, whole roast animals, wok stations and bottomless anything-you-like. Stop by any upscale hotel on Saturday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and watch the magic happen.

I ended up staying a couple of extra days to explore on my own a bit and eat in the mostly Indian neighborhood of Al Karama. The food I discovered was essentially indistinguishable from the food in India, owing to Dubai’s large South Asian population. Even uncommon preparations from less-known regions were common on menus, which was a delight.

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A Baharat spice blend at the spice souk in Dubai, UAE

On my Emirates flight home, I was the unwitting victim of one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me: An entire lunch tray was spilled all over me two hours into the flight. (Note: I did not do the spilling.) I got to use the first-class shower with all kinds of fancy hair products, loofahs and moisturizers, blow-dry my hair, change into super-comfy pajamas and slippers and enjoy a truly loaded cheese plate and filled-to-the-brim glass of Dom Perignon 2006 for the “inconvenience.” On a plane.