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Home Food Great American Bites: 5 best meals of 2018
Great American Bites: 5 best meals of 2018

Great American Bites: 5 best meals of 2018

Larry Olmsted, Special to USA TODAY
Published 9:00 p.m. ET Dec. 31, 2018 | Updated 3:18 p.m. ET Jan. 1, 2019

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Border Grill. So it was not a big surprise when their newest endeavor, a venture into Latin-influenced slow-smoked barbecue, wowed us. As was the case with Border Grill, they focused on the highest quality, farm-raised, chemical-free, sustainable ingredients and cooked just about everything from scratch. But this time, instead of a nice sit-down restaurant, BBQ Mexicana is a simple takeout window like you would find in an airport or sports stadium, set in a hallway at the back of the huge Mandalay Bay casino resort. It could not be any less pretentious or any more unassuming, yet the food blew us away. Bottom line: The burnt end brisket burrito is the best burrito we have ever tasted, and it is now the standard against which all others are to be judged.

More: OMG! in Vegas: The best burrito you will ever try

Banter, Cleveland

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Banter over and over again and enjoy great food and great drink with a never-ending sense of wonder.

More: Poutine pilgrimage: Cleveland eatery elevates a Canadian classic

Emmy Squared, Nashville and New York City

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Emmy Squared makes great Detroit-style pizza (rectangular, semi-thick with crispy edges) using the highest-quality ingredients ethically sourced, and that would be enough to wow, but there is more – a lot more. In addition to some amazing creative toppings (like a deconstructed muffuletta sandwich on pizza or one topped with artisanal pepperoni, honey and pickled jalapeños), this pizzeria also serves up a stunning world-class burger, the Le Big Matt (named for the chef owner) that is one of the finest in all of the Big Apple, and was named Nashville’s best shortly after the eatery opened. Don’t want drool-worthy pizza or a great burger? Well then I’m not sure why you are here, but the chicken parm sandwich is also a stunner.

More: Must-try pizza: Detroit style comes to New York and Nashville

Mabel’s BBQ, Cleveland and Las Vegas

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Mabel’s BBQ, while relatively new, quickly spun off an even newer sibling that just opened last month in Sin City (at the completely revamped Palms). Both are the work of James Beard Award-winning celebrity chef and meat expert Michael Symon. The Cleveland native and Emmy Award winner (for “The Chew”) is known for putting a Midwest spin on all his venues, and at Mabel’s he combines the best of high-quality slow-smoked barbecue with lots of the Eastern European influences his hometown is known for, from pickled vegetables to cabbage to mustard. Everything is superb, and it is worth noting that Great American Bites is a column obsessed with barbecue in a country obsessed with barbecue – we eat a lot of smoked meat, and Mabel’s was tops this year. The standout is the pickle juice and brown sugar-glazed pork ribs.

More: These are among the best ribs you can eat in America

Garcia’s Mexican, San Antonio

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San Antonio’s best brisket tacos

Honorable mention: George’s of Galilee, Rhode Island

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George’s sits right on the little fishing harbor of Galilee, a small village within the town of Narragansett, a major tourism destination, and hits it out of the park with standout versions of all the quintessential “Little Rhody” signatures the small but gastronomically diverse state is famous for: Rhode Island-style clam chowder (clear broth), stuffies (stuffed quahog clams), Rhode Island-style calamari (fried and tossed with hot peppers) as well as a stunning seafood pot pie – the bestseller here – and a litany of lobster specialties, including the increasingly hard-to-find classic baked stuffed lobster and crustaceans any way you like in sizes that run well above five pounds.   

More: OMG! George’s of Galilee excels at Rhode Island seafood specialties

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@TravelFoodGuy, and if there’s a unique American eatery you think he should visit, send him an email at travel@usatoday.com. Some of the venues reviewed by this column provided complimentary services.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/columnist/greatamericanbites/2019/01/01/best-food-meals-restaurants-2018/2449818002/

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