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Chefs Dish on their Favorite Eats

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“Where should I go to eat?” Here at Spirit we know that’s the first thing on your mind when you land in a new destination. That’s why we went straight to the experts for the six-city culinary guide in our June issue: local chefs. These award-winning maestros had so much to say about their favorite haunts that we couldn’t fit it all in. Check out the list below for even more must-eats in Austin, Baltimore, Charleston, Denver, Minneapolis, and Oakland. Bon appétit!

Chef Seam Brock

For shrimp and grits in Charleston…

“If you think you know shrimp and grits, or you think you can cook shrimp and grits, you just need to sit down at Hominy Grill (207 Rutledge Ave.; 843-937-0930) and order a plate of them,” says Sean Brock (pictured above), executive chef of Husk and McCrady’s in Charleston. “It’s the simplest, most honest, purest form of it I’ve ever eaten.” Another tip from the six-time James Beard Awardnominated chef: “You can also get a damn good bloody mary there. They make their own mix, which is something that a lot of people aren’t willing to do.”

For Vietnamese food in Denver…

“There’s this long stretch of great Vietnamese places on Federal Boulevard near Alameda Avenue,” says Jennifer Jasinski, who recently became the first Denver chef to ever bring home the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. “My favorite, hands down, is New Saigon (630 S. Federal Blvd.; 303-936-4954). There are a million things there that are so good, but the green papaya salad is my favorite. It’s green papaya shaved really thin with sliced pork, shrimp, onions, and crushed peanuts, tossed with chili-vinaigrette dressing and topped with tons of fresh basil and cilantro.” Jennifer Jasinski is the owner and executive chef of Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, and Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen.

For food trucks in Oakland…

“My favorite is Fist of Flour,” says Tanya Holland, chef/owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ. “They make pizza with the best market ingredients available. I really like ‘The Root Down,’ a vegetarian pie. It’s pretty simple—kale, mushrooms, great mozzarella—but it’s so delicious.” Holland, who was named the 2013 California Chef/Restaurateur of the Year by the California Travel Association, also recommends checking out the Eat Real Festival, happening September 27-29. “A lot of food trucks come from Oakland as well as from around the country, and the downtown galleries stay open late.”

For Thai food in Austin…

“The Thai food scene is pretty great here,” says Paul Qui, winner of Top Chef: Season 9. “I like getting the prawn miange—prawns wrapped in betel leaves—at Sway (1417 S. First St.; 512-326-1999). Another favorite of mine is Sap’s (4514 West Gate Blvd.; 512-899-8525). I get the Tiger Cry, which is grilled beef, and the guay teaw—a noodle soup with pickled mustard greens that you can get with beef, chicken, or tofu.” Paul Qui is the chef/owner of Qui and East Side King. He won the 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest.

For a meaty meal in Baltimore…

“I love the process of curing and smoking different kinds of meats,” says Duff Goldman, chef/owner of Charm City Cakes and Charm City Cakes West and the former host of Ace of Cakes. “The charcuterie is fantastic at Clementine (5402 Harford Rd.; 410-444-1497). Everything is done in house, and you can tell they really care about what they do. They also serve braised Duroc pork cheeks and a really good roasted half chicken that’s seasoned with paprika and served with potatoes—very Hungarian.” Duff Goldman is a two-time James Beard Award nominee.

For French fare in Minneapolis

Café Levain (4762 Chicago Ave S.; 612-823-7111) is one of my favorite places,” says Sameh Wadi, owner of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge and World Street Kitchen. “It’s this little bistro in South Minneapolis. I went there on my first date with my girlfriend and we continue to go there four years later. You get really well-cooked food, made with a lot of heart by some of the nicest guys around. It’s a classic bistro-style setting—open kitchen, wood all around. But you forget your surroundings once the food comes out because that’s what’s so interesting: It’s Minnesota’s interpretation of French food, and it’s very much driven by the seasons. In the winter there are a lot of stews and hearty dishes and root vegetables. In the summer you might get a simple tomato salad with some olive oil, good quality vinegar, and sea salt, and it’s just delicious.” Sameh Wadi is a six-time James Beard Award nominee and appeared on Iron Chef America: Season 8.

photo credit: Jody Horton