As 2020 challenges go, an extra layer of logistics for food writers ranks pretty low. But our prolonged dining room closures did demand some workarounds for anyone who spends their days communicating all the great things to eat out there. In my case, 25 soggy-ing minutes in the car often stood between perfect, hot takeout and my kitchen table.
So, in this season of year-end roundups, I present to you the most memorable meals consumed in the company of my steering wheel. It’s definitely a list reflective of how we ate in 2020—burgers, carbs, repeat. While there’s plenty overlap, this should not be confused with the straight-up best things I ate this year; even I’m not crazy enough to attempt Sushi Kashiba or Lil Red’s chicken and waffles in the car.
Butter Beef with Garlic Fried Rice from Ba Sa
The fried rice at this modern Vietnamese restaurant on Bainbridge is good enough to stand on its own, even better when topped with properly seared beef, and consumed in line for the ferry. I saved the prawn noodles and pho until I got home, but those were great, too.
Tortillas from Carnitas Michoacan
Ordering a three-pack of extra tortillas from this hardworking spot on Beacon Hill proved a sound move. They’re springy, savory, and still warm from being hand formed on the massive griddle—a tortilla worthy of exultation even before you fill it with carnitas or al pastor.
Mozzarella Sticks from Milk Drunk
Logan Cox loved mozzarella sticks as a kid. As an adult, and a chef, he rightly looked around and wondered, “where are the good ones?” As it turns out, they’re at the bar the Homer chef opened with his wife, Sara Knowles, this summer. Mozzarella gets dredged in the same spice-addled flour as the fried chicken, but the kitchen adds ranch powder to double down on nostalgia. Pros know to clench a napkin in the hand that holds the steering wheel while you gobble these furtively at stoplights. Ditto the curly fries.
Crab Roll from Local Tide
When you spend $27 on a sandwich of hand-cracked Dungeness, it’s best to eat it before the crosstown drive home, lest that magically plush split-top bun become sad and soggy. The meat shines in simplicity, dressed with a whisper of mayo. Truly, I cannot shut up about this sandwich.
Burger from the Swinery
I enjoy irony: Wary of the 30-minute drive from a bridgeless West Seattle, I pulled over at a neighborhood park to consume this burger in one of those Seattle Parks Department fitness zones filled with outdoor workout equipment. Wow, that patty—juicy like a steak, and topped with a crispy nugget of pork belly. This creation capped off a month of eating burgers, and it stands out in memory still.
Slab Mouan Back from Oliver’s Twist
It’s ridiculous to eat a chicken wing in a moving vehicle. I know this. In my defense, the ones at Oliver’s Twist come stuffed with glass noodles, ground pork, toasted peanuts, and delicately shaved vegetables. It is perhaps the most impressive dish on a thoroughly impressive menu, which owner Karuna Long created in response to the pandemic. I cannot wait to see how Long carries on his Cambodian food whenever we approach normal again.
Churro Sundae from Birrieria Tijuana
Admittedly, I was here for the tacos, and they’re as remarkable as everybody says. But consuming those anywhere other than a flat surface is a messy fool’s errand, so let me pay tribute to the newish churro sundae: Vanilla ice cream anchors a half dozen stubby churros, fresh and dusted with cinnamon sugar, beneath whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. All sundaes need churros.