Over the past few years, we’ve been fortunate enough to do some traveling. While we’ve mainly been relegated to North America, Asia and now Europe, we’ve found some pretty awesome dining spots along the way!
These are our 10 favorite restaurants in the entire world. This list is subject to change as we continue our travels.
(NEW) Cal Pep
Just a few blocks from the Barceloneta metro stop, Cal Pep is one of the most popular restaurants in the area. On any given day, you’ll want to arrive about 30 minutes before they open (to line up). If you show up right as doors open, be ready to wait up to an hour and a half (although, you can order a few limón cervezas to help pass the time).
The restaurant is made up of a narrow bar area in front, and a quieter seating area in the back. Guess where we sat though? The bar is definitely where you want to be. The atmosphere at Cal Pep is lively to say the least. Perfect strangers will converse with each other about their meals or, with the wait staff, who are incredibly engaging. Ask the Filipino bartender where he comes from, and you’re sure to get a hilarious response.
The star of the Cal Pep is the food. We didn’t see a menu the entire time we were there. You simply tell your server what kinds of food you like (meat, seafood, vegetarian, etc.), and whether you have food allergies; they take care of the rest — designing you a menu of 4 to 5 dishes to suit your tastes. You’ll also want to take note of what the people around you are ordering, in case you want to try something different.
We had the grilled razor clams, little neck clams in butter sauce, Spanish omelette, Octopus tentacle with sliced potato and baby squids with chickpeas in shrimp paste. Each dish was the best of that type of food that we ever had. The descriptions don’t really do it justice so check out some photos here.
Prepare to spend $$-$$$ depending on how many dishes catch your fancy.
(NEW) La Cantina
We stumbled upon La Cantina while looking for a place to get away from the crowd. The restaurant is located along a busy strip of Venice life.
Once we sat down, we realized that we had found one of the most unique spots on the island. Their menu, focusing on fresh seafood, was a nice change from the many pasta, sandwich and gelato-themed spots along the way.
You will find a big variety of seafood cooked any way you like (steamed, fried, grilled, etc.). However, we opted to order anything that was served on a stick (pictured below). We ended up staying for almost an hour, eating, drinking wine and watching the foot traffic pass us by.
When you go, be sure to try the scampi on a stick. This raw prawn (might have been steamed, too drunk to know for sure) had a surprising amount of meat on it and was a rich, juicy texture.
Depending on how long you spend people-watching, expect to spend $-$$$.
(NEW) Bar la Plata
This may have been our favorite spot during our European honeymoon. Bar la Plata is a hole-in-the-wall joint in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona (just a stone’s throw from Cal Pep). It’s in the back of an alleyway, which keeps it relatively less packed than some other main street businesses. However, true OGs will make their way over.
It appears that the purveyors on this fine establishment were a father and son duo; although, they may have no relation at all. The service was quick and friendly the entire time we were there. When ordering a vino, you’ll be delighted as Dad (?) pours it dangerously high from a barrel. The drinks are cheap, so keep ’em flowing.
There are 6 items on the menu, but the real reason that you’re hear is the Pescadito Frito (small deep-fried fragrant fish). These things have a light crispy battering, juicy inside and are exploding with flavor. We polished off a plate and came back an hour later for another. This place does them better than anywhere we tried.
The dining room is pretty small, but you can sit at one of the tables outside or just lurk around the alleyway, knocking back plates of pescadito.
You can feel free to stop here multiple times a a day because it’s only $.
Just a couple hours down I-71 S, we have Sotto. This fine dining restaurant is tucked in the basement level of a downtown building – it’s truly and underground find. The lights are extremely dim here, giving the place an old-timey and conspiratorial vibe. The bar is center stage as you enter the place, so of course, we grabbed a pre-meal drink. It was a pretty mixed crowd in terms of age, but everyone looked well-groomed and presentable. It wasn’t a rowdy kind of place.
We were seated shortly at a table near the kitchen. For the tight layout, it was still pretty quiet where we were. Nice conversation was easily had. Our waiter was knowledgeable on the fare and was able to answer any questions we had. We ordered a nice mix of appetizers and entrees to share.
As the drinks flowed, the atmosphere grew noticeably more energetic. We were enjoying ourselves when the dishes started arriving. The menu is pretty traditional Italian-based; meaning that everything was very simple and heavy. We had the burrata di Puglia with bagna cauda bruschetta, prosciutto arugula antipasti, tagliatelle con tartufo and breaded pork loin with capers and lemon. It was a challenge to make it through everything, but we forced ourselves because it was so damn good. The flavors were robust and the ingredients were fresh. The hall marks of a good meal. The star was by far the tagliatelle con tartufo (i.e. truffle pasta). The shaved truffle on top exploded with flavor in each bite. Food-gasm all under the table.
Overall, Sotto has shown the best use of truffles in a meal in our experience. Go here for big pimpin’ since it’s $$$-$$$$.
Kaiki Sushi & Teppenyaki
Tsim Sa Tsui, Hong Kong
Looka the flicka da wrist! This restaurant is located in a top floor of The One Building in TST, Hong Kong. In the dining room, you get a great view of the harbor and Hong Kong Island. However, you won’t want to be in there. The dining experience at Kaika involves sitting at the bar in the back and watching the sushi chef prepare each piece of sushi in front of your eyes. Did I say sushi? I meant nigari and sashimi. The fresh Hong Kong seafood is the star of this show, so you won’t find much rice here. You can go next door to the café for that.
Your experience starts out with some soup and a light salad to prepare your pallet. From then on, you are fed the perfect cuts of seafood piece by piece. They start off with some more normalized fare such as salmon, yellow tail and tuna. Then, it gets more mollusk-y as we work our way through surf clam, scallop and eventually, uni. All of the seafood was amazingly fresh. That’s the benefit of being an island, right? Watching the chef make each piece allowed for great pacing and entertainment while we dined. We ate our way through about 10 pieces by the time we finished. It was enough for a light lunch.
Overall, Kaiki is a cool little spot in a great location. Surprisingly, it was only $$ for our experience. Definitely budget-friendly.
Nellcôte is a cool little spot near the West Loop that you should make reservations for a few weeks out. We stopped here on a Saturday evening, during a slight reprieve from the North Coast Music Festival. We had already fested for a solid 1.5 days, so we were in need of some high quality fuel. That’s exactly what we found here.
We arrived just in time for our reservation. However, the place was bumpin’, so our table wasn’t ready. We were told to wait a few moments. We sat down to soak in the atmosphere and before long, the hostess arrived to offer us 2 glasses of champagne while we waited. This was a very nice, personable touch. Plus, it gave us a little buzz, which is always good.
After about 15 minutes, we were seated. We were located right near the middle of the dining area. It was packed, but still felt pretty intimate due to the layout of the place. The room was dim with faint chandelier light illuminating all of the glass and decorations around. It felt very fancy. We ordered a few more drinks because it was quite a lively evening. The crowd was pretty yuppie and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
We ordered a sampling of dishes (it’s a tapas restaurant) – some recommended by our waitress, and some that looked intriguing on the menu. The dishes are European-inspired with a hint of American sensibilities. The menu is ever-changing so it’s hard to make recommendations. However, you must have the roasted pears for dessert if they have it. Perfect way to end the meal.
Overall, Nellcôte is a very fun and classy place to enjoy a drink and a bite. Make sure you got some Benjamin’s on you because it’s $$-$$$$.
San Francisco, CA
This was our last stop in San Francisco and we definitely went out with a bang! We had an overnight delay for our flight back to Columbus and were comped a hotel by the airport. My cousin and her fiancé picked us up and told us that we had to try the chicken wings at this little Chinese spot. We were down.
When we arrived, it had all the features of a Chinese restaurant: bustling dining room, fast-moving wait staff and delicious smells. We were seated immediately and served hot tea and kimchi. I am a big fan of spice and can handle a lot, but that shit was SPICY.
Luckily, a big heaping bowl of jajangmyeon came out and we all devoured it. That helped to cool things off. Next, we had some steamed dumplings which were awesome. Finally, the pièce de résistance came out — the chicken wangs. To say that they were bomb is an understatement. The wings were smothered in a sweet and spicy Asian sauce. The kind that isn’t too much of either, but a perfect blend of the 2 sensations. Through the sauce, the wings were lightly crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. I wish they were a little crunchier, but it was still fantastic. The meal didn’t stand a chance, so we ordered another plate of them. They disappeared without a trace.
Overall, Sang Ting lived up to expectations and was a nice spicy wrap-up on a chilly SF night. Don’t expect to break the bank because it’s only $-$$.
This meal took place during my last vacation before starting my career path. We headed up to Toronto for a few days with my Dad and Stepmom. We met up with some family friends and they suggested we try to the roast pig at Peaktop. I grew up on roasted pork, so I said sure thing. I expected some tasty food, but wasn’t prepared for this.
This restaurant was quite elegant and stood out against the average shopping plaza it inhabited. We got the usual Chinese restaurant treatment – seated at a big round table with a lazy Susan in the middle. The hot tea came out right away as the waiter spoke with our family friend. He asked for the roast pig special. I expected them to trim an order off a pig handing from the window, as I was accustomed. When the dish finally came out, it arrived on a rolling cart. That’s because it was an entire pig, head to tail. It wasn’t a full grown hog, but it was still a good 20+ lbs. This thing was probably the size of my torso.
The prep work was done table-side. They trimmed the crispy skin off the pig and put it on a dish for us to eat. And by eat I mean consume with reckless abandon. While this was going down, they brought the pig back to the kitchen to carve. It came back out shortly, in a more accessible fashion. We tried our best to finish everything, but it was just so much hog. There was a little bit left that we could snack on later. I think they packaged it up for us, but I can’t remember on account of blacking out into a food coma.
Overall, this was the best roast pig experience I’ve ever had. Make sure it’s a family friend taking you here because it’s $$$-$$$$.
If you’ve never had Dou Hua (which translates to “tofu flower” in Chinese), then please allow me to explain. Dou Hua consists of slices of soft tofu bathed in a simple syrup. You can also add whatever toppings you want to it for extra flavor and texture. The tofu and syrup base is very smooth and if done right, very subtly sweet. The optional toppings are usually pieces of fruit or red bean paste.
We stopped into this dessert café after a spicy hotpot. This turned out to be exactly what we needed. The tofu was soothing to our inflamed taste buds. The syrup was light and provided the right amount of sweet. The fruit and red bean past added some substance to the dessert, making it a substantial serving. The inside of the café is very small and eclectic. There was seating for maybe 15 people inside, and a courtyard area outside for when it’s nice out (i.e. you’re not soaked through with humidity sweat). The walls are signed by what I can only imagine are visiting celebrities. It’s also situated in an alleyway full of cafes and restaurant; very cool eclectic vibe.
Overall, 騷豆花 is a good place for an after spicy hotpot dessert. Order extra because it’s only $.
Tsim Sa Tsui, Hong Kong
Do you like cooking your own food at a restaurant? Then Asian BBQ is just the thing for you! This restaurant, located in a unsuspecting building in Tsim Sa Tsui, will fulfill your table cooking needs.
You take the stairs up a few floors, pass a giant bronze statue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, turn a deserted corner and you’re there! Inside, the place is very nice with Japanese-influenced interior design.
We wasted no time ordering an assortment of different dishes to the table and some Asahi beers to go with. When in a Japanese BBQ joint, get Japanese beer right?
They fired up the in-table grill when they brought out our food. We had all the usual fare like mushrooms, zucchini, onions, etc. However, it was the marbled wagyu beef that we were most excited about. Wagyu is among the highest quality beef in the world. Best believe we roasted them suckers up! If there is a heaven on earth, it’s in the mouth of a wagyu beef eater. I won’t even begin to describe it, since I won’t do it justice. Just try it sometime.
Something about the combination of beer, beef, vegetables and table-side cooking is very filling, even though it’s not a lot of food.
Overall, Wa-En is a fun spot with the best beef I’ve ever eaten. Bring much money if you have an appetite, because it’s $$$-$$$$.
Happy travels and we hope you have a chance top try some of these places out!
-E & J
Let’s kick this list off with one of our favorite restaurants in Columbus. The Refectory is the peak of fine dining in the Central Ohio region. Located in an old church building in an inconspicuous lot on Bethel Road, this restaurant is anything but ordinary.
The best adjective to describe the Refectory would be “upscale.” Everything here is presented in the classiest fashion you can imagine. You won’t be seeing very many young folks here, as the venue’s nature draws a more mature audience. Not to say that it’s a retirement home in there. There is a restrained liveliness in there that makes the dining experience enjoyable.
The cuisine is classically French. On their dinner menu, you will find dishes such as Roasted Pheasant, European Cheese Plates, Escargot Terrine and Rabbit Feuilleté. Everything is prepared exquisitely and the portions are just right; enough to enjoy but you won’t be stuffed. Might we recommend the rabbit or any of their pork dishes (the menu changes from time to time).
But more so than the food, the real star of the show at the Refectory is the service. Our waiter was very knowledgeable about everything we could ever ask him to be. He was able to provide recommendations and describe flavor pairings in the way that only 20 years of experience can. He was attentive without being over bearing. We also got a free dessert and wine flights for Ewa’s birthday. Nice touch.
Overall, the Refectory was a complete dining experience. Just make sure that you have a special reason to go, because it’s $$$$.
Hilton Head Island, SC
There isn’t too much to do in Hilton Head except for eat, drink and hang out on the beach – and that’s a good thing. The Island isn’t too big, so the food scene isn’t huge. We chose a nice local spot that was close to the ocean.
We went to Steamer’s after a long day of soaking in the sun and swimming in the ocean. We were all pretty worn out and ready for a nice recovery meal. Being a coastal area, we had to sample the seafood. We ordered enough food for the group (My mom’s side of the family), or so we thought. What came out of the kitchen was a kingly feast. We had giant platters of raw oysters on the shell, shell-on shrimp, fried fish and much more. They even gave us big metal buckets to toss out our shells. They knew we’d be doing some work.
Wooh boy, the seafood was so fresh, you could still taste the ocean on them (in a good way). The meat was super juicy and tender – how it should be when it’s never been frozen. Of course, the main attraction was the oysters. These things were only like $2 a piece, but they were the size of a small cellphone. After 5 of them, I feel like a shark in the water. There is also live music in the evenings to accompany your dining. “If you like pina colaaaada…”
Overall, Steamer’s was the perfect ocean-side seafood paradise. Rest easy because it’s only $$.
M at Miranova
Finally, we bring our culinary tour back to good ol’ Columbus. We just had the pleasure of dining at M last night. The manager invited us to try their Fall Preview menu. We happily obliged. The atmosphere at M is very classy with a sleek modern interior and flowing white drapes to divide sections.
Our waiter was quite the charmer. He was personable, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We had our first cocktail pairing before the dishes started to arrive. The menu consisted of 5 courses with a focus on the fall season. We had staples such as butternut squash ravioli, lamb chops with chimichurri and pumpkin pie. Another cocktail arrived somewhere between the 3rd and 4th course. Everything came with hearty flavors, perfect for a chilly fall evening. The portions were very generous and we were stuffed by the end of our experience. We mentioned this our waiter and he notified us that these were only half portions. Crazy! We spent about 2.5 hours there, and everything was well paced to make the time fly by.
If you have a chance, stop by M and give their fall menu a try before it hibernates for the winter.
Overall, the food, drinks and service were 110% on point. Just remember that you pay for quality — $$$$.