The 5 Best Meals of 2021

The best restaurants from around the U.S. you need to go to right now.

This year, I had the opportunity to travel all around the United States, and to Mexico and the Caribbean. As always, one of my main goals while traveling, is to sample the local food, and review the best places to eat. So, here I am sharing with you some of my best meals that I ate in 2021.

Now, there were a LOT of wonderful meals to choose from, so this was a tough pick. I want to recognize all the amazing chefs, restauranteurs and kitchen staff that are trying to make it in the business during this tough pandemic year. Across the country, I heard the same story again and again. Labor shortage, supply chain issues, low inventory, higher prices, and struggling establishments. Still, these five restaurants managed to create the most memorable dining experiences that I would cherish forever. And I hope you get to check them out for yourself too.

The Grey, Savannah

You may have seen it on Netflix (Chef’s Table), you may have read the new book (Black, White, and The Grey: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship and a Beloved Restaurant), but until you have dined at The Grey, you haven’t really experienced chef Mashama Bailey’s culinary passion. Located at what was once a segregated Greyhound bus terminal in historic downtown Savannah, this modern American restaurant is a testament of the new south. Of course, there is great upscale southern cuisine to go along.

Their winter village outdoor yurt made a nice alternate to indoor dining, allowing for safe distant dining (each yurt seated one party). These were decorated with colorful quotes by famous Black artists. The Sunday brunch included a high tea with tea sandwiches, fresh baked pastries (my favorite was the cardamom French cruller), champagne and tea, each served in beautiful floral ceramics. All that followed by 3-course lunch options. I had chilled shrimp cocktail and whole fried flounder with collard greens and southern grits. Menu changes daily.

Tip: Make sure to reserve your table at The Grey months in advance, as they tend to sell out.

Ardovino’s Desert Crossing, New Mexico

This may be one of the most unusual locations for a fine dining restaurant. Once I crossed over the border from El Paso, Texas into the sleepy small town of Sunland Park in New Mexico, there was Ardovino’s Desert Crossing. Overlooking the Mexico border, the historic estate has been in the same Italian family since 1949. It has been an inn, restaurant, gambling parlor, event venue, farm, and more. On Saturdays, there’s a Farmers Market selling organic and pesticide-free produce, beef, pork, lamb and goat, fresh-baked breads and salsas fair trade coffee, and fresh-squeezed juices. During the day, they have food literacy, cooking demos, kid’s activities and gardening tips. You can eat outside under the shade of pecan trees and feel the warm desert breeze.

And for dinner, there is made-from-scratch Italian meatballs, risotto, pizza, pasta, and juicy steaks, made with locally sourced and organically grown ingredients. The menu changes weekly, but every dish is delectable. The 40-day dry aged ribeye got applauds from even a non meat eater like me.

Insider Tip: Stay the night at a refurbished vintage trailer at Ardovino’s Roadside Inn’s 35-acre resort for the ultimate glamping experience.

Octagon, Bluffton

Located at the luxurious Montage Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, Octagon is known for its contemporary Carolina cuisine. Chef de Cuisine Daniel Vesey created a 11-course “Taste of the South” menu, and director of beverage Robert L. Smith carefully paired wines and beers to match. Some highlights from the menu included: May River oysters with green apple sorbet, hot honey glazed quail pops, shrimp and grits, deconstructed Lowcountry boil, and melt-in-your mouth chicken and dumplings.

Black truffles in dessert changed my entire perspective!

The dessert was a white chocolate mousse covered with black truffle (and made to look like one), with layers of caramel and blackberry. Earthy, sweet and savory – it was like nothing I have ever tasted before. Live music by Alan Price in the background also made it a memorable evening.

Travel Tip: Book a weekend getaway at the vibrant 20,000-acre Montage Palmetto Bluff community. 

red fish best seafood

Redfish Grill, New Orleans

I don’t typically consider Bourbon Street area of New Orleans to be the city’s epicurean center. Sure, its great for a daiquiri, a slice of pizza, and a bustling nightlife. But for a good meal, I would advise walking a few blocks away to a nice chef-driven restaurant. On Thanksgiving day, though, I had a feast at the Red Fish Grill in the French Quarter.

Serving Thanksgiving lunch buffet, the very casual and friendly restaurant offered one of the most delectable seafood spreads I have ever had – almost 35 dishes to choose from! There was a chill bar with fresh oysters on the half shell, peeled shrimp with housemate cocktail sauce, and tuna ceviche served in mini ice cream cones. For entrees, there were stations serving whole turkey, carved ham, redfish and grits, a variety of salads, and all the fixings. And the desserts were aptly placed in a separate room (they needed their own special display). New Orleans bread pudding, pumpkin cheesecake, chocolate cake, and lemon tarts, were all worth being thankful for!

Other notable mentions in New Orleans: Asian-fusion tapas at Mister Mao and Chef Nina Compton Compere Lapin.

Garden Room, Atlanta 

II found this bar/ restaurant to be the most fun atmosphere to celebrate with friends or family. The Garden Room is located at the St. Regis Hotel in Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. The ambiance is colorful and cherrie, with a greenhouse-like enclosure adorned with twinkling lights and floral-themed art. And the fun food and drink selections also go with the enchanted garden theme. My husband and I had a delectable spread of The Fruits of the Sea (chilled seafood tower), with New England oysters, king crab and Maine lobster, paired with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. We also ordered sharable small plates, and went back at another time for their black truffle pillows with wild mushrooms.

For dessert, the forbidden green apple mousse is a must! There’s also has a great selection of caviar and cocktails, so its definitely worth visiting for a special occasion.

Tip: Reserve a table at The Garden Room at least 3 months in advance, but if you show up early, you can also get a seat at the bar.

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Sucheta Rawal

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer, who has traveled to 100 countries across 7 continents. She is also the founder and editor of 'Go Eat Give' and author of 'Beato Goes To' series of children's books on travel.