However, being forced outside of one's comfort zone can do one wonders. And while I still have some strong preferences (I'm sorry squash...it's not me, it's you), I've since discovered all kinds of delicious, amazing food.
While I intend to add to this list, here are just a few of my (and Barrage's) favorite finds across the US. We basically eat at a restaurant for lunch and dinner every day, for 42 weeks a year...so after collectively having eaten thousands of restaurant meals, I'd like to think we've got pretty discerning taste.
I hope if you live near these places or find yourself traveling through these towns that you'll stop by and check them out!
(To see a list of my favorite restaurants in the Phoenix/Metro area, go here!)
Beirut Restaurant • Middle Eastern • Romulus, MI
Near the Detroit airport, this little known restaurant is truly a gem. We stop by every time we fly into or out of Detroit (which is more often than you'd think).
• Recommended: hummus, shawarma, and the "Blossom" smoothie.
Boden's Butter • Cafe • Aspen, CO
This bakery and coffee shop specializes in organic, vegan, and all-around tasty food. Probably the best oatmeal, chocolate chip cookie I've eaten...and it was vegan.
• Recommended: coffee, baked goods.
Bottega Louie • Pizza • Downtown Los Angeles, CA
Easily the best Italian-style pizza I've had in the USA (and home to the best service I've ever had). And, having eaten innumerable Italian-style (i.e. thin crust) pizzas in Italy, I'd like to think that I've got a discriminating palate for good pizza. Bottega Louie is perfect spot for dinner if you're attending a performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. (For all of you foodies in Phoenix, I think it's definitely better than Pizzeria Bianco.)
• Recommended: margherita pizza, chocolate soufflé.
Cafe Bellagio • Breakfast • Las Vegas, NV
The Bellagio isn't exactly cheap. But, if you're willing to shovel out a few extra bucks for breakfast, Cafe Bellagio has the best French toast I've ever eaten. (The second best French toast I've ever eaten is at The Farm at South Mountain near Phoenix.)
• Recommended: French toast.
The Grove Cafe & Market • Breakfast • Albuquerque, NM
We stopped by this place after an early morning flight into Albuquerque and were all amazed by the freshness and quality of food, as well as the coffee. It's probably some of the best granola I've ever had.
• Recommended: eggs, granola & yogurt, coffee.
Little Bangkok Thai Cuisine • Thai • Chicago (Mt. Prospect), IL
We eat a lot of Thai. A lot. This is easily the best Thai restaurant we've found in our travels. Their panang curry was so exceptional that I feel as though I'll never eat a panang curry that good ever again...seriously.
• Recommended: the curries.
Mandoo Bar • Korean • New York City, NY
Sarah Bennett, a Barrage alum and half-Korean, dragged me to this place for my first time eating Korean. I've since eaten Korean many times, and returned to this place in December 2009--it's still as great as I remember it. Nothing says quality like little, old Korean ladies hand-making dumplings in the front window!
• Recommended: steamed mandoo (dumplings), bibimbop.
The Market • Lunch • Denver, CO
Some of the tastiest sandwiches you'll find. The atmosphere is a little chaotic, but it's worth it for the food, especially if it's a nice day outside.
• Recommended: sandwiches, coffee.
Nine Bars Espresso • Coffee • Elizabeth City, NC
Who would've thought some of the best coffee I've found in the states would be so out of the way? Elizabeth City is not near anything...so the odds of you just driving through are slim to none. But just in case you do, make a stop!
• Recommended: coffee, homemade pastries.
Serendipity III • Dessert •
New York City, NY
I'm not sure how the actual food is, because I've never eaten a meal there, but the frozen hot chocolate and pies/cakes will blow your mind.
• Recommended: frozen hot chocolate, desserts.
Two Doors Down Coffee • Coffee • Corsicana, TXThis is among my favorite coffee houses I've found in the country, and it's in such an unlikely place (small town Texas). Corsicana is south of Dallas, along the I-45, en route to Houston. The coffee is great, the food is great, and the atmosphere is pretty much unmatchable.
• Recommended: coffee, sandwiches.
Wasabi Steak House • Japanese • Elyria, OH
None of us is really sure why such a great Japanese restaurant is in Elyria, OH, just west of Cleveland, but it is. Their sushi is quite good (especially for being not near the ocean), and it's not been crowded any of the times we've visited. Whenever we're in Ohio, we ask ourselves, "Wait, are we driving through Elyria today?'"
• Recommended: sushi.