15 Destinations, 15 Must-Try Dishes

The World's Best

From paella in Valencia to sushi in Japan, find restaurants for regional specialties.

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A Johnny's shrimp po'boy in New Orleands.
Pacific Northwest oysters on the half shell.

By Jeff Koehler
 
1. Fish-and-Chips in England
The National Fish & Chip Awards are the Oscars of the chippie world. In 2014, the Best Independent Takeaway in Britain honor went to the family-run Quayside in the harbor of Whitby, a small fishing town in Yorkshire.
 
The cod, haddock, and plaice are fried to perfection – light and crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside. For best restaurant, the award went to Poppies in London’s East End, where Pops Newland has been frying fish for 50 years. Alongside the standard chipped potatoes and tangy homemade tartar sauce, he offers a generous ladle of mushy peas.

2. Oysters in Seattle
An oyster is not an oyster is not an oyster. At least not at Taylor Shellfish on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, which offers five Pacific Northwest varieties grown at the company’s own local farms. The clean, cool Pacific waters give the bivalves their sublime flavors and ideal textures. Don’t just slurp and swallow these delectable oysters: Chew them a couple of times first to release the full force of their flavor.
 
Know Your Oysters

  • Pacific: Fresh and sweet with lovely hints of the sea. The three-inch-long shell is sharply pointed with pronounced flutes.
  • Kumamoto: This sweetest oyster’s flavor is often compared to crispy, salted cucumbers. It is small, with a deep cup and deeply fluted shell.
  • Olympia: Not much bigger
 than a quarter, this native oyster has an intense flavor and a sweetness to its metallic coppery finish.
  • Shigoku: Small and dense, with a mild, clean flavor hinting of cucumber and salt.
  • Virginica: The West Coast version of an Atlantic Bluepoint or Wellfleet. Pear-shaped, with creamy colored meat; its sweetness holds mineral tones and a touch of brine.
 


3. Paella in Valencia
Spain’s baroque culinary tour de force, drawing well over a dozen ingredients into its signature wide, flat pan, is, at heart, a country dish that hails from the orchards and paddies around the Albufera lagoon south of Valencia. Making paella is first and foremost about the rice: Everything is done to flavor the stubby, locally grown grains, which simply act as vehicles to absorb all the flavors in the pan.

While shellfish paella is the most popular version along much of the Mediterranean coast, the authentic paella Valenciana contains chicken, rabbit, snails, and three types of local green beans. Unsurprisingly, Valencia’s best arrocerías (restaurants specializing in arroz, rice) – including the incomparable Casa Salvador – are near the Albufera.

4. Pho in Vietnam
Pho is a favorite Vietnamese breakfast dish, often eaten quickly. Park your moped outside the long-running Ph Hòa Pasteur and order a bowl of the beef or chicken pho.

To eat like a local, hold your chopsticks in one hand (for the fresh rice noodles) and a spoon in the other (for the aromatic broth). Lean in close to catch the garnishes – bean sprouts, Thai basil or mint, and other herbs – stuffed into the steaming soup. Slurping is acceptable, even admired.

5. Mussels in Belgium
From September to February, mussels harvested from the North Sea arrive in Belgian markets in vast quantities. Cooks prepare them in a variety of manners, including the classic marinière (cooked in white wine with shallots, parsley, and butter) and
 with white wine and cream.

For
a steaming pot of moules, crispy frites (fries) dipped in homemade mayonnaise are the mandatory consort. Few meals are as pleasing with a glass of white wine on a cold winter evening in the elegant, cozy 1921 Aux Armes de Bruxelles brasserie.
 

 


6. Ceviche in Peru
Peruvian food is having a moment, with Lima currently considered South America’s culinary hot spot. Yet for all the noise and novelty, one classic Peruvian dish remains a favorite: ceviche.

Pieces of fresh seafood – from delicate sea bass and sole to stronger bonito, as well as shellfish – are marinated in a zesty mixture of lemon juice, garlic, local chilies, onions, and salt, a process that turns the fish opaque and the flesh firmer but leaves the sparkling flavors of the sea.

Ceviche should be simple
and fresh, garnished with boiled corn, toasted corn, and cold slices of boiled sweet potato, and eaten immediately. Many of Lima’s finest cebicherías are in the Miraflores neighborhood, with Gastón Acurio’s La Mar and Rafael Osterling’s El Mercado battling it out among vocal aficionados as the address of choice.

7. Parrilla in Buenos Aires
Parrilla means “grill” and describes not only the cooking implement but also Argentine steak-house restaurants and their menu items.

What to Order: A fat, juicy steak grilled with consummate skill.
Perfect Pairing: A bottle of malbec from Mendoza – dark and fruity with toasty oak notes.
Where:

  • The family-run, unassuming Don Julio in Palermo Hollywood; its wine list is excellent too.
  • The old-school Don Carlos, beside the Boca Juniors fútbol stadium.
  • Insider tip: “For its ambience, location, and excellent service and quality of meat, my favorite parrilla is La Brigada. It is very well known to tourists, but even as a local, it’s my first choice.” – Catalina Sanchez Barrenechea, on-site tour operator
A Guide to the Cuts:
  • Bife de Chorizo: Sirloin or New York strip steak.
  • Bife de Lomo: Tenderloin
  • Entraña: Skirt steak
  • Ojo de Bife: Rib eye
  • Tira de Asado: Short ribs
  • Vacío: Flank steak
Also on the Menu:
  • Chinchlín: Tripe
  • Chorizo: Sausage
  • Molleja: Sweetbreads
  • Morcilla: Blood sausage
  • Riñones: Kidneys
Traditional Sauces:
  • Chimichurri: The classic, a heady blend of parsley, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, olive oil, and vinegar
  • Salsa Criolla: Made with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and plenty of vinegar
 


8. Mole in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is known as the “land of the seven moles.” These thick, heady sauces include rojo (red), verde (green), and
a brick-red one aptly named manchamanteles (“tablecloth stainer”).

But the king is mole negro (black). Its preparation is lengthy and complicated, and it includes a disparate combination of ingredients – various dried chilies grown in the nearby hills, toasted and ground nuts and seeds, spices (cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, anise), herbs (epazote, sometimes avocado leaves), raisins, and even the unlikely addition of bittersweet chocolate. As at the divine Casa Oaxaca Café, mole negro is traditionally served over the local turkey called guajolote, alongside fried sweet plantains.

9. Dim Sum in Hong Kong
Maxim’s Palace at City Hall, overlooking Victoria Harbour, offers more than 100 delectable varieties of dim sum. Uniformed waitresses push trolleys stacked high with bamboo steamer baskets of options that range from pork and shrimp dumplings (siu mai) to steamed pork buns (char siu bao) and crispy filled taro puffs.

Pour a cup of tea, wait for the trolleys to pass your table, and then simply point at what looks good. The experience is especially enjoyable on Sundays, when this traditional cavernous hall fills with raucous groups of friends.

10. Sushi in Japan
Handling about 2,000 tons of seafood per day, the Tsukiji Market is the world’s largest and busiest fish wholesaler. A predawn visit to its celebrated tuna auction is Tokyo’s culinary highlight – especially when followed by an early breakfast at one of its traditional sushi counters.

Daiwa Sushi and nearby Sushi Dai serve some of the best in Japan – any fresher and the seafood would still be on the boat. Go now before the market’s relocation in 2016.

Tip: The tuna auction opens to visitors from 5:25 to 6:15 am. Registration for one of the 120 available spots begins at 5 am – or take a Tsukiji tour with a Michelin-starred chef through Virtuoso's on-site connection in Japan. It’s a perfect outing for a first, jet-lagged day in Tokyo.
 

 


11. Curry in India
Curry is a catchall term for the wide range of South Asian dishes cooked, for lack of a better description. in a richly spiced sauce. These range from Goan pork vindaloo, with its tango of vinegar, chilies, and garlic, to the lush coconut fish curries of India’s southern coasts.

In the north, one curry reigns: murgh makhani (butter chicken). The name is misleading in its simplicity. The chicken has a rich and regal sauce: a vaguely sweet melody of tomatoes, butter, and an array of spices ranging from cardamom to coriander and fenugreek, finished with cream.

Opened in 1913 and still run by the same family, Karim’s in Old Delhi near the majestic Moghul-era Jama Masjid and Red Fort serves up flavors redolent of that era’s bygone splendors, including expertly prepared butter chicken.

12. Tagine in Marrakech
La Maison Arabe, at the edge of Marrakech’s ancient medina, showcases what makes tagine – named for the exteriors firm enough to carry the bread to the mouth while terra-cotta vessel used for cooking it – such a sensational dish.

The meat is slow cooked under the dome-shaped lid until falling-off-the-bone tender, with a symphony of spices and a counterpoint of flavor: either sweet from dried or fresh fruits such as quince, pears, or tomato confit perked up with cinnamon and ginger, or tart, such as chicken with preserved lemons and green olives.

A tagine should be eaten using bread pulled from fresh disk-shaped loaves with exteriors firm enough to carry the bread to the mouth while the soft interior soaks up the concentrated flavors in the bottom of the tagine. That sauce is the hallmark of the dish – and a symbol of its success. At La Maison Arabe, tagines come back to the kitchen wiped clean.

13, 14, and 15. Pizza!
Three distinct pies from New York, Chicago, and Naples  – find out where to get the best slice that each destination serves up: Pizza Three Ways

Photography by Philipp Engelhorn (dim sum),  Atul Pratap (curry), Alan Keohane (tagine), Javier Pierini (parrilla), Tara Donne (New York-style pizza), Rush Jagoe (po’boy), Charity Burggraaf (oysters), and Lisa Linder (fish-and-chips).

Originally appeared in Virtuoso Life magazine, November 2014.



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In England, Poppies’ fish-and-chips and mushy peas.