When I go abroad and am moved (or feel obligated) to write, I usually say something about the food I am encountering and what I think that says about the place we are in. But I am not doing that this time, because we are in Orlando for Christmas and New Year’s. If you are not aware, Orlando, home of Disney World — marketed the “happiest place on earth” — is in Florida, which, besides its southernmost tip known as Miami, abounds in strip malls, supermarkets, and chain restaurants. Here, a small and very personal ranking of the restaurant chains that are within a short drive of my rental home:
- Il Mulino
- Joe’s Crab Shack
- Red Lobster
- Vito’s Chophouse
- Outback Steakhouse
- Cheesecake Factory
- Olive Garden
- Cracker Barrel
I have eaten at all of these restaurants, hence have legitimate opinions. In spite of its chicken ‘n dumplings, Cracker Barrel is lower in the list because of its general vibe of a post-2020 election MAGA rally; Olive Garden, because of its stubborn refusal to accept reservations, leading to lines that resemble the ones at a Universal Studios roller coaster ride after the lunch break. I can write about lines as well, because I now know them intimately, having endured a 4-hour wait to get into an Avatar ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that, according to my brief calculations, amounted to .001 percent of the time spent in line. I can confidently say that the food at Disney (particularly the warm pretzels with beer cheese at Animal Kingdom) is far superior to the food at Universal (loaded shepherd’s pie “jacket” potato). I can tell you that the customer service at Universal is far more empathetic. I can point you in the direction of the best, cleanest bathrooms (Disney’s Epcot Center). But I cannot devote a whole post to the food here, made by people that, just like me, are simply trying their best to get through the holiday season.
Instead, I, like many of the writers here in American who find themselves in the strange lull between Christmas and New Year’s, will write something about my favorite food memories of 2022. After all, everyone else is recapping their year in whatever they have been doing. Why can’t I coast and be lazy too? So here it is, my favorite stuff this year, in no particular order:
I’ve written about this place before, but what am I if not repetitive? It’s simply the best thing on the Yaowarat Road for me, the reason why I trek over there at 5:30 in the afternoon when most vendors are still setting up their stalls. Get there early before the line, or get stuck long enough to start mulling over your terrible life choices as you watch the live lobsters get plucked from your grasp one by one, destined for someone faster’s table.
Baan Tepa is, simply put, my favorite new restaurant of the year. Sure, the name is a little pretentious and the location is on the notoriously traffic-snarled Ramkhamhaeng Road, but the food, by young chef Tam Chudaree Debhakam, is really worth it. On my most recent visit earlier this month, I enjoyed a crab course of soft shell crab with a warm crab salad and crab roe, crab chawanmushi and a sauce of nam poo, or pulverized field crabs. Meanwhile, an earlier iteration of this course involved a custard of blue swimmer crab with “three oranges” vinaigrette, Trang soft shell crab with yellow curry and bamboo aioli, and a black crab brittle:
And although of course I remain a fan of Jay Fai and her crab omelet (even if it’s not the best dish she makes), it is not the best kai jiew dish in Bangkok. Instead, that distinction belongs to Samlor, where the omelet arrives as a deceptively fluffy “cake” meant to be broken into and eaten as a “slice”, replete with Japanese rice bottom and wonderfully gooey interior. My meal there was charming and innovative, much like Chefs Joe and Saki themselves.
Of course, it wasn’t all fine dining meals for me. There was also the introduction by Adam of @otr.offtherails to this lovely curry rice spot that has been around for half a century; my favorite thing there, the kai khem puu jaa, a mince of pork and crab studded with a single salted egg yolk and served with a tangy-spicy Thai vinaigrette (that means fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chilies, ok?)
Finally, closer to home, Emporium’s rererevamped food court finally re(rere)opened, with a couple of new additions including an Elvis Suki (but without the scallops or seabass) and Pad Thai Fai Ta Lu, alongside longstanding veterans like Bamee Sawang and Royal India. My new favorite of this latest crop is Nai Uan, not of the Yaowarat Nai Uans of guay jab fame, but the Old City Nai Uans of yen ta fo fame. I have been wary of yen ta fos in shopping mall food centers since tasting a spectacularly bad one at MBK’s food court (an experience that soured that place for me forever), but Nai Uan’s bowl — topped with a healthy smashed handful of chilies, in the fashion of Thi Pochana‘s Bowl on Mahachai Road — is a delicious version if you’re after a good cry and clearing out of the sinuses on your own at the food court as a lonesome farang finds himself unwittingly staring at your face.
And that’s it for 2022. Next time you hear from me, I will (hopefully) be somewhere else, tasting something that hasn’t been reheated in a microwave. Here’s to a better New Year for us all.