Editor's note: Lunetta, 2785 Iris Ave., Boulder, shuttered in late-December.
For 2018, the top dishes of the year that I've had the pleasure of sampling are, for the most part, international in scope. Memorable dining experiences range from the Asian-influenced lattes at Gabee Coffee to the multi-course Turkish breakfast at Breakfast Champion.
There's also diversity in pricing this go-around, with the most inexpensive item on the list being the $3 gordita at the Diaz Farm's Tierra Y Fuego Taqueria. In contrast, the splurge-worthy American Wagyu strip-loin steak at Corrida clocks in at a formidable $95.
Here, in alphabetical order, are the most noteworthy dishes that I've encountered over the last year in Boulder County:
American Wagyu strip loin at Corrida
1023 Walnut St., #400, Boulder
This course is by far the most expensive and luxe selection on this year's list. It may also be worth noting that I consider this Spanish-influenced steak, seafood and tapas house the best restaurant that I've ever reviewed. Top-quality Wagyu is characterized by extensive marbling, nuanced flavor and extraordinary tenderness. Corrida's 14-ounce portion, rich enough to be shared by two or three diners, possesses all these admirable qualities, which are only matched by the accomplished preparation. Medium-rare is the way to go with this rarefied cut, and the kitchen here hits this level of doneness with impeccable precision.
Butter-poached lobster ramen at Chimera
2014 10th St., Boulder
Edwin Zoe, of Zoe Ma Ma fame, expanded the scope of his offerings earlier this year by opening Boulder's Chimera, a sit-down restaurant showcasing Pacific Rim cuisine. While there are many standouts on the menu here, such as the Shanghai soup dumplings and spicy Korean calamari, the lobster ramen is arguably the one to rule them all. Building on a solid foundation of organic house-made noodles, this luxurious bowl puts butter-poached lobster tail center stage, alongside lobster-buttered corn. The melding of standard ingredients such as seaweed, soft-boiled egg and enoki mushroom with the seafood makes for a ramen bowl that perfectly balances tradition and decadence.
Gnocchi with pesto at Il Pastaio
3075 Arapahoe Ave., Suite B, Boulder
This packed strip-mall spot has been packing in knowledgable pasta aficionados for years. It also stands out for offering up an impressive assortment of noodles, which seems almost incongruous given this restaurant's diminutive size. Gnocchi, that dumpling-like pasta, is a course that presents many pitfalls for the unwary kitchen, as it can fall into the trap of possessing a leaden or gummy consistency. Il Pastaio's potato-based version is about as good as it gets, boasting a light and smooth texture. Paired with a bright and fresh-tasting pesto hewing to traditional recipes, this gnocchi is impressive and satisfying.
Gobi Manchurian at Barwarchi Birayanis
390 S. McCaslin Blvd., Louisville
Barwarchi Birayanis serves up some of most intriguing Indian fare in the county, ranging from its namesake rice-based dishes to such favorites as butter chicken and tandoori preparations. The restaurant also features Indo-Chinese courses — fusion fare that's analogous to dishes that fall under the label of Chinese-American. My go-to Indo-Chinese dish at Barwarchi Birayanis is the meatless Gobi Manchurian, featuring fried cauliflower, that's nicely tender on the inside, and is augmented by Manchurian sauce. This is a spicy sweet red condiment reminiscent of what one might find on a good sesame chicken, brightened by sliced scallion.
Gorditas at Tierra Y Fuego Taqueria
2818 Jay Road, Boulder
Situated at North Boulder's Diaz Farm, the Tierra Y Fuego Taqueria is a humble trailer that dishes out some of the best Mexican street fare in town. The array of bargain-priced and first-rate tacos, quesadillas and burritos are available with a variety of fillings — ranging from smoked brisket to a veggie mix spotlighting squash and mushroom. But if you're a carnivore, the pro move might very well be getting one of the gorditas with pancita, or smoked pork belly. The gordita's rough hewn cornmeal foundation is hearty enough to stand up to the rich meatiness of the pork belly, making for one of the most satisfying experiences in inexpensive street-style food.
Le Frigo sandwich at Le Frigo
5360 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
For my money, the best sandwiches are those that are the simplest, but also using top-notch ingredients. A fine expression of this approach is found at Le Frigo, a South Boulder strip-mall deli. The namesake sandwich here builds on a classic base of crusty baguette, sweet butter and tiny, but flavor-packed, cornichon pickles. There's a choice of meat fillings including saucisson, prosciutto, mortadella or pork rillettes. But my personal favorite is the French ham, which is less seasoned and features a cleaner pork flavor than its American counterpart. As a matter of fact, this sandwich introduced me to this ingredient and turned me into an ardent fan.
Linguini with steamed clams at Lunetta
*Note: Lunetta shuttered in late-December.
2785 Iris Ave., Boulder
Lunetta, a hospitable North Boulder neighborhood spot, updates this seafood pasta classic in a way that dramatically improves on the original. While the linguini foundation acknowledges classic recipes, this preparation emphasizes shellfish broth over white wine and lemon, which can sometimes obscure the taste of the clams. In this instance, mild peppers and tomato contribute a hint of pep that accentuates the fresh seafood flavor. The clams are the crowning touch though, consisting of impeccably prepared littleneck and Pasta gem varieties in their shells.
Green tea mint chocolate latte at Gabee Coffee
3040 28th Street, Boulder
While this burg is awash in java joints, newcomer Gabee Coffee has distinguished itself by virtue of friendly service, beans roasted on site, and unique latte art. There's also several options for the caffeine-averse, including numerous fruit ades and a selection of sweetened non-coffee lattes. These include those made with blueberry and sweet potato, but a can't miss is the green tea mint chocolate latte. The star of this drink is melted chocolate chips, a superior alternative to mere syrup. Anchored by this ingredient, this innovative beverage is as much a comforting cold-weather warmer as it is a luxurious dessert.
Miso black cod at Hana Japanese Bistro
148 W. Dillon Rd., Louisville
Black cod, also known as sable and butterfish, has evolved from a value-priced fish to a sometimes pricey delicacy prized by seafood connoisseurs. One reason for this fish's late-blooming popularity is the miso marinade-based preparation popularized by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa at his namesake restaurants. Hana's take, which falls somewhere between small plate and main course, is top notch, spotlighting delightfully silky rich fish set off by the earthy richness of the miso. A side of vegetables, including broccoli and sprouts, provide a crisp tender counterpoint, and grated daikon, best embellished with a drop or two of soy sauce, is the ideal condiment.
Nduja Pizza at Peel Handcrafted Pizza
214 Fifth St., Frederick
This Frederick spot crafts noteworthy pizzas as well as top notch salads, panini and pasta. One of this comfortable eatery's best and most intriguing savory pies is the Nduja pizza. Nduja is a spicy, spreadable cured meat of Italian origins, consisting of pork and red pepper. This ingredient enlivens Peel's pie in a way that more common hot Italian sausage can only aspire to. Combine nduja with such toppings as onion, basil and mozzarella — and alongside Peel's perfect crust (there's also a gluten-free option), and you've got the makings of a tasty and memorable pie.
Nigiri sushi at Misaki at Superior
402 Marshall Road, Superior
$5 and up
Misaki is one of those rare eateries where everything from the ramen to the pork buns are best in class. But Chef Jesusio Silva's sushi stands out in particular, due to the impeccable quality of the fish and top-notch preparation. Such sushi bar basics as tuna and salmon stand out due to remarkable fresh flavor, but the special-order items will delight even the most discriminating nigiri connoisseur. Stand-out specials include sushi topped with Croatian fatty tuna or authentic waygu imported from Japan. While not nigiri sushi per se, another can't miss selection is the chirashi, an assortment of sashimi topping a bowl of perfectly seasoned sushi rice.
Osaka Burger at Osaka's
2460 Canyon Blvd., Suite #1, Boulder
The Osaka burger is a truly unique preparation, and you'd be hard-pressed to find it anywhere else in Colorado, and perhaps even in the United States. One can call this a fusion dish, building upon the savory Japanese pancake known as okonomiyaki, composed of wheat flour, egg and cabbage. Osaka also offers a gluten-free okonomiyaki made from kale. The Osaka burger uses the pancake as a bun, enveloping a variety of fillings, ranging from vegetarian mushroom to sukiyaki beef. The end result is an intriguing nosh, with a lighter feel and more depth of flavor than a traditional hamburger.
Pappardelle al cinghiale at Parma Trattoria and Mozzarella Bar
132-1 West Dillon Rd., Louisville
Parma features one of the most reliable Italian menus around and the pappardelle al cinghiale, or wide pasta with wild boar ragu, is a standout among many excellent choices. The texture of the handmade noodles is silky and light, and easily distinguished from less subtle mass-produced pastas. A balanced tomato sauce serves as the perfect backdrop for the deeply flavored, but not at all gamy, wild boar. It's also worth noting that the same pasta is available in a meatless version, featuring porcini mushrooms and a luxurious truffle cream sauce.
Short rib burrito at Mojo Taqueria
216 E. Main St., Lyons
Mojo Taqueria impresses with its mix of Mexican street-food standbys, including carnitas and chicken tinga, and creative new-school selections like a Korean beef taco garnished with kimchi. But the wow factor might be the highest when it comes to the formidable short rib burrito, a generously portioned wrap that can easily feed two. The braised meat is marvelously tender and flavorful, and perfectly accented by the addition of fried onion, pico de gallo and a chipotle aioli. Well-prepared rice and beans up the heftiness quotient, and some may want to spend an extra buck on smothering this burrito with the smoky, mole-like red sauce.
Sonoran hot dog at Marco's Hot Dogs and Tacos
1647 Kimbark St., Longmont
There's at least one guilty pleasure nosh on this list every year, and it was hard to decide between the tacos and the dogs at this cash-only stand. A Sonoran dog is distinct from say, a Chicago frankfurter, in that it starts off on the griddle wrapped in bacon. Once it's in the bun, the dog is covered in an avalanche of toppings, including onion, tomato, ketchup, mustard, mayo and shredded cheese. But the ingredient that makes this dog stand out from other variations are pinto beans, which contribute both earthy and creamy qualities.
Steak tartare at Martini's Bistro
543 Terry Street, Longmont
Steak tartare is one of those old-school preparations that probably deserves to make a comeback. However, one suspects that the challenges associated with serving up a dish that includes both raw beef and egg may be too daunting of a task for most restaurant kitchens. Happily, Martini's Bistro has proven itself more than up to the challenge, combining both uncooked tenderloin and delicate quail egg, among other ingredients, to create a dish that skillfully balances myriad flavors. Like all good tartare, the meat is the star, but additions such as capers and a splash of Worcestershire sauce boost the taste profile of the tenderloin without obscuring it.
Turkish breakfast at Breakfast Champion
4800 Baseline Road, #A109, Boulder
The name Breakfast Champion does little to enlighten the diner about the availability of the unique Turkish specialities on offer here. A fine introduction to traditional Turkish fare is the expansive breakfast offering, which in its single-serving form, is actually enough for two. Consisting of an array of small dishes, this morning repast includes house-baked seeded bread, accompanied by such spreads as strawberry jam and Nutella. Cured meats, hard boiled egg, clotted cream drizzled in honey and a refreshing salad of cucumber and tomato are some of the other highlights of this one-of-a-kind and comprehensive meal.
Vegetarian Pho at Pho Kitchen
2900 Baseline Road, Unit 3, Boulder
$10.95 for a medium bowl
Over the past two years, Boulder's pho game has considerably improved. Pho Kitchen, which recently appeared on the scene, has distinguished itself with its full-bodied beef broth — the make-or-break element in any bowl of pho worth its salt. But perhaps more significantly, this Vietnamese eatery offers up a compelling vegetarian version of the famed noodle soup. While the meatless broth is lighter than its beefy counterpart, an assortment of vegetables, including baby corn, zucchini, carrot, broccoli, water chestnuts and baby bok choy contribute noticeable heft. Fried tofu and plenty of rice noodles round out this one-bowl meal, a satisfying repast at any point during the day.