Confession: I am 8 weeks overdue for an article here at Dayton Most Metro.
I’ve been working on my latest piece in my Quest for the Best series. See past Quests here. I just can’t pull the trigger. Calling a place the best is hard to do. Too much drama from the local foodie scene when you label it the best.
My Quests started a long time ago. 5-6 or 7 years ago I created a Pad Thai crawl. My group ponied up $50 and we ate Pad Thai 5 times in one afternoon. Eat. Rest. Drive. Eat again. Repeat. Started at noon at the Greene and finished at Thai 9 at 5:00. A while later I wrote it up as my quest to find the best Pad Thai in Dayton. I don’t recommend that volume for anyone in a day.
I repeated that same format with a taco crawl, four stops, three hours. I’ve done epic 8 or 10 restaurant crawls in Kansas City in 48 hours. Same in Memphis. Austin. Once did 4 BBQ places in one day here in Southwest Ohio.
In case you are wondering, my favorite BBQ in all of Southwest Ohio is either Just Q’in (Walnut Hills) or Combs BBQ in Middletown. Here in Dayton I like most all, City, Oink, Smokin, Fat Backs, and FlyBy are all legit and doing good stuff with BBQ here. If I didn’t list a local brick and mortar store in Dayton just now, that was on purpose. Either I don’t like it, or it doesn’t count as a BBQ spot for me.
I later wrote about the best Reuben in Dayton. I had Reuben sandwiches at 17 restaurants over an 8 week period. That’s two a week or more for two months. I thought I found the best. I really just found my favorite.
All this to say, in recent weeks and months I have seen the worst in foodies when the subject of “Wheres the Best?” arises in a conversation.
If I have learned anything its that best is subjective. There are no standards for best Pad Thai and when you factor in regional tastes or the chef putting it together its impossible to decide on the standard for best. Same with biscuits and gravy. Or tacos. Tacos people! Tacos are more regional in Mexico than pizza in the US.
What people are asking, when they ask for the best, is this: What is your favorite?
Asking that question takes away the debate. My favorite my not be your favorite. But no matter what the sauces are, or the cut of meat, my favorite is still my favorite.
In third grade, Jennifer Whitley quietly smoked the rest of Mrs. Hopkin’s class in the 50 yard dash. She was not the best runner. She was simply the fastest runner in the class that day. And for many days and years ahead. There’s a difference. Best. Fastest. Favorite. That is also the day I learned I would never be on the track team.
When we say best, we say favorite, and when we say favorite, we often mean personal or nostalgic. I am an unabashed Skyline Chili guy and Cassano’s pizza guy. I love them both. Unashamed. Those two places were a big deal in the small town I grew up in. I have close personal memories of dining with my family at the Lebanon London Bobby’s and later Cassano’s pizza. Up here, closer to Dayton, Marion’s is an institution. For many of the same reasons.
Recently I had the best service and the best complete dinner I’ve had this year. It was at Jay’s Seafood in the Oregon district. I had never been there. My tastes tend more to Abners, Taco trucks and low brow BBQ, not fine dining.
But. Jay’s did not disappoint. If I shared the menu with you, someone would tell me how they got better scallops or white fish or spinach salad somewhere else in town. Maybe the fried oyster was not the best. But it was perfect for me. Delightful crispy fritter with a well cooked tender oyster tucked inside. Having lived in Florida on the coast and in Louisiana near the coast, it was as good as I ever had. If I called it the best, someone would call me out for knowing nothing about fried oysters. If there was a technical error, it was never observed under the lighting of perfect and attentive service, a romantic dining room and gorgeous dinner partner.
I’ve had similar perfect nights at Mamma Disalvos, Treasure Island, Oakwood Club, Pine Club, and Thai 9 has never let me down. Some will comment and disagree with my experience, saying theirs wasn’t the same. Your experience and my experience don’t have to be the same for them both to be true.
So, for my best of list this year I offer this instead, my favorite foods and where to get them:
Italian – Mamma Disalvos
Deli – Zink’s Centerville (Pork tenderloin is ridiculous)
Burger – Disalvo’s Deli (Thursday’s only)
Taco – Garcia Mobil truck (3rd and Huffman)
Pizza – Cassano’s or Old Scratch
Pad Thai – House of Thai (Beavercreek)
Cuban Sandwich – El Meson (best con gris too)
Biscuits and Gravy – Tanks or Mom’s (if you know you know) (Franklin Ohio)
Falafel – Carmen’s Deli
Reuben – FlyBoys Deli
Fried Chicken – Krispy Krunchy Chicken, Gas station, Stroop and Far Hills
Bakery – Big Sky
Chili – Slyder’s Tavern
Wings – Lock 27
Patio – Trolley Stop (I can’t wait to be there again)
Bar – Lily’s
I know what is going to happen. People are gonna see this list. They are going to comment, sure that is good, but have you had…..? The chances are I have. I probably really have tried your spot. So let’s remember. I’m not saying the best. I am saying this is my favorite.
For the record, Zink’s makes a fantastic burger, always cooked perfect. Carmen’s Deli makes a great Reuben. FlyBoy deli has a reuben pizza that will have you rethinking your life. It’s that good. Tank’s burger and those fries. Killer. Thai-9 has my favorite Red Curry and their sushi is top notch. Yummy Burger has great Pad Thai if a burger isn’t your thing. Company 7 has great wings and bbq too. Jimmy’s Ladder 11 has a shrimp po’ boy that reminds me of Baton Rouge. For a burger and beer, its hard to have a better experience than Blind Bob’s and their wings are legit too. Fastest lunch under $10? Falbs.
My favorite calamari ever was at Oakwood Club, my most memorable black and bleu burger came from there too, same night. That night was a celebration. Friends. Drinks. War stories. The food just came and we shared and ate. I remember the people as much as the calamari, cocktails and that burger that arrived just as the kitchen was closing. Are there better burgers? Maybe, but that night, well that can’t be done again. You see, the calamari was just one part. It was the experience as much as the perfect cut, tasty tempura or the accompanying sauce. Favorite. Not best.
So, tell me your favorite, leave a comment and tell me yours!