Posted by: cousindampier | 20 February 2011

Top 25 Food Rankings

Given the awful state of food where I live in New Zealand, I spend a few hours nearly every day pondering food.  I don’t mean New Zealand as a whole, which actually has very good food.  Franz Josef, where I’m living, might even have good food.  The food I am supplied by my place of employment is either doused in oil or fried beyond recognition.

Usually this pondering occurs in the two hours after lunch, when I wonder why I ate more of the same and feel sick again; inevitably, it always degrades into chatter amongst the people I work with about what we’d like to eat more.

This is, naturally, a horrible game to play with oneself.  A friend of mine in Afghanistan said he was waiting at least six months before he plays the “I wish I could eat ____” game with himself, and I find that rather impressive.  Apparently, I couldn’t make it two weeks without dreaming of food.  I can’t have the food from the places I want to go, and some of it I can’t have in general (hint: there are not many Mexicans in New Zealand).

Accordingly, below is a list of twenty-five places I miss eating at, ranked in order (25 the lowest and 1 is the place I want the most) and by category.   Or attempted category.  It’s kind of like how Bill Simmons does his trade value column, which was the inspiration for the idea.

Whatever, let’s get on with it.

“No longer exists because the guy who ran it is dead”

25. Burrito Cart at 17th and K.

This was easily one of my favourite places to eat in the whole city.  The guy who ran the cart was there every day for two or three hours, and was always busy.  He made fantastic burritos – hot, with cheese, fresh guacamole, three types of tortillas, and a variety of hot sauces.

Two memories stick out.  When I finally dragged a friend there, she refused to get a burrito because there was no meat involved.  LAME.

Second, I went to get one last November or so.  It was planned for three days.  I was very excited.  I got to the corner to find out the guy suffered a heart attack the week before – there was a little memorial set up in his honour.

So Rest in Peace, Burrito Man.  You will be missed.

“For the memories and the decor”

24. Cracker Barrel, Anywhere USA (As long as you’re not a hippie liberal living on the coasts)

Because if you have enough money, they will sell you anything.  Because it’s a snapshot of Americana.  Because I ate there a day I nearly died in a rainstorm.  And because they have a big sign on the door proclaiming they’ve proudly been integrated since 1968.  Know what became law in 1968? A Civil Rights Act.

23. Wall Drug, South Dakota

I don’t even remember the name of the place, but it had five cent coffee.  WIN.

22. Wagamama’s, London

DC was supposed to get a Wagamama’s.  I was excited for this Wagamama’s.  There were big ads on big windows advertising for Wagamama’s.

But it never happened, so I’m left with fond memories of London.  Wagamama’s is kind of a Chipotle for Noodle Soup – good food and a good amount for the price.  The food was rather good, and there were long tables where people could sit and chat with each other.  All in all: solid.

20/21. Guapos/Catcus Cantina, DC

I have a hard time breaking these up.  I agree with the faction who say Cactus has the better margaritas, but Guapos is too classy to lower beyond this.  And by classy I mean trashy with a nice getup, and I’ve been sick nearly every time I’ve eaten food there.

The Guapos phase of my life ended around 2007, when I grew up and moved onto Cactus.  I think that is true of most people.

19. Chadwicks, Friendship Heights, DC

My favourite place for nachos in DC.  Also, one of the more memorable places in DC, given the propensity of The UPS Store to drink here on special occasions.

I think I had my first cigar from here during freshman or sophomore year, on a day I was very sick with a cold, and I don’t think it helped me feel any better.

But the shots of grand mariner did. Thanks, Moose.

18. The Tenleytown Chipotle

This was the place of my first real date at American, which I don’t know if I recognized at the time, but she was really cute and funny.  I can remember when they used to serve beer.  It was the classy breakfast of choice near AU, along with some place which I can’t for the life of me think of the name, until the Popeye’s moved in a few doors down.  When I worked at the UPS Store my freshman and sophomore years, we’d get these for lunch and weigh them.

Also, I’d fight a cougar to eat a two pound burrito at the moment.  Rumour has it a Mexican place exists in Christchurch…

Note: There is no randomness about Mexican places being on this list.  It’s heavily tilted towards them.  I WANT TACOS.

“In the Mood for It”

17. Five Guys, DC

There is apparently a Five Guys in Spokane too, which just confuses me.  Anyway, Five Guys serves burgers which make men weep.  Big and juicy and full of deliciousness, with Cajun spice fries which actually will make you weep, but for a totally different reason.

A quick story which maybe one of you will appreciate: Five Guys posts where their potatoes are from on any give day.  Most of the time, the potatoes are from Idaho.  Idaho is well renowned for their potatoes, while Washington actually produces more.  So whenever I see the sign in Five Guys saying “Today’s potatoes are from middleofnowhere, Idaho”, I get annoyed at Idaho.

So thanks, Five Guys, for making me irrationally angry at an entire state.

16. Coronia Village, Cheney, WA

Also known as the Enchilada Place.  Spinach enchiladas with red sauce, I recall, were my favourite.

I’m a sucker for enchiladas.  Overall, they are probably my favourite food.  Though out of the way – the only detractor against it – the plates are the size of my chest, and the enchiladas are covered in cheese.  Initially, this seems to be a detractor.  Cheese is often used to cover bad food.  When stripped away of that cheese, their enchiladas are fantastic.  They also keep one full for about ten days.

15. Pret a Manger, London and DC

The day DC got its first Pret was a good day for the city.  I’d be willing to say it was the best day in that whole entire week.

Granted, I didn’t know about the Pret until I stumbled across it about a month later, but I’m sure it was a great day nonetheless.

Pret is mostly a sandwich shop, with takeaway boxed sandwiches made fresh daily.  They also serve a variety of cookies, juice, and pastries.  And hot wraps.  And sushi.  And the falafel sandwich is really good.

Fuck, I’m hungry.

14. Ben’s Chili Bowl, DC

Other people have written Shakespereian soliloquys towards Ben’s.   They have the best half-smokes in all of DC, and probably all of Maryland too.  Maybe Virginia.

But Ben’s is a real fantastic place to eat.  There is a reason they are constantly crowded – they deserve the fantastic reputation.

“So much food, I have to run home for one reason only”

13. Frank’s Diner, Spokane


Frank’s is the first Spokane food landmark, outside of the Spaghetti Factory, which I was introduced to, and the first I remember well.  If you can’t tell, its in an old train car, with a number of tables packed in.

Things I appreciate about Frank’s:

-Coffee.  Lots of Coffee from people who walk around with coffeepots and they use good, solid, coffee mugs.  Nice, thick coffee mugs.  The kind lumberjacks use. Really good coffee mugs are rare. Too many mugs are weak.  They feel weak in your hand.  The coffee tastes weak. It gets cold faster.  You feel weak using them.  You may as well just put on a beret and surrender to the Germans, for all they can do for you. The Franks’ coffee mugs are something which you could kill a bear with.

-Hobo Scramble.  I know the Hobo Scramble isn’t unique to Franks, but I learned about it there and couldn’t stop laughing. I kept imagining a guy with sweatpants and a big dirty beard doing yoga (Actually, that sounds rather like Santa Claus).  A Hobo Scramble is essentially scrambled eggs mixed with whatever – in Franks case, sausage, pepper, onion, and the like.

But given my propensity to love food which can be mixed together and eaten as one large plateful of deliciousness, Frank’s Hobo Scramble wins.

-Hash Browns.  Real cut potatoes with enough ketchup to drown a small baby.

So, go to Franks.

12. Lincoln Diner, DC

This gets a nod because I lived in DC more recently.  I always appreciated how a diner existed right across the street from the Ford Theatre.  And the Lincoln Diner is a real diner too, with big and wide booths, stool chairs, and big plates.  The food is diner food: You Come, You Eat, You Use the Bathroom.  But every now and then I’d get waffles to go for lunch.   Real waffles, with lots of butter and real syrup.  And do you know how good waffles are for lunch?  They are like Jesus came down and gave you a high five.

“Solid food, Solid Price, Good Date Places”

11. Zorbas, DC

Outside of the awesome guy who taught me some Greek, and the beautiful pictures of Greek Islands, it just serves good food.  On a fall night, with the sun beginning to set and a nice breeze, sitting outside the café enjoying a carafe of Greek Wine and talking with someone for a few hours is one of my best memories of DC.  My only knock is the price of the beer, but the wine makes up for that.  Zorba’s has great food, fantastic wine, and a fantastic atmosphere.

Oh, and I learned my Dad spent some time on Santorini, which is known for sex beaches.

10. Rocky Rococo’s, Spokane

Outside of the incredibly creepy and giant picture of an Italian man right after one walks into the restaurant.  It is really creepy.  The guy is dressed in a white suit, with a bushy black moustache, white hat, and black sunglasses.  He looks like the last face you see before the rag is passed over your nose and you wake up without a kidney, or working in a brothel.

I always thought he kind of looked like the first bad guy in Last Crusade – the one who Indy is trying to get the Cross of Coronado from when the ship blows up.

But with Rocky’s, we hit our first Pizza place.  Deep dish pizza with huge chunks of meat.  The best part about Rocky’s was its proximity to my high school – hit a few lights ok, and I could easily walk there and back for lunch.  The cup of breadsticks was classy, greasy, and tasted amazing, as they are covered in Italian spice and come with a nice little cup of marinara sauce for dipping.

The pizza is served in squares.  Best is the sausage and mushroom.   With breadsticks.

9. Surfside, Glover Park, DC

For three months, I lived in a fantastic building in DC.  Directly next to the Russian Embassy, it was nearly as tall and had gorgeous images of the city – better, in fact, than the tallest floors of the Russian Embassy.  Or so I suspect, because my building had the standard AC units on top of it, adding basically another story, which seemed like it messed up their view.

Next to this building was an Exxon.  And next to that was the Surfside Café.  Essentially, it was Tex-Mex, and it was made very fresh and very well.  The seafood tasted fresh and Surfside always mixed it with interesting combinations.  The guacamole, also, was fantastic – so much so, they sell it to take away.  The tacos and burritos are amazing.  They use different kinds of rice with each burrito one eats, which is 95% awesome.  Its 5% not awesome when I want red beans and rice along with fish, have to make my own burrito, and it costs about $1.50 more, but that’s just details.

Surfside does have an upstairs deck, so one can eat outside in the night air.  They don’t have as pretty of a view as my building.  But it had better food.  And less old people.  So they can be forgiven for that.

“Unlimited Tab? Thank You!”

8. Fox on the Hill (Weatherspoons), Denmark Hill, London

This place is fantastic for many reasons.  I made very good friends here.  It was very close to where I lived, at the intersection of Champion Hill and Champion Hill (I think this is why the Cab Driver was confused when he took me here).  And it served the most fantastic breakfast for 2pds.  It was so fantastic, I tell stories about it now four years later.

If one got to the Fox before 10 (easier some days than others), this breakfast consisted of the usual eggs and English Bacon, which is leagues better than American bacon.  Really, for our love of bacon, Americans don’t make it well.  The Brits have it figured out.  Additionally, the Brits serve baked beans with their breakfast.  This, upon first sight, was questionable.  Upon first bite, it was fantastic.  There was also a mushroom served in some sort of savoury sauce, a grilled tomato, and good tea.

Quite undeservedly, England gets flack for their food. Yes, they slather mayo over almost everything, which is an awful habit and needs to go.  Given that, their lunch fare isn’t fantastic.  However, English breakfast is simply amazing.  The US may have the creative, quick and on-the-go breakfast figured out, but England has the sit-down, full-plate, hearty and varied breakfasts down.  They just do.  Given the wide variety of cultures in London, it is hard not to find good food.

7. David’s Pizza, Spokane

This gets the sentimental nod, as it is the food I have on the last day before I leave Spokane.  The pizza is as good as Rocky’s, depending upon the type of pizza one likes.  David’s serves more of a New York Style, rather than the deep-dish.  Giant slices with fresh pepperoni and good cheese.  Their pepperoni pizza is just mean, and they serve it with a surprisingly good Greek salad, in addition to serving fountain RC Cola.  I think fountain RC Cola exists in about 7 restaurants throughout the United States.  David’s is one of them, and with the quality pizza and salad, it’s fantastic.

6. Juice Joint, DC

Regretfully, I discovered this place with about three months left in DC.  It is at Vermont and K, just north of the square for those of you still there.  I chatted with the owner once, and if I recall correctly, it was originally more of a California-smoothie place, but it serves breakfast and lunch as well as delicious smoothies and juice.

And here is the issue: good juice is hard to find.  Orange juice is great.  Really, it is one of man’s beset creations, and one should never contaminate orange juice with vodka.  It ruins the juice.  I want a tap of orange juice in my house one day.  But eventually, even with dropping way too much money at Whole Foods, juice can get boring.  FUJI APPLE JUICE? Had it.

Juice Joint? Creative.  Never the same.  Absolutely love it.

On top of that, they have hummus and pita chips to go, make a great parfait (bananas, strawberries, honey, oatmeal or something, and yogurt), and they make excellent wraps on the spot for you.

5. Madeline’s, Spokane

Perhaps the best all-around restaurant in Spokane.  They cover everything from breakfast to dinner in excellent fashion.  They can make a correct macchiato, do cappuccinos very well, have absolutely incredible tasting pastries and everything tastes fresh and good and like sex.  If one doesn’t leave here on a sugar high, one hasn’t had enough.  They have an apple-cranberry-turkey sandwich which is about as good as any sandwich I’ve ever had.

Plus, Madeline’s uses a blackboard for their daily specials.  Places which use blackboards are significantly classier, and the food tastes better.  Yes, there is a correlation between blackboard use and food taste.  I think it is the chalkboard dust.

4. Seattle Taco Cart

Been here once.  Thought about skipping my flight for it.  The Seattle Taco Cart, I’m sure, has a name.  Like Dr. Evil’s past life, the details of its name are inconsequential.  It’s just good and cheap and good again.  Chuck Norris would love this Taco Cart.  It would make him cry and then his tears could cure cancer, so we really need to work on getting him to try it.

“Life-Altering and God-Like”

3. Bagels and Baguettes, DC

I was in Auntie’s bookstore in Spokane before I left when I was asked what to do in DC by someone who was visiting soon.  My response, without hesitation, was to visit this place, at Third and Mass NE, and try the Egg and Cheese on Roasted Tomato.

I lived on Cap Hill for a year, and never tried this place – its only open 7 until 3, and I always made it there late, even on Saturdays (plus, I went to Ebenezer’s).

My friend Katie introduced me to it later.  After that, everyone who visited me was forced to go.  They loved it.  They brought their friends and their friends…well, that might not happen.  But it’s got both the sentimental value of being one of my places, it’s got an awesome location (Cap Hill, near Union Station, and 3 blocks from the actual Capitol), and it has great food.  When they have an omelette on special, it’s a great day, but their standard bagel breakfast sandwiches are so very good.  My next favourite item to get was the Veggie Special bagel, on Pumpernickel, because they put homemade veggie cream cheese, guacamole, and hummus on it (if one so desires).

So between the mixture of awesome food and sentimental value, this is the top restaurant on my list.  The next two places one can’t visit unless they are related to me.  Or know me and want to visit Spokane.  Hint Hint.

2. Grandma’s Spaghetti

Really, it hurts to put this second.  I hope my Grandma doesn’t read it, because I can’t explain why it’s second.  My Grandma Lillie’s spaghetti is basically the best food ever created, and the first food I think I can remember.  The noodles are noodles, but she makes an amazing sauce which is sweet with a spicy aftertaste, and many an evening there were giant meatballs cooking to be added to the sauce.

It is that sauce which I’ve loved for years, and still do.  It’s simply amazing and delicious, and made me love spaghetti more than most other foods.

So, Grandma, you are second, but the food may be the best.

1. Dad’s spaghetti with meat sauce, French bread in the oven, and NPR on the radio

So really, this isn’t a place and you can’t go there.  But my Dad is pretty cool.  Some of you have even met him.  FANCY THAT.

I think I’ve only told one person this story, but one of my fondest memories of childhood is Saturday afternoons with NPR on the radio.  I feel like Garrison Keillor was on, or maybe Wait, Wait.  But either way, Saturday was the one day in the Conrad household when dinner happened before 8 pm, and it was because around 4 or 5, the water with the few spots of olive oil would start to boil, and the ground beef would be put in the frying pan to brown.  After a little work with the spatula, when the grease was poured out, the tomato paste and spaghetti seasoning would be mixed in, and the large frying pan with the ground beef would become a delicious pan of pasta sauce.   The noodles would go in the water and the French bread into the oven to toast.

The French bread would never last, because people would sneak in, tear off a piece, and dip it in the sauce.  But after thirty minutes or an hour of smelling this cooking, and with a full stomach already from gorging on bread and sauce, I’d sit down and eat, listening to the radio and drinking my glass of milk.

Really, that pasta is what I want at the moment.  It was delicious; the time and place was wonderful, and though one can’t return to live moments which have already occurred, one can pay tribute to them.  My tribute would be pasta and NPR and a sunny Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Unlike the food here, which is more like rice out to rape you on a Wednesday night.

So until I leave Franz Josef, I think about good food.  To all of you out in the real world, enjoy an extra little bit on my behalf.  While it won’t do me any good, I’ll feel a little more loved and a little more full because of it.



  1. what about mom’s dip? hahaha not helping. either way, good places. I’m proud the seattle taco truck (also known as rancho bravo) made it to #4! woo hoo. and I share many of the same memories with #1 and 2. good luck and hope you find some better food fast…anything you want us to send?

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with those #1 and 2. One of my fondest memories as a child is Dad cooking on the weekend. I also remember drinking Root Beer and eating Werthers Originals at Grandma Opal’s house.

  3. I didn’t know the Burrito Cart guy is dead 😦 Also, I hate Cracker Barrel. I’m substituting in Harold & Cathy’s Dumfries Cafe which is about 3 min from the Cracker Barrel in my neighborhood. Also, I’m assuming you guys survived the earthquake. I was thinking of sending Tracey a letter but i’m wondering: how long does it for mail to get from the U.S. to NZ? And how long will you guys be in your current location?

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