- As the hungry host of Travel Channel's 'Bizarre Foods' shows, Andrew Zimmern has put some ungodly things in his mouth over the years. (Iguana eggs or squirrel brains anyone?) What this James Beard Award winner has also done is given tons of publicity to restaurants and palatable destinations that are barely known. The not-so-hot spots if you will.
As Zimmern himself told us, "From Manresa to Meadowood and Eleven Madison Park, from Per Se to Alinea and Next, I have a serious love for fine dining restaurants ... So it's ironic that I spend most of my time in hot pursuit of far simpler meals, far off anyone's radar screen."
Here are five virtually unknown restaurants that should be on your list of must-go-to joints:
- Martha Lou's Kitchen - Charleston, SC - "Sean Brock turned me onto this tiny little 'meat and 3' cafe that makes the best butter beans I have ever tasted. From smothered pork chops to fried chicken, this is the place to get your southern comfort food groove on. Set aside a half hour, order, sit, relax and in short order, your tray will arrive in the quaint living room set up in the small building on the edge of town. The first bite will have you transported back to your happy place, trust me. Save room for pie."
- To Hyang - San Francisco, CA - "Korean grandmother food never tasted so good. Steamed pork belly, thinly sliced and wrapped around spicy oyster salad. Braised ox tails in a sweet and salty broth with root vegetables that would be the envy of any NYC grand cafe. Some of the best fish head soup or fried croaker you will ever taste...Don't walk, run to this place. It will blow your mind."
- Legal Beans BBQ - Jersey City, NJ - "Almost 10-percent of Jersey City's population is Filipino. And with more than 40,000 new Filipino immigrants arriving in the U.S. every year, Jersey City's Pinoy population is growing, dynamic and still very tied to the traditions and tastes of their homeland. Thankfully for you, that means getting some of the best spit roasted whole pigs, cooked Cebu style, rubbed with vinegar and stuffed with herbs and cooked over hot coal. The portions are hefty, the sides are amazing (Pinoy slaw, diniguan, rice, etc.) and the lechon is some of the best you will ever taste, lovingly hand tended by the owner, Mimi Escudero. Make friends with her, it's worth it."
- Gaku - San Jose, CA - "In San Jose, ethnic dining options are immense. Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican and a host of other communities have created large population bases and waves of new immigration continue to keep the food as honest and authentic as it is 'back home'. Gaku is an amazing little izikaya, a small oasis of a joint with a diverse small plate menu and a large range of beer and sake options. At Gaku, they specialize in cooking yakitori over traditional charcoal, serving some of the best raw fish preparations I have eaten in years and offering up creative mash-ups of NorCal and Japanese cuisines. The baby octopus salad, grilled chicken organs and sashimi plates are worth the drive from anywhere."
- Rohkat Kosher Bakery - Queens, NY - "This Rego Park bakery might be my favorite find in decades of culinary exploration. Two storefronts on the same block, owned by the same family of bakers, expats from Bukharian communities in present day Uzebkistan. The thin oversized sheet of matzoh-like flat bread are works of art. Dense loaves of leavened breads are decorated by hand, meat pies and vegetable pies are served at the store 50 feet down the street, served hot out of the clay oven resembling a tandoor. This is some of the most expressive and personal food you will find anywhere and in spite of its simplicity, will keep you coming back for more."Catch an all new-season of 'Bizarre Foods America', premiering on Monday, November 4 at 9|8c on Travel Channel. You can also follow Andrew Zimmern on Twitter @AndrewZimmern.