The Top 25 Best Dishes of 2021 Our Favorite Bites of the Year

In 2019, we spent practically every week in a different country, in 2020 we found ourselves grounded due to the pandemic, and 2021 was kind of a mix of the two. Although we spent the first five months of the year in lockdown, we didn’t go hungry. Creative chefs and foodies used their free time at home to hone their skills, and brought some tasty treats to the surface of Copenhagen’s food scene. Marie Frank started baking glorious canelés in her home kitchen, and Geoffrey Canilao, the fried chicken madman, began slinging chicken (on the bone!) from his balcony and bartering it in exchange for American cereal, bottles of wine, and homemade baked goods. Oh, how we’d love for these pop-ups to turn into permanent restaurants so we could feast on these items regularly!

Geoffrey Canilao (a.k.a. the Fried Chicken Madman) served chicken from a basket on his balcony during lockdown.
Geoffrey Canilao (a.k.a. the Fried Chicken Madman) served chicken from a basket on his balcony during lockdown.

Once the lockdown was lifted, we eagerly returned to restaurants. (How lucky we are to live in the city that is home to the top two restaurants in the world!) We ate all over Copenhagen this year, and we managed to do some traveling abroad, too. We finally revisited Norway and Sweden, and we visited some new destinations for the first time together, like Estonia, Belgium, and Greece. We also finally returned to the United States (after two long years!) and spent time in both New York and Los Angeles, two of our all-time favorite cities to eat in.

It’s our yearly tradition to highlight the best of the best, the standout bites that defined this year of dining for us. We spent the last week reflecting on everything we ate this year, looking back over our pictures and reminiscing on our favorite meals and dishes. We ended up with a short list of almost 150 top dishes, which we argued and debated over, and narrowed down until we had our final list. That’s right, it’s time for our annual roundup of our top 25 best dishes of the year!

Marie Frank's homemade canelés are the best we've ever tried.
Marie Frank’s homemade canelés are the best we’ve ever tried.

The Food Trends of 2021

What were the food trends of 2021? Birria tacos had their fifteen minutes of fame, fried chicken and caviar danced back into the spotlight, and non-alcoholic drinks finally came out of the wings and onto centerstage. No longer do diners have to settle for sugar-packed sodas or lemonades when they don’t feel like drinking – start-up companies like Muri in Copenhagen and Unified Ferments in Brooklyn are using fermentation and teas to craft interesting alcohol-free alternatives.

But there were two dishes that we saw so many times that by the end of the year we were surprised if we didn’t see them on a menu: baba au rum and chawanmushi. We saw variations of these dishes everywhere, all over the world. In fact, we tried at least eight versions of chawanmushi in 2021 alone, at Noma, Alouette, Kvitnes Gård, The Jane, Atera, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, and Per Se. Spoiler alert: one chawanmushi reigned supreme. Keep scrolling to find out which chawanmushi was our favorite and made it to this year’s best dishes list!

What will 2022 bring? We expect to see plant-based alternatives continue to rise in popularity and more restaurants go meat-free. Fine dining restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and ARK have already led the way by serving vegan menus, and Geranium announced it would kick off the new year with a brand new, meat-free tasting menu. In Scandinavia, we are fortunate to see sustainability play a big role in the decisions of restaurants, and we hope this trend takes off worldwide.

Wanna know how high this scallop dish from Speilsalen in Trondheim ranks on our top list? Keep reading!
Wanna know how high this scallop dish from Speilsalen in Trondheim ranks on our top list? Keep reading!

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Our Top 25 Dishes of 2021

This is one of the very few lists we choose to publish in ranked order, but please don’t put too much thought into that – no. 25 and no. 11 are not too far apart! We will follow the same rules as always: the dishes have to be 1) from a restaurant that is currently still open, 2) from the regular menu, and 3) extraordinarily memorable. Without further ado, these are the very best bites from the top restaurants we visited in the last 52 weeks. Enjoy!

No. 25 – Frites Atelier in Antwerp, Belgium

Belgium is synonymous with frites, and we tried quite a few varieties during our time in the country. Our favorite purveyor, by far, was Frites Atelier – Sergio Herman’s fry shop. These frites are, admittedly, much fancier than your run-of-the-mill fry shop, but several notches above any competitors. To put it plainly, these are the best fries we’ve ever had. As is the case with most exceptional fries, they’re triple-fried. A super thin, crispy shell encases a warm potato mash center. A plethora of dips are available; we picked mayo, truffle mayo, bearnaise, and ketchup.

At no. 25 are the Belgian fries from Frites Atelier in Antwerp, Belgium.
At no. 25 are the Belgian fries from Frites Atelier in Antwerp, Belgium.

No. 24 – Loukoumades Ktistakis in Athens, Greece

We satisfied our dessert cravings in Athens with loukoumades, traditional Greek doughnuts. They are small spheres, little donut holes, with a crunchy shell and a warm, spongey center. They are topped with cinnamon and sesame seeds, and, as is the case with most Greek desserts, absolutely drenched in syrup. These doughnuts are so juicy that the syrup explodes in your mouth when you bite into it! Loukoumades Ktistakis has been open since 1912, and is one of the last remaining shops serving traditional loukoumades.

At no. 24 are the loukoumades from Loukoumades Ktistakis in Athens, Greece.
At no. 24 are the loukoumades from Loukoumades Ktistakis in Athens, Greece.

No. 23 – De Mi Tierra in Oslo, Norway

Argentinian couple Romina Yanarello and Nico Perland had a background in fine dining before starting De Mi Tierra as a lockdown project, making empanadas in their home kitchen and delivering them by bike to their customers. (Thanks to The Hungries for tipping us off about them!) Now, De Mi Tierra has its own shop inside the new Via Village food hall. These are, without a doubt, the absolute best empanadas we’ve ever had – a deep fried crispy exterior, encasing a warm, filled center. Their empanada flavors include ham and cheese, creamy corn, beef, chicken, and mushroom and cheese.

At no. 23 are the empanadas from De Mi Tierra in Oslo, Norway.
At no. 23 are the empanadas from De Mi Tierra in Oslo, Norway.

No. 22 – Seks in Copenhagen, Denmark

One of the best new openings in Copenhagen this year was Seks, a cozy café in the city center where Polish foodies and world travelers Monika and Jan Pawlak serve comfort food inspired by their international travels. Their menu changes frequently, but their cheesecake is a staple – you’ll always find at least one flavor behind the counter (assuming it hasn’t sold out). We’ve tried pumpkin, chocolate and black currant, mango, and pistachio, but the classic cheesecake has a special place in our heart. Quite simply, it’s the best cheesecake we’ve had.

At no. 22 is the cheesecake from Seks in Copenhagen, Denmark.
At no. 22 is the cheesecake from Seks in Copenhagen, Denmark.

No. 21 – Selma in Copenhagen, Denmark

Selma is our go-to smørrebrød recommendation in Copenhagen. We love their modern twists on the Danish open-faced sandwich, using seasonal ingredients in creative ways. This year we were wowed by their tomato smørrebrød, with different types of tomatoes prepared in different ways (fresh, dehydrated, and pickled), crispy rye crackers, and a creamy spread of lemon thyme and thyme pepper on house-made rye bread.

At no. 21 is the tomato smørrebrød from Selma in Copenhagen, Denmark.
At no. 21 is the tomato smørrebrød from Selma in Copenhagen, Denmark.

No. 20 – Rule of Thirds in New York City, USA

We fell in love with the food at Rule of Thirds in Williamsburg, Brooklyn during a sunny Sunday brunch a few weeks ago. Japanese-style sandos have been all over menus the last few years, but Rule of Thirds’ tamago sando is one of the best we’ve had outside of Japan. A fluffy Japanese omelette is served on toasted milk bread, with miso mayo, and yuzu cucumbers. Creamy and fresh, with wonderful textures – this was a breakfast dream come true.

At no. 20 is the tamago sando from Rule of Thirds in Brooklyn, New York.
At no. 20 is the tamago sando from Rule of Thirds in Brooklyn, New York.

No. 19 – Kostas in Athens, Greece

Our favorite street food in Athens was at Kostas – we loved the pure, clean flavors of the souvlaki here. Juicy cubes of grilled pork are wrapped in a fluffy pita, with fresh tomato, parsley, and yogurt. This souvlaki was so good we had to go back multiple times during our trip! Expect to wait in a line – this institution has been around since 1950. Note: there are two places named Kostas in the city center, but, if you’re a souvlaki purist, the location at Pentelis 5 is the one you want to go to.

At no. 19 is the souvlaki from Kostas in Athens, Greece.
At no. 19 is the souvlaki from Kostas in Athens, Greece.

No. 18 – Brace in Copenhagen, Denmark

One of this year’s best bread servings was found at Nordic/Italian restaurant Brace in Copenhagen. Chef Nicola Fanetti made a focaccia/sfincione hybrid – a fluffy bread which is first steamed and then baked, resulting in a creation reminiscent of a caramelized doughnut. After baking, it’s brushed with maple syrup, sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt, and served with black currant butter on the side – the perfect balance of sweet and salty flavors.

At no. 18 is the focaccia from Brace in Copenhagen, Denmark.
At no. 18 is the focaccia from Brace in Copenhagen, Denmark.

No. 17 – Frederiksminde in Præstø, Denmark

We spent a weekend at Hotel Frederiksminde, about an hour outside of Copenhagen in the charming town of Præstø. Chef Jonas Mikkelsen’s seasonal tasting menu celebrates local Danish producers. Our favorite dish of the evening was a tart with bleak roe, sheep’s milk cream, hazelnut oil, and white asparagus. Crunchy, creamy, fresh, and delicious!

At no. 17 is the bleak roe tart from Frederiksminde in Præstø, Denmark.
At no. 17 is the bleak roe tart from Frederiksminde in Præstø, Denmark.

No. 16 – Lis Mejeri in Falkenberg, Sweden

The most surprising (and most hilarious) dining experience we had this year was at Lis Mejeri in Sweden. We won’t give away too much about this meal (the element of surprise is half the fun!), but just know there very well may be toddlers in tiaras, horse-drawn carriages, singing, dancing, and bingo-playing during your meal. Anything is possible! It’s dinner and a show – but the food is worth a visit alone. Our favorite dish was the buttery spelt and salted caramel cake, with toasted oat ice cream and marinated strawberries. Spoiler alert: the dessert was extra delicious with a pole dancing strawberry and exploding confetti on the side. If you haven’t been yet, you need to visit this old dairy farm in 2022.

At no. 16 is the salted caramel cake with toasted oat ice cream from Lis Mejeri in Falkenberg, Sweden.
At no. 16 is the salted caramel cake with toasted oat ice cream from Lis Mejeri in Falkenberg, Sweden.

No. 15 – Chez Ma Tante in New York City, USA

Pancakes are an item we rarely order at restaurants. We make a mean buttermilk pancake at home, so when we go out to eat we usually opt for other menu items. The opposite is true in this scenario – Instagram photos of these buttery hotcakes led us to book a reservation at Chez Ma Tante. And, excuse our French, but holy sh*t – these are the best restaurant pancakes we’ve ever had. They are thick and fluffy, absolutely soaked in butter (and maybe maple syrup, too), with a crispy ring around the edge. These pancakes lived up to the hype and then some – this is breakfast food for the gods.

At no. 15 are the pancakes from Chez Ma Tante in Brooklyn, New York.
At no. 15 are the pancakes from Chez Ma Tante in Brooklyn, New York.

No. 14 – Alice in Copenhagen, Denmark

Why would we ever move when we live next to one of the world’s best bakeries?! You’ll see us at Alice several times a week, feasting on their delectable pastries and devouring their heavenly ice cream. This year, we fell head-over-heels in love with their brunsviger. It’s basically like a coffee cake, cinnamon roll hybrid – bouncy, yeasty dough with pockets of coffee-infused brown sugar. Alice’s version of the beloved Fyn pastry uses croissant scraps in the dough for extra buttery goodness, and has a light sprinkling of orange zest on top that adds a pop of acidity. Due to its non-traditional nature, this is the pastry that started an Internet war with the passionate Fynbos, but we’ll die defending its honor. It’s a brunsviger revolution, baby – will you join in our crusade?

At no. 14 is the brunsviger from Alice in Copenhagen, Denmark.
At no. 14 is the brunsviger from Alice in Copenhagen, Denmark.

No. 13 – Thai Diner in New York City, USA

The beloved Uncle Boon’s in NYC is now Thai Diner, serving lots of the same signature dishes in Nolita. Brunch is served until 5pm – and the must-order dish is the Thai Diner egg sandwich. Scrambled eggs, sai oua (herbal sausage), American cheese, and Thai basil are wrapped together in a homemade roti and served with roasted chili nam jim (dipping sauce). This flavorful brunch item is the perfect blend of Thai and American cuisines.

At no. 13 is the roti egg sandwich from Thai Diner in New York City, USA.
At no. 13 is the roti egg sandwich from Thai Diner in New York City, USA.

No. 12 – ÄNG in Tvååker, Sweden

Chef Filip Gemzell and his team have previously won awards for their sustainability efforts, and in 2021 we predicted ÄNG would receive their first Michelin star and they did! The tasting menu primarily features ingredients from the neighboring regions and local Swedish farmers. ÄNG uses creative substitutes for things they don’t have readily available, such as using solaris grape for acidity instead of lemon, since they are located on a vineyard. The local grape played a role in the dessert – the solaris grape tart was a meal highlight, and had citrus notes that reminded us a lot of a lemon tart. A fun Nordic twist on the classic.

At no. 12 is the solaris tart from ÄNG in Tvååker, Sweden.
At no. 12 is the solaris tart from ÄNG in Tvååker, Sweden.

No. 11 – Francie in New York City, USA

The duck might be the hyped main at Francie, but the prime côte de boeuf is the absolute necessity on your table. Perfectly cooked meat, with melt-in-your-mouth marbling – this was one of the best steaks we’ve had in our entire life. It’s a steep $200 for this dish, but we would argue that it’s worth every penny. The steak is served with a light-as-air, fluffy maple hollandaise, a sweet and salty magical sauce that elevated this dish to world-class. The triple-cooked fries didn’t hurt, either.

At no. 11 is the côte de boeuf with maple hollandaise from Francie in Brooklyn, New York.
At no. 11 is the côte de boeuf with maple hollandaise from Francie in Brooklyn, New York.

No. 10 – Lofoten Food Studio in Ballstad, Norway

Our favorite meal in Norway this year was at Lofoten Food Studio in Ballstad. Chef Roy Magne Berglund transformed his garage into a chef’s counter and built a fine dining restaurant right in his backyard. In his culinary playground, he crafts tasting menus inspired by the four seasons, using local ingredients from Lofoten. His twelve-seat communal counter connects visiting foodies from around the world, all who have gathered to watch his one-man show. The highlight of the menu was a serving of halibut topped with a jelly made of apple and celeriac, served with a sauce of mussels, parsley, and leek oil. Chef Berglund is a sauce master – you’ll want to dive in!

At no. 10 is the halibut from Lofoten Food Studio in Ballstad, Norway.
At no. 10 is the halibut from Lofoten Food Studio in Ballstad, Norway.

No. 9 – Barbarea in Tallinn, Estonia

The most exciting restaurant concepts in Tallinn right now are Karjase Sai and Barbarea from owner, chef, and head baker Kenneth Karjane. The sourdough bread and pastries at Karjase Sai have been drawing long lines of Estonian locals for years, and recently the bakery has expanded to offer an evening concept, Barbarea, which serves small dishes, pizza, and natural wine. The warm, fluffy sourdough pita bread served fresh from the wood-fired oven with creamy hummus was our favorite dish. If we lived in Tallinn, we’d eat at Barbarea every week.

At no. 9 is the hummus and pita from Barbarea in Tallinn, Estonia.
At no. 9 is the hummus and pita from Barbarea in Tallinn, Estonia.

No. 8 – Four Horsemen in New York City, USA

We were surprised when we heard that a natural wine bar in Brooklyn got a Michelin star, but after one meal at The Four Horsemen, we understood why. This was the best meal of our recent NYC trip. It’s hard to pick a favorite dish (honestly, we wanted to order seconds of every single dish on the menu), but one of the stand-outs for us was the braised leek toast with whipped ricotta and Cantabrian anchovies. This sounds like a simple dish, and we’ve had different iterations of ricotta toast over the years, but this one really hit home. Sweet, salty, fluffy, crispy – and did we detect some brown butter on those leeks? Absolutely mouthwatering!

At no. 8 is the braised leek toast from The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn, New York.
At no. 8 is the braised leek toast from The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn, New York.

No. 7 – Win Son Bakery in New York City, USA

Our favorite bite on our most recent NYC trip was the scallion pancake egg sandwich at Win Son Bakery. It reminded us of a cheesy quesadilla on a flour tortilla, but with the wonderful addition of scallion. (Big fans of alliums here!) This dish was so good that we ordered seconds immediately after finishing our first sandwich. On the side is their signature Ginger Deluxe sauce (a blend of kewpie mayo, ginger, scallion, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, garlic), which was so delicious we bought a bottle to bring home with us. Can we copy paste this bakery into Copenhagen, please?

At no. 7 is the scallion pancake egg sandwich from Win Son Bakery in Brooklyn, New York.
At no. 7 is the scallion pancake egg sandwich from Win Son Bakery in Brooklyn, New York.

No. 6 – Alouette in Copenhagen, Denmark

It’s no secret that Alouette is one of our all-time favorite restaurants. It’s the first place that comes to mind whenever people ask us where to celebrate a special occasion in Copenhagen, because it’s such a fun dining experience, and the food is always banging. But even if they stripped away the disco lights, the Champagne guns, and the explicit graffiti tours, turned off the music and had a stiff style of service (oh please, God, no!), we’d keep going back for the food alone. The standout dish for us at Alouette this year was their take on chawanmushi. (The one chawanmushi to rule them all!) This multi-layered miracle had dulse seaweed at the bottom, a Hegnsholt egg custard, crispy chicken skin, a hay-smoked gel of blonde chicken stock, a glaze of roasted chicken jus, puffed barley and ramson capers, and a foamy hay cheese sauce. The dish is a delicious tribute to the life of a Hegnsholt chicken, a local Danish farm that supplies Alouette with their eggs.

At no. 6 is the chawanmushi from Alouette in Copenhagen, Denmark.
At no. 6 is the chawanmushi from Alouette in Copenhagen, Denmark.

No. 5 – The Jane in Antwerp, Belgium

An old chapel has been transformed into one of the world’s most spectacular dining rooms. The Jane was ranked no. 66 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021. A meal here is indeed a religious experience – it was our favorite meal in Antwerp! Chef Nick Bril and his team crafted a delicious tasting menu primarily based on seafood. Our favorite dish was a serving of the biggest scallop in the world, from Norway (of course!), with a cream of sweet onions, hollandaise, cep mushrooms, black truffle, celeriac root, guanciale, and sherry foam.

No. 4 – Speilsalen in Trondheim, Norway

What’s that? More Norwegian scallops? Forgive us, we can’t help ourselves! This year, we had the unique opportunity to eat fresh, hand-dived scallops on a scallop boat in Frøya. We loved the pure, clean flavors of the raw ingredient, but the absolute best was when we had the very same scallop served to us at the Michelin-starred restaurant Speilsalen in the Britannia Hotel in Trondheim. One of chef Christopher Davidsen’s signature dishes is a scallop fried on the pan in way too much Røros butter, served with a celeriac mousse, kohlrabi, Baerii caviar, and topped with a buttery sea buckthorn sauce with chili. This is what fine dining is all about!

No. 3 – Alchemist in Copenhagen, Denmark

Alchemist just keeps getting better. It’s one of the best restaurants in the world, and perhaps the most mind-boggling dining experience out there. Sure, there are some dishes that are (pun intended) harder to swallow than others (yes, we are referring to the butterflies and the jellyfish!), but some of the dishes are just pure delicious. Alchemist’s “perfect omelette” made our Top 25 Best Dishes in 2019, and this year a new dish joined its ranks. Chef Rasmus Munk served a spin on a lobster roll – lobster salad was wrapped in aerated bread shaped like a lobster claw, served with tomato butter. We were licking our bowls clean!

At no. 3 is the lobster roll from Alchemist in Copenhagen, Denmark.
At no. 3 is the lobster roll from Alchemist in Copenhagen, Denmark.

No. 2 – Delta in Athens, Greece

Greece is on the rise as an exciting culinary destination, largely thanks to the opening of Delta. Thanos Feskos (previously assistant head chef of Geranium) and George Papazacharias (previously of Maaemo, L’Air du Temps, Under) decided during lockdown to return to their home of Athens and open a restaurant unlike anything the city has ever seen before. They use only local Greek ingredients, lots of which they have foraged themselves in the Greek forests. There were many delicious and innovative dishes on our tasting menu, but the one that stood out as most memorable was the bread serving. Sourdough brioche was cooked on the barbecue, and brushed with fermented cep mushroom honey and cep butter, and served with a salsa of coppa, pork ear, brown butter, and Greek vinegar. This was the best bread serving of the year.

At no. 2 is the sourdough brioche from Delta in Athens, Greece.
At no. 2 is the sourdough brioche from Delta in Athens, Greece.

No. 1 – Hof Van Cleve in Kruisem, Belgium

Chef Peter Goossens is the grandfather of Belgian fine dining. Hof van Cleve got its first Michelin star in the 80s, the second star in the 90s, and the third star in 2005 – and it’s still one of the best restaurants in Belgium today (ranked no. 36 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021). You can find Goossens still happily in the kitchen of his restaurant every day – he obviously loves his job and this is reflected in the food. We were especially wowed by the desserts. Our favorite was a semisweet chocolate sphere, with a creamy pecan center, and a sauce of sea buckthorn, bergamot, apple, and vanilla. Sweet, salty, nutty, fruity, and acidic flavors are expertly balanced here – a perfect example of the high level of Goossens’ cooking. Hof van Cleve was one of our favorite meals of 2021.

What were your favorite dishes in 2021? Please share in a comment below.

Here Are Our Top Lists From Previous Years:

The Top 25 Best Dishes of 2020
The Top 25 Best Dishes of 2019
The Top 25 Best Dishes of 2018
The Top 25 Best Dishes of 2017
The Top 25 Best Dishes of 2016
The Top 20 Best Dishes of 2015

Kaitlin Orr

Kaitlin Orr and Anders Husa are food & travel bloggers and creative content creators. From their base in Copenhagen, they operate the largest and most influential restaurant-focused travel blog in Scandinavia.

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