Like many people, one of my favorite things to do is travel. And eat great food. Drink great drinks. Travel and taste. Eat and explore. It’s one of my core basic instincts, up there with rooting for the Eagles and enjoying hip hop. Here’s a look at some of the best places I visited in 2018, along with some of the best food that I had, since they are so often related.
For our 10th anniversary, the missus and I headed to Mexico for over a week and half. Her highlight was the all-inclusive beachfront resort (Beloved Playa Mujeres) on the Riviera Maya, which was obviously wonderful, but I was pleasantly surprised by our time in Mérida. Here are some favorites from the capital of the Yucatan:
- Casa Lecanda: This boutique bed & breakfast was nearly perfect. Had a great bedroom space that was super comfortable, a spacious indoor bathtub for two, and an outdoor lounge area complete with a pool & hammocks that was extraordinarily relaxing. The staff was very accommodating, and the little things here and there did not go unnoticed. If you want to visit Merida, stay here.
- Kuuk: When we first walked into Kuuk, we were a bit taken aback. It was nearly empty at dinner time, and supposedly one of the best restaurants in the area. We didn’t quite know what to expect. Turns out we were just early. By the end of our hours-long experience, more people had come to fill out the space, and we quickly saw why. The food was amazingly creative (and tasty!), the service impeccable, and we walked away with an unforgettable experience. The staff welcomed us with open arms into the kitchen, taking pictures with us and giving us a tour of their facilities. The research into heirloom varieties and Mayan traditions is paleoculinary science at its peak, and the tasting menu is a wonderful exploration of Kuuk’s learnings. Definitely a must-visit if you’re in the area.
- Apoala & Malahat: In what become a trend of acts of hospitality towards us during our time in Mexico, we had a great time at Apoala. We first hit it off with the host who sat us, who turned out to be the owner/manager. As someone who was back and forth from the States, he made us feel right at home without sacrificing the truly Mexican roots of Apoala. After our delicious meal on Apoala’s patio, he asked us if we wanted to see something special. Never one to turn down an offer like that (and honestly expecting something like a scoop of their signature ice cream), he walked us around back of the restaurant. Nodding to a chef in the alley, I wasn’t sure if we were going to see something special or become a headline. In short order, I found out it was definitely the former. We had stumbled upon a true speakeasy. Word of mouth only, forbidden cocktails, the whole nine yards. It was fantastic. The fact that members of Mexico’s National Orchestra were playing live jazz in the space was icing on the proverbial cake. What a memory!
- Latte Quatro Sette: Perhaps not so coincidentally, one of Merida’s best coffeehouses sits right beside Casa Lecanda. We visited the clean & well-decorated space frequently. Check LQS out, or visit the equally delicious Dilan across the street. Both are worth multiple visits.
- Tags: We don’t just eat and drink coffee during our travels…we also happened to shop local. Tags Alpargatas are Toms-esque shoes constructed in conjunction with Mayan craftspeople. Not only are they a great, affordable product (super comfy!), they’re also a wonderful way to support the local economy. The conversation was great too while we decided on which pair to take home (spoiler alert, we couldn’t decide on one so we brought home four!).
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
While Mérida and Playa Mujeres were certainly our highlights, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of spots that we visited in our 3-day detour to Mexico City as well!
- Quintonil: We had lunch here, one of the top 20 restaurants in the world. Jorge Vallejo is not only the culinary talent behind Quintonil, he’s also a super nice guy. Having a conversation with him in his own kitchen after serving us an incredible meal was an experience I won’t soon forget. His culinary reputation is stellar, with stints at Noma and Pujol(!), but it’s awesome that he’s on his own. In my opinion, if you have to pick one of the Mexico City stalwarts, it should be Quintonil. Skip Pujol if you must. But only if you must.
- Pujol: From the man who is behind New York’s own Cosme & Atla, Pujol is a fantastic culinary experience….in addition to also being one of the top 20 restaurants in the world. While the missus and I both preferred Quintonil, though the service left a bit to be desired, and even if we were super tired during our dinner at Pujol, the ambiance and culinary care taken at Pujol was something spectacular. In particular, the aged mole dish. It deserves every single ounce of credit it receives in the reviews. Simply divine. Like I stated above, if you have to pick one, pick Quintonil. But don’t pick just one.
- National Museum of Anthropology: The hype is real. This place is impressive in every sense of the word. First, it’s a massive space. We spent more than half a day here and didn’t see close to everything. Secondly, the exhibits themselves are super unique, including everything from an aromatics exhibit about ancient botany to a VR exhibit about the ancient underworld. Simply stunning. Third, the architecture itself leaves an impression. The massive courtyard and cantilevered overhang are awe-inspiring in themselves, before you learn a single thing about Mexico’s past. If you find yourself in Mexico City, definitely check this spot out.
- Quentin Cafe: Super hipster cafe with fantastic coffee straddling Mexico City’s Condesa & Roma neighborhoods. The epitome of Mexico City cool. We brought home some beans and some art work, and suggest you do the same.
NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES
Home sweet home…and a city that I can’t seem to keep up with! There are always new spots to explore, restaurants to visit, and neighborhoods to spend a day in. Here are some of my favorites from this past year:
- The Finch: This is the restaurant that I wish I could afford to visit weekly. It’s become one of our Brooklyn favorites. The seasonal food is awesome, the wine & cocktail selections are spot on, the service is attentive without being stuffy, and the atmosphere is both homey and boutique. We feel like it’s ours, even though it’s far from it. Seriously, we have yet to have a bad dish here. The execution is flawless even while retaining a true neighborhood feel. I expect this restaurant to have a bright future for hopefully some time. It’s one of those places that you want the word to get out about….but not really.
- Legacy Records: There are very, very, very few reasons to visit the West Side of Manhattan. Legacy Records is one of them. The interior is retro in a cool way (not an ironic, kitschy way), the menu is one of the best in the city, and the dishes themselves are delectable (albeit a bit on the small side). Definitely worth multiple trips just to continue to dive into the well-executed Italian-American dishes.
- Devoción: Best coffee in the city. Love the people that make up this business, love the product that they sling, and love what they bring to the otherwise very crowded third-wave coffee space. They place a lot of emphasis on environment and product, and it shows. Excited to watch them continue to grow throughout 2019.
THE SOUTH, UNITED STATES
Apologies to my Southern friends for lumping the following under a single heading, but I wanted to highlight pieces of our Savannah/Charleston trip as well as my Nashville trip.
- Andaz Savannah: For our pre-Turkey Day trip this year, the ladies and I headed to Savannah for a couple of days. It was great, partly due to the staff at Andaz Savannah. They had made a significant error in our booking, and instead of forcing us to deal with it, they made it right, going above and beyond in order to do so. Will absolutely remember that, and my loyalty will show it. Plus the rooms are spacious, the beds comfy, and the location perfect for exploring what Savannah has to offer.
- Folk: Along with a trip to Minneapolis, I visited Nashville solo this past year just to clear my head and get away for a bit….and to tack on some much needed loyalty miles. One of the highlights in NYC’s “6th borough” was Folk, a pizza-forward haunt in one of Nashville’s cool neighborhoods, East Nashville. From the same people as Germantown’s Rolf & Daughters (also a great spot!), Folk was a neighborhood locale where I sat between a couple on their first date and a local elderly couple simply wanting some pizza! In addition to thoroughly enjoying the wood-fired dishes, I also brought home one of Folk’s sick lilac-colored hats.
- Five Loaves Cafe: No Thanksgiving is complete without a visit to Charleston, and no Charleston visit is complete without a visit to Second State (formerly Black Tap Coffee) and the fantastic American cafe, Five Loaves. Breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches. It’s simple but delicious. Seriously, it’s one of the first places we go to immediately after stepping off the plane. The food is so clean, the service is great, and we’re even starting to be recognized though we only visit annually. Well done, Five Loaves team! See you in 10 months or so.
PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES
Again, forgive me for painting an entire state with a broad brush here, but I really wanted to quickly highlight a couple of places in Pennsylvania that the family and I really enjoyed this year.
- Philadelphia: From browsing the Franklin Institute to enjoying City Hall in the days leading up to the Eagles‘ victorious Super Bowl (#FlyEaglesFly) to downing a cheesesteak or nine (Tony Luke’s – any other option and you’re wrong), I really enjoyed Philly this year. It’s quickly become my favorite day trip when I need to see something other than the mean streets of Brooklyn.
- Great Wolf Lodge: Yes, this place reminds me of a place that Clark Griswold would bring his clan and have some hijinks at. Yes, it’s corny and kitschy and feels like a minor-league Disney water park. Yes, the surrounding area leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, the food was over-priced and the accommodations themselves mediocre. Yes, the animatronic entertainment was simultaneously creepy and cringe-worthy. But man, we had fun. And fundamentally, that’s what family trips are supposed to be about. We’ll definitely be going back.
I’m not a huge TV or movie buff, I’m a fairly casual gamer, but I do have a couple consoles and watch more YouTube than I care to admit. Instead of breaking out TV, movies, and games into separate posts for my Rewind 2018, I figured that I’d combine it all into what I’m calling “visual entertainment”. If you know me at all, you probably trust my book or music recommendations and not my TV or movie taste. Let’s keep it that way. The lists below are in no particular order.
- Super Bowl LII. Yeah, I’m cheating. I just want to brag a bit. After decades of waiting, the Philadelphia Eagles won it all on the back of Nick Foles. It was fantastic to watch, and not just because I’m a long time Birds fan (and Tom Brady hater). It was actually an interesting and high-scoring game, complete with fourth down hijinks, a near comeback by New England, and end of game drama. In addition to watching the Eagles avenge Super Bowl XXXIX, we got a Justin Timberlake halftime show (and the meme kid). So fun to watch as a football fan.
- Westworld. I loved the multiple storylines happening this season, and even more so the different “worlds” being introduced. Not so sure about the union between it all, and I’d love for Season 3 to tie it altogether with some more origin story and then end it there.
- Jack Ryan. I’ve been a Tom Clancy fan since childhood. Seriously. Rainbow Six was one of the first “adult” books I ever read, and I subsequently read the rest of Jack Ryan’s saga. On screen, however, Jack Ryan has been less impressive to me. Don’t get me wrong, the Jack Ryan movies have been good…but they certainly haven’t fit the bill as far as Jack’s character goes, much less the actual storyline. As much as it pains me to give Bezos’ world credit, Amazon’s Jack Ryan is spot-on, and Krasinski is a fantastic Ryan. Hope to see more in the future.
- South Park. For every compliment I give Bezos, I have to watch more South Park episodes ridiculing him and the Amazon empire. Seriously, “Unfulfilled” is one of the best South Park episodes in recent memory, and the underlying commentary is simultaneously hilarious and saddening. In any case, Parker & Stone still have it, as evidenced by this year’s season. Season 23, here we come!
- House of Cards. No comment on Spacey, but I absolutely love what Robin Wright is doing with Mrs. Underwood. It’s vicious, cerebral, and downright haunting. Having Doug break the fourth wall is a new twist on an old trick, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
This list would probably be more interesting if it was a list of movies I want to get to rather than movies that I’ve actually watched. But in any case, here you go.
- Black Panther. Certainly one of the most influential movies of the year, if not the best. The setting was spectacular, the storyline interesting, the acting spot-on, and I’m thankful for a villain that can be identified with. For large swaths of the movie, I was thinking “you know, he’s kinda right”. Pair all of that with the fact that it was scored by Kendrick, and you’ve got a slam dunk on your hands. Wakanda forever.
- Into the Spider-Verse. Hands down the best animated movie I’ve seen in a while. Fast-paced, engaging, artistically brilliant. Also scored well. I see you Post Malone. Also doesn’t help that I was looking for NYC landmarks throughout the movie, considering Spidey’s from one of the five boroughs.
- Solo. This is here namely because I’m a fanboy, not because it was an astounding movie. That said, I had heard that it was awful before seeing it, so I feared the worst. It wasn’t. I thought Ehrenreich’s Solo was a perfect portrayal of a young Han and echoed Harrison Ford’s original portrayal well. I, for one, look forward to the other spin-off movies. Here’s to hoping that Rogue Squadron and/or Jedi Academy make the cut.
- Sorry To Bother You. This movie was a blatant critique of everything in our society, and fulfilled that role better than even Black Panther. It was weird, cultish, and downright absurd, echoing A Clockwork Orange at times and Brazil at others. And I loved it. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but you should watch it.
Again, just like movies, I haven’t gotten to Red Dead Redemption or Spider-Man yet, but certainly want to. I put most of my “spare time” into reading and relaxing, but maybe I’ll have time in 2019 to get to those. In any case, here is the best of what I did play this year (provided they were released in 2018):
- Celeste. Game of the Year for me. Not close. A story-driven platformer with distinctive game mechanics, Celeste is to 2018 what Golf Story was in 2017: a pleasant surprise. The soundtrack from Lena Raine is addictive and the art direction is stellar, with bright colors offsetting the game’s very serious subject matter: mental health.
- Super Mario Party. Sure, it’s not the greatest game in the world. There’s not a lot of boards or mini-games or whatever. But what is there is super fun. Stealing people stars still starts fights between loved ones, the different dice create a new element to the game, and the cooperative elements ease the tension a bit. Well done party game overall, and one of the best out there. Particularly if you’re like me and just not that into Smash. Yeah, I said it.
- Octopath Traveler. I’d love to see a trailer for this video game that had the “in a world” guy doing it 8 different times. LOL. This Japanese-style turn-based RPG has 8 storylines that weave into a cohesive game. Coming from Square, it scratches that Final Fantasy itch for me, and is absolutely gorgeous to boot.
This past year was one of the best years in recent memory for hip-hop, and my listening habits over the last 12 months certainly reflects that. Seriously, 2018 will be at least mentioned in conversations for hip hop’s best year ever (it’s not, but still really good).
This year in hip-hop we got it all: new albums from the all-time greats (Eminem, Lil Wayne, Nas), great albums from the next generation (Travis Scott, 21 Savage, BROCKHAMPTON), a Drake album (since he fits into neither category), a drip campaign from Chance the Rapper, and serious rap beef (remember MGK? that kid was wild). And there’s a lot in between. J. Cole cut through the noise to say something. Kendrick Lamar released a pseudo album disguised as a movie soundtrack. Meek Mill was freed. Man, what a year.
Because of hip-hop’s banner year this year, I figured that instead of just giving you four albums to listen to as I did in Books in 2018, I figured that I’d give you not just one full top ten, but two! One dedicated to hip-hop, the other for everything else. You’re welcome.
Best 2018 Hip-Hop
- K.O.D by J. Cole
- Kamikaze by Eminem
- Carter V by Lil Wayne
- Black Panther Soundtrack by Various Artists
- Beerbongs & Bentleys by Post Malone
- Scorpion by Drake
- Championships by Meek Mill
- Return of the Trill by Bun B
- Daytona by Pusha T
- FM! by Vince Staples
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order by artist)
Best 2018 Everything Else
- Celeste (Original Soundtrack) by Lena Raine
- A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships by The 1975
- Birthplace by Novo Amor
- Maniac (Netflix Original Soundtrack) by Dan Romer
- FRIENDS KEEP SECRETS by benny blanco
- Delta by Mumford & Sons
- Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
- MANIA by Fall Out Boy
- The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs by Wye Oak
- album1 by San Holo
Artist of the Year: Lil’ Wayne
Best Cover: Heartless (RAK Studios) from Dermot Kennedy
Best Music of 2018 Without a Proper Album: Khalid
Best Remix: Remind Me to Forget by Miguel, Young Bombs
Breakout Artist: SOB x RBE
Derek’s Guilty Pleasure: Nice for What by Drake
Most Hype Generated in 2018 for a 2019 Album: Chance the Rapper
Worst Album from a Good Artist: Ye by Kanye West
I plan on writing an entirely independent post on my 2019 reading plan (and how in 2018 I started tracking my Reading List using Notion), but here’s a look at four books that I thoroughly enjoyed this past year.
- The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Literally the only reason that John Scalzi didn’t make #1 for me over this past year (see below) is the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series. It’s one my all-time favorites. Seriously the best collection of books I’ve read in a decade. All three books are intellectual epics spanning generations and locations, with thought-provoking ideas across all disciplines of how we organize human society: politics, economics, and science. It’s fascinating, and without ruining the series, I’d recommend that you run out and pick it up as soon as possible. Ball Lightning was really good as well, and I look forward to Supernova Era coming out later this year.
- Lock In by John Scalzi. Along with Cixin, Scalzi was one of my great discoveries this year. To be honest, it was a great year for me reading-wise, particularly on the science fiction front (N.K. Jemisin didn’t make this list of top 4!), and Scalzi emerged as a favorite. After finishing the sci-fi forward crime thriller that is Lock In, I immediately ran to Head On, it’s sequel. And recently I finished Unlocked, a novella set in the same universe. I guess I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m reading everything the man has ever written, from Old Man’s War to The Collapsing Empire to his blog, Whatever. It’s worth it.
- The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers. For those that know me, you know I’m a coffee snob & addict. Seriously. Can’t enough. First name basis with the local baristas, I’ve been to international coffee farms, worked a counter, etc. Love the space. And this book, about the quest to bring Yemeni coffee to the world, was a fun read from a great writer. Made me appreciate the work of coffee entrepreneurs throughout the globe, as well as the value in legitimate fair trade, farmer-first economics when dealing with coffee.
- Chasing New Horizons by Alan Stern & David Grinspoon. Like many closeted nerds, I’m a space nut. I love it. For a while in my teens, I just knew I was going to be an aerospace engineer and work at JPL, APL, or NASA. While my career may have changed, my love for space never did. Picking up this book certainly reminded me of that, as I read the engineering and political challenges faced by the recent New Horizons probe in it’s quest to explore Pluto. Fascinating story. Plus, talk about a timely read! I finished this just a couple of days ago…right before the New Horizons spacecraft reached Ultima Thule, a Kuiper Belt object, which has now been explored for the first time!
Here’s another collection of posts looking-back at 2018 for you to peruse. In it, I’ll cover some of the best books, music, visual entertainment, food, and places from my year. Hope you find some value in it!