Where do restaurant operators and chefs find inspiration and fresh ideas? They go out to eat a lot, visiting restaurants, food trucks, food halls, bars and markets all over the country. Sometimes it’s a quick bite grabbed while dashing from one appointment to another, other times it’s to try out a regional specialty or sit down to a multicourse dinner at a celebrated dining destination.
For our 12th annual Clean Plate Awards feature, we once again turned to industry insiders to tell us about the most memorable meals they enjoyed in the past year. Our panel of 12 judges singled out everything from grilled cheese to Venezuelan arepas, pork burritos and signature pastas—menu items that were so good, they literally cleaned their plates. These are some of the dishes and drinks that made the cut.