This year, the Jackson familys fried catfish and pink tartar sauce came back. Whew.
This year, the Jackson family's fried catfish and pink tartar sauce returned to Seattle. Whew. Kelly O

I ate a lot this year. Most of it was good, some of it was great, and all of it kept me sated and alive. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite dishes from a year of delicious eating.

1. Honeycomb Tripe at Salare

Okay, I realize that I inadvertently lied when I said this list is in no particular order, because this dish is definitely the best thing I ate all year, and certainly the best tripe I've had in my whole life. In the hands of chef Edouardo Jordan, honeycomb tripe, which is the muscular lining of the second chamber of a cow's stomach, loses all its toughness and becomes supple, tender, and delicately chewy. Jordan understands that the way to coax this tough muscle into softness and imbue it with flavor is to give it lots of time and love, so he simmers it for hours in sweet San Marzano tomatoes. Buttery Castelvetrano olives give it richness while Calabrian chilies add complex spice.

I regret that after two outstanding meals at Salare, I still haven't written a formal review, but my admiration for what Jordan and his team are doing goes well beyond the food—and that's saying a lot. It's why I interviewed him for this fall's issue of our food and drink magazine, The Sauce and let him do all the talking. With strong technique and an even stronger sense of creativity, Jordan is pushing Seattle diners to try both new flavors and unfamiliar cuts of meat. The results are thrilling.

2. Hot Island Pizza from Windy City Pie

As someone who generally abhors pineapple on pizza (and most appearances by fruit in savory dishes), I was taken aback by how much I loved the Hot Island, made with garlicky sausage, pieces of canned pineapple, slices of raw jalapeño, and a layer of a deep, nutty garlic spread that owner Dave Lichterman makes by roasting garlic for five hours in oil. Instead of being dominated by syrupy pineapple chunks or the heat of the chilies, the pizza is perfectly balanced, each bite alternately delivering spiciness and sweetness, meaty richness and vegetal freshness.

3. Black Cod Collar Miso at Maneki

This dish, forever and always.

4. Mushroom Soup at European Foods

Like the combination Russian market/restaurant/video store hiding in a strip mall at 135th and Aurora, Ludmila Gincherman's mushroom-barley soup is deceptively plain-looking. It's filled with homely barley, diced potatoes, and meaty chunks of mushroom, all simmered for hours until it becomes a silky, comforting dream. It's made even better by a dollop of the thickest, tangiest sour cream on earth. Gincherman has been making this soup at her restaurant nearly every day for 18 years (and probably much longer before that), and it shows.

5. Sai Ua at Song Phang Kong

I loved all the Lao dishes at Beng Rajsombath's tiny International District restaurant, but her sour pork sausages are the best of her offerings. They're fat and dense, full of onion and sticky rice, and fragrant with lemongrass, crushed lime leaf, and cilantro. After mixing and stuffing the sausages herself, Rajsombath sets them out for a day, allowing the pork to cure and acquire a distinct, tangy flavor. She serves them pan-fried, topped with sweet, crispy fried shallots. They taste best eaten with your fingers, with little balls of sticky rice, and dipped for just a split second into a burning sauce of dried red chilies and fresh lime juice.

6. Tagliatelle with Abalone, Lemon Brown Butter, Sungold Tomatoes, and Shaved Bottarga at Lark

I had this dish in late July and I've thought about it an embarrassing number of times since—the fresh, housemade noodles, the tender abalone, the deeply savory shavings of cured fish roe, all lit up by the sweetest, juiciest tomatoes. To me, this dish is summer. And it is perfect.

7. Braised Sunflowers at Cafe Barjot

Speaking of summer, until this past September, I had never eaten sunflowers, let alone known that they were edible or tasty. But then I had chef Nick Coffey's braised sunflowers. The centers of the young flowers were trimmed and quartered to resemble artichoke hearts, cooked until they were tender, and imbued with a lemony flavor. They were served with shaved raw summer squash, blanched squash vines, and an earthy sunflower-seed tahini. The dish was unlike anything I'd had before, and it was absolutely delicious. Just days after I ate them, however, they were gone from the menu—a sudden onset of cool weather had finished the sunflower crop at Local Roots Farm, where Coffey was sourcing the flowers. Last month, Cafe Barjot ended its dinner service, focusing instead on weekday brunch. I feel lucky to have had this dish exactly when I did, and I'll never forget it.

8. Bits and Pups at Jackson's Catfish Corner

On a hot day in August, I stood in a patch of sunlight in the parking lot of a carwash as the Isley Brothers played on a stereo nearby and an occasional misting of cool water hit my arms and legs. I was right on Rainier Avenue, but for a moment I wondered if I was actually dead and in heaven. After years without a taste of the fried catfish from the Central District's Catfish Corner, which closed abruptly in August of 2014, I had just bit into a small nugget of the fish—moist, flaky, minerally sweet, and dredged in just a bit of cornmeal—that I had dipped into some of Rosemary Jackson's signature pink "smarter tartar" sauce. It was as good as I remembered. I scarfed down the catfish bits, as well as the four creamy, garlicky, beautifully brown hush puppies they were served with, in about two minutes. We should all be grateful that Terrell Jackson has revived his grandparents' business, a Seattle institution for more than two decades, as Jackson's Catfish Corner. This is the kind of food that's good for our souls.