Andrew Coppolino's 16 favourite Waterloo region dishes in 2016

Food columnist Andrew Coppolino shares his list of favourite dishes in 2016 from around Waterloo region and Wellington and Perth counties.
Ethel's Lounge in Waterloo. Ethel's meatloaf is one of Andrew Coppolino's top 16 dishes of 2016. (Google Streetview)

Lists and "best of" collections are a part of the cycle of one year ending and another beginning. It's simply human nature to try to capture and catalogue the memorable events – including the memorable eating – of the previous 365 days.

As a food writer, I ate at many restaurants in Waterloo Region and Perth and Wellington counties over the course of 2016. In order to select my favourites, I evaluated the basics that anyone might use to judge food: things like balance of flavours, textures, aromas, appearance and value.

However, trying to identify deliciousness and limit it to a handful of dishes is not so easy, but here they are, presented in alphabetical order. I should point out that included are a few foods prepared in certified kitchens and sold retail or online rather than in a conventional restaurant. A final note: menus change, so please check with individual venues to see if a dish is still being prepared should you want to visit and try.

16 dishes of 2016

Banh mi, Bao Sandwich Bar, Waterloo
Hidden behind the new business building at Wilfrid Laurier University is a pork belly banh mi with five-spice sauce, garlic mayo, cucumbers, pickled daikon and cilantro.

Bosanski burek, Kitchener
Flaky and sweet or savoury, this small producer sells the eastern European pastry at a number of retail outlets in the area. An example of food entrepreneurship that flies under the radar. 

Bucatini, Belmont Bistro, Kitchener 
So simple: perfectly cooked bucatini and meatballs swimming happily in a lusciously rich tomato "gravy" with hints of basil and garnished with Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

Chili peanuts, The Grand Trunk Saloon, Kitchener 
Boiled and not roasted, the peanuts are seasoned with chili salt and impossible to stop eating. In
Florida, these are known as "goobers." 

Colonel Collins fried chicken, Red Rabbit, Stratford 
With waffles at lunch, by the piece at dinner, or by the bucket on Sundays, 13 herbs and spices and maple syrup make this a playful Red Rabbit favourite.

Empanadas, K-W Empanadas, Waterloo  
Argentine street food of pastry shells stuffed with meat or vegetables and baked to golden crispness. The little tasty prize morsel inside is a couple of olives. 

Fried cheese curds, Gilt Restaurant, Kitchener  
The contrast of textures is the thing. Crispy outside, soft inside: Monforte cheese curds with smoked paprika tempura and a "Frank's RedHot" cayenne pepper sauce mousse.

Grass-fed striploin, Miijidaa Café & Bistro, Guelph  
YU Ranch grass-fed striploin cooked sous vide and served with a variation of a grated potato "rappie pie" traditional in the east coast of Canada.

Lamb shank, Fistro Bistro, Cambridge  
Braised shank (and not too tender) on creamy polenta with Parmesan, figs and saffron butter. A perfect earthy dish for winter. 

Malasadas, Malasada World, Cambridge   
Portuguese-style, hand-stretched doughnuts at a small shop in downtown Galt. Simply sugared or stuffed with dulce de leche, these are a unique treat originating in the Azores. 

Meat loaf, Ethel's Lounge, Waterloo  
Thursday meat loaf special: sweet and meaty pub fare and served with mashed potatoes just slightly browned and crisped.

Muscovy duck breast, TWH Social, Kitchener   
Inside the Walper Hotel, the seared breast is served with baked bean and Brussels sprouts cassoulet.

Pig's head terrine, The Berlin, Kitchener   
It's not so scary: the meat, ginger, molasses, gelatin and some spices are combined and set in the fridge over night. Delicious and offal!

Pork dumplings, B at TheMuseum, Kitchener  
A partnership between the "B" kitchen and food entrepreneurs Terry and Sarah Salmond, who operate Chow Dumplings. Sesame and soy dipping sauce accompanied. And beer on the patio.

Tasting platter, The Bauer Kitchen, Waterloo  
Delicious sharing: soy eggs, Korean fries with fried egg, bulgogi and kimchi, mini-salmon pot pie, pulled pork tacos and fried porchetta squares with pickled mustard seeds. Changes regularly.

Veggie sampler, Muya Ethiopian, Kitchener  
Injera bread is the base for sampling cabbage and potatoes (tekel gomen), red lentils with berbere spice (misir key wot), green beans and carrots (fosolia) and more. Huge flavour and good value.