Update: (22/6/2013) I decided to slowly add back proper reviews for the places listed below. Afterall, if they are my favorites, they deserve an individual blogpost at least, right?
In no particular order, I am going to list out my favorite restaurants in the East coast (since work mainly brought me to the East and I have returned to some of these places enough that you could call me a "regular"). I am going to try to limit myself to those that I considered "got to have it" and spread them out among different cities. Hopefully it will help you when you plan your next tasty travels -
1. Sushi Para (Palatine, IL) $$ - it's super close to my house and for $18.99, you get reasonable quality all-you-can-eat made-to-order sushi, you just can't beat it.
2. Hot-n-Juicy (Washington, DC) $$ - unless I go to the southern states, it's the best crawfish I can find. Definitely hot-n-juicy! (I would save room for their crawfish etouffee though - it's delicious!)
3. Honey Pig Gooldaegee (Ellicott City, MD) $$ - BEST Korean BBQ ever! Kalbi x2 is the only thing I order and I always come out happy and satisfied. They have other locations but this one is closest to where I work at when I travel this way.
4. Bonchon Chicken (Fairfax, VA) $$ - contrary to what you might think, I actually craved their fried fishcake the most. I know they are well-known for their KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) but it's easier to get / make than the fried fishcake. There are multiple locations but this was the one I went to.
5. Woodberry (Baltimore, MD) $$$ - fabulous cocktails (<3 Governor's Mule) and delicious food. I don't recall one thing I don't like there. Check out my review in this blogpost!
6. Miyake (Portland, ME) $$$$ - OMG! BEST sashimi I have ever had in the states. The lobster sashimi is out of this world in my humble opinion! This is the place I would ditch people and go alone if I have to (and I have done that).
7. The Spotted Pig (New York City, NY) $$$ - very well executed and unique menu items. Close your eyes, pick an item and just eat. Caution: There are plenty of restaurants I love in NYC. It's not that they were bad but I guess when you are in NYC, your expectation is usually x3 compared to when you are in other places. A lot of them were very good, but it's really difficult to pick out the excellent and unique ones.
8. Five Forks Market (Rockford, IL) $$ - I literally just sat the bar and let the owners surprise me. Among the things that they have served me, the Turkey Flatbread is definitely memorable and unique. They put pepperjack cheese, turkey and blueberries (yes- blueberries) and maybe some other stuff - the combination unique and the taste is undescribable. Everything from their wine to their dessert was delicious! (wonderful GSM, outstanding tapas plates, and unforgettable flourless chocolate cake)
9. Red Arror Diner (Manchester, NH) $ - normally, I refuse to go to diners but I would go to this one. It's that good.
10. Alehouse (Amesburg, MA) $$ - there is only one thing you should order when you go there and it's the Braised Beef Short Ribs - period. It's GOOOOOOD!
11. Rose Tea Cafe (Pittsburg, PA) $ - my favorite Taiwanese restaurant outside of NYC and Boston. I still can't figure out how can they retain the purple color on the Basil Eggplant dish.
12. Shangri-La (Belmont, MA) - go there during the weekend and you will be able to enjoy authentic Taiwanese and Northern Chinese dim sum. So good!!
13. Amada (Philadelphia, PA) $$$ - it's actually extremely difficult for me to pick a favorite in Philadelphia. I picked Amada because I just love all the Jose Garces' restaurants - haven't tried them all yet but visited a good number of them (Garces Trading Company, Whiskey Village, and Mercat a la Planxa) and none of them have disappointed me. All Philly restaurants are neck to neck in terms of quality. Let's just say I am always excited when work takes me to Philly and there is not an evening when I have trouble returning to a restaurant that I love or trying out a new resturant that I know I will like)
14. Impudent Oysters (Chatham, MA) $$ - BEST mussels in the world. How can mussels be so good? It's still mind-boggling to me. But apparently the mussels they serve are from Orleans, MA and not PEI. Totally change my appetite for mussels!
15. The Daily Catch (Boston, MA) $$ - my friend and I found this little gem based on a recommendation of a local (since the restaurant we originally wanted to try only open for dinner). It's cash only and the food is so fresh!! I loved the black pasta in aglio olio style.
EXTRA!!! Bistro Jeanty (Napa, CA) $$$ - yes I know this is not an East Coast restaurant but I just keep thinking about it as I am typing this blog post... so I have to mention it. The tomato soup, escargot, beef tartare are all must-have for me.
I probably missed a lot of my other favorites but these are the ones that popped into my head today. If you've been to one of these and have a comment about them, please let me know :) Let me know also if you have a favorite in the East coast that I have not mentioned above!