The best things we ate and drank in 2021

From CPGs to LTOs to new-to-us discoveries, these are the items we loved most this year.

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Overhead shot of a table full of food
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It might be hard to believe, but 2021 is almost over, and it spent just as many months messing with our sense of time as 2020 did. Amid our varying senses of relief, hope, disappointment, and resolve, the year threw a lot at us—and some of it was even good. Some of it was... delicious. That’s what we’re celebrating today. As we close in on the end of the year, The Takeout staff reflects on one thing we know is worth celebrating: the very best things we ate and drank in 2021.

Starburst Airs Gummies

I know my answer should be something more sophisticated and mature, but damn it all, this new Starburst candy was something that made me actually say “wow” out loud this year. Other candies have made the transition to gummi and fallen flat on their asses—Life Savers Gummies come to mind (how have those nasty things stuck around for 29 years?)—but these gummies take a different approach, offering an airy, pillowy, opaque chew that feels more like a cross between a marshmallow and a fruit snack than a springy Haribo product. And the flavor is highly concentrated, intense and juicy the way that a classic Starburst chew reliably is. Starburst Airs made their nationwide debut in September 2021 exclusively at Walmart, but they’re coming to more retailers in 2022, so keep an eye out. And pick me up a bag while you’re at it.—Marnie Shure, editor in chief


To-go cocktails

My vote is not so much for a particular drink as it is the now widely accepted concept of to-go cocktails. I think the option to order out your cocktails is fantastic. Maybe I want to play hostess, have a few friends over and make them a fancy mixed drink. Let me order a little kit, some food, and become hostess of the year. Overall, I don’t really see a downside to continuing this concept in 2022. Restaurants might make a little more money being able to offer cocktails as a takeout option, and people might stay at home to enjoy their alcohol versus crowding into small venues or, worse yet, getting behind the wheel. —Angela L. Pagán, staff writer


Shellfish. So much shellfish.

I made a bold statement on Instagram in January: “For me, 2021 is the year of shellfish.” The caption accompanied a close-up of a concoction of my own making, a mixture of crudely chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, cilantro, and, of course, shrimp, all topped with lime. While it certainly wasn’t perfectly executed, it was delicious. And so began my most shellfish-heavy year yet.


The “Zesty Shrimp Salad” as I decided just now to call it became a go-to in my home kitchen, my favorite thing of the year to prep for (mise en place calms me down) and one of the best things to eat. But I couldn’t let my shellfish journey end there, and I knew to truly experience its magic I would have to leave the Midwest.

In Portland, Oregon, I visited Salty’s on the Columbia River where I ordered oysters (an item I fear getting in Illinois) and the open-faced Dungeness crab melt. I had more shrimp tacos from multiple places in Los Angeles than one human possibly should, and even got to taste a high-end shrimp cocktail from the legendary Musso and Frank Grill. And while visiting the sleepy town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, I had perhaps my best bite of the year from a literal shack on the wharf: fried clams from The Whale’s Tail Clam Bar. I’ll continue my shellfish efforts at the home front, but there’s something about biting into (or in some cases slurping down) these delicious morsels while sitting right on the body of water it was fished out of that just hits different. —Brianna Wellen, associate editor


Georgian khachapuri

In February of this year, I was still languishing in pre-vaccine agony. That, combined with an endless series of seratonin-annihilating Chicago blizzards, left me huddled on my couch, eyes bloodshot, moaning for carbs like a reanimated bread zombie. Enter khachapuri, the signature stuffed cheese “bread boat” of Georgia (the former Soviet republic, not the state).


I ordered khachapuri on a whim from my neighborhood Israeli restaurant, which also offers Georgian cuisine. Picture a standard bread bowl, stretched and flattened until it mimics a canoe. Inside the canoe is a cauldron of gooey cheese, rich tomato sauce, and hunks of butter all topped with a soft egg that, when lightly mixed, forms a gloriously marbled dairy-fest that’ll leave you begging for Lactaid. You can eat your khachapuri from end to end like a slice of pizza, but I recommend tearing off pieces of the bread bowl and dunking them in the molten center. It’s wonderful.

I’ve had some great food this year, but that first bite of khachapuri catapulted me out of a flavor rut and got me invested in Georgian cuisine. Now, I’m all in on pomegranate juice, walnuts, and adjika, a spicy Slavic chili-garlic paste. —Lillian Stone, staff writer


2021 was the year of the pig, in more than one way

While some of you might assume my favorite food this year was a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch with shrimp tails, sadly, you’d be wrong. In 2021, I fell in love with Rodney Scott’s book, Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ, and I’ve been using my Camp Chef pellet smoker to crank out a ton of barbecue. I smoked chicken, pork ribs, beef short ribs, fish, and even cream cheese (which was surprisingly great).


But my favorite dish that came off the smoker was pork shoulder. For some reason, I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d use Rodney Scott’s rib rub, which includes the magic of MSG, or I’d made my own seasoning blends with whatever I could grab from the cupboard, and then go to town on the luscious smoked meat. While I would sometimes use the smoky pulled pork for sandwiches and tacos, my favorite way to eat it was as-is, pulled into big tender hunks, eaten with my hands a knife and fork, with a touch of barbecue sauce or the excellent Mexican salsas from my local grocery store.

Summer might be over, but I’m still going to squeeze every last wisp of smoke from that smoker before the year is over, and you can be sure that there’ll be a few more pork shoulders cooking away in my backyard. —Dennis Lee, staff writer