Eat Up

The very notion of having a “favorite restaurant” is something that I struggle with, I have to be honest; there’s something about it that feels, if not pretentious and filled with privilege, then something approaching that — the idea that I have enough knowledge, that I’ve eaten somewhere enough times to be able to faithfully announce, yes, that’s the place, that’s my favorite restaurant makes me curiously self-conscious in such a way that I’m sure that my 20th century Scottish upbringing is playing mind games with me in ways I can’t fully appreciate. And yet, I very definitively have a favorite restaurant.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time in my life I could say that, and the first time it was true was during that 20th century Scottish upbringing. There was an Italian restaurant in my hometown called L’Arlecchino that little kid me would’ve died for — not, it should be pointed out, because of any Italian dish, but because they made cheeseburgers that, to this day, I remember as being magical and unique. (The restaurant was still open the last time I was in Scotland, but I didn’t get a burger from there, being all too aware of the potential for utter disappointment and disaster.)

Today, it’s a place called Malka that I’m equally passionate about, despite a lack of cheeseburgers on their menu. It’s a restaurant that opened just months ago, albeit one that had been on my radar for years before that, because it was once a food cart that I was a regular at — something that I suspect would’ve been true even if it hadn’t been two blocks away from where I lived at the time. The cart initially lured me in with its name — “Carte Blanche,” a pun! — and it being an airstream that sang of 1950s Atomic Age cool, but it was the food, and the people behind it, that made me come back on a weekly basis.

Carte Blanche then, and Malka now, simply offer the most delicious food I think I’ve ever eaten; I can’t actually describe the flavors in any way other than to say that they feel welcoming, consistently surprising and comforting at the same time, and shockingly tasty. It’s food I’m familiar with — mac and cheese, pulled pork and salad, chicken sandwiches — made with ingredients that don’t make sense thrown in (mushrooms and arugula and tomatoes in mac and cheese?), but the end result can’t be argued with. It’s addictive, and near everyone I’ve introduced it too agrees.

Like the food cart, the restaurant has more or less become a weekly destination even in these COVID times — it’s take-out that makes us impossibly happy, and that I offer too-big tips to, to make sure they stay alive during all this insanity. It’s a place, and a menu, that makes me happy simply by existing. If that’s not reason to be a favorite restaurant, what is…?