Taste of Chengdu

Before the end of 2018, I was able to meet a large group of Orlando Foodie Forum members at one of Orlando’s hottest (no pun intended restaurants), Taste of Chengdu.  Connected to a Best Western hotel west of downtown Orlando on West Colonial Drive, Taste of Chengdu has emerged as one of our best and most innovative Chinese restaurants, with Chef Tiger Tang specializing in spicy Szechuan cuisine.  This is not a place to go for glistening honey garlic chicken, sticky-sweet spareribs, greasy fried egg rolls, or a buffet with crab rangoons and Jell-O for dessert (although they do have a handful of more Americanized dishes available).  In fact, it might be a little intimidating for those with unadventurous palates and anyone who prefers their food non-spicy.  But it’s a fantastic restaurant if you want to try new things and exciting, unfamiliar variations on Chinese classics.

The lunch organizer worked it out with Chef Tiger in advance that he would send a bunch of dishes out of the kitchen for us to pass around and share, family-style, and we would each pay a flat fee of $20, plus tax.  It was a real bargain, as there would be no way to ever try this many dishes in one sitting under normal circumstances.  Some of these were regular menu items, and some were his new and innovative creations, just for our gathering of intrepid eaters.

So since I don’t have official titles for everything, my descriptions that follow are the best I could do.

Cold boiled chicken in a spicy chili sauce with sesame seeds and scallions:dsc01737

Bamboo!  And while I was expecting this to be woody and fibrous and awful, it was delicious.  It reminded me a lot of rich, chewy, meaty mushrooms, which I cannot eat due to some digestive allergy.  I think vegetarians would love this dish, and I surprised myself by really liking it.dsc01738

Cool sliced cucumbers in a garlicky sauce.  An excellent palate cleanser between the dish that preceded it and the one that followed.  It never would have occurred to me to order a cucumber dish at a Chinese restaurant, but they were cool, fresh, and crispy and well with everything else we tried.dsc01739

Green tea fried rice with bacon.  Loved it!  I always order fried rice at pretty much any Chinese restaurant, and this one was one of the better fried rice dishes I’ve tried anywhere.dsc01740

This was a duck dish that everyone around our large table devoured.  The duck was sliced thin and pan-fried, extremely soft and tender, not greasy at all. It was served in a brown sauce with green leeks.dsc01741

These stir-fried shrimp, in a spicy sauce similar to dan dan sauce with finely-minced pork, might have been my favorite dish of the entire lunch.  The shrimp were huge, with lightly crispy outsides from the frying process.  Apparently Chef Tiger normally serves these in the shell, with heads and legs and everything, but was kind enough to de-shell them for our group.  Shell yeah!dsc01742

Cold sesame noodles, very good:dsc01743

A “hot pot” of spicy, crispy, breaded fried fish, with onions, potatoes, peppers, and lotus root (the first time I had ever tried lotus root).  If you’ve ever tried the la zi fish at Chuan Lu Garden, this was similar, but a lot better.  It was spiced with the Szechuan peppercorns that deliver a tingling, numbing, almost metallic sensation to your lips and tongue, which is more pleasant than it sounds.  dsc01744

Whole fried snapper in a tomatoey sweet and sour sauce with a spicy dimension to it.  One of my fellow diners was cool enough to filet the fish for everyone, making it a heck of a lot easier to share and eat.  Another one of the best dishes that I admit would probably have intimidated me as a solo diner.dsc01745

Wok-seared green beans, better than green beans have any right to be:dsc01746

Finally, Szechuan wontons in chili oil — some of the finest damn wontons ever.  I could have easily eaten a whole big bowl just of these, but this was a lunch of sampling, so I made do with these two.  dsc01747

I NEVER make it west of downtown, so there’s a whole side of Orlando I need to explore for more Saboscrivner-worthy dining.  But I had been reading so many rave reviews for Taste of Chengdu for so much of 2018, I’m glad I finally got to get in there before the year was over and share all these delicious dishes with my fellow foodies.  If you don’t mind spicy food, especially trying new things, definitely hit up Taste of Chengdu.  Whatever you order will be top-notch, under the watchful eye of Chef Tiger.

MX Taco (soft opening!)

Happy New Year, Sabo-bots and Sabo-cons!  Here’s hoping that 2019 brings us all health, happiness, and some truly memorable meals.

Yesterday I attended the soft opening of Orlando’s newest taco spot, MX Taco.  Chef-owner Ryan Manning started out cooking in kitchens across Mexico, and his specialty is cuisine from the Yucatan region.  He was the chef of the Mexican embassy in Washington, D.C. before he brought his expertise with authentic Mexican cuisine to our city.

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We already have plenty of taco joints and Mexican restaurants to choose from, and some of my favorites include Tortas El Rey, Francisco’s Taco Madness, and Hunger Street Tacos.  But the good news is that they provide something to satisfy everyone.  None of these restaurants are exactly alike, and they all have unique specialties, strengths, and weaknesses, so there is room for all.  Besides, tacos are tasty!

MX Taco is a tiny little spot on Bumby Avenue, near Lou’s Lounge and Saigon Noodle and Grill, with Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market across the street.  There are only four tables (three of which are high-tops), and you order and pay at the counter.  For the soft opening, Chef Manning wasn’t offering every single item on their exciting menu, but most of them were available, and I tried everything I could.

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I absolutely love that MX Taco’s menu is a map of Mexico, showing you which region each individual dish comes from.  I’ve never had the opportunity to travel to Mexico, but I love geography and how food influences and is in turn influenced by geography, economics, and culture at large.  It’s rare when you can order food at a restaurant and learn something at the same time.

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Prices are extremely reasonable, since you order tacos and other items individually — everything I ordered was either $3, $3.25, or $3.50.

At the restaurant, I ordered the cochinita pibil taco (pulled pork with bitter orange and pickled onion from the Yucatan region), the bistec en salsa roja taco (braised steak with pepper sauce and avocado from the Sonora region), the quesadilla con chorizo (Oaxacan cheese and crumbled chorizo sausage from Mexico City), and a piña (pineapple) agua fresca, a sweet, cold, refreshing drink made with fresh pineapple and surely plenty of sugar.  The food came out quickly, and everything was delicious.

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I love cochinita pibil (sometimes referred to on menus as puerco pibil) and order it whenever Mexican restaurants offer it, which isn’t often.  I always think back to the cheesy action movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico, where Johnny Depp’s corrupt CIA agent ordered puerco pibil everywhere he ate, in a quest for the best version of the dish.  When he finally found it, he went into the kitchen and shot the chef to “consecrate the moment.”  It’s a good thing that was a fictional movie (and even better that the real Johnny Depp is somewhere far, far away from us), or otherwise Chef Manning might have been in danger!  It was so fresh and so good.  The chorizo in the quesadilla was excellent as well, and I’m a big chorizo fan too.

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They have three housemade hot sauces available in bottles on the tables.  From left to right: a medium arbol chile sauce that is orange, a mild guajillo pepper-based sauce that is thick and dark red, and a fiendishly-hot habanero sauce.  The Guajillo was my favorite.  Habanero is usually too much for me, but I had to try it, and I appreciated that it packed a lot of flavor (a bit fruity, in fact!), rather than just painful heat like too many sadistic sauces.

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I placed a takeout order to bring some food back home to my wife, and while I waited, Chef Manning insisted I try his avocado ice cream.  It was very smooth, soft, and creamy — not icy or chunky at all.  It tasted so much better than you’d ever expect avocado ice cream to taste, and I say this as someone who loves ice cream and avocados.  It was topped with pepitas (pumpkin seeds, possibly lightly toasted?), toasted shredded coconut, and dark chocolate shavings.  It was a small cup, but I highly recommend it to anyone who dines at MX Taco, as it was a nice palate cleanser and worked well for cutting any lingering heat.

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My wife insisted on letting me sample all the food I brought home for her: a carnitas taco (confit pulled pork, onion, and cilantro from the Michoacan region), a bistec con sikil pak taco (steak, avocado, pickled onion, and pumpkin seed sauce, which I asked for on the side, from the Yucatan region), a quesadilla (with Oaxacan cheese and chipotle crema, from Mexico City), and an order of totopos (chips) and guacamole.  The guacamole was excellent, I have to say.  Extremely fresh — some of the best I’ve had anywhere around here, including more upscale Mexican restaurants that make a big production of “tableside guac.”  It was a nice-sized serving of guacamole, too.

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Sharp-eyed Saboscrivner followers will probably recognize our green plates by now:

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I also got her an horchata con coco agua fresca, rice water sweetened with sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and coconut — some of her favorite flavors in one drink, and an ideal heat-cutter.  It was the thickest and richest horchata I’ve ever sampled, that’s for sure.  I love aguas frescas, but a lot of them are made from sugary powdered mixes, not that dissimilar from Kool-Aid.  I could tell both my pineapple drink and her horchata were very fresh.

It should go without saying that everything is made fresh in-house.  The only exception are the tortillas, corn tortillas Chef Manning told me he gets from a tortilleria in Atlanta.  I almost hate to admit it, but I prefer flour tortillas, and I’ve never had quesadillas on corn tortillas before.  The totopos looked like they might have been made from the same corn tortillas.  I thought they could have used some salt, but the guac was good enough to offset that.

Orlando taco lovers, I encourage you to make it over to MX Taco sooner rather than later, to try the newest taqueria in town and see how it stacks up to your established favorites.  I guarantee it will be different enough from the tried-and-true taco joints that you’ll appreciate having it as one more option.  Just FYI, Chef Manning told me he will be closed today (Friday, January 4th) and open for limited hours over the next week: 4:00 to 8:00 PM, starting tomorrow, Saturday the 5th.

My Top Five Dishes of 2018 list made the Orlando Weekly!

I’ve been a huge fan of the Orlando Weekly ever since I first moved here in 2004.  Now this city is my home, and if my finger is ever on the pulse of local culture, the Weekly is a major reason why.

In 2017, they offered me my first professional gig as a food writer when they asked me to list my Top Five Dishes of 2017.  It was a huge honor for me, and I’ve been coasting on it all year.

I recently had the opportunity to make a new list for the Orlando Weekly, with my Top Five Dishes of 2018, and they were kind enough to even link to this very blog!  Please check it out, and check out my Saboscrivner reviews of these excellent local restaurants as well:

LaSpada’s Original Cheese Steaks and Hoagies

Kai Asian Street Fare

Cappadocia Turkish Cuisine

Poke Hana

Orlando Meats

Top Ten Movies of 2018

“Heeeey, I thought this was a food blog!”
“Don’t encourage him — maybe he won’t post any photos if he’s doing movie reviews!”

Since I’ve already posted my list of my Top Ten TV Shows of 2018, I thought I’d squeeze in my Top Ten Movies list before the year is out.  Why?  Because I love to make lists and share information about stuff I enjoy.  So here you go:

10. Murder on the Orient Express — beautiful film, great cast, good mystery told well. I’m glad I didn’t already know the story. It was a delight to watch completely fresh and unspoiled.

9. Sorry to Bother You — an important film that everyone ought to watch, but I guarantee most people won’t like it. It’s uncomfortable, angry, and has an audacious twist in the middle that turns it into a whole different genre. Definitely watch this one with as little information as possible. It’s the most pro-union, anti-capitalist piece of media I’ve ever seen, and you could write a thesis critically analyzing every bit of it.

8. Black Panther — a superhero movie that was so much more. This Afrofuturistic sci-fi fantasy epic meant so much to so many people, and it was a crowd-pleaser for all. Wakanda Forever!

7. Bad Times at the El Royale — this should have been my favorite movie of the year. A neo-noir mid-Century period piece with a large cast — all strangers — trapped together at a remote location that is practically its own character, full of mysterious, interlocking backstories, twists, turns, and fake-outs. But it turned into a very different movie for its third act, with the introduction of a final character that never fit, and it didn’t end nearly as strongly as it started.

6. Mission Impossible: Fallout — I finally got into the entire series in 2018, binge-watched them all leading up to this sixth installment, and marveled at how they kept improving. This one is the best of all of them. The Mission Impossibles are what I always wish James Bond movies were, with incredible action set-pieces, death-defying stunts, gorgeous locations, much-needed comic relief, and a hero who balances badassery with empathy. Ethan Hunt would never trade one innocent life to save a million, making him more like Superman or Captain America than Bond. Say what you will about the controversial Tom Cruise, I finally realize he’s a consummate entertainer who literally puts his life on the line filming these movies. You can go into this one cold, but I strongly suggest watching MI 3 (which gives you backstory that makes Fallout more emotionally impactful), Ghost Protocol (4; my second-favorite in the series), and Rogue Nation (5, which leads directly into Fallout) first.

5. Blindspotting — another film about race relations in Oakland, this one makes a fantastic double feature with Sorry to Bother You. It’s full of dread, but it’s ultimately the more fun and hopeful film. Daveed Diggs, from the original cast of Hamilton, co-wrote and co-stars in this, and he is an A-list superstar in the making. He even raps in this one, and you’ll see how incredible and multi-talented he is. (I saw him live last year with his noise-rap group clipping., which isn’t for everyone, but this movie ought to be.)

4. A Simple Favor — I loved every moment of this movie. A sexy neo-noir thriller that’s also a comedy? Hell yes. Anna Kendrick is an adorably awkward national treasure, and Blake Lively impressed me as an actress for the first time ever. This reminded me of two wonderful movies I also love, but it would be a spoiler to name them.

3. Blackkklansman — probably Spike Lee’s best movie since Do the Right Thing, and definitely my favorite. A mostly-true story about an African-American cop tricking the KKK into thinking he was a new racist recruit after several phone calls with David Duke himself, and his Jewish partner showing up to the live Klan meetings to further fool them. I’m a fan of anything that denigrates and mocks racists, since that takes their power away. But we needed this movie more than ever in 2018, with bigots, xenophobes, and racists emboldened by the president and operating in the light of day, in public, with impunity. Despite how fun and funny this movie often was, the chilling ending reminded us that this battle is far from over.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — the best Spider-Man movie ever, one of the best superhero movies ever, and one of the best animated films ever. Absolutely gorgeous, creative, imaginative, hilarious, heartfelt, sad, and sweet. This movie had it all. I can’t imagine anyone seeing it and not loving it. Along with Black Panther, it showed that representation matters so much. I’m so glad Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy exist as new, young, hopeful heroes, especially for kids. Also, I absolutely have to have a Spider-Man Noir follow-up movie starring Nicolas Cage spouting ’30s slang, drinking egg creams, and punching Nazis, whether it’s animated again like this, or a live-action movie.

1. Avengers: Infinity War — a culmination of a decade of Marvel Studios releases, cynics could say this movie was an excuse to smash the action figures together and earn multi-billions, but it had so many great team-ups and payoffs, so everything felt EARNED. And that ending! We nerds knew to expect it, but I was loving seeing it in the theater on opening weekend, with all the “civilians” losing their damn minds, not believing it could end that way. Let’s hope we all make it to the end of April, so we can see the true conclusion of this sensational superhero saga.

Cappadocia Turkish Cuisine

Cappadocia Turkish Cuisine (http://www.cappadociaturkishcuisine.com/) is mere minutes from the job I’ve been at for over a decade, but I never made it there until this year.  Better late than never, because it was outstanding both times I’ve visited so far.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Turkish food, ever since discovering Bosphorous in Winter Park, which I’ve reviewed on The Saboscrivner before. But even though the restaurant is not as fancy as Bosphorous, the food at Cappadocia is easily as good and possibly (probably) even better, and also a little cheaper.

The first time I went, it was for a festive lunch with several members of the Orlando Foodie Forum. I met a bunch of interesting, cool, funny, and smart fellow foodies with excellent taste, and I’m happy to say I’ve even become friends with some of them since that lunch. We ordered a lot of food and shared almost everything. I ordered one of the best things I ate all year, braised lamb shanks in a rich tomato sauce. These lamb shanks were fork-tender and just melted in my mouth. I cannot rave about them enough!

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I was also lucky enough to try the fluffy, puffy lavas bread, the moussaka, and soslu patlican, a dip made of sauteed eggplant, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, and red and green bell peppers.  We also passed around baklava and another dessert called kunefe, shredded phyllo dough pastry stuffed with warm, sweet cheese and topped with pistachios and sugary syrup.  Each dish I tried was better than the last. I had fallen in love with a new restaurant, literally moments from work.  And the best thing about that lunch was the friends we made along the way.

More recently, I brought home takeout so my wife could finally try Cappadocia, since she’s a fellow Bosphorous fan. I over-ordered so we’d have a few meals from everything, and we started with the “hollow bread” (like Bosphorous’ lavas bread, except this bread deflated a bit on the way home) and the “cold combo” mixed appetizer platter. That included babaganoush (smoky roasted eggplant dip), parsley-heavy tabule salad, pan-fried mixed eggplant dip, a strained yogurt curd dip called lebne, and a grape leaf, rolled and stuffed with seasoned rice. They were kind enough to substitute my favorite dip from last time, the soslu patlican, for the regular hummus. I like hummus fine, but I buy it at Publix often, and it’s usually the least-interesting item in these types of sampler platters.

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I ordered the gyro platter for my wife, since we both love gyros, and I learned that Cappadocia makes its own seasoned gyro meat, as opposed to the processed (BUT DELICIOUS) meat a lot of gyro joints use. The lamb was salty and garlicky, with a crispy crust from being cooked on a grill after being shaved off a spit. It was a little dry, and I wish it had been juicier, but it was still good.  It was served over rich, buttery rice pilaf that we both loved, and it came with a small, freshly-baked pita bread.

IMG_0022I ordered an old favorite I’ve loved before at Bosphorous, iskender kebab, sliced lamb cooked in a spicy tomato-yogurt sauce and served over pieces of crispy, buttery grilled bread that gets softer as it absorbs the sauce. It also came with rice pilaf on the side, fresh pita, and a small salad of lettuce, red onion, and delicious, crispy, tangy pickled red cabbage that I was a huge fan of, tossed in a light vinaigrette.

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As if that wasn’t enough, I also ordered us the moussaka I had enjoyed so much at the previous lunch: a baked casserole of ground lamb with layers of eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, bechamel sauce, and melty kashar cheese. It was very different from Greek versions of moussaka I’ve had before, which aren’t nearly as tomatoey, but I preferred Cappadocia’s version.

IMG_0025Needless to say, we both got several meals out of this bounty, although the hollow bread loses something over a 25-minute drive and is certainly best enjoyed at the restaurant. Cappadocia Turkish Cuisine has been one of my favorite finds of 2018, an unassuming location in a part of town you’d normally just drive through without lingering. I had attempted to try it over the years, but had the bad luck of finding it closed every time, to the point where I wondered if it was a front. It was totally worth the wait, and I can’t rave about the food enough. It’s a hidden gem on Semoran Boulevard, in a sketchy stretch between East Colonial Drive and the 408, and totally worth the drive from wherever you are.  It’s all good, but those lamb shanks I had on my first lunch there (sorry about not having a photo) are still my favorite dish I’ve tried so far.

LaSpada’s Original Philly Cheese Steaks and Hoagies

Sharp-eyed Saboscrivner readers (Saboscrivnerinos? Can I use that?) know there’s nothing I love as much as a good Italian sub. This year alone, I’ve reviewed two excellent new sub shops in Orlando: Stasio’s Italian Market & Deli (where I enjoyed the namesake Stasio sandwich) and Manzano’s Deli (where I raved about the Rocco). My Orlando Weekly list of the top five dishes I ate in 2017 included the Capone, the excellent Italian sub occasionally offered by Bad As’s Sandwich.

But my first love has always been LaSpada’s Original Philly Cheese Steaks and Hoagies (http://laspadas.com/), which I’ve been a devoted fan of ever since I first heard about it from a mechanic when I was getting my oil changed, two cars ago. Thank you, Tuffy mechanic, wherever you are! (Probably Tuffy.)

LaSpada’s is a little mom-and-pop establishment on Lee Road, just off I-4, and only ten minutes from Winter Park Village. The website lists other locations in Sanford and Orange City, which I have never been to, but people near them are lucky and should try their local ones. There are some completely unaffiliated LaSpada’s hoagie shops in South Florida, but they have their own website, different (smaller) menus, and are not connected in any way that I can tell.  I went to one in Davie once, and it was good, but not nearly as good as the LaSpada’s we are lucky to have here in Orlando.

Anyway, this might be heresy, but I think cheesesteaks are just okay — I’d rather order almost any other kind of sandwich. They can be tasty, but a lot of the time they’re greasy and boiling lava hot, to the point where your tongue and the inside of your mouth are blistered beyond belief so you don’t get to taste the meat and cheese. That said, if you want a cheesesteak in Orlando, I would be shocked if you could find a better one anywhere else. I know they offer provolone and American cheese as options; I’m not sure if you can get it with the regional favorite of Cheez Whiz.

What I go to LaSpada’s for is a particular Italian hoagie called the LaSpada’s Famous, a gargantuan architectural marvel featuring genoa salami, pepper ham, capicola, sopressata, prosciutto, and sharp provolone on an overstuffed soft roll. It smells like heaven and tastes even better than it smells. Lettuce, tomato, and onion come standard, and if I had one tiny complaint, it’s that the onion is chopped rather than sliced paper-thin. You can add hot or sweet peppers for a slight upcharge, which I usually do, but I forgot to ask for them on my latest visit, when I ordered my LaSpada’s Famous hoagie to go.  Since I took it home, I added my own hot pepper relish, sliced cherry peppers, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze to make a great thing even better.

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This is the large, which costs $12.50 — a bargain at twice the price, given how staggeringly large it is.

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I have a regular feature on The Saboscrivner called Ring the Alarm! whenever I review onion rings. I am always on a quest for good onion rings, as well as Italian subs, and LaSpada’s onion rings are among my favorites anywhere. They have a crispy beer batter coating that imparts a good flavor, doesn’t get soggy with grease, and doesn’t crumble or fall off. Remember I ordered these to go, and even though grease soaked through the bag a bit, they were still crispy and perfect by the time I got them home, 20 minutes later. These are the gold(en brown) standard of onion rings, as far as I’m concerned.

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Because LaSpada’s doesn’t have dinner hours and is far from where I work, I only make it over there two or three times a year.  My little tradition is to go see a movie by myself at the Winter Park Regal theater and then treat myself to a LaSpada’s Famous afterwards (although I only eat half at a time because it’s so huge).  I’m so glad it’s there, and as good as it is.  It’s a real treasure, and definitely one of Orlando’s hidden gems that not enough people know about.

Top Ten TV Shows of 2018

“What the hell is he doing?  This is a FOOD blog!”
“Ostensibly.”

Folks, I’m a nerd.  I already warned you I love movies, television, music, comedy, comics.  The name of my blog, The Saboscrivner, is even taken from the Chew comic book series.  It refers to a character who is a food writer, whose readers can literally taste everything she writes about, due to her vivid mastery of language.

So at the end of every year, I make lists of my favorite things, and the longest list is always my Top Ten TV Shows.  If my constant readers aren’t TV watchers, feel free to skip over it.  If not, bask in my excellent taste as I bring you:

THE SABOSCRIVNER’S TOP TEN TV SHOWS OF 2018!

10. The Venture Bros. (Season 7) — I’ve been watching and loving this show since it debuted in 2004. Since then, it has moved away from being a Jonny Quest parody and a “show about failure.” Instead, it has delved deeper into its complicated mythology that mines some deep cuts from throughout geek culture, developing the main characters into three-dimensional people that grow, change, screw up (a lot), and feel fully realized, despite being a crazy cartoon. Creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have never been afraid to shake up its status quo, which always impresses me. With multi-year gaps between its short seasons, there are a lot of details to keep track of, and I know I’ve forgotten a lot, even after reading their gargantuan behind-the-scenes book that also came out this year. But if you have Hulu, all the early seasons are currently available to stream, so it’s never too late to catch up.

9. Sharp Objects (Season 1) — Set in depressing small-town Missouri (more like Misery, am I right?), it was part neo-noir murder mystery and part Southern gothic family drama. Amy Adams (one of my favorite actresses) did most of her acting in this by reacting, as an alcoholic and former cutter with severe PSTD, returning to her hometown and terrible family as a reporter, investigating the murders of two local girls. But nothing will prepare you for the almost campy evil of her mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, or the off-putting banality of evil that Adams’ character encounters from everyone else trapped in Wind Gap. I hate awards shows, but these two women deserve the G.D. Emmys right now.

8. Big Mouth (Season 2) — The only other cartoon on my list, this Netflix show can be raunchy, perverted, and gross, but it’s also hearfelt, warm, and true. Puberty was a horrific time for pretty much all of us, and these writers haven’t forgotten what it felt like. It’s also probably the funniest show around right now, with so many tightly-packed jokes per minute that my wife and I laughed nonstop, binging through the ten new episodes in two days and feeling sad afterwards. I never cared for Nick Kroll unless he collaborates with John Mulaney (my favorite stand-up comedian), but both of them are in great form here, providing voices along with the hilarious Jenny Slate, Jessi Klein, and Maya Rudolph, among others. Don’t let the stylized (okay, UGLY) animation put you off — if you’re not a complete prude, there’s nothing funnier you can stream right now.

7. Better Call Saul (Season 4) — A slower season where ultimately not a lot happened, but still a tour de force for heartbreaking writing, brilliant editing and music selections for montages, and some of the best acting on television from Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, and especially the great Rhea Seehorn as patient, kind, competent, probably-doomed Kim Wexler. As a prequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is using more Breaking Bad “fanservice” than ever before, and at this point, I can’t imagine watching Saul without having seen Breaking Bad first. But unless it completely screws up its final seasons (which I doubt), I think this is going to end up being the superior show.

6. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 2) — A charming, funny, and well-made show that only starts to fall apart when I think about it too deeply. It won all the awards for its first season and deserved many of them, but it hit so many buttons for me, about the mid-century New York Jewish experience and the history of stand-up comedy. Rachel Brosnahan is truly a superstar as “Midge” Maisel. She lights up the screen and pulls off the largely improvisational-feeling stand-up routines, which are generally hysterical. You can see why her character is dazzling late-’50s audiences, even if it seems like she time-traveled there directly from 2018. The show would be a worthless piece of crap if Brosnahan and the writers couldn’t make that happen. But Midge is surrounded by far too many characters who aren’t interesting or likable (especially her snobby, elitist parents), and she had far more unlikable moments herself this season, where she treated her burgeoning comedy career like one more disposable hobby for a dilettante to dabble in. It also lost points due to an interminable three-episode arc set in a Catskills mountain resort, which seems like the absolute worst vacation ever.

5. Killing Eve (Season 1) — A gripping, clever, and often hilarious cat-and-mouse thriller between a sociopathic (yet whimsical) assassin and a bored, underutilized analyst who first discovers her global trail of death, this was a brilliant show about two strong, smart, capable women who become obsessed with each other. Excellent acting from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer as Eve, the analyst, and Villanelle, the killer. It reminded me of one of my favorite shows ever, Hannibal, with its depiction of the complicated relationship between a murderer and the one person who understands him enough to possibly take him down, but develops an emotional attachment along the way.

4. The Americans (Season 6) — A show I’ve stuck with since the beginning, it never made a huge pop culture impact due to being a character-driven drama about Soviet spies living deep undercover in the Virginia suburbs in the ’80s. It’s always well-written and excellently-acted, but tends to get overshadowed a lot. Well, this was the final season, and it was one of the best. The series finale was damn near perfect, with a climactic scene in a garage featuring some of the best acting I’ve ever seen from Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich. If it took seven years to build up to that confrontation, it was totally worth it.

3. Daredevil (Season 3) — What can I say? Daredevil is my favorite Marvel superhero, it was the best of the Marvel Netflix shows, Season 3 was a return to greatness after the just-okay Season 2, and now it’s canceled, along with Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Daredevil was so perfectly-suited for a serialized TV show, with so many decades of great stories by brilliant writers to draw from, blending crime-noir, brutally-choreographed fight scenes, and legal drama. But due to behind-the-scenes drama between Marvel, Disney, and Netflix, this is why we can’t have nice things. This summer I wrote a law review article about Daredevil (mostly the comics, but also the show) and the lessons they teach non-lawyers about heroic lawyers and the legal system. It will be published in 2019, and unfortunately, one of my main arguments was that the show WILL continue to adapt comic book storylines and get people thinking more about the law and how good lawyers can make a difference. But we still got three seasons, there are still plenty of amazing Daredevil comics to read (seek out writers Miller, Bendis, Brubaker, Waid, and Soule, or ask me for “greatest hits” recommendations), and at least my article is still coming out… for now.

2. The Good Place (Seasons 2 and 3) — Okay, maybe THIS is the funniest show currently on television, but it’s so much more than just a network sitcom. If I had to compare it to another show, the closest would be Lost, with regular, not-so-special people thrust together into weird, fantastical, metaphysical circumstances beyond their understanding, their destinies now bound. It’s a smart show that has taught me more about philosophy and ethics than I ever dreamed possible, and a fearless show that packs more plot development into a single episode than others do in entire seasons, then completely shake up the status quo, writes itself into corners, and flawlessly figures new ways out. The stakes are high, and there are twists and turns galore to thrill you when you aren’t cracking up. If you haven’t seen this yet, the first two seasons are on Netflix. Give it two or three episodes in case you aren’t hooked immediately. They’re short, and midway through Season 1, you’ll probably be obsessed, like we were when we binged the whole series this year.

1. Atlanta (Season 2) — What can I say that critics and other fans haven’t already said? The multi-talented Donald Glover can do no wrong. With director Hiro Murai as his right-hand man, a hip and woke writers’ room, and excellent co-stars in Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz, Atlanta is almost a whole new show every week. You never know what you’re going to get, if an episode will be hysterically funny, like one man’s wasted day when all he wants is a haircut from the flakiest barber ever, or if it will be a harrowing nightmare, like a violent armed robbery, a chase through the woods, or a trip to a madman’s mansion. You might have heard something about “Teddy Perkins,” which is probably the most memorable and singular episode of television to air in 2018. You can watch it out of context even if you’ve never seen Atlanta before, and I guarantee you won’t forget it anytime soon.