Anthony Bourdain was a storyteller who used food and drink as a way to explore culture and examine people. To describe him as “the host of a food show,” as if he simply emceed a reality cooking competition, is a disservice. Through Anthony Bourdain, we saw the world. He took us to far-off lands cut with crystal clear water, and to sparsely populated bars always on the cusp of turning out the light. Nothing felt polished; everything seemed authentic—including him.
We want to remember the great journeys he took us on, the gastronomic adventures and colorful worlds he gave us access to, because you should, in the words of Anthony Bourdain, “[w]alk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
These are our favorite episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s TV shows:
Parts Unknown: Charleston, S.C. (Season 6, Episode 8)
Bourdain’s love of the unpretentious was never better displayed than it was in this episode of Parts Unknown, when he, along with chef Sean Brock, went to a Waffle House and had what could best be described as a religious experience. At one point Bourdain says Waffle House is better than The French Laundry. We don’t think he was joking. “It is indeed marvelous. An irony-free zone where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.” You also get a bit of BBQ and a bit of Bill Murray. That’s a good combo.
No Reservations: Iceland (Season 1, Episode 2)
At times, it was more enjoyable to see Bourdain miserable than exuberant. Not in a masochistic way; rather, we enjoyed the authenticity of it. Travel isn’t always margs at the swim-up bar. This was on full display when he traveled to Iceland for the second episode of the first season of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. He constantly complains of the lack of sunlight (Iceland only gets a few hours at certain points in winter). He gets trapped in an ice cave. He dines on the horror that is fermented shark. He’s grumpy, frustrated, and a joy to watch.
Parts Unknown: Tangier (Season 1, Episode 5)
This entire episode seems shot from behind a haze of smoke. In the fifth episode of the first season of Parts Unknown, Bourdain traveled to Tangier, where he dipped into a seedy underbelly we can imagine few other TV hosts surviving. He explores the city’s long relationship with hashish, even showing viewers a bit of the process of making majoun, a Moroccan treat that contains THC. Bourdain may or may not have been high during this episode. We like to think he was.
Parts Unknown: Tokyo (Season 2, Episode 7)
This episode feels a lot like the movie Lost in Translation, only, instead of the main character hanging his jet-lagged head at the bar, he heads out to explore the oddities Japan has to offer. And “odd” really isn’t a strong enough descriptor. From a crazy robot dance show to hostess cafes staffed by girls in cat outfits, this episode is straight bonkers.
No Reservations: Copenhagen (Season 2, Episode 4)
While every episode of every show Anthony Bourdain hosted was about people, it was the food that always tied everything together. So it makes sense to include one of the more incredible meals ever featured. Noma was first named Best Restaurant in the World in 2010, a title it would go on to claim again in years to follow. Bourdain made the trek to Rene Redzepi’s Nordic wonderland in 2013 and dined on dishes dotted with wild flowers and unheard-of ingredients.
Parts Unknown: Japan With Masa (Season 8, Episode 6)
Bourdain took us to many, many places. Still, we seem to find ourselves drawn to the episodes that take place in Japan. That probably says more about us than anything else, but since this is a list of our favorites, we’re tossing you another recommendation set in The Land of the Rising Sun. In this episode, Bourdain travels with chef Masa Takayama, as the pair take in outdoor food markets in Kanazawa and enjoy sushi at the legendary restaurant Ginza. Hearing Bourdain wax poetic about sushi when this first aired made us book an omakase dinner that weekend.
Parts Unknown: Chicago (Season 7, Episode 2)
Visiting every place in what Bourdain describes as “the only other real metropolis in America” could be a week-long culinary tour de force. He tackles classics like Ricobene’s, Sze Chuan Cuisine and the famous dive that is the Old Town Ale House, which is what really cemented Bourdain as a man of the people in the City of Big Shoulders.
No Reservations: Romania (Season 4, Episode 8)
Everything we said in the description for the Iceland episode—minus the getting stuck in an ice cave and eating rotten shark—holds true here. In the fourth season of No Reservations, Bourdain and company went to Romania—and it was a spectacular failure. Or, in the words of Bourdain: “a masterpiece of incompetence.” The entire episode feels like Bourdain and company are being watched, either by the government or by a lady in a ridiculous hat at a bizarre restaurant that feels part tourist trap and part bizarre nightmare. In fact, every stop on the trip feels this way, and Bourdain isn’t one to shy away from letting the viewer know it.
Parts Unknown: Rome (Season 8, Episode 9)
Easily one of the most visually pleasing episodes of Parts Unknown, the ninth episode of Season 8 saw the crew in the capital of Italy. Bourdain and Asia Argento discuss Mussolini and Italian politics over bowls of pasta while classic Italian music plays in the background. It’s heavy yet beautiful, and you’ll want to twirl some noodles shortly after.
Parts Unknown: Houston (Season 8, Episode 5)
Bourdain always strived to dismantle stereotypes. In that regard, the episode of Parts Unknown in Houston may live on as his finest. It’s an episode about race in America, with the melting pot of Houston as the back drop. From a dance number in a grocery store in Little India to a slab car parade, Bourdain and company give you a look at parts of Houston you probably aren’t familiar with. And, really, that’s what his shows did best.