He loves to travel. He loves to eat. And he especially loves to laugh. Fortunately for Phil Rosenthal and his legions of fans, he is again reveling in all three passions at once for the fifth season of Netflix’s award-winning Somebody Feed Phil. Recently, I interviewed the travel-food show’s creator and host; check out his words of wisdom, wit and warmth in He’s Back! Phil Rosenthal Of ‘Somebody Feed Phil’ On His New Netflix Season, Starting May 25. Curious about what’s ahead? I prescreened the five episodes, which felt like savoring fine tequila and expertly aged cheese: Rosenthal and his team just keep getting better. Extra applause to the film crew, editors and producers who have stretched their creative vision this season, achieving high-five results: artistic aerial views and alluring slow-motion food closeups, vibrant vibe-matched music and engaging storylines that maximize smiles across the miles. Rosenthal is in top form. A video (below) showcases several of this season’s snapshots. What follows is my lowdown on just a forkful of highlights.
Magical & Mouthwatering: Oaxaca, Mexico
Rosenthal kicks off the first episode with his heels in the air, as he dances at a Mexican fiesta, replete with marmotas (giant papier-mâché puppets). “Mexico has a vibrancy that’s simply unmistakable,” he declares. “When I visited Mexico City, people kept telling me that if I really wanted to taste the origin of the cuisine, I had to venture further into the country to a city that seems almost unpronounceable when you look at it: Oaxaca. It’s the cultural and culinary capital.”
“Tequila is one of my favorite drinks,” says Rosenthal, “but the more time I spend in Mexico, the more I learn about mezcal.” Different than tequila, which is made by steaming the piña of the agave plant inside commercial ovens and then distilling the liquid into copper pots, mezcal-making heaps piñas into piles within large earthen pits that are lined with fired lava rocks. The piñas are covered with dirt and slow-roasted, then mashed and finally distilled into clay pots. At the Montelobos Distillery, mashing is accomplished via a grinding stone-wheel powered by a donkey. Wielding a machete in an eye-catching pose, Rosenthal participates in the agave harvesting and piña tossing — with comedic outcome. “You have to ideally get the white part face down, so it takes some skill, which I don’t have,” quips Rosenthal.
At Oaxaca’s Central de Abastos market, which astoundingly sprawls more than 800 acres, Rosenthal traverses with food guide Omar Alonso, as they meander through the warren-like pasillos, enjoying grilled meats and flavor-rich sauces. At Memelas Doña Vale, legendary Valentina Pancheco grills memelas, a thin tortilla that is pinched to form puckered rims, ideal for holding toppings, such as cheese, salsa and sometimes black beans. Pancheco is a salsa genius, devising a smoky dark blend of chile morita and miltomate (green tomatillos). (She was also featured on Netflix’s Street Food). “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute!” exclaims Rosenthal after eating a mouthful, “this morita sauce is one of the most damn delicious things…”
Later, after driving for miles, walking on a dusty dirt road and passing through an out-of-the-way metal gate, Alonso and Rosenthal enter a hunger-quenching haven: Alfonsina. It’s the home of Jorge León, where he and his mother, Elvia, run a family-owned restaurant, set amid outdoor greenery. Their specialty is moles, the most famous of which is mole negro. “I’m a lucky boy,” almost squeals Rosenthal, relishing the choices.
In the zocalo historic district, he meets with Chef Rodolfo Castellanos at his notable restaurant Origin. Its distinctive green salad includes worms (yes, you read that correctly), a dish that ultimately receives affirmative nods among Rosenthal’s dining companions. Also on the menu: beef tongue — “one of the best meats in the world,” announces Rosenthal, who tucks sauced tender slices inside a tortilla, adding, “it’s so satisfying in the most comfort food way.”
Rosenthal and his actor pal Jimmi Simpson get giddy at the bar of Sabina Sabe, where dynamic cocktails, such as a refreshing grapefruit concoction mixed with poblano chili liquor, excel. They nibble on varied appetizers and try dried crickets. “Delicious!” Rosenthal assesses. “This is something I have never done before.”
“Oaxaca seems to celebrate life every chance it gets,” marvels Rosenthal. “I would tell all my neighbors in the United States that we are pretty lucky to have this country so close to us.”
Lobsters & Lots of Love: Maine
“Rugged coast, rugged country, rugged people. I’m related to some of these rugged people,” gleefully says Rosenthal, who, with his wife, actress Monica Horan, and kids Lily and Ben, visit the bucolic, organic, horse-powered Buckwheat Blossom Farm, owned and managed by Rosenthal’s cousin in Wiscasset, Maine. Grins, giggles, family hugs and abundant food — most of which is grown on the farm — appear. “I get why people live here. I get what is great. The spirit in the streets. The friendliness of the people. The way it is in harmony with nature. What it teaches me is that we are our best as a country, I think, and maybe as a people, in general, when we work and live in harmony with what’s around us, meaning the gifts that we have from nature.”
When outsiders imagine Maine, they often think of lighthouses, such as the famed Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse, an iconic symbol, and of Portland, which “is a city, technically, but it feels like a small town, like some Victorian dream,” Rosenthal remarks. It both offers a step into yesteryear, as well as a bridge to the future. Portland’s old mill buildings now house new businesses, start-ups, breweries, shops and a fascinating antiquarian bookstore, Rabelais, that focuses on cocktails, cookery, farming, gardening, gastronomy and wine.
Maine’s acclaimed foodie draw is lobster. Along Route 1 in Wiscasset, for example, next to the tidal Sheepscot River, the caboose-bright Red’s Eats is a must-stop stand, in business since 1938. Its rolls are spooned high with tender chunks of lobster, then doused with melted butter. Blueberries, too, are gratifyingly synonymous with our 23rd state. But cast your taste-seeking net wider. “Incredible artisanal hot dogs and beer at Thirsty Pig, farm-to-table Italian food from Chef Jake Stevens at Leeward and masterful Mexican barbecue at Terlingua help give Portland its reputation as a top-tier food destination,” affirms Rosenthal. A sizzling example of a culinary brainstorm that sparks: The Brûlée Cart, originated by blow-torch-wielding Charlie Compton. Out of his on-the-go, bike-powered cart is served chocolate creme topped by a crisp layer of caramelized sugar. A moveable feast!
Cool Temps & Warm Hellos: Helsinki, Finland
“There aren’t many countries that can boast having some of the cleanest water, air and pristine forests in the world, but this place can,” states Rosenthal. “Finland: It’s really wondrous. Did you know? Santa Claus has an official address here.” The country is shaped by its people and by its food. “What better way to dive into a new city than to taste its classics at the market?” Rosenthal heads to a Helsinki food hall, opened in 1889, which beholds quirky yet compelling surprises, such as cheese that is dipped into coffee: “This I’ve never done,” declares a skeptical Rosenthal. The cheese seller explains, “It’s high protein, low fat and low salt, so we have it every day.” Well, it’s odd to Rosenthal, he admits, before dunking the cheese into a mug of hot black caffeine. “You like it?” she asks. “I do!” he replies, “and I am doing it again. This is why you travel, right?”
Thinly sliced smoked salmon that glistens. Charcuterie that intrigues. “I’m seeing some meats that I’ve never seen before,” says Rosenthal, raising his eyebrows at a snack of cold-smoked reindeer. “I’m a little nervous. This is my first reindeer,” he continues, then, after tasting it, adds, “Wow. It’s fantastic.” Next, bear salami is offered. “Where am I?” Rosenthal asks, incredulous. “Another first for me. I’m not even afraid anymore, because everything else has been delicious.” He bites. “Yum. Bear! I don’t feel as guilty eating bear, because he would eat me.”
Many Finnish homes contain a sauna. Wearing swim shorts, Rosenthal gets toasty with Finnish food writer Kenneth Nars inside a floating sauna on a boat, while eating a meal of steamed sausage. “No jokes!” he implores, laughing.
Rosenthal goes fishing and foraging, inserting humorous antics. He eats popular Finnish fare: muikku (a small freshwater white fish) and vorschmack (hot herring with minced meat). Perhaps most fabulous of all, Rosenthal hangs out with Sanna Marin, the prime minister of Finland. “At 35-years-old, she’s one of the youngest leaders in the world,” points out Rosenthal, who tells her: “I love what I see here…. Everybody is happy in Finland…is that right?” Marin responds: “It’s not that we are always cheerful, it’s that we have a good society that is safe and secure, that everybody has possibilities, that we have good public social and healthcare systems. That’s why we’re the happiest nation in the world.”
Food Trucks & Salty Talk: Portland, Oregon
“Do you know what the best cities in the world for street food are?” asks Rosenthal, who promptly answers himself. “Marrakesh, Rio, Bangkok and Portland, Oregon! I was shocked! It’s casual, it’s easy and it’s great when it’s done well.” Portland’s multiple food truck pods dazzle. Rosenthal heads to Prost! Marketplace on the corner of North Mississippi and Skidmore for a curated collection of complementary menus. “You want to go there,” he insists. “You would not expect to get three-star, four-star food — but you do…. There’s quite a culture here. Every cool neighborhood has its food pod.”
With restaurant reporter and critic Michael Russell, Rosenthal discovers scrumptious selections at DesiPDX (tagline: Local Fare, Indian Flare), Fried Egg (tagline: I’m in Love) and Matt’s BBQ, where brisket, ribs, turkey and jalapeño-cheddar sausage impress. “Every bite I’m having on this tray is pretty phenomenal,” notes Rosenthal, “Portland, where have you been all my life? Great, great, great, great, great. It’s so much fun because the food is spectacular.”
Chef Peter Cho deftly conceives modern Korean food at Han Oak, a restaurant in the backyard of his home. Short ribs (grilled table-side), pan-fried dumpling cheeseburgers (“a brilliant invention,” compliments Rosenthal) and a sizable lettuce wrap that is intended to be popped whole into your mouth: All are outstanding in this hip oasis.
Rosenthal struggles to shuck oysters. He bikes Portland’s gorgeous leafy parkland. He kayaks on a river that looks breathtakingly serene. Yet Rosenthal pokes fun at his own physical abilities. “Again, people, even though I’ve gotten a little more adventurous as these shows continue,” he explains, “I’m not much of an outdoorsman…. As soon as I dip the oar and turn it, all the water from the oar pours into my lap in the boat.”
At Jacobsen Salt Co., accompanied by extraordinary Portland Top Chef Shota Nakajima, Rosenthal talks salt with owner Ben Jacobsen near the pristine waters of Netarts Bay on the Oregon Coast. “Anybody once they’ve tried great salts will taste the difference,” instructs Jacobsen, whose hand-harvested sea salts are favored by chefs, foodies and specialty shops nationwide. At the salt-making facility, Rosenthal notes: “It’s kind of revelatory.”
Magnificent & Amazing: Madrid, Spain
“Madrid is the capital of Spain,” launches Rosenthal. “I thought that Madrid would not be charming, but it is charming…many beautiful neighborhoods…and then you get the grandiosity and magnificence of a major world city with a thousand years of history. It’s glorious.”
“You know I love a market. I think it’s a microcosm of a city, if not all of life,” Rosenthal says. “Madrid loves its markets, too. The city has 46 of them.” In the Salamanca neighborhood, Rosenthal explores Mercado de la Paz (peace market), which was founded in 1882. He zeroes in on Spain’s national dish: tortilla de patatas — a fluffy, circular, omelette-like egg epiphany liberally infused with olive oil and chock full of potatoes, caramelized onions and spices. Voted best tortilla in Spain? Casa Dani. Other mercado diversions: lemon-smoked oysters and pork galore.
“As you get to the heart of the city, the center of old Madrid, visually you are struck by the architecture,” notes Rosenthal. “Beauty built by hand over centuries. You can see history on every corner, down every small street. The food then compounds your experience. You can taste the history and the care that generations before have shown to perfecting these recipes.” At Sobrino de Botin, the oldest continually operating restaurant in the world, founded in 1725, its original wood-burning oven has been in nonstop operation for almost 300 years — shockingly, the flame is never shut off. This beloved blast from the past is frequently booked for its roast suckling pig, which was written about by Ernest Hemingway.
“While ancient fires of tradition still burn in Madrid, the flames of ingenuity and innovation are fanned here, too,” declares Rosenthal. “In fact, [Madrid] is emerging as a major center for state-of-the art cooking with global influences. The future of Spanish cuisine is bold, diverse and very unpredictable.” Winning 2021’s Best Chef in the World Award, Dabiz Muñoz of DiverXO and StreetXO masterminds inimitable tastebud-tantalizing feats, which he lavishes on an eager Rosenthal.
It’s all an inviting, pleasurable portal. And particularly since many people are unable to travel right now, Somebody Feed Phil’s fifth season enables us to vicariously ride Rosenthal’s uplifting wings.