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Eating Around the World in Atlanta

Atlanta tends to be associated with zombies, southern belles, and pig-on-a-spit but the city is so much more. As headquarters for a number of international companies, people from around the world have moved here to start a new life, bringing with them their culture and cuisine. No matter what you have a taste for, you can find it somewhere in Atlanta area.

For a taste of Ethiopia, we go to Desta Kitchen. Their authentic dishes are served in a modern presentation and there’s live music on weekend evenings. You can order everything ala carte, but I always get the vegetarian plate with plenty of injera.

Thai is available throughout the city, but our favorite is Panita Thai Kitchen in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood. The converted house is primarily open air and has an eclectic design which comes from 20 years of perfection. The food is layered, flavorful, and served in a presentation fit for a king.

If you’re craving authentic Italian pizza, Varuni Napoli is the only place to go. Classic combinations with no gimmicks are  prepared to-order in their wood fire ovens. Be sure to save room for a cannoli – trust me.

Buford Highway runs in the north east part of the city and is the place to go for authentic Mexican or South Korean food. El Taco Veloz has no-nonsense authentic tacos that take us right back to our trip to Cabo San Lucas. Sokongdong Tofu House offers classics with plenty of heat and even a few vegetarian options. Also, be sure to make a stop at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. The former shopping center is now one large grocery story with hard to find products from every  part of the world and a rather tasty tiny food court.

In the city of Decatur, a community of immigrants from India has brought flavors from all parts of the country. There are specialized markets, shops, and restaurants with unique dishes, but our favorite is Zyka. Order your dishes at the front counter, listen for your number to be called, then dig in to addicting veggie and halal dishes.

Of course there’s more, and each new trip in the city a chance to try something new!

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Cobble Hill is for Foodies

When you think Brooklyn, think food. Mixed throughout the residential neighborhoods are historic favorites, neighborhood hangouts, and new experiments. The Cobble Hill neighborhood and its conjoined sister Carrol Gardens house some of the best kept food secrets in Brooklyn.  Without the approval of the locals, I’m sharing a few of those  old-school secrets below:

PaisanosCobble Hill Coffee Shop (314 Court St)- classic diner done right. Unchanged since the 1960s, the limited retro eating space is spotlessly clean and food is well done. Straightforward (and not greasy!) breakfast options come with a small glass of fresh squeezed orange juice to finish it off right. Lunch and dinner include American, Italian, and Greek flavors with enough vegetarian options to make me a happy cabbage.

Paisanos Butcher Shop (162 Smith St) – old school institution.  The center piece is a long counter full of fresh cut meats, sausages, and deli side dishes while shelves opposite reach to the ceiling. Behind the counter are regular pantry staples that clerks can pull down with extended reach tools and at the far end of the shop is a variety of handmade pastas and ravioli (try the cheese and broccoli rabe).

img_3623D’amico Coffee Roaster (309Court St) – fresh roasted coffee beans. Keeping the borough caffeinated since 1948, their signature dark roast is not to be missed. The tin ceiling and antique metal bins keep it vintage while wifi and  cosy seating area in the back make it comfortable. Have a well crafted cappuccino in and take a pound home.

Mazzola Bakery (192 Union St) – fresh Italian bread for all. This neighborhood bakery supplies restaurants and offers its goods to all who are lured in the unassuming door by the intoxicating smells. The asiago loaf lasted seconds in my hands, their chocolate croissant reminded me of those I ate in Belgium, and their Italian lace cookies were like christmas came early.

Honorable mention is the Court Pastry Shop (298 Court St) for its sweet Sicilian anise bread. The soft biscotti like toasty cookie is perfect with a coffee or the coffee like “Manhattan Special”espresso soda.

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Brooklyn in Two Pizzas

Pizza…mmmm. Dough plus tomato sauce plus cheese equals happiness.
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You might be saying “I’ve had pizza before. I know what it tastes like.” Wrong. Pizza in New York City has a history of laughter and tears, of friendships and feuds. It’s a ever changing canvas with infinite variety. It’s… New York itself. Every place has its own traditions and styles. In Brooklyn I had two slices that exemplify the far sides of the pizza spectrum: a classic and a new interpretation.BknSals1

Sal’s Pizzeria (305 Court St) is as classic a slice as it gets. Serving the neighborhood since the 50s, they offer whole pies or slices of either thick Sicilian or thin NY style. There’s a large oven along one wall, hand written signs, and an old photo of the sidewalk counter with a giant dog getting his margarita.  For me it was all about the classic crust, which was light and crispy.

Gristmill (289 5th Ave) should have the slogan “come for the garlic knots, stay for the pizza.” The owner/chef is a grain nerd and it shows in his unique ground-on-order blends and attention to detail for his crusts. The garlic knots come in everything or garlic parmesan style with olive oil. For a pizza, I totally recommend the Esquite (their take on Mexican street corn) and add a poached egg, if you’re feeling decadent.  All of the ingredients are locally sourced and vegan options arealso available.

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For more Brooklyn, see Sweet Brooklyn

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Post-Memphis Musings

After a girl’s weekend in Memphis with a good friend there’s one question I got asked the most: did you have any great food?  Now, Memphis is known for its barbecue, soul food, and classic fried chicken and if you’re a carnivore there are a lot of amazing sounding and smelling options. If you’re a vegetarian like me or have specific food allergies like my friend, things are a bit more difficult. Well, I say a bit…  In the end, we both found some tasty options.

Arcade Diner, since 1919
Arcade Diner, since 1919
  • Staks Pancake Kitchen – open for breakfast and lunch only, Staks serves the best pancakes i’ve ever had. Seriously. I don’t like pancakes, and these were delicious. My friend said they were more like classic flap jacks, light and not too eggy.  The eggs were cooked perfectly and biscuits are fluffy. They also have tables where you can cook your own (we decided to give this a miss due to our jet-lag and car-lag brains)
  • The Arcade – the oldest diner in the city with a 3rd generation family run offers a number of vegetarian friendly options including an artichoke-pesto sandwich and the “Elvis” peanut butter and banana special. Its been a filming location for a number of flicks and really, you can’t go wrong with diner done right.
  • The Majestic – North of Beale, an old movie theatre converted into a restaurant seemed a perfect option for two nerdy film girls. The salads, including a classic Waldorf and Ceasar were perfectly
    High Cotton Brewing Co, Memphis
    High Cotton Brewing Co, Memphis

    dressed and the grilled cheese (once you ask them to leave off the bacon) hit all the right notes. Silent Mickey Mouse cartoons only made  it better.

  • High Cotton Brewing Co – ok, so not food, but really good local beer. The brewery is a short walk from Sun Studio and has a nice variety of beer styles. I had a tasty IPA and she had a Scottish Ale.  It was comfortable and quiet with a variety of games for you to play while you hang out. Bonus points for being dog friendly!

The second most common question I got was “Did  you visit (insert attraction here)?” There are so many things to do in the city that its literally impossible in one weekend. Also, not every attractions works for every person (i.e. Bass Pro Shop Pyramid); this is the case whether I’m traveling with my mum or with a friend. Our mission was to hit a few museums and to see an exhibit by artist Baret Boisson. Actually, we did see one additional thing: Memorial Park Cemetery. We payed our respects at the grave of the late great Issac Hayes and toured the Crystal Shrine Grotto, a man-made cave with depictions of the life of Jesus.  This unique and beautiful place was, for us, the best way to end the weekend.

Memorial Park Cemetery, Memphis
Memorial Park Cemetery, Memphis
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LA is for the Dogs!

When you think of experiencing Los Angeles with a dog, just think of Paris Hilton. The originator of the “pooch purse” knew that the city of Angels is better with your bestie beastie. My little furry man and I second that, having explored the city together now three times.

IMG_2379Most of the coffee shops in the city offer pet-friendly patios, but our favorite is Echo Park’s FIX. Local roast beans and unique whole leaf tea blends offer a good cuppa while enjoying the low slung chairs shaded by umbrellas. If you’re already hiking pet-friendly Griffith Park, try Trails for vast picnic table seating and a vegan-friendly menu.

There are great parks and outdoor shopping all over the city where you can relax with your dog. Hondo loves to watch the ducks at Echo Park Lake and we had a great time exploring the Americana with friends. We don’t often go to the beach (he’s NOT a fan of water, especially when it chases him) but Huntington Beach and Long Beach both have areas where dogs can run in the waves.

enjoying a soft serve at HoneyMee
enjoying a soft serve with a friend at HoneyMee
The great number of restaurants with patios or sidewalk seating means that Hondo gets to come along, and maybe get a sweet potato fry. Guisados for fresh tortillas and amazing tacos, ELF for vegetarian friendly small plates with a mediterranean flair, or Chego for Korean influenced rice bowls. We got an extra treat this time and shared a soft-serve with honeycomb from HoneyMee in Koreatown.

Later in the day when I’m craving a brew of a different kind, we opt for Golden Road in Glendale.  The dog friendly patio is a great place to meet friends and have a snack (vegan friendly offerings here, too). We didn’t get a change to visit Angel City, but locals like it for allowing dogs inside as well as out.

dog "bathroom" at LAX
dog “bathroom” at LAX
LAX is the most dog-friendly airport. Period. As part of a major renovation they have incorporated dog “bathrooms” post-security in every terminal. Set back near the people facilities these quiet, private rooms have synthetic grass and disposal bags, as well as a sink for the human companions. Hondo insisted he didn’t need to go, but it’s always good to have the option – especially after a delayed flight.

Note: Laws in Los Angeles County leave the decision to allow dogs up to the individual companies, so its always recommended to check before visiting.

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Baha, Land of Fish Taco

Cabo San Lucas is on the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula. Being a port city and surrounded on all sides by ocean, it’s unsurprising that fish is the main dish. There are even restaurants on the marina where you can bring your own fresh catch for them to prepare, it that’s your thing.

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tacos nopales y camarones at Tacos Gardenias

And of course, “El Rey” of all fish dishes in Cabo is the taco. Nearly every restaurant has some variation, each in a soft corn tortilla with necessary accompaniments. Our favorite by far was Tacos Gardenias, with their perfectly cooked shrimp and nopales, not to mention mum’s favorite seafood cocktail. Don’t pass up their house “salsa secreto.”

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gaspacho de aguacate at La Bibioteca de Tequila

The other big winner was La Biblioteca de Tequilla (Tequilla library? Be still my little librarian heart!). At the far end of the Marina overlooking the beach, La Biblioteca was the total experience. The unique cocktails and tequila tasting flights were a welcome change from the seemingly non-stop corona and the food was stand-out fantastic. My vegetarian enchiladas were filled with corn and a topped with a huitlacoche sauce. Mum’s avocado and crab soup had a fresh, slightly smokey flavor. Think 5 star restaurant service with neuvo latin cuisine and inventive cocktails. (and now i’m hungry…)

Maro’s Shrimp House, a tourist favorite, gets a mention for its huge portions at low prices. The menu consists only of steak and seafood and the crowd is ruckus, but they were very nice and helped me with a vegetarian meal.

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Now, I can be a bit of a beer snob.  My flat is less than a mile walk to three different craft breweries, so i’ve grown accustomed to a variety of fresh local beers. A Corona or a Dos Equis is a refreshing choice for by the pool, but it gets old. Fast. Thankfully, there are two small craft breweries in town that are there to help.  Baja Brewing Company is the best known, with a few different brew pub locations. Mum and I did a flight of their choices, disagreed on our favorites, and spend the rest of the week trying to plan when we were going back. Newer on the scene is Cervecería Rámuri. Attached to a restaurant, they had a number of great choices, mostly in a German or Belgian style.

Vegetarians might find things a bit limiting. You may have to hunt for a passable option and its quite common that the rice and beans are made with lard. Also be aware that some restaurants fry everything in the same oil, so if you’re very strict and don’t want your fries or chile rellenos in the same oil as fish, make sure you ask.