Ultimate Guide to Oahu

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Here it is…the best food, sites, hotel, and art around Oahu. My husband and I spent 10 days on the island last August when we dropped our daughter off at college. We had been for brief trips previously, but this time we really surveyed all the offerings, and got some insider insight on where to eat, snorkel, and scuba dive. And yes, we even did a luau 🙂

Where to stay: The Courtyard by Marriott, Waikiki Beach

We stayed at two other hotels previously. They were both right across the street from the beach, and were lovely. But, both hotels, and all hotels in that vicinity charge an exorbitant resort fee plus daily parking fees. We found The Courtyard driving around and loved that it was only a block and a half from the beach. Plus it is right in the middle of all the restaurants and shopping- everything is still walking distance. Even better- no resort fee! It was a beautiful property with a gorgeous pool, bar in the hotel, cute little coffee shop, and a restaurant attached. It is where we always stay now.

What to Eat:

We had a wonderful concierge who is native Hawaiian. We had a long conversation with him when we were booking our luau, and he gave us some insider insight about where locals like to eat, and where he takes his family out. His name is Shane, and he was the best concierge I have ever dealt with. We still have a list of places we could not get to, but plan to visit on our next trip.

Breakfast

Heavenly 342 Seaside AveShoreline Hotel Waikiki 1FHonolulu, Oahu, HI

This was our last breakfast on the island…I wish we found it sooner. Tucked between hotels it is easy to miss, but wow, that would be a mistake. We had the Tomato Avocado Benedict and the French Toast with mixed berries. The coffee was delicious and local, our server was friendly and attentive and the atmosphere was classic Hawaii. The french toast was perfectly dressed with a drizzle of local honey- it was pillowy soft, the honey added just the right sweetness to berries and toast with no syrup needed. The Benedict had some of the sweetest tomatoes and firm avocado I have ever had at a restaurant and as an aside there was the right amount of hollandaise! A lot of restaurants just give you a drizzle, but there was enough for both muffins. Also, the pure sweet potato wedges were the perfect compliment. I loved the decor and aloha vibe the whole place gave off. Be warned it is open air- plenty of fans, but not air conditioned. This is a def breakfast spot for us next trip!

Koko Head Cafe 1145 12th Ave Ste CHonolulu, Oahu, HI

I watched Lee Anne Wong on Top Chef, and loved everything she made. Koko Head did not disappoint! We got the Cornflake French Toast w/black pepper maple syrup and the Breakfast Bibimbap. Both were so good! The crispy garlic rice and homemade kimchee on bibimbap was ridiculously flavorful. Then the cornflake french toast was served with frosted flake gelato and bacon. Normally my husband does not eat sweet, but he sopped that toast up like it was a last meal! Def go here for brunch! #brunchallday We ate here three times while we were there- these were our favorite dishes, but everything was delicious!

Lunch

Kono’s North Shore  66-250 Kamehameha HwyNorth Shore MarketplaceHaleiwa, Oahu, HI

Happened on this place after some North Shore adventures. Unfortunately, we got there as they were closing, but the young ladies were sweet enough to serve us some to go lunch. We had the pork sliders and pork plate. Both were delicious! The pork was tender and accompanied by a very tasty guava bbq sauce. This was the first slider with a toasted bun and it was a really good choice! Wish we made it earlier to sample a milkshake, but it was still a fantastic lunch and bonus there were chickens hanging out with us at the picnic table while we ate. Also, they have satellite locations in other parts of Oahu, and San Diego. And, they serve breakfast 🙂

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Highway Inn 680 Ala Moana Blvd Ste 105Honolulu, Oahu, HI

Went here for lunch and loved all the family memorabilia and the tutus program for local grandmothers! We had the poke pupu and the fish tacos. Loved the taro tortilla and the fish was well-seasoned and well-cooked. I prefer poke that does not have mayo but the spice was good. Service was very friendly and all the local dishes coming out looked great. Bonus points for the food served on lunch trays!

Dinner

Lucky Belly  50 N Hotel StSmith StreetHonolulu, Oahu, HI

Dropping the daughter off at college and her RA suggested Lucky Belly. Parking is challenging, but worth it. We ordered the pork bao, belly of beast ramen and shrimp ramen. All was delicious, homey and huge! It was fairly pricey- $12/glass of wine, $20-23 ramen. The atmosphere is hip, and it was steady busy on a Thursday night. Def delish, just be ready for the check. (We actually ate here twice because it was sooo good)

 

Brick Fire Tavern 16 N Hotel StHonolulu, Oahu, HI 96817-5102

Took our daughter to Brick Fire Tavern last night before we left her at college. Really friendly staff and the food was delicious! We had the burrata salad which was ample and fresh. Followed by the Funghi pizza. The crust was crisp outside, soft inside. Mushrooms were earthy and the selection of cheese was inspired. We did switch out the bechamel sauce for marinara, just as a personal preference. The pistachio cheesecake with oreo crust was also divine! The surprise though was the banana nutella calzone- it was enormous! I am still not sure about pizza crust as the vehicle for nutella and banana, but the filling was very tasty. Great little find in Chinatown!

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Duke’s Lane Market & Eatery 2255 Kuhio Ave. Honolulu, HI

So this was the scene of some quick lunch items to make a picnic for snorkeling, hiking, and the beach. It was also where we went for dinner a couple of times. It reminds me of Liberty Station in San Diego- lots of little counter restaurants, a wine shop, some gourmet food shops, and bakeries. There is seating at bars/counters of each restaurant, as well as a large open area of seating. It is adjacent to Duke’s Alley which is THE place to pick up touristy souvenirs (like inexpensive Hawaiian shirts).

Poke

It gets its own heading because we tried it everywhere to find the best! In my opinion, Ahi Assassins is hands-down the freshest, tastiest poke on Oahu. It is a little bit sketchy in locale, but so worth it. Many locals swear by Foodland. It is a grocery store that makes and sells Poke in their deli section. There is a large variety, and it is very reasonably priced, but just serviceable in my opinion. Maguro Brothers was suggested by our concierge, and it was really good, but the Assassins still beat them. They have two locations we visited- a walk-up near our hotel, and in the back of a liquor store. There were many others- we tried 10, but these were the best options.

Liliha Bakery

There are multiple locations, and we visited them all! We went for breakfast, lunch and pastries. Everything was delicious, especially the loco moco! The thing we kept going back for though was the coco puffs, and the malasada donuts. We even got some to go for our plane ride back. Do yourself a favor and go to their original location, sit at the lunch counter, and experience some old Hawaii.

Murals

Art is all over Oahu. This is a smattering of what you will see just driving and walking around!

Fun Stuff

There is so much to do that you need multiple trips to experience it all.

  • We researched and dove with Honolulu Scuba Company, and they were fantastic. We did a Friday night dive and a two-tank Sunday dive. Both were great, but do not miss a night dive if Scuba is your thing.
  • We snorkeled a number of locations from just places we parked on the side of the road to more formal locations. Our favorite spot was lagoon 3 at Ko Olina. They are public parks, and mostly full of juvenile fish and turtles. The coral was gorgeous and the abundant fish life made for great snorkeling. Bonus if you have new or young snorkelers- these are very safe, protected spots.
  • We planted a succulent for our daughter’s dorm. It was so much fun and the owner of Paiko was on site. She gave us lots of information about native plants and care. She also offered to feed my daughter if she git homesick 🙂
  • In the same little incubator of shops we found a chocolate tasting room, Lonohana. It was delicious to say the least! There are lots of plantations and working farms on Oahu, but again you need more than 10 days to experience all that. This was a nice satellite location.

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The Luau

Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, you must do it, at least once. I spent a longggggg time researching the best luau experience, and came up with Paradise Cove Luau. Our concierge assured me it was indeed the luau experience on the island. I wanted one where we learned some history, experienced some cultural activities, ate some traditional food, and saw some spectacular dancing. Paradise Cove delivered! We went in knowing this is something tourists do and had a great time! The site is breathtaking and the entertainment was amazing! Very talented dancers and I learned how to make my own lei. It was a little more expensive, but we went for the deluxe package and it was so worth it. We sat in a covered box with direct view to stage. We had an “auntie” who served our dinner and got drinks- no buffet or bar lines and we did not even use all of our cove credit we got with the package, even after paying the bar bill. This was an exceptional evening and I never felt like it was overdone! I will say the food is nothing to write home about, but I was prepared for that. Go meet some cousins at Paradise Cove!

 

Remote Work Hangouts

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Remote work can be the most satisfying and freeing choices for your career, but it can also be lonely. I have a lovely home office/library space. The furniture is comfy, there are plants and lots of sunlight- very inspiring. Sometimes though, I need some human interaction.

Enter coffee shops.

They have been the offices of many remote workers as our jobs move more online. There is enough noise, some people you can talk to or not, fresh coffee and usually some baked goods. The catch though is the space needs to be remote work friendly- solid tables, light, wifi and most importantly, lots of outlets! Remoters published an article that gives a great overview of all the pluses and minuses or remote work, as well as a glimpse into what the future of remote work could be. If you are currently freelancing or even working remote for a company, Remoters has some exceptional resources.

Local Options

Over the past two weeks I visited all the possibilities between Panama City proper and Grayton Beach, Fl. (my new home turf). Below is my roundup best to last, but let me say I did not go anywhere that did not offer food in some way- got to have a snack when you are working for hours staring at the screen. There may be more out there…drop me a message if you think I missed one of your faves.

#1 Black Bear Bread Co.

This one is the furthest from my home, but so worth it. There are many comfy seating options from the cushioned banquettes in the bakery are to the bar and couches in the bar room. It is busy. Always. Find your table first and then get in line to order. They give you a number and bring everything to you. The people who work there seem very happy- always smiling, chatting and refilling your coffee. The baked goods are really, really tasty. Did I say really tasty? They are! Everything is baked fresh and when they run out, they are out.

I usually order a large cup of Stumptown Coffee– the richest brew I have sampled from any of the shops. I am kind of hooked on their french toast, but I have tried croissants, pop tarts and grain bowls as well. There are outlets everywhere! Literally, every seat has an outlet right near it including the bar seats- it is a remote worker’s mecca! I stay usually 2-3 hours and nobody interrupts me except to fill coffee or pass a kind word of greeting. I never feel pressure to get out and the buzzy, hip vibe is perfect for writing. I frequent here 1-2 times a week even though it is 35 minutes from my house.

#2 The Pour

I passed this place many times before I ventured in because I was afraid it would be too faith-based. I was wrong. It is a Christian-based coffee shop, but it is so much more. They believe in their community and supporting it with transitional housing and other initiatives- they are a certified non-profit. There are some religious pieces of art on the wall, but there is also a plethora of comfy seating from couches to chairs to more traditional work tables. The decor is a mix of upcycled lighting, rugs and furniture.

I stayed for an hour my first time and it was so relaxing. It is a large space with tons of outlets. I counted eight remote workers when I first entered (always a good sign). The music is indie/folk. The staff is friendly and efficient. I had a coffee, which was nothing special just Community coffee and a pancake muffin which was really special. Baked products are house-made and pretty yummy. They also have a couple of breakfast options, but not a huge selection. This spot exudes good vibes and is a nice change from the home office.

#3 Amivida Coffee

I visited both locations, Rosemary Beach & St. Andrews, and much prefer the St. Andrews location. Rosemary Beach is a fun area, but the cafe itself is rather small and not conducive to remote work- no space to really spread out and plug in.

The location in St. Andrews is large, tons of different types of seating and outlets everywhere. The couple of times I visited, there were numerous remote workers on their laptops and conducting meetings. It is extremely remote worker friendly. There is also this independent spirit in the cafe that appeals to my own independent spirit. I love everything about this place except the food and coffee.

I worked uninterrupted for hours catching snippets of conversation about the community rebuilding after Hurricane Michael and all the new upstart businesses setting up shop. There is a fiercely proud quality to St. Andrews evident in their tagline #keepstandrewssalty and their deep support of locally-owned businesses. All of this makes me want to go here often, but the coffee was bitter both times and the two food items I tried- Spelt breakfast sandwich and muffin were dry and not very tasty. I plan to go and try ordering tea to see if that is more to my liking because I want to love this place and support it. So, in the end this places rocks for getting writing done, but the food and coffee were not as rocking.

#4 Cafe Aroma

This one is by far the closest to my house. I had really high hopes, but it was just okay. To be fair, I went thinking good coffee and a breakfast, but it was more good coffee and a donut.

They serve Lucky Goat coffee which is pretty good, a little bitter. They are really more of a lunch/deli location than breakfast. The sandwich I got was okay, but not great. The blueberry cake donut was fantastic! The space is quite large, but not many tables. This is a miss I think, at least for my purposes. There are outlets by the 7ish tables they have, but it is just not very comfortable. The space itself is a little stark and could use some cozying up. I went here twice, but did not stay for more than an hour. I think there is potential for remote work here, but it is not there yet and maybe they are catering more to the just walk in, get your coffee and donut, and leave crowd.

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#5 & #6 Sunrise Cafe & Bakery & Loaf Cafe & Bakery

I lumped these together because I would not consider remote working from either one.

Sunrise Cafe is super cute inside with a very beachy vibe. Loaf has that European minimalist thing going on. Both are comfortable spots with plenty of seating. But, my major requirement of outlets are basically non-existent.

I also did not feel their breakfast and coffee options were anything to write home about. Sunrise has a limited breakfast menu, but the ingredients were just kind of mediocre (American cheese etc.) and the coffee was the run of the mill Community Coffee. I did order a latte to see how their espresso drinks were and it was weak.

Loaf has an extremely limited menu, but their baklava is outstanding. I also love their community bookshelf where you can drop a book off or pick one up. Both have their good points (European menu options for lunch etc.), but they just were not sufficient for telework.

Back at it at the Beach

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Landed back in PCB a few weeks ago and started the rounds of restaurants to check out all the new venues. So far, the scene is very promising! Below are a few, but lots more to come 🙂

Best Sushi imo Shan Kishi:

Just moved back and our first order of business was to go out for a sushi tasting night, we went to four establishments and Shan Kishi was by far the freshest, best variety and friendliest service. In fact it was so good when our kids came for the holidays, we took them all to dinner and they went two more times for lunch!

The fish is very fresh (we eat sashimi so basically just fish) and there were 3 pages of rolls. Granted some of the rolls seemed similar, but the Yankee, Ocean, spicy tuna and spicy salmon were delicious! Best deal is to order the trio of sashimi on entrees- 18 pieces of fish plus soup and salad for $25. The pieces ate enormous! If you go in solo or just a couple people, sit at the sushi bar, it is worth it. This is our go-to for all things sushi here in the panhandle.

Brunch with a View- Pescado:

Pescado hands down has the best seat in Rosemary Beach. Sunday brunch is open seating on the deck with an ala carte menu. We sat at the front rail and tables were roomy with a direct view to the ocean.

My husband ordered the Benedict with Tasso hollandaise. The eggs were perfectly poached, pork was tender and the Tasso ham added just the right spice. He also ordered a side of breakfast potatoes which were also delicious! They were sautéed with caramelized red onion and red pepper. Very tasty side! I indulged in the challah french toast with poached pear and Amaretto mascarpone. It was enormous and ridiculously decadent in a really good way! I also got a side of bacon. Take it from me, do not miss the bacon- thick cut, perfectly cooked and huge portion. All told we ordered too much. The portions are not small, but everything we had was scrumptious!

The only miss for us was the bloody mary. It had good spice and abundant garnish, but it was fairly small and heavy on ice for $15. The food was all a great value with entrees between $12-$18 and sides $2-$5. The view was spectacular and worth difficulty finding a parking spot in Rosemary. Pescado will be on regular Sunday brunch rotation for us.

As an aside, we went as a couple, but there were 3 families with small children (high chairs) dining on the deck. Not sure about children at dinner, but brunch is definitely accommodating.

 

Best Italian imo- Amici 30A:

Finally found great Italian on the panhandle! We sat at the chef’s counter and it was such a good choice! Chefs were friendly and fun to watch. It was maybe one of the cleanest operations I have ever seen dining or working in kitchens. Ingredients were fresh and portions were ample.

We split the Caprese to start which was made completely with heirloom tomatoes and had some bright lemon zest over top for added zing. We then ordered the spaghetti and meatballs and the mushroom ravioli with caper browned butter sauce. We could have split one entree, but choosing would be hard. Their “gravy” which is what they call their tomato sauce had lots of depth and the meatballs were moist and well-seasoned. The caper browned butter sauce was rich and briny in all the right places. The bread was rustic and served with herbed olive oil. It was all delicious!

We finished with the tiramisu just because of presentation. We were so full, but when we saw the mason jars, we were all in!

Everything was wonderful and we will be back…often!

Hidden Gem- Temperley’s:

Been to Temperley’s a number of times since moving back and it is yummy every time! This time we took our kids who are visiting and they sampled some of the fantastic British fare we raved about.

At the table we had fish and chips(we prefer the cod, but haddock is tasty as well), the bangers and mash and 2 Shepherd’s pies. All were hot and delicious! I have also tried the chicken pot pie pasty, as well as the apple and peach dessert pasty.

They have beer and wine available and everything is ordered at the counter. It is an unpretentious, local fave we go back to over and over!

Paradise Found…part one

Grenada was everything we were looking for and more…

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Our hotel…

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Mount Cinnamon blew our expectations out of the water! This was not the most expensive hotel on the island, but it is by far the best. Every aspect of your stay has been anticipated and taken care of by the expert staff on site. They even have grass tennis courts- a big plus for our family.

We arrived to Shauna’s incredible hospitality. She brought us a welcome punch and went over all the amenities on site. She also asked us about what we wanted to do while we were in Grenada and offered to book various things for us. She was a wealth of local knowledge about where to dine, must see sights and tips about getting around. She also arranged a car for us- highly suggest this so you can explore the island, though the driving is on the opposite side of the road and at times feels like playing chicken, but I digress.

The villa we stayed in was at the top of the property and quite a hike from the main office and the beach. The car came in very handy! The views from our villa was spectacular and worth the extra trek. The GM was also very present on site and repeatedly throughout our stay checked on us and remembered our names. In addition to ShaunIMG_2888a’s graciousness, the bartender Antonio was incredibly friendly and even brought us a bottle of his homemade hot sauce on our last day.

The private beach area was incredibly well-stocked. There were hobie cats, kayaks, paddleboards, beach loungers, a ping pong table, beach volleyball and a croquet course. So many options when we were not out on the dive boat. The beach staff was also friendly and professional. For those diving, hit the restaurant for some breakfast before the dive- they open early and it is included in your hotel cost.

From the complete hospitality, to the nightly cookies delivered to your door, to the beauty of the landscape and care with which each guest is treated, Mount Cinnamon exceeds expectations. Do yourself a favor and book your stay with them!

Suit up for some great diving!

Our family vacations center around diving and Grenada was no different. There are multiple dive centers there, but based on proximity to our hotel and availability of types of dives, we chose Dive Grenada…and we chose wisely.

We have two very experienced divers, one warm water only diver and one diver needing an advanced open water cert. Phil helped us book dives to satisfy all of our needs. The wrecks were phenomenal and we were able to dive these while our son was completing his advanced class in the same vicinity. We also went on what all of us agree was the best night dive we have ever done.

The Bianca is a must for any diver and the sculpture garden was unique and beautiful and also where our daughter saw her first shark- a bucket list item for her! The divemasters were friendly, professional and incredibly knowledgeable of all the local areas of interest. Our son loved his advanced class, led by Phil’s wife, Helen. Best of all though, this dive shop was not in the business of cattle boating large groups of divers and snorkelers. They kept small groups and maximized what we were able to see each trip out. We did two dives a day for five days and would have done more if we did not need a day of decompression before flying.

A couple of notes…we rented our gear for the kids ahead and brought it just in case the shop did not have what we wanted- this was completely unnecessary. Dive Grenada has fantastic gear and renting on site saves a lot of checked baggage. Do not miss the Bianca and I highly suggest a night dive- the bioluminescence was stunning. Some of the other shops on the island get good reviews, but trust me, Dive Grenada will offer you the best experience.

Calling all chocolate lovers!

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Belmont Estate was one of the highlights of my recent trip to Grenada. I love to bake and to be able to see firsthand how some of the spices and chocolate are processed was amazing! We elected the tour so we could see everything up close and have someone knowledgeable to guide us and give us all the historical information.

Our guide was friendly and fun. He took us through the cocoa trees, as well as all the other types of fruit trees on the plantation, and each step of the process. We picked a pod, broke it open, walked the pods, turned them and then visited the processing center were everything is aged, mixed and brought to perfect chocolate life. IMG_5493

You can also make your own chocolate, but we had not planned enough time for that. Part of our visit included the onsite goat dairy where they make their delicious goat cheese.

We capped it off with a visit to the restaurant for lunch. It was a buffet which is not usually my fave, but their dishes were flavorful and provided a great sampling of Grenadian food. They had provisions, green plantains, jerked chicken, salted fish, beef curry and vegetables creole. There was also a sampling of salads and nutmeg ice cream for dessert. Overall, this was one of the best excursions of our trip!

Don’t forget the shopping…

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I knew I wanted to go to Art Fabrik before we arrived in Grenada and I am so glad I did

my research!

The shop is in St. Georges on one of the twisty, turny streets, but it is worth the effort to find. My family and I went in and were immediately greeted and taken to the batik studio upstairs. It is truly an artist’s workplace with lots of gorgeous fabric everywhere and women hand-painting unique designs at each work station.

It is pretty warm upstairs which made my respect for these ladies grow. The batik studio is unique, but so is the rest of the shop. The stairs are hand-painted, the walls are covered in local art and the shop downstairs not only features the unique batik fabric art, but jewelry and other wares from local artists.

All purchases are wrapped in either batik remnants or hand-sew bags. This was by far the best shopping experience on the island and a must-not-miss excursion for those visiting Grenada.

New Finds in San Diego

Needing a little mental health break from the daily life of a public school teacher, I escaped to San Diego with the hubs for a short vacay and some more immersion in their eclectic food scene. San Diego reminds me a little of Atlanta in that there are pocket neighborhoods with very distinct personalities. Little Italy is the spot for ethnic fare, bustling streets and the best farmer’s market in the city so it is no surprise I found my new fave dinner spot there. Enter Bar Bodega

Bar Bodega

No question… best cheese selection!

Hands down this was the best dinner all week! Bar Bodega was a small, hip Spanish-inspired tasty Little Italy stop. We ordered the charcuterie and cheese board and it was fantastic. We had the serrano ham, miti bleu, leonore and cambrillo- all were delicious and the quince paste, briny olives and marcona olives accompanied perfectly! We moved on to the squid ink arancini, tuna tostadas and octopus tacos. The arancini were served with three housemade sauces- my fave was the chili aioli but the hubs preferred the cilantro pesto. The tuna tostadas were generous and super fresh and the octopus tacos were the star. Served on housemade blue corn tortillas with shishito ash and avocado crema, the octopus was tender and spiced with a fragrant chili oil.

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Check out the hearty chunks of tuna on the tostadas!

The wine list is not to be ignored though- it is reasonably priced and offers a good selection of bottles. We went with an Argentinian Malbec for $28 and it paired with everything perfectly. We finished out dinner with dessert, of course. The tres leches cake was moist but not overly sweet and the dark chocolate mousse was served almost like a mound of icecream atop a pool of fresh strawberry sauce. It again was not overly sweet and offered the perfect finish to our evening. A miss for us was the sangria- we ordered a white and red to start with but neither were very good and the seating can be a challenge. It is a very small space with a few hightops spread around and then a bar with seating. We sat at the bar and enjoyed our corner spot but if you want table seating make reservations in advance.

Overall, the food was excellent, the wine selection complimentary and the service was friendly and knowledegable. It was another Little Italy hit!

Next on my neighborhood hit list was North Park. My son visited a friend out here some months ago and stayed in North Park and could not be contained about its allure. My daughter loves thrift store shopping and everything I read said North Park was the mecca for upcycled, chic pieces so off I went. After visiting the stylish Hunt and Gather boutique, purchasing a retro hat and some earrings, I was ready to sample North Park lunch. My son said BFD was not to be beat for handcrafted sandwiches; I decided to test his foodie acumen…

Big Front Door (technically rides between University Heights and North Park, but who cares?)

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Cali Cubano & Potato Salad- love the family-style seating!

Everything is fresh made on site including the pork roast on the Cali Cubano I ordered. It was ridiculously good- meats were moist, pickle had just the right tartness and the jalapeno aioli sealed the deal! I also ordered the potato salad which had chunks or poblano pepper and red-skinned potatoes. It was not mayonnaisey- my usual beef with potato salad, but it needed salt and pepper. They also have homemade cookies, brownies and macaroons, but I could only finish half my sandwich so dessert was out. They have a wide selection of craft-brewed sodas and teas in addition to a nice wine and beer menu. A must do for lunch if you are in the area and even if you aren’t. Then pop over to Frock You for some vintage finds and perhaps your next great ugly Christmas sweater!

I finish with Ocean Beach because, well, it has my heart. Of all the little pocket neighborhoods, it is the one I am most drawn to. There is something about the fierce protection of independent businesses, friendly vibe and upwelling of local artisans that appeals to the girl from the Green Mountain State.

OB Deli from foursquare

photo courtesy of FourSquare

I always try to look for those hidden gems in places I visit and was not disappointed in OB Deli. The bread was freshly made and the marbled rye was hands-down the best I ever had. The sandwiches were all named after streets in Ocean Beach. I went with the Cable- turkey, bacon, avocado toasted to deliciousness. The turkey was freshly sliced and my sandwich maker extraordinaire scooped out an entire fresh avocado to top the turkey. They also have freshly made sides, cookies and brownies.

I cannot recommend this place enough! If you are looking for something local and are not scared off by the location being behind a Quickmart/liquor store, make your way down Voltaire to the OB Deli. Bonus: You can take your lunch over to the beach and get a million dollar view to go with your bargain lunch!

It was only a few days in this west coast paradise, but I will be back!

 

Caribbean Paradise in Curacao

I started this journey scouring the scuba forums, getting advice from friends, and looking all over the internet (including trip advisor). Normally, we stay at Marriott properties or resort-style places, but we decided to go with something different since this was a mostly dive vacation. We did the right thing!

The staff at Scuba Lodge is incredibly friendly. Dalise (probably not spelled correctly) was a lifeline. She was courteous, happy and could make anything happen, including a rental car on the fly. We dove with the Scuba Lodge dive shop and they provided us with superb local spots, great choices for non-touristy lunch options and tons of local lore. We stopped at the Heart of Curacao and learned the legend which was not a dive stop. Daan took us to a fishing pier where we dove with huge sea turtles and moray eels. They were helpful with our 15 year old daughter who had never shore dove before. It was a fantastic experience!

The Scuba Lodge staff embodies the great thing about the island- people are happy, relaxed and work together. Dive shops gathered on Thursday for a “happy hour” at the Scuba Lodge. We were never approached by vagrants or people trying to sell things and we walked around safely at night as we explored the restaurant scene. Let me qualify that with Scuba Lodge is located in the city, not in the resort- touristy area. Crumbling buildings, construction and graffiti art was ever-present.

One of the great things about Scuba Lodge IS the location, especially if you are a foodie. All of the best restaurants on the island were walking distance. Though, Scuba Lodge’s restaurant would not be one of those. We tried breakfast, lunch and the bbq and all were disappointing food-wise. The service was good, but food was over priced and not tasty. Stay here but do not eat here. Go to Kome, Chapter or any of the other amazing places right there.

One of the other surprises as a guest was there was not a beach persay. You are right on the ocean, but there is no traditional beach. The pics on the site are a little deceiving in that way. They have a sandy dining area overlooking the ocean, which is beautiful, but not a walk-in beach. The infinite pool is awesome and does hang right over the ocean, but it is rocky and heavy seas.

We stayed in the 2 bedroom apartment, city view. i kind of wished we had the ocean view, but we were not in our room enough to make a huge difference. The apartment was huge!!! Upstairs and downstairs with two enormous bedrooms. A great kitchen with updated appliances. A bathroom off of the living room with a washing machine and a roomy balcony to hand scuba gear and enjoy a cup of coffee. The bedrooms are ice cold air conditioned, but the living area and kitchen are not air conditioned. Again, that was not a big deal since we were not there much. The apartment had beautiful flooring, large windows and comfy beds.

When we next come to Curacao, we will stay at Scuba Lodge. It was a fantastic experience. Next time we will have Dalise get us a car for the last couple days, have her do a little grocery shopping for us (nothing close with good groceries other than produce at the floating market) and schedule two days to dive the Superior Producer!

Fishalicious:

I was so excited about this place, but it did not live up to my expectations. I love, love seafood and it is not easy to find a menu with a range of seafood in Willemstad.

Unfortunately, the fish was not cooked properly. We ordered the tuna medium rare and the snapper special as two of our entrees. The fish was cooked well all the way through and the snapper, though it looked well-seared, had very flimsy rather than crisp skin. The shellfish dish on the other hand was perfect. The scallops were soft and buttery and the shrimp was tender. The amouse bouche of swordfish was also quite tasty.

As far as service, we had reservations but were sat at an uncomfortable bar table. Our server was friendly and fairly attentive though the food took a very long time, even by Curacao standards. All in all, this was one of our more expensive meals, but not worth the cost. Too bad since it is one of the only fish-dedicated restaurants on the island.

Kome:

Our first night in Curacao and we planned to just find a place for dinner. We stayed at the Scuba Lodge and were heading towards Brasserie based on a rec. but wanted more seafood selections. Enter Kome. We walked by it and I recognized the name from trip advisor.

The interior is just gorgeous. Dark panel floors, eclectic art, vaulted ceilings and an open kitchen. We did not have reservations, but the manager took pity on us and gave us a table near the kitchen.

Like most restaurants in Curaçao, the service is fairly leisurely. Which is OK because it’s an island. Our server was phenomenal! She was friendly, knowledgeable and gauged when we wanted refills or when we needed something and was attentive to that.

It was hard to pick what we were going to eat. The menu has a very wide selection and everything sounded delicious. We ended up choosing the burrata plate and green curry soup with fish dumplings to start. Our mains were the duck with cherry gastrique, green curry shellfish over rice noodles and the snapper special. Everything was deftly seasoned. The portions were good, not huge and the pickled vegetable made the perfect accompaniment.

We finished with a tawny port and glass of gewurtzemeiner. Perfect end to a fabulous meal.

Ginger:

Usually, I wait until I am home to do this, but I just could not wait. The ambiance and menu at Ginger are fantastic! Loved the outdoor seating area and the handhewn box seating. The music matched the vibe. The menu had lots of yummies to choose from. We started with thai fish cakes and ordered whole red snapper (tandoori style) and the shrimp in lemon-tequila marinade. Both were delicious and well-prepared.

Unfortunately, this story does not end well. The service was the worst in any country I have ever had (which I surmise to be the reason it is not a higher rated). Our sever, who we could never get her name out of, for the most part ignored us. The service in general here is slower than the US which is to be expected. Every time we needed something we had to flag down the other server because ours was hanging out at the bar or doing side work. She was not friendly. As we were waiting for someone to come take our dessert order, one of her other tables had to go to the kitchen to finally get their check. The lady was in a wheelchair and had to make her way around a non-handicap accessible area just to find the server to pay.

The only time our server was attentive was when the other server brought us our check. She proceeded to clear everything from our table, including our still being finished dessert. It was one if the rudest moments of the evening. In total, we were there over three hours. Forget about drink refills, ordering another glass of wine or anything beyond what you order the first round.

When we first got there, we planned to come more than once during our trip because of the atmosphere and menu. Now we will go nowhere near the place. If anyone does decide to go and an Indian waitress shows up at your table, ask for the other server.

Saint Tropez:

Went here for breakfast three times because of the proximity to the hotel. Food was delicious- they have fluffy pancakes and our server was awesome! Had a quick lunch in between dives and it was equally tasty!

San Diego and Sunsets

Wonderland and OB:
We happened onto this place after a day exploring Ocean Beach. It was close to sunset and Wonderland had prime seating to catch it. We were not disappointed! It was a Monday and they had a special mussels. We ordered the andouille and smoked tomato mussels. They were tasty and the beer selection was really wide. My only complaint is the prices are a little steep and seating can be difficult, but the view is worth it! They also have some special every night; you just have to check and the live music on Mondays is fantastic!

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Blue Water Seafood:

This spot was suggested by a friend for superior fish. We went on a Wednesday at 8:30 and even a half hour before close, the line was out the door!

As we were standing in line, I got to see the amazing sashimi plates coming out. Huge portions of incredibly fresh fish, my mouth watered. Unfortunately, we did not order sashimi. We ordered the house cioppino and the bronzed snapper. The seafood on both dishes was ample and expertly prepared. Where they both fell down was seasoning. The bronze was very light and bland and the cioppino needed salt. The fish was all very well butchered and cooked, just lacking in seasoning.

I still consider this a very good meal because of the quality of fish, attention to butchering and friendly staff. They have a nice local craft beer selection as well. In the future, I will get the sashimi and I am sure it will be excellent!

Queenstown Public House:

Found this little gem while I was checking out the Little Italy Market and what a find! Just the atmosphere alone would draw me in with all the eclectic decor and unique seating, but the food was delish as well. We had the lamb hash and challah french toast. The lamb hash was earthy, robust and served under two perfectly poached eggs. The challah french toast came with a homemade honey butter and fresh strawberries. The portions were ample. They offered am interesting mimosa and champagne cocktail menu, but we stuck with coffee which was tasty. The vibe is very relaxed and that is reflected in the speed of service. Don’t go when you are in a hurry, but it is worth the wait!

Mitch’s:

Mitch’s is the one place my husband always talks about when he comes to SD so it was our first lunch stop. Parking is a little hectic at lunch and we did wait in line to get in, but it was worth it. The selection is phenomenal and the staff is very friendly. We ordered octopus tacos, sea bass tacos, snapper tacos and poke. We managed to get seats at the back bar overlooking the marina- you want those seats! The view was relaxing and the food came quick. The poke was perfect little cubes of tuna aptly seasoned. The tacos were good, not the best in SD imho, but they were good. Great lunch spot- lots of character, great selection, fantastic poke!

Oscar’s PB:

I have now sampled a number of fish taco stands and can say with certainty, Oscar’s is my fave. It is very limited seating and no a.c., but you don’t need it in San Diego. I had the taco especial, the octopus taco and shared ceviche with my husband. It was all fantastic! The smoked fish on the especial was some of the tastiest ever and the octopus was duly charred and not tough. The ceviche had perfect acid and heat. They also had homemade sodas and a wide selection of jarritos. It was worth the couple minutes we waited for one of the picnic stands outside. This place was the only restaurant we repeated in SD- it was that good!

Keepin it Green in the Green Mountain State- Hen of the Wood

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Hen of the Wood. Great name, even greater cuisine! I have not so thoroughly enjoyed dinner out in a long time! The service, the atmosphere, and the food, oh my the food! We went on a Monday night and there was a wait so be sure to make reservations or do what we did and sit at the kitchen counter (which ended up being the best seat in the house).

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Menu of the day

Definitely order the grilled octopus, zucchini fritters, and tomato-mozzarella salad. All were delicious starters made better by watching Becca painstakinIMG_0517gly prepare each plate.The octopus was incredibly tender, no small feat for any who have tried octopus before. It came nestled atop a sunchoke puree accompanied by radishes and cilantro.

The zucchini fritters harkened me back to my Nanny’s farm where she would make fresh corn fritters for breakfast. They were light and fluffy, served with creme fraiche and local honey. The outsides were crispy and the insides soft enough to melt in the mouth. IMG_0516The tomato salad provided a much needed freshener with the housemade mozzarella and vinegar. This course definitely perked our palates for dinner!

Next we went to the rabbit with rhubarb jus and chicken with roasted chanterelles. Both were tender, beautiful, and deftly seasoned. IMG_0523

The chicken was my favorite. It was stuffed with a chicken sausage and topped with a pan jus. The currants scattered on the plate were that sweet tart note that emboldens flavors of savory entrees and the celery root puree was silken. The chanterelles were earthy and tender. it was some of the best prepared chicken I have ever had the pleasure of eating.

My only disappointment of the evening was dessert. We had a selection of bite-sized desserts, the milk cake with raspberry sorbet, a complimentary variety of sorbets, and a cheese tasting.

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The only one I truly enjoyed was the cheese. The cheeses were Vermont-sourced and served with a tart currant jam that finished our fabulous dinner perfectly. We will definitely be back on our next visit to Vermont!

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Keepin’ it Green in the Green Mountain State- Pho Hong

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Back in our little town of Roanoke, the best pho restaurant recently limited their hours, much to our lamenting tummies. We found Pho Saigon just by chance and it became a weekly, post-softball tradition for us. There is nothing like a hearty bowl of noodles to comfort tired muscles. Unfortunately, they are now only open for lunch except on weekends. So, when planning dining out in Burlington, we looked for a good pho place. Enter Pho Hong. And…its famed squid pho!

We went based on the amazing reviews for this place. Unfortunately, the website says nothing about no beer/wine license so we had to run to the Cumberland Farms around the corner- not a very good selection. The place is very popular, especially for takeout. We waited about 40 minutes for an outside table. Inside there was no air conditioning and patrons were visibly sweating. Outside the mosquitoes were oppressive! Our waitress kindly brought out cans of off, but that did not even touch the hungry insects. We eventually moved inside because being hot was better than being eaten alive.

I will say our server was very friendly and the food was okay. The portions were generous and the vegetables bountiful. Unfortunately, I have had some fantastic pho in other states and the depth of the broth just was not there. The small amount of protein in the overall bowl was also disappointing. All in all, I would not go back for dine in. Take out might be alright, but I think I would try another place first.

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Keepin’ it Green in the Green Mountain State- American Flatbread

Quilt hanging in American Flatbread. It is an homage to their local draft beer selection!

Quilt hanging in American Flatbread. It is an homage to their local draft beer selection!

Even eight years after my first visit, American Flatbread is still one of the best restaurants in Burlington! Great beer selection, amazing local ingredients, and fantastic service! Fortunately for us, AF has expanded since we last visited. They acquired the patio area between buildings. We did not have to wait even though it was a Friday night, and I think that is because of all this extra space. We can always count on AF to serve something local and yummy!

The menu is mainly wood-fired flatbreads of many ilks, local beer, and interesting salads. We ordered the Cheese and Herb, and the Pepperoni and Peppers flatbreads. The cheese and herb had whole milk mozzarella, Italian grand padona, garlic oil base, and fresh herbs. Delish! The pepperoni and peppers offered their homemade organic tomato base (so good), topped with nitrate-free pepperoni, green peppers, red onion, fresh herbs, and a blend of cheeses. We gobbled up both for our first dinner out in the Green Mountain State!

We also ordered their salad of the day- on the sign to the righIMG_0408t. I love kale, but this was even better than I imagined and the perfect accompaniment to AF’s rustic flatbreads. As usual, they served local microbrews. This time around it was Zero Gravity Brewing Company and it also did not disappoint. The Bernie Weiss was thirst-quenching, and a cool homage to Bernie Sanders, longtime Vermont politician and recent presidential candidate. AF has their flatbreads available in many grocery stores now, but if in town, a visit to the home location is a must!

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