Travel: City Guide to Portland, Oregon

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I would say with confidence that I would gladly move to Portland, Oregon. Between the great food, eco-friendly habits, nature hikes, and overall vibe of the people living there, I felt very much at home and relaxed. (But seriously, great food!) And our AirBNB location could not have been better! We were located on 28th St. and Division St., a five minute walk from some of the great restaurants we visited, including Pokpok, Ava Genes, Bollywood Theater, Salt & Straw, and Eb and Bean! It was lovely to step outside and walk to and from these eateries. Here is a guide to our most recent trip. I hope you enjoy!


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Lardo

DSC05877

DSC05883

DSC05893

♦♦♦♦
1212 SE HAWTHORNE BLVD
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We arrived at Portland very late and had originally planned to pick up Lardo sandwiches for our hikes the next day. However, we were so tired and hungry that we decided to make Lardo the only stop for the night and to just eat dinner there instead. It was a wonderful introduction to the food scene in Portland. We had ordered the Pulled Pork Vindaloo (Cabbage Porial Slaw, Assamese Pineapple Chutney, and Mint mayo), the Korean Pork Shoulder (house kimchi, chili mayo, cilantro, lime), and Salt and Vinegar Chicharrones. Everything was delicious! Mike and I split everything, and he favored the vindaloo while I favored the korean pork shoulder. Mostly because the bread of the korean pork shoulder was absolutely amazing. Which may or may not be fair to the vindaloo… The sandwiches are very heavy, so we did not even get to finish the chicharrones, which was fine since we brought the left-overs along on our hike as a snack. Definitely a must stop if you like meaty sandwiches, but I would not recommend taking the sandwiches on any hikes. It just wouldn’t have been as good.

Milk Glass Mrkt

DSC05936

DSC05953

DSC05970

DSC05977

♦♦♦♦
2150 NORTH KILLINGWORTH ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

We went here for breakfast on day 2 prior to leaving Portland for a day of nature walks. They source their ingredients seasonally from local farms, including Gathering Together Farm, Wobbly Cart Farm, August Farms, Viridian Farms & Groundwork Organics. Everything is made from scratch, in house, everyday. They are dedicated to paying their employees a living wage and to support to local community. The store also sells some local goods. The space is bright, and is an ideal place to catch up with a friend over breakfast on a weekend. I ordered a Quinoa Bowl (quinoa, asparagus, farm greens, charred spring onion, manchego, crispy prosciutto, topped with a six minute egg), and Mike ordered the Cheddar Biscuit (with egg, cheddar cheese, bacon, and greens).  The quinoa bowl that I had was extremely fresh, bright, and had just the right acidity in the vinagrette to balance the ingredients. It was also exactly what I needed after our heavy dinner at Lardo the night before.

Brass Tacks Sandwiches

DSC05988

DSC06223

DSC06213

♦♦♦
3535 N VANCOUVER AVE
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We swung by Brass Tacks Sandwiches after breakfast to grab a few sandwiches that will keep well on our day of hiking. Firstly, I would just like to say how eco-friendly Portland is. I had absolutely no problems at all with plastic there. Everything, even to-go  items, were wrapped in paper. No straws were ever provided. I did not see people carrying around plastic bags or water bottles, but rather, re-usable bottles, linen bags, or paper carryout bags. The sandwiches we got here were wrapped in paper, as were the home-made kettle chips, and he did not even provide us with a bag. PERFECT! I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now that I am done geeking out about their eco-conscious habits, I am going to say that the sandwiches were bomb, although standard. Nothing that you can’t get in California, but really well made. You can order one of their specials or make your own. They are also one of the many places to eat that are mindful of vegan diets and vegetarian diets. In fact, Mike ordered the vegan Frank Sinatmeat (with agave smoked “ham”, roasted red pepper “salami” on a french roll with garlic aioli, pickled jalapeno, red onion, lettuce, oil/vinegar/oregano, and cashew cheese) while I ordered Turkey It To The Limit (oven-roasted turkey on ciabatta with mayo, tomato jam, avocado, lettuce, and provolone, panini-grilled). Brownie points for the clever names.

Jory Coffee Co.

DSC05995

DSC06001

DSC06011.JPG

DSC06041

DSC06016

DSC06034
♦♦♦♦
3845 N MISSISSIPPI AVE
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

I am only going to write about Jory once, when the truth of the matter is, we went there twice of the two days, because it was just that great. They serve only pour over coffees, so don’t expect to order a latte or any other type of espresso based drink here. If you would like, you can opt for a splash of milk or Oatly in your cup, but that’s it. It’s a minimalist’s dream and they have made it so that it allows you to drink good coffee and appreciate it the way it’s meant to be appreciated. There are a selection of six local coffee roaster’s beans, all of which can also be purchased for those who want to make coffee at home. The offerings they had was a well-curated selection that really makes distinct and unique coffees. There is standing room only in the narrow shop, which is reminiscent of many Australian coffee shops. People are meant to buy their coffees and then go about their day. There is outdoor seating right outside the shop, enough chairs for three couples, which Mike and I took advantage of the second time we went. We spent an hour idling by ourselves outside on our last day in Portland, because we just loved it so much. The machine they have for making the coffee was great and the coffee was served efficiently, and the folk were extremely friendly. We even met the owner Jorian! If you are a real third-wave generation coffee fan who drinks it black, this is the place to go. The first time we went, I ordered Heart – DECAF (cherry, apple, milk chocolate) and Mike ordered Extracto (blueberry, cinnamon, and dark chocolate). The second time around, we took both of Jorian’s recommendations, which were Barista (peach, caramel, golden raisin) and Case Study (blackberry, citrus, deep and sweet).

Latourell Falls

DSC06062

DSC06101

DSC06119

♦♦♦♦
$

Latourell Falls was the first hike we did. It is a very easy loop trail. From the parking lot, it is a few steps until you get to the lookout point to the waterfall. We hiked up to the very top of the falls, which did not take us more than ten to fifteen minutes. We got pretty close to the very edge of the waterfall, but to look over would have been very ballsy. I loved hearing the rush of the water as it fell over the cliff, and got a kick out of waving to the citizens below, who gladly waved back. The trail continues on and is a fairly easy hike, ideal for young children or older adults. There were no steep inclines past the waterfall. Continuing on reveals other smaller waterfalls. We walked up to one in particular that I would actually categorize as still being very large and it was amazing to feel the spray of the water and the whirling wind as you got closer. Along the way, we saw all sorts of beautiful plant life, as well as a cool little millipede. We must have spent two hours idling along that trail, stopping every few feet to gaze at large clovers, purple flowers, and blue-veined leaves. Worth every minute of it, and it was free!

Dog Mountain Trail

DSC06225

DSC06232

DSC06262

DSC06271

DSC06288

DSC06290

♦♦♦♦
$

I was sitting next to this lady on the airplane ride to Portland when the topic of hiking came up. She had recommended Dog Mountain Trail in Washington as a wonderful hike that led to the top of a large mountain with amazing views. Since it’s spring time, the flowers were very much in bloom at the top and the overlook provided wonderful views of the Columbia River Gorge as it snaked around bends. Since a majority of the hikes on the Oregon side were closed due to the major fire last September, this was one of the only alternatives we knew of. It is a very steep 3.8 miles to the top with a 2,800 feet elevation gain, resulting in 7.5ish miles round trip. Mike and I had a dinner reservation, so we knew we had to truck it if we were going to get to the very top! We started the hike at 3 pm and finished in 3.5 hours! I almost had a mental breakdown when the steepness got to be too much, but Mike cheered me on (and sometimes pushed me up the mountain) and we ended up making it! I recommend this to other hikers, but I would definitely rate this is a difficult hike.

Ava Genes

DSC06304

DSC06305

♦♦♦♦
3377 SE DIVISION STREET
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$$

“Our story can be told through our pasta: it’s milled, extruded, rolled, cut, cooked, sauced, and eaten in house.”

Off course, dough lovers unite. Their ingredients are locally sourced and support a local community of small farmers and artisans. There are things other than pasta on their menu, but we just knew we had to stick with pasta. The quality of the pasta is great! Plus, we needed some carbs to replenish our energy stores after our long hikes. This restaurant is just what the doctor ordered! I had the Tagliatelli (with cauliflower ragu, rosemary and garlic) and Mike had the Sunday special which was the Campanelle (with sausage sugo and ricotta). So simple, but so elegant.

Salt & Straw

DSC06389.JPG

DSC06390

DSC06333

♦♦♦
3345 SE DIVISION ST.
PORLTAND OREGON
$

I love ice cream, and Salt & Straw receives much of the hype. We decided to do a late night ice cream pit stop on our walk back to our AirBNB from Ava Genes. By late night, I do mean that we were one of the last few to make it through the door before they closed up shop at 11 pm. There were many amazing offerings in terms of flavors. I was specifically drawn to their monthly menu, which was centered around florals. I ordered Rhubarb Crumble with Toasted Anise and Mike ordered Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache. The flavors were unique and great, but we have had better ice cream before, which is why I did not give this place 3 stars. While it was good, it did not live up to the hype.

Heart Coffee

DSC06348

DSC06352

DSC06353

DSC06359

♦♦♦
2211 E BURNSIDE ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

Day 3 started off very slowly for us, after a late night dinner and a day full of hikes. We made our way to Heart coffee, since trying their decaf at Jory was such a good experience. It was a good coffee shop, however, they offered mostly espresso based drinks, landing Mike and I with standard cappuccinos. I still think their worth the visit, although next time, I may have opted for a drip coffee. They have three locations, but we went to the one on Burnside St. It is a perfect study space, but do note the noise level is moderate to loud. Luckily, we were just slowly still coming out of our dreamlike reveries.

Pokpok

DSC06409

DSC06425

DSC06455

DSC06458

DSC06460

DSC06465

DSC06472

DSC06480

♦♦♦♦
3226 SE DIVISION ST
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

If I could give something five out of four stars, I definitely would. But that wouldn’t be fair to the other reviews, would it? Needless to say, this lives up to the hype. Mike and I both agreed that while the experience of eating outdoors in a shack on a plastic table and chairs is not exactly worldly, the food compares to Pujol, not in quality, but in flavor, and for the fraction of the price. People visiting Portland should definitely eat here at least once! We were the first people there (we showed up thirty minutes early from opening) so we got seated immediately. But by the time the restaurant opened, the line was around the corner of the street and not everyone was seated. By the time we finished our meal at 12:30, the wait times for 2 people was an hour. If you are staying close by like we were, it wouldn’t hurt to come by and put your name down, then return to your AirBNB and relax while waiting for their call. Or you can walk up and down the shops on Division Street. We ordered Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (Spicy) (Half dozen fresh whole natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Vietnamese fish sauce and garlic and served with Cu Cai (pickled vegetables)), Yam Kai Dao (Crispy fried farm egg salad with lettuce, Chinese celery, carrots, onions, garlic, Thai chiles and cilantro, with a lime, fish sauce, palm sugar dressing), Muu Sateh (Carlton Farms pork loin skewers marinated in coconut milk and turmeric, grilled over charcoal and served with peanut sauce, cucumber relish and grilled bread), and Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich (Coconut-jackfruit ice cream served on a sweet bun with peanuts, sweet sticky rice, condensed milk and chocolate syrup.  Found on any Thai street, especially in the markets) for dessert. Surprisingly, the dessert was the least cool thing about the meal, although I hear if we would have opted for the affogato instead, it would have been a different story.

Citizen Ruth

DSC06494

dsc06482.jpg

DSC06483

DSC06489

DSC06492

♦♦♦♦
3070 SE DIVISION ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

I absolutely loved this extremely progressive, feminist store. I was having a blast perusing the shop. What stuck out most to me was a collection of children’s books lining a wall with a revolution sign over it. Each children’s book taught a lesson about being different, unique, and absolutely okay with that. The rest of the store contained different crafts from local artists and quirky knick knacks that had faces such as Frida Kahla screaming their message.

Powell’s Books

DSC06583

DSC06596

♦♦♦♦
1005 W BURNSIDE ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

Powell’s Books is a bookworm’s fantasy land. I was absolutely blown away by the selection of books, both new and used. Mike and I separated our ways and we were there for an hour and a half before we found each other again. I posted up and grabbed a book from the shelves and read it in it’s entirety front cover to back cover. I then moved on to another until Mike found me. How do we get one of these in Orange County?!

Multnomah Whiskey Library

DSC06652

DSC06657

♦♦♦♦
1124 SW ALDER ST.
PORTLAND OREGON
$$$

I gave up drinking alcohol for two reasons. At some point, I realized how much money goes towards being a social drinker. I was never one to guzzle the stuff on the daily (or the weekly, even), but buying alcohol in public or even from a grocery store can add up. So one day, I quit cold turkey. The other reason was that I just wanted to be a healthy individual and be without the tiredness the day after a good night. The exception to the rule is when we travel. In Germany, I allowed myself a beer at Oktoberfest and in Mexico City, I allowed myself one cocktail when we were dining at Pujol. In Oregon, we swung by Multnomah Whiskey Library per my sister’s recommendation and I decided to break the fast once for one day. We ordered three cocktails, all of which were superb. Their collection of alcohol was very impressive. The knowledge of our bartender Jackson was great. Per his recommendation Mike had an Improved Old Fashion, and I ordered a Huckleberry Revival. We ended our drinking session with a drink that had tumeric in it.

LucLac

DSC06660

DSC06667

DSC06670

♦♦
835 SW 2ND ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We went to LucLac after Multnomah Whiskey Library because it was walk-able and we wanted time before we drove again, so dinner served as a good occupation for our time. We were lucky enough to get the last available seat before those in line had to wait for tables. To be completely honest, I thought the food was very mediocre. I gave it two stars because I didn’t think it was a waste of time, but since there were so many other great eats in Portland, I’d say it was just hyped and not a “MUST-SEE”. I thought the taste of the food was pretty bland. We both ordered vermicelli plates (Mike got the combo and I got the pork), but there wasn’t much flavor to them. I have eaten better vermicelli plates elsewhere, I guess. Mike liked this restaurant enough though to rate it as top four on the list of all the places we ate at, so that’s something worth considering.

Multnomah Falls

DSC06697

DSC06700
$

Unfortunately, due to the recent fires last September 2017, the Multonomah Falls is closed. We did not know that when we went there. We were pretty happy to still get to see it (Mike has hiked up to the top on a previous trip). The great thing was that we learned it was closed so that we could tell our friend who is going up there this weekend that it may not be worth the $60/person bus ride he purchased for him and his S/O to simply step out of the bus to look at the falls from below. I can’t imagine what we would have felt like if we paid to see the falls, only to learn that we literally step off the bus to see the falls. So it gets a rating of one diamond, only because for now, it is not worth the time.

Broder Cafe

DSC06702

DSC06706

DSC06732

DSC06722

DSC06737

DSC06741

♦♦♦♦
2508 SE CLINTON ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

This brunch place is fantastic! Broder has two other Portland locations, but this just happened to be walking distance to us (yet again, another five minute walk!). The morning was moody, perfect for a warm Nordic breakfast. Mike and I split the Aebleskivers (danish pancakes that are more like soft doughnuts served with lemon-tart custard and lingonberry jam) and the Pytt I Panna (with charred onions, asparagus, and roast mushroom). Our biggest regret? Getting the 4 count of the pancakes and not the 6 count!

Pistils Nursery

DSC06743

DSC06748

DSC06750

DSC06759

♦♦♦♦
3811 N MISSISSIPPI AVE
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

This nursery was right next door to Jory, so on our second visit to the coffee shop, we decided to swing by. It had a great collection of both indoor and outdoor plants with beautiful vases and coffee table books, all about green living things. As you can probably tell from the photos, I was very excited to be there. I also debated whether it would be wise to carry a cactus back home with me to California on a plane ride.

Bollywood Theater

DSC06767.JPG

DSC06797.JPG

♦♦♦
3010 SE DIVISION ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We hardly get Indian food, mostly because there is no good Indian food where we live. Most of the time, it is a hit or miss for me. We decided that prior boarding the plane, we want food in our bellies that will get us through the rest of the day. We each ordered a small plate of Indian curry and my mouth is salivating just thinking of it. Or maybe I’ve been writing about food for way too long. I ordered the Goan Style Shrimp (shrimp with curry leaves, chile, coconut milk and lime. Served with saffron rice), and Chicken Curry (Bone-in thigh and leg with an aromatic and creamy curry. Served with saffron rice). 

Eb & Bean

DSC06790

DSC06802

♦♦
3040 SE DIVISION ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

This colorful store was right next door to Bollywood Theater and also houses a collection of chocolate from The Little Nib! We had planned to grab ourselves a sweet little something before we headed off to our flight. I had a Brown Sugar Strawberry Ricotta frozen yogurt on a vegan waffle cone and Mike got the Salty Pistachio (with Almond Milk) on a vegan waffle cone as well. It was very good, and I am sure it would have been better if we had added toppings to it. However, I am just not as big a lover of frozen yogurt as I am of ice cream, hence the lower rating.

Travel: Where To Eat in Mexico City

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

With our quickly looming trip to Portland, Oregon this coming weekend, I figure it was about time that I post some of the delicious food we ate on our previous trip to Mexico City. I had separated the topic of where to eat in Mexico City from the Coffee Shops in Mexico City just because there were way too many pictures to bombard you guys with. Going forward, I think the city travel posts will be more similar to our tour guide made for A Day in San Francisco. With that, enjoy the following photos, and possible give them a visit if you’re ever en la Ciudad de Mexico!

Related Posts:


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Pehua

♦♦♦◊

$$

Pehua was the first restaurant we ate at once we landed in CDMX. We barely had time to Uber our way to our AirBNB, before we had to make our way to Pehua, located in Condesa, CDMX, for our reservation. I remember it well. The city had beautiful skies, we had hungry stomachs, and a thirst to get out there and start exploring. Sometime between when we were seated and after we had devoured all the food that you see below, it started to rain. We didn’t even realize that it was pouring outside until our waitress kindly asked us if we wanted them to call a cab for us. The cozy couch seating and delicious food had distracted us from the world outside, and gave us a wonderful introduction of the food yet to come. I would say definitely visit this place if you have extra time. Off course, the city is teeming with top restaurants in the world, which take their place in line somewhere ahead of this one. But still, you won’t be disappointed eating here.

DSC03364
Floral and Fruit Appetizer
DSC03373
House Bread
DSC03383
Esquites de criollo Corn, Chili Mayonnaise, Watercress, Cotija Cheese, Chile Atole
DSC03385
Tamal with Chicken, Mole, Cheese, and Cream
DSC03390
Pork Cheek, Pineapple, Habanero Pepper, Red Onion, Cilantro

Maximo Bistrot

♦♦♦♦

$$$

Maximo Bistrot ranks #39 in Latin America’s Top 50 Restaurants and is located in Roma, CDMX. Chef Eduardo García and his wife Gabriela set up Maximo Bistrot to showcase fresh produce from in and around Mexico City. Up to two thirds of the ingredients come from local farms, including the famed floating gardens of Xochimilco in the city. Such is their commitment to local production that everything from the furniture to the serviettes is also fair trade, sustainable and local. Aside from all these admirable qualities, the food is excellent, and was second only to Pujol (see below). We decided to go with the Degustacion menu (tasting menu), wherein the chef decides what to bring out for you on that day. I loved leaving the decisions entirely to the chef, since choosing what to eat is always such a struggle for me. Plus, I continually had a surprise to look forward to! Because everything was determined by the chef, I cannot tell you what is in the food, nor can  I promise that you will be able to try it when you visit yourself. Just know that everything is AMAZING here and you cannot go wrong with the tasting menu.

DSC03567
Sustainable and Local Goods
DSC03568
My date
DSC03571
House Bread
DSC03579
This was the most amazing ceviche I have ever had.
DSC03584
A simple fish served with jalapenos and cauliflower. I was scraping the mustardy emulsion to the right with my fork.
DSC03589
Delicious pork, but interestingly enough, even more delicious are the caramelized carrots!
DSC03594
Mango Sorbet for a palate cleanser.
DSC03597
If I can guarantee that I will get this same dessert, I would go back every day. This is the best dessert I have ever had. It’s a chocolate cake with scoops of different types of ice cream and with berries and edible flowers. Delectable, melt-in-your-mouth goodness that I can’t describe.

Los Danzantes

♦♦◊◊

$$

The neighborhood of Coyoacan surprised it. It was by far my most favorite neighborhood to visit. If I had a do-over, I would opt to stay at an AirBNB in this area, despite how distant it is from the City Centre. Walking around the streets of Coyoacan was so relaxing, and there were tons of beautiful things to see! When noon hit, we were ready for some food. Los Danzantes had good yelp reviews and was recommended by our host, so we decided to eat there. The food was fairly priced and they had a huge selection of things to eat. The ambiance was great; outdoor seating on a patio in the middle of a beautiful park as musicians stroll by and stop in front of the restaurant to play for the diners. When the sun got too hot, a shade was rolled out over the patio, hence the dark photos provided here. I only gave it this rating because, while the food selection was great, it was pretty ordinary. Plus, the food was quite heavy, which I have tried to avoid in most recent years. That doesn’t take away from the taste, and I still think people should try this if they are in the area!

DSC03783

DSC03790

DSC03794
Bread, Chips, and Salsa
DSC03802
Ceviche! My favorite part of the meal.
DSC03814
Pork tacos. Sooo heavy! It doesn’t look like a lot, but it was difficult to finish.
DSC03817
This restaurant is known for their mole! They have many types of moles originating from different parts of Mexico. These are enchiladas that Mike ordered that was bathed in two types of mole.

Pujol

♦♦♦♦

$$$

Pujol by Enrique Olvera is listed as the world top 20 restaurant in the world. The truth is that after we saw Pujol on Chef’s Table, we just knew we had to go to Mexico City. With the help of the Drift magazine that was released earlier this year highlighting the coffee scene in CDMX, the decision was pretty much a done deal. Pujol remains our top dining experience thus far. I placed three dollar signs because it is pricey, but for U.S. standards, it is not impossible to save money to eat here. The price per person sits below $100, and is very affordable for a top 50 restaurant. The food and the experience is worth every penny.

DSC03969
The tasting menu
DSC03970
There are six courses, with four options for most courses. Since there were two of us, we got to try an array of amazing food!
DSC03990
I broke my alcohol purge (temporarily) in order to drink mezcal with Mike. When in Mexico City…
DSC03993
Baby Corn with Chicatana Ant Dusting: This dish was featured on Chef’s Table. In the episode, Enrique Olvera describes how he defines rare ingredients. The sauce on this corn was made with chicatana ants, a species that flies after the first rain of every year in Oaxaca. The fact that it is time-specific, location-specific, and is only present 1-2 days a year makes this a true delicacy. It was served as part of the street snacks.
DSC04001
Paired with the baby corn was this playful bite of a gordita topped with a tomato based meat and vegetable pancake.
DSC04005
Baby Corn with Chicatana Ant Dusting. The Chicatana Ants taste ridiculously delicious. I would be willing to dust everything I eat from now on with the stuff.
DSC04008
Octopus, Habanero Ink, Ayocote, Veracruzana Sauce: First time trying octopus! Was not disappointed.
DSC04010
Chayote Squash Slices, Pico de Gallo, Edible Flowers: This was extremely amazing and between this and the octopus, this beats the competition by a mile!
DSC04014
Charred Eggplant Tamale, Chard. There is an unabashedly smokey flavor with this one!
DSC04016
Cauliflower, Almond Salsa Macha, Chile de Arbol: I almost want to say that this was the best part of the meal (or at least, it ties with the mole). I think Mikey would agree with me on this one. To be honest, I think he regrets getting the chard tamale 😉
DSC04020
Grilled Fish, Pine Nuts, Fennel: Extremely filling. I actually did not finish the entire thing in anticipation of the mole.
DSC04025
Lamb, Mint Mole, Lime, Baby Potato: This was Mike’s main dish, which I did not try but I remember him eating the entire thing pretty quickly.
DSC04034
Mole Madre: 1536 days old, Mole Nuevo
dsc04037.jpg
Tortillas with an hoja santa leaf.
DSC04044
I was scraping the mole clean off the plate. This was as good as the hype!
DSC04054
A really awful shot of Cafe de Olla and a palate cleanser that tasted like bell peppers! We knew we had to try Cafe de Olla after reading about this common cinnamon coffee in the Drift magazine.
DSC04055
A better shot of the pepper-y sorbet.
DSC04056
12 hour Roasted Pineapple, Molasses, Cilantro ice cream
DSC04059
Anise Inflatida, Chocolate, Praline. Mike claims this was better than the dessert at Maximo Bistrot. Since I did not get to try, Maximo’s cake was still the best I ever had!
DSC04071
Candy, to go.

Sadly, I did not get to photograph the perfectly coiled churro that they served after our dessert, because Mike gobbled it up while I was busy chatting away with a solo traveler I met at the garden and before I knew it, it was gone!

I kind of wish we had made a second reservation to try the rest of the menu, but I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t order the chicharron cauliflower a second time and that Mike could resist ordering the same exact dessert. Maybe this requires eating there three times…

Undoubtedly, our top 3 eats ever are as follows.

  1. Pujol (CDMX, MX)
  2. Maximo Bistrot (CDMX, MX)
  3. La Tierra (Valle de Guadalupe, MX)

Mexico is looking pretty good!

On this trip, we also grabbed churros at El Moro THREE TIMES! That’s right, three separate days, eating churros and ice cream and shake. We also ate at Restaurante Nico, which is ranked #37 on Latin America’s top 50 restaurants, for which I do not have photos.

 

How I Flew to Mexico City for FREE with Southwest Airlines + 40K Bonus Points

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

When our financial planner first sat down with Mike and I to discuss our long-term goals, travelling the world was up there on our list. It was the one common ground we had. A future home? Maybe. Kids? Not sure. Interests? Cars. Art. Travel? YES! ABSOLUTELY!

All of this was learned before we decided to change gears and pay back the student debt, full-force. Unfortunately, a $6,500 monthly student payment for ten years does put quite a damper on the travel. So, we found another way.

It’s no secret that we travel the world by travel hacking. Using credit card sign-up bonuses to rack up free flights was something we started doing last November. It has been a little over six months, and we have been able to buy the following flights for 2018:

Mexico City, San Francisco, Portland, Calgary, Sydney, and Christchurch. Also on the list, Costa Rica, for which we have the points, but are waiting for a few of our travel hacking friends to catch up so that we can all travel together!

Now I know that with travel hacking, one may not need to pay money for these flights, but they do still pay for them in points. What if I told you that I was able to fly to Mexico (and San Francisco, and Portland, and Costa Rica) for COMPLETELY FREE? As in, I did not spend any points at all to fly there, nor did I spend money. How, you ask? Southwest Airlines!

Southwest Airlines has an awesome program that grants a person a Companion Pass. The Companion Pass allows you to take someone with you on any flight, for free. Since Mikey has the Companion Pass, I (his companion) can fly with him wherever he goes for zilch. For those of you without a permanent significant other, no worries! You can change your companion up to three times in one calendar year. So take multiple friends on multiple vacations and voila! Problem solved!

DSC03497

How to get Companion Pass:

There are multiple ways to get Companion Pass. Mike and I were lucky enough to strike a deal in November of last year, which we shared with all our friends, who also got in on it. The deal was an automatic Companion Pass until the end of December the FOLLOWING year (2018) as long as you open a Southwest Airlines card. This is the one we opened in particular, although there are other options to choose from. Additionally, you receive $40k bonus points if you hit a minimum spending of $1,000 in the first 3 months. This was very easy to do since Christmas time was around the corner from when we signed up. So we used our new Southwest Credit card to pay for upcoming gifts and events that came hand in hand with the holidays, and planned to hit the minimum spend by January of 2018! Free 40,000 points, to spend however we want!

If you missed the deal, there IS another way. Reach 110k points in their rewards program in one calendar and receive the Companion Pass until the end of December the following year from when the points were unlocked. It is crucial to note that all 110k points must be reached in the same calendar year. You may be saying, “This seems like a lot! How am I ever going to reach 110k?” The answer lies in opening multiple Southwest cards. Opening one personal SW card and one Business SW card will give you 40K bonus points and 60K bonus points respectively! Additionally, everytime you refer one friend to their credit card, you will receive 10k bonus points. So referring one friend on top of opening two cards will lead you to the grand total of 110k points in one calendar year!

Since the Companion Pass lasts until December of the FOLLOWING year, you can see how the best tactic would be to hit the 110K points in the beginning months, such as January and February. If you do this, then you can get close to 2 years of Companion Pass privileges. In order to do this, you may want to consider opening the credit cards before the holidays and spending as you regular would on the cards WITHOUT hitting the bonus in those last few months. Once January hits, spend the little additional amount necessary to hit the target minimum spending in order to get your two bonuses, and refer a friend. Simple! It is very important you DO NOT hit your bonus before January, otherwise it counts for the previous year. All the points for the 110k needs to be in the same year. It is crucial. The worst that can happen is you divide the bonus points between two years (December and January), thus disqualifying them from counting towards the same Companion Pass.

Why Choose Southwest? 

Undoubtedly, there are a lot of credit cards out there that one can choose to start with, but we decided to make Southwest one of our first ones because Companion Pass is just too good to pass up. We do not know of other cards that will give you a free flight for every flight you take. With the Chase 5/24 rule, we knew that 2 Southwest cards have to make up 2/5 of those 5 cards. (The Chase 5/24 rule states that you will only be approved for a Chase credit card if you have opened less than 5 credit cards in the last 24 months. Which means that if your tactic is to open two Southwest credit cards in order to get Companion Pass, the sooner you open them, the less likely that you would accidentally violate the 5/24 rule prior to achieving Companion Pass.)

DSC03534

Another great perk is that Southwest flies all over the United States, as well as  to international destinations such as Bahamas, Mexico, and Costa Rica, to name a few. Love Hawaii? Rumor has it that Southwest will be opening up flights to Hawaii sometime this year too!

Any hidden costs?

It is important to note that while there are two Southwest personal credit card options, Southwest has recently disallowed the application to both personal credit cards for one person. You must apply to a personal card and a business card in order to gain points that can combine. Also, it is important to note that there are annual fees associated with some of the credit cards that we use. These fees could be considered as a “cost” toward the flights. However, the bonus points rewarded to you after hitting the minimum spending offsets these fees, since they can be used to redeem flights that add up to much more than the single annual fee. Because annual fees are charged at every anniversary, it is important to remember to close the credit card prior to the anniversary date, to prevent being charged a renewal fee for another year.

Lastly, if you purchase flights with points, there may be taxes associated with the purchases. For example, Mike used points to buy flights to CDMX, San Francisco, and Portland, but he was taxed with roughly $11 for SF and Portland and roughly $25 for CDMX. These prices are minimal compared to the price of the flight, but they do still exist, and as a firm believer in full disclosures, I think it is imperative that this is stated in this post.

If travel hacking is something you are new to and would like to try, I really recommend starting with the Southwest Airlines credit card. Especially if you have a travel partner with you at all times! If you feel like you need to learn more about travel hacking first before committing, I suggest starting here.

Happy travels!

 

Travel: A Day in San Francisco

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Hi guys! Last week, we were able to sneak in a day and a half in the Bay Area. Eight hours of that was spent in the beautiful San Francisco. The weather happened to be just lovely, which was perfect for walking around the beautiful Mission District area. Here are some of the places we saw.


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Craftsman and Wolves

 

DSC05301

DSC05311

DSC05329

DSC05352

 ♦♦♦◊
Mission District
$$
I already wrote an extensive review about this one (here), but I figure I’d add it to the list for accessibility. This is a bakery that not everyone talks about, but all the locals know. The pastries are delicious and the ambience is great. The guys behind the counter were helpful and jovial. They did not look at me begrudgingly when I asked them how Japanese milk bread is made, to that was pretty awesome. I am surprised that they aren’t raved about more. I know that Tartine is just down the street, but honestly, I liked my experience here much more. I’d recommend for people who happen to find themselves on Valencia street to have a stop, and taste what they have to offer. We were glad we did.

Ritual Coffee Roasters

DSC05370

DSC05374

DSC05407

DSC05399

DSC05412

♦♦♦◊
Mission District
$$

Wherever we go, we are always pulled towards coffee. Usually, I have Mike make the pick, mostly because he is more of a coffee guru than I. We usually go for a coffee roaster, rather than a coffee shop that uses other people’s roasted beans. There were a few to choose from, but since we were on Valencia, we figured we could walk to Ritual, which Mike has heard good things about. As is typical, I chose a decaf version of a latte, and Mike chose a pour over. You can never fully determine whether the coffee is good when in a latte, so I will also usually nab a sip from Mike’s cup. He chose a bean that delivers kumquat and oolong tea notes, which to me was a bit too light to even taste. I blame that partially on the coffee choice, though. Mike says he could taste the kumquat, but I tried a couple times and all I could taste was tea. The descriptors of the other coffees were very interesting, and I would actually love to go back and try more in the future. It’s hard to tell from one bean, but since it’s a place that I would recommend people check out, three diamonds it is.

Tartine Bakery

DSC05417

DSC05428

DSC05438

DSC05441

DSC05474

DSC05480

♦♦◊◊
Mission District
$$$

I SO wanted to write an amazing review for Tartine, but I left the place so underwhelmed that I just cannot. I don’t get the hype. At all. There was a line when we got there and so I thought it would be amazing, because who would consider it worth the line if it wasn’t, right? But as we inched our way closer to the counter over the course of an excitable twenty minutes, I become more and more disheartened. The interior was very old looking, not well kept, and way too crowded to have a comfortable lunch experience, so luckily, we were just there to pick up bread. You place your order at the counter after passing very unclean displays of desserts. Mind you, we never got to trying those desserts, so maybe I just have to get my butt back there to try one and totally turn this experience around. But we were there for the bread. I started my bread baking journey with the Tartine book, and I wanted to see what I should be working towards. So we ordered a ridiculously priced country loaf for $9.50 from a lady who was part of an assembly line service, or so it seemed. The type where they ask in a bored tone, “What can I get for you?”, followed by, “Is that all?” and a quick walking away and no further hellos. We walk up to the cashier who glanced up to ask, “Just the loaf?” Overall, the bakery had lackluster customer service, which made my image of Tartine Bakery go poof! But it shouldn’t be about the customer service and the ambiance. It should be about the bread! So to my dismay, here is what I think of the bread. The crust was too overdone. It was hard as a rock, way too burned, way too black, and I thought our serrated knife was going to snap in half. When we sliced into it, we realized that the loaves looked EXACTLY like the first 40 “mess ups” that we had created in our kitchen, until we switched to a different starter strategy and started making bread we actually liked. The loaf was bit flat, a bit gummy, and honestly, very dense, which is not what you want bread to be. A slice of the bread in a grilled cheese sandwich made my tummy hurt. Mike admitted to feeling queesy as well. So I am not sure what happened on this day. The bread was all wrong, and I just did not understand the hype. I actually would prefer to stick with our bread, any day. I might go back again one day to try the desserts and see if those are any good. Maybe.

Marufuku Ramen

DSC05444

DSC05445

DSC05460

DSC05462

DSC05471

♦♦♦◊
Japantown
$$

My friends love ramen. It’s one of the cornerstones that hold us together as friends. Half of the time I eat out with those guys, we go to ramen, and I have absolutely no complaints. So when our SF friends told us that there is only one ramen place in SF that makes good ramen, I just knew we were going to go. The thing was, this place opens at 5pm and there is always a line. We had to line up at 4:30pm in order to get a seat. In fact, we arrived at 4:30pm and barely made it into the door upon opening. We were the last group to be seated for dinner. The rest of the people in line would have to wait until the someone from the first group leaves. The restaurant was packed. Apparently, it is like this every day. I think it was made worse because that particular weekend happened to be the cherry blossom festival. Japantown was packed. It’s funny, because I always think, well ramen is ramen. But Mike and I sure have our favorites, so I know that isn’t true. There are places where you ingest a bowl and realize that the soup is mostly water and the chashu is of low quality, or badly prepared. Others have interesting topping choices, or my least favorite, thick noodles only. This place certainly earned a spot in my list of top Ramen places. The water had flowers, the broth was well seasoned, the toppings were fresh, and the service was fast and attentive. I know that waiting in line for thirty minutes before a restaurant opens when there is much more of SF to see may seem like a high price to pay, but I would do it all over again if I was asked. Unfortunately, ramen is still ramen, and this is not a must do.

Travel: Craftsman and Wolves

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

It was only a week ago that we were able to get away for a quick visit to Northern California. We were recommended Craftsman and Wolves on Valencia Street by a fellow baker (actually, a more OFFICIAL baker who actually knows the stuff of yeast and flour), rather last minute, but with extremely high remarks. The weekend was meant to be spent with a group of undergraduate friends that we rarely get to see anymore, for as life would have it, we have all grown into adults with jobs that took us to far and farther off places. However, Mike and I squeezed in a morning to our own perusing, and I convinced him to seek out delicious bread loaves, since you know, I have been obsessed with the stuff. So upon our friend’s suggestion, we decided to swing by Craftsman and Wolves, and it turns out, I liked the place way more than the Tartine down the street. Which says a lot, since I am using Tartine’s book to learn how to bake my own delicious loaves. Call me an inexperienced, unknowledgable, unclassy homebaker, but honestly, you like what you like. And this stuff was pretty freaking good.

DSC05301

I know I have my biases towards environments, with the decor of a place usually selling me as soon as I’ve stepped my foot in the door. It just can’t be helped. Obviously, there’s so much to love about this place. From the blue teacups laying strewn across recently deserted counters, to the light fixtures, the gray walls, the white brick, and most importantly, the display of delectable sweets.

DSC05336

DSC05304

DSC05318

DSC05307

However, don’t let that bias fool you into thinking that this is just another instragrammable cafe. Rather, it holds a collection of delicious pastries that would be enough to make me forgive the cafe if it were located in the back alleyway of a city street in some alternate universe.

We perused the pastries, and as we pointed to a delicious-looking muffin, one of the staff came over to load a box full of them! “Better nab one before they’re gone,” he said with a mischievous grin. I kept looking at the display as we waited our turn in line, fearing that we were not going to get a taste of whatever it was that everyone seemed to want. The name of the muffin was The Rebel Within, and little did I know that it was the main attraction of the place, and typically sells out every weekend. Upon ordering, we thought we were getting what looked like a muffin, with green onions and sausage, but slicing into the little devil taught us what it meant to be a rebel. Inside was a perfectly soft-boiled egg, that oozed its yolky center out onto the white plate. I was surprised that the muffin was able to cage something that seemingly has been waiting to burst open for it’s moment to shine. To be honest, the muffin didn’t seem at all dry like other muffins, so maybe the rebel was the muffin itself rather than the egg after all. Instead, it was more like a savory slice of cake, without the dose of sugar that would typically end in a headache. It was glorious.

DSC05353

We also ordered a smoked ham croissant, with swiss and whole grain mustard. I am going to wholeheartedly admit that the edible flowers sprinkled on top is what initially attracted me to this thing. Full disclosure, the edible flowers did not taste that much, but the croissant was delicious. Flaky and crispy croissants are what I love best! This one had a light filling that did not leave you feeling completely heavy, nor with full-on mustard breath. Which was perfect, because we were about to head over to Ritual Coffee down the street to get our coffee breath on!

DSC05329

But before we left, I felt a tug in my stomach(?) that told me to get back to that counter and order one more thing. I saw when we had ordered a loaf of Japanese milk bread, with bunches of them wrapped in tissue paper, as if saying, “Please, take us back on the plane with you!” With my recent bread baking craze, I figured, we were already there, so “Why not?” I snagged a loaf for myself, to see what exactly Japanese milk bread tasted like, and if it was something I would be interested in learning. When we got back to my sister’s apartment that night, she informed me that Japanese milk bread was everywhere in Japan and she loved eating it there. In other words, she approved of my purchase.

DSC05315

Verdict? The minute we landed that Monday morning, we took time to eat a slice of the Craftsman and Wolves milk bread. It looks and feels like a typical loaf you would find wrapped in plastic in the bread aisle but tastes like a brioche, without too much dryness. Granted, my bread-tasting experience is completely limited, but all I know is that it tasted great toaster with a slab of Peanut Butter melting on top.

DSC05482.JPG

Overall, I would highly recommend experiencing CAW for anyone visiting San Francisco. I know it’s very tempting to get only the mind-blowing Rebel Within (for the gram), but it wouldn’t hurt to order some of the other pastries as well, because I am sure that they are all very, very good!

Travel: Casa Jacaranda, A Must-Do Culinary Experience in Mexico City

Casa Jacaranda is a culinary experience led by the duo Beto Estua and Jorge Fitz. Not to be missed, it allows visitors and locals alike to experience the beauty of Mexican cooking. From shopping for local produce, to making delicious, traditional Mexican dishes in their beautiful home, cooks at every experience level can enjoy a wonderful afternoon with these two, whose genuine interest is to have others learn, as well as fall in love with, Mexican cuisine. The day ends with a meal on their rooftop garden, with the other foodie enthusiasts that you have met, eating the meal that you’ve all made together and bonded over. If there is one experience that I would recommend when visiting Mexico City, this is it!

DSC04583.JPG

“At Casa Jacaranda, amazing things happen,” one guest prophetically proclaimed, raising a glass of the best Paloma I have ever tasted, and I thought to myself, “Isn’t that the truth!” When Mike and I were invited to join a group for a culinary experience, I was not expecting to be completely blown away by the love for food and culture that Beto and Jorge openly exhibit. It makes one fall in love, too.

Part 1: The Market

dsc04110-e1521868714648.jpg

To begin, we were to meet up with the rest of the group at 10 AM in the morning on the corner of Campecho and Medellin, where the Medellin market now stands. This mercado has been in existence for one hundred and thirty years. Located in Roma Sur, it has historically been known as the market that houses produce from all over Mexico, including items that were not as welcome in the markets in the city center, where Roma Norte now resides. Mexican cuisine is varied and wide-spread, and typically, mercados only wanted to house ingredients specific to that region. The Medellin market has always been of a different variety, welcoming foreign items so that immigrants from other parts of Mexico have a place to grab the things that remind them most of home. Its diversity makes this a great place to start learning about what Mexico has to offer.

Beto and Jorge arrived with a small cart in tow, all smiles. After friendly hellos, hugs, besos, and a few introductions, we went right to it. Everyone in the group was kindly asked if there are any allergies or foods that must be avoided for health reasons. Considering any accommodations that must be made, Beto and Jorge then think of what dishes we are going to cook using the produce that are currently in season. They considered an appetizer, starter, main course, and dessert for our particular group, although they do change it up frequently, so don’t be surprised if your particular meal is differently structured. The sorpresa is part of what makes it so fun. Once the group agreed upon the meal, off we went into the market. Beto took charge of picking up the ingredients we needed, while Jorge gave the group of eager students a tour.

 

I couldn’t help but feel completely jealous at the availability of the Medellin market to local cuidadanos. The ability to cook with the freshest of the season’s offerings, using ingredients that will never know packaging, is one of the biggest draws of this place for me. Living in a city where I struggle on the daily to avoid plastic packaging when shopping for groceries, this was absolutely an anti-plastic, fresh-loving, local-sourcing cook’s heaven. I could tell straight-away that the feeling was mutual for our two guides. Jorge nimbly maneuvered his way through the narrow aisles, saying hi to his favorite butcher and fishmonger, noting which stalls had his favorite produce, and which did not. With him leading the way, I knew we could not go wrong.

DSC04164

DSC04163

DSC04165

Right when you walk in, the colors of the market reflect what you would see brightly painted on the buildings that make up this beautiful city. Vibrant fruits, vegetables and flowers. Dried peppers overflowing from the baskets, with skins as soft and supple as a beautiful leather, and quite unlike the dried up versions that take days (months?) to be exported to Californian markets. Containers stuffed to the brim with hibiscus flowers, otherwise known as flor de jamaica, from Mexico and Africa. The difference between the two being that the Mexican variety results in less color, but more flavor. We tasted different moles from a family that has been making mole and selling it at that particular market for years. Imagine a sauce so complex, yet you can single out a hint of almond. Or one that seeps of cacao and sesame seed flavor, nutty and bold.

dsc04117.jpg

DSC04126

DSC04128

DSC04137

We visited a merchant that has been selling his Yucatan family’s hot sauces since 1968, and tasted his amazing hot sauce poured over salt flakes. I gobbled up my cracker as Jorge joked about the American way of pronouncing ha-ba-ne-ro as “ha-ban-nie-row”. The hot sauce was deliciously sour and spicy all at once, and left a biting sting at the tip of my tongue. We brought home two bottles, and I have been diligently dousing avocado toasts ever since!

DSC04138DSC04139

We were introduced to a friendly man who makes the best ice cream. Story has it that at some point, 80% of the market’s Yelp reviews were solely about the ice cream stand! Jorge had to take it upon himself to start this man his own Yelp business account. The ice cream was homemade, and there were a variety of seasonal flavors that one could try. We also stopped at a coffee shop and grabbed a shot of coffee, as well as Colombian bombolinos.

DSC04172

DSC04177

DSC04179

But the absolute best stop of all, hands down, was a butcher shop that serves tacos only on Saturdays, and lo and behold, I happened to pick the experience on a Saturday! Fresh carnitas being cut up in front of you using the butcher’s meats, topped with acidic sauces and pickled red onions. That will forever stand in my memory as one of those WOW moments, and if I ever return, I will make sure to come back on a Saturday and to free up my entire afternoon because that is where you will find me. As we exited the market, I felt a piece of my heart being left at that carnita stand.

DSC04193.JPG

Part 2: Becoming a Chef

DSC04211.JPG

After the market tour, it was a short walk from Roma Sur to Roma Norte, where Casa Jacaranda stands on a wide street, behind a (you guessed it!) jacaranda tree, in full bloom. The purple flowers swayed in the wind, inviting us into their beautiful home, whose walls exhibited multiple art pieces, and which housed a large professional kitchen that makes the perfect setting for a cooking class. Beto had gone ahead of the group  after purchasing the ingredients from the market, so that by the time we arrived, all the ingredients have been washed and laid out in perfect proportions for our class.

DSC04223

DSC04239DSC04240

We all were asked to wash our hands, and then don our aprons. What happened next is a blur of activity. I can’t remember everything that we did, but rather, exactly how it felt. To cut alongside people from other countries who are eager to learn as much as you, to listen to Beto and Jorge’s advice, wisdom, and direction as they share their grandmother’s recipes, to laugh as we joke about technique, or lack thereof, this is what the afternoon was made of. Luckily, Beto and Jorge email the recipes to their guests afterwards, so there is really no pressure to remember much at all, allowing us to sincerely immerse ourselves into the projects at hand. No yoga session has ever had me living in the present moment as thoroughly as this cooking class. It was bliss, enveloped in being attentive, but in a very care-free environment.

DSC04271

DSC04274

DSC04275

DSC04320

DSC04386

DSC04432

 

Beto and Jorge had us each working on a different task, with watchful eyes and guiding hands, and as a team, we created the dishes that we had decided on. At some point there were three people cutting up tomatoes, and one man on the grill. Two people were responsible of removing chili seeds, and two were responsible for blending the sauces. We had quite the production line with the tortilla making! Two people rolling up balls of dough, three people on tortilla press duty, and one gal at the stove, cooking them as they were being handed down to her. We helped each other prepare ingredients, handed each other things that had to be added to the pot, and taste-tested along the way. We each had a say as to how hot we thought salsas should be, how acidic or spicy or strong. We were creating masterpieces with our own hands, unbeknownst to us at the time. I remember eating the food later in the day and thinking in disbelief, “We made that?!”

 

Part 3: Sharing a Meal with Friends

As we finished our final additions to the sauces and salsas, Beto started serving us some of the sopes that we had made. Off course, we had the freedom to structure it whatever way we wanted. That left me wanting to pile all the ingredients on one unfortunate sope. I mixed red sauce with green sauce, because who was to say otherwise? It was glorious. I had three sopes (maybe four?) before I told myself to slow down, since this wasn’t even the main event yet!

DSC04522.JPG

Luckily, it was then that Jorge brought out a tray of grapefruit Palomas, which I happily allowed to interrupt my ravenous sope-ingesting. As we sipped on grapefruit and tequila laden cups, we laughed and talked about our own stories and lifestyles, about what we like to do, and where we plan to go next. Nothing like a good cocktail to widen the smile and loosen the limbs. We were eagerly refilling our cups for more of that refreshing drink, whose recipe was also shared.

When we’ve all had our fill, we were invited to the rooftop garden, to enjoy our meal in the sun underneath the swaying jacaranda branches. The table was already beautifully set up when we got there.

DSC04544

DSC04547

DSC04559

We were served a bottle of wine to pair with our starter, which was a brightly-colored tortilla soup. I have never had tortilla soup so bold in color, and so rich in flavor. The thick and creamy dish was topped with tortilla chips, chicharrones, cream, fried peppers, avocado, and cheese. If I had a do-over, I would surely double up on the chicharrones!

DSC04562

DSC04563

DSC04570

As we opened another bottle of wine, we were served our adobo meat, served with rice and veggies. In my case, I opted for the pitcher of agua de jamaica instead of the additional glass of wine. I had no reservations about refilling my “water” cup throughout the rest of the meal. Can one substitute eight glasses of water with that lovely floral drink? Please say YES!

DSC04578.JPG

I vaguely remember the dried peppers that we seeded so thoroughly to make the adobo sauce. It was absolutely delicious. I shared with the group the fact that we have an adobo in the Philippines too, however the Mexican adobo more closely mirrored what we called Caldereta. We discussed similarities and differences between cultures, and were reminded that we are of one human race, with intertwined and connected histories. Food kind of helps that discovery along.

DSC04589.JPG

Lastly, for dessert, I tasted for the very first time a mamey fruit, served with mamey ice cream. I immediately regretted having to return to the States, where I will surely have an incredibly difficult time finding this beautiful fruit. It had the texture of a papaya and was sweet in the subtlest of ways, the way that almonds are sweet, almost fleetingly so. I was one of the two who had unabashedly taken second helpings of the ice cream, seeing as how it will be a while before I may get the chance to eat this again!

DSC04594.JPG

And just when I thought I couldn’t do any more, a tray holding two bottles of mezcal and two bottles of tequila were brought up, with the artsiest shot-glasses to hold them in. One of the guests that had joined us from Rothenburg ob der Tauber just recently finished travelling in Columbia. He carried up a chocolate bar made from 100% Cacao from Colombia, to pair with the mezcal. Beto then proceeded to show us a video of him making chocolate by hand from 100% cacao, a process that entails constant grinding of the cacao for seven to eight hours without any breaks! My bread baking obsession looked pretty weak next to that. We also tasted Colombian rum, courtesy of our new friend, with hints of orange and chocolate. We were later joined by Beto’s two dogs, as we basked in the sun during our sobremesa and talked our way into the early hours of the evening.

DSC04579

DSC04597

DSC04599

DSC04604

Unfortunately, good times, too, must come to an end. As the evening drew to a close, I thought to myself that I could not think of a better way to end our Mexico trip than to spend an entire day at Casa Jacaranda. There is no doubt in my mind that we had saved the best for last!

I would highly recommend reserving an entire day for this activity for anyone visiting Mexico City for the first time. Not only will you meet new friends, get a tour of the market, learn to cook, and have an amazing meal, but this is one sure way to take a part of Mexico home with you forever. I know that we will be replicating these recipes for years to come, and will be sharing them with family and friends on our occasional hosted dinners at home. A sincere thanks are in order to Jorge and Beto, for the wonderful experience!

 

This post is sponsored by Casa Jacaranda. All opinions are my own.

Travel: Coffee Shops in Mexico City

Mexico City has an up-and-coming coffee scene, so subtle that the locals themselves may not even realize it is happening. While a majority of cuidadanos still ask for coffee as our grandparents once knew it, (that is, black, watered down, bland, and prepared in seconds), a lot of foreigners were seeking out newer coffee shops that are not far off from the third wave cafes that one would find in California. Because these coffee shops take more than a minute to brew coffee, many locals prefer to stick with shops such as Cafe El Jarocho, serving Coyoacan since 1953. With a city as fast-paced as the cars intermingling amongst themselves within the same lane, no one who really lives in the city has time to wait for someone to time an aeropress to the correct second, let alone wait for a barista to grind coffee beans so that they are fresh for the steeping.

The great thing about the coffee being served in Mexico City is the knowledge that the coffee beans are being made not too far away. Unlike the coffee being served in California cafes, these beans did not have to travel halfway around the globe, and were not picked from cherry trees months ago. These were from local farmers in neighboring cities, and supporting the farmers that are working hard to preserve the quality coffee bean in Mexico is especially important.

With the recent escalating spread of roya, also known as coffee rust, among coffee plantations, there has been a significantly decreased output of coffee cherries in areas that used to be heavy coffee producers, such as Oaxaca. An air-borne fungus that spreads rapidly and causes an infectious orange “rust” color of the leaves of cherry plants has the ability to prevent photosynthesis of plants which leads to failure of cherries to ripen. Affected trees will have much fewer leaves, or at times are even fully defoliated, by the second season. What results is a loss of jobs for many farmers, and miles and miles of barren and abandoned trees. Due to the roya outbreak, Mexican coffee production has decreased by more than half in the last five years. Additionally, coffees being produced are not scoring as high as they used to. Coffee is considered competitive when they score above 85/100, and with the spread of roya, fewer and fewer coffee make the cut.

The fantastic thing about Mexican coffee is that, unlike most other coffee producing countries which export their best produce to other countries, Mexico keeps its coffee within its own country, due to the increasing demand in cities such as Mexico City. Many coffee shops only serve Mexican coffee exclusively, something that is not found in California cafes. Because of this interest in trying to preserve good Mexican coffee beans, specialty coffee shops in Mexico City have been helping coffee farmers maintain their livelihood. I like to think we did our part too, by supporting specialty coffee shops that are buying nothing but high quality coffee from farmers in nearby regions. Here are my top caffeine stops, starting with the favorite and working down to lesser loved stops.

Almanegra Cafe

DSC03480

DSC03470.JPG

Cafe Avellanada

DSC03681.JPG

dsc03690.jpg

Buna 42

DSC04608.JPG

DSC04637DSC04641

Cafe Passmar

DSC04099

DSC04100

DSC04102

Amor Perfecto

Hidden Perks of an AirBNB

There is something to be said of waking up in the morning in a city other than your own. I find the experience to be a bit transcendental, if only for the duration of our stay; The same person waking up in someone else’s shoes. The location which we choose to live greatly affects the experience.

When we were planning our trip to Mexico City, we teeter-tottered between a standard hotel in the heart of Roma, where we would have a view of the Angel de Independencia and be surrounded by other extranjeros eager to walk to streets, equally unfamiliar with the rules, and an AirBNB apartment located in the Guerrero, slightly away from the main road. I am extremely happy we went with the latter.

IMG_7118

The perks of AirBNB are known to many, and the world over too. It was significantly cheaper to rent this apartment for $40 per night, than it was to rent a single hotel room for upwards of $150 a night. This apartment is huge, big enough for Mike and I to permanently move into and be happy living in, and just as tempting an idea. It’s got a bit of history, being the home of a passed away father whose son wanted to dedicate the space to the man he loved. It is a mix between a modern renovation with recessed lighting and white walls, and a vintage memory, housing original kitchen tiles and a retro oven. An original brick wall acts as a beautiful backdrop in the small dining room, its corner intersecting with a contrasting black granite countertop and new wooden shelving. The shower is tall and modern, exhibiting good temperature and strong pressure as water falls onto a cobblestone floor on the opposite side of a thick pane of glass. The furnishings of the place is functional, and minimal, just our cup of tea.

IMG_7123

LRG_DSC03341

LRG_DSC03342

LRG_DSC03345

LRG_DSC03346

LRG_DSC03348

LRG_DSC03428

LRG_DSC03438

LRG_DSC03440

But what I love most about choosing AirBNB is the way in which it helps us feel a bit more dissociated with our identity as foreigners. Admission into the apartment required meeting up with Chacha, a friendly man with afro hair and a big smile, who happens to own the tienda downstairs and slightly next door. After guiding us into the gated alleyway, painted yellow, a perfect signature of the surrounding buildings, he dropped us off in front of a bright blue door atop red marbled stairs. After a quick explanation of how to access the keys, and with an invitation to pop by his shop for any of our daily needs, off he went to leave us feeling completely displaced, but interestingly, happy to be so.

IMG_7160

Light floods into the heavily windowed apartment, but even more so do the sounds, floating in through a broken window sill in the living room. Sounds of automobiles honking in the traffic of surronding busy streets, as expected in a city as populous as this. Sounds of a neighboring gal saying Buenas Tardes to Chacha as she bicycles her way into the gated alley across the street. The sound of mothers urging their ninos to walk just a bit faster as they hurry off to school. The sound of kids playing in the streets as the sun sets, and as the smells of neighboring kitchens slowly waft into our own.

Our location is close enough to the main street, La Reforma, that we can walk to it and be a straight shot away from the rest of the more affluent, tall, buildings and restuarant-laden streets (albeit a few miles down the way), where we and all the other visitors of Mexico may spend on the things we take for granted. But the location is remote enough from downtown that one turn in the opposite direction, and we see the people who live through their day to day on the streets, selling whatever they can, wearing clothes with holes and worn down shoes, sitting under plastic tents made of sticks to shield from both rain and sun.

From my window, I stare at graffiti walls on a chipping blue paint,  and trash on the streets. Discarded crates left on their sides to rot. Cars dented, chipped, fading. It smells of city streets when it gets warm in the afternoons. It’s enough to keep one grounded. A beautiful reminder that although there is a small part of this city dedicated to entertaining people with some of the Top 50 restaurants in the world and historic sites and museums that contain so much beauty, there is a larger part that is just trying to get by one day at at time.

LRG_DSC03436

LRG_DSC03676

This is part of the feeling of being displaced. Taking part in the glamor and the glitz of what geoarbitrage can afford any American visiting Mexico, and also taking part in the reality of the people who live in it. Just as I feel in limbo with which language to speak, responding in whichever language they choose to speak with me, and not realizing when I make the switch, regardless of which person I am talking to. And for this I am grateful. I don’t think I would have ever experienced Mexico City in this way if, like many visitors, we decided to stay in the heart of it all, where every site was walkable, the streets are kept clean, and people speak English. And to hear Mike say, “I love this city”, after we just walked through an alleyway of streets filled with rubble and reeking of piss and filled with mostly men outdoors breaking down their home-made tiendas in the middle of the narrow street, it really makes me think that we could live here a few months to learn more about the culture and the people. I could get used to saying Buenos Dias to Chacha every morning, just as I could get used to the broken window sill, and the sounds of traffic, eating great food, and being surrounded by a friendly population of cuidadanos.

LRG_DSC03675

With that, I would highly recommend AirBNB in an attempt to integrate with the foreigners less and the locals more. I know it may throw some out of their comfort zone, but for what reasons do we really travel and can we really understand the lifestyles of fellow humans in other countries if we purposefully blind ourselves to it? Mike and I mostly travel to understand, to get some grasp of the larger world view, and to slowly put the pieces of a grand and complicated puzzle together. We will likely spend our lives doing it and never get close, except for little decisions such as these that help us get just a little bit closer.

LRG_DSC03674