Best Food in San Miguel de Allende: Two Day Itinerary

Magical and mysterious, San Miguel de Allende is nestled in Mexico’s central highlands, a 90-minute drive from Guanajuato International Airport (BJX).  Its twisting cobblestone streets somehow seem to always crawl uphill.  The flow of traffic is a polite dance between vehicles and pedestrians—there are no stop signs or lights marring the picture-perfect vistas.  While San Miguel de Allende has gained attention in recent years—the city was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008, and Travel + Leisure named it “The World’s Best City” in 2017—it seems to be preserving both its beauty and its identity as an epicenter of art, culture and cuisine.  Legend has it that the city sits atop a bed of healing crystal quartz, which casts a spell of enchantment over visitors.  Legends aside, there is an undeniable “vibe” in the air—perhaps supernatural, perhaps the altitude.

The comparison to New Orleans makes sense, with the locals’ reverence for and celebration of the dearly departed (particularly during the first week of November for the Festival La Calaca—the Skull Festival); the ornately carved wooden doors that obscure fantastic open-air courtyards around the city (there are said to be over 2,000 of them); and the serious food scene.  But San Miguel de Allende is an original, particularly when it comes to its food.  World class coffee, mezcal, tequila and farm-fresh Mexican fare—at shockingly affordable prices—make San Miguel de Allende a “must” on every traveling foodie’s list.

Below is a two day food itinerary that will take you around the Centro, easily done by foot, and give you a glimpse of this enigmatic destination.

Day 1

Desayuno (Breakfast)

Lavanda Cafe.  Lavanda, a charming little cafe tucked away on Dr. Ignacio Hernández Macías street, is serious about coffee.  Indeed, their coffee options take up twice the menu real estate as the food.  Don’t miss your chance to try one of the infamous lavender-infused coffee creations.  And while chilaquiles can be found on most menus around town, Lavanda has some of the best—crunchy tortilla chips atop black beans, smothered with salsa verde, cotija cheese and a perfectly cooked sunny-side up egg.

 Almuerzo (Lunch)

Dôce-18 Concept House, Taco Lab and Casa Dragones The Dôce-18 Concept House is a ritzy collection of eateries and boutiques, including a coffee bar, chocolatier, florist, library, art gallery and more—all under one roof.  Though most of the treasures found here are on the pricier side for San Miguel de Allende, head toward the back of the building and check out Taco Lab, started by California chefs Joe Hargrave and Donnie Masterson.  135 pesos will get you 3 tacos.  Don’t miss the charred octopus (pulpo) with avocado, fresh lime and cilantro on a hand-pressed corn tortilla.  The reasonably-priced lunch will allow you to splurge on a tasting at Casa Dragones (20 steps away), the small batch 100% blue agave sipping tequila with a cult following (it has landed on Oprah’s annual king-making list of “Favorite Things” for six consecutive years).  Taking home a bottle of the Joven will set you back about $180 USD; $100 less than retail in the States.

Cena (Dinner) 

La Mezcaleria.  Everything on the menu at La Mezcaleria is incredible.  Everything.  The restaurant was born out of owners Monica and Alexander’s passion for cooking and entertaining for their friends and family.  When you dine here, you are eating at their table.  The decor—from the handcrafted obsidian Oaxacan light fixtures to the art on the walls (painted by Alexander himself)—is reflective of the artifacts you will find in their home.  The short yet highly curated menu is filled with unique and inspired Mexican dishes.  The quality is impeccable.  The flavors are bold.  After landing from your 3-part flight of the house mezcal—served with fresh orange slices and chile salt—work your way through the menu.  You can’t go wrong.  Don’t miss the arugula salad with grilled pear and goat cheese; fresh tuna tartare with thinly sliced red onion, black and green olives and habanero chiles; grilled jumbo prawns with roasted cherry tomatoes and rosemary; coffee and dry herb crusted beef with grilled guava; the platter of grilled zucchini, pickled beets and roasted sweet potatoes; and the vanilla panna cotta and fresh berries drizzled with local honey.

Day 2

Desayuno (Breakfast)

Ki’bok Coffee.  What began in hip Tulum has made its way to San Miguel de Allende, thanks to owners James and Veronica. The beans are 100% Arabic, grown by a co-op of organic farmers in Veracruz.  The preparation is elite—the manager Joel honed his skills serving discriminating Italian customers in the original location.  The atmosphere is relaxed boho chic.  Don’t miss the double Americano with hand-mixed chocolate (a heavenly blend of cacao and fragrant spices like cinnamon); the poached egg in a ham cup served on a bed of vegetables and quinoa, topped with hollandaise; the halved avocado stuffed and baked with eggs and manchego cheese; and a selection of locally-made pastries.

Almuerzo (Lunch)

Don Taco Tequila.  If you walk too fast, you might just miss it.  And that would be a tragedy.  The dining room is stylish, yet understated.  The hand-shaken margaritas are frothy and fresh.  The house salsas (four of them) are addictive.  But don’t miss the restaurant’s eponymous taco: tequila flamed ribeye, caramelized onions, and garlic wrapped in cheese crust.  Thank me later.

Cena (Dinner) 

La Parada.  An authentic taste of Peru in San Miguel de Allende.  A variety of fruit and spice infused pisco sours? Check.  Assortment of interesting ceviches? Check.  But don’t miss the hidden gems on the menu, including the incredibly fresh salad of chopped tomatoes, peas, lima beans, sun dried tomatoes, sweet corn, queso fresco and a light drizzle of pesto; and the Que tal lomo, a masterfully prepared fillet of beef sautéed with onions and tomatoes, served with sweet corn jasmine rice and crispy smashed gold Peruvian potatoes.

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Places to Eat and Drink in New Orleans

New Orleans Collage 2

“Everyone in this good city enjoys the full right to pursue his own inclinations in all reasonable and, unreasonable ways.” ‒ The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, March 5, 1851

It seems criminal to narrow the places to eat, drink and make mischief in New Orleans into a neat little “best of” list, though that didn’t stop me from creating a 48-Hour Food Itinerary for New Orleans.  However, the more I meander around the city, the more I realize that the food ‒ like New Orleans itself ‒ is an undefinable mélange of grit, gumption, artistry, indulgence and questionable ideas.  I won’t try to package it all up for you in this post, as to do so would be a disservice.  Instead, I’m modeling this one after jazz music ‒ partly planned, partly spontaneous with enough room to improvise along the way.

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DrinkThe Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone (French Quarter).  A New Orleans classic with a nice mix of locals and visitors.  Don’t despair if you can’t snag one of the 25 seats at the brightly-colored revolving carousel bar.  There’s plenty of people watching, live music and drinks to keep things interesting for a couple hours or more.  While Vogue Living recommended the Sazerac (“Top 20 Bars in the World”), the Pimm’s Cup with fresh strawberry, cucumber and lemon got my attention.

Dick and Jennys New Orleans

Eat.  Dick & Jenny’s (Uptown).  Located in a 120-year old creole cottage house, the menu reflects the Southern Louisiana and Italian roots of its original owners.  The Niman Ranch braised pork cheeks with sautéed Southern greens, grit cake and white BBQ sauce hits all the right notes, followed by a heavenly bananas foster cream pie poppin’ with rich butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and rum.  The perfect spot to hit before a show at nearby Tipitina’s.

Spitfire Coffee New OrleansCaffeinateSpitfire Coffee (French Quarter).  Walk too fast and you’ll miss this tiny, yet mighty, specialty coffee shop on St. Peter.  The self-proclaimed “Second Best Coffee in NoLa” turns out top-notch espresso, cold brew and pour-overs to satisfy your penchant for crema and latte art.  The coffee is so good you won’t care about First Best.

Cafe Rose Nicaud New OrleansEat.  Cafe Rose Nicaud (Marigny).  The Southern Breakfast with delicately scrambled eggs, organic yellow corn rosemary cheese grits, savory alligator sausage and a fluffy country biscuit with strawberry jam had me returning two mornings in a row.  Good food takes time, so expect a bit of a wait. Relax, read the paper, chat with a local.  Breakfast is served until 2:00 p.m.

Paladar 511 New Orleans

EatPaladar 511 (Marigny).  While the old-style meccas of Creole cuisine still stand, and are definitely worth a visit, the newest generation of New Orleans restaurants that have opened post-Katrina are attracting serious food travelers anxious to try something different after getting their fill of crawfish etouffe and chargrilled oysters.  Enter Paladar 511, which focuses on California Italian favorites like wood-fired pizza and yellowfin crudo.  Highlights include crispy pan-seared snapper; grilled pork chop with mustard greens, turnips, horseradish and pork jus; and a velvety panna cotta with fresh and candied grapefruit.

Cheers to New Orleans, a city that lives, breathes and adapts to the moment while never forgetting its roots.

Planning a trip to New Orleans?  Check out the Best New Orleans Hotels.

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Taste of Adventure

Rebel of Paso Robles – Clos Solène Winemaker Blends Old World Tradition with New World Style

 

Clos Solène Bottles

“I don’t want to sound too French-y.” That was the moment of self-deprecation from the young winemaker, Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solène, that officially won over the room of tasters — assuming there were any that had not already been enchanted at the first sip of his 2015 Hommage Blanc (Wine Advocate 94 points), a crisp white Rhône-style blend of citrus and wet stone.

A third-generation winemaker from the South of France, Fabre spent his childhood through his early 20’s on the family winery tending to the grapes and learning the old world rituals behind producing exceptional wine. After graduating with a major in winemaking, enology and vineyard management at the Lycée Charlemagne, Fabre took an internship with acclaimed winery L’Aventure in Paso Robles in 2004.  His goals were simple: to learn English and perfect his craft.  Following his internship, and a brief stint at his parents’ property in Bordeaux, Fabre returned to Paso Robles with his muse, a young woman named Solène (now his wife), and a dream to make his own wine.  Again, his goal was simple: to make impeccable wine, his way.

Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solène

Doing things his unique way is Fabre’s calling card. An artist, Fabre is less concerned with “how it has always been done” — though he absolutely respects the traditions he was steeped in as a child and young man — and more focused on how it can be done to produce the finest product.  While the classic trinity of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (“GSM”) is the hallmark of Côtes du Rhône-style wines, Fabre has been known to blend in a hint of white varietals like Viognier to give his red blends a pop of acidity that make them more food friendly and drinkable at an earlier age. And while the Paso Robles AVA is best-known for its heritage Zinfandel and Rhône varieties, Fabre’s appropriately named Cabernet Sauvignon, L’Insolent (Wine Advocate awarded the 2015 vintage 95 points), is as fine an expression as any of its Napa Valley cousins.

Indeed, even Fabre’s approach to wine sales and marketing is outside the box. He works with recreational wine enthusiasts to organize small “pop-up” tastings, many in private homes. And Fabre’s wine club allows customers to select for themselves the wines they will receive — a far cry from the ubiquitous “take what you get” model many clubs use as a producer’s clearing house for less desirable bottles.

When I curiously observed that his Rhône-style reds were not bottled in the typical, fatter, Burgundy-like bottles, he matter-of-factly quipped, “I think the [tall, straight Bordeaux-style] bottles are much more elegant.” However, the uncommon shape of the vessel became irrelevant the moment I tasted Fabre’s 2014 Harmonie (Wine Advocate 93 points) — the epitome of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its velvety and complex parade of herbs and dark fruit, and as drinkable a GSM blend many vintages its senior.

Guillaume Fabre

So, what’s next for the talented Fabre and Clos Solène, currently a two person-operation assisted by some strategically placed electric blankets to help keep select barrels warm at night? Simple: purchasing his own piece of Paso Robles vineyard. I plan to buy a few extra bottles to help him get there.

Tastings can be arranged by appointment.

— Taste of Adventure

 

Death of the Speakeasy?

Playing Card

A friend recently asked me if the speakeasy trend was over.  Has the hoop jumping of SCOPing out secret entrAnces, passwords, and the like run its course?  I thought perhaps this might be the case.  But a few weeks ago I dropped into a bustling West L.A. ITALIAN restaurant for an early biRd dinner of chopped Brussel sprOuts salad with salty pecorino, California grapes and toasted almonds; whole branzinO with fennel and lemon; and piping hot sugar-dusted zeppole.  That was enough for me to leave quite pleased.  But then the owner approached our table, with a wry smile, asking if we might want to try something special at the “hidden bar.”  It’s nearly impossible for me to resist an invitaTion to check out a Secret lair housing untold treats.  I’m pretty sure my weakness for clandestine spots and secret passageways stems directly from my obsession with the OLD boardgame Clue, which my brother and I played nonstop as kids.   We accepted the invitation and were escorted out the front of the restaurant and led to an unmarked, handle-less door.  A couple quick raps and a sharply dressed man in a fedora cracked the door, quickly confirmed we had the proper escort, and welcomed us inside.  First order of business, surrender your phone.  A single playing card acts as your claim check to retrieve it at the end of the evening.  We were then ushered to the bar.  The room is a jewelbox lined with rare whiskeys, scotches, and other spirits, as well as a colorful assortment of vintage tiki and cocktail glasses (which appear to have been snatched up from a very classy grandmother’s estate sale).  The cocktail list has the heft of a college text book.  But the best move is to set it aside and ask one of the eager craftsmen to demonstrate their skills by creating something bespoke.  Finding a drink I haven’t tried before can, at this stage, be as challenging as catching LIGHTING in a bottle; but I am pleased to say this place deliVerEd.  The atmosphere aNd servICE inspire you to sit for hours; which can be dangerous when imbibing $22 cocktails.  Though I may have expected to write this place off as a gimmick (albeit a charming one), I felt like Miss Scarlett, in the Library, giddy with anticipation about what might happen next.

Four Winning Dishes in Las Vegas

Foie Gras Brûlée, Sage Las Vegas

Sin City. The innovator of $3.99 steak ‘n eggs and 99¢ shrimp cocktail available 24-hours a day.  Home of the ubiquitous all-you-can-eat buffet bursting with piles of crab legs, dim sum and spinning wheels of Italian gelato.  Despite the influx of superstar chefs like Puck, Keller, Savoy, Vongerichten, Robuchon, and Andrés — with Michelin stars in tow — some discerning diners feel like my friend who recently quipped that Sin City is where “good restaurants go to die.”

My expectations were pretty low: a lot of glitzy restaurants with hefty price tags and little substance. However, I am excited to report that I was proven wrong (it happens on occasion).  I hit the culinary jackpot with four of the best dishes I have eaten in as many years, with one of them ousting a longstanding incumbent on my “death row meal” menu.

So, peel off a few twenties from your bankroll and try these four “don’t miss” dishes for some of the best action on the Strip.

Estiatorio Milos  (born on 55th Street in NYC)  instantly transports you from the dizzying sensory overload of The Cosmopolitan to a seaside oasis in the Mediterranean.  Chef Costas Spiliadis has spent 30 years cultivating relationships with fisherman from Morocco to Tunisia and everywhere in between.  The result? Pristine seafood of the highest quality expertly dressed with signature Greek ingredients like hand-harvested sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, chickpeas from Santorini, and wild sea fennel.  Take a peak at the fresh fish, crustaceans and other seafood exquisitely displayed on ice in the in-house “fish market.”

Don’t miss: the Housemade Tzatziki, a heavenly blend of creamy Greek yogurt, fresh cucumber and garlic topped with a drizzle of olive oil (you can eat it alone with a spoon, it’s that good!), and the masterfully prepared Grilled Octopus tossed with briny capers, fresh lemon juice, shaved red onion, olive oil and fine herbs.  On my return visit I will definitely try the signature paper-thin, crispy zucchini and eggplant with sheep’s cheese, which I enviously eyed on fellow diners’ tables.

Housemade Tatziki, Estiatorio Milos Las VegasGrilled Octopus, Estiatorio Milos Las Vegas

Just as Estiatorio Milos is a retreat from the raucous Cosmopolitan, the Aria is a sanctuary among other nearby Las Vegas mega resorts.  Even with 4,500+ rooms, the Aria delivers first class service and somehow captures a sense of elegance and refinement, tipping its hat to the Rat Pack-era of yesteryear that sadly seems to have been all but eradicated from the Strip. The hotel boasts an impressive stable of restaurants, including Sage, the magnum opus of James Beard Award-winning Chef Shawn McClain (also the chef/owner of another of my all-time favorites, the Green Zebra in Chicago).  Sage allows patrons to create their own 2 to 4-course prix fixe experience from a tailored selection of seasonal dishes. The whole meal, punctuated with small surprises along the way, was nearly flawless on every level, from presentation to creativity to flavor.

Don’t miss: the Foie Gras Brûlée (pictured above) — the current star of my “death row meal” and one of the best things I have ever eaten — a decadent, velvety, salty/sweet custard topped with a thin layer of crunchy caramel, fresh strawberry compote, and toasted cocoa nibs served with cloudlike buttery brioche, and the Maine Day Boat Scallops Maine Day Boat Scallops, Sage Las Vegaswith crispy braised oxtail, meaty trumpet mushrooms, and tender broccoli presented with a salted caramel reduction.  On my return visit I will be sure to try an after-dinner treat from the roving absinthe bar.

Taste of Adventure

48-Hour Food Itinerary for New Orleans

FullSizeRender“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.”                           ‒Tennessee Williams

(Updated April 28, 2017) New Awlins. The “Big Easy.” A round-the-clock street party where pretty much anything goes.  The seemingly endless list of culinary extravagances can be daunting, particularly for those with limited time.  So, Taste of Adventure has developed a 48-hour food-centric itinerary that promises to maximize your time in this vibrant city, and give you a taste of the French, Spanish, African, German, Italian, Irish and American-influenced Creole cuisine that makes NoLa so special.

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Day 1

New Orleans 2016© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Some people say you should save the best for last. Ignore them.  Head on over to Coop’s Place for a late lunch or early dinner.  You’ll probably have to wait in line outside for a half hour, maybe more —it’s worth it.  The space is no-frills, the waiters are snarky, and the food is true New Orleans-style home cooking. Don’t miss: a cold  Abita, marinated Louisiana crab claws, and blackened redfish expertly seasoned and seared in a hot cast iron skillet.

Cane + Table

Save room for desert and head next door to Cane & Table.  The space is elegant and the drink menu is a work of art with modern riffs on classic cocktails. Don’t miss: the Silver Tongue (a perfectly balanced blend of ginger, bourbon, Arrack—an exotic Indonesian spirit—and cream sherry), Mexican chocolate tart, and chia seed & coconut milk parfait.

From here you’re just a quick 6-minute walk to Frenchmen Street where you can take in world class live music.

Day 2

Orange Couch

Jumpstart your morning with a stop at the Orange Couch coffee shop in The Marigny, one of New Orleans’ up-and-coming neighborhoods with a distinct bohemian vibe. Don’t miss: the smooth-as-silk iced cold brew or hot cortado. Early morning is a great time to stroll around this funky, artsy neighborhood.

Old Coffee Pot

After a bit of exploring, head over to The Old Coffeepot Restaurant in the Quarter. Opened in 1894, this spot is beloved by locals (especially local chefs) for its excellent and affordable creole and Cajun cuisine. Don’t miss: possibly the best jambalaya in the city; a flavor-packed blend of chicken, Andouille sausage, tomatoes and rice.

Spice & Tea Exchange

After lunch, take a quick 5-minute walk over to The Spice & Tea Exchange on St. Louis Street. There you’ll find a vast offering of unique spices, salts, powders, and teas from around the world. Don’t miss: the bourbon black walnut sugar, pinot noir sea salt, and St. Augustine datil pepper.

Craving something sweet? Leah’s Pralines is just a block-and-a-half away.  Sample the pralines and the bacon pecan brittle. Don’t miss: the semi-sweet coconut and dark chocolate haystacks.

Oysters

For dinner, head to Jacques-Imo’s in the Riverbend/Carrollton area of Uptown New Orleans for one of the best meals in NoLa.  No matter what you order, you can’t go wrong.  Creative dishes like eggplant Jacques-Imo’s with oyster dressing and wild mushroom sauce, and shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake put this place on the map. Don’t miss: hot coal-fired oysters with caramelized parmesan cheese, butter and lemon. Top off the night with live music next door at The Maple Leaf, one of the oldest and most important clubs in the city.

Day 3

Boozy brunches are a New Orleans institution. And there’s no place for boring scrambled eggs.  Like most everything else, this city does brunch in style.  Located in the edgy, on-the-rise Bywater neighborhood is The Country Club — “a neighborhood secret for over 35 years.” Don’t miss: the Saturday drag queen brunch, shrimp and grits, and bottomless mimosas.

After lunch, take a leisurely afternoon stroll through the Bywater to your final stop, Bacchanal Wine.  Located where the Mississippi River meets the Industrial Canal, it takes some effort to get here, but the reward is worth it.  Step inside and find a curated selection of Old World-style wines, chesses and more.  Make your way to the outdoor courtyard where local bands play music seven days a week.  Laissez les bons temps rouler!  This is New Orleans living at its finest.

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Taste of Adventure

Best Place for Drinks and Dinner in Glen Ellen

Glen Ellen Star 2015 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Towards the end of his life, American novelist Jack London — whose beloved works include “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang” — purchased a ranch in Glen Ellen, a tiny speck of a town in Sonoma County California. With less than 1,000 people and cloaked by shadowy oak trees, it’s the kind of place you’ll miss if you blink. No doubt the foremost quality that led Mr. London and a relative handful of others to call Glen Ellen home. Most of those who pass by likely give a quick nod to its small-town charm, snap a photo, daydream about what living there would be like, and in their next breath continue on down Highway 12. Like a first date: pleasant enough, but neither person making an effort to dig deeper.

Glen Ellen Star 2015 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Slow down. Pry the veneer. There is something mystical and curious here, maybe even a bit dark. Something that inspired ole Jack to devote the final years of his life to the development of his ranch, leading him to abandon his first love authoring cherished classics in favor of turning out dime store fiction to fund his obsession. Tragically, the crown jewel of the property, Wolf House, burned down shortly before it was finished. London died on the property a few years later at the age of 40, ashes scattered under a rock, whispers of alcoholism and suicide.

Iconic and delicately human. Picturesque and splendidly peculiar. That is Jack, and Glen Ellen. And, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, the Saloon at Jack London Lodge. Well, perhaps not iconic, but beloved despite its quirks. Or because of them. There’s a polished oak bar, comfy wingback chairs, and big screen TVs. Lively locals, snarky (in a good way) bartenders, cold Coors on tap, and high-quality local wine by the glass. Rough around the edges with a pure heart. Kind of like the sled dog in that famous book.

Glen Ellen Star 2015 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Along with the winemakers, vineyard workers, artists and anything-but-ordinary townsfolk, culinary mavericks have descended upon the 2-square-mile hamlet, which boasts at least seven notable restaurants at the time of this writing. Among them, Glen Ellen Star. Nevermind the pedigree of Chef Ari Weiswasser, which includes Daniel and The French Laundry. Really, forget it. This is down home awesomeness on a plate. Cast iron quick bread with za’atar oil. Bubbly-crusted fig pizza from the wood fire oven. Charred corn, cotija cheese, chipotle and lime — an homage to Mexican street food.  Crispy-skinned brick chicken with creamy corn, green chiles and dill. It’s always nice to see an accomplished chef run wild. Kind of like the sled dog in that famous book.

Taste of Adventure

Top 10 Beach Bars and Local Restaurants in the Caribbean

da Conch Shack, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

(Last Updated March 30, 2017) Warm turquoise water, gleaming white sand, umbrella drinks and the tropical beats of a steel drum band.  This is the typical scene that springs to mind when people think of the Caribbean; lazy days of sun and surf, straight out of central casting for the next Corona commercial.  However, those willing to venture outside the grounds of their resort or vacation rental will be rewarded with warm people and the delightful, unmistakable flavors of Caribbean cuisine.  Each of the inhabited islands in the chain that stretches from Miami to South America has its own vibe, and its own specialty when it comes to food and drink.  The Caribbean is blessed with unique spices, produce, spirits and, of course, fresh seafood.  In addition to Taste of Adventure’s recommendations below, food tours like Tru Bahamian Food Tours in the Bahamas are a great way to discover and support local eateries, specialty food stores and authentic, family-owned restaurants.  Discover the magic and soul of Caribbean food.

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Boots Cuisine, St. George's, Grenada

1. Boots Cuisine (St. George’s, Grenada).  Nestled in the hills above the hustle and bustle of St. George’s is the five-table gem run by the affable Boots and his wife, Ruby.  A nightly five-course prix fixe menu of Grenadian specialties like pumpkin soup, chicken curry, grilled mahi mahi with guava sauce, goat stew, and nutmeg ice cream are offered, along with some of the best homemade rum punch in the Caribbean.  Complimentary transportation to and from the restaurant make a visit a no-brainer, just be sure to book ahead.  Vibe: Home away from home.

Bugaloo's, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

2. Bugaloo’s (Providenciales, Turks and Caicos). Far away from the tourist center of Grace Bay is a pastel-hued beachside restaurant named after Berlie “Bugaloo” Williams, credited as the originator of the first “conch shack” establishment on Providenciales.  And the fare that his namesake restaurant is turning out does not disappoint.  Stop by for conch salad ‒ a perfect balance of salt, spice and zesty lime juice ‒ and the puffy conch fritters, chock full of meat and served with a spicy aioli.  Vibe: Local hangout.

da Conch Shack, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

3. Da Conch Shack & Rum Bar (Providenciales, Turks and Caicos).  One of Patricia Schultz’ “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” Da Conch Shack specializes in preparing the tropical marine mollusk (extracted from the large pink shells found in tourist shops) in a variety of tasty ways ‒ cracked, curried, fried and ceviche-style with peppers, onions and lime.  But the fresh grilled lobster might just be the dark horse of the menu.  Stop by early and enjoy sweeping ocean views and live music on Wednesday evenings.  Vibe: Laid back.

The Hideaway (Chez Andy), St. Jean, St. Barth

4. The Hideaway, Chez Andy (St. Jean, Saint Barthélemy).  Although the parking lot location isn’t the most spectacular on the tiny French island, this local joint run by English ex-pat Andy, and his business partner Hafida,  turns out seriously awesome wood-fired pizzas. Everything from classic Margherita to more exotic creations like the “Indienne” with curried chicken, mushrooms and onions.  And even the most cynical diner won’t mind the “Sweet Caroline” sing-along after a shot, or three, of the complimentary (and dangerously drinkable) housemade vanilla rum. Vibe: Lively dinner party.

Just Grillin', Barbados

5. Just Grillin’ (St. James, St. Thomas and Christ Church, Barbados).  Don’t be fooled by the casual look of this trio of eateries on Barbados (two brick and mortar and one food trailer); the grilled seafood, beef and chicken rivals that of many of the posh (and uber expensive) restaurants on the island.  All the spice blends, sauces and dressings are made in-house.  The char-grilled swordfish, a Bajan specialty, is out of this world.  Vibe: Packed.

Maya's To Go, St. Jean, St. Barth

6. Maya’s To Go (St. Jean, Saint Barthélemy). Top quality local ingredients are combined in unexpected and creative ways at this little shop in the nondescript Les Galeries du Commerce near the airport in St. Jean. The menu changes daily, but expect expertly prepared French dishes with an island flair like wahoo ceviche, peppered shrimp, mango salad, and fluffy pastries rivaling the best boulangeries in Paris. MTG is a great place to pick up extras to round out your beach barbeque, or to stop for a quick (and relatively affordable) lunch on St. Barth. Vibe: Seaside deli.

Papa Zouk, St. John's, Antigua

7. Papa Zouk Fish ‘n Rum (St. John’s, Antigua). Tucked away on an unremarkable street, this tiny little shack is the kind of place foodies dream of: a quirky, local joint with superb homemade food and the personable, passionate staff to match.  Impeccably fresh fish ‒ grilled, fried or sautéed ‒ is their forte. The whole fried snapped is transcendental. Don’t forget to sample the spicy, garlicky house sauce in the glass bottle on every table. The bar is stocked with enough varieties of rare rum to make a pirate envious.  Although destroyed by a fire in mid-December 2014, the owners re-built and re-opened in February 2015. Papa Zouk will undoubtedly return better than ever. Vibe: Roadside shack.

Scotchies, Jamaica

8. Scotchies (Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, Jamaica).  Popular with visitors and locals alike, Scotchies turns out what many believe is the best jerk in Jamaica.  Pork, chicken and fish is slathered in a secret recipe of chiles, cinnamon, garlic, nutmeg and more, and roasted in open-air barbecue pits over flaming pimento wood.  Traditional side dishes include breadfruit, roasted yams, rice and peas, and festival (fried corn fritters).  Your order is bundled up in foil for takeaway or eating in under the thatched roof.  Grab a seat at the bar, order a crisp Red Stripe, and make friends with the unique cast of characters that filter through every day.   Vibe: Heart and soul.

Smiling Harry's, Freetown, Antigua

9. Smiling Harry’s Thirst Quencher (Freetown, Antigua). The trek to Smiling Harry’s is half the adventure.  Set inside a national park, just steps away from breathtaking Half Moon Bay ‒ which feels deserted (in a good way) much of the time ‒ Smiling Harry’s is a welcome respite from the Antiguan sun.  Although the beloved Harry passed away in August 2014 and will be sorely missed by those who spent countless hours listening to his amazing stories, drinking bottomless rum and cokes, and enjoying his infectious smile, his family re-opened the place in December 2014. Harry’s char-grilled hamburgers and house made ginger beer were second-to-none.   Vibe: Beach shack.

Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, B.V.I.

10. Soggy Dollar Bar (Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands).  Set on one of the most idyllic beaches in the Caribbean on the tiny island of Jost Van Dyke, the Soggy Dollar Bar is the “originator and perfector” of the iconic Painkiller cocktail.  A blend of dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice and orange juice, topped with fresh grated Grenadian nutmeg, this Caribbean cocktail has had boaters from around the world jumping overboard and swimming ashore to White Bay since the 1970s.  Those who overindulge can grab one of the palm-shaded hammocks that dot the property.  Nearby Foxy’s, and Bomba’s Surfside Shack’s infamous “Full Moon Party” on neighboring Tortola, are also worth checking out.  Vibe: Bohemian.

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Taste of Adventure

Best Cooking Class in Mexico City

Mole Poblano

One of the most rewarding ways to discover the food, culture and traditions of any place you are visiting is to spend a few hours with a local cook perusing the markets, and if you are lucky, having them teach you to prepare some authentic dishes.  The mark of a truly exceptional experience of this kind is when you depart feeling that you have spent a day with long lost family.  This is the feeling you are sure to have when leaving Casa Jacaranda, the stunning home of Beto Estúa and Jorge Fitz in the quaint Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City.  Although Beto and Jorge are quick to reject being labeled “chefs,” they are undeniably extremely talented cooks.

Mercado Medellin

Your morning with Beto and Jorge begins with a brief stop at a local tortilleria, where the warm scent of toasted corn fills the air and the tortillas are made using the same ancient process as the Aztecs.  Then it’s off to nearby Mercado Medellin, a local market with over 500 stalls featuring specialties from all over Mexico and Latin America.  Armed with an arsenal of “abuela-approved” recipes (Beto and Jorge will go over the menu, and suggest creative substitutions for any dietary constraints), your hosts will guide you through the market, stopping at the best vendors for various items like Oaxaca cheese, dried chiles and smoked habanero salsa, and collecting the freshest ingredients for the afternoon feast.

Casa Jacaranda

After a short walk through the tree-lined streets of Colonia Roma, you arrive at Casa Jacaranda, named for the towering Jacaranda tree that delights with beautiful purple blooms in the spring.  Beto and Jorge have lovingly restored the early 19th Century home, which is sparkling clean and adorned with funky art and perfectly-curated furniture.  The centerpiece is the custom cooking area they built for their guests, which lends to a feeling of being at a fun cooking party at your friend’s house.  The day’s menu is scrolled on a giant chalkboard on the wall, and Beto and Jorge expertly guide you through preparing each dish, encouraging you to get your hands dirty and sharing tricks and secrets they swore to their grandmothers they’d never tell.  Staples like guacamole, Smoky Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa, and coconut flan with caramel, are accompanied by more complex dishes like mole poblano, enchiladas with salsa verde, sweet corn tamales, and squash blossom and mushroom stuffed molotes.

Casa Jacaranda The impressive Mexican spread is then transported to the rooftop garden, and invited guests can join the lunchtime festivities.  An aperitif of artisanal mezcal gets your taste buds jumping, followed by a complimentary selection of wine or perhaps a bespoke tequila sunrise made with fresh-squeezed orange juice and housemade grenadine.  The exquisite food slowly disappears as stories are swapped, laughs are shared, the afternoon sun slowly fades away, and sobremesa  that magical time spent around the table with friends after an extraordinary meal; a word that has no precise English translation  sets in.

Taste of Adventure

Taste of Mexico City: Smoky Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa

Salsa Rojo

Don’t let the simple ingredient list fool you. This flavor-packed salsa – courtesy of Beto and Jorge of Casa Jacaranda, featured in “A ‘Muy Especial’ Cooking Party and Garden Lunch at Casa Jacaranda in Mexico City” – is sure to impress. The secret is to forego the blender and hand-blend the salsa in a Mexican molcajete. This traditional method preserves the chunky texture of the salsa while perfectly incorporating the ingredients.

  •  5 ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced in half
  • Large slice of white onion, about 3” x 1.5”
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 dried chipotle chile (smoke-dried jalapeño)
  • sea salt

Salsa Rojo

Heat a heavy cast iron skillet on medium heat. Add the whole chipotle chile to the skillet, turning occasionally until it puffs up; remove. Add the tomatoes (slice side down), onion and garlic to the skillet and let cook until a nice char forms. Flip the tomatoes, onion and garlic and continue to cook on the other side until charred. Place half of the tomatoes, onion and garlic into the molcajete and crush until nicely incorporated. Add the remaining ingredients, including the chipotle chile (you can pre-chop the chipotle into smaller pieces for easy grinding, depending on your arm strength), and crush to desired consistency. Season with sea salt to taste and serve immediately.

Taste of Adventure