Quick Tip: Getting back into the U.S. from Mexico requires a big cooler

I recently traveled to a friend’s beach house in Puerto Peñasco/Rocky Point, Mexico and discovered (but not at all surprised) that while you can get into Mexico really easily, getting back into the U.S.? Not so much.

This is a just a quick tip for those of you who are driving into Mexico and planning on driving back into the U.S.  Pack a cooler–a big one.

This was us for 3 hours

The traffic jam we hit trying to cross the border added about 3 hours to our drive, and most of that 3 hours was spent sitting in the 100 degree sun baking our van.  Despite the A/C being on full blast, only hot air was filling up the van because we were moving an inch every 5 minutes. We did not prepare for such a wait, and I’ve never experienced as much jealousy as when I could see folks in the cars around us popping open their coolers and drinking ice cold waters and beers.

Traffic, traffic, traffic…

While there were a few folks on the road selling drinks, tamales (yes, we bought some and they were delicious), souvenirs, and use of their toilets, even for Mexico the prices were a rip off, so you may as well get that cooler filled up yourself.

I’m not sure if all the border crossings are like this (we were crossing into Arizona), but I would suspect that they are.  And it probably should have been an obvious thing to prepare for; it was just an oversight on our part–one that you should make sure not to make.

But of course it was all worth it because for 4 days I got to see this…

Quick Hits: Good Enough To Eat

Good Enough To Eat
520 Columbus Ave, New York, NY 10024
Hours: Mon-Thu 8:00 AM – 10:30 PM, Friday 8:00 AM – 11:00 PM, Sat 9:00 AM – 11:00 PM, Sun 9:00 AM – 10:30 PM

The name of the venue doesn’t really inspire confidence, but you know what?  It was damn good enough to eat.

Alright, I won’t go too overboard.  Good Enough To Eat is a perfectly decent place to get brunch if you’re in the Upper West Side. It’s a typical NYC eatery that tries its hardest to make it feel like a farmhouse-style diner that you can escape into from the busy streets.  The food hits that comfort food craving if you’re in the mood for that kind of hearty brunch fare.

Much to my delight, the omelette that I ordered had giant nuggets of bacon, not the usual broken up bits that you’ll often get elsewhere. And the waffle lived up to what my friend told me was their claim to fame–though in my opinion it’s really, really hard to eff up waffles. Though what really stood out to me was the strawberry butter that accompanied the homemade biscuits that came with the entrees.

The one flaw of this place was the service–it was slow as molasses. Sure, it could be that our waitress was having a bad day, but I can’t give Good Enough To Eat a top review because of her lethargy.

Quick Hits: Santa Fe, NM

I traveled to Taos, New Mexico way back in high school and I’ve always been looking for a reason to return. 18 years later, it still hasn’t happened. However, a good friend of mine did journey to New Mexico recently and shared some quick tidbits that he was willing to share for those of you headed to the “land of enchantment”.  He spent his weekend in Santa Fe (but I’m secretly hoping he was actually in Albuquerque chowing down on some Los Pollos Hermanos…).

breakingbad

Here’s a breakdown of his Santa Fe suggestions.

What to do

  • Puye Cliff Dwellings
    • So the best thing I did was go tour the Puye Cliff Dwellings.  It’s 30-40 minutes from Santa Fe and is just awesome. The Mesa Top tour ($20/person) offers a super knowledgeable guide, really cool history, and amazing panoramic views of the area. Be warned, if the guide asks you to hike back down the side with him, it’s more of a climb than a hike. Worth doing though.
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Puye Cliff Dwellings
  • The Georgia O’Keefe Museum
    • Located downtown, this little is also worth a visit in my opinion. Not a ton of her most famous paintings are there, but there’s some great stuff including some neat photography of her time in the area.
  • Obviously all the art galleries and shops off the main plaza are a must-do. There’s also a good indie bookstore called Collected Works that’s worth checking out.
  • Loretto Chapel
    • A must-see is the Miraculous Staircase at the Loretto Chapel.  Apparently they made it into a movie starring the guy from CSI!  (Editors note: He’s referring to the 1998 TV film “The Staircase” starring Barbara Hershey and William Petersen)
The Miraculous Staircase at Loretto Chapel
The Miraculous Staircase at Loretto Chapel
  • Madrid
    • If you’re flying in and out of ABQ, I suggest driving up or back one of the ways through the turquoise trail. There’s this little town called Madrid that is a reclaimed ghost town that has become a cool art enclave. Almost had a guy there talk me into buying meteorite fragments.

Where to eat

  • For Belgian style beer drinkers, I would recommend Duel Brewing.
Belgian beers at Duel
Belgian beers at Duel
  • Cowgirl Grill
    • Really friendly clientele; some nice strangers bought me beers.  Get the green chili cheeseburger.
  • The Pantry
    • A nice, greasy spoon type place to get a solid breakfast.

Thanks very much Dwain Smith!  More info about Dwain can be found here.

Quick Hits: Omar’s Mediterranean Cuisine

Omar’s Mediterranean Cuisine
154 E 55th St, New York, NY 10022
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30 AM–8 PM, Closed Sunday

New York City has thousands upon thousands of places to eat, so this spot is probably one of a hundred great Mediterranean choices.  That being said, Omar’s is awesome.  Recommended by a local friend of Lebanese descent (he knows good hummus when he eats it), this unassuming little restaurant has amazing Chicken Shawarma, delicious hummus, and a very tasty complimentary piece of baklava for desert (only if you dine in). Be sure to try whatever the white and red sauces are that are on the table (I should have asked…my Lebanese buddy called them “the usual white sauce” and “the spicy sauce”…).  And for the amount of food you get, the price of $11 is actually quite good for New York City.

I’ve also been told that at lunch time, the line can go out the door and that the wait (at worst) is 20 minutes. Probably not worth it if you’re in a hurry, but if you’re not, I’d take the time. So, if you’re around Midtown East or checking out Rockefeller Plaza or Times Square and you’re in the mood for a little Mediterranean fare, take a walk to Omar’s.

Looking for a getaway in Virginia?

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Riverfront house in Heathsville, VA

For booking click here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/8123738

In early August a group of friends and I decided to take a weekend off and rent a house in Heathsville, Virginia to decompress from our work lives D.C.  We found this house on AirBnB and it worked out pretty darn well for us, so I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of the work week.

Located two and half hours from D.C., this house easily held the 9 of us staying there.  The host was very generous, attentive, but also left us alone to enjoy our weekend once all the rules were covered (there weren’t very many).  It should be noted that the house is the owners actual residence that she rents out, so it’s furnished like a real home and not a summer home.  Here are the details of the house.

  • 4 bedrooms (2 queens, 2 doubles), 1 living room with queen pull out couch, 2.5 bathrooms
    • great historic architecture; each room is “themed” by different countries the family has lived in.  For example, the son’s room was British themed, one of the adult bedrooms was Australia themed, etc.
    • It’s a bit of a hike for the two people who get the kids rooms upstairs FYI, and the ceilings are pretty low in those rooms
  • Fully stocked kitchen with plenty of dishes, silverware, and cooking supplies
  • A/C in every room except the hallways which was key since it was ridiculously hot out
  • Grill on the back patio for use
  • Sun room (which we didn’t use because it was too hot)

In addition to the house itself, the property offered several activities for us to entertain ourselves with.  (The videos below were provided by Kristal Ernst Przeklasa)

  • A beautiful salt water pool with basketball hoop was where we spent most of our time
    • There is a Bluetooth speaker attached to the pool house which provided the tunes for the weekend, along with plenty of towels and chairs provided by the host
    • One thing to note:  At the height of summer, the salt water pool gets pretty warm.  Like almost bathwater warm.  So if you want to go for a icy, refreshing swim, you’ll need to do that in the morning
  • A soccer net and huge field to play football/bocce/croquet/etc. surrounds the property
  • There’s a quick walk to the river (although down a steep and rocky hill, so be mindful of that) with the owner’s kayaks, and cages for crabbing available

In the immediate area there’s one neighbor who isn’t very close, so noise isn’t a factor.  The house is also a 10-minute walk to Athena Vineyards, which wasn’t anything to write home about in terms of their wine, but the $5 tasting of ALL their wines (I think it was 8 total) is a steal.  They are however turning it into a cidery at some point.

If you need supplies, such as food, sunblock or bug spray (something only I and not necessarily the group needed because all the f**king bugs were attracted to me), there’s a Wal-Mart and Food Lion a 10-minute drive down the road.  (Some of the photos were provided by Victoria Zapata and Chad Barrington)

Beers and Bites in Denver

My trip to Denver didn’t really include any food places that would knock your socks off, but there are a few dishes and some breweries (there are A LOT of breweries in Denver) that are worth checking out if you happen to be in that particular area.  However, I wouldn’t go out of your way to find any of these places if aren’t already close by.

La Biblioteca
1610 Little Raven St, #200
Denver, CO 80202

One of the appetizers at this bar pretty much made the night.  The Ahi Tuna Taco appetizer is phenomenal.  Because the bar is attached to the Zenga restaurant next door, the taco shell they use is made out of wonton.  The crunch from that, along with the guacamole, mango, sticky rice, and fresh tuna make this the single favorite dish I had in Denver.  Admittedly, it’s a little pricey ($13.50 for three pretty small tacos), but it’s something I had no problem getting over because the dish was that good.

Yum. Just yum.
Yum. Just yum.

Steuben’s Restaurant
523 E 17th Ave.
Denver, CO 80203

This retro diner had one of the most eclectic crowds I’ve ever seen in a restaurant.  Sitting at tables around us were, and this isn’t an exaggeration, a fancy Great Gatsby dressed baby shower (I think?), three Amish looking people, two African American guys dressed like they were extras in Straight Outta Compton, Grandpa and Grandma Joe, and, of course, a slew of plaid wearing hipsters.  Wearing just t-shirts and jeans, I’d say we were the “normal” looking group, but I’d suffice to say that each one of those tables also thought that about themselves.

Along with the diverse crowd was a fun, neighborhoody vibe.  The music was loud, the food was good, but their beer selection needs work (there are no draft beers).  Their cocktail list however was extensive.  There’s an outdoor patio for the warmer days in Denver and our waitress was super efficient.  If I was going to suggest one thing to get on the menu, it’d be the gravy fries appetizer.  It’s essentially their version of poutine.  It’s not as good as Duckfat’s, but it’s right up there.

Denver Beer Company
1695 Platte St
Denver, CO 80202

In keeping with my recent tradition of going to local breweries, Denver Beer Company wins the prize for the most dog friendly of the breweries I’ve seen.  Beyond being able to play with other customers’ puppies (which truly is awesome), Denver Beer Company is a pretty run-of-the-mill brewery.  The place has the same feel as Allagash in Portland, ME and their beers, although very good, aren’t anything spectacular.

Illegal Pete’s
Several locations throughout the Denver area

This Mexican place looks like a group of BMX bikers and skateboarders got a hold of a Chipotle and made it their own.  Imagine a Chipotle, but with skateboarder stickers all over the place, tattooed employees, and a bar with 20 local beers on tap.  The setup is the same as Chipotle where you make your own burrito, but they do offer fish, and before they roll up your burrito they mix up all the ingredients in a bowl (so that you don’t get that annoying bite of only rice).  Outside there are picnic tables and a giant bocce court.   It’s open late night as well, so you can get your Mexican fix at 2 AM after a night of drinking.

Wynkoop Brewing Company
1634 18th Street
Denver, CO 80202

My co-workers and I discovered this place because it was the answer to one of the team building scavenger hunts we had earlier that day.  Apparently it is Denver’s first craft brewery.  Located downtown, the brewery itself is actually pretty large; there’s a giant pool hall on the second floor which they say is Denver’s biggest.  We only were able to pop in for a drink and a quick pic with the Wynkoop gorilla (which sadly is on my co-worker’s phone), but the best beer of the trip goes to Wynkoop’s Cowtown Milk Stout — definitely worth a try if you like darker beers.

Cowtown Milk Stout
Cowtown Milk Stout

Panzano
909 17th Street
Denver, CO 80202

Unbeknownst to me before I got there, Panzano is actually the restaurant for the Hotel Monaco Denver downtown.  Since my company’s meeting was in that hotel, we had an informal dinner there the night we flew in.  I wasn’t really expecting that much thinking it was just the hotel restaurant and I was pleasantly surprised at how good my dish was.  The Ragu di Agnello (House made mafaldine pasta, lamb ragú, demi-glace, and Pecorino tartufo) was delicious.  Having just been in Italy a few months ago, this dish comes pretty damn close to what I had over there and I would definitely recommend it.

ragu
Ragu di Agnello

Quick Hits: Bad Saint

Bad Saint
3226 11th St NW
Washington, DC 20010
Hours: Sun, M, W, Th 5:30-10; F & Sat 5:30-11; Closed Tuesdays

I’m going to take a quick pause from Denver stuff to let you in on a well-known D.C. secret at this point.  Bad Saint is excellent.  I’ve passed by it numerous times on my way to soccer and have been meaning to try it out for a while.  Tonight, I finally made it.

They don’t take reservations and the restaurant seats only about 15 people, so expect to wait (1.5 hours for 2 seats tonight), but there are plenty of places to grab a drink in the area and they’ll call you when your seats are ready.

The atmosphere was what you’d expect from a hipster, Filipino restaurant.  I really felt like it belonged in Brooklyn, NY more than D.C.  That being said, there was nothing pretentious about it and it felt pretty homey.  You could feel the love from the staff for the food that they serve there.  Our waitress talked about the changing menu being like an art where the flavors will always be complimentary regardless of the fact that the options are different every night (depending on what’s in season, what they have, etc.).  And to be honest, you do feel the care that’s put into the dishes.

It’s weird to review this place because the food I had probably won’t be on the menu when you go.  Regardless, if some variation of what I had is available, I’d highly recommend it.  I had the Tocino, which consisted of slow-cooked pork, fried egg, and garlic rice (and fresh greens which wasn’t noted on the menu).  It’s a pretty incredible feat to be able to create different, well-liked dishes enough to constantly get rave reviews.  I loved my first experience; the true test of this place will be if I feel the same way with the new dishes I try the next time I go back.