Reykjavik – Where to Stay and Eat

It’s no secret that Iceland is probably one of the trendiest countries to visit right now, and it’s not hard to see why. For those looking for a trip that is like no other, Iceland fits that bill. As the site of where they film Game of Thrones and created the world from Interstellar, it’s easy to wander around the country and feel like you’re on another planet.

The capital of Reykjavik is about a 50 minute drive from the airport. When you fly in, be sure to stop in the Duty Free liquor store to stock up on some alcohol for your trip if you want to save some money (liquor is very expensive in Iceland due to the taxes). Beer and wine can be purchased in country though for reasonable prices (Einstock and Borg are both excellent beer options). Vínbúdin was our store of choice frequently (this chain has locations throughout the country).

Driving around the country is quite easy, and it seems like most of the rental cars come with GPS. Everyone speaks English and are all very friendly, so it’s not hard to get around–which is lucky because any tourist trying to pronounce Icelandic words will undoubtedly be spewing out gibberish.

As I alluded to earlier, food prices are quite high. But despite the prices, the quality of most of the food we ate was excellent. DO NOT BUY BOTTLED WATER. It’d be a total waste of your money. The tap water is probably the cleanest tasting water I’ve ever had. Keep in mind that when you run the water hot, it smells a little funky, like rotten eggs, because of the sulfur, but it’s fine when it’s running cold.

Reykjavik itself is a very unassuming city. There are no skyscrapers, and the atmosphere is very slow-paced and chill. I’d recommend giving yourself a weekend to see everything in Reykjavik, but you probably don’t need much more than that. Most of the highlights from the trip are from the sights outside the city, and I’ll be getting into each of those in upcoming blog posts.

One other thing–obviously Iceland is cold. But what I hadn’t realized is how much the cold would affect the battery on my cell phone. So my advice would be to make sure your phone stays as close to your body as possible, and on the really cold days (especially when you’re out on the glaciers), be very judicious in choosing when to take pictures. My phone died on several occasions just from being out in the elements too long. My advice is also to invest in a portable charger like I did to kick start it back to life in the car.

Where to Stay

Hótel Óðinsvé
Þórsgötu 1, 101 Reykjavík

Great location, fantastic front desk staff. Don’t bother trying to put the address in the GPS because for some reason those Icelandic letters in the street name don’t show up. Instead, put the hotel name in the “Points of Interest” category and it should show up that way. For $300 a night, three of us shared one of their 3 bed flats.

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Where to Eat

SandholtBrauð & Co., and Bergsson Mathús for breakfast
Address and hours on their respective websites.

It’s gotta be something in the water. We were convinced of it based on how good the bread in Iceland is. Any one of these locations offers delicious brunch options with their pastries, such as chocolate croissants and raisin danishes, being the highlights. Sandholt and Bergsson Mathús are good options if you want to sit and eat. Bergsson Mathús is a bit smaller, and cozier, but Sandholt has more food options, including lunch options to-go. I recommend grabbing sandwiches from Sandholt for lunch later in the day, especially if you’re going to be driving the Golden Circle. Brauð & Co. is more of a grab and go place; be sure to grab one of their cinnamon rolls.


Brauð & Co.

Bergsson Mathús

Lækjargata 2a, 101 Reykjavík

This steak house was a little tough to find; we kept missing the small sign that leads to an alley which takes you to the building it’s in. This restaurant is quite pricey, but not any more pricey than going to a really nice steakhouse in the states. On the menu were various items which you probably won’t find elsewhere (such as puffin and whale). Full disclosure: We tried both the puffin and whale. Was there a bit of cognitive dissonance doing it? Absolutely yes. And although we were assured by one of our tour guides that the whale that is served isn’t the “endangered” kind, it still felt a little off. But alas, we tried it, and my advice — don’t bother. It’s nothing to write home about. You can order sashimi and it’s practically the same thing. What is worth writing home about from Grillmarkaðurinn? The black sea salt butter that came with the delicious bread (the bread again!), the 27 day aged ribeye, and the Golden Circle cocktail.

Skólavörðustígur 14, 101 Reykjavík

You can make the argument that the single best entree may have been the 27 day aged ribeye from Grillmarkaðurinn, but I think most from my group would agree that Sjávargrillið was the best overall dining experience. The prices were a bit lower and the ambiance was a little brighter and more casual. The specialty of this restaurant is seafood, and that’s what we went with and on the whole, the entire meal was a winner. Each of our entrees was excellent: the catch of the day catfish with mashed potatoes, the salmon with cous cous, the fried cod with cous cous, and grilled tuna with bok choy. The appetizers included lobster tacos, carpaccio, and Arctic char. But the highlight was the creme brûlée with liquid nitrogen pistachio ice cream dessert which one member of our party declared “This is it!” and joked that his trip at that point may as well have been over.

Hot Dogs
Various locations

They love hot dogs in Iceland. Not totally sure where that love comes from. But it’s a lot like how Hawaiians love SPAM type thing. The street hot dogs are a good drunk food or if you just want a snack. They’re not really any different from a New York hot dog, but the bun is toasted and the gravy they put on it is pretty tasty.

Where to Drink

Mikkeller & Friends
Hverfisgata 12, 101 Reykjavík

This dark, cozy, bohemian style beer house offers 20 different styles of beer on tap. It’s definitely a great spot if you want to lay low after a long day of sightseeing, but because you’re so closely packed in with other customers, don’t be surprised if a conversation sparks with your neighbors.

1, 105, Þórunnartún, Reykjavík

This beer garden could not be more opposite in atmosphere to Mikkeller & Friends. Located within the lobby of a hotel, this beer hall was brighter, had higher ceilings, live music, and the clientele was much more professional. That being said, the beer offerings were still quite excellent and Bjórgarðurinn had more more of a food menu.

Questionable Restaurants

Matur og Drykkur

We came to Matur og Drykkur in order to have a  traditional Icelandic meal. I feel a bit torn because I don’t want to give it a “bad” review; the service and atmosphere were actually quite nice. But the food was, shall we say, unique. Some of us really didn’t like it, other were okay with it. Personally, I didn’t hate it, but it is a meal that will test your palette.  A lot of the food is really salty. And the cod head I ordered was truly bizarre–again it didn’t necessarily taste badly, it was just weird. So my advice is this: If you really want to step out of your comfort zone, give this place a try. But don’t go if you’re really hungry, or are not willing to pay a high price for a meal that may not necessarily sit well in your stomach.

The bizarre cod fish head…


We stopped by here for a drink before dinner, and it wasn’t bad. But it also wasn’t as great as the reviews would make it seem. The cocktails were perfectly decent and fun, but for the price I’d prefer to spend my time and money somewhere else.

Coming Up: Things to do in Reykjavik

Cape Town, South Africa

Back in 2010 South Africa hosted the World Cup and several of my friends went down there on a trip I unfortunately was unable to attend.  They came back and raved about the country and everything it had to offer.  Luckily my chance to visit South Africa happened with a family holiday trip.

Our journey started in Cape Town, a beautiful European, non-smoking, English speaking (1 of 11 national languages) city with Southern California weather; it reminded me very much of Sydney.  It didn’t feel like Africa, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing after a 14-hour flight, and quite honestly, as I discovered throughout the trip, South Africa is a really easy country to negotiate for foreigners (just watch out cause they do drive on the left there).

One major thing to note is this:  The tap water in Cape Town is fine.  Our tour guide, Warren, insisted that we ignore what the guidebooks said, so we took the chance and didn’t have any problems.  I wouldn’t go drinking it in large amounts, but for brushing teeth and eating vegetables it’s perfectly fine.  (Warren was a great tour guide, I’d highly recommend reaching out to him if you ever visit: We also discovered that South Africa is also pretty progressive, as it’s the first country in Africa to legalize abortion and gay marriage; just a small step towards making up for the years of racism, which I’ll touch upon in depth later.

We stayed around the Victoria Wharf waterfront, which is super touristy, but very comfortable.  The waterfront, with live calypso bands playing constantly, is the center where most of the activities, food, the aquarium, and shopping can be found.  And there is plenty of shopping and eating to be had.  The exchange rate when we were there was a generous $1 to 13 South African Rand (R), so let’s just say we indulged in some very nice meals for the price of a trip to Olive Garden.

Here’s a rundown of a few things you can find at the Victoria Wharf waterfront.

Ferry to Robben Island

I’m going to start my coverage of South Africa with this.  1) Buy tickets in advance for Robben Island.  They should be around $23.  2) Even then there’s no guarantee you’ll make it there.  We did NOT go to Robben Island.  Robben Island is like the Alcatraz of South Africa, the place where political prisoners were held, including the great Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for 27 years.  And we didn’t make it there.  Why?  Who the hell knows.  The official excuse was that the ferry broke down.  The unofficial theory is that there was some form of corruption in play that apparently is not unusual that stopped the ferries.  Even though we got our money back, it was unfortunate and disappointing to say the least.  So if you’re planning a trip to Cape Town, yes you have to try and go to Robben Island because it’s like the Statue of Liberty of Cape Town.  But it’s annoying that you may travel all the way there and something might throw a wrench into that plan.

Breakwater Lodge (Protea Hotel)
Portswood Road, V & A Waterfront
Cape Town, 8001 South Africa

If you’re looking for a place to stay, Protea Hotels (the Protea is the national flower) are all around Cape Town, but the Breakwater Lodge is the location that’s closest to the waterfront; it’s about a 10-minute walk. The hotel is super clean, very modern, and has a fantastic breakfast buffet.  The hotel is located on Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, which also happens to be a former women’s prison, so it’s unique to say the least.  But it’s the proximity to the waterfront that is it’s biggest selling point.

Two bedroom

Quay Four
4, W Quay Rd, V & A Waterfront
Cape Town, 8001, South Africa

Pronounced “Key Four” (dropping some knowledge on you there), this was our first meal in Cape Town and was quite honestly one of the best.  The restaurant is right on the water and is composed of two parts.  The downstairs is a bar and patio with cheaper fare, whereas the upstairs and upstairs porch is a bit more fine dining.  We grabbed food upstairs and I had my first taste of Kingklip, a regional fish popular in South Africa.  The fish was quite good, a lot meatier than I thought it would be, and it was served with potatoes and butter sauce.  I’d also recommend their calamari appetizer.

Willoughby & Co.
Shop 6132, Lower Level, Victoria Wharf

This seafood restaurant is actually located in the mall, and you can’t miss it because of the crowd of people sitting in the atrium tables they’ve set up and the line of hungry patrons trying to get in.  After we saw the line we figured it had to be good and worth trying.  While in line, they offer a wine tasting to ease the waiting period.  We were told the sushi was the most popular dish by our wine server, so that’s what we tried.  They have a “4 X 4” sushi platter which is a combo of their popular rainbow reloaded roll (tuna) and spicy creamy rock shrimp roll.  The food was great–the service, well…the waiter was pretty smarmy.  I couldn’t tell if it was him being just being a dick or if it was a South African attitude thing, but it rubbed some in our group the wrong way and it takes the restaurant down a peg.

Shop No. 153, Victoria Wharf

If for some reason you’re craving steak there’s a restaurant option in the mall called Belthazar that was actually pretty good.  They claim it’s rated the best steakhouse in Cape Town, which could easily be made up, but also could easily be true because I’m guessing there aren’t THAT many steakhouses in Cape Town to compete with. Regardless, the steak was damn good, and as I mentioned before, pretty reasonably priced, but again it’s only really worth going to if you’re craving steak.

Chicago Cut Steak

Watershed and V&A Food Market at the Waterfront

These are just two of several places to go shopping on the waterfront aside from the traditional mall, which is like any other mall you’d find in the U.S.  The Watershed and V&A Food Market are quite charming and offer some non-chain products from locals.  In there you can find local artisan foods and goods, such as jewelry, nuts, fudge, teas, textiles, home goods, etc.  It’s worth a walk through if you’re looking for a souvenir.

New Orleans: Quick Hits – Food

I’ve just recently returned from a work trip to New Orleans, LA and needless to say it was quite a week.  New Orleans is everything you’d expect from the Mardi Gras capital of the world.  With the open alcohol beverage laws in the city, New Orleans can easily cause a few rough mornings.  Bourbon Street in particular is as wild as its reputation and I’ll say this right off the bat: It’s not for everyone.  Bourbon Street on a weekend night is probably as filthy drunk of an area that I’ve ever seen – it’s neither a compliment nor an insult; it’s the truth.  Unless you’re in you’re early-twenties with a fondness for frozen drinks that are really sweet and loaded with the shittiest alcohol, I doubt that you’ll want to spend too much time there.  But I do recommend you walk down it at least once to experience the chaos (and the smell you’ll quickly want to forget).

Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street

Since this was a work trip, most everything was taken care of by the company, so I can’t give you too many specifics on pricing.  But I’ll give you my quick thoughts on a several restaurants and activities in the next few posts.  We’ll start with food in this post.

Cafe Du Monde 

The signature cafe of New Orleans, this eatery is open 24 hours a day and tourists and locals flock there for their coffee and signature beignets.  For me personally, I think it’s “eh”.  You kind of HAVE to go there because it’s such a historical place.  But at the end of the day to me it was just a too doughy fried dough and coffee.  It’s not bad, it’s just not worth the hype.  It also doesnt’t help that it’s usually muggy and hot in New Orleans, which isn’t exactly the climate conducive to me wanting to eat a hot donut and coffee.

Wanted to love it, but only liked it.
Wanted to love it, but only liked it.

Cafe Amelie

This is a weird review because we didn’t eat there.  Why didn’t we eat there?  Because it was closed when we arrived.  Why did we go when it was closed?  Oh, it’s because we had a confirmed reservation.  So yeah, we were a little shocked/pissed/amused/confused when we saw the place empty and a sign saying that it was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  A useful bit of knowledge that they probably could have told us when we made the reservation AND when we called again to confirm we were good to go.  The patio from outside the gates looked nice though.

Three Muses

Probably my favorite of all the places we ate, Three Muses is located on Frenchman Street just east of the French Quarter.  I would highly recommend going out there if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bourbon Street.  Frenchman Street is still pretty crazy, but it’s a bit more of an older crowd (late-20s, early-30’s) with more venues that lean toward hipster with live jazz music than fratty dance party.  On a weekend night, it’s best to make a reservation at Three Muses (and at any Frenchman Street restaurant in fact) because the place is not very large.  Our group of 6 just happened to be lucky enough to show up when another party of 6 who had a reservation was late.  The hostess ended up seating us because the other group wasn’t on time (they’ll give you a 15-minute grace period).  When we were there, a female jazz singer and her trio of instrumentalists were performing music that sounded like it was out of the Roaring 20s; it was a fun, lively atmosphere.  The food comes in small sharing portions so it’s best to get a few.  My personal recommendations are the Mac and Cheese, Bulgogi, and Tempura Shrimp.  My co-worker also said the lamb sliders that I never got around to tasting were excellent.  As far as their cocktails, you should have a cool, refreshing “Earl Grey Gardens” with dinner and a “The Other Redhead” as an after-dinner libation.


Works as a good lunch place on Bourbon Street to get a real good shrimp po’ boy or seafood dish.  It felt kind of like a chain, though it wasn’t, so don’t expect anything here to blow you away.  Keep it as a lunch option and not dinner because it’s solid, not spectacular.  The french fries there randomly were really good though.

Domenica Restaurant

Domenica was the restaurant our work group went to for our first dinner and I very much enjoyed it.   I wouldn’t say you should put this at the top of your least or even to make it a target to rush to, but if you do end up there I think you’ll enjoy it as well.  I had the Tagliatelle made up of slow cooked rabbit & porcini mushroom ragu (much to the chagrin of my co-worker who couldn’t stop picturing me eating a bunny) and it was delicious.  The Salumi & Formaggi platter they put together for us was spot on and I sampled the Red Snapper which was a popular choice amongst my co-workers.  The surprise favorite dish though was the Roasted Cauliflower w/ seas salt and whipped feta.  Definitely get that as an appetizer.


If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said Evangeline was a must-do.  But after going there this second time around, I would say not a must-do, but a recommend.  I want to say that the restaurant was having a bit of an off day, but that’s still not an excuse.  Anyone who ordered beer got beer that was pretty warm (not very welcome in the heat of summer), and our waitress while very nice, seemed a bit stoned.  At one point, my co-worker asked simply for yellow mustard and the waitress returned empty handed apologetically saying “We’ve run out”.   What restaurant runs out of yellow mustard??  The food was fine though, and the patio is really nice with the Christmas tree lights strung up.

The patio is nice, but if it's really muggy, stick with the A/C inside.
The patio is nice, but if it’s really muggy, stick with the A/C inside.

The Ruby Slipper Cafe

We came here for brunch, and I’ll say off the bat that they did not leave a good first impression.  I was running late, so I didn’t see it, but apparently my friends who put our name down on the wait list were treated pretty rudely.  That being said, we still stayed and personally, I’m kinda glad we did despite the bitchiness people encountered.  I tried their Eggs Cochon, which is their signature dish, and it was awesome.  I’m not sure why I was skeptical of a dish that had pulled pork, poached eggs, and hollandaise and cheese over a buttermilk biscuit, but it was really good.

Eggs Cochon
Eggs Cochon


Sydney – Part III

Our third day in Sydney consisted of a bit more of the wildlife that Australia has to offer, so I’ll call it our Wildlife Day in Sydney.  We made our way down to Darling Harbor where you’ll find a wealth of restaurants and museums.  On a nice day, like Circular Quay, it’s a great place to just sit and people watch as most of the eateries offer outside seating/seating that looks out onto the water.  Here’s what the day looked like.

What we did

SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium

In Darling Harbor there’s a weird cluster of buildings that house the Aquarium, Wildlife Zoo (I’ll touch on this one next), and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum (skipped this because we’ve been to a few in other cities).  Of these three, I think the Aquarium is the only one really worth going to.  At first glance, you don’t think it’s that big.  But as you take the long ramps down there are very sizable tanks that house some amazing fish.  Easily the highlight of the aquarium are the tunnels.  The tunnels run through the tanks and have a glass ceiling that is about a 200 degree arch.  There you can get really up close with some sharks, stingrays, and some friendly and ginormous Dugongs (similar to manatees).  There are several other smaller tanks where you can see jellyfish, giant crabs, and a tank where you can touch various sea life creatures such as starfish.

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WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo

This zoo is actually adjacent to the Aquarium and I would say is probably not totally worth visiting.  Admittedly, we didn’t time our day right as we wanted to go to the much more famous Taronga Zoo, but it was too late into the afternoon by the time we wanted to get there to make it worth it (it’s a bit of a bus ride outside the city).  So we just settled on the zoo in Darling Harbor.  Now this zoo isn’t horrible, there are actually some pretty good ranger talks that we took advantage of at the kangaroo, crocodile and koala dens.  And the crocodile, named Rex, is a ridiculously large 6 meters and a neat animal to see up close.  My sister also really wanted to cuddle with a koala, but unfortunately in Sydney that’s now illegal or something, so you can only get a picture standing next to it (at a price of course).  Which is one of the main reasons why I’d say to skip the WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo.  The Taronga (even though we didn’t go) I heard is much larger and has more species of animals on display.  Also, if you go to different parts of the country, the laws there are not the same so eventually my sister did get that picture with her actually cuddling the bear.  So save a few bucks on the Sydney zoo and go to Taronga and/or if you’re looking to get a picture with a koala, pay for one where you get to hold the damn thing.

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Paddy’s Market
Market City
Cnr Hay St & Thomas St
Sydney NSW 2000

If you want to do some good souvenir shopping, Paddy’s Market is the place to go.  It’s really similar to the Cusco Artesian Market in Peru, where you can buy all sorts of trinkets, clothing, food, whatever for yourself or the folks back home.   They don’t really bargain as much at Paddy’s, but the prices are pretty low regardless.  The funny thing about Paddy’s is while the bottom floor is a flea market, if you take the escalators up, on the second floor is a legitimate, modern looking mall.  There you can find retail stores and a food court.

Bondi Beach & Coastal Walk

Bondi beach (pronounced “bond-eye”) is the premiere beach in Sydney that most of the locals and tourists flock to in the hot summer months.  It’s a bus ride away from the center of Sydney and only takes around 20-30 minutes to get there.  Shops and restaurants line the road along the back of the beach and you can grab ice cream, swimwear, sunblock, anything you’ll need for the beach.  Because of the rainy weather though, we didn’t do much suntanning or swimming.  We did however partake in the coastal walk the runs along four of the beaches starting at Bondi.  The trail takes about two hours round trip to walk, and is a great way to see the coast, a few of the other beaches, and get some great shots of the Pacific Ocean.  Hopefully if you go to Australia, you’ll be able to soak in some sun more than us.  Tip: The public bus does go there.  You can take either the 333 or the 380 bus.  Take the 333 – it takes more of an express route and doesn’t make as many stops as the 380.

Where we ate

Sydney Fish Market

Ironically, after the aquarium, we were in the mood for some fish for lunch, so we took a walk to the Sydney Fish Market.  Unless you’re in Sydney for more than just a few days, this really isn’t worth seeing.  It’s a giant warehouse, and it is bustling, but there’s no wow factor or anything.  There’s just a bunch of stores selling fish, and while it’s cool to see so much of it in one place, it’s not anything you’d can’t see in most cities in the US.  We went to a sushi kiosk for food, and while it was good, it wasn’t great.    On a nice day though, I could see how locals, and visitors who are in Sydney for an extended period of time, would enjoy walking down there, buying some fish, and having a seat at the big picnic area along the water.

Spice I am – Surry Hills location
90 Wentworth Ave
Surry Hills Sydney 2010

Now this is the solid Lonely Planet place that we thought Din Tai Fung was going to be.  Small, local, with a group of people waiting on the sidewalk to get in, Spice I am has some pretty good Thai food that is relatively affordable for Sydney (though, the $3 for a bowl of rice really pissed me off).  The panang chicken I had was very spicy, but had very good flavor to it.   Because of the size of the place, the restaurant moves fast, so I wouldn’t go there looking for a long leisurely meal.   Full disclosure, I didn’t realize there were a few locations in Sydney until I looked up the URL for this blog.  Looks like their other locations are bigger, so those branches might be a little more casual.

Blackbird Cafe
Balcony Level
Cockle Bay Wharf Harbour Street
Sydney NSW 2000

After walking up and down Darling Harbour, we wanted to grab a bite to eat at a place with a view of the water.  We saw the menu of this place along the sidewalk, and it looked like it had a pretty good, standard selection.  The cafe was on the second floor, so from the ground we couldn’t really see inside.  We walk up and, BOOM, it was like we walked into a club.  It was loud, boisterous and full of 20-somethings enjoying themselves.  My first reaction was, “The food here isn’t gonna be good” as I assumed it was a place more for drinking than eating.  But we sat anyways because the hostess brought us to a table on the balcony with a great view of the water.  Our waitress was super friendly (she told us she was English and had been living in Australia for 3 years), and fast bringing us our food and drinks. I was pleasantly surprised when the food arrived.  The chicken burger I had was really, really good.  The other dishes my family members got were apparently very delicious as well (I didn’t get to sample them).  We chatted a little more with our waitress and she said all the food in Australia is pretty solid.  She said compared to other countries (specifically England), Australians really take good care of themselves and eat a lot of organic foods without a lot of fat or frying oils, and that included random club bars where you wouldn’t expect that.  Still, if you have little kids with you or grandparents, I wouldn’t go to Blackbird.  Otherwise, it’s a good place for a fun atmosphere, good view, and lots of drinks.


 “Australia from Beth”

-Take a day trip to Palm Beach. It’s Sydney’s most northern beach and it is beautiful and has great views by the lighthouse. This is where the Aussie show Home and Away is filmed.

-Roar & Snore at Taronga Zoo is incredible  It is pricey but one of the coolest things I got to do in Australia. You get a private nighttime safari, great food, behind the scenes experiences (feed a giraffe, go into the chimp building), and you get to sleep over at the zoo in a tent/cabin overlooking the entire city skyline. Seriously amazing.

-DO NOT take the Pride of Airlie boat to see the Whitsunday Islands. I might have just had a terrible boat captain but it was the least enjoyable tour I went on. Research tour/boat options, there are tons leaving from Airlie Beach.

-DO NOT fly with Tigerair. They are a budget airline but are extremely strict on baggage weight and other small print items. I ended up having a sort of yard sale at the Melbourne Airport giving away all of my toiletries to reduce my baggage weight and avoid checking my bag for $100. They are notoriously sticklers.

Melonhead at Coogee Beach (pronounced “Could-gee”) has the best smoothies in Sydney and great sandwiches too with reasonable prices.