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: 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.

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.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Red Rocks Amphitheatre
18300 W Alameda Pkwy
Morrison, CO 80465

I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my time and I have to say that Red Rocks is arguably one of the best places to see a show.  Before going, I had heard from several people that it was an amazing place, so the hype level was already high going into it.

For those of you that don’t want to drive to get there, a $35 train that leaves from Union Station in downtown Denver is available.  When you arrive, the first thing you should be prepared for is a bit of a steep hike up to the amphitheatre.  Give yourself a little time to do that, especially if you decide to tailgate beforehand.  Since I still wasn’t fully acclimated to the thin air, by the time I made it to the top I was wheezing like an old man.

You’re allowed to bring in food, but no drinks (including water).  And obviously weed isn’t allowed, but I’m more than certain that most people brought that in.  One other tip: Make sure to pack in layers.  This actually applies to everywhere in the Denver area.  I haven’t been to a city where the temperature varies as much as it does from minute to minute as it does in Denver.  It could be 75 degrees and pleasant one minute and then a cloud covers the sun and it becomes bone chillingly cold the next.

Most of the amphitheatre seating is general admission so if you really care about the band you’re seeing you should show up early.  That being said, there’s not really a bad seat in the house.  The incline of the seats is steep enough and there’s a ton of room between your feet and the seat in front of you.  You can easily stretch your legs forward and not even come close to hitting the head of the person in front of you.  This not only gives you an unobstructed view of the stage, but it also gives you a lot of room to dance and allows beer sellers easy access to get through (they serve beer pretty late into the night, 10:30 seemed like the cutoff time).

But the real star of the amphitheatre is the sound.  The sound goes right through you.  It’s incredible.  We went to see the Thievery Corporation and they were great to watch there.  Even if you’re not familiar with them, you probably know their song Lebanese Blonde from the Garden State soundtrack.  Because they have such an eclectic sound, it’s hard to describe how your body gets so enveloped in the music.  As the sun goes down and the stars come out, the rocks that make up the ampitheatre illuminate and it really feels like you’re in a time machine that’s stuck between today and the ancient Roman times.  If you’re in Denver and a fan of music, my recommendation is to try and plan a night out at Red Rocks regardless of who is playing.  The venue also shows movies and offers yoga as well, but getting there for music should be the top option.

LivWell Dispensary

http://www.livwell.com/

As many of you are aware, the state of Colorado legalized the sale of cannabis in 2014.  Since then marijuana dispensaries have popped up all over Denver for both medicinal and recreational purposes.  I’m personally not a pot smoker, but seeing as I was in Colorado I was interested in seeing what the scene was all about.

From what I could tell, there are dispensaries scattered throughout the city and no matter where you are you’re probably within striking distance of one.  The one my friend and I popped into was called LivWell, which is well-known for their partnership with rapper Snoop Dogg.

snoop

I’m not sure why, but when I imagined going into a dispensary, I sort of pictured someone’s old living room with all the plants in their backyard.  My beliefs were quickly quashed the second we stepped inside.  LivWell was extremely clean and put together.  The moment you walk in, you get your I.D. checked by the front desk/security and they give you a number (it has a very DMV like feeling).  You wait in the Apple store looking waiting area until they call your number and take you in one of two storerooms.

The storerooms again are incredibly put together and look like something out of a store at the mall.  Because of their 3:1 customer to “budtender” policy, the storerooms aren’t too crowded.   Our budtender was extremely knowledgable — it felt like we were talking to a chemist more than a legal drug dealer as she educated us on all the science behind each item/bud.  She showed us all the offerings, which ranged from candies to drinks, brownies to patches.  And of course there were jars and jars of different marijuana strains.  Prices obviously vary depending on the product, but to give you an idea: a single cookie is $3, a three pack of mini-brownies is $12, patches that you place on your arm or ankle like nicotine patches are $10, and a bag of about ten sour patches gummies is $24.99 to name just a few of the prices.  Again, I never get high (Getting drunk? Well, that’s a different story), but I figured, “When in Rome…”, so I purchased a small edible for myself.

Pictures weren’t allowed, but I managed to sneak a few in.