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Kop Khun Ka, Thailand!

Thailand has been on my bucket list as long as I’ve had one. Since high school, I’ve been trying to coerce various friends to make the journey east with me, so the second Harley and Gerard said “yeah!” I was on Kayak.com scoping out tickets. We made out like bandits, since the dates we picked were right at the beginning of low season. (Low season = torrential downpours, possible monsoons, etc. etc.) You’re only young once!

We’d spend two weeks hitting the major stops – Bangkok, Chaing Mai and the southern islands, eating as much as possible along the way. I’ll spare you the details of the major sights to see, hotels to stay in and activities to do – TripAdvisor has got you covered there. But I will say this – Thailand is a seriously special place. The colors are unbelievably vivid, from the flamingo pink royal buildings in Bangkok to the aquamarine beaches. There’s never a dull sight – the fast paced, organized chaos of the cities is captivating and the sleepy stoner beach villages feel like the last of their kind. Travelers, donning overstuffed backpacks and baggy elephant pants roam from hostel to bar to hostel, their only goal to exist and experience. Locals welcome visitors with the kind of gratitude and hospitality I didn’t even know existed. From the subtle head bow that comes with every thank you (Kop khun ka) to the great lengths some will go to help you find your way, I’ve never felt so welcome in a place that wasn’t my home. This country is a treasure trove of flavor and color and energy that piques the senses and the mind.

elephant nature park chiang mai  wat po bangkokwat po bangkok  railay beach lagoon thailand

And the taste buds! (I know that’s why you’re here) Thai food, I learned, is so much more than pad thai and chicken satay – it’s definitely those things, but it’s also slow cooked pork with fresh chilies and garlic cloves, it’s fried-before-your eyes noodles and coconut milk soup so spicy you might cry a little bit. For all the complexity in this cuisine, it’s really very simple. The ingredient list is short for Thai cooking, but the combination of texture and preparation mixed with years of repetition makes this food nothing if not life changing. I know I tend to exaggerate, but the meals I ate in Thailand are without question some of the best I’ll ever have.

It started in Bangkok, where culture shock is the name of the game. New country, new language, new everything – we were drowning in newness and didn’t even know where to begin. Our first meal was at a ramshackle garage-turned-restaurant. The kitchen was set up in the alley and we sat in the garage, beads of sweat dripping generously from our faces. We exchanged an awkward smattering of English and Thai words with our host and ended up with a plate presumably piled with pad thai. We guzzled it, mesmerized by this setup and even more by the $1 check. This was only the beginning.

bangkok street food bangkok street food

That night, Harley’s family friend took us out to for a “royal Thai” meal at Blue Elephant. Despite the pages long menu, I’m pretty sure we ordered one of everything. This ornate restaurant catered to the upper echelon of Bangkok locals and expats – this was no street food. We received order after order, served in extravagant spindly dishes, carved out coconut shells, and the like. When asked how much spice we wanted, we told them “Thai spicy.” Our host and waiter laughed in our faces, and continued to do so as we struggled to finish our Tom Kha Gai soup. Many many courses later, we were comatose, bloated, and sleeeeeepy.

The next morning, we were up bright and early for our flight to Chiang Mai, a busy town nestled between rainforests in northern Thailand. We didn’t know this yet, but Chiang Mai would be our favorite stop on the trip and undoubtedly the most delicious.

chiang mai  sticky rice chiang maichiang mai marketchiang mai curry  swiss lana lodgechiang mai grand canyonfried chicken chiang mai

Anxious to follow in the footsteps of OG hedonist Anthony Bourdain, we B-lined it to the street food. Chang Puak market sits just outside the stone wall surrounding the Old City and is a bustling convergence of locals, tourists and a LOT of meat. Each cart has a different claim to fame – the best ones marked only with Thai lettering, no translations to be seen. Lucky for us, we were with Jay, our guide from Chiang Mai Street Food Tours (seriously, if you wind up in this crazy city, make this tour a priority). Jay, whose catchphrase was “Oh my Buddha,” moved from rural northern Thailand to Chiang Mai because he wanted to eat more meat. In his childhood, meat was a once a week luxury. Given the savory delights we tried that night, I don’t blame him for chasing his swiney, soy-marinated dreams.

chang puak market

Jay knew this market well, and the cart owners knew him too. They were encouraged by our curiosity, and generously plied us with a spread so extravagant and spicy we could hardly keep up. With big bottles of Chang and Singha beer by our sides, we guzzled everything in sight, always just in time for the next round.

chang puak market chang singha

My all time favorite was the Kao Ka Moo – fatty, tender, braised pork knuckle that puts the best carnitas you’ve ever had to shame. Shame! A smiling lady sporting a wide-brimmed cowboy had plucks a knuckle from her homemade supply and chops it emphatically with a cleaver that screams “I don’t fuck around.” She then slops it on a plate with some steamed rice and an oozy soft boiled egg. Each ramshackle table is equipped with bowls of fresh chilies and mini garlic cloves, both of which are meant to be consumed with each spoonful of the salty pork goodness. This, friends, is not a plate I’ll soon forget.

cowboy had chang puakKao Ka Moo chiang mai

We ate Laap Moo and Nam Tok Moo with our hands, making pockets of steamed sticky rice to pick up the spicy ground and sliced pork. We picked out a frog bathing in questionably sanitary water (allegedly once ice) and watched it be chopped and wok-fried before our very (mesmerized) eyes. It tasted like the best fried chicken on the planet, with little crispy, salty bits abound. We sat curbside and chased shots of rice whisky with fried crickets and ogled at the Kanom Krok lady, making fluffy, custardy spheres of fried coconut batter in her pockmarked and battle-scarred cast iron stove. There was bright red jerky-like smashed beef and herb speckled “Chiang Mai Sausage” with a thick, snappy casing.

frog chiang mai  chang puak chiang maifrog chang puakLaap Mo chiang mai  Nam Tok Moo chiang maifried crickets chiang mai

Unbelievably, there was room for dessert (isn’t there always?) the likes of which were sticky, sweet, and bathed in pandan-infused condensed coconut milk. This description could only belong to the one, the only: Khao Neow Mamuang or Mango Sticky Rice.

mango sticky rice chiang maimango sticky rice chiang mai

We caught Thailand at the height of mango season, where trees are abundant with the ripe, juicy fruit we so tragically get the dregs of in the US. At Chang Puak, and everywhere else we guzzled this stuff, the street vendors cut through the mangos as if they’re slicing room temperature butter, quickly sliding their way through before flaying the fruit across hot, sticky rice, drizzling it with sweet coconut milk, and sprinkling the final touch of crunchy dried mung beans on top. To our chef, it’s no biggie, but every time, without fail, we watched with wide eyes and dropped jaws before destroying the stuff in just a couple gulps.

As you can imagine, this night set the bar high for the rest of the trip. It’s fair to say we peaked at Chang Puak, but our insider look into Thai street food culture mitigated our culture shock, tooling us with at least more context than we had at the back-alley garage where we blindly enjoyed our first meal.

A couple days later, after our bodies has almost forgiven us for the trauma we had inflicted upon them, we set out on wobbly, rusty bikes in pursuit of Kao Soi, one of northern Thailand’s specialties. In many places throughout Thailand, soup is a perfectly acceptable breakfast food, especially in hot weather. We were in luck – by 7AM, it was already sticky and humid, the kind of heat that slows everything down.

Everything that is, except traffic. We bobbed and weaved on our rickety bikes away from the hustle and bustle of the city toward an unmarked restaurant in Fa Ham, the spot, we were told, for legit Khao Soi. The unassuming roadside Lam Duan was the place to be, said every blogger ever.

swiss lana lodge chiang mai

We were seemingly the first patrons of the day, but they were ready for us. Before we knew it, we were presented with piping hot, seemingly bottomless bowls of opaque curried broth filled with chewy tangles of wheat noodles, pickled onions, and crispy fried noodles. We hunched over our bowls, trying to savor every moment before it was over.

Lam Duan kao soi

Chiang Mai was a playground for the taste buds, and by the time we left we had thoroughly worn them out. When we arrived down south in Railay Beach (by sketchy moonlit longtail boat, I might add), things slowed down. Surrounded by limestone cliffs, it’s a sleepy place with a Rasta vibe and not much to do beyond rock climb, sip mango smoothies, and play cards.

railay beach thailandclimbing thailand islands  climbing railay beach thailandrailay beach krabi thailand

We arrived on the heels of the rainy season’s premature grand entrance, and so were not treated to the drowsy beach afternoons we anticipated. Instead, we adventured, ate garlic and pepper fried fish, adventured some more, and ate some more fish.

In pursuit of better weather, we hopped to Koh Phi Phi, an alleged gem, though not so much a hidden one. Here, we were treated to glistening water, sunset snorkeling, and yet even more garlic and pepper fried fish. What?! We have a type!

snorkeling koh phi phi

In all reality, the islands we visited were major tourist destinations, and due to their rural nature, it’s much less easy to have an authentic experience. Most places push papaya salad and pad thai like it’s the only food in the whole country and around every corner is another person hounding you to sit in their empty restaurant. My recommendation – go after the spots with the freshest looking fish (i.e. no foggy eyes, fishy smell, nor pools of murky water) and at least a couple other brave souls to follow in the footsteps of.

Post-Phi Phi, we left the mostly rainy Andaman Coast and travelled to Koh Samui, one the largest islands, located in the apparently less inclement Gulf of Thailand. By this point, we were pooped (let’s not go there) and ready for some R&R. We spent one glorious day at Vikasa, a yoga retreat perched high above the ocean with sweeping views of the dreamy coastline. Between downward dogs, revolutionary meditations, and sea-breezed massages, we enjoyed a bougie buffet like no other. I’m almost ashamed to say (but not too ashamed to write) that after so much spice and unfamiliar flavors, I’ve never been happier to eat chia seeds in my life. The dishes were bright, mildly Thai in preparation, all cooked with locally grown produce. The local kombucha was really the fermented cherry on top of the whole shebang.

vikasa yoga retreat  bio fizz kombucha thailand

Back in Bangkok, we had but 24 hours to go before our impending return home. It was an edible race to the finish line. Dinner was in the Chana Songkhram area at Hemlock, where we went all out with spicy Panang curry, crunchy banana leaf salad, drunken noodles, et al. It was the kind of meal that was prematurely nostalgic, as we sat there recounting our adventures and already missing every last bite.

hemlock bangkok

The next morning was our last, and we were all of a sudden desperate to see Bangkok’s Chinatown before hitting the road. It was an overcrowded zoo of tchotchkes, bizarre foodstuffs, and red and gold explosions. After a few close calls with losing each other Simba-Mufasa style in the stampedes, we decided to dine at an open-air eatery packed with Chinese and Thai patrons. We shared a table with a family of Chinese tourists, who guided us through the menu and steered us in the direction of crispy pork and braised duck. By this point, we were running late, so we practically shoveled the salty stuff down our throats before regretfully leaving without seconds.

bangkok chinatown street foodbangkok chinatown

The trip home was long and grueling, if not for the abominable “egg” sandwich I found in Taipei, then for the sleepless 18-hour journey back. Even a month later, I still remember everything – the flavors, colors, and textures of Thai food are seared into my memory and the electrifying culture is forever ingrained into my worldview. Like Thai food, Thailand doesn’t have one thing that makes it special – it’s the sum of its parts that together create an irreplaceable experience I’ll forever be chasing.

This Birthday Takes The Cake

trader joes cheese

I couldn’t have asked for a more delicious birthday. Here’s what was on the menu:

On Wednesday night a few co-workers and I sipped bubbly wine, nibbled on charcuterie, and viciously attacked some pizza at The Market. If you ever doubted that a grocery store would be a wonderful place to hang out, get yourself to this place immediately. And by immediately, I mean between the hours of 4pm and 7pm daily for the oyster happy hour of your dreams. Kumamotos for $1.50? I’ll take the lot!

Later that night, Harley and I had our first glasses of orange wine at Alta CA, a hip little restaurant with a wrap-around bar right on Market Street. Orange wine is my new favorite. The grapes are fermented with the skins on, making the wine refreshing and crisp like a white, but funky and musky like somethin’ else!

alta ca sf

Birthday day started with a climbing session and a Blue Bottle cappuccino. That first sip of cappuccino is just about my favorite thing in the world. (And at about $0.50 a sip, it’d better be!)

mission cliffs sf

The workday was sweet, especially because one of my restaurant partners, Guerilla Catering, came by to give us a churro bar. We’re talking fresh churros, hot dipping chocolate, dulce de leche, sprinkles, coconut flakes, walnuts…the works. Yum is right.

guerilla catering sf

For happy hour, @barry_sandwich himself made egg white Bee’s Knees cocktails and Harley and Kate made all my cheesy dreams come true with a literal cheese cake! (see above)

@barry_sandwich

That night, my spirit animal, Dan, cooked a Pantry Raid themed feast! We ate brown butter and rosemary gnocchi, Bacon’d Brussels, roasted squash and cauliflower, and pork belly. Kinda like me, the meal was mostly vegetarian. For dessert, there was Bavarian Cream Cake from DeLessio Market & Bakery, which was basically just a giant cylinder of frosting and I’m not mad about it.

On Friday, my Dad came to San Francisco! We started the night with drinks at Terroir, which is a SoMa wine bar that feels kind of like your cool friend’s living room, but if your cool friend had even cooler more attractive live-in sommeliers to educate you about grapes but also offer you fine cheese and charcuterie. Are you on your way there yet?? Dad ordered an all-too-sippable Pinot and I was still on my orange wine kick and ended up with another dreamily funky pour.

Next stop was ICHI Sushi + Ni Bar, my all time favorite sushi spot in San Francisco. Tucked right on the border of Mission and Bernal Heights, you’d be surprised that it’s almost impossible to get a reservation here. Luckily, we scored a spot at the sushi bar with a front row view of our awesome sushi chef at work.

ichi sushi sf

All night, we sampled fish I couldn’t possibly name now. My favorites though, were the ocean trout nigiri and uni taco (yes, uni taco!). There’s no soy sauce here – each piece of fish is scored and doused with its accompanying marinade or sauce. The experience is so fun and interactive without a sniff of pretension. Please don’t eat sushi anywhere else if you can help it. I’m serious!

sf uni

The gluttony continued on Saturday at Mission Chinese – one of the restaurants I work with at Chewse with one of the coolest stories. This no-name Chinese restaurant partnered with chefs Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint for a pop-up. The two began churning out re-invented Chinese dishes (like Shmaltz Rice, Kung Pao Pastrami, etc.) until the place became so trendy that they were allowed to stay for the long haul. Mission Chinese has since become an SF (and NYC) food staple, and one I was excited to share with my Dad, since he’s recently become obsessed with New York’s Chinese food scene (shoutout Joe’s Shanghai!). We elected not to sprinkle our Mapo Tofu and 3x Cooked Bacon with the gratis MSG, but I’m sure we got our fill anyway. That said, I wouldn’t know…their food is so spicy that my taste buds have hardly recovered.

mission chinese mapo tofu

That night, we had a bonfire on Ocean Beach, but you can read about that here.

ocean beach bonfire

Sunday afternoon was spent with family at my grandparent’s home, nestled between the quiet hills and deer-filled forest in Woodside.

woodside ca

Dessert was a winner – Banana Cream Pie from Mission Pie. That flaky crust, springy custard, and rich whipped cream make for a treat that’s both decadent and light at the same time. Science, man. How do they do it?

mission pie banana cream

Looking back, I’m not sure how my body survived it, and I think it may be time for one of those gnarly juice cleanses. At my age, you gotta be careful what you eat. Wait, what’s my age again?

Eating My Way Through Spain & France

I always try to be a little uncomfortable. With comfort comes stagnation and with stagnation, lack of growth. As a routine-oriented person, even the idea of this makes me uneasy. So when an old friend asked me to hop on a plane to explore the Costa Brava for a week, my internal alarms sounded.

A month later, I was driving my first ever rental car (a sexy lil VW Polo) north from Barcelona to Llafranc.

vw polo spain

I could tell you all about the color of the Mediterranean Sea, and how it’s a more stunning shade of blue everywhere you look.

llafranc spain

I could go on about the narrow, winding cobblestoned streets of the Born neighborhood in Barcelona, or how small I felt during an early morning thunderstorm in the French Alps. But that’s a different story. This one, as you may have guessed, is about the food.

I landed in Barcelona at 7AM, sleepless and disoriented. After a day of light tourism, a travel hangover nap, and a sabered bottle of cava, we ventured to the water where some crazy good paella awaited us at Elx. This stuff was packed with fresh seafood and the rice was sticky and chewy just like it’s supposed to be.

The first of many

the first of many

The next morning in Llafranc, we were greeted at our Airbnb by a refreshing mold smell, a delicious view of the ocean, and a basket of fresh veggies from a local farm. As I tend to do when presented with assorted vegetables, I made ratatouille, served alongside squid ink rice and even more cava.

llafranc spain

Greetings, Llafranc!

On my morning run (of which there was only one), I ran along the coastal trail to the neighboring town, Calella, an equally peaceful and charming place. Tragamar’s chalkboard menu and wooden tables caught my eye, so that night, we returned for what would be my favorite meal of the trip. Located right on the water, but without all the tackiness that usually comes with that real estate, Tragamar has traditional Spanish food, locally sourced, and with an emphasis on seafood. I couldn’t get over the grilled octopus, served in pieces over buttery potatoes with spicy chili oil. Octopus is usually tough and rubbery, but this was fork tender. The crunchy bits of the tentacles soaked up all the butter and spices and I think I died and went to heaven.

tragamar

Back in Barcelona, I stayed with my cousin and her boyfriend at their cathedral-adjacent dream house.

Santa Maria del Mar

The view of Santa Maria del Mar from my room!

On my first night back in the big city, they took me to La Paradeta, a pay-per-kilo fish shop where you can take your loot raw, or ask for it grilled or fried.

la paradeta

One of everything, please.

We got “un mano” of tiny octopus-looking creatures, a ton of mussels, and some big slabs of squid. This spot was no-frills, no-bullshit, and definitely no-salad. Eat your fish and get out is the name of the game, which is exactly what we did.

All fried everything.

The next morning, I ventured out to find Satan’s Coffee Corner, but not before getting caught in an aggressive rainstorm that forced me into a Barcelona equivalent of Dunkin’ Donuts.

barcelona rain

The pretentious foodie in me was throwing a temper tantrum, but all was well when the clouds parted and I found the nondescript little café tucked into a secluded nook in El Born. Surrounded by street art, Satan’s Coffee Corner has floor to ceiling windows and a black and yellow color scheme. Its countertops feature avant-garde art magazines, chia seed bowls, and espresso drinks in all shapes and sizes. Their menu’s footer reads “No wifi. Fuck Trip Adviser. Fuck Yelp. Aussies keep it down.” It was douchey in all the right ways and felt just like home.

satan's coffee corner

Not quite Valencia, but close enough….

My cousin, Raphaella, had a few friends in town that night, and the 4 of us checked out Mosquito, a new Asian fusion tapas spot in her area. After a short 2-hour wait (spent at El Soplo with wine and snacks), we dined on more dumplings than I care to admit and I took a short break from cava to sample some local beer.

El Soplo

Tiny pickles and tiny bubbles.

mosquito

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.

After a final afternoon in Barcelona spent wading through crowds of patriots celebrating Catalunya National Day, I hopped a plane and landed in Nice, where I was greeted by Lucy and her little friend Luna.

sospel

That’s Luna.

Lucy and Olivier recently moved to a town called Sospel in the French Alps by way of San Francisco to start a biodynamic farm.

sospel france

Welcome to the Alps!

The next morning, we biked into town to collect ingredients that we later spent the afternoon transforming into all sorts of tasty stuff.

french tomato harvest

We whiled away the day nibbling on a riverside picnic of goat cheese with olive paste, pastries, and Moroccan coffee followed by a lot of tomato harvesting, roasting, and sautéing.

Lavender Lotus Farms is still in planning mode, so I got to see their beautiful property pre-farm. It’s currently overgrown with wild thyme, olive trees, and the biggest fig tree I ever did see. These two have some big plans up their sleeves, so I can’t wait to watch them transform their special place into something even more magical.

lavender lotus farms

My quick visit to the Alps ended with the loudest, wettest thunderstorm I’ve ever heard. I swear the mountains were shaking as Lucy drove me back to the airport. A few delayed flights, a lot of sprinting through airports, and 24 hours later, I was back home in San Francisco amazed at how much I saw, how much I learned, and of course, how much I ate in the past 10 days.

P.S. If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, also check out:
Federal Cafe
Elsa y Fred
Casa Lolea
Nomad Coffee Lab

Pintxos, Pork & Pizza Please

Last week, I learned that pork skin is magical, pizza is my love language, and tofu really isn’t the devils work. Here’s the deal:

aatxe pinxtos

Monday started off strong when Southern bell/badass Shaina and I shared a Basque feast from Ne Timeas Restaurant Group’s newest spot, Aatxe. It’s important to be skeptical of any and all establishments located on Market St., but this place broke the trend of mediocrity. We were tucked into a corner of the bar overlooking the grill, and more importantly, the garlicky octopus on its surface. We didn’t miss much of the menu – stand-outs included the housemade chicharones with whipped cheese/butter craziness, the pork belly paired with poached peaches, balsamic reduction, and crunchy toasted peanuts, and the small but mighty rice pudding with orange meringue and dark chocolate. Food aside, the service was spectacular. Each person we interacted with felt like a genuinely kind, more-food-informed-than-you-but-not-in-a-pretentious-way, old friend. Add it to your list!

aatxe rice pudding

Tuesday night was a stay late at work eating chocolate and drinking beer while talking about the future of your company kind of night. Our CEO, Tracy, and I camped out with a bar of salted cherry dark chocolate from Charles Chocolates and a big ol’ bottle of Saison Dolores. The rest of the night is a secret, but keep an eye out for some big news!

charles chocolates almanac beer

On Thursdays, the Chewse crew eats dinner together. This Thursday marked the first meal in our new office, which remains a large concrete box coated in a light layer of dust. But alas, all the better to order pizza and play Twister in! We ordered a bunch of pies from Pizza Hacker, which, no kidding, might be the best I’ve had in San Francisco. How pizza that’s crossed town can be so amazing is beyond me, but what’s even more impressive is the yolks on The Rocket Man that stay perfectly runny beneath a nest of crunchy arugula. This za is described as “arugula, garlic, fresh Mozzarella, farm egg, lemon juice, chili paste, and Grana Padano.” Wondering what my Love Language is? That’s it.

In case you haven’t caught on, this was a week of BLADing. BLAD stands for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is a made up term intended to justify my eating all meals at the office. BLADing is fun, especially when it means you get to share amazing meals with people who make you happy, but it also means the lines between work mode and life mode get real blurry. And with that, I decided it was time to take off for Los Angeles!

chewse offices

Scott and I hopped in my car on Friday night and headed south on the 5 freeway. It wouldn’t be an SF>>LA road trip without a pit stop in Kettleman City for some In-N-Out. In lieu of eating Cowschwitz meat (yes, In-N-Out’s meat comes from that massive cow prison along the 5), we opted for grilled cheeses. Pro tip: Get your bun extra crispy, ask for extra lettuce, and for the love of god order it animal style.

in-n-out kettleman city

On Saturday morning, I woke up to dad’s special smoothie, a delightful mix of whatever healthy stuff he decides to throw into the Vitamix. That afternoon, we headed to Pine & Crane, an equally hip and authentic Taiwanese restaurant in Silverlake. The Mapo Tofu (served with pork because #yolo) was the stand out dish, with bamboo salad coming in at a close second. The tofu is a light-you-mouth-on-fire kind of dish that will make you re-consider all the terrible things you ever thought about tofu.

pine and cranepine and crane dan dan noodles

The saga continued first at Dinosaur Coffee, a quintessential Silverlake café serving Four Barrel Coffee because they know what’s good for them.

dinosaur coffeefour barrel coffee

Then, we stopped by the farmer’s market and picked up some Lion’s Mane mushrooms, which, when fried, have the exact same consistency as chicken tenders. This is not a trap!

lions mane mushrooms

The night ended on a high note with Pizza Night, a tradition at Casa di Mintz that is never to be overlooked, even during the most last minute of visits. Papa Mintz pulled out all the stops, with homemade pizza sauce for the OG Mintza.

eastside digs

We’ve been making this za – with fresh motz, crispy prosciutto, caramelized shallots, and a reduced balsamic drizzle – for years now.

mintza

The Pesto Perfecto, another classic, is truly god’s work. This one’s got homemade pesto, assorted sautéed mushrooms, and fresh burrata dolloped on top at the very end.

pesto perfecto

Pizza Night is by far my favorite night of the week, and has truly been the inspiration for why I so value meals at home. Without much time for home-cooked meals in SF these days, it only took one Pizza Night to set me straight. I can’t book it to LA every time I have a busy week, so maybe it’s about time I started learning Dad’s dough recipe. On second thought, Pizza Hackers not too far from home!

Bon Appétit, Boston

I know, I know, it’s been a while. But believe me, I’ve been really busy. Between graduating (ah!), freelance copywriting (double ah!), and moving to San Francisco (AHHH!), it’s been a pretty overwhelming month. That said, I’m getting settled in my new city and my new job. But, more on all of that later. Since this move happened so quickly, I didn’t exactly get to take my time saying goodbye to Boston.

I lived in Boston for four amazing years. It’s crazy to think that I was still a teenager when I moved cross-country, without any idea what would become of me. Since then, every year has been a learning experience; each one entirely different from the rest. But one thing remained constant: food. In my four years in Boston, I like to think I became somewhat of a restaurant expert. From dives to delivery to damn fancy places, I did a lot of culinary exploration.

So, as my last hurrah, I’ve put together a list of my favorite places to eat and drink in the Boston area. I hope you’ll add these places to your must-try lists because they really are the best of the best. Bon Appetit, Boston!

Asian

Avana – A tiny sushi bar hidden in a nondescript corner of Chinatown. I am not kidding when I say that they make the best spicy tuna roll I have ever eaten. Don’t mind the cell phone/Hello Kitty paraphernalia vendor that shares the space with them…just pretend it’s charming.

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 3.40.53 PM

S&I To Go – When I first went to Allston (during daylight hours), I was wowed by the presence of international food. S&I is my favorite neighborhood joint, with the best Thai I’ve had in Boston. Opt for take-out or stake out a spot at one of the three 2-person tables inside. My personal favorite: Pad See Ew with Chicken or Beef.

Inaka – Also an Allston haunt, this ramen place is a hidden gem. With Wagamama ads as far as the eye can see in Boston, it’s easy to forget about the underdogs who started it all. Inaka’s noodles are chewy and their broth is seriously flavorful. Check out an article I wrote about Inaka & other ramen spots in Boston here.

inaka ramen allston

Gourmet Dumpling House – If it’s hospitality you want, stay very far away from here. These guys run a tight ship and you’ll be rushed out fortune cookie-less faster than you can say Soup Dumpling. Speaking of which, get them. The steamed dumplings are filled with warm broth and tender pork. It may take a couple dumplings to master the art of the slurp, especially if you go post-bar, like the rest of the world.

gourmet dumpling house boston

Mei Mei – There was not a Wednesday that went by during my internship at Marlo Marketing where we did not all flock to Mei Mei, a Chinese-American street food truck that does seriously amazing things. My faves are the Magical Kale Salad (kale, garlic panko breadcrumbs, local feta, poached-then-fried egg, and rice vinegar dressing) and the Double Awesome (poached-then-fried egg and pesto wrapped inside a greasy scallion pancake). Are you drooling yet? They recently opened a brick and mortar near BU if you’re not into the whole eating on the sidewalk thing.

mei mei boston

Brunch

Paramount – Be warned, this is not a spot for a quick bite. Prepare to wait at least an hour before reaching the cafeteria-style line, if you head here on the weekend. It’s really just regular breakfast food, but it’s also really the best regular breakfast food around. Maybe it has something to do with being starving when you finally sit down. But, don’t ask questions. Just go. And make sure you get some fresh squeezed OJ while you’re at it!

Beat Hotel – Possibly the coolest place in Harvard Square, Beat Hotel is the Beehive’s little sister. Like a 1960 hippie’s psychedelic dream, this place is seriously trippy. Enjoy live jazz while you eat griddled banana coffee cake, shakshuka, etc. It’s all good. Just try it, man.

Root – Back to Allston! If it’s vegan food you’re after, Root is Boston’s #1 spot. I know I’m biased (because Matt helped create the menu), but these guys will make you forget that bacon ever existed. Get the waffle with whipped coconut cream or try the Root Burger. Actually, try it all. Every. Single. Thing.

Cinquecento – It’s like stepping into an Italian dream world, with Campari everywhere you look. Go for the Carbonara or the under $10 (!!!!) prix fixe brunch menu, complete with coffee, fresh juice, pastries, and an entre. Mama mia! (P.S. No on actually says Mama Mia in Italy)

cinquecento boston

Fancy Pants

Clio – Molecular Gastronomy at its finest. I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a more flavorful, satisfying, and elegant meal in my life. After a summer of interning at Clio’s PR agency and looking at certifiable food porn for days on end, this was a dream come true. Got a really special occasion? This will make it the special-est occasion.

clio boston

The Blue Room – Another Marlo client. I had my first suckling pig experience here, and boy was it yummy. I also had the pleasure of enjoying their Snapper ceviche and I will never be the same. Never.

Barcelona – This may be a chain, but you won’t know it. Go for the tasting menu, at $35 a person, for seemingly endless tapas. My favorites were the squid ink rice, the whipped sheep’s milk cheese, and the eggplant tapenade. But, really, there wasn’t one dish we didn’t devour. Their house Sangria is also out of this world and by out of this world, I mean that there’s Amaretto in it. Holy yum.

Pomodoro – This place holds a special spot in my heart, and not just because of all the cholesterol I’ve consumed there. It was one of my first meals after moving to Boston. It’s a small understated restaurant in the North End with only a few tables and only the best service. Siobhan, the owner, and sole waitress, was, perhaps, an elephant in a past life. She remembers my family and me each time we dine, down to the nittiest grittiest little detail. The free calamari is a nice touch, too. Tell her you know me and prepare to be pampered. That sounds pretentious as hell, but it’s true.

Cheap(ish) Eats

Anna’s Taqueria – Okay, okay, last Marlo client, I swear! Boston may not be known for its Mexican food, especially if you’re from L.A. as I am. However, if it’s a non-Chipotle burrito you crave, Anna is your girl. I highly recommend the grilled veggies and agua fresca.

Sweetgreen – Hands down the best salad place in Boston. This eatery is a godsend, and now they have locations in Copley Square, Fort Point, and Chestnut Hill. All the ingredients are hyper fresh, local, and really friggin’ good. They have somehow managed to turn salad into a lifestyle…a really cool, self confident, delicious lifestyle. My favorite is the Guacamole Greens, but I’m also big on the Misoba, District Cobb, and Kale Cesar. Trust me, I’ve tried everything on the menu.

Tasty Burger – Salad not your thing? Fear not! Tasty Burger is a safe haven for all things red meat, French fries, milkshakes, and beer. In-N-Out Burger is obviously the OG burger joint, but Tasty Burger is a close second and is super fresh, too. I’m big on the Big Tasty and the Starvin’ Student, which gets you a burger, fries, and a Narragansett for $10. Gone are the days of fake ID’s (I mean, what?), but who can get me a fake school ID?

tasty burger boston

This is Elijah. He is Tasty Burger’s No. 1 fan.

Bakeries

Flour – Can you believe I interviewed Joanne Chang? This bakery is a Boston staple. It’s bright and inviting and there’s always something sweet to try. Try what you will, but never leave without a Homemade Oreo in hand. Or, maybe three.

flour bakery boston

Clear Flour Bread – Tucked into a tiny nook in Brookline, this seat-less bakery is a hidden gem. Get there early (before the soccer moms) for a Chocolate Croissant or a baguette. They take baking very seriously, but you wouldn’t know it by their charming smiles. Pick up a treat and devour it in the park next door!

Damn Good Cocktails

Eastern StandardKenmore Square

  • Order any cocktail with egg white in it for serious street cred

Eastern Standard egg cocktail

DrinkFort Point

  • I love the Bocci Ball (fresh OJ, Amaretto, and vodka)

Brick and MortarCentral Square

  • Historically speaking, I’m the last girl to be seen taking a shot, but their selection is something special. Just go with it.

Deep EllumAllston

  • Their rum cocktails are pretty incredible
deep ellum boston

My first (legal) drink(s)!

Lone StarAllston

  • One Mug-A-Rita is all it takes…

SaloonDavis Square

  • I don’t like Old Fashioneds, but they do have one of the best
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