Where to Eat and Drink in Havana

As soon as Americans became able to travel directly to Cuba last summer, I knew I wanted to go check it out quickly. It didn’t take long for airlines, cruise lines and tour companies to start offering trips to the Caribbean’s largest, and arguably, most intriguing island, and something tells me it won’t be long before the hotel chains and cheesy restaurants that American tourists love move in.

I personally have no desire to eat at Senor Frogs when there is incredible food being cooked in paladares- privately-owned restaurants that are often in people’s homes, or in preserved areas of old buildings that are crumbling yet stunning. I wanted to see Havana for the archeological and historic World Heritage site that it is, with all of its pre-revolutionary structures, unadulterated local culture and colorful classic cars.

We decided to go to Cuba by ship, on the Norwegian Sky, which offers cruisers two days in the Cuban capital. Although two days is not nearly enough to experience everything this fairly large city has to offer, I look forward to going back and trying more. In the meantime, here are the restaurants and bars I loved most on my first Havana trip.

Where to Eat in Havana

Located on the third floor of an old dilapidated building with a lobby that’s filled with rubble and headless statues, La Guarida had the best food I tried in Cuba. I went with three other people for dinner, tasted about a quarter of the menu, and it was so good we decided to go back the next day for lunch. Nothing we tried here was less than delicious, but I highly recommend the smoked marlin tacos ($9), octopus carpaccio ($9), suckling pig ($18), yuca with mojo (the best $2.50 you’ll ever spend) and do NOT skip the chocolate tres leches ($7.50) no matter how full you are.

The building that La Guarida is located in.

The first floor of the building La Guarida is in.

Smoked marlin tacos, octopus carpaccio and green ceviche.

View of the terrace at La Guarida

Lobster and creamy rice ($22)

Suckling pig

Yuca with Cuban mojo (the best $2.50 you’ll ever spend)

Save room for the chocolate tres leches

For a tasty lunch with amazing views of the sea and city, check out Café Laurent near the Malecon. Located on the fifth floor of a 1950’s apartment building with a really scary elevator, this paladar is a hidden gem that serves up Spanish-Cuban fusion dishes and specializes in seafood. I tried the pan cooked lobster and shrimp, served over super smooth mashed sweet potatoes and I will have dreams about it for years to come. Expect to pay about $45 per couple.

The view from where we sat at Cafe Laurent.

Inside Cafe Laurent

Meat and cheese appetizer at Cafe Laurent

My pan cooked lobster and shrimp over mashed sweet potatoes ($16)

The garlic shrimp entree at Cafe Laurent

Where to Drink and Party in Havana

A great place to start your day is at Café El Escorial in Plaza Vieja. They serve all types of coffee, from Cuban coffee, to lattes to coffee daiquiris. They also serve little pastries and delicious chocolate bonbons!

Cafe El Escorial in Plaza Vieja. Try the chocolate bonbons!

A pretty place to day drink is the back garden of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which is probably the island’s most famous hotel. Built in the 1930’s, it reminds me of a smaller version of The Breakers in Palm Beach, with it’s palm tree lined entrance, massive double tower structure and water views.

Havana Club mojitos and views!

Exploring the back garden of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Any time after 1 p.m., stop by El Floridita on Calle Obispo to discover why Ernest Hemmingway loved it so much. The bar staff is efficient and smart, the bright red décor is classic, and the daquiris that they’re famous for are strong, tasty and inexpensive ($6). On the random Tuesday night that we visited, there was a live band performing classic Cuban tunes.

Daquiris at Floridita

After El Floridita we took a cocotaxi to La Bodeguito del Medio, another Cuban institution Hemmingway favorited. Don’t expect a drinks menu- the only thing you need is a mojito made with Havana Club rum. This tiny bar is about the size of a master bedroom, and it gets really packed. Luckily we showed up toward the end of the night so it had cleared up a bit, but the band was still going.

The view from a cocotaxi ride

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A Bermuda-ful Weekend!

We recently jetted over to Bermuda for a long weekend for a friend’s wedding. A four-day event, it was nothing short of incredible.

Bermuda is famous for its pink sand beaches, clear turquoise water, tropical vegetation, touches of British style, and ridiculously friendly people. It’s upscale, yet casual, and while it’s not exactly notorious for being a culinary destination, we thoroughly enjoyed everything we ate and sipped.

Almost immediately after arriving, we were greeted with a tray of Rum Swizzles: a sweet, tangy punch typically made with light and dark rum, orange juice, pineapple juice and a splash of grenadine.
rum-swizzle

It only got better from there. Here are my top picks of what/where to eat, and where to stay:

What & Where to Eat in Bermuda

A majority of our stay was at Elbow Beach, and we didn’t have to leave the hotel property for great food. The first night, as part of the wedding celebration, we attended a welcome dinner at Lido.

Situated above the beautiful pink sand beach, we fell in love with Lido’s ocean view, attentive service and great food. The dinner menu consisted of Mediterranean-influenced dishes with an emphasis on fresh, local seafood, and the breakfast menu had a great variety of egg dishes and freshly baked pastries. They have these chocolate chip muffins that come out warm from the oven, and are still gooey on the inside. They are absolutely heavenly. The warm chocolate croissants are also worth gaining a few pounds for.

Lido at Elbow Beach.

Lido at Elbow Beach.

Breakfast at Lido. Seriously regretting that I didn't snap a photo of the muffins for you, but trust me on this one.

Breakfast at Lido. Seriously regretting that I didn’t snap a photo of the muffins for you, but trust me on this one.

While enjoying a day on the Elbow Beach, you can also walk 100 feet and have lunch at Mickeys, which is right on the pink sand and has arguably the best view on the island.

Lunch at Mickey's at Elbow Beach.

Lunch at Mickey’s at Elbow Beach.


A fresh shrimp caesar salad at Mickey's.

A fresh shrimp caesar salad at Mickey’s.

On our last day we ventured to Front Street, Hamilton’s main shopping strip, and ended up at Flanagans for lunch. A Best of Bermuda award-winner, Flangan’s had the best food I’ve ever had at an Irish pub. Recommendations from our meal: the fresh, local Wahoo Bites, Madras Curry, and the Steak & Guinness Pie.

The Wahoo Bites at Flanagan's on Front Street.

The Wahoo Bites at Flanagan’s on Front Street.

The Madras Curry (left) and Steak & Guinness Pie.

The Madras Curry (left) and Steak & Guinness Pie at Flanagan’s.

Hotels: Elbow Beach & Coral Beach Club

We ended up staying in two hotels, Elbow Beach and Coral Beach Club, which are next door to one another in the Paget Parish. The location of these hotels is great, as they’re centrally located and only about a 15 minute drive to the shops and restaurants of Hamilton.

The grounds of both hotels are absolutely stunning, and they both overlook pink sand beaches. Coral Beach Club does have a slightly better view from the rooms and terraces in my opinion though, as it’s situated up on a small cliff. But honestly, the beaches of Bermuda are so gorgeous from any elevation and angle that it’s like comparing two Victoria’s Secret Angels.

The view from outside our room at Coral Beach.

The view from outside our room at Coral Beach.

The guest rooms are where the two hotels are like night and day. Elbow Beach is updated and modern, while Coral Beach Club is more of a charming “Old Bermuda” style that’s a bit outdated. To make comparisons to South Florida, the rooms at Elbow Beach reminded me of the W, while Coral Beach Club reminded me of the Breakers. Check them out:

Elbow Beach Hotel

Our room at Elbow Beach Hotel. How incredible is that tub?

A suite at Coral Beach Club.

A suite at Coral Beach Club.

If I were to go back to Bermuda, I would choose to stay at Elbow Beach. In addition to the rooms being cleaner and more modern, they were also more luxurious. The bath products were of better quality, and there was more attention to detail in the service. There’s also just something about those warm chocolate chip muffins and creamy eggs from Lido that I can’t stop thinking about. I’d go back just for those alone.

How's that for a wedding backdrop? The terrace at Coral Beach Club does not disappoint.

How’s that for a wedding backdrop? The view from the terrace at Coral Beach Club does not disappoint.

The Best Breakfast Spots in Delray Beach

The Lobster & Brie Omelet from Another Broken Egg Cafe.

The Lobster & Brie Omelet from Another Broken Egg Cafe.

I’d like to start this article off by thanking the 56 members of the Delray Raw group on Facebook who really helped me out this week. Thank you for your honest feedback and replies to my question, “What are the best breakfast spots in Delray?”

Delray-Raw

Although I’ve eaten at all of the places listed below and can vouch that they are each great for what they are, it was interesting to hear what dozens of fellow locals would say. So if you’re looking for a good morning meal in the area, here are some of the best breakfast restaurants in Delray Beach:

The Downtown Spot: Christina’s

Christina’s is a nice, small, low-key spot in Pineapple Grove where the food is fresh and consistent, coffee cups are kept full, and the prices are reasonable. My favorite dish is the California omelet: avocado, mushrooms, green onion, tomato, cheddar jack, and cream cheese (which sounded a little weird my first time but ended up being the best part).

The Authentic “Old Delray” Breakfast Spot: Green Owl

The Green Owl opened it’s doors on Atlantic Avenue in 1981, and not much has changed there since, including the restaurant’s décor, staff, menu and prices. Full of regulars and old Delray charm, a meal at The Green Owl is an experience. The simple food is consistently good, and worth the (sometimes extremely long) wait on weekends. Just do not go if you’re in a rush.

What’s nice is that the staff at least tells you that it’s going to be a 15 minute wait, plus a 30 to 45 minute wait on food, as the kitchen often cannot keep up with the rush of people. But if it’s a Sunday morning and you have nowhere to be, I highly recommend checking it out.

Make sure to visit the ATM before a trip to Green Owl.

Make sure to visit the ATM before a trip to Green Owl.

The Best Deli: Way Beyond Bagels

Every time I mention Way Beyond Bagels to a friend, I get the same response: “I LOVE that place!” Seriously, what’s not to love?

The name “Way Beyond Bagels” perfectly suits it, as it’s more gourmet deli than it is bagel bakery. I’ll never forget how impressed I was the first time I walked in simply expecting your typical bagel shop. The line was out the door, as I’ve found it always is, but was operated in a way that was smooth and efficient. The staff is friendly, and the selection and quality of food is just incredible. Way Beyond Bagels sells everything from freshly baked breads and cakes to high-quality lunch meats to smoked fish to dozens of different salads, spreads, and appetizers. It’s a bit overwhelming when you’re in the line, and the prices are a little higher than other places, but you will not be disappointed with your food.

The line at Way Beyond Bagels.

The line at Way Beyond Bagels.

The Best Bargain: Bagel Twins

For a decent breakfast at a low price, I’d recommend Bagel Twins. It’s the only place I know of where $3.25 gets you a small shot of orange juice, two eggs any style, a bagel and cream cheese, and potatoes. While this place is nothing to rave about, the food is good and it’s the best bargain in town.

The Best New Spot: Another Broken Egg Cafe

Another Broken Egg is the hottest new spot in Delray Beach for breakfast. It’s the latest opening for the breakfast chain that has locations all over the Midwest and southeastern U.S., and getting a table on the weekends has not been easy. But I assure you that the Lobster and Brie omelet and pancakes are worth the wait. This place reminds me of a fancier IHOP, with a bigger, more exciting menu. The food is a bit tastier, and will give IHOP a run for it’s money.

The shrimp and lobster sliders and buttermilk pancake at Another Broken Egg Cafe.

The shrimp and lobster sliders and buttermilk pancake at Another Broken Egg Cafe.

Best Breakfast Spot By the Beach: Luna Rosa

Although Luna Rosa isn’t on the sand (it’s on the west side of A1A), it’s about as close to the beach you can get for breakfast. The pro’s of Luna Rosa are that they have delicious food and mimosas, it’s casual, and you only have to park once to go to breakfast and then the beach. The cons are that parking isn’t easy (unless you get there really early or valet), it gets really busy and is a bit cramped, and it’s a little pricier than the other spots on this list. I honestly don’t go here very often because it is such a project getting a parking spot and table, but when I do finally sit down and sip my mimosa I enjoy being there. To avoid the crowds, go on the weekdays if you can.

What is your favorite breakfast spot in Delray Beach? Tell us in a comment!

Smorgasburg in Brooklyn

Smorgasburg in Williamsburg

Smorgasburg in Williamsburg

On the last weekend of April (aka the absolute best time of year to visit) I was in New York City for exactly 48 hours. That’s not much time to consume even a fraction of the deliciousness the city has to offer, but I was able to cover lots of ground thanks to Smorgasburg, a buzzy outdoor foodie market held every Saturday in several locations throughout Brooklyn (and now occasionally Central Park as well).

My friend Rosie and I (literally) ran the five miles from her apartment in Chelsea to the Williamsburg waterfront at East River State Park to work up our appetites, and met up with my cousin Aaron so we could catch up and eat more food. The larger the group, the larger the amount of foods we could sample. Power in numbers!

Although I had heard quite a bit about Smorgasburg from raving friends, I did no research prior to arriving. So when I entered the area where all the different vendors are, it was overwhelming to say the least. I was dizzy with happiness, but also a bit anxious. Even though we got there early, there were people everywhere, and how was I going to find and get all the food I wanted to try?

The first thing I spotted that I knew I needed to have was a lobster roll from Red Hook Lobster Pound. I went with “Connecticut Style,” which is served with lemon and warm buttery goodness. They also offer Maine Style (authentic and tossed with a touch of mayo) and Tuscan (dairy free, tossed in a basil vinaigrette).
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Next up was a fish ceviche taco from Oaxaca Taqueria– a little taste of Mexico.

I got the last fish ceviche taco so they wiped it off the board before I could snap a picture.

I got the last fish ceviche taco so they wiped it off the board before I could snap a picture.

After Mexican, we headed over to Sunday Gravy NYC for an eggplant parm sandwich, meatball sandwich and Mac & Cheese Italiano (a fried stick filled with mac and cheese).
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Dessert for me was organic Cookies & Cream ice cream from Blue Marble, which countless sources including the New York Times, Buzzfeed and Men’s Journal have listed as one of the best ice cream spots in the United States.
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I already had an ice cream cone in my hand when I stumbled across Dough, which had the best looking donuts I’ve ever seen. Salted chocolate caramel… yes please!
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smorgasburg4

Eating My Way Through Peru!

Ceviche Mixto at La Mar Cebicheria in Miraflores, Lima.

Ceviche Mixto at La Mar Cebicheria in Miraflores, Lima.


I just returned home to sunny south Florida after 13 days of touring Peru, and I’m already missing the food. On this trip I set out to explore as many different meals as possible, including high-end dining, fusion influences, traditional Peruvian experiences, and even a little home cooking. Here are some of the best meals I ate in 4 cities throughout Peru:

Lima

Lima is known as one of the top food cities in the world, and I completely understand why. We stayed in the Miraflores district, known for its flower-filled parks, great shopping, and top-notch restaurants. Among my favorites, in order, were Maido, Central and La Mar Cebicheria.

At both Maido and Central we opted for the 16-course tasting experience. I was impressed with both in different ways. Central’s tasting menu, named “Mater Elevations,” is a unique take on local cuisine from all around Peru- organized by the altitudes in which they originate. To give you an idea, the menu included ingredients like cushuro, an edible cyanobacteria harvested in Andean wetlands; frozen potato, an ancient conservation method that brings out unexpected flavor from the distinguished Peruvian crop; and countless fruits that are only found in the Amazon.

Central-Restaurant-Lima

The impeccable detail on the “High Altitude Rainforest” dish at Central Restaurant in Lima. Inside was smoked duck, potato, and zapote, a local fruit.


The presentation of every dish at Central was exquisite. However, I felt that several dishes lacked in the flavor department- they just didn’t taste as incredible as they looked. Due to this, Maido comes in as my #1 spot in Lima. We tried about 70% of Maido’s menu between the 16-course Nikkei tasting and a second reservation where we ordered from the ala carte menu. I couldn’t find a single bad dish there. The octopus nigiri was the freshest and best I’ve every had in my life. Everything was cut, cooked, and/or prepared to perfection. I was blown away by Maido both times.

The ridiculously good octopus nigiri at Maido.

The ridiculously good octopus nigiri at Maido in Lima.


After Miraflores, be sure to check out San Isidro, Lima’s financial district, which is home to Malabar, a low-key but excellent Amazon fusion spot. The menu features a variety of weird roots, unfamiliar molluscs and spiky fruits that are sourced from the Peruvian Amazon and expertly prepared by Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino and his team. In 2014 Malabar was ranked #95 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

Malabar in Lima

My lunch at Malabar: an assortment of fresh, local seafood over crispy fried rice.

Also worth mentioning in Lima is El Tio Mario’s in Barranco. What started as a food cart run by a couple in the Sacred Valley has become a spot that locals love for large portions of anticuchos (Beef heart marinated, skewered, and seared over the grill) and picarones (light and crispy doughnut-like fried treats).

Iquitos

Some of the best fish I ate in Peru was not along the coast, but in Iquitos, a city in the heart of the Amazon. Fitzcarraldo Restaurant serves one heck of a medallion of perfectly broiled paiche, a local river fish that’s been called “the new black cod.” The restaurant is also one of the city’s few to have air conditioning, which feels fantastic in the afternoon jungle heat.

Broiled paiche with grilled plantains at Fitzcarraldo Restaurant in Iquitos.

Broiled paiche with grilled plantains at Fitzcarraldo Restaurant in Iquitos.


Another good restaurant in Iquitos is Dawn on the Amazon, also located on the riverside strip just a block and a half from Fitzcarraldo. Featuring a large menu of international cuisine that includes both vegetarian-friendly and ayahuasca-friendly options, Dawn on the Amazon had excellent service, views and food. I especially enjoyed their vegetarian burritos served with refried beans, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and sprouts.

Vegetarian burritos at Dawn on the Amazon cafe in Iquitos.

Vegetarian burritos at Dawn on the Amazon cafe in Iquitos.

Cusco

For the 24 hours that we were in Cusco before heading to Machu Picchu, it was not easy to breathe due to the high altitude (about 11,150 feet above sea level). We were looking for something comfortable and close to the center of town, and Cafe Morena did not disappoint. Inexpensive and simple, this little gem had very friendly service, a great selection of juices and teas, and good Peruvian cuisine. I recommend the veggie soup (very comforting on a chilly afternoon in the Andes), the spaghetti with pesto and the quinoa salad with chicken and an omelet on top.

Delicious local food at Cafe Morena in Cusco.

Delicious local food at Cafe Morena in Cusco.


Cafe Morena's spaghetti with pesto.

Cafe Morena’s spaghetti with pesto.

Paracas

In Paracas, a small town where the desert sand meets the Pacific Ocean, we landed at El Piloto Restaurante. From what I’ve read it is a chain, with several other locations throughout the country.

El Piloto offered large portions of classic Peruvian fare for reasonable prices, and the food was fresh and tasty. I enjoyed our Ceviche Mixto starter, followed by the Sudado de Mariscos- a mixture of local seafood in a tomato and onion broth-like sauce.

The Ceviche Mixto at El Piloto in Paracas.

The Ceviche Mixto at El Piloto in Paracas.


Sudado de Mariscos- a mixture of local seafood in a tomato and onion broth-like sauce.

Sudado de Mariscos- a mixture of local seafood in a tomato and onion broth-like sauce.


What are your favorite places to eat in Peru? Let us know in a comment!

Maido in Lima

With Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura at Maido.

With Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura at Maido.


Hola from Peru! I have traveled here with family and friends to explore this beautiful country, and of course taste the incredible food it has to offer! Lima is known for being one of the best foodie cities in South America, so naturally I based a lot of my time spent here around eating. After doing some research prior to arriving, I made a list of must-try restaurants. At the top of my list: Maido, a Japanese and Peruvian fusion hotspot owned and fronted by Mitsuharu Tsumura.

A little background on the chef: Born in Lima, Mr. Tsumura studied at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island before spending two years apprenticing at an Osaka sushi restaurant. From there he returned to Lima, where he worked for the Sheraton until creating Maido at 28 years old.

Located in the upscale Miraflores district of Lima, Maido offers two menus options: an ala carte blend of traditional Japanese and Peruvian dishes, and the 16-course Nikkei tasting menu, which consists of Japanese-Peruvian fusion dishes. “When in Peru,” we thought, and decided to go with the Nikkei menu to try a larger variety of flavors.

There were many standout dishes. Among my favorites were the Estofado Nikkei (melt-in-your-mouth Nitsuke braised short rib over fried rice), Pejesapo Sandwich (a lightly fried local fish between two perfectly steamed buns) and the Sushi-Sea, which contained the freshest octopus I’ve ever had in my life. Although those were my favorites, every dish was an incredible mix of flavors and ingredients that were perfectly executed. Here’s what we had:

Course 1: Bonito-Porcon-Umami
Bonito yukke, potato cracker and porcon chawamushi
Maido-Nikkei-Menu

Course 2: Lapas Ceviche
Llapas, yellow aji, chullpi corn, and avocado
Maido-nikkei-tasting

Course 3: Rocoto Relleno
Ribeye, rocoto tempura, and native potato
Maido-Lima

Course 4: Tofu Capchi
Tofu, tomatoes marinated in mirin, baby corn, crispy native potatoes, and huacatay
Maido-Lima

Course 5: Pejesapo Sandwich
Steamed bun, pejesapo fish, tartar sauce and a creole salad
Maido-Nikkei

Course 6: Sivinche
River prawns, jora chicha, cilantro sprouts, and tobiko
Maido-Lima-Nikkei

Course 7: Sea Urchin and Squid
Sea urchin, squid and ikura
Maido-Lima

Course 8: Sushi From the Sea
Octopus muchame and scallops from Paracas over rice with a maca emulsion
Maido-Lima

Course 9: Seco de Cabrito
Baby lamb with canario beans, served in a dumpling
Maido-Nikkei-Tasting

Course 10: Cuy San
Cuy (guinea pig) with a cold yuca cream and sprouts
Maido-Lima

Course 11: Sushi From the Earth
Grilled pigeon, ribeye with a quail egg, and foie gras over rice
Maido-Nikkei-Menu

Course 12: Caldo de Gallina
Hen stock, a crispy chicken skin chip, shichimi and lime. The photo was taken before the warm stock was poured in.
Maido-Lima

Course 13: Miso Cod
Miso cod, mashed potatoes and sprouts
Maido-Lima

Course 14: Estofado Nikkei
Nitsuke braised short rib, fried rice with cecina
Maido-Nikkei-Tasting

Course 15: Cebiche
Lemon ice cream, sweet potato paper, aji limo, macaroons, chirmoya, tangerines and cilantro
Maido-Lima

Course 16: C & C
“Coffee and cacao:” Chocolate foam, chocolate ice cream, and a coffee flan over coffee beans
Maido-Lima

The total cost of the Nikkei tasting meal was 370 soles (about $122) each, plus a few cocktails, bottles of water, and a 10% service charge (the typical rate in Peru). I found this to be very inexpensive for the quality of food that we had; This same experience would have easily been about $250 in a city like Miami or New York City.

I am now a huge fan of Maido. Before we left that night we made another reservation for the following Saturday night, and I will be returning any time I visit Lima in the future.

Mucho Gusto Delray

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Today I have a special treat for you, called Mucho Gusto Delray. Not a restaurant, but rather an experience, although it still involves incredible food (and cocktails that pair perfectly). I’ll admit, I was a bit hesitant to share something this awesome, in fear that I’ll never get a spot at one of these events again, but here goes. You’re welcome in advance!

Consisting of a dream team of restauranteur Justin Himmelbaum and chef Jake Hébert, Mucho Gusto Delray is a series of impromptu dining experiences including pop up dinners, brunches and private parties. I caught wind of these events as a result of their Instagram account (@MuchoGustoDelray– definitely worth following), and have since attended two events: A five-course beer pairing dinner and a four-course brunch with cocktails. Both were an absolute blast.

The biggest thing that makes Mucho Gusto so great is the team behind it. Jake is an incredibly gifted chef who dreams of, and then creates, the most palate-pleasing combinations of food, and he makes them all look like a masterpiece on the plate. Justin runs the show in the front of the house, making everyone feel welcome and happy. He also crafts the ingenious cocktails that accompany each course. Lastly, Camilla helps to serve and clear the dishes and answer any questions that arise about what we’re tasting.

Before I get into the details of each of the meals, let me tell you what they had in common. Both times we signed up and paid via PayPal not knowing the location and menu. An email is sent about two days prior the events with an address. The menu is announced on a dry-erase board that greets you as you walk through the door, and before the events kick off, Justin makes sure that everyone has a welcome champagne-like drink (I’ll explain that more in a minute), and there is a toast. Once everyone has taken their seats and gotten settled, the first course- popcorn!- arrives.

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At my first Mucho Gusto experience, a five-course beer dinner at The Hatchery in Boca Raton, we were first served a flute of bubbly ale infused with bits of watermelon. After a toast, the popcorn arrived, mixed with a blend of truffle oil, shaved parmesan, chives, & duck bacon. It was like crack- me and my friend Anika (Miles & Mimosas) couldn’t get enough of it. Seriously, if that was the only thing that was served that night I would’ve happily filled up on it and been satisfied. But luckily we went on to eat much more great food. Here is what followed:

Course #1: Citrus Salmon Crudo

Coconut Broth, radish, apple avocado puree, sour orange granita
Paired with a Cigar City Florida Cracker Ale
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Course #2: Seared Alaskan Halibut

Charred tomato-pepper gazpacho, local greens, beurre-blanc, sangria jello
Paired with a lime infused Narragansett Lager
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Course #3: Cold Smoked Pork Tenderloin

Yukon gold and gouda mashed potatoes, Hatchery tamarind glaze, quick cucumber pickle
Paired with Ace Apple Hard Cider
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Surprise Course!

Fresh watermelon & local burrata cheese, drizzled with olive oil and a balsamic glaze
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Course #4: Duck Confit Taco

Avocado tajin crema, queso fresco
Paired with Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
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Course #5: Egg Nog Ice Cream

Cranberry compote, shortbread crumble
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
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My second Mucho Gusto experience, a four-course brunch that took place in the beautiful backyard of a Delray Beach home, began with a mimosa toast and a skillet of popcorn mixed with duck chicharron, scallion, and shaved Parmesan. From there we enjoyed the following dishes:

Course #1: “Fruits & Roots”

Florida citrus, radish, beets, fennel, crema sorbet
Paired with a pomegranite gin fizz
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Course #2: Aguachile

Shrimp & tilapia ceviche topped with avocado helado
Paired with a violet mezcal margarita
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Course #3: Duck Sausage Pizza

Sundried tomato pesto and a perfectly poached egg
Paired with a l’orange Old Fashioned
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Course #4: Pancake Stuffed Waffle

Balsamic maple jelly and banana cream
Paired with coffee with praline cream
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Mucho Gusto Delray’s next event is a Mother’s Day brunch taking place on Sunday, May 10th at 1:00 p.m. They also are planning to host regular pop-up events twice a month, offering a Sunday brunch and dinner. Prices will range from $55 to $75 per person and will include a multi-course pairing menu featuring a selection of beer, wine, or cocktails. They are also available for private events.

For more information, like Mucho Gusto Delray on Facebook, follow them on Instagram, and join their mailing list by contacting muchogustodelray@gmail.com.

Delray Beach’s Best Kept Secrets

“Season” in south Florida is here- the weather has cooled off, the local businesses are busier and the license plates have changed color if you know what I mean. The seasonal residents and tourists have arrived!

As the local dining hotspots become crowded with unfamiliar faces and difficult to get a reservation at, I am especially thankful for my “secret spots-” restaurants that are just as delicious, but not as well-known to visitors. They’re all in downtown Delray Beach, just a short walk from the bustle of Atlantic Avenue. These are the Delray Beach restaurants I only tell my best friends about, so enjoy!

Ziree Thai

Ziree Thai is located on Atlantic Avenue, east of I-95 but west of Swinton, which is where the street gets busy. Street parking is usually not an issue, and even if you have to walk a bit, trust me when I say that the food will be worth it. I’ve been eating at Ziree for years, and have tried many different things on the menu. I have never been disappointed. In addition to delicious Thai dishes such as papaya salad, Pad Thai and Panang curry, Ziree has some of the freshest sushi around. My favorite signature rolls are the He-Ma Roll, Rock & Roll, Crunchy Tuna Roll and Ziree Roll. Also worth mentioning is the Ziree Noodle Soup, which is my go-to when I am sick, or just in the mood for a good, healthy soup.

A warm and gracious hostess, Ziree herself is often there to greet you as you walk in, and take you to your table. The service is consistently good, the prices are reasonable, and the décor is cozy and cute. The restaurant is small, so I recommend making a reservation, especially in season (December-May).

Ziree Thai is located at 401 W Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach.

Granger‘s Bar & Grille

Granger’s is one of my favorite little spots for quality comfort food in south Florida. It’s been here in Delray Beach off Federal Highway (just north of Atlantic Ave.) since 1995 and has that charming old-diner feel to it.

A majority of the food on Grangers’ menu is homemade, and it’s always served fresh and in massive portions- I highly recommend sharing! My boyfriend, Jeremy, and I usually start with an order of the buffalo-style shrimp (they’re absolutely addicting) or a bowl of their beef chili, which comes with sour cream and tortilla chips. For entrees, our personal favorites are the Caesar salad with a piece of Key West-style fish (usually mahi or grouper) on top, the B.C.B.T. sandwich (sashimi grade tuna, bacon and bleu cheese), and the smoked BBQ ribs that are available only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The fried grouper and lobster on Fridays are also pretty delicious- you’re welcome in advance!

Granger’s is located at 215 NE 6th Avenue in Delray Beach.

Bamboo Fire Cafe

This place has awesome authentic, homemade Caribbean food that I have not found anywhere else in the Delray Beach area. There is nothing even comparable. Run by the nicest Guyanese couple, Beverly and Donald, Bamboo Fire Café is a true gem.

Try the seafood mac and cheese, the conch fritters, the curried goat, the oxtail and calilou. For dessert, try the rum cake as long as you can handle liquor, as they certainly don’t skimp on the rum!

Bamboo Fire is small- it only seats about 20 people, and Beverly and Donald’s witty daughter is usually the only server. I don’t recommend trying this place if you’re in a rush. But if you’re in the mood to relax on the patio, sip some Bahamian beer, eat great Caribbean food and joke around with the owners, this is the spot to do it.

Bamboo Fire Cafe is located at 149 NE 4th Avenue in Delray Beach.

Two Fat Cookies

Although this article is mainly about restaurants, I don’t feel right not mentioning Two Fat Cookies, a newer addition to downtown Delray Beach. Tucked away in a strip mall in Pineapple Grove, Two Fat Cookies’ baked goods, especially their cakes, are insanely good. We had a piece of the peanut butter chocolate ganache cake at a friend’s birthday party, and couldn’t stop talking about it for months. Needless to say, Two Fat Cookies is now a regular at our family birthday parties.

In addition to their ridiculously delicious cakes, Two Fat Cookies has tons of baked goodies behind their bakery counter. I highly recommend stopping by for a cookie, cupcake, brownie, tart, or other dessert.

Two Fat Cookies is located at 245 NE 2nd Avenue in Delray Beach.

The Best Taco Tuesdays in Palm Beach County

El Camino in Delray Beach

From Left: El Camino's shrimp taco, crispy fish taco, and carne asada taco.

From Left: El Camino’s shrimp taco, crispy fish taco, and carne asada taco.

El Camino has recently started what is, in my opinion, the best Taco Tuesday around. I checked it out about a month ago and have been back almost every week. The deal is that all tacos on the menu are $2, and you can mix it up as you please. It seemed too good to be true the first time I was there- I expected a lower quality product when the food came out from the kitchen. But they didn’t skimp on size or quality- the tacos were just as delicious as when I had paid full price in the past.

At El Camino, you can take your pick from 11 different types of tacos, ranging from the standard ground beef with colby jack cheese, lettuce, pico and sour cream, to more exotic options such as crispy fish with pineapple salsa, and BBQ pork belly with cactus slaw and a peanut crunch. My personal recommendations are the last two that I just listed, as well as the chorizo taco, which comes with queso oaxaca, rajas, onion and salsa verde.

El Camino takes the unusual step of making everything in house, from the tortillas to the hot sauce. They also have quite the selection of premium tequilas, and ridiculously good margaritas. I never go without enjoying either a watermelon-jalapeno or strawberry-basil margarita, and the chile-guava is also great if you’re looking for something spicy. I don’t mean to get too off-topic here, but since I love El Camino’s margaritas, I will mention that they also have Margarita Monday: $3 classic margaritas, plus one specialty one that they choose to feature that day. Salud!

El Camino Delray is located at 15 NE 2nd Ave, Delray Beach, FL 33444; 561-865-5350

The Backyard in Boynton Beach

The Backyard's taco selection

The Backyard’s taco selection

This somewhat hidden outdoor spot is one of my favorites when the weather is nice. The service is always friendly, live music is often playing, and the food is simple but delicious. The food is not the cheapest, but luckily there’s a different deal on every week day. Half off appetizers on Mondays, 50 cent wings on Wednesdays, a “clam jam” on Thursdays ($10 for a dozen oysters), and of course Taco Tuesday, which features $2 tacos.

The only catch with the Taco Tuesday deal is that you must order three tacos at a time, and they must all be the same kind. There’s no mixing and matching at The Backyard. The restaurant serves five different types of tacos- chicken, pork, steak, blackened shrimp, and the fresh catch of the day- so I recommend going with a group if you want to taste all of them. My personal favorite is the fish, which has been mahi every time I’ve been.

The Backyard Boynton Beach is located at 511 NE 4th St, Boynton Beach, FL 33435; 561-740-0399

Rocco’s Tacos (West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and Boca Raton)

Rocco's Tacos with fish and carne asada.

Rocco’s Tacos with fish and carne asada.

If you can get in, I recommend checking out Rocco’s Tacos for Taco Tuesday. The place gets packed almost every night, no matter what time of year it is, so I wouldn’t go without making a reservation unless you don’t mind waiting.

Show up hungry to Taco Tuesday at Rocco’s Tacos. For $14.99, it’s unlimited tacos, and you can mix and match as you please. At Rocco’s you have a choice from seven different meats (or you can try their vegetarian mushroom) and each taco is served with taco sauce, lettuce, pico de gallo, cilantro, pickled red onions and cotija cheese.

Although the place is always crowded, the service is usually decent, even if it’s a little rushed. Just don’t expect your server to stand and hang out with you. Rocco’s is really loud, between the crowd and the blasting music (there is usually a live DJ). Overall it’s a fun place to hang out with friends, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to catch up with a bunch of people you haven’t seen in a long time.

Rocco’s Tacos has three locations in Palm Beach County:
224 Clematis St, West Palm Beach, FL 33401; 561-650-1001
5090 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL; 561-623-0127
5250 Town Center Cir, Boca Raton, FL 33486; 561-416-2131

Tryst in Delray Beach

Two fish tacos from Tryst

Two fish tacos from Tryst

Another Taco Tuesday deal that I feel most people aren’t aware of is at Tryst. Available only when things slow down in the summertime, Tryst offers $4 tacos that they switch up each week. I’m not talking about your typical tacos either. Most recently, Tryst’s Taco Tuesday specials were the following:

Spicy Chicken Taco: a double decker taco, black bean puree, Boston lettuce, and queso blanco

Crispy Shrimp Taco: cucumber, carrot and scallion slaw, topped with sweet Thai chili sauce

BBQ Pulled Pork Taco: apple and carrot slaw, red bell peppers, Napa cabbage, cider vinegar and mustard seed dressing

I’ve also found that Tryst’s tacos are often huge. I’m full after two.

Tryst Delray is located at 4 East Atlantic Avenue; 561-921-0201

I Hate When Servers Don’t Write Down Orders

How does it make you feel when a restaurant server doesn’t write down your food order? Do you find this impressive, or does it make you feel a little nervous that your meal isn’t going to come out of the kitchen correctly? If you fall into the nervous category, chances are you remain nervous until the food arrives and you confirm that it is okay.

I don’t know about you, but when I go out to wine and dine, I like to feel as relaxed as possible. So it drives me absolutely nuts when a server takes my order, nodding their head, but not writing a single thing down. Last night it made what should have been an amazing dining experience a really stressful one.

It was the perfect night to sit out on the patio at Taverna Kyma in Boca Raton. The air is still just (barely) cool enough at night to enjoy eating outside. There were four of us, and we ordered many small plates- about 6 items total. Some of the dishes we ordered had special instructions- for example, one of my friends doesn’t like onions. The server listened to us, but did not write any of the order down. When we were finished, he gave us a blank stare and walked off. We instantly started making bets on the odds that our order was going to be screwed up in some way or another. I was sure of it.

The first dish that came out, by itself, was the saganaki, or flaming Greek cheese. It was delicious as usual, but as we were eating, the waiter came back to our table to ask us what we ordered. I went back down the list of what we wanted, suggesting that he wrote it down this time. He did not.

A few minutes later our other appetizer came out, the grilled octopus. Fresh and cooked perfectly, we ate it while wondering where our appetizer that should have been out first was. The cold pikilia, which consists of grape leaves and three spreads for the pita requires no cooking, so where was it? We asked our server when he went by, and it came out about 10 minutes later. Five minutes after we received the cold pikilia, one of the two entrees that we ordered came out.

We continued to eat the food that was in front of us, sharing everything. Luckily nobody sat hungry and waiting. But after about another 20 minutes, we were wondering where our final entree, the Thallasino was. By that point we were pretty full, but I had been looking forward to the Thallasino, which is a seafood platter of lobster, mussels, clams, shrimp and calamari served in a large pan. When we reminded our server that we were still waiting on food, he asked me what was missing. Go figure that he wrote down the order when we only had one thing left.

Despite my complaining right now, we were in no rush and did not really care when each course came out. It was actually nice just sipping and hanging out with good friends. The food was also great so I still left relatively happy, but our overall Kyma experience last night was no bueno. It’s never fun telling your server an order three times, and constantly checking to make sure that he had not forgotten something.

Servers really need to write down orders- I always did when I worked in restaurants. I realize how easy it is to take an order, walk away from the table and get sidetracked by the request of another guest or co-worker. If you write down an order, it doesn’t matter if your mind temporarily forgets.

Will I be back to Taverna Kyma? Yes, because I like the food. But if I end up with the same server again I will probably try to switch, or at least force him to write down our order.

Food- A
Drinks- B
Service- D
Overall Experience- C-