The Casa Blanca House Museum was one of my favorite places we visited in San Juan! The nearly 500 year-old mansion has so many stunning historic details, and such a storied history.
The home was intended to be used as a fort and a residence for Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish conquistador popularly known for his (apparently historically untrue) search for the fountain of youth.
Ponce de Leon died before the house was completed in 1523, but had he survived he wouldn’t have enjoyed his new home for long. The original wooden structure was damaged by fire shortly after completion.
The mansion was rebuilt in stone, but it didn’t take long for the Spanish government to decide that a larger fort was needed. The replacement, La Fortaleza, is actually quite close by. In addition to the incredible ocean views, several balconies at Casa Blanca offer nice views of La Fortaleza, which still serves as the residence of the governor of Puerto Rico.
After 250 years of ownership by the Ponce de Leon family, the home was occupied by the Spanish, and then American government. Each left their mark on the home, in the form of additions, renovations, and even neglect.
Nowadays the home is managed by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. We didn’t plan ahead to take a tour when we visited, but roaming the house and pretending we were on an episode of House Hunters was an entirely acceptable substitute.
This kitchen! I should have taken more detail photos; the tiles, all the texture and character were amazing. I feel like this is something I’ll see Jersey Ice Cream Co re-creating any day now.
Stray and stray-ish cats were everywhere in San Juan, some better cared for than others. But this guy seemed pretty happy with his digs.
An article I read about Casa Blanca warned that it was somewhat more rustic than some might expect from a mansion. And I suppose it is a tad short on gilding, but it wouldn’t have really occurred to me to think of it as anything less than a mansion–particularly after stepping out on a balcony and surveying the gardens and the sea beyond.
The house is furnished with items appropriate to the time period, but not necessarily original to the former owners.
There wasn’t an employee in sight during most of our exploration, but I wish I’d made a point to ask about this mural on the second floor. This floor isn’t furnished, and I’m sure it’s easy to re-paint the walls at any rate, but it still surprised me to find this artwork in the corner of one room. I can’t imagine most house museums in the mainland US being relaxed enough to permit something like this.
We gave Airbnb Experiences a try on our recent trip to Mexico City, and I thought I’d share some info and a review for those who are wondering if it’s worth it. This isn’t sponsored: I paid for the tours myself, so I can be completely honest!
While I find myself feeling increasingly ambivalent about Airbnb itself, we enjoyed all three of our tours, the guides were knowledgeable and personable, and facilitated experiences that would have been difficult to find or set up on our own. They were however, a little pricey for Mexico, and one tour brought up some interesting questions about Airbnb’s policies for Experiences.
How Airbnb Experiences Work
First off, what are Airbnb Experiences, and how do they work? Experiences are basically tours that you can book through Airbnb. They’re available in cities worldwide, and you don’t need to book a stay in an Airbnb to go on an Experience.
We actually booked a cool condo style hotel and airfare package first on Expedia, and then chose some Experiences on Airbnb that fit with our schedule. There’s so many to choose from, it was a struggle to narrow it down to 3.
What appealed to me about Experiences is that there’s more of a focus on real connections with locals: many Experiences are offered by regular people with day jobs, rather than tour companies. And, for lack of a better word, they’re often more experiential, with a focus on learning and interacting.
When you browse experiences, you’ll be able to see the available dates and times offered, but don’t be afraid to contact the host if you don’t see a date that works for your schedule.
After you’ve booked, your host will likely update you on any changes via messages on Airbnb, so it’s a good idea to have the Airbnb app on your phone (if you’ll have data access on your trip), or let your host know if there’s a better way to contact you.
Do be aware that the cancellation policy for Experiences is somewhat strict, so obviously don’t book until you’re sure it will fit in your travel schedule, and allow for the possibility of flight delays in your scheduling.
Our Airbnb Experiences
I booked 3 Airbnb Experiences in Mexico City: A food tour, a street food and lucha libre experience, and an archaeological tour.
First up, Taste Colonia Roma was a walking food tour of the Colonia Roma neighborhood with 7 stops at local spots for food and drinks. We booked this tour for our first full day in Mexico City, thinking it would provide a bit of an orientation to the city, and give us a chance to pester someone with all our must-eat food questions!
It was just the two of us and one other girl on the tour, so it was a nice small group. In between stops, we walked through the gorgeous architecture of Colonia Roma, and our guide Salimah took the time to tell us about the history of the area dating back to the Aztecs, and the more recent history of the eclectic architecture. I really loved this about the tour! While not mind-blowing, the food we tried was all good, and represented a variety of foods and cool local spots we might not have heard about otherwise. Salimah was happy to answer all of our questions, and gave us recommendations for spots to try pulque.
When our she gave us a handy fold out map with a list of the places we’d be visiting, we realized that the tour was run by a local food tour business, Sabores Mexico. Turns out, I could have booked through their website and paid a little bit less. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with this tour being on Airbnb, I think it very much fits with Airbnb’s ethos. It’s a small company, and our guide was wonderful.
But this was the tour that got me wondering about what Airbnb’s policies and standards are for Experiences. Can any tour company sign up and offer their tours as Experiences?
With so many Experiences being listed now, if Airbnb isn’t carefully screening the people or companies involved, it’s easy to see how poorer quality offerings could proliferate. I couldn’t find detailed info about this on Airbnb’s website, so I contacted their press e-mail to ask. Aaaand, a week later, I haven’t heard back from them.
I’ll update this post if they get around to answering my email, but in the meantime, I’d recommend treating Experiences like anything else on Airbnb: be cautious, read reviews, and ask questions if you’re not sure whether the tour is being offered by a tour company or a local individual.
UPDATE: Airbnb never did bother to respond to my questions about screening and standards, but they do seem to have created quality standards for Airbnb Experiences more recently.
You can see all the details here. They include requirements like expertise, offering experiences that you couldn’t achieve on your own, and making tour times offered on Airbnb bookable only to Airbnb users.
However, they don’t say how they evaluate for expertise, and it’s clear that tours by larger companies are still common on the site. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just know that experiences may not be the intimate, one on one connection with a local that you’re picturing.
When you go on an Experience and leave a review, Airbnb will ask you questions aimed at confirming the quality of the experience. Much like vetting of their home listings, they seem to be crowd-sourcing quality control rather than directly verifying it.
You can’t bring cameras into the lucha libre show, so I won’t post my terrible, grainy iPhone pics of the show here. But the tacos were just as much a part of Experience as the show, and there were SO MANY delicious tacos.
We met Tannia and Juan Carlos close to the first taco stand, and ate more tacos than I can count (my boyfriend estimates 21 between the two of us) at 3 stops on the walk to the lucha libre venue. They even ordered us some of the more adventurous options when we expressed an interest. Turns out I’m not crazy about the texture of brains, but eyeball tacos aren’t half bad.
This was the only Experience where we had any problems, and honestly, Tannia and Juan Carlos were so genuinely nice I hesitated to even mention it here. But I want to be honest, and really, if you book a handful of experiences, you’ll likely have something similar happen– remember that many hosts are regular people, not big tour companies.
So the first hiccup was meeting up. We arrived a little early at the meeting spot, then proceeded to wait….and wait….and wait. They showed up half an hour past the scheduled time (I double and triple checked the time listed on Airbnb), and they didn’t mention anything about being late. I chalked it up to a misunderstanding and let it go. We did get more than enough tacos on the walk to the venue, and enjoyed talking to them, but it felt a little rushed.
When we arrived at the lucha libre venue, we were surprised that they weren’t coming in with us, instead just handing over our tickets. As it turns out, this was fine, there are ushers to show you to your seats, and we didn’t end up needing any hand-holding (and they’d gotten us good seats!). It just wasn’t clear from the Experience description that we’d be going it alone from that point.
Ultimately, no regrets! It was a fun evening, and something I’d recommend doing.
Finally, The Aztec City Under Feet was a (mostly) walking tour of the ancient archaeology of Mexico City. Our host Jose was by far my favorite tour guide, charming and knowledgeable, the sort of person we’d have loved to explore the entire city with.
It was a small group with just one other lovely couple–and this was something I appreciated about our Airbnb Experiences; the platform seems to attract fellow travelers who are cool, open minded and fun. Jose tailored the stops to our preferences, and seemed to know every single hidden spot with cool architectural features downtown.
This was the cheapest tour, and definitely the one that would have been most difficult to replicate on our own, with all the gems we wouldn’t have known about or been able to talk our way into. I’m now set on staying at the amazing Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico on our next trip, after Jose convinced the doorman to let us in to view the soaring art nouveaux lobby.
Jose knew so much about the city, and had so many great recommendations. I wish we’d been able to book this tour for our first day so we could have followed through on all his recommendations.
Overall, I think Airbnb Experiences are worth checking out for your next trip.
Unless you have a huge travel budget, it can often be difficult to find day tours that feel intimate and un-touristy. The Experiences I booked hit that mark of meeting up with genuinely great people who want to show you around their city. I think a lot of people stay in Airbnbs precisely because they’re looking for this type of connection.
There’s some obvious caveats here: Read the reviews, and as with anything else, be cautious. It’s not clear how Airbnb is screening the listings for Experiences, so I wouldn’t necessarily book a listing that doesn’t have a handful of good reviews.
If you’re looking to screen out bigger tour companies, I’d recommend contacting them and asking if they offer the tour on other platforms or have customer reviews that can be viewed elsewhere. If it’s offered on another site, seeing how the tour is presented there may give you a better idea of how personal or touristy it actually is.
And it’s worth considering that some tours may be more enjoyable when organized by a company rather than a single person. It was clear that our food tour was the result of years of building relationships with local restaurants, and careful planning and organization. Likewise, it might be safer to take a bus tour for something like a day trip to Teotihuacan, rather than hopping in someone’s car (though honestly, the latter sounds like more fun!).
Finally, depending on where you’re traveling, Experiences aren’t exactly cheap. Unlike so much of our entertainment and meals in Mexico (and even our reasonably priced but huge hotel room), the cost of Experiences in Mexico city was more on par with what we’d have paid in the US. Still, I can’t really complain when I’m helping a local earn a living wage. It’s not something I’ll be booking for every trip, but I’ll probably book an experience again for a country where I don’t speak the language well, or am visiting for the first time.
Beyond the promise of Diego Rivera murals, I couldn’t find much info on Mexico City’s Water Garden Museum when deciding whether or not to visit. I’m so glad I took the chance, though, because it’s a gem that doesn’t get high enough billing in lists of Mexico City attractions.
First off, while the two are side by side in Chapultepec Park, when people refer to the Water Garden Museum (Museo Jardin del Agua) they’re often talking about two separate things:
The museum with the Diego Rivera murals is a small hydraulic structure called the Carcamo de Dolores, which charges an entrance fee (just 26 pesos).
Next to that is the real “water garden”, an extensive garden with fountains built around hidden reservoirs. This section is part of the park and free to everyone.
The Water Station Adorned with Diego Rivera Murals
In the 1940s, Mexico City began an ambitious project to bring water into the city from the Lerma River. This water system, of which the Carcamo de Dolores is part, is known as the Lerma System, and still supplies a small percentage of Mexico City’s water.
The Carcamo de Dolores was designed by architect Ricardo Rivas, in collaboration with Diego Rivera, who among other contributions painted the murals inside, and designed the Tlaloc fountain outside. The building was designed as a monument to, and a space to contemplate water, as much as it was a functioning hydraulic water station.
The building opened in 1951, and as it was a fully functioning part of the water system, Rivera’s murals were partially submerged.
As you’d expect, the murals were damaged by exposure to water, and by the time water was diverted away from the Carcamo de Dolores in 1990, significant restoration work was necessary. The floor in particular was very faded, and had to be recreated based on original sketches and documentation, along with the faints lines that remained. The Carcamo de Dolores re-opened to the public in 2010.
The floor is incredibly detailed, showing the progression from single-celled lifeforms towards the ascension of human beings. The black circle represents both the cellular origins of life and the function of cells themselves. Radiating away from the center are branches of family tree of life. You can see simple organisms like bacteria and amoeba, and more complex animals such as annelid worms and starfish on the right of the floor.
Moving up from the floor, the mural shows the evolution of life, leading to early Homo Sapiens, represented by an African man and Asian woman, reflecting theories of Africa or Asia as the cradle of life.
Moving higher, you see the uses of water represented; agriculture, hygiene and pleasure.
Above the gates is a tribute to the workers and engineers of the water system, in keeping with Rivera’s trademark usage of socialist elements. Below the workers are symbols for the chemicals involved in the purification of water.
The building was originally designed to amplify the sound of the water passing through it. When the flow of water was diverted in 1990, that sound ceased, so Mexican artist Ariel Guzik created the Lambdoma Chamber to preserve the aural experience of the space. To be honest, I don’t entirely understand all the details of how the installation works, but let’s just take a moment to appreciate the fantastic art deco control box below:
Diego Rivera’s Tlaloc Fountain
Also designed by Diego Rivera is a sculpture of Tlaloc, the god of water in Aztec religion, who lies partially submerged in the fountain in front of the Carcamo de Dolores. As with the murals, the fountain had been damaged over the years, though more seriously. A spokesman for one of the organizations involved in the restoration of the Carcamo de Dolores described the fountain as “completely destroyed”, so what exists in the space nowadays may be more re-creation than restoration.
The sculpture is designed to be seen from above. While it’s not the intended bird’s eye view, the steps just beyond the fountain provide a higher vantage point for viewing. Tlaloc has two faces, one looking up at the sky, and the other that you see above, facing the Carcamo de Dolores. I didn’t get a photo that illustrated it, but if you’re standing inside the building facing the sculpture, the face of Tlaloc lines up with the hands in the mural above the tunnel. In this way, the sculpture interacts with the mural, presenting Tlaloc as the giver of water.
The “water garden” next to the Carcamo de Dolores is lovely, but it wasn’t immediately clear to me that it served more than a decorative purpose. Turns out these beautiful raised gardens hide underground reservoirs that were part of the Lerma water system. And those strange towers? They’re disguised pumping stations.
The fountains were sadly dry when we visited, and based on other posts I’ve seen, it seems that the fountains no longer run.
Visiting the Water Garden Museum
While the museum isn’t too difficult to find once you’re in the second section of Chapultepec Park, it seems like the official address won’t take you directly to it.
This may be because the path in front of the Carcamo de Dolores is blocked off and reserved for pedestrians (though you could certainly try to ask your Uber driver to take you to Carcamo de Dolores, and you might end up closer than we did).
When I typed Museo Jardin del Agua into my Uber app to get there, we ended up in front of the building you see above, and were a bit confused. It is part of the original water system, but it was locked, and at any rate, it’s not where the murals are. If you find yourself here, walk past the building and up the hill to get to the gardens, and you’ll find the Carcamo de Dolores on the other side of the gardens.
The gardens are free, and admission for the Carcamo de Dolores is currently 26 pesos.
The Carcamo de Dolores is open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm.
When I first started planning our day trip from Mexico City to Teotihuacan, I thought I knew what to expect. I’d been to the pyramids on a college trip, and knew there wasn’t too much in the immediate area. And that’s partially true. For a major tourist destination, there’s surprisingly little development that caters to tourists beyond the food stalls and vendors outside of Teotihuacan’s main gate.
What many people don’t know is that just outside of one of the smaller entrance gates, there’s a unique restaurant called La Gruta, nestled in a volcanic cave.
La Gruta isn’t a newcomer either; the cave restaurant outside of Mexico City claims to have been around since 1906. The restaurant serves Mexican and Pre-Hispanic food, and it’s a bit pricey by Mexico’s standards– but well worth it for the atmosphere and some relaxation after a climb up the pyramids.
La Gruta obviously caters to tourists with the novelty of eating in a cave, so we weren’t sure what to expect from the food. It was pretty good! Again, you’re paying extra for the setting. So as long as you’re not expecting the food to be mindblowing, or on a tight budget, it’s worth a stop.
We ordered the corn soup, escamoles (ant larvae), and a variety plate (taco, tamale, and something yummy I’m forgetting with mole).
In case you’re wondering, the escamoles had a mild, almost cheese-like flavor and texture, with most of the flavor coming from the seasoning. I get why the idea of eating them is off-putting to some, but the taste itself isn’t particularly challenging. Ultimately not something I’d probably seek out in the future, but the boyfriend really liked them.
After we finished eating, the server lit the candle at our table and invited us to place it on the rocks. As best we could tell with our kindergarten Spanish proficiency, he explained that long ago the locals used to do something similar. If you know more–or if it’s just something they made up for the tourists– let me know in the comments!
How to Get to La Gruta
Exit via Gate 5, which is at the back right of the Pyramid of the Sun, and just outside of the Botanical Garden. Cross the street outside of the gate, turn left (you’ll only walk about 1,000 feet), and then take the first right. If you peer down the road, you should be able to see the signs pointing to La Gruta. Follow the road, and it’s impossible to miss La Gruta on the right side. In all, it’s less than 10 minutes walk from the gate.
Reservations are recommended for weekends and holidays. We visited on a weekday, and had no trouble getting a table for lunch without a reservation.
Make sure you hold on to your Teotihuacan ticket, as you’ll need it to re-enter the site (otherwise you’ll be taking a bit of a hike around the perimeter to get back to the main gate that buses stop at).
If you’re eating at La Gruta later in the day, just keep in mind that Teotihuacan closes at 5pm, though some buses back to the city run until 8 or 9.
We took a trip to Asheville, NC recently, and beyond eating a TON of great food, we finally made to Biltmore Estate. I wasn’t completely sure what to expect, but now I’m dying to return in warmer weather when the gardens and grounds will be in full bloom.
However, Biltmore was all prettied up for Christmas when we visited, with a tree in nearly every room! Here’s some of my favorite photos from our visit.
Biltmore’s incredible Banquet Hall at Christmas, with a 35 foot tall (real!) tree. I’m actually really loving the retro-ish tones of the Christmas decor in the hall.
Biltmore’s cozy library (well, cozy for the scale of the house, the library alone is probably near the square footage of my apartment), with another huge Christmas tree. I’m not exaggerating when I say that nearly every room has a tree at Christmastime.
Biltmore’s Tapestry Gallery, a long hallway with two fireplaces and 16th century tapestries depicting Christian themes.
The stunning Winter Garden, all decked out for Christmas, and one of my favorite parts of the house.
Christmas in Biltmore’s kitchen, with a replica gingerbread house.
One of my favorite parts of the estate was the huge conservatory! You’ll find plenty of nooks of the conservatory decorated for Christmas, and of course there’s tons of tropical plants throughout–it’s such a paradise in the winter.
During November and December, Biltmore offers special events like bonfires, and Candlelight Christmas Evenings with live music. We didn’t hand around to attend, but it’s worth looking into if you want the full Christmas experience. If you spend some time exploring the house and grounds, along with the winery, restaurants and shops, you could easily make a full day of it.
Depending on how you’re booking your stay in Asheville, you may find that you can get a deal with Biltmore tickets included in the cost of your lodging or tour package. If you’re buying tickets separately, I do recommend checking their website beforehand to see which days they expect to be busier–on many days of the year, you can just show up, but some days require pre-purchased tickets.
We recently got a chance to check out the catacombs underneath Indianapolis’ City Market. At one time used for food storage by market merchants, the extensive underground rooms are now closed off to visitors and merchants alike, with guided tours available a couple times a month.
I spent the last couple of months revisiting and photographing some of the best Columbus restaurants and bars to share with you! This is likely to be an ever growing list as I continue to eat my way through the city, finding the best food in Columbus. It sometimes comes as a surprise to people, but Columbus has so much great food!
If you’re visiting for the first time, you should know that Columbus is fairly spread out–it often feels more like a collection of suburbs than a large city. You’ll want a car– or an Uber— to criss-cross the city for these recommendations.
This chic bakery located in the heart of German Village is renowned for their macarons, which I’m honestly ambivalent about. However, you’ll also find a small brunch menu and so many other tasty baked goods to choose from. You can’t go wrong with the shortbread cookies (above) or lemon tart, and they always have creative seasonal options, like a Pear Ginger Frangipane, and Pumpkin Eclair on the fall menu right now.
The cute, airy spot with friendly staff is one of my favorite places to eat in Columbus! Dough Mama serves a small but delicious breakfast and lunch menu, along with fantastic pie.
I love their seasonal quiches, and always, always order a side of pie (despite what people may tell you, quiche + pie does not count as two pieces of pie). It’s one of those places I’m always pleasantly surprised to find empty seats. How are they not packed all the time?? While you’re waiting for that extra slice of pie to go, don’t forget to browse the wares from local artists and artisans by the register.
Two words: pancake balls. To be specific, pancake balls filled with Nutella, dulce de leche or pumpkin-apple butter. Come for breakfast or lunch, with breakfast items served till close at 3pm. I’m still working my way through the menu, but the breakfast tacos and roasted pork breakfast sandwich are also great, and I’m dying to try the biscuit balls filled with ham, apple butter and cheddar. And did I mention all this magic happens with locally sourced ingredients, in a cute renovated vintage gas station?
There’s patio seating, but the restaurant is small with limited interior seats, so you’re likely to find a line stretching out the door on weekends. Try to visit during weekdays or off hours if you can, but it’s worth the wait for the best breakfast in Columbus.
I’d probably come to Fox in the Snow’s beautiful, light filled cafe even without the delicious baked goods and coffee. Set in a former garage with huge windows and a relaxing minimalist vibe, it’s a fantastic place to hang out. They want to encourage conversation, so you won’t find wifi here. Bring a friend, or settle in with a cinnamon roll and coffee or their famous egg sandwich for company.
This cute cafe downtown has your normal elevated coffee shop offerings, as well as international options like Vietnamese coffee and bubble tea. They’re also a solid spot for breakfast or lunch, with Filipino style paninis and cupcakes on the menu. AND they’re open late-ish, which is always a plus in my book.
These three are part of a little Japanese food empire in a strip mall that also includes Japanese gift shop J Avenue, and Akai Hana, a more formal Japanese restaurant (with pretty great sushi). However, I stop most often at the three above.
Tensuke Express is my go-to for quick ramen, curry, and rice bowls. Don’t expect a nuanced, artisan broth– it’s more of a fast food ramen, but tasty nonetheless. The kimchi ramen is a good choice to give the broth an extra punch.
Tensuke Market sells pre-packaged sushi and bento style meals, along with all the ingredients you’ll need for Japanese cooking. I’m always here picking up hard to find items like shiso leaves or browsing their decent selection of sake.
Belle’s Bread might be my favorite of the three, with their amazing baked goods and Japanese café-style lunch. The French influenced pastries and fusion-y lunch options might seem out of place, but they’re actually very close to what you’d find in Japan. Think things like cod roe spaghetti (above) and omurice, alongside matcha rolls and mango mousse cake. Everything here is great, but you should try the curry donut (deep fried bread with a curry filling–it’s delicious, and hard to find outside of Japan), and I can never get enough of the matcha soft serve.
This bare bones Mexican spot is famous for their Al Pastor tacos–juicy marinated pork with pineapple slices. Tacos are just $1.50 to $2 each, and you’ll find more authentic choices as well, like beef tongue (yum!) and tripe (no thanks). Los Gauchos is great for a quick lunch, and perfect for late night munchies since they’re open till at least 11 every night.
A Columbus institution! Come for the huge menu of creative hot dogs, stay for the local music on the stereo, and hair band art on the walls. I photographed the classic Chili and Chicago Dogs, but the Seoul Dog (kimchi and mayo) and Pittsburgh Princess (coleslaw and french fries) are two of our faves as well.
Did I mention they serve beer, are open late AND have options for your vegan friends? There’s often a line during peak times (lunch and basically dinner onwards), so you may have to wait a bit. It’s worth it for one of the best cheap restaurants in Columbus.
Hands down the best Korean food in the city. I’m a big fan of their Kimchi Jige (kimchi stew, shown above), Kimchi Fried Rice, and Pork Bulgogi. You’ll get a selection of yummy banchan included with your meal as well (none of this charging extra for sub-par Kimchi like local bastardizer of Korean food, Bibibop). Min Ga has a family feel, with the same friendly faces serving every time you visit, and skews heavily toward an Asian clientele, always a good sign for authenticity.
I can’t actually speak for Sunflower’s regular Chinese menu. It could be awesome, but I’m here to steer you in the direction of their weekend dim-sum lunch. Order steamed dumplings, turnip cakes (really good!), and more from the roving trolley carts, and stuff yourself silly.
I’m a little less crazy about their dessert options–and you’ll want something more palate cleansing after all that salty deliciousness anyway– so scroll down to Desserts for a place to hit up afterwards.
Don’t discount ethnic food when you’re looking for the best places to eat in Columbus!
There seems to be an inverse relationship between “fanciness” and tastiness when it comes to Ethiopian food. The prettiest Ethiopian restaurants I’ve been to have had the worst food.
So yes, this place is sort of in the ghetto, and yes, you should definitely eat there! Everything is great here, but Ethiopian veggie dishes are consistently amazing, and Addis is no exception. The veggie combo (pictured) is a great place to start, and I’m also a fan of the addictive Fir Fir, cubed beef mixed with injera bread in a spiced sauce.
Chinese Beef Noodle Soup’s name seems to be a direct translation of their specialty. But they don’t need a catchy name with food this great! If you’ve been to Xi’an Famous Foods in New York, you have a bit of a reference point. This is Columbus’ version of Western Chinese.
The Spiced Beef Noodle Soup (they mean spicy) with handmade noodles is something I crave for days until I begrudgingly head down to the packed University district to drive around in circles until I find a parking spot. But it’s sooo worth it. Oh, and order the amazing Smashed Cucumbers too. If you don’t want to deal with parking, they also deliver through Grubhub.
A beer, Valter’s fried schnitzel sandwich, and their ridiculously addictive house made chips with beer cheese are all I need to improve a terrible day. I should probably try more of the menu, but why take the chance when you’ve found the perfect meal? Their sunny patio is nice when weather allows, and the restaurant is in an old brick home with just enough renovation to retain its charm.
Marcella’s is part of Cameron Mitchell’s empire of Columbus restaurants. They’re all pretty solid restaurants, but frequently a little overpriced for what you get.
However, I like Marcella’s enough to pay the $15ish price for entrees. The Penne alla Vodka (above) is a favorite, and the Spaghetti and Meatball (yes, just one giant meatball, and it’s perfection), is a go-to comfort food. There’s two locations, but head to the Polaris restaurant if you’re driving and don’t want to pay for valet at their Short North location.
This fried chicken joint hails from Cincinnati, also home to some pretty great food. The chicken is free range and delicious, though I could happily fill up on just the biscuits or cornbread. Everything is surprisingly reasonably priced, particularly for the Short North area. They have a decent selection of beers and cocktails, and nice beer hall-style patio space.
Anthony Bourdain ate here for the “Heartland” (basically everywhere in between the coasts) episode of No Reservations! Buuuut, Kihachi didn’t make it on the show. Still, this is easily the best, most authentic Japanese restaurant in Columbus.
The menu includes some sushi and sashimi, but they’re not a sushi bar, and you’re likely to find quite a few unfamiliar items on the menu. If you feel adventurous, ask for the Omakase dinner, sit back and enjoy course after course of small plates chosen by the chef. Ordering off the menu, you can choose from entrees like udon and rice bowls (the unaju is just as amazing as what we had in Japan), along with a ton of mouth watering small plates. Our favorites are the hamachi kama and sea bream box press sushi (top photo)–it’s so mind-bendingly good, especially with the yuzu-infused soy sauce! The restaurant is small and only open for dinner, so I recommend calling for a reservation, even for weekdays.
If I haven’t already made it clear, this is hands down one of the best Columbus restaurants!
The food at this Spanish and tapas spot probably tastes just as good in the winter, but you should definitely try to visit in the summer, and snag a spot on their lush patio. We’re fans of the Paella, goat cheese stuffed avocado, wine selection…and really most everything we’ve tried here. Tip: tell them it’s your birthday (I mean, it should be true) and dessert is free.
I feel like a lot of places try for what this old school, French influenced restaurant has, and most fall short. The high quality, the consistently amazing food, the mouth watering –and highly Instagrammable– pear tart I have to order every time. I do wish their staff would relax a bit (maybe it’s just me being allergic to formality). Their menu changes frequently, so you have ample opportunity to try something seasonal. Ask about suggested wine pairings; they’re happy to do smaller pours so you can pair a different wine with each course.
They’ve expanded to six other cities across the US, but Columbus still feels like Jeni’s is ours. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s one of the best ice creams in the country. Jeni’s really shines when it comes to the fruit flavors, creating ice creams and sorbets that actually taste like their namesakes. But everything is great, from the vanilla to the awesome curried pumpkin flavor on their fall lineup right now.
Try the Goat Cheese & Red Cherries, or the Riesling Poached Pear sorbet, if they’re on the seasonal menu when you visit. They’ll happily offer you samples of any flavors you’re intrigued by, so make sure to do a thorough taste test before you make your decision!
Without question, the best donuts in Columbus! Sure, Columbus has its share of classic donut shops, but too often they taste like over-sugared cardboard to me. Destination Donuts’ scrumptious yeast donuts are so much better! You’ll find flavors like Berry Cardamom and Mojito alongside the classics, the majority of which are vegan to boot. Their donuts are stocked by some coffee shops around town, but it’s worth visiting them in the North Market for the full selection and munchies available in other booths.
This Mexican ice cream spot adopted the name Diamonds because the owner didn’t want to change the awning left over from a jewelry store that previously inhabited the space. Turns out, it’s a fitting name! With over 70 delicious paletas (popsicles) to choose from, creative ice creams like sweet corn, and yummy Mexican fruit sundaes, you’ll want to keep coming back until you’ve tried everything. Try the mangonada, or one of the fruit paletas, or just give in and put together a giant dessert feast.
Step away from the frozen margarita and head to this perfect little Tiki spot near downtown! When it’s too cold for their little oasis of a patio, the interior has almost (is there ever really enough?) all the kitsch you could ask for. It’s amazing for chasing away the winter blues. I wouldn’t spend the money on their food offerings, but the drinks are consistently great; fun and fruity without being too sweet. Beyond the wide Tiki drink menu, there’s a variety of rums to sample, and enough beers choices to keep the killjoy non Tiki-phile in your group happy.
Columbus is pretty spread out, so I frequently miss that dense, “real city” feeling. Demark’s second floor space overlooking High Street fulfills a bit of that yearning. Their menu changes seasonally, and is always full of delicious, creative cocktails (War and Pisco, anyone? I can’t resist a good pun). Stop by for happy hour for discounts on wine and classic cocktails, and give the locally sourced snacks and small plates a try as well.
This craft cocktail bar with a curated vintage vibe is hipsterific, yes, but legitimately great. Small, candlelit and cozy, their cocktails are pricey but worth it. For maximum coziness, I recommend trying to snag the little “window” spot in the dining area cut to face the bar.
While you’d want to come here for Curio alone, they’re next door to the yummy Harvest Pizza (which should probably have its own separate listing, but hey, you’re hearing about it here), with the full menu available at the bar. The mushroom pizza + whatever strikes your fancy from the seasonal cocktail menu is a virtual guarantee of foodie bliss, and it’s one of the best places to eat in Columbus during the winter.
Rockmill is technically outside of Columbus, but you won’t regret the 30ish minute drive to get there. Set in the hilly Lancaster countryside on a former horse farm, it’s basically a park that serves beer.
Order one of their yummy Belgian-style beers, explore the grounds, picnic by the lake, and when the weather gets too cold, stay warm inside the farmhouse. They don’t serve food, so you’re encouraged you to bring your own. Tensuke Market (on the list above), and Katzingers are good choices.
UPDATE: Rockmill Tavern has opened in Columbus’ Brewery District, and they’re fantastic! Find more info at the Rockmill Brewery website below.
I’ve been meaning to write a post about this quirky monument in Dublin, Ohio for some time now–fortunately my new camera has given me an excuse to run around photographing just about everything. (Still learning the ins and outs, but really loving my new Fuji X-T2!)
The 12 foot tall sphinx-like sculpture was constructed out of stacked native limestone in Scioto Park in 1990, as a tribute to Native American Chief Shateyaronyah (known as Leatherlips among settlers).
Chief Leatherlips served as a sachem of the Wendat (Wyandot) tribe in Ohio. Leatherlips encouraged peace with white settlers, even at the cost of ceding Native lands, a position that would cost him his life.
This plays into the explanation that Touring Ohio offers up for the name white settlers used for him: “They called him Leatherlips because when his word was given, it could be trusted — his words were as strong as leather.”
But let’s back up and start with some context: As the population of the Eastern American colonies grew, conflicts with Native Americans increased, including in the Ohio Territory.
The British hoped the establishment of the Proclamation Line (1763), which ran down the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, would stop attacks by both Native Americans and American colonists. Ultimately, the threat of fines for settling past beyond the line could not stop expansion and settlers continued to move into Ohio.
Interestingly, a collective of tribes known as the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, expedited the settlement of Ohio. While the Haudenosaunee claimed ownership of hunting lands in Ohio, they did not actually control the land. Nevertheless, they signed away Ohio in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784, leading to the creation of the Northwest Territory (which became Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin) in 1787.
The Native Americans who did have valid claims to the land lost most of Ohio with the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. Leatherlips was among the signers of the treaty. The remaining lands were surrendered in 1807 with the signing of the Treaty of Maumee Rapids.
As Native Americans lost land and more Americans entered the Ohio Territory, a split of opinion developed among Native Americans as to what to do about it. Some sided with Tecumseh, who did not sign the Treaty of Greenville, and others with Leatherlips, who did not want further hostilities and wanted peaceful co-existence.
This stance ultimately led to Leatherlips’s death. His unpopular position was dividing Wendat tribes. His tribe trumped up charges of practicing witchcraft and convicted him in 1810. Despite the efforts of white settlers to dissuade or even bribe the executioners, Leatherlips was promptly executed by his people.
Within a quarter century, his people were the last tribe removed from Ohio and placed on reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma.
While this sculpture serves as a tribute to the great Wendat leader, his legacy lives on with the “Curse of Leatherlips“, which supposedly plagues the golfers who play at Dublin’s annual PGA Memorial Tournament. Seems a little farfetched, but I can respect a ghost who screws with golfers!
The sculpture’s placement on the hillside allows you to walk up into the head, look out over the park, and pose for photos (my “model” is oozing enthusiasm, I know).
Visit the Chief Leatherlips sculpture at Scioto Park:
Address: 7377 Riverside Dr., Dublin, OH
Hours: open during park hours, dawn to dusk
The park sits on the banks of the Scioto River. There’s river access, a picnic area, playground, and plenty of parking.
The museum is located in the Pathology Building that served Central State Hospital, a mental hospital that first opened in 1848. Central State grew to massive size over the years, with two large buildings housing 2,500 patients at its height. As the buildings deteriorated, the huge, ornate patient wings were torn down in the early 1970s.
Luckily, the Pathology Building was spared. Central State did continue operation into the 1990s, but the Pathology Building was shut down in the 1960s, preserved as a time capsule of medicine!
To give you a sense of scale, above is a map of the massive hospital complex, with the pathology building circled.
The Pathology Building was used for research and education, so it actually had its own small museum. The glass cases you see on the left line the walls of this room and showcase specimens.
A medical student’s project: painstakingly careful separation of the nerves of the arm, starting with the spine all the way over on the left. After removal, they were mounted on a board and lacquered.
There are gorgeous copper sinks everywhere in the building. They were installed with a coating that would prevent them from oxidizing and turning green.
Since Central State Hospital treated mental illness, many of the items in the collection are brain-related disease and injury. You can see examples of human brains with tumors, Alzheimer’s, peculiar injuries, and diseases that are far less common today, such as neurosyphilis.
The teaching amphitheater is beautiful, one of my favorite spaces in the museum–not least because it made me feel like I was stepping into The Knick.
The tiny morgue, which sits just outside the autopsy room. As part of the hospital’s research mission, deceased patients would be autopsied to search for any physical clues to the cause of their mental illness.
See that pipe to the left of the window in the autopsy room below? It’s a dictation tube that the doctors would use to dictate notes to a stenographer located in the records room above. We couldn’t take photos in the records room due to privacy concerns, but it is filled with beautifully handwritten and very detailed records of each autopsy.
An infant size iron lung–obviously not something that would have originally been in this room, but now displayed here as they’ve acquired more medical equipment from other area hospitals to expand their medical collection.
Old, stained tissue slides, used for both reference and research. Some diseases such as neurosyphilis were easy to identify in patients since they would have specific physical markers the doctors could identify. Others like schizophrenia did not exhibit physical traits that the doctors could identify using the tools they had available at the time.
Bottle from the many chemicals and compounds the doctors used in their research.
Cobalt glass apothecary cabinet. The dark glass protects the potions within from light damage.
Looking down onto the teaching amphitheater from one of the two upstairs balconies.
The doctors began using photography almost immediately, both for research and education. They even had their own darkroom!
An infant skeleton on display in an upstairs library.