Airbnb Experiences Review: 3 Tours in Mexico City

Review of Airbnb Experiences

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.

Next, Spectactular Lucha Libre and Street Tacos featured a walking tour of street tacos, followed by a Lucha Libre show.

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.

The Verdict

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.

La Gruta, the Cave Restaurant near Mexico City’s Teotihuacan Pyramids

La Gruta Restaurant at Teotihuacan

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 Cave Restaurant at Teotihuacan

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.

15 Ridiculously Addictive International Condiments You Can Buy Online

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Popular International Condiments

Popular International Condiments: Kewpie Mayo
1. Kewpie Mayo

Japan’s beloved mayonnaise is a cult favorite, and for good reason. Chefs will tell you that Kewpie is closer to homemade mayo, and once you’ve had it, it’s hard to use anything else. And don’t get me started on Japanese potato salad— so good!

Popular International Condiments: Maggi Seasoning
2. Maggi Seasoning

Like soy sauce, but better, with a smoky, meaty flavor. Maggi is incredibly popular in Vietnam, and you might have had it without knowing on Bahn Mi– it’s frequently mixed with mayo and spread on Vietnam’s famous sandwiches. Try the original German version for even more umami punch.

Popular International Condiments: Piri Piri Hot Sauce
3. Piri Piri (or Peri Peri) Sauce

Sriracha has become a huge phenomenon in the United States, but in my mind, it doesn’t hold a candle to Portugal’s Piri Piri hot sauce. Made from the African Bird’s Eye Pepper, this hot sauce has more depth and complexity, and–depending on the formulation– a hint of sweetness. I first encountered the spicy nectar during my Try the World Review, and it’s since caused me to completely neglect my bottle of sriracha.

Popular International Condiments: Bourbon Barrel Maple Syrup
4. Bourbon Maple Syrup

It’s not clear who pioneered the practice of aging maple syrup in bourbon barrels, but it’s pretty brilliant. Whiskey barrels are re-used to give the syrup oakey, spicy, and well, bourbon notes. There’s quite a few producers in the United States and Canada. Excellent on pancakes, and in coffee and cocktails.

Popular International Condiments: Marmite and Vegemite
5. Vegemite and Marmite

Both yeast based spreads, from Australia, and the United Kingdom, respectively, Vegemite and Marmite are controversial to say the least. I’m not a fan– but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it! Those who enjoy the taste describe it as deep and umami, like beef bouillon or concentrated mushrooms.

Popular International Condiments: Banana Sauce
6. Banana Sauce

Banana sauce hails from the Philippines, where was created to stand in for ketchup during a WWII shortage. The concoction stuck around, becoming one of the country’s favorite condiments. Much like ketchup, some people put it on everything, though the banana scent just doesn’t scream “hot dog condiment” to me.

Popular International Condiments: Japanese Wasabi
7. Wasabi

Yeah, you probably know this one. But the Japanese vibrant green Japanese horseradish-like plant is great to have around for more than just doctoring take-out sushi. Mix some wasabi with mayo for your roast beef sandwich, combine it with ketchup for an awesome cocktail sauce, it’ll shine anywhere you’d normally use horseradish.

Popular International Condiments: Lao Gan Ma Chili Oil
8. Lao Gan Ma

Lao Gan Ma chili oil is a Chinese cult favorite. It’s made with fermented black beans for a deep, earthy, umami taste, and packs heat, but not too much. Aficionados put it on everything, from grilled cheese, to soup.

Popular International Condiments: Thai Fish Sauce
9. Fish Sauce

Ever tried to make pad thai at home? It’s never quite the same as at the restaurants, and there’s a good chance that fish sauce (along with tamarind paste), is what you’re missing. Funky and fishy, but you won’t taste that pungency in your dishes, just salty, umami goodness.

Popular International Condiments: Ajvar Pepper Spread
10. Ajvar (or Ajver)

Ajvar is a Serbian red pepper spread that’s available (or you can make it) sweet, or spicy. It’s fantastic on bread, vegetables, meats, or as a dipping sauce, and you’ll see it used at pretty much any meal of the day.

Popular International Condiments: Harissa
11. Harissa

Harissa is a North African chili paste enhanced with spices like coriander, caraway and cumin. Use it in soups, marinades, dips anything that needs a punch of flavor.

Popular International Condiments: Branston Pickle
12. Branston Pickle

Britain’s Branston Pickle is really a pickled vegetable relish, in a sticky brown sauce of dates and tomato. It has a nice sweet and sour taste, is addictive, and fantastic on sandwiches or crackers.

Popular International Condiments: Tkemali Sour Plum Sauce
13. Tekmali

This sour plum sauce is popular in Russia and Georgia. Tkemali is often used in meat, poultry, and potato dishes, but its tart, vinegary, slightly sweet taste lends itself to experimentation.

Popular International Condiments: Boiled Cider Syrup
14. Boiled Cider Syrup

Boiled cider might sound like the newest hipster foodie trend, but Wood’s Cider Mill has been making it in Vermont since 1882. Amazing on pancakes and in cocktails, and many swear in gives that special something to pies and cakes.

Popular International Condiments: Papaya Hot Sauce
15. Papaya Hot Sauce

Aurba’s favorite hot sauce marries papaya with habanero peppers. Papaya hot sauce is sweet and spicy, excellent with seafood, and anywhere you’d use hot sauce.

Try the World Subscription Box Review

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Try the World Review

I’d been wanting to subscribe to Try the World for a long time, so when I saw their recent special offering a free Portugal and Brazil box with the purchase of their new Michelin box, I jumped on it! (yes, I spent my own money, this review is NOT sponsored). Read on for my Try the World review…

What’s in the boxes?

Try the World boxes are generally themed around a country, and have a mix of ready to eat snacks and ingredients you can use in your home cooking.

Try the World Review 2017: The Michelin Box

First up, the Michelin box, which is curated by Michelin and Try the World.

It includes Tartufata Truffle Sauce from Italy, Paine d’epices (spiced bread) Baking Mix from France, Mini Pineapple Cakes from Taiwan, Blackberry Jam from England, Darling Sweet Toffee from South Africa, K’ekua Hot Chocolate Tablets from Mexico, Date Spread from Israel, and Gingersnaps from Sweden.

There was also a large insert describing the items and offering recipe suggestions:

Try the World Review 2017: The Michelin Box
Try the World Subscription Box Review 2017: The Michelin Box
Try the World Review 2017: The Portugal Box

The Portugal box includes Apple Cinnamon Black Tea, Olivais du Sol Olive Oil, Codfish Seasoning, Piri Piri Hot Sauce, Rare Jams Rocha Pear and Port Wine Jam (and a tin of jack mackerel that I accidentally knocked off the table and didn’t include in the photo below).

The Portugal Box: Review of Try the World Subscription 2017
Try the World Food Subscription Box Review 2017: The Brazil Box

The Brazil Box includes Churrasco Sauce, Churraasco Spice Mix, Goiabada Guava Paste, Parana Special Origin Ground Coffee, Jaboticaba Jam, and Pacoquita Peanut Candy.

The Brazil Box: Try the World Review 2017

But how do they taste?

I won’t review every single item from the boxes, but here’s my opinion on a bunch of them:

Plate of sweets from Try the World Subscription Box 2017

The first thing I did was grab all the sweets that required no preparation, brew up some of the coffee from the Brazil box, and start sampling!

Jamboticaba Berry Jam

I spread this on rye toast, because it was the only bread I had in the house–and it was good! Smooth and plummy, the jam tastes like fruit, without any distractions. A little like fruit leather, actually.

Gingersnap cookies

Thin, crunchy, buttery, with a nice burst of ginger flavor. These are what I was craving over the holidays!

Pineapple cakes

Just not good. The pineapple filling doesn’t really taste like pineapple, and the “cake” is crumbly and too dry. I like that they’re not over sweetened, but that’s the only nice thing I can say about them. Maybe they’re better fresh?

Toffee

I don’t know why I’m reviewing this one, because I don’t like toffee. Is toffee always this hard? (the boyfriend says it’s normal to feel like it might break your teeth at first. he also proceeded to eat most of the box).

Pacoquita Peanut candy

I like that’s it’s simply made, with just peanuts, sugar and salt. These were good, if a little too sweet for me– but it is marketed as a candy bar. The boyfriend says it tastes like peanut butter fudge.

Parana Coffee

Nice medium roast coffee, not a revelation, but I think this is what’s missing from the experience.

Try the World Subscription Review 2017: Breakfast with Try the World ingredients
Apple Cinnamon Black Tea

Nothing exotic, but a nice tea. Many fruit flavored teas taste fake to me; this was just yummy and subtle.

Pear & Port Wine Jam

Good, though I don’t taste pear and port so much as honey and black pepper.

Truffle Sauce

They recommended adding it to omelets, but my omelets are always a disaster, so I just spread some on my scrambled eggs. It’s made of mushrooms, olive oil, olives…and 1% truffles.

The flavor is intense and super sharp, and not in a good way. Maybe it’s the olives or bad olive oil? I like olives, but this is terrible. You taste some of the earthiness of the mushrooms after the initial hit of sharpness, but it’s not enough to make the spread palatable.

This went in the trash along with the pineapple cakes; two strikeouts from the Michelin box.

Guava turnovers with guava paste from Try the World 2017
Guava Paste

After googling to see what I could do with the guava paste from the Brazil box, I settled on these easy turnovers.

I’d probably go a little lighter on the cream cheese next time, but they were good! The paste was concentrated, yet not too sweet, and really didn’t even need the cream cheese to be delicious. Guava paste is easy to pick up on Amazon, so I’ll probably buy more to experiment with.

Try the World Review 2017: Hot cocoa and spiced bread

Hot Chocolate Tablets

The “tablets” are big discs of chocolate, sugar and cinnamon; you break off half a disc or so, warm with milk in a saucepan, and voila! It’s similar to my favorite Moonstruck hot chocolate. It might not replace my standby, but I’ll definitely be using these over the winter.

Pain d’epices

The French spiced bread mix was was easy to make, just add warm milk and honey to the mix, then bake. And it’s yummy! Dense and sweet (you really taste the honey), with warm spices and hints of pepper. Well balanced, but even better with some salted butter to offset the sweetness.

Try the World Review 2017: Sauces and Spreads

This round didn’t photograph as yummy as it was–possibly because I was eager to actually eat it, rather than spend time styling! But you get the idea. I tried out the hot sauce on top of my avocado and fried egg toast, and the last two spreads shared space on toast.

Piri Piri Hot Sauce

This might be my new favorite hot sauce. Not too hot, so you can apply liberally, it has an interesting fruity/ citrusy/ vinegary complexity.

Blackberry Jam

I like it! Sweet, but a little bit tart, this is something I’d buy again.

Date Spread

I was concerned that this would be too much concentrated sweetness, and better with a cheese to offset it. Turns out, it’s actually really nice. Similar to the texture and sweetness of apple butter– but clearly made with dates, I still wouldn’t mind some cheese, but it’s just fine on toast. I’ll definitely be experimenting more with this one.

Olivais du Sol Olive Oil

Not pictured, but I’ve been using this for cooking. It’s a decent, mild olive oil, but doesn’t have the fruitiness that I love in my standby olive oil.

Would I buy again?

Overall, Try the World’s selections were more hit than miss. Some items were just what I was hoping for: new, interesting and yummy. Others weren’t to my taste, or were total flops (like the terrible truffle sauce and pineapple cakes from the Michelin box). The buy one box, get two free deal that I snagged made it worthwhile, but I’m not sure if I’d regularly spend $30-$40 on each box.

Try the World also offers customized boxes, smaller boxes, as well as the ability to purchase some individual items that have appeared in past boxes. I’m thinking about giving the customized boxes a try in the future.

If you’re thinking about subscribing, watch out for deals, or you can use this link to get a free box when you subscribe. (make sure to remember to pause or cancel your subscription if, like me, you just want to try a box or two).

Ohio to California in an Amtrak Sleeper Car

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I just got back from my first train trip in the US! We took an Amtrak train for the two-day trip from Toledo, Ohio to San Diego, California.

We sprung for one of the largest compartments they offer, the “bedroom.” It sleeps two, and includes a private toilet and shower, but is pretty tight quarters. When I was doing research, scouring for photos prior to the trip, it was difficult to get a good idea of what the rooms are really like. I thought, “I can do better than that!” Turns out, even with my wide angle lens, it’s harder than you’d think. Still, I hope this provides an idea of what to expect.

Traveling in an Amtrak Superliner Room

Bedrooms are located on the second floor of train cars, taking up most of the width of the car, with a narrow hallway along one side. The rooms have sliding doors with a small window allowing you to see out into the hallway.

The photo below was taken standing at the entrance to the compartment:

Amtrak Superliner Bedroom

You can see the top bunk folded up at an angle on the left, and just a bit of the sink to the right. The sofa can be pulled out to create a bed. Setting up the bunks for sleeping isn’t difficult once you get the hang of it, but let your car attendant at least show you how the first time. They’re happy to help you reconfigure in mornings and evenings throughout your trip. Both bunks have thin mattresses that go on top of the already padded surfaces.

Bedroom in an Amtrak Superliner Sleeper Car

From the opposite direction, leaning against the exterior wall of the room, looking towards the door. The bottom bed is fully extended in this photo. It’s large enough to be comfortable for most adults, and the mattress that’s currently stowed in the top bunk would sit on top to cover the gap.

The doors lock from the inside, but not the outside. This means that when you can’t lock your room when you leave. I felt a little uncomfortable with this, but we didn’t have any problems.

Sink in the Amtrak Southwest Chief bedroom

Turning a little to the left, you can see the sink, and the compartment that encases the bathroom, with a tiny bit of the bathroom door on the left edge of the photo (sorry the photo is so blurry!). There’s very little storage and counter space, so my Victorinox cosmetics case, hung from a coat hook, was a lifesaver!

Tiny private bathroom and shower in an Amtrak bedroom

Moving further to the left, here’s the toilet and shower. It’s a little plastic room with just enough space in front of the toilet to shower. I had no problem showering, but it is difficult to dress or undress in the bathroom. There’s plenty of room to do so outside of the bathroom, just keep in mind if you choose to share the room with a friend, you won’t have much privacy.

Lunch in my private room on Amtrak Southwest Chief

Seated on the sofa, looking out the compartment’s windows. There’s a chair on the other side of the fold out table, and the bathroom is to the far right. Meals are included in the cost of your room ticket, and you can choose between eating in the dining car, or having the attendant deliver your food.

The observation car and dining car both offer nice views of the passing scenery, but I was happiest curled up in my room watching the golden foliage go by. Despite spotty internet and having forgotten to pack a book, time passed surprisingly quickly.

Autumn leaves in New Mexico on an Amtrak trip
Amtrak superliner bedroom

Taken from inside the bathroom (one could theoretically use the facilities while enjoying the scenery passing by), you can see the chair that was at the right edge of the last photo. The bunks are to the left.

I felt a little bad about taking photos with our junk strewn everywhere, but this is much more realistic! There’s so little storage that clutter is inevitable. We packed a carry on size bag, and my large Raden suitcase. There’s a shelf above the chair that stowed the carry on bag, but my large bag was mostly in the way for the entire trip. Next time, I’d pack a smaller bag of necessities and check my large suitcase through (it has to be under 50 pounds, but there’s no extra cost to check a bag).

Amtrak sleeper car bedroom

Looking slightly to the left, still in the bathroom. You can see the sofa/ bottom bunk, and my big suitcase preventing the bathroom door from opening completely. (Awesome moon pillowcase found on Etsy)

Veeeerry 80s call box in an Amtrak bedroom

There’s a little control box next to the window with light controls, button to call the attendant, and volume controls (the PA system for announcements pipes right into your room). It’s obviously pretty dated– as is the entire compartment– but other than the volume/channel controls, everything worked fine.

Eating in the dining car on Amtrak

Food in Amtrak Dining Cars

With the exception of breakfast, meals in the dining car are scheduled by an attendant, who will stop by your compartment and offer you a choice of seating times. Unless you’re traveling in a large party, you’ll be seated with other people.

The food was better than airplane food (at least what they serve you in steerage), but overall a weak point in the experience. Much like airline food, some things seemed pre-made and reheated, and the quality wasn’t the highest. This is coming from a food snob, I don’t think it would bother everyone. However, if I were traveling on Amtrak again, I’d think about bringing along some healthy non-perishables (there’s plenty of junk food available for purchase from the cafe underneath the observation car), or even grabbing a dinner to go during the Chicago layover.

Amtrak diner car food

Amtrak Stations & Layovers

The rail system in the United States is very freight focused, and Amtrak (which shares rails with freight trains) has limited routes. This means that even though I live in the capital city of Ohio, the closest station is 2 hours away (and that route would have meant driving south, only to have the train take me north again). I ended up opting to drive 3 hours north to Toledo, Ohio, where I caught the Capitol Limited to Chicago, then the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles, and finally, the Pacific Surfliner to San Diego.

Initially, I admit, this seemed like a pain in the ass. But this isn’t like air travel, where layovers involve being trapped in an airport, miles from the city center. Train stations are generally centrally located, and often in gorgeous, historic buildings. In Chicago, we stepped out the doors of Union Station right into the middle of the city!

And then there’s the lounges. In large cities, Amtrak has a Metropolitan Lounge for first class customers. They have refreshments, snacks, comfy seats, and frequently offer bag storage.

Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago's Union Station
Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago's Union Station

Since our layover in Chicago was 6 hours, we dropped our bags in the storage room of the lounge and set off to explore the city, starting with an amazing cured meat spread at Snaggletooth. (This one is sort of cheating on the walkability brag, since it required an Uber ride to get there, but very worth it!)

Cured meat spread at Snaggletooth Chicago
View from the rooftop of the Chicago Athletic Association

Back downtown, we were able to explore Millennium Park, visit the Bean, the incredible BP pedestrian bridge, stroll down to the Chicago Athletic Club for drinks on the roof, and walk back to the station, with lots of time to spare.

Drinks at Cindys, with a great view from the rooftop of the Chicago Athletic Association

After all the walking, we were happy to take advantage of the private showers in the Metropolitan Lounge:

Private showers at Amtrak's Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago

The showers were better than I expected! Large, modern and clean, with towels, soap and shampoo provided.

Union Station Los Angeles traveling on Amtrak

Our layover in Los Angeles (also a Union Station, and also gorgeous!) was originally just a couple hours, but we caught a later train in order to see a bit of the downtown.

Union Station is an easy walk to both the charming Mexican market of Olvera Street, AND Little Tokyo. So we took full advantage and stuffed ourselves! Tamales for breakfast…

Tamales on Olvera St, Los Angeles
Cactus at Avila Adobe, Los Angeles

Followed by mochi from Japanese confectioner Fugetsu-Do, who’ve been in Little Tokyo since 1903:

Fugetsu-Do mochi, in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo

And topped off with a stop at Kula Revolving Sushi:

Kula Revolving Sushi in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo
Kula Revolving Sushi in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo
Amtrak's Metropolitan Lounge in Los Angeles

We had a little time to hang out in the Metropolitan Lounge back at the station. It’s smaller than Chicago’s and without showers, but a quiet and pleasant space.

View of the ocean from Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner train

The final leg of our trip, the Surfliner, winds very close to the Pacific ocean in spots! Seats aren’t reserved, so ask the conductor if you’re not sure which side of the train to sit on for ocean views.

Amtrak's San Diego Station

Aaand finally in Sand Diego! San Diego’s train station was built by Santa Fe Railways, and was long referred to as the Santa Fe Depot, thus the Santa Fe tiles.

This was the one stop where we didn’t get to explore the surrounding area, instead hopping in an Uber, and heading to our hotel. We were in San Diego for a conference, so my time was mostly taken up with that, but I shared a little from San Diego on Instagram.

Overall Thoughts on Amtrak

While it’s a little more expensive, I love traveling this way! After this, and my trip on a private jet, it’s so hard to put up with being crammed into coach seats, and all the stress that goes with it.

Everyone was incredibly nice. In sharp contrast to airline employees, Amtrak employees were consistently pleasant and helpful. Even when she was obviously sleep deprived, our car attendant was sweet and happy to answer our endless barrage of questions. (Tipping is recommended for good service).

If I could swing the price, I’d book a separate room for each adult on future trips. The bottom bunk was quite a bit more comfortable than the top. It’s larger, with room to sit up, and just felt nicer. The top bunk is a little claustrophobic for an adult, and was freezing, even when my companion was toasty in the bottom bunk.

Take advantage of layovers (or create one). If you’re traveling by rail, you’re probably not in a hurry, so use the slow pace to your advantage. Go out and see the city during your layover, or even ask during booking about getting a later connecting train for a longer layover. If I took this route again, I’d think about staying overnight in Chicago or LA.

Best Restaurants in Columbus, Ohio 2020: A Local’s List

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Best Restaurants and Bars in Columbus, Ohio

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.

Best Breakfast, Brunch, & Coffee in ColumbusPistacia Vera Bakery: Best Bakeries in Columbus, 2017Pistacia Vera

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.


Pistacia Vera’s Website

Address (German Village location, also in the North Market): 541 South Third Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215

Phone: 614-220-9070


The best pie in Columbus, at Dough Mama Cafe, 2017Dough Mama: Best Pie in Columbus

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.


Dough Mama’s Website

Address: Clintonville, 3335 N High St, Columbus, OH 43202

Phone: 614-268-3662


The best breakfast in Columbus, Ohio, 2017. Katalina's Restaurant

The best breakfast in Columbus, Ohio, 2017. Katalina's Restaurant pancake balls.Katalina’s: Best Breakfast in Columbus

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.


Katalina’s Website

Address: Harrison West, 1105 Pennsylvania Ave. Columbus, OH 43201

Phone: 614-294-2233


Fox in the Snow, the best coffee shop in Columbus, OH, 2017 Cinnamon roll at Fox in the Snow, the best coffee shop in Columbus, OH, 2017 Fox in the Snow, the best coffee shop in Columbus, OH, 2017Fox in the Snow Cafe: Best Coffee 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.


Fox in the Snow’s Website

Address: Italian Village, 1031 N. Fourth Street, Columbus, OH 43201

Phone: none


Red Velvet Cafe, the best coffee shops in Columbus, OH, 2017 Red Velvet Cafe, the best coffee shops in Columbus, OH, 2017Red Velvet Cafe

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.


Red Velvet’s Website

Address: Downtown, 246 S 4th St, Columbus, OH, 43215

Phone: 614-221-1889


Best Cheap Eats in Columbus

The best Japanese food in Columbus, 2017. Tensuke and Belles BreadTensuke Express / Tensuke Market / Belles Bread

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.


Tensuke Market’s Website / Tensuke Express Website / Belles Bread Website

Address (all in the same strip mall): Upper Arlington, 1167 Old Henderson Rd, Columbus, OH 43220

Phone (Tensuke Market): 614-451-2551


The best tacos in Columbus, 2017, at Los Gauchos.Los Gauchos

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.


Los Gaucho’s Website

Address: Northwest Columbus, 5221 Godown Rd. Columbus, OH 43235

Phone: 614-538-0211


The best cheap eats in Columbus, OH, 2017. Dirty Franks Hot Dog Palace The best cheap eats in Columbus, OH, 2017. Dirty Franks Hot Dog PalaceDirty Franks: Best Cheap Eats in Columbus

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.


Dirty Frank’s Website

Address: Downtown, 248 S. 4th Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43215

Phone: 614-824-4673

Second location: 2836 W Broad St, Columbus, OH 43204

Phone: 614-974-0074


Best Casual Dining in Columbus

The best Korean food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Min Ga Korean restaurantMin Ga: Best Korean Food 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.


Min Ga’s Website

Address: Northwest Columbus, 800 Bethel Rd, Columbus, OH 43214

Phone: 614-457-7331


The best Dim Sum in Columbus, OH, 2017. Sunflower Chinese restaurantSunflower Chinese

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.


Sunflower’s Website

Address: Dublin, 7370 Sawmill Road, Columbus, OH 43235

Phone: 614-764-7888


The best Ethiopian food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Addis Ethiopian restaurant The best Ethiopian food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Addis Ethiopian restaurantAddis: Best Ethiopian Food in Columbus

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.


Addis’ Website

Address: Northeast Columbus, 3750 Cleveland Ave, Columbus, OH 43224

Phone: 614-269-8680


The best Chinese food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Beef Noodle Soup Chinese restaurantChinese Beef Noodle Soup

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.


Chinese Beef Noodle Soup’s Website

Address: University District, 10 E 12th Ave. Columbus, OH 43201

Phone: 614-817-1360


The best German food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Valters German RestaurantValters: Best German Food in Columbus

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.


Valter’s Website

Address: German Village, 976 South High St, Columbus, Ohio 43206

Phone: 614-444-3531


The best Italain food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Marcellas Italian restaurantMarcella’s- Best Italian Food in Columbus

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.


Marcella’s Website

Address (Polaris location): 1319 Polaris Parkway, Columbus, Ohio 43240

Phone: 614-844-6500


The best Southern food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Fried chicken at The Eagle Southern restaurant

The best Southern food in Columbus, OH, 2017. The Eagle restaurantThe Eagle

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.


The Eagle’s Website

Address: Short North, 790 N. High Street, Columbus, OH 43215

Phone: 614-745-3397


Best Fine Dining in Columbus

The best Japanese food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Kihachi Japanese restaurant

The best Japanese food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Kihachi izakaya style Japanese restaurant

The best Japanese food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Kihachi Japanese restaurant The best Japanese food in Columbus, OH, 2017. Kihachi Japanese restaurantKihachi: Best Japanese Food in Columbus

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!


Kihachi’s Website

Address: Dublin, 2667 Federated Blvd, Columbus, OH 43235

Phone: 614-764-9040


The best tapas in Columbus, OH, 2017. Barcelona Spanish restaurantBarcelona: Best Tapas in Columbus

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.


Barcelona’s Website

Address: German Village, 263 East Whittier Street, Columbus, OH 43206

Phone: 614-443-3699


The best French Fine Dining in Columbus, OH, 2017. Refectory French restaurant The best French Fine Dining in Columbus, OH, 2017. Refectory French restaurant The Refectory: Best Fine Dining in Columbus

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.


The Refectory’s Website

Address: Northwest Columbus, 1092 Bethel Road, Columbus Ohio 43220

Phone: 614-451-9774


Best Dessert in Columbus

The best Ice Cream in Columbus, OH, 2017. Jeni's Ice CreamJeni’s: Best Ice Cream in Columbus

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!


Jeni’s Website

Address: 10 locations in Columbus, see the website for addresses, or type “Jeni’s Ice Cream” into your GPS to see the location closest to you


The best Doughnuts in Columbus, OH, 2017. Destination Donuts in the North Market The best Doughnuts in Columbus, OH, 2017. Destination DonutsDestination Donuts: Best Doughnuts in Columbus

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.


Destination Donuts’ Website

Address (inside the North Market): 59 Spruce Street, Columbus OH 43215

Phone: 614-525-0878


The best Dessert in Columbus, OH, 2017. Ice Cream at Diamonds restaurantDiamonds

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.


Diamonds’ Website

Address: Northwest Columbus, 5461 Bethel Sawmill Center, Columbus, OH 43235

Phone: 614-362-2114


Best Drinks in Columbus

The best Cocktails in Columbus, OH, 2017. Grass Skirt Tiki Bar

The best Tiki Drinks in Columbus, OH, 2017. Grass Skirt Tiki BarGrass Skirt Tiki Room

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.


Grass Skirt Tiki Room’s Website

Address: Downtown, 105 N Grant Avenue, Columbus, OH 43215

Phone: 614-429-3650


The best Cocktails in Columbus, OH, 2017. Denmark on High cocktail bar The best Cocktails in Columbus, OH, 2017. Denmark on High cocktail barDenmark on High

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.


Denmark’s Website

Address: Short North, 463 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43215, second floor

Phone: 614-914-6700


The best Cocktails in Columbus, OH, 2017. Curio cocktail barCurio: Best Cocktails in Columbus

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.


Curio’s Website

Address: German Village, 495 S. 4th St, Columbus, Ohio 43206

Phone: 614-824-1769


The best Breweries in Columbus, OH, 2017. Rockmill BreweryRockmill Brewery

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.

The best Breweries in Columbus, OH, 2017. Rockmill TavernUPDATE: Rockmill Tavern has opened in Columbus’ Brewery District, and they’re fantastic! Find more info at the Rockmill Brewery website below.

(p.s. see my Rockmill post for more photos)


Rockmill Brewery’s Website

Address: 5705 Lithopolis Rd NW, Lancaster, OH 43130

Phone: 740-205-8076


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Rockmill Brewery’s Idyllic Countryside Taproom in Lancaster, Ohio

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Rockmill Brewery

We took advantage of one of the last warm days of autumn to spend the afternoon at Rockmill Brewery, picnicking on their sunny grounds. They’re set on a former horse farm outside of Columbus, so it’s sort of like visiting a park that serves beer.

I usually opt for their easy drinking Witbier, thought their “Rugged Expanse” stout, which usually isn’t my favorite style, paired extremely well with my makeshift picnic food. Rockmill doesn’t serve food, so you’re welcome to bring your own–which is actually a nice setup. I went with sandwiches from local deli Katzingers, but people bring pizza, cheese plates, whatever they think is the perfect beer pairing.

If you want to see what Rockmill envisions pairing with their beers, they also have a Columbus tavern.

Owner and brewer Mathew Barbee chose the pastoral location in part because the mineral content of the water lends itself well to the Belgian style brews he crafts. While Rockmill has been in operation since 2012, they didn’t make it onto my radar till this year, and now I’m kicking myself for missing out for so long!

Rockmill Brewery | Thought & Sight

We took a walk to check out the grounds after lunch, including the cute little chapel they rent out for weddings.

Rockmill Brewery | Thought & Sight
Rockmill Brewery | Thought & Sight
Rockmill Brewery | Thought & Sight
Rockmill Brewery | Thought & Sight
Rockmill Brewery | Thought & Sight
Rockmill Brewery | Thought & Sight
Rockmill Brewery | Thought & Sight

There’s so many cozy nooks to hang out inside the farmhouse! Not too many people inside since it was a gorgeous day, but I can imagine it’s popular in the winter.

Rockmill Brewery | Thought & Sight
Rockmill Brewery | Thought & Sight

Visiting Rockmill Brewery


They’re generally open Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. However, be sure to check Rockmill’s website for open hours, as they’re sometimes closed for special events.

Address: 5705 Lithopolis Rd NW, Lancaster, OH 43130

Phone: 740-205-8076


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What It’s like to Fly on a Private Jet

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Flying on a Private Jet

Flying is generally not my favorite experience. Can you say that you love “travel” without actually enjoying the process of getting from here to there? Except trains. Trains are awesome. But flying doesn’t have to be terrible, and we were lucky enough recently to take a trip on a private Gulfstream jet with JetSmarter (thanks Johnny Jet!).

Read on to see what it was like…

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & SightGetting There & Checking In

Departure options are limited to major cities, so we opted to take the NY to Las Vegas flight for a short weekend in Vegas, a city we’d never visited.

That’s our car in the foreground of the photo above, 25 feet from the terminal, in a gated parking lot. We arrived early because I wanted plenty of time to take photos, but they request that you arrive 30 minutes before the flight departure time–and we could probably have gotten away with less.

Our suitcases were whisked away and checked, but there were no TSA pat downs, no porno-scanners. Just a quick visual check of the boyfriend’s backpack, and no one asked to check my purse.

Also: no tossing your reasonably-priced bottle of water in the trash so you can pay $5 for a new one once you’re past security. Your liquids are not a security threat in this magical world of leg room and free booze.

Flying on a Private Jet | Thought & SightWe hung out in the terminal lounge watching planes take off until it was time to leave. Passengers on other chartered flights passed through, and the parking lot gate facing the runways opened periodically to allow fliers to be ferried directly to their planes.

As the other passengers for our flight started arriving, the captain walked around and checked everyone’s ID’s. The whole experience was so weirdly pleasant.

I tend to be subjected to only the average humiliations when flying. The boyfriend, on the other hand, is nearly always “random” bag check. (He’s in the photo standing next to the helicopter if you scroll way down). I can only assume that the TSA buffoons responsible for profiling believe that large, luxurious beards pose the gravest danger to our skies.

Here, no one batted an eye.

Flying on a Private Jet | Thought & SightWhen it came time to board, our plane was waiting just a short stroll out the terminal door.

The Plane

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

Above is the view from the back of the plane near our group of seats at the conference table. The plane seats 12 in large, cushy leather seats and a sofa. It’s staffed by 2 pilots and 1 flight attendant.

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

You can turn around in the lavatory! And there’s classy gold accents. My iphone doesn’t capture a wide enough angle, but this is not the usual closet-bathroom.

If you’re wondering, that spray head next to the toilet below is labeled “bidet.” I did not try it.

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & SightLounging in my seat. With a real blanket. And champagne. And waaaay more than the useless 3 degree tilt on economy airline seats. This calls for a nap.

The Experience

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

Drinks, snacks and food were all included of course, and served with real glassware, plates and silverware. I got a prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich with a caesar salad, and they were both great.

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

The menu from the return flight. The food wasn’t quite as good on this leg (but we’re food snobs). Still. Edible food on a plane! I ate plane food without the customary experience of self-loathing or gastrointestinal distress. So much for all those articles blaming your loser tastebuds for not enjoying disgusting plane food.

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & SightThe blueberry cookie was pretty good too.

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & SightThe windows were larger than I’m used to on commercial flights…or maybe it’s just that this plane didn’t have those awkwardly crammed-in seats with a view of mostly wall and a third of a window.

Those dark outlines you see on the buffet are water, newspapers, and snacks (some of which may have found their way into my bag for late night munchies at the hotel).

Flying on a Private Jet | Thought & SightYay, arrived in Vegas!

Dealing with Problems

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

A little over halfway through our flight back from Vegas, the captain walked back with an announcement. Because he’d felt the plane jerk to the right a bit on takeoff, he was concerned that one of the tires on the landing gear was low. After discussion–and out of an abundance of caution–they’d decided to divert the plane to Stewart Airport, whose larger runways would make it safer to land the plane if anything went wrong.

He took his time, addressed us by name, asked if we had any questions, and reassured us that there wasn’t anything to worry about. The plan was to have a mechanic take a look, then hop on over to Westchester airport if he didn’t find any issues.

As it turns out, our landing was perfectly smooth. However, the mechanic must not have liked what he saw, because they made the decision to transfer us to Westchester by helicopter.

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

Can we stop here and discuss how weird it is to be treated like you matter when flying? I know that a commercial airline can’t realistically helicopter a plane full of people to their destination, but there are a lot of things they could do to make bad situations better and show they value passengers’ comfort and time. Yet, in my experience, they mostly don’t.

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

The helicopter pilot rearranging luggage to fit everyone’s suitcases in the helicopter (I was the jerk with the giant suitcase).

When flying out of Westchester, a lot of people take a helicopter from Manhattan, so most suitcases were within the size limit. There was just enough room for the luggage, and we were off!

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

The window was so big that I felt less queasy looking through my phone camera. I think I was leaning away from the window– and into the lady next to me– the entire flight. Fear of heights aside, the sunset views were gorgeous.

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & Sight

What It's Like to Fly on a Private Jet | Thought & SightWe quickly made it to Westchester, landing in front of our terminal. Our car was just outside the door, ready to take us back to real life, where flying is never this awesome.

 

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Recommended Read: Rice Noodle Fish

Rice, Noodle, Fish is part travelogue, part food guide, and one of the best I’ve read from either category in quite some time. Stunning landscapes might stir my wanderlust, but what I ultimately want to know is “What do they have to eat?”

Matt Goulding ably answers that question, traveling Japan to highlight the wide range of shokunin (artisans who are obsessively devoted to their craft– think Jiro from Jiro Dreams of Sushi). From high end yakitori in Tokyo, to cocktails with unexpected seasonal ingredients sourced entirely from Japan (carrots from Kanagawa, anyone?), to a small town couple preserving long-held traditions of fermentation, to an incongruous but excellent French bakery in Hokkaido, I found myself alternately delighting and despairing in Goulding’s descriptions. Why am I not there, eating that, right now??

Recommended Read: Rice Noodle Fish Book Review | Thought & Sight

Goulding intersperses his profiles of shokunin with short cultural tips, food photos with accompanying names and kanji, and even recommendations on what to order from vending machines or buy from conveniences stores (which I’m already smitten with). Even if you’re not a big foodie, the writing is engaging; covering history, culture, stories of the shokunin– and yes, while it’s not the major focus– Goulding will have you yearning for the streets of Kyoto or the mountain landscapes of Hokkaido.

Recommended Read: Rice Noodle Fish Book Review | Thought & Sight

Recommended Read: Rice Noodle Fish Book Review | Thought & SightRice, Noodle, Fish is not exactly meant as the kind of travel guide you carry in your backpack, but there’s so much great info, and so many must-try restaurants, that I’m either taking copious notes or making room in my suitcase for this book next time we visit Japan.

The Last Mister Donut in the US

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Mister Donut in the USA

If you’ve traveled to Japan, you’ve probably spotted a Mister Donut shop, or even been seduced by their super cute commercials. They’re a traditional doughnut shop with some fusiony Japanese offerings, like matcha flavoring, and my boyfriend is obsessed with their cake doughnuts!

Above, Mister Donut in Japan, from our trip last year. And yes, they’re somehow selling doughnuts to women by literally adding a cronut to the model’s waistline.


If you’re planning a trip to Japan, don’t put it off! There’s actually lots of cheap but clean lodging available, and food can be surprisingly cheap (especially if you’re eating Mister Donut for breakfast).


While the goofy name seems tailor-made for Japan, the chain was actually founded in the U.S. in 1955, expanding throughout the country, and into Japan in the 1980s. When Dunkin’ Donuts’ parent company acquired the U.S. arm of Mister Donut in 1990, most franchisees chose to change their name to Dunkin’ Donuts, and nowadays there’s only one Mister Donut left in the states.

Looking for some Japanese nostalgia, we made a pilgrimage to the lone Mister Donut holdout, in the small town of Godfrey, Illinois:

We picked out a selection of the cake doughnuts–cherry and regular glazed, along with plain–and holy cow is that sugar glaze intense! Clearly they don’t share their Japanese counterparts’ preference for more moderately sweet baked goods.

Don’t despair though, the plain cake doughnut was good, and our companion said his sprinkle doughnut wasn’t nearly as sweet.

Beyond the branding, you won’t find much in common with the Japanese shops, but if you’re passing through Godfrey, Illinois, this cute vintage shop is worth the stop– if only for the bragging rights of having visited the only Mister Donut in the U.S.

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