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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Brazil Box includes Churrasco Sauce, Churraasco Spice Mix, Goiabada Guava Paste, Parana Special Origin Ground Coffee, Jaboticaba Jam, and Pacoquita Peanut Candy.
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:
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.
Thin, crunchy, buttery, with a nice burst of ginger flavor. These are what I was craving over the holidays!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I like it! Sweet, but a little bit tart, this is something I’d buy again.
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.
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.
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!
We took a walk to check out the grounds after lunch, including the cute little chapel they rent out for weddings.
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.
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.
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??
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.
Rice, 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.
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.
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.
Set in middle-of-nowhere-Ohio, there’s not much reason to visit Greenville. Yet, I not only found myself there earlier this week, but also contemplating a return for one of Maid-Rite’s famous “loose meat” burgers (more on that in a minute).
Maid-Rite is a small mid-western diner chain that’s been around since 1926. Greenville’s cute vintage Maid-Rite burger shop was opened in 1934, and probably last renovated in the 70s. While it doesn’t have that 50s diner feel, there’s a nice, cozy, small-town vibe.
Maid-Rite’s specialty is their loose-meat sandwiches, like the Cheese-Rite that I devoured. I stopped by because the shop was a novelty, not expecting much from the food, but was honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed the burger. Also, I enjoy saying “loose meat.” The ground beef is seasoned and is similar to a Sloppy Joe, only delicious (I’ve never had a good Sloppy Joe). They’re cash only, but a Cheese-Rite will set you back just $2.20!
The other quirk to come for is the tradition of adding your gum to the brick wall; stick a penny to it, or even spell out your initials on the glass block. Someone needs to start chewing Bubblicious, and make this wall more colorful!
Thinking about stopping by? Check out their website here for more info.
Ohio isn’t a place most people brag about living. Honestly, I think Columbus is a great city for foodies (and many people seem to be enamored with that one sports-ball team). But if we have one thing to be smug about, it’s that we’ve been stuffing our faces with Jeni’s Ice Cream for over a decade before Chicago and Los Angeles got their own scoop shops.
I didn’t think I was an ice cream person until I tasted Jeni’s creations. I didn’t dislike it, ice cream just wasn’t something I craved over other desserts. But ice cream in the hands of Jeni Britton Bauer was a epiphany.
It was her fruit flavors that really made me a convert. After growing up on artificially colored and flavored cartons of mass market ice cream, a flavor like strawberry was just something sweet and pink, with no connection to the actual fruit. Who knew that strawberry ice cream could taste like real strawberries?
The same goes for all her flavors, like the ambrosia that is Bananas and Honey, a seasonal flavor I anxiously await each year. Jeni’s commitment to high quality natural, local, & seasonal ingredients is something that shines through in the product, whether or not you read the sales pitch first.
At least in the US, I think many of us grew up eating sweets that are named after fruits, but are identified as such only by their color– the flavors themselves aren’t even close.
In a way Jeni’s COLORS Collection circles back to color defining flavor, just with way better ingredients. Jeni was inspired by the vivid hues of Matisse’s Cut Outs to translate six colors into ice cream flavors: Persian Orange, Garance Vert Clair, Noir d’Ivoire, Cadmium Yellow, Ombre Brûlée, and Ultramarine Blue.
When I walked through the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibit late last year at MoMA, I couldn’t believe how intense the colors were. I had always loved the Cut-Outs, but to see them in person? It was a revelation. I’d look at the colors, close my eyes, and actually begin to taste and smell them.
Naturally, I tried all six flavors in the collection (the staff is always happy to give you samples, and don’t blink an eye when I walk in and ask to taste all the new flavors). They were all great, though I wished afterwards I could have done a blind taste test since you’re primed by the descriptions and colors. It would be fun to guess which taste aligned with each Mattisse color!
The fruit flavors are bright and summery, with a nice tang from yogurt. The juicy, tangy Persian Orange was a favorite, as was the satisfyingly green hued Garance Vert Clair, which balances its pleasantly grassy flavor with a deep creaminess. And only sampled, but on the list for a full scoop next time is the Ombre Brûlée, best described as a smoky cookie dough flavor. Seriously great ice cream, and I love the creative concept behind it!
If you’re lucky enough to live near a Jeni’s scoop shop, go check them out! If not, you can order online and have pints shipped to your door. Or pick up the Jeni’s cookbook and try your hand at the recipes at home.
(this is not a sponsored post, I just really love Jeni’s. spoon photo via Jenis, all others my own)
Convenience store food might seem like a strange thing to focus on, particularly for a self-proclaimed foodie. If you live or have spent time in the US, you know that prepared foods in convenience stores are generally inferior to even the worst fast food, and often seem like an invitation to food poisoning. So, primed by these experiences, Japan blew me away with convenience store food that’s legitimately good!
Even with the the fantastic public transport in Japanese cities, we did quite a bit of walking, and convenience stores became my go-to for a quick carb infusion. The yummy onigiri (rice balls with assorted fillings), and sandwiches kept me going (and saved the boyfriend from having to suffer through one of my low blood sugar meltdowns).
You actually don’t see many people eating or drinking on trains (with the exception of longer haul trips like the shinkansen), and I tried not to as well. Out of politeness, but also, maybe you should wash the subway off your hands before you tear into that sandwich, young lady.
Feast on everything from fried pork, to egg salad, and fruit & cream dessert sandwiches (at the bottom right). Oh, and potato salad sandwiches! Maybe someday I’ll get to the bottom of the Japanese obsession with potato salad. But I have to admit they’re actually pretty good. The only sandwich downside is the prevalence of white bread.
Ah yes, the scary sushi-from-a-convenience-store. I ate this for breakfast and survived! And it was fairly good sushi: fresh, and about the same quality you find at a kaiten-zushi (and let’s face it, in Japan, this is better than most of what you’re served in the US).
I might be biased, but even the packaged foods are better! In the place of mini microwaveable Chef Boyardee containers are a plethora of instant ramen and udon choices. We didn’t eat in our airbnb apartment or hotel room often, but did have fun picking up new chips and candies to snack on:
So yeah, of course there are always better things to eat in Japan, but what you can grab at a convenience store is often just as good as the other quick options. Maybe this is less of a revelation to those of you who’ve grown up in countries with a food culture that focuses more on quality?