Colorado is one of the best states in the USA to visit. Not only is it beautiful and historic, but it is also full of some of the nicest people in America. Although I still call Asia home, If I ever move back to America it would be somewhere in Colorado. Never been? Colorado is amazing, you have to visit! Here are seven unique and offbeat travel destinations to help get your Colorado vacation started:
$10-20/person depending kid/senior/adult
Official Web Site
With history dating back to the 1870s, the Old Hundred Gold Mine hit pay dirt just after the turn of the century when they began supplying gold bars to the Denver Mint for use in coining. However the ever-increasing yields from the mine were the begin of the end and before long it was officially "mined out".
All-in-all the tour lasts almost an hour. After getting loaded up (and bundled up, it is a little chilly underground) you board the railcars and proceed underground. There we explored a couple of the original veins with a guide who gave us a firsthand history lesson of both the mine and mining processes. But the scenery does not stop there; even outside of the mine shafts the backdrop of the local mountains is breathtaking. One neat part of the tour includes a view of the original miners' cabin, which if I remember correctly dates back to 1904. The thing is perched way up on the mountain and just barely is hanging on. As a matter-of-fact, when they first built the cabin they had to secure it to the nearby rock face with metal cables to prevent it from falling down the mountain. Wild!
And of course no tour of a gold mine would be complete without a stop at a real-life sluice box where you can take your turn at panning for gold, silver, and other semi-precious stones just like the gold-panners of the past did. And, yes, no worries: you get to keep whatever you.
Due to the local weather this tour only operates during the warm season, from May to October. And, as with any decent tour, there is also a gift shop selling all sorts of related souvenirs and trinkets as well as snacks and drinks. Check the official web site for more information on directions, rates, and operating hours.
$19-25/person depending kid/senior/adult
Official Web Site
Wow, where to start. Think amusement park combined with natural wonder and you might be headed in the right direction. Covering 360 acres and featuring nearly two dozen rides, shows, and attractions to keep you amused, it is hard to get in and out of this place in less than a couple hours -- but then again, why would you want to rush it.
The prime attraction and namesake of this park is the Royal Gorge and its sky high suspension bridge, one of the highest in the world. It was built in 1929 for only $350,000 but the cost today would exceed $15,000,000. You can walk or drive across it but I definitely recommend walking, as that allows you to better enjoy the scenery as well as take some fantastic pictures using the 360° view. There is also an aerial tram that is apparently the world's longest single-span tram.
After enjoying the view from above, you can also admire it from below by riding down the 45° incline railway. Seeing it from this angle really puts it all in perspective; the towering bridge you just walked across is nothing more than a thing string stretching across the canyon like the tight-wire of a circus performer.
But the sights don't stop there! You can explore the gorgeous countryside by taking a mule rule ride through the pines and evergreens or strolling the Wapiti Western Wildlife Park. There is one of those free-fall skycoasters and a plaza theatre, a Mountain Man Trading Post (not sure what that is actually, I skipped it), and even a mountaintop lodge for those wanting to stay overnight.
The park is open year-round but some of the attractions may be seasonal or weather-permitting. I'm sure the official web site provide you with up to date information.
$10/person, $5/kids ≤12 yrs
Official Web Site
Located just 30 miles northeast of Denver and covering a grand total of 720 acres and sheltering around 300 lions, tigers, leopards, mountain lions, bears, wolves, and other large carnivores, the Wild Animal Sanctuary of Colorado is the first sanctuary of its kind to create large acreage species-specific habitats for its rescued animals. Since 1980 the Wild Animal Sanctuary has responded to nearly 1,000 requests from private citizens and government agencies to rescue animals from across the United States and even in Mexico.
After breaking free of the Welcome Center & Gift Shop, with a guide book in hand, you'll be set free to wander. They have huge closed-off habitats surrounding the main complex but by far the best thing is the observation ramps and decks that stretch over the animals in the center of the park. Walking up ramps and along observation decks suspending above the animals you can get a birds-eye view of some of nature's most impressive and majestic mammals.
Each of the main observation decks was thoughtfully designed with picnic tables and chairs, as does the small garden area at the foot of the main ramp. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch, or if all else fails the gift shop does also sell a few drinks and snacks.
This is a great family expedition, absolutely perfect for the kiddos.
Beer? I like beer.
Fort Collins, Longmont, Boulder, Golden, & others
Colorado Brewers Guild
Craft beer is something that every real man should appreciate. It is something to be proud of, unlike that mass-produced swill that relies on a multi-million dollar advertising compaign to get you to buy their crap. It is said that pairing beer and cheese is akin to holding hands, whereas wine and cheese is like arm wrestling. If you are drinking a good craft beer then that is so very true. And if you are like me you'll be happy to learn that Colorado has a lot of microbrews, good microbrews. Colorado is one of the best states for craft beer lovers. As a matter-of-fact they have more breweries per capita than any other state in the USA. And for those that like the [ugh] mass-market beer, you probably already know that Colorado is where Coors proudly calls home. They even offer tours. I didn't go on one. Nothing fany about mass production. Craft breweries however are always cool and quirky!
Almost all of the larger cities have breweries. If in doubt just inquire in a local bar. I even found a restaurant in downtown Colorado Springs that has a glass-encased brewery right in its main dining room. The food was good and the beer was better. If you are in the area, definitely look up Phantom Canyon Brewing Company.
Have you been to any of the breweries in Colorado or tried any of the local beers? Share your thoughts and/or recommendations at the end of the article!
Entrees @ $15 - $20
Official Web Site
Forever immortalized by an episode of South Park, Casa Bonita offers an eating experience unlike any other and I just had to check it out for myself. True to the episode, this restaurant actually features shoot-em up gunfights, cliff divers, strolling mariachis, puppet shows, magicians, games, prizes, and more.
via Rob Lee
The restaurant is huge, covering over 50,000 sq ft and seating well over 1,000. Hell it has a 30-foot indoor waterfall. You pay for the show though with the cost of the food. Casa Bonita specializes in Mexican cuisine, but their menu is very limited and stereotypical. Everything except the kids meals is over-priced and none of what we ordered stood out or overly impressed us. But the sights, now that was a different story!
Kids will never want to leave this place, but even for adults it is worth at least one visit. Just one though.
Official Web Site
How can you beat free? You can't! So why not visit the Denver location of the US Mint and learn a little bit about the coin and currency we Americans use every single day.
Tours are fairly short, only about thirty minutes, but the the guides are very knowledgeable in all aspects of the Mint from the gold rush days up to its present day production of coins. There wasn't too much crazy stuff to see as far as the machinery that actually produces the coins, but there are some interesting displays and videos. And of course the mandatory gift shop.
via Ken Lund
However, there are a few warnings: first off, you must make a reservation online first or you will not be allowed entry. Additionally, don't plan on taking any pictures for obvious security reasons. And as security is just as tight as at the airport, don't bring with you what you do not need. Finally, there is no public parking. Not a big deal but noteworthy nonetheless.
Colorado has 54 "Fourteeners," otherwise known as mountains with peaks over 14,000 feet above sea level. One of the most well-known however is Pike's Peak. With a 19-mile paved road that winds and stretches all the way up to its 14,110 foot summit, it is no wonder this is the most visited mountain in North America.
Pike's Peak National Park is open year round, weather permitting. You can see it in the picture above (the red rocks in the picture are the Garden Of The Gods). Be warned, in addition to extreme winds, the temperatures at the 14,110 summit can easily be 40°F less than at the base, which is only at around 8,000 feet elevation. The road to the summit, although just recently fully paved (apparently the last stretch used to be gravel), still features on a couple guardrails, sheer drops, breathtaking views, and scenic view spots you can pull over to park and take pictures.
Let's be honest. Food can get boring. Day in and day out, week after week and year after year. Such routine. Such hassle. It's time to make things more interesting. And what better place to do that than in London, England's most diverse and interesting city.
London is an impressive city with hundreds, if not thousands, of hidden nooks and crannies to explore. Food in the city is the same way. There are always exciting new restaurants opening up that are doing something different. So come with me and let's see what kind of quirky restaurant bars we can find.
Most restaurants have entrances, usually composed of a door. Boring! It's the places where the entrance is hidden or through the kitchen -- or in this case through a phone both -- that really captivate me before I've seen the inside. Thankfully, I was so impressed by the food here that I had to list Bunga Bunga first. Order the My Little Porcellino, or for a delicious vegetarian pizza, try the Burratina.
Much like Bunga Bunga, prospective patrons of La Bodega must pass through a raunchy-looking adult sex shop to gain access to the restaurant within. Don't let that scare you away though -- inside you will find what is arguably the best Mexican food in all of London and drinks that are dangerously easy to down. The Pork Belly Carnitas here are my personal recommendation...but then again I've always been a sucker for pigs.
I despise the circus (clowns are evil, just trust me on this one) but Circus is amazing! Guests are visually entertained by talented acrobatics and magic tricks while they devour their food and indulge in their drinks. Circus is a bit more expensive than the other establishments on this list, but to be fair you are also paying for the show. Definitely something that every visitor to London should experience at least once.
Admit it: you already want to visit here just having heard the name. It's okay, I had a similar reaction. Turns out that Meat Liquor is the best burger joint in all of London, albeit a bit hippie-esque. Personally I never thought "chicken" and "burger" went together until I tried their Buffalo Chicken Burger. Simply amazing!
London's largest and most well-known restaurant bar combination is Shaka Zulu. The restaurant recently re-opened last year following a 5.5 million pound renovation after acquiring the next door bar, Gilgamesh. The place supposedly is now even bigger and better, although I have yet the see the improvements firsthand.
Of course it's no secret that eating out in London and enjoying the city's nightlife is anything but cheap. There are ways to be thrifty. So make sure to check out my guide to cheap London hotels on Hipmunk to save some cash -- cash which can then be spent on some unforgettable food and drinks!
There are no shortage of great restaurants in Corpus Christi, but sometimes visitors get tired of eating seafood. I know, usually fresh seafood is one of the best parts about visiting a coastal city, but we all have our limits. For those of you looking for mouth-watering food that wasn't swimming in the Gulf of Mexico the day before, head on over to one of the following impressive establishments.
The only thing that beats a delicious pizza is a delicious pizza served alongside an ice cold craft beer. Thankfully that is what B & J's Pizza has become known for. With a history that dates back four decades, B & J's has long since been a favorite of both Corpus Christi residents and visitors in town on vacation. They now have two restaurants in town and are ranked high on the top 100 list of best independent pizza restaurants in all of the United States.
In the mood for a gourmet burger without the gourmet price? Forget all those burger chains scattered around town and head on over to Wallbanger's Gourmet Hamburgers. Although they serve more than just burgers, these are what really impress most. They don't have a set burger menu but rather provide you with a list of possible toppings and let you go wild. Have a Texas-sized appetite? Try one of their stuffed burgers or attempt to eat your way through The Banger, a monstrous three-pound burger that will leave you begging for mercy -- or assistance from your friends.
Have a craving for Vietnamese food? Look no further than the delectable Saigon Cafe, home of an impressive variety of bubble teas and the best pho in all of Corpus Christi -- maybe even all of Texas. (I say this both as a Texan and as someone who has traveled extensively through Vietnam.) The restaurant itself is rather nondescript however it's the food that keeps people coming back, not the decorations. Plus I'd swear they have Speedy Gonzalez working back in the kitchen because both times I've been here my order was ready ridiculously fast. The only downside? The staff tend to pronounce pho "fo" instead of the correct "fa" which leads me to believe that the new owner must not be Vietnamese.
Located on the 24th floor of the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel, the only thing that comes close to the savory food at the Republic of Texas Bar & Grill is the impressive view of the Gulf. That is what makes it the perfect restaurant to visit for a romantic dinner and arguably the best bar and grill in the entire city. The food doesn't come cheap, which may be a bit of a deterrent to some people, but remember: you get what you pay for. Go for the Broken Arrow Ranch Venison -- it does not disappoint!
SoHo (officially known as South of Houston Street) is one of the trendiest, most happening neighborhoods in all of Manhattan, New York City. The area has become a mecca of sorts for local artists and thankfully that spirit is pouring over into local businesses as well. SoHo is jam-packing full of unique boutique restaurants, tasty cafes and decadent bakeries, some of which have draw national attention. However in order to truly appreciate the food of SoHo, you have to take your time and visit only a couple restaurants a day, rather than trying to pack them in as fast as possible.
In recent years this bakery has earned more awards than I have fingers. From Time Out New York's "Best Bakery of 2012" to Zagat 2013's highest ranked bakery, people throughout the city cannot get enough of this bakery. In addition to all the pastries you would expect to find, this bakery also specializes in savory soups and sandwiches that are perfect for a quick lunch. The Dominique Ansel Bakery menu gradually changes over time but I've never had a bad thing there.
Ruby's has been a favorite of local Manhattanites for many years now, which unfortunately thanks to the small size of the cafe meant that dining here always required patiently waiting for a table. However as of a few months ago this is a thing of the past. Ruby's long-awaited expansion has finally opened! This cafe is the best place in town to experience melt-in-your-mouth Australian cuisine at its finest! My personal recommendation is the Bronte Burger with bacon, your soon to be best new friend.
Balthazar is a phenomenal French bistro with a full menu from breakfast through midnight suppers. However what they are most known for is Sunday brunch. They even have a special menu for this special day of the week. Come on down and easy into your Sunday with one of their amazing Hangover Drinks and eggs any way you can imagine them. Or skip right to lunch and go with the smoked salmon, one of their most popular Sunday dishes.
Cafe Gitane offers incredible food at prices that won't empty out your wallet, a quality that is rare to find among SoHo's most popular eateries. That is also the reason this place is perpetually packed -- but the food is so good and the prices so unbeatable that it is worth a short wait. The cuisine is primarily French with a touch of Moroccan flair. Although Gitane also serves breakfast, their lunch and dinner menu is what really keeps people returning. One taste of their Moroccan couscous and you will be hooked!
Wherever you eat in SoHo, make sure to same room for a bit of desert. Georgetown Cupcake started in Washington, D.C. back in 2008 and quickly took the nation's capital by storm thanks to a TLC reality TV show. In 2012 they opened a location in SoHo to compete with Manhattan's preeminent pasty shop, Magnolia Bakery (made famous by Sex In The City). Now nearly three years later much of the city has come to prefer Georgetown over Magnolia but in order to decide for yourself, you have to experience the delectable delicacies firsthand.
As the fourth largest city in the United States, Houston has no shortage of delicious and diverse restaurants. However some stand apart from the crowds because of their unique menus, quirky designs or intriguing owners. With so many one-of-a-kind options at your fingertips, why would anyone want to stick to the chains? Make the most of your trip to Space City by trying something new and exciting like these five places.
If you are a fan of Thai food then this little restaurant should not be missed. It is a favorite of local Houstonians who all know their favorite dishes by the letter and number combination, such as H5 or S11. The original owner of this delicious restaurant is lovingly referred to as the Thai Soup Nazi (a reference to the Seinfeld episode about the Soup Nazi), however he passed away in 2010. Luckily the restaurant remains relatively unchanged and the food is still as delicious as ever. Plus, it is BYOB, so how can you go wrong?
Another great BYOB Italian restaurant is Just Dinner. The name comes from the fact that this restaurant is literally only open for dinner, from 6pm to 9pm every day except Sunday. Because of that, it is highly recommended you make a reservation first. The building is actually a house turned restaurant with a cozy, intimate feel and delicious menu. I recommend the Prime Beef Filet Mignon -- simply to die for!
This Lord Of The Rings themed restaurant is a must-try for any visitor to Houston, but especially for Lord Of The Rings fans. The restaurant is full of all kinds of Tolkien items from movie posters to figures to photos. However the menu is completely normal, albeit a bit heavy on the vegetarian dishes. Meat lovers need not fear though, there are plenty of options for you as well. Despite the fact I have never seen any of the movies, I really enjoyed the Hobbit Cafe, even if it was a little cramped.
As the name implies, Jus' Mac serves nothing but macaroni and cheese dishes. The menu is divided into two categories, Radical and Conservative. On the radical menu there are dishes like the Hangover, perfect for a Sunday morning brunch, or my personal favorite the Cheese & Chong. The conservative dishes might be better for those who are not the most adventurous of eaters, but even those are unique twists on this classic American comfort food.
Given the state's proximity to Mexico, it should be no surprise that tacos are a staple of most Texans diets. Brothers Taco House is well-known by Houston locals for having the best tacos in all of town. From top-notch breakfast tacos to vegetarian favorites like rajas con queso and classics such as barbacoa, there is something here for everyone.
Wherever you decide to eat, make sure to find a cheap hotel in Houston near the restaurant of your choice because once you stumble on out of any of these places, the first thing you are going to need is a nap!
Hipmunk has published a large number of my city guides to destinations around the world on their site, as well as plenty of hotel guides like my overview of hotels and attractions near Rice University. Check them out for more!
In the grand pantheon of arousing audio/visual entertainment, food based television ranks second only to hardcore porn. They are very similar if you really stop to think about it. Both give us a graphic, up close and personal look at the satiation of very deep, primal biological urges.
That is why food television is more popular than ever nowadays. Those images of succulent, sizzling meats and decadent, delightful desserts captivate us at a very basal level. Even without the smell of the entrees on the screen, your mouth starts to water.
Keeping this correlation between food and sex in mind, an all you can eat challenge must be analogous to a hedonistic orgy. That realization is the reason I laughed hysterically when my brother in arms, Rome, called me and said, “Ice, on the next trip, we gotta do an eating challenge.”
The Las Vegas strip seems like an ideal place to find an eating challenge. There is a massive buffet in every hotel on Las Vegas Blvd. Nobody is on the strip is looking competition in the eye and daring them to eat like a champ, though. To find a restaurant offering a challenge like that you have to go off the strip to a pizza restaurant called The Original Graziano’s on 8410 W. Desert Inn Road.
On the surface, Graziano’s appears to be a tame, sedated, family oriented neighborhood pizza place. The décor is half sports motif, half family entertainment. The menu offers many classic Italian American favorites as well as fried chicken, sub sandwiches and desserts.
Rome and I decided to kick off our tour of Las Vegas and the surrounding desert by taking on Graziano’s famous monster pizza challenge.
The rules are simple. You and a partner have 45 minutes to devour the whole pizza. If you win, you get 2 t-shirts, 2 coupons for free pizza. (Who would want more pizza after finishing the monster?!?) And The Monster is on the house, of course, and it comes with bragging rights.
If you lose, you have to shell out $50.00 for the pizza and your face is forever plastered on the wall of shame.
Never the kind of guys that back down from a challenge, Rome and I strolled into Graziano’s late one evening and ordered the monster. The young lady that took our order looked at us and said “Do you know what you’re getting into”? Rome and I laughed like the fools we are and said “Yeah, no problem.”
The young cashier called out to the shift manager in the back and he took us through the rules of the challenge and gave us some tips. Once we were briefed, we sat at our table and waited for the monster to come out of the oven.
When it finally arrived at our table about 30 minutes later, Rome and I glanced at each other with the fear of an impending defeat washing away all of the machismo we had in our hearts just minutes earlier. This pizza was MASSIVE. 24 inches in diameter and an inch thick with crust before you even account for cheese and toppings.
We sat at opposite ends of the giant pizza tray and the shift manager counted us down. 3, 2, 1...the timer was started and we were off. The first bite was absolutely delicious. The thick crust melted like butter underneath the zesty layer of sauce and cornucopia of toppings. This was the point in the competition were we felt good and had a robust fighting spirit.
We had not eaten a thing all day -- a technique that Rome and I still argue about today. He feels like he could have eaten more if he had eaten something during the course of the day. I say we were screwed from jumpstreet!
The pizza was sliced into 36 slices. After about 8 slices each, The Monster jumped on our backs and began its wicked reign of gastrointestinal terror. “Come on Ice, don’t stop now!”, shouted Rome while snagging another slice from the beast.
After 9 slices a piece, we stopped and talked. We both admitted to each other that we were about to explode. This admission is monumental for us because we are the quintessential pseudo tough guys in perpetual competition.
If Rome was actually admitting that he was full, that means he was full two slices ago! We came to the agreement that we would each eat four more slices and discuss our strategy after that. There was still plenty of time on the clock, but the spaces in our stomachs were shrinking away with every bite.
The crust was now unchewable. My jaw was sore. The toppings felt like speed bumps working their way down my fatigued gullet. Neither one of us got those four more slices down. After a total of only 12 slices a piece, we took our final sips of lemonade to wash it all down and threw in our napkins.
The shift manager came over and congratulated us on our valiant effort. He then mocked us as he took our dejected pictures for the Graziano’s Wall of Shame. To add insult to injury, he then asked us if we wanted a carry out box for the pizza we were leaving behind!
At that very moment, I thought to myself I would never want to look at a pizza again for as long as I lived. Rome and I waddled our cheese filled bodies out of Graziano’s and plopped down in our car with our heads hung in defeat.
“Next time we should do chicken wings”, Rome said before he cranked up the rental Ford Taurus and backed out of the parking space. Exactly one week later, I ordered pizza and it was delicious. Some people never learn!
I am really going to miss the food here more than anything. It does not even compare to the sushi back home, way different and so much better. The majority of the sushi you find in America is presented in customized into a variety of different sushi rolls, which of course are further garnished with Americanized additions like guacamole and cream cheese. In all actuality I was very surprised to not seen a single long sushi roll here like you would find at any sushi restaurant back stateside. 90% of sushi here in Tokyo is just a two-inch section of rich with a huge piece of raw fish on top, nothing else, that's it. You flip it upside down so that the rice is on top of the fish, dip the fish in soy sauce, and then enjoy.
Proper soy sauce etiquette is key. Only a tiny bit is needed to enhance sushi. Excessive use, for example soaking, is very disrespectful to the chef as it implies that the original flavors were no good and had to be overpowered.
There are a couple individual rolls that I have found here, but they are always made one at a time and wrapped in seaweed. Inside you will find a little bit of rice and some raw fish — that's it, no other garnishment of any type. Very, very, very different from American sushi, which has all that mayonnaise and avocado and all sorts of other over-the-top additions and are rolled up into 10- and 12-slice rolls. But wow it is so much better! And better for you too.
And then there are things you will never find in the States, like a giant bowl of squid soup. It is brought out and everyone at the table eats from it. Its just straight sliced squid and squid rings in a simmering brown sauce. But this sauce they boil it in is somehow even better than the squid itself! Mmmmm so amazing, I love it all! Well, except the octopus. The tentacles are no problem, we ate a bunch of squid with plenty of tentacles, but the suckers on the octopus are what get you. Just the texture of them... Wow I get chills just thinking about it. Once was enough. Never again.
WASABI 101 Real wasabi only grows along stream beds in the mountain river valleys of Japan, no where else on Earth, is very difficult to cultivate and therefore also very expensive, up to $100/lb. As a result it can be an arduous task to locate real wasabi outside of Japan. In America your only hope would be to try the high-end specialty grocers. However, just because the package says it is real wasabi that does not mean a thing, so be smart!. Import companies as well as restaurants in the United States use a combination of horseradish, mustard, starch and green food coloring to create the "wanna-sabi" which you thought you had been eating all of these years. Although there is a slight taste similarity between the real and fake, it is remarkably easy to tell the difference. If you ever had real wasabi, you could spot the fake stuff immediately.
Equally tantalizing was the ramen here; it is in a whole different league than what normal Americans would consider "ramen." That shit they call ramen in the grocery stores back home would not be fit for someone's dog here in Japan. Even the gas station ramen is light-years ahead Maruchan Ramen. Plus then they have all sorts of ramen houses, some where you can actually see the noodles being made and others where you pay a vending machine and have your bowl slide out a window. Mmmm fantastic, every single one of them! And as we found, going out for ramen is a common 4am after-club pastime.
Moving on, there is also something called yakisoba that I had never heard of before. Turns out it was originally a Chinese recipe but has since become highly integrated into Japanese culture. Yakisoba is kind of like ramen, a bowl of wheat-based noodles combined with li'l chunks of pork, carrots, cabbage, onions, salt, pepper, and — of course — yakisoba sauce. These Yakisoba shops are located all over.
Oh and don't even get me started on the miso soup, something seemingly that simple is on a-whole-nother level here in Japan than as that in America — it's superb! I am bringing back make-at-home ramen kits from this local grocery store that Mayu took me too. We got all sorts of stuff there, authentic sauces and spices, stuff I've never even seen or heard of coming here. Mmmmm...
Bad News America: The Japanese Have Made A Better Cheeseburger Than Us
Hands-down the most amazing cheeseburger I have ever tasted! Seriously, better than any Stateside burger I've found, even $15 Kobe burgers and other expensive exotics.
I know this will sound bad but folks do you realize that one Japanese restaurant — chain restaurant, at that — has even managed to make a better burger than us? I was shocked myself, as were my tastebuds. I mean the burger is an American claim-to-fame, along with ribs and BBQ. I know, I know, what I am saying may be a little hard to swallow for some of you, but just ask Jared and he will back me up, he experienced it too.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I love food. While I've worked up to a more refined pallet now, I have definitely eaten plenty of shit in the past (I won't even try and sugarcoat it). Along the way I have tried burgers from nearly every state in the US, whether fast food chain (gag), little mom-and-pop-type shops like Burger Tex or Dan's, full-fledged restaurants like Red Robin or Mighty Fine or Carls Jr, and even chef-acclaimed five-star restaurants such as Perry's Steakhouse. Yet regretfully none of them can hold a candle to Freshness Burger, which is actually not one local restaurant but a fairly popular chain here in Japan. Last count puts it at 189 locations in this country and 20 in South Korea. However I highly suspect that the business was started by an American, partially due to the décor and music but also because deep down inside part of me still believes that whoever created this magical burger absolutely has to be American. Regardless, this restaurant chains appears to be doing well and their burgers seem equally loved among the local Japanese people as well!
My custom double-patty double-cheese Freshness Burger...mmmmm
Let me tell you, they make a mean cheeseburger. For two or three hours after your meal the taste continues to linger ever so tantalizingly in your mouth and if you are lucky and manage to burp — hehehe — well it is absolutely fantastic, like eating a second burger without the calories! Jared and I accidentally stumbled upon a Freshness Burger one day in Shibuya and from then it was on. Although I mostly ate nothing but local Japanese cuisine, once every few weeks I would eat anything not fish and not Japanese. Most of the time it was Freshness Burger. Even when it was all said and done, on my very last afternoon in Tokyo with Mayu, she and I stopped by a Freshness Burger on the way to the express train to the airport.
Freshness Burger is so far the ONLY fast food establishments that I have ever had the pleasure of eating at where the food comes to you looking exactly as it does in the picture. Yes, amazing isn't it? It is almost too good to be true, both look-wise and taste-wise, and OH how it just melts in the mouth. Apparently from what I have found the hamburger patties at all the Freshness Burgers are made from Kobe beef. McDonald's, on the other hand, uses pork exported from the US* Thanks to all our hormones and genetic engineering, the rest of the world does not want our meat. Only US restaurant chains located on foreign soil import our meat.
* If you know anything about USA exports and/or USA meat, you should know that American meat is unpopular around the world, even straight-out renounced in Europe. Yes, the exact same "food" many Americans eat daily. Mexico imports more than anywhere else, and when combined with Canada, the number two importer, their combined total accounts for roughly 2/3rd's of all US meat exports worldwide. Hell, in Jan 2009 the US exported worldwide only $180,000 worth of meat. By comparison, that's the amount your local grocery store goes through in less than a month! All US meat imported to Japan is solely for use by McDonald's corp and other American chains. I suspect as much is true in most of these other countries on the list — except for Mexico and Canada obviously. It's due to our hormone-overloaded genetically modified food system currently in place that the rest of the world prefers meat from elsewhere...as do I.
Anyway, I am getting distracted. The point is this: anyone who knows me will tell you that I do not eat seafood, I can't even stand the smell of simple things like shrimp. But for some reason, Japanese seafood is different. I love it all! Even stuff you would never in a million years see me eat, like squid soup and several other things that I would actually prefer not to know what they were, well I did it all while in Japan. Any and all Japanese seafood in America has been Americanized, no matter how authentic they try to portray it, trust me. But regardless of what you like, you can find something appealing here in Japan.
Have you experienced true Japanese cuisine? What about it surprised or impressed you the most? How did it differ from Japanese food back home? Share your thoughts below!
Presenting the second of my three Krakow "Top 5" lists. Truthfully I'm looking forward to patronising these eateries again very soon myself, when I visit Krakow in August - a nice time of year, the "Polska Zlota Jesien" or "Polish Golden Autumn." So, here are my top 5 characterful and affordable Krakow restaurants, based on 20 years visiting the city (and most of these have been there during all this time):
On the main market square and as of the last few years now includes an outside terrace. But it excels inside: a large square room, sweeping Matejko style pictures on the walls, elegant tables and chairs. Polish food, but with a variety of influences. Try Pierogi Ruskie (ravioli filled with white cheese), or Kotlet Hawelka (the House pork cutlet, huge but delicate), not forgetting the mushroom soup served in a breaded urn! Superb service whenever we've been.
Again, wonderful terrace on main market square, but also atmospheric cellar downstairs (the building is 14th century). Very decent quality Italian. Try the carpaccio to start. Pizzas very light and crispy. Service can be patchy, but all in all a reliable Italian out of the overwhelming choice in Krakow, and an A1 position to watch life on the square as you munch.
We've been meeting our Polish friends here for years. Good value, tasty Mexican fare: fajitas, enchiladas, burritos and the like. They used to accompany these with salad in very garlicy sauce, which worked well, though last time I went this wasn't on offer. Functional but cool decor, dimly lit - Taco Mexicano ticks all the boxes for a cheap and cheerful Mexican. Poselska street. I believe there are sister restaurants dotted around the city.
A recent discovery for me, this one. Not only succulent Argentinian steak, but an idyllic courtyard at the back second to none. Foliage, large canvas parasols, comfortable chairs, all tightly enclosed. At once atmospheric and relaxing. Stolarska street.
The most well known restaurant in the Jewish quarter of the city, Kazimierz. Enjoy all the best Jewish dishes - chicken soup, chopped liver/herring, cholent - surrounded by Jewish paraphernalia. Listen to live Klezmer music. Watch life go by on Szeroka street, Kazimierz's equivalent to Krakow's main square.
Wildcard: the Rooster bar on Szczepanska street: burgers, burritos and the like, all served up by statuesque Polish girls in orange hotpants, whilst TVs show football on every wall. The top floor is an attractive terrace, perfect for summer. Confess this is a somewhat sentimental choice: I remember when this used to be the chicken bar, a rather shabby joint serving staple but succulent chicken with chips - perfect for penurious students.