Serious Seafood Sandwiches & Soup at Hog Island Oyster Co. in Napa

I can say with absolute certainty that Napa is not an easy place to find a delicious and reasonably priced meal. It’s filled to the brim with fancy schmancy high end spots ready to consume your entire pay check in a single fell swoop. Sure, some of those places are great or even incredible, but I wouldn’t suppose that a meal at that price point is always in the cards. When I find myself in Napa, there is one place that has a number of great, reasonably priced options that I find myself returning to time and time again – The Oxbow Market.

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Seafood Serenity at Cindy’s Waterfront in the Monterey Bay Aquarium

If you’re headed to Monterey, you’re inevitably going to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And you should. It’s absolutely one of the best aquariums in the country. All of the exhibits are extremely well designed – I especially loved the one with the jellyfish. The aquarium is located in the most touristy section of town called Cannery Row which is full of now-defunct anchovy-canning warehouse factories that have been resurrected mostly as mediocre chain restaurants. Sure, you could eat at one of those places, but I think your best lunch option in the area is actually inside the aquarium.

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Solid, Cheap as Hell Mexican at Taqueria Latina in Sunnyvale

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Finding a decent meal in Sunnyvale has always been a challenge and always will be. But, when I dig deep enough and keep my eyes firmly peeled, I have actually been able to find a few local gems.

On this particular day, I took a mile-long walk down a suburban road I’d never been down before stumbling onto something intriguing. For the majority of the walk, I saw nothing worth a second glance, but then I spotted it. It shined in the distance like a shining beat-up beacon of hope. The sign read Taqueria Latina.

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Magnificent, Modern Southern Cuisine at Odd Duck in Austin

Another day, another awesome, upscale dinner out in Austin. This place called Odd Duck is the sibling restaurant to chef Bryce Gilmore‘s also amazing, tasting menu-only hot spot Barley Swine which I had visited only a few night earlier. Similar to Barley Swine, the theme of this meal seemed to be small plates with either a pickled element, runny egg yolks, or both.

The menu leans heavily toward Southern gastropub fare with plenty of clean, modern, cheffy flair and even a bit of molecular gastronomy trickery thrown in. The vibe of the decor matches the tone of the food with its use of mismatched country miscellany carefully arranged by an smart, upscale, interior designer’s touch. This restaurant is pretty well known in the Austin food scene as one of the more exciting places to have a meal and it makes sense why. It has such an interesting menu that continues to experiment and evolve over time – the fervor is only going to grow as this place continues to get the industry recognition it rightly deserves like the James Beard Award Rising Star nod it just recieved.

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Date Night with Fancy, Open-Faced Sandwiches at Tartinery in Nolita

I’d never thought to go to Tartinery in Nolita before, but I’ll be damned if that place wasn’t an absolutely perfect spot for an impressive first date. You wouldn’t know it from the street, but inside the understated exterior of this restaurant there’s an incredibly sexy, well-thought-out, subterranean dining room with large vaulted ceilings with exposed brick walls accented by lots of black iron and flickering candle lights. It’s a really incredible space and if you’re looking to put the vibe in the air, this place is perfect for that.

The menu is also great for two people getting to know each other. It features a vast array of French-inspired open-faced sandwiches known as tartines. And there’s a wide selection of very accessible toppings offered – so you know that picky eater Tinder first date is going to be able to find something they can eat – yes, even vegetarians.

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Off-Menu Offal Loaded Soup at Zen Yai in the Tenderloin

Offal-lovers, are you listening? Boy, have I got a dish for you.

If you’re like me, you probably really enjoy eating freaking unusual dishes. This dish I’ve got is definitely going to interest you. In the The Tenderloin, only a block or two from the other outstanding Thai restaurants I’ve already written about like Lers Ros Thai and Sai Jai Thai, I’ve found another place worth venturing through this crackhead-infested neighborhood to. This place is called Zen Yai and they have an off-menu dish I had been meaning to try that drew me in for a visit one morning.

You’d probably never even know to order this dish unless you had the ability read Thai or enjoy scraping the internet for food finds as much as I do. I can’t read Thai, but I did get word of this crazy dish somewhere and knew I had to see what all the fuss was about. I can’t even remember where I first heard about the dish, but one hungover day I was in the mood for soup and wanted to try something particularly funky and interesting. To be honest, I didn’t really even know anything about what I was ordering myself except that it involved plenty of offal. I was ready for the gastronomic adventure.

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Sampling the Much-Hyped Black Seed Bagels at Mile End Delicatessen in NoHo

Like I’ve said before, one of the dishes I find myself missing the most living out in San Francisco is the simple New York staple of a bagel with lox. I haven’t quite found myself a viable replacement yet, so when I find myself back in New York I know 100% of the time I’m going to venture out to get my fix.

In the time since I’ve left the city, there seems to have been a resurgence and revitalization of Jewish comfort food in NYC with placed like Baz Bagels and Black Seed popping up and Russ & Daughters expanding into a full sit-down cafe. After reading much about the now famed Montreal-style bagels being baked at Nolita’s Black Seed Bagels, I knew I had to give them a shot. The write-ups often fall at polarized ends of the spectrum with those in the negative camp often harping on the lines, cost, portion, and quality so I was excited to check them out for myself to make my own judgements. Instead of wandering down to Nolita where Black Seed’s main shop lives, I decided to head to Chef Noah Bernamoff’s closer-to-home Canadian sister restaurant Mile End in NoHo – where I had heard Black Seed bagels were also being served.

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A Meticulous, Experimental Tasting Menu at Barley Swine

*Editor’s Note 3/29/16: Barley Swine has relocated its entire operation to a larger space at 6555 Burnet Road since my visit.

Many of my previous visits to Austin had been during Austin City Limits where my schedule was jam-packed full of concert-going and nearly every moment of my usual 3-day stay was booked up. But, this Christmas-time trip was a little different. We were in town for a full week with plenty of time to relax and do bit of gastronomic exploration.

I’ve experienced a variety of Austin’s lower-key options including mini-trips to the outlying barbecue towns of Lockhart and Elgin, but I had never before really experienced Austin’s more elevated dining scene. First on my list of places to try was a little, Southern, tasting menu-only restaurant called Barley Swine and sister to another amazing Austin hot spot called Odd Duck – both which recently received 2015 James Beard Award nods.

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An Authentically Laid Back, Under-the-Radar Italian Cafe in SoHo

Bar Ciccio is the kind of place you could walk by a million times and never notice. It’s located on a strip of 6th Avenue that gets ridiculously minimal intentional foot traffic and the shop front is so understated that you probably wouldn’t even realize it’s open for business. In fact, the place is completely subterranean and is located down a flight of stairs frequently obscured by scaffolding, but to miss this truly authentic Italian joint would be a big mistake.

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