Like many people, one of my favorite things to do is travel. And eat great food. Drink great drinks. Travel and taste. Eat and explore. It’s one of my core basic instincts, up there with rooting for the Eagles and enjoying hip hop. Here’s a look at some of the best places I visited in 2018, along with some of the best food that I had, since they are so often related.
For our 10th anniversary, the missus and I headed to Mexico for over a week and half. Her highlight was the all-inclusive beachfront resort (Beloved Playa Mujeres) on the Riviera Maya, which was obviously wonderful, but I was pleasantly surprised by our time in Mérida. Here are some favorites from the capital of the Yucatan:
- Casa Lecanda: This boutique bed & breakfast was nearly perfect. Had a great bedroom space that was super comfortable, a spacious indoor bathtub for two, and an outdoor lounge area complete with a pool & hammocks that was extraordinarily relaxing. The staff was very accommodating, and the little things here and there did not go unnoticed. If you want to visit Merida, stay here.
- Kuuk: When we first walked into Kuuk, we were a bit taken aback. It was nearly empty at dinner time, and supposedly one of the best restaurants in the area. We didn’t quite know what to expect. Turns out we were just early. By the end of our hours-long experience, more people had come to fill out the space, and we quickly saw why. The food was amazingly creative (and tasty!), the service impeccable, and we walked away with an unforgettable experience. The staff welcomed us with open arms into the kitchen, taking pictures with us and giving us a tour of their facilities. The research into heirloom varieties and Mayan traditions is paleoculinary science at its peak, and the tasting menu is a wonderful exploration of Kuuk’s learnings. Definitely a must-visit if you’re in the area.
- Apoala & Malahat: In what become a trend of acts of hospitality towards us during our time in Mexico, we had a great time at Apoala. We first hit it off with the host who sat us, who turned out to be the owner/manager. As someone who was back and forth from the States, he made us feel right at home without sacrificing the truly Mexican roots of Apoala. After our delicious meal on Apoala’s patio, he asked us if we wanted to see something special. Never one to turn down an offer like that (and honestly expecting something like a scoop of their signature ice cream), he walked us around back of the restaurant. Nodding to a chef in the alley, I wasn’t sure if we were going to see something special or become a headline. In short order, I found out it was definitely the former. We had stumbled upon a true speakeasy. Word of mouth only, forbidden cocktails, the whole nine yards. It was fantastic. The fact that members of Mexico’s National Orchestra were playing live jazz in the space was icing on the proverbial cake. What a memory!
- Latte Quatro Sette: Perhaps not so coincidentally, one of Merida’s best coffeehouses sits right beside Casa Lecanda. We visited the clean & well-decorated space frequently. Check LQS out, or visit the equally delicious Dilan across the street. Both are worth multiple visits.
- Tags: We don’t just eat and drink coffee during our travels…we also happened to shop local. Tags Alpargatas are Toms-esque shoes constructed in conjunction with Mayan craftspeople. Not only are they a great, affordable product (super comfy!), they’re also a wonderful way to support the local economy. The conversation was great too while we decided on which pair to take home (spoiler alert, we couldn’t decide on one so we brought home four!).
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
While Mérida and Playa Mujeres were certainly our highlights, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of spots that we visited in our 3-day detour to Mexico City as well!
- Quintonil: We had lunch here, one of the top 20 restaurants in the world. Jorge Vallejo is not only the culinary talent behind Quintonil, he’s also a super nice guy. Having a conversation with him in his own kitchen after serving us an incredible meal was an experience I won’t soon forget. His culinary reputation is stellar, with stints at Noma and Pujol(!), but it’s awesome that he’s on his own. In my opinion, if you have to pick one of the Mexico City stalwarts, it should be Quintonil. Skip Pujol if you must. But only if you must.
- Pujol: From the man who is behind New York’s own Cosme & Atla, Pujol is a fantastic culinary experience….in addition to also being one of the top 20 restaurants in the world. While the missus and I both preferred Quintonil, though the service left a bit to be desired, and even if we were super tired during our dinner at Pujol, the ambiance and culinary care taken at Pujol was something spectacular. In particular, the aged mole dish. It deserves every single ounce of credit it receives in the reviews. Simply divine. Like I stated above, if you have to pick one, pick Quintonil. But don’t pick just one.
- National Museum of Anthropology: The hype is real. This place is impressive in every sense of the word. First, it’s a massive space. We spent more than half a day here and didn’t see close to everything. Secondly, the exhibits themselves are super unique, including everything from an aromatics exhibit about ancient botany to a VR exhibit about the ancient underworld. Simply stunning. Third, the architecture itself leaves an impression. The massive courtyard and cantilevered overhang are awe-inspiring in themselves, before you learn a single thing about Mexico’s past. If you find yourself in Mexico City, definitely check this spot out.
- Quentin Cafe: Super hipster cafe with fantastic coffee straddling Mexico City’s Condesa & Roma neighborhoods. The epitome of Mexico City cool. We brought home some beans and some art work, and suggest you do the same.
NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES
Home sweet home…and a city that I can’t seem to keep up with! There are always new spots to explore, restaurants to visit, and neighborhoods to spend a day in. Here are some of my favorites from this past year:
- The Finch: This is the restaurant that I wish I could afford to visit weekly. It’s become one of our Brooklyn favorites. The seasonal food is awesome, the wine & cocktail selections are spot on, the service is attentive without being stuffy, and the atmosphere is both homey and boutique. We feel like it’s ours, even though it’s far from it. Seriously, we have yet to have a bad dish here. The execution is flawless even while retaining a true neighborhood feel. I expect this restaurant to have a bright future for hopefully some time. It’s one of those places that you want the word to get out about….but not really.
- Legacy Records: There are very, very, very few reasons to visit the West Side of Manhattan. Legacy Records is one of them. The interior is retro in a cool way (not an ironic, kitschy way), the menu is one of the best in the city, and the dishes themselves are delectable (albeit a bit on the small side). Definitely worth multiple trips just to continue to dive into the well-executed Italian-American dishes.
- Devoción: Best coffee in the city. Love the people that make up this business, love the product that they sling, and love what they bring to the otherwise very crowded third-wave coffee space. They place a lot of emphasis on environment and product, and it shows. Excited to watch them continue to grow throughout 2019.
THE SOUTH, UNITED STATES
Apologies to my Southern friends for lumping the following under a single heading, but I wanted to highlight pieces of our Savannah/Charleston trip as well as my Nashville trip.
- Andaz Savannah: For our pre-Turkey Day trip this year, the ladies and I headed to Savannah for a couple of days. It was great, partly due to the staff at Andaz Savannah. They had made a significant error in our booking, and instead of forcing us to deal with it, they made it right, going above and beyond in order to do so. Will absolutely remember that, and my loyalty will show it. Plus the rooms are spacious, the beds comfy, and the location perfect for exploring what Savannah has to offer.
- Folk: Along with a trip to Minneapolis, I visited Nashville solo this past year just to clear my head and get away for a bit….and to tack on some much needed loyalty miles. One of the highlights in NYC’s “6th borough” was Folk, a pizza-forward haunt in one of Nashville’s cool neighborhoods, East Nashville. From the same people as Germantown’s Rolf & Daughters (also a great spot!), Folk was a neighborhood locale where I sat between a couple on their first date and a local elderly couple simply wanting some pizza! In addition to thoroughly enjoying the wood-fired dishes, I also brought home one of Folk’s sick lilac-colored hats.
- Five Loaves Cafe: No Thanksgiving is complete without a visit to Charleston, and no Charleston visit is complete without a visit to Second State (formerly Black Tap Coffee) and the fantastic American cafe, Five Loaves. Breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches. It’s simple but delicious. Seriously, it’s one of the first places we go to immediately after stepping off the plane. The food is so clean, the service is great, and we’re even starting to be recognized though we only visit annually. Well done, Five Loaves team! See you in 10 months or so.
PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES
Again, forgive me for painting an entire state with a broad brush here, but I really wanted to quickly highlight a couple of places in Pennsylvania that the family and I really enjoyed this year.
- Philadelphia: From browsing the Franklin Institute to enjoying City Hall in the days leading up to the Eagles‘ victorious Super Bowl (#FlyEaglesFly) to downing a cheesesteak or nine (Tony Luke’s – any other option and you’re wrong), I really enjoyed Philly this year. It’s quickly become my favorite day trip when I need to see something other than the mean streets of Brooklyn.
- Great Wolf Lodge: Yes, this place reminds me of a place that Clark Griswold would bring his clan and have some hijinks at. Yes, it’s corny and kitschy and feels like a minor-league Disney water park. Yes, the surrounding area leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, the food was over-priced and the accommodations themselves mediocre. Yes, the animatronic entertainment was simultaneously creepy and cringe-worthy. But man, we had fun. And fundamentally, that’s what family trips are supposed to be about. We’ll definitely be going back.