Tuesday, April 16, 2024

All Around Oaxaca

Trip date: October 2023 

Oaxaca had been on my wish list to visit for so many years! I was super excited to go with my friend Aaron who had been 4 or 5 times before and absolutely loves the town. When he created an itinerary for us, made restaurant recommendations, arranged for private drivers, and booked our hotel rooms I felt like it was my birthday! As someone who is pretty much always researching and planning a few trips, this was truly a gift. Aaron and I have traveled a lot together over the years, and we have similar interests, so I knew I could trust all his choices competeley. 

Our flight from Mexico City on Aeromexico was just over an hour. At the airport we signed up for a shared taxi into town (there are no ride shares options around the area) and were dropped off at our hotel, Las Golondrinas about 1 hour after we had landed. 

We had 4 days in town, and 2 of them would be spent out in the palenques, tasting mezcal! More on that later. So we dropped our bags at the hotel, the rooms would be ready later in the afternoon, and walked around town on our way to lunch. The town is absolutely adorable with lots of bright colored 1 and 2-story buildings.

Our first lunch was at Cocina de Humo, Chef Thalia Barrios Garcia's newest restaurant. Similarly to sitting at a kitchen pass, everyone sits on one side of a long wooden table. The other side is what they call a smoke kitchen with traditional wood stoves and a hot comal. It was already warm that afternoon, and sitting right in front of all the open fire made me really hot!

Our chef served us 7-courses along with some traditional drinks like horchata and hibiscus tea. She toasted spices, roasted tomatoes and peppers, made fresh tortillas, mixed up sauces, etc. Everything was very good, and it was a really cool experience, but I felt uncomfortably full from eating so many varieties of corn! That would be an ongoing challenge throughout town! ha! 

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking off lunch at the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, which is inside the monastery buildings adjoining the Templo de Santo Domingo. This museum contains treasures from the pre-Hispanic era up to the present. There is a library with 30,000 books, contents of a found tomb at Monte Albán, jewelry, earthenware, religious relics, etc.
It's a fascinating look at the culture and timeline of the people of the Oaxaca area! There are also some great views of the botanical gardens from the upstairs balconies.

We were ready for a little sit down before going out for the night, so headed back to the hotel and got checked into our rooms. Mine was huge! I also had a little covered porch, and the grounds throughout the courtyards were filled with plants and flowers. It's a very relaxing property!

That evening we started at El Destilado for a tasting of 5 Sentidos mezcal. This is such a cute spot, with a great rooftop terrace and lots of delicious sounding things on the menu. Unfortunately we were still so stuffed from lunch so we stuck to the mezcal, which was delicious!

5 Sentidos works directly with a small group of mezcal producers, called maestro mezcaleros, who are making exceptional spirits around Oaxaca. The company bottles and markets these mezcals but does not blend or alter them. You can make an appointment to do a formal tasting at their mezcaleria or here at their restaurant. 

As we were walking the short distance to Casa Oaxaca, we came across a traditional wedding parade called a Calenda. There were giant dolls called “Monos de Calenda”, musicians, traditionally dressed folk dancers, and of course the entire wedding party and their guests dancing and singing through the streets. It was such a cool thing to run into!

We made our way to the rooftop at Casa Oaxaca, where Aaron had made reservations, and continued watching the parade as it continued on below us. 

This is a stunning rooftop for dinner, right next to the Tempo Santo Domingo. We had excellent cocktails and a couple of light dishes that did not have any corn in them! ha!

Nightcap mezcals were had at Mezcaleria In Situ where Aaron's friend/bar owner Sandra helped us choose a few to taste. This mezcaleria also has a collection of maestros that they work with who are making traditional style agave spirits. Sandra is super knowledgeable and is happy to explain the differences of the styles. 

One evening we ate at Chef Thalia Barrios Garcia's other restaurant Levadura de Olla. Again, the use of heirloom masa's and vegetables and traditional cooking styles is the theme here, but this restaurant is more modern with creative interpretations and gorgeous plating. 

The do-not-miss dish is a huge platter of an assortment of Oaxacan tomatoes. It also has a beet puree, unfortunately for me who hates beets, but Aaron assured me that I could easily eat around the puree and he was right. It was a stunning dish with slightly different textures and tastes from each variety. 

I also had a tamale made with a local cheese and zucchini blossoms with 2 types of mole. I really liked this restaurant and if I were to choose just one of Chef's places to eat this is the one I would go to. 

Another restaurant where we had good dinner was at Origen. There was a little bit of the food being prettier than tastier, but not by a lot. the location is upstairs in one of the downtown buildings and the window balconies were open, letting in a lovely breeze and also faint sounds from the town below. Great ambience. 

The kitchen sent out an amuse to start, but it was either shellfish or pork, which Aaron doesn't eat and had mentioned when he made the reservation. So that was disappointing. But then we ordered a ceviche which was fresh and tasty and gorgeous to look at. 

My duck confit enchilada with mole was so dark it was basically a rich black puddle on my plate! It was delicious but the duck was a tad tough. 

I loved the cart of mezcals they brought around after dinner! We absolutely chose a couple!

Oaxaca isn't just a mezcal town though, there are also a few wonderful cocktail bars! 

Selva is absolutely my style of cocktail den. It's dim, with comfy leather furniture, funky artwork, and a beautiful bar. 

The creative cocktail menu pays homage to local ingredients, such as in my namesake Selva cocktail with mezcal, hoja santa, lemon, agave honey, chilli liquor, quesillo and basil, juniper bitters. It was gorgeous and tasty!

Another great spot for cocktails is Sabina Sabe. The bar has multiple rooms and feels slightly subterranean. The focus is on agave spirits but the talented staff can make off menu drinks with other spirits as well!

After my friend Aaron returned to LA, I had a couple of days on my own to explore the city. I set out to see some of the sights he and I hadn't had time for. First up was the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. 

Construction on this church started in 1535 and its had to be rebuilt a few times because of earthquakes. I wandered around inside for a bit before heading to the Zocalo which is the old main square. The buildings here are especially pretty and the park has multiple fountains and benches to relax on. 

While wandering around, I ended up in a very cool hat shop, Sombreros Alberly, which custom makes hats as well as custom fits hats they have in the shop for customers. I wasn't in the market for a hat but the selection was really impressive and the gentleman who was working was super nice.

I continued walking around, stopping in various galleries, shops selling spices, dried chilis, clothing, etc. There's also a fair amount of street art around which is fun.

For brunch, I headed to Boulenc which had been recommended to me. The space is really cool; it looks like it might have been an old warehouse at one time. It was a tad tough for me to spot as I didn't see signs from across the street but once I located the huge entrance door, I was seated upstairs after only about a 5 min wait.

I couldn't decide between the agua fresca of the day or the Mezcalita, so I got both. I also ordered their version of molletas, black beans and grilled cheese on their fresh baked Ciabatta bread instead of masa and with a trio of sauces; salsa, pico de gallo and crema.. delicious!  I had such a great meal here (& on a Monday!)
The restaurant is flanked by its bakery on one side and its cute little cafe/shop on the other. Great stuff, highly recommend checking them out! 

Back out to exploring, I headed to a new-to-me area of town and went to The Instituto de Artesanias Oaxaqueños or ARIPO. This is a government funded center with handicrafts from artisans all over the region. The building has different areas of ceramics, jewelry, clothing, art, etc. There's a courtyard in the center with some sculpture. It's really a great place to browse or shop!

This area is super cute and worth walking around even if your aren't checking out the galleries. But if you are gallery hopping, I'd suggest stopping in to CoOp 1050 also to take a look at some incredible pottery.

I loved just wandering around the city and exploring different shops and galleries. There is a lot of art in this town! I headed back towards the center and went up to the rooftop of the Hotel Los Amantes for a glass of wine with this view:

So gorgeous! Just a head's up that the prices up on this terrace were pretty high compared to the rest of the city, that view isn't free! But I enjoyed it. 

That evening I had dinner at Las Quince Letras, which also specializes in the region's chilis, mole, and corn. I started with some guacamole and chapulines (fried grasshoppers) which are a very traditional food of Oaxaca. 

Then I had one of the restaurant's specials, a Tlayuda which is also another Oaxacan specialty. Usually they are an open faced or folded, crunchy, toasted tortilla but this one was rolled up. It was filled with refried beans, cabbage, beef, and Oaxaca cheese.  

I decided to have a nightcap back at Sabina Sabe and as I walked down the streets, under the papel picado (traditional Mexican paper flags) gently swaying in the breeze, I thought how I had never felt unsafe by myself, not even at night, in Oaxaca. It really seems like a very safe town.
The next morning I had a bit of time before my hired taxi driver would pick me up and take me to the airport. I decided on street food for breakfast. But not just any street food... I made my way to Tacos del Carmen for a chorizo taco which cost me all of $1.20! Tacos here are rolled and hot off the comal. They have a handful of flavors, but I was told the chorizo is super and it was! When I was there the stand was busy with both locals and tourists, including a food tour.
Don't be fooled though, you'll see various "Carmen" stands around the block by Santo Domingo Church, so watch for the right banner! 

All photos from Oaxaca here.

Other post from this trip:

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

36 Hours in Mexico City

Trip date: October 2023

This trip was all about finally getting to Oaxaca with my friend Aaron, but as I had to fly through Mexico City to do that I decided to spend a quick 2 nights there. The first night I'd be on my own, and then Aaron would meet me the next. It had been 8 years since I had been last!

Currently there is only one direct flight a day from Seattle, available thru the Delta website and on Aeromexico metal. The direct flight was not offered on points so I just bought an Economy Comfort seat. 

I got lucky and no one was in the middle seat. I hadn't flown Aeromexico before and was impressed with the hot breakfast served. But what I was very surprised by was when I asked for a glass of wine and they let me know that there wasn't any beer or wine, just tequila, vodka, & rum served from large liter bottles on the 5 ½ hr flight! 

It was late afternoon when I landed and it was very easy to request an Uber to pick me up and take me to my hotel. I was staying at The Red Tree House in the Condesa neighborhood. This 21-room boutique hotel had been recommended to me by multiple people. It books up extremely quickly as almost everyone I met there was a repeat customer. 

I absolutely loved this hotel! My room was good, I was in the Frida room, but it's more about the interior courtyard garden where Happy Hour is served from 6-8pm nightly and breakfasts are served in the morning, the multiple communal spaces in the main house, and the incredibly nice employees. I highly recommend, but book far in advance. 

The Condesa neighborhood is very safe, but being solo for my first night I took Ubers to my destinations. Almost all my rides were about $5! Amazing!

My first stop that night was in the nearby Colonia Juarez neighborhood at Handshake Speakeasy, currently #3 on the 50 World's Best Bars list. It's important to make a reservation here as it's small and you will only be given a 90 minute time slot. I don't want to give anything away about the speakeasy, so I'll just say that I loved it, loved my cocktails, and would absolutely recommend it.

For dinner I headed to #49 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants, Rosetta. It's a beautiful space with tables set up in an open courtyard and soft lighting. And the menu reads deliciously. 

I was very excited for my elote tamales, but when they arrived (about 3 minutes after I ordered) they were barely lukewarm. My fresh fish baked in a salt crust arrived right as my partially eaten tamales were taken away. This was cooked well but the fish was very plain and only served on a bed of watercress. I had 1 glass of wine and a bottle of water and was presented with the check having been there for just 55 minutes. To say I felt rushed is an understatement. 

Recently a friend of mine also ate solo and had a horrible experience, while others in a party of 2 had a wonderful meal. Personally I think you can do much better in this culinary city and I'm not sure how the restaurant scored a coveted spot on the 50 Best list. YMMV

I left to have a nightcap at Fifty Mils, in the Four Seasons Hotel. This property is absolutely gorgeous!! As is the bar. 

The team behind the bar was just ok, they didn't know much about the brands on their shelves when I inquired. They were definitely more interested in chatting with each other than in the customers. I'd say it's a fine place if you are in the area and have a thing for hotel bars, like I do, but otherwise it's an expensive place for just an ok experience. 

The next morning I had a delicious breakfast in the garden area of my hotel. I helped myself to a buffet set in the dining room with fresh fruit, breads, yogurt, juice, and coffee while the women in the kitchen made me the morning's dish of chicken "enchilada". The manager Victor delivered it to me with a bowl of salsa and instructed me to eat it like a taco, with my hands.

It and the setting were excellent! 

Aaron would be arriving later in the morning so I went on a little stroll around Condesa to see more of the area in the daylight. The streets here are lined with trees and sidewalks cut through a series of small parks. It was cool and quiet and I could hardly believe I was in a city of over 22 million people! Mexico City is the 6th largest in the world!

On the main street, I passed by lots of street vendors selling all sorts of food and drinks. It was almost lunch time and the neighborhood was starting to smell delicious!

I headed back to the hotel and met up with Aaron and then we walked the short distance to our own lunch destination, the very busy Contramar. Reservations are absolutely essential here unless you are ok with an hour + wait. 

This is one of Mexico City's most famous restaurants to lunch at. The entire menu consists of seafood that has been caught and flown in the same day. Everything on the menu sounded so good! We started with ceviche of sole, celery & chile manzano and an order of their well-known tuna tostadas with chipotle mayonnaise, crispy leeks & avocado. Outstanding!

Our main was their famous pescado a la talla, a whole grilled fish, half with red adobo rub & half with parsley rub. It comes with tortillas so you can make a fish taco or just enjoy it on its own. It was absolutely fantastic, even though we couldn't finish it all!

Somehow we managed to share a piece of gorgeous meringue pie with fresh strawberries after! We also asked our waiter about assorted mini brandy glasses we saw on a lot of nearby tables. He explained it was a "Mexican Flag". One glass has fresh-squeezed lime juice (green), one has tequila (white), and the 3rd has Sangrita (red). You take sips from each of the glasses, combining the flavors in your mouth. It was a very fun and boozy way to end our 2 1/2 hour lunch. This place is fantastic, I highly recommend! 

Back at the hotel we joined the other guests for glasses of happy hour wine, everyone comparing their days/trips/etc. It was a really nice group of people. Then we were off to check out another cocktail bar!

Hanky Panky Speakeasy, currently #22 on the World's 50 Best Bars list, is not easy to find! Luckily a passerby on the street pointed us in the right direction after we exited our Uber and started looking on the wrong side of the street. Again, I don't want to spoil anything so I will not comment on how to enter. 

We had a great time here, and really good drinks! Another one I'd recommend!

It seemed impossible but after a couple of rounds we both were feeling a bit hungry. So we headed to El Califa where you can order your tacos costras, cheese that has been griddled and is crispy. YUM!
The salsas here are also particularly good! This is a big, bright restaurant that stays open until 4am. But the food is really good and I'm a sucker for crispy cheese. I ate here the last time I was in town also!

The next morning we were up early for our flight to Oaxaca after a quick breakfast of fresh fruit and churros at the hotel. It was very quiet at the airport so we had an hour to hang out in the Priority Pass Lounge where I had some chilaquiles and a mimosa. 

Unbeknownst to me, I would be back in CDMX 5 days later for an extra night, thanks to Aeromexico delaying my flight out of Oaxaca causing me to miss my connection in MEX. They put me up in a really not-so-great hotel BUT it was right across the street from Handshake Speakeasy! 

I quickly made a reservation on OpenTable and spent the evening enjoying a few more of their lovely cocktails!

When I did fly home the next day, I checked out the Amex Centurion Lounge at MEX. There was a line to get in and it was very busy inside. I sat at the bar and had some really bad food. If you are in MEX I'd choose the Priority Pass Lounge over the Centurion!

I had purchased my return flight home by transferring Amex points to Aeromexico for a First Class seat. Even though they were able to put me on a flight the next day, it was only in Economy which was frustrating since I burned those miles. I reached out to Aeromexico when I was home, asking for reimbursement of the miles I spent and also compensation for the loss of a work day. They ended up giving me $300 but no miles. I will not willingly choose to fly with them again. I mean the fact that they don't offer wine on a flight alone is enough for me to feel that way!

All photos of Mexico City here

Other post from this trip:


Sunday, March 3, 2024

48 Hours in Waikoloa

Trip date: May 2023

I left Volcanoes National Park and drove Hwy 11 northeast to Hilo, about 45 minutes away. I've never been to Hilo, and really still haven't as it was just a good spot to have lunch on my way over to the west side of the island. I was going to spend my last 2 nights on the Big Island relaxing by the pool in Waikoloa.

A friend had suggested Suisan Fish Market for takeout poke and it was absolutely delicious! I ate at a picnic table with a view of the ocean at Liliʻuokalani Gardens. This park is just stunning and was donated by Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last Queen of Hawaii before being overthrown by the US in their move to take Hawaii. 

I didn't have a lot of time to stroll around but the park has a beautiful Japanese garden and great views of Hilo Bay.

I had chosen to take Saddle Road across the middle of the island, which cuts right between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. It's about 62 miles long and hits 6,632 feet elevation around mile marker 28. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, it got dang cold at the crest!

I pulled over for views of Mauna Kea but that's all there is out here! There are no services at all on this road so plan accordingly. But the entire drive was beautiful.

I arrived at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort where I had booked 2 free nights which I got when I opened my Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card. When I checked in they let me know they had also upgraded me to a big King room with a view of the pool and the ocean. They also gave me 2 free drink coupons. Mai tai with a view, lovely!

I went down to the pool for a while as it was still super warm and sunny. The pool here is great! There are actually 3; 1 is super shallow and has a little sand beach for kids, another has a water slide, and then there is a full length pool. This would do nicely!

That evening I walked about 10 minutes to Queens' Marketplace outdoor mall and met my friend Noelle at Kuleana Rum Shack where our friend Missy was working. Delicious drinks were had while catching up with these 2 lovely ladies.

The next day was absolutely gorgeous! I started the day with a hike along the beach trail where I saw both nēnē (Hawaiian geese) and honu (Hawaiian Green sea turtles)! 

I also saw dolphins in a hotel pool that you could swim with. How is that even a thing still??? I was shocked. 

Back at the Marriott, I rented a cabana at the pool for the day. It was absolutely wonderful!

Sometimes you I just need a whole day by the pool! I had some very good Kalua pork nachos delivered to my bed for lunch, soaked up the sun, swam, read... heaven!

I did go for a short afternoon walk along Waikoloa Beach to ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach... to the Lava Lava Beach Club for a mai tai!

And then later there was the most incredible sunset! 

I had planned to go out for dinner that night, but I was just feeling so relaxed hanging at the resort so I decided to have dinner at their restaurant as it was "Taco Tuesday". Unfortunately when I arrived I was told there was a shortage or something and there would be no tacos that Tuesday. Bummer, but I had some fine catch of the day and a wedge salad.

The next morning I woke up to a text from Alaska Air letting me know I'd been upgraded to First Class for the flight home! What an absolute cherry on the top of such a great trip!

My flight wasn't until late afternoon, and as I'm Gold with Marriott I had a 2pm checkout, so I had a very indulgent breakfast at the resort, took a few more laps in the pool, worked on the tan a bit more, and had one last poke bowl before heading to the airport for the 6-hour flight home.
Aloha until next time Hawai'i! 

All Big Island photos here.

Other posts from this trip:

All Around Oaxaca

Trip date: October 2023  Oaxaca had been on my wish list to visit for so many years! I was super excited to go with my friend Aaron who had ...

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