Posts Tagged With: mexican food

Aqui: Great for Fusion Mexican or a Cheap Buzz

The Bay Area is expensive.  We all know and loathe this, but it is a fact of life.  Everything is more expensive here, but perhaps nothing tops the overpriced list quite like drinks.

Based on personal experience, I’d say paying $8 – $10 for a cocktail is average around these parts, and that gets expensive really fast.  That is why I find Aqui so exciting.  Paying $6.50 for a margarita swirl is a steal around here.  And this is not one of those mini cocktails that you finish in three sips.  These drinks really are industrial strength; if I am going to drive, I cannot have even one.  Yet even with the copious amounts of alcohol, they are super tasty with lots of fruity goodness.

The food is less cheap but still reasonable and delicious.  Aqui calls itself Cal-Mex cuisine, but it is really Mexican fusion in every possible sense.  I’ve had Indian-inspired dishes (which were fabulous!), Thai burritos, and flautas served with barbeque sauce.  Some things work better than others, but on the whole, the mixes truly evoke the best of both worlds.  Being a guacamole connoisseur, I cannot visit without getting the Avocado Dip which answers the age old question, “Salsa or guacamole,” with a resounding “Both!”  The only thing lacking in the food area is a dearth of chips.  Despite having a lovely salsa bar, they want you to actually pay for chips.  I’ve talked my way into getting a small bowl a few times, but I wouldn’t count on that.

As for ambience, Aqui is a “pay when you order then find a table” kind of restaurant.  It still has a sit-down feel, but it can get really crowded, especially the one in Campbell.  You may have to wait for a table before you order, and since there are no hosts, you end up fighting for one yourself.  It’s annoying.  However, if you do not go during peak hours, you should be fine, and they do have a bar if you just want a drink and don’t want to wait for it.

Aqui is a great casual dining spot whether you want to get drunk on the cheap or try a new kind of Mexican food.  Just remember to be responsible with your drinks.  They really do pack quite a punch!

UPDATE:  Of course, once I decide to write about their super cheap drinks, Aqui decides to raise their prices. Even so, $8 for what you get in these swirls is really reasonable for the alcohol content and delicious flavor.

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Categories: Bay Area, Food, Local Travel, Northern California, Restaurants, San Jose | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Campbell Farmer’s Market of the Gods

Farmer’s markets are one of the greatest of Northern California institutions.  Ever-present, they bring quality fresh, local produce right to the consumer, and it tastes so good!  Though not always cheaper than grocery stores, it is almost always tastier.

The King of Farmer’s Markets in the South Bay has got to be the Campbell Farmer’s Market.  Every Sunday, Downtown Campbell gives it’s main street over to tents, produce, and vendors from 9am to 1pm(ish).  And never have you seen its equal.

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Four long blocks of goodness, the Campbell Farmer’s Market is so big it has to be broken up into sections.  On the west side, you’ll find prepared food vendors.  The east side sports artsy goods, and in between you’ll find mountains of produce.  I could never begin to tell you which produce vendors are the best, cheapest, or best value; there are too many.  But I can tell you about a few gems.

My favorite stop is always the Milk Guy.  His business is not actually so named, but he will always be the Milk Guy to me.  One might think that milk is not a product to get excited about.  One has clearly never met the Milk Guy.

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He sells raw milk, straight from the cow, no preservatives, no pasteurization, just pure milk.  It is beyond compare.  Richer than milk, more refreshing than cream, you can drink this milk in place of a meal and feel completely satisfied.  It’s deliciousness is beyond compare.  Get the true raw milk–that is, the whole milk–and I swear you will be amazed and astounded unless perchance you have had milk straight from the cow.

There is an abundance of scrumptious prepared food as well.  Should you be willing to brave the lines, the Oaxacan Kitchen is amazing AND reasonably priced.  Everything is hand-made in front of you, including the tortillas, and this is one of those rare instances in Northern California where the Mexican food lives up to–or perhaps even eclipses–its southern counterparts.  I always stop by the Indian food booth for a $1 samosa, and Daniel rarely visits the market without buying a Flying Falafel sandwich (even rarer are the times I don’t steal at least one of his falafels).

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Yummy $1 Samosas

 

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Flying Falafel

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Oaxacan Kitchen

Some of the booths straddle the line between prepared food and…not, and they are generally worth a visit if nothing else for the free samples.  The Hummus Guy (and that is actually what he calls himself) is awesome.  All of his hummus is delicious as are the flavored pita chips.  The bolani people are really good too, giving you the perfect combination of sauces and flavored bolanis though alas we cannot afford them.

And indeed that is the most difficult thing for me about the farmer’s market:  not dropping all of the cash in my wallet on their wares.  We pretty much do it every time we go, so we’ve had to keep our visits to a minimum.  Everything tastes so good, it’s hard not to buy the whole market.  And frankly, most of its offerings are a bit pricey anyway.

But totally worth it.  The quality is impossible to find in a grocery store.

Making up for the price is the ease of finding samples at the farmer’s market.  Almost all of the vendors have samples of their wares, and I usually fill up on samples before deciding what to buy.  And it absolutely works in their favor because we have bought way, way more than we ever would have without a taste first.

If you haven’t been to the Campbell Farmer’s Market, you are seriously missing out.  Go now!  Eat and be happy.

Categories: Bay Area, Food, Local Travel, Northern California, San Jose | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Freebirds: The World’s Only Burrito Diner

Downtown San Jose and its surrounding areas I generally avoid.  Not on principle but merely due to lack of interest.  Why bother with the slightly larger amounts of traffic downtown when you could go, well, anywhere else and have it be just as exciting?

Nonetheless, there are times when venturing near downtown San Jose can be worthwhile.  J. Lohr is one, Schurra’s another, and recently while walking between them I came across Freebirds.

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If Chipotle got together with a 1955 Chevy and had a diner-shaped baby, it would probably resemble Freebirds World Burrito.

Freebirds is populated by old photographs, flying guitars, tin foil creations, and paint left over from the sixties.  It is eclectic, industrial, and groovy all at the same time.

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As you approach the counter, you are transported to a more varied, hipper version of Chipotle.  You pick your burrito (or bowl or taco), your meat (or veggies), and your fillings and salsas.  The choices are daunting yet delicious, and the result is much more personalized than other burriterias (it’s a word now, I’ve decided).

But you should really check this place out for the atmosphere.  It’s not every day that you find a burrito diner, and it’s pretty hilarious.

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You Got to Love the Flying Guitars

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Tin Foil Art

Categories: Food, Northern California, Restaurants, San Jose | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Guayma’s: A Uniquely Classy Mexican Experience

Mexican food in Northern California is generally not awesome.  Let’s just be honest.  The Bay Area does a lot of food really well, but Mexican got left out in the fog.  There are of course exceptions, but considering this is California, they really ought to step it up a notch.

Mexican food in Southern California is generally tasty but limited to hole-in-the-wall, “I’m not sure this place is sanitary” dive-like restaurants.  Again, there are exceptions, but Mexican food ain’t exactly classy down south.

Guayma’s Restaurant is the exception to both rules.

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Never before or since have I encountered a restaurant that proffers Mexican food while being so upscale.  Located on the bay in Tiburon, it is no surprise that this place is expensive, but instead of being overpriced, every penny brings happiness.

First, the food is exceptional.  And while I wouldn’t call this the height of traditional Mexican cuisine, it does seem to be genuinely Mexican or at least Latino.  And as I said, it’s good.  Really, really good.  I rapidly became partial to the cheesy empanadas.  Appetizers they may be, but I’m happy eating an entire dinner of cheesy goodness surrounded by walls of mashed potatoes and fried shells. They are one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.

Everything we have ever had at Guayma’s has been exquisite.  From the chips and guac to the banderilleras and camarones to the coconut flan and churros.  Oh God, the churros!  They used to be stuffed with caramel sauce!  We never knew a churro could be so delicious.  Now, they’re just regular awesome instead of caramely awesome, but they are still served with ice cream and drizzled with caramel and are way better than churros have a right to be.

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Upper Left:  Chips, Salsa, Guacamole.  Upper Right: Banderilleras, Camarones a la Diabla, Beans, Rice
Bottom:  Coconut Flan, Churros, Chocolate Pie

But as with any nice restaurant, the atmosphere is the real key to their success.  Guayma’s literally sits on the bay, overlooking Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge with the city off in the distance.  On a sunny day, you can sit out on the terrace, hear the water lapping at the pier, see the sunlight dancing in the ripples and feel it slowly baking your skin.  For a more pleasant dining experience, you would have to go to the Caribbean and do one of those dining on the beach things.  No really, it’s that awesome.

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The View

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Guayma’s truly has it all:  great food, great drinks, and great atmosphere.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s no more pleasant place to eat on a sunny day in the Bay.

Categories: Bay Area, Food, Local Travel, Marin, Northern California, Restaurants | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

San Jose Hidden Treasures: El Jardin

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Oh, Santana Row.  You are one of the few things worth going to in San Jose.  You’re suave and sexy, you’ve got great atmosphere.  If only I could afford to actually buy anything from you.

I wish I could tell you all about the hidden pleasures of Santana Row, but oh so sadly, I cannot afford to spend much time there.  Really, I cannot afford to spend any time there, but sometimes on a lonely Saturday night it’s nice to walk around, listen to the music, and maybe play a game of giant chess.

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Giant Chess:  Always Exciting

But I have found one hangout that is not only a fabulous place to chill but also is only normal expensive instead of prohibitively expensive.

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El Jardin is a tequila bar primarily but also supplies tasty drinks and Mexican food.  The food and drinks are good if overpriced, but this place is all about atmosphere.

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The entire facility is outside under a giant oak.  Small tables and stools surround the tree that shades you as you eat beneath its branches and watch the lights about its trunk twinkle in the twilight.  Live music serenades you, completing this most unique experience.

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It is like nothing else offered in San Jose.

It’s a nice place to sit and talk or listen to the music.  And unlike many restaurants at Santana Row, going casual does not make you feel like an outcast.  It’s a great hang out for all types…at least all types who are willing to spend $10+ on a cocktail.

Categories: Bay Area, Food, Local Travel, Northern California, Restaurants, San Jose | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Salinas: Hole-in-the-Wall Heaven

Upon entering Salinas, one might wonder, indeed, why anyone would want to enter Salinas.

I, being a super savvy traveler, stayed there during Memorial Day weekend.  Normally, when one goes on vacation during Memorial Day weekend, it is with the knowledge that she will be accosted by tourists, packed hotels, and the inability to find parking.

Not so Salinas.

We arrived on Sunday to find that at least half of the restaurants downtown were closed for lunch.  And not the crappy hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants, no, we are talking about the big, overly welcoming, “I’m going to charge you a minimum of $12 per entree even though this is fucking Salinas” restaurants.

It was weird.

I have never visited a town that looked more like a ghost town, aside from Detroit in 2009.  But there was just nothing going on in Salinas.  It was perfectly nice looking (well, OK, downtown was perfectly nice looking) and well-kept, it was just closed.

I cannot say whether this was normal or whether the entire town decided to leave for the weekend, but as my husband and I wandered the streets, we were quite unnerved by the stillness.

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Downtown Salinas “Art”

Eventually, we found a Mexican restaurant that was open, inexpensive, and, well, clean, and it actually turned out to be surprisingly good.  Based on our quick drive around downtown Salinas, I would say at least half of their restaurants sport Mexican fair, and they clearly know what they’re doing.  At least this one did.

Paloma’s Mexican Restaurant really impressed us both.  It is relatively small, has no inner lighting besides skylights, and is definitely a hole-in-the-wall kind of find.  Nonetheless, the food and service were excellent.  Before we even ordered, they brought us bowls of watermelon to snack on which was a new experience and quite an enjoyable one.   The chips and salsa were good with a rather unique flavor, and both of our entrees were fabulous.  Daniel got green mole chicken which we both immediately fell head-over-heels for.  I don’t know what they put in that sauce, but it was magical.  I ordered chicken tamales because I judge all Mexican restaurants on their tamales, a technique that generally does not work well in Northern California but sure worked out here.  They were quite tasty, especially when slathered in green mole.

Random, but delicious.

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Art at Salinas Transit Center

After gathering our stomachs and dragging them and their contents out of Paloma’s, we decided to ditch the Steinbeck Center in favor of extra time for wine tasting.

Monterey Country has some really fantastic wineries, and many of them reside on River Road, a short drive from Salinas.  Like the main strip in Napa, you can basically just drive down the road to encounter lots of delicious wine choices, and this is what we did.

Having somehow missed our freeway exit, we decided to start down the road a bit and work our way back.  Thus began the start of our tasting adventure at Pessagno Winery.  I was pleased with this turn of events because Pessagno was the winery I was most interested in, and apparently, my preliminary research paid off because it was super tasty.

Pessagno is small but welcoming with a long wooden tasting bar and very friendly hosts.  We were tempted to buy several of their Pinots and their Syrah, and I actually gave in to their Perelli 101, a Port without Port varietals that genuinely tasted like berries.  We greatly enjoyed their actual Port as well but not nearly as much as the Port-filled chocolates that we downed in one gulp.  Their pours were ample, and I was sufficiently tipsy by the time we left which in hindsight may not have been the best idea I’ve ever had, but hey, it was fun at the time.

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Fountain at Talbott Tasting Room

We continued up the road to the most established winery of our trip, Talbott Vineyards.  While it was pretty and clearly someone had put a lot of thought into the decor, we both found their wines utterly uninspired despite trying both of their tasting lists.  This is the most expensive winery we visited, and it was so not worth it.  Despite already being lubed up for the experience, we spent the whole tasting trying to find something that we liked and failed utterly.

I however was getting quite drunk by the time we arrived and needed to take a break before meandering back to the car.  We stumbled through the vines, lamenting that we were there in May when none of the grapes were ripe.

Though I probably should have just stopped there, there was only one winery between us and our hotel, so really we had no choice but to try it.  We’re very happy we did.

Marilyn Remark was the most surprising of the wineries we visited.  The tasting room was literally a giant metal shed complete with barrels, farm equipment, and a large chemistry set.  Our wines were served on folding tables, and our company included the winery dog.  And the wine was really, really good.

We wanted to buy at least half of the wine list and actually purchased their Viognier.  I do not like Viognier.  I have had maybe one other Viognier in my life that I liked at all.  These days, even though I have a penchant for whites, if I see a Viognier on a tasting list, I’ll most likely skip it.  This Viognier was clearly crafted by God.

You can probably imagine how drunk I was when we left Marilyn Remark.

Needless to say, I do not remember much else from our day.

At some point, I took a nap which is a respectful nod to the quality of the wines I drank and to the level of my intoxication.  I awoke in time to partake of some truly delicious Chinese food that Daniel had scavenged from China House Restaurant, a treat we were not expecting in a sea of taquerias.

And then it was time for me to have a nice long sleep.

Salinas is not the kind of place you’d expect to have a good vacation.  It is small, largely abandoned, and often looks like the kind of place you shouldn’t walk alone at night.  However, like the restaurants and wineries we visited, this hole-in-the-wall town was unexpectedly pleasant, and I actually kind of want to go back to check out some more wineries.  Maybe next time we’ll actually go to the Steinbeck Museum.

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Steinbeck House

Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Monterey County Wines, Northern California, Restaurants, Wine | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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