Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Casa Tortuga, Contadora Island, Panama

While vacationing and skydiving on Contadora Island in Panama, I discovered a fantastic restaurant. While all other restaurants were little dives, there was one fancy Italian restaurant run by a chef named Piero. Who would have thought?

As is typical on a tropical island, most of the seating was outside where the weather was fabulous. There were funky umbrellas with glass tables and white chairs with tons of hospitality.

There isn't much of a standard menu at Casa Tortuga. Instead, items are brought out family style and the specials change daily. He offered me a fantastic salad to start filled with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shaved zucchini, and herbs. I loved it.

For my entree, he served me a Pasta Pomodoro, which was fantastic. Linguini noodles with fresh tomato sauce and basil. It was so fresh and so good that I had to beat off all my friends who tried to eat my pasta.

We loved this place so much that we came back four nights in a row! On another occasion, he offered me a pasta with fresh vegetables. It was also very good. It's a great place for small or large parties.

This place was not cheap at like $35 per person per meal, but it was worth it as it had the best food on the island. Highly recommended!

Casa Tortuga
Calle Urraaca
Contadora Island, Panama

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Lost City Diner, Baltimore

One Sunday morning, I found myself in Baltimore and hungry as a mo-fo. I wanted to try somewhere new and came across the Lost City Diner.

From the outside, it looked like an old-school diner. Inside, the retro style included a bar, jukebox, and comic book characters. It was packed and no one was coming over to us so we flagged someone down. The servers did not look happy and there did not seem to be enough of them. Luckily, a table opened up pretty quickly and we were seated within 20 minutes.

I ordered an orange mango juice, which was fine, as I perused the menu. There were quite a few vegan options including quesadillas, pizza bread, burgers, vegan chicken parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti and vegan meatballs, chili, and vegan bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. I really was in the mood for something simple so I went with the Grilled Portobello Mushroom Sandwich.

It didn't look great when it showed up -- soggy portobello on a white bun with lettuce shreds and tomato. The tangy chipotle horseradish sauce is a must as it gave it some oomph. And it was served with boring potato chips. All in all, I wasn't impressed.

So between the poor service and lackluster food, I probably wouldn't go back. But, who knows, maybe it would be worth trying something else on another day.

Lost City Diner
1730 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 547-5678

Lost City Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Buredo, DC

Not since the days of the Georgetown Cupcake craze have I seen lines like the ones I see out of Burdeo each day. So what the heck is this place? Located on 14th Street in the business district is a tiny shop selling burrito-size sushi rolls. But, why does one need to wait an hour to get in? Are they that good? We set out to find out.

Buredo is a local DC cafe owned by two DC natives who were seeking a unique, fresh lunch option. So, we set out at 11:45 a.m. hoping to beat the crazy lines. And we did! We only waited 20 minutes in line. There are only two buredos that are vegetarian, but be sure to ask which sauce to use because some of the sauces paired with the vegetarian buredos are not vegan.

The Riki is made with spicy beets, pea shoots, avocado, jicama, pickled cucumber, and red onion. Hold the yogurt sauce and add the spicy baja sauce made with soy milk. I thought it was really good. And I added organic tofu for $2. It really was a huge sushi roll. The bad thing is that, similar to sushi, you eat the whole thing and then the rice expands in your stomach and 30 minutes later you realize you shouldn't have eaten that whole thing! Oh well. The ingredients were super fresh and delicious.

Would I wait an hour for these? No. But, 20 minutes was fine. I suggest going before noon or after 1 p.m. to avoid lines. Also, they are pretty pricey at $9-$10 per buredo.

The other vegetarian roll is the Elle that is made with tofu, arugula, roasted red pepper, jicama, green onion, black sesame seeds, and garlic crunch. Just ask about which sauce is suitable for vegans. Other options include wasabi peas and vegan cookies!

I like this place a lot. Can't wait to go back and try the Elle!

825 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 670-6770

Buredo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cure Bar and Bistro, DC

I often think I've at least heard of most restaurants in DC. I definitely haven't been to nearly all of them, but I've heard of most. Cure Bar and Bistro though is one I hadn't heard of until my mother called all freaked out about losing her Hyatt points and asked me to go there and have a meal. Free meal at the Hyatt? Sure, mom. And that's how I found this place.

Located downtown in, wouldn't you guess it, the Hyatt, is Cure. Inside, there's a nice bar with backlit wine storage and an open restaurant that looks out into the hotel. I was seated on the second level down.

I started with a sparkling wine. When the server came around, I inquired as to what was vegan other than what was clearly marked on the menu. She mentioned that Black Bean and Oat burger that sounded scrumptious, but I was in the mood for an entree.

I placed an order for the Caramelized Brussels Sprouts to start. They were really good.

For my meal, I had the choice of the Garganelli Pasta or Vegan Bean Chili. I went with the chili and I'm glad I did. It said it had seasonal vegetables in there, but I could only see green and red peppers mixed with ancho spiced crimini mushrooms. Regardless, it was incredibly flavorful with spices that were somewhat mind-blowing. The country vegan cornbread was great too!

The prices were a little high at $14 for a small chili, but it's a hotel restaurant so that's not that unexpected. The service was a bit too much with my server stopping by like every minute to see if I needed anything. And the atmosphere was noisy as it overlooked the open hotel. But, all in all, the food and wine was good enough to warrant a return. It may be better to stay on the floor with the bar so as to stay away from the hotel.

Cure Bar and Bistro
1000 H Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 379-8942

Cure Bar and Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, August 15, 2016

Maki Shop, DC

When a sushi place opened up next to my favorite wine store, I figured there would be the same old boring choices for vegans. Not so! Maki Shop has some deliciously different options for vegans and I'm happy to have them in the neighborhood.

What is unique about their rolls are that they packaged them so that the nori wrapper is kept separate and stays crisp until you are ready to eat them. I love this. They say they use some organic ingredients and focus on local, seasonal, and nutritious ingredients.

Inside, the Maki Shop is quite small with seating for just a few people. This really is a take-out joint. You can see all that they are selling in the cases in the front. I decided to try two rolls.

The Wild Mushroom roll is made with brown rice, kinpira budock, asparagus, red bell pepper, and scallions. You take it out, roll it yourself, and enjoy! I liked this roll a lot, but a vegan mayonnaise sauce alternative to their mayo sauce would have really sealed the deal.

I also tried the Miso Tofu roll made with white rice, avocado, red bell pepper, and kaiware sprouts. It was pretty good too.

They swore the kimchi did not have fish in it so I tried that too. Loved it! Super spicy and flavorful.

Other vegan items include the beet salad, veggie roll, and kabocha squash roll. All are labeled vegan on the website and in the shop.

It is really great to have a place to get fresh sushi rolls that is vegan friendly. They aren't cheap at $5.40 or so per roll, but they are large, fresh, and darned good. Welcome to the neighborhood, Maki Shop!

Maki Shop
1522 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 545-6333

Maki Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Cantina Laredo, Wesley Chapel, FL

In an effort to find some better food than that in Zephyrhills, Florida, we headed about 30 minutes out to Cantina Laredo in Wesley Chapel. Cantina Laredo serves "modern Mexican food" and after eating in Zephyrhills for a week, that sounded great to me.

The restaurant is very large, but with a fancy feel as there were white tablecloths on each table that contrasted the light wood accents. I liked the feel of it immediately.

We ordered a bottle of wine and took a look at the menu. The guacamole made fresh in front of you sounded good, but they were low on avocados so they just brought us out some already-made guacamole. It was great with the chips and salsa we already had.

For my entree, I ordered the Enchiladas de Avocado. These enchiladas were filled with artichokes and avocado, topped with tomatillo sauce, and served on a bed of spinach. I got them without cheese or sour cream. They were so good and fresh -- just perfect! On the side, I got steamed asparagus and herbed zucchini. It was quite good.

We stayed until we were the last customers in the restaurant as we had a whole bottle of wine to drink. The service was good, the enchiladas at $12.50 were a good price, and the atmosphere was great. Recommended!

Cantina Laredo
2000 Piazza Avenue
Wesley Chapel, FL 33543
(813) 907-3068

Cantina Laredo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Little Ninja, Zephyrhills, FL

Since we spend so much time at Best Thai & Sushi in Zephyrhills, Florida, we thought we'd give the other Thai restaurant a chance. So, on this Thursday night, we headed over to Little Ninja. Little Ninja is located inside a little house off of 6th Street. When I say "little," I mean "little!" When we walked inside, we realized there were only a few tables and very little seating. It was also 8:45 p.m. with a closing time of 9 p.m. so they weren't too happy. Nevertheless, they greeted us with smiles.

Little Ninja serves Thai fried rice, curries, and stir-fry dishes as well as Japanese dishes.  They don't serve liquor, beer, or wine though, which was a huge bummer. This was more incentive to get in and out.

I just ordered the Red Curry, which had red curry paste with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, bell peppers, tofu, and basil. It was meh. Not much flavor, but better than nothing. That's about it.

It also came with a tasty salad.

I did like the screen with all the cats on it. Meow! There isn't much to say about the decor otherwise.

The service was not great as there was like only one person working there. The entree was $9 so pretty cheap. And the atmosphere was not very inviting. I probably won't go back as Best Thai & Sushi is so much better.

Little Ninja
5709 6th Street
Zephyrhills, FL 33542
(813) 395-5908

Little Ninja Thai Japanese Food & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, August 5, 2016

Terra, Zephyrhills, FL

My boyfriend lured me to Terra, a new restaurant in Zephyrhills, Florida, with hopes that its mantra of serving healthy fresh food included vegan food. This cafe is pretty large and has more of a big, open space-feel to it.  I think it functions as more of a breakfast and lunch spot. We came on a Friday night and it was mostly empty.

We started with a bottle of white wine. It was not anything to write home about. We also had the bruschetta with pita bread because the normal bread it comes with is not vegan. The bruschetta was great!

There really wasn't much that was vegan here so I went with the Briam without cheese. This was a warm dish of sliced zucchini, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and spices. It was fine, but it wasn't really all that good. It was definitely missing something.

So, all in all, the service was pretty good, the food was so-so, and the prices were very cheap. I'd give this place another chance, but I sure wish they'd add more vegan options to their menu. Their emphasis is on healthy food with gluten-free options so just throw a few vegan options in the mix too!

6834 Gall Boulevard
Zephyrhills, FL
(813) 355-4862

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Zest Kitchen & Bar, Salt Lake City

As a treat to myself, I went to Zest Kitchen & Bar in Salt Lake City before heading home from this trip. Located downtown, I quickly located a parking space and headed inside. I was super early on a Wednesday night so the place was pretty quiet. I loved the feel of it even though there weren't many people there. It's a quaint place with a bar at the entrance and plenty of seating. The entrance is constructed of stone and the bright, brown glossy tables had silver chairs to complement them.

The menu is a simple one. I was not hungry enough to get an appetizer, but I thought an alcoholic drink would be nice. I ordered the High Zest Whiskey Sour, which is kombucha mixed with whiskey. When the server asked what I thought, I said it tasted like kombucha without whiskey. He proceeded to ask if I'd been to SLC before, then reminded me of how little alcohol they are allowed to put in drinks. Ugh. It must suck to go drinking in SLC!

For my entree, I got the Baked Zuc & Cheese. This dish was incredible. Made with zucchini noodles tossed in winter squash marinara with tomatoes and scallions, topped with cashew cream and baked through and through. I couldn't believe how good it was. This was a winner.

For dessert, I was informed that all of the desserts were vegan (the menu is vegetarian). Win again! I got the salted caramel chocolate hazelnut torte and it was amazeballs. We are talking a salted chocolate torte with hazelnuts in a cashew-based caramel sauce. It was so good.

All in all, the service was excellent, the food was amazing, and the price of the entree at $12 and dessert at $7 were just right. This is one of my two favorite restaurants in Salt Lake City. I can't wait to return!

Zest Kitchen & Bar
275 S. 200 W.
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
(801) 433-0589

Zest Kitchen & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, August 1, 2016

Noodles & Company, Twin Falls, Idaho

I know, I know -- it isn't my style to write about cheesy chain restaurants. But, in the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, I am rejoicing at having a place that has vegan options! Noodles & Company is a chain restaurant that you can find all over the U.S. It is unique in that most menu items are based on noodles, but there is no one style of cuisine as you can get everything from Japanese noodles and Pad Thai to Indonesian peanut dishes and spaghetti. I love the concept.

On this particular trip, I went there twice. On the first visit, I ordered the Indonesian Peanut Saute, which is made with rice noodles, broccoli, carrots, napa and red cabbage, sprouts, cilantro, and peanut sauce. It is topped with crushed peanuts and lime. I added tofu and was a fan!

On my second visit, I ordered the Japanese Pan Noodles made with udon noodles in a sweet soy sauce with broccoli, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, sprouts, black sesame seeds, and cilantro. I asked them to make it spicy and they really did - I was impressed! I added seared tofu to this dish as well and it was great. I found this dish to be even better than the other one!

Other options include the Whole Grain Tuscan Fresca without cheese and some of the simple side salads like the tomato cucumber salad. The Asian and Balsamic vinaigrette are vegan.

I really like that they offer a small or large portions as the small portion is perfect for lunch. Each meal was under $10 and came out very quickly. I'm so glad they put one of these in Twin Falls and so close to the bridge. BASE jumpers now have a great option for a quick meal!

Noodles & Company
1833 Blue Lakes Blvd. North
Twin Falls, ID 83301
(208) 736-6241