I had one firm recommendation for a meal in Grand Junction from my friend Ariane (whose wedding I was attending): that I go get breakfast at Las Marias, and in particular try their tamale. Apparently, the place has been a favorite of her and her brother for quite some time, so we decided to check it out. Like a lot of smaller cities, Grand Junction has a downtown that’s been through an initial heyday, a contraction as people move out to the suburbs and transitioned their shopping from local stores to large box stores and shopping malls, and finally some redevelopment. Grand Junction has done a good amount of development, and seems to be really pushing to make downtown an eating and entertainment destination, and they’ve also installed quite a bit of artwork. At the East end of Old Town Grand Junction is the latest location of Maria’s, across the street from the old (and currently being renovated) Avalon Theater.
The whole purpose of our trip to Colorado was going to a wedding of two of our friends. However, they aren’t exactly traditionalists, so one of the activities planned for their informal wedding was a hike up nearby Mount Garfield. Well, it’s a short hike (~2 miles), but it’s also a steep one (~2000 feet), with most of the elevation gain in the first third of the trail. I enjoyed both the hike and the view from the top, but by the time we got back to Grand Junction to get ready for the wedding, I needed a bit of a snack. Cruising through the west side of Grand Junction, we happened across two places: a Sonic (I don’t really care for their food, but I love their cherry limeade), and in a little parking area right next door, Loncheria Rubi, a taco truck.
Last month had us visiting Grand Junction, Colorado for a friend’s wedding. Aside from (many) trips through the Denver airport, and two trips to Golden, CO for work, I haven’t spent a lot of time in Colorado, despite many childhood trips there, so I was rather enjoying the chance to fly into Denver, drive through the Rockies via Loveland Pass and Glenwood Canyon, and check out some of the scenery in Western Colorado. It was a lightning fast trip, but after arriving in Denver extremely late on a Thursday and crashing in a hotel. The next morning, the first order of business was, of course, finding breakfast. Seeing that we had pretty much the entire Denver metropolitan area between us and our destination, I figured I’d try for one of the better places in the area, Snooze.
My usual approach for getting to DC involves simply flying to DCA (the now cumbersomely-named “Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport”) since it’s generally pretty affordable, on the Metro, and walking distance from Crystal City. But for this trip I had a bunch of Southwest points to burn, so we booked our travel through BWI. BWI is reasonably good for trips to DC, although there’s a bit of “planes, trains, and automobiles” involved, with taking a bus to the train station, following by taking an Amtrak or MARC train to Union Station. But one notable feature of this trip is that you get to visit Union Station. Originally one of the more majestic train stations in the US, like most major train stations by the 1950s it was in massive disrepair, although a major effort in the 1980s resulted in a restoration (I’ll spare you much of the history here, and simply refer you to Wikipedia). Part of that restoration involved converting part of the old baggage handling level into a large food court to go along with the other retail in the station, so the bottom level of Union Station has almost 20 restaurants crammed in. Now, like the food court at your local mall, most of these places aren’t really any great shakes, since most of these are places like Burger King, Subway, and The Great Steak and Potato Company. But hidden amongst those food court stalwarts are a few local small business gems. One of them that caught my eye was Sunrise Caribbean Cuisine.
As a celebration after completing our Washington, DC Death March (10 hours walking, 22.9 miles), we decided that a celebratory brunch was in order the next morning. It’s not particularly easy to score brunch reservations for a large party, but one of our Marchers, Jeff, recommended LIA’s in Chevy Chase. Part of the Chef Geoff group of restaurants, LIA’s is one of the places focusing on “Posh American” cuisine: American classic dishes done up with quality ingredients and with interesting twists. But, most importantly, they were easily able to hand a group of 12 with last minute reservations, so we found ourselves traveling up to Chevy Chase for brunch.
Since I end up going to the DC area at least twice every year (usually for work), I’ve been able to see a lot of minor changes as they happen on the food scene. One of the bigger changes is that the area is finally starting to embrace the food truck. A few years ago, there were surprisingly few modern food trucks, with the mobile food scene in DC still dominated by hot dog vendors and the people selling random snack food on the Mall. Indeed, it was just 2011 when one had to go to odd neighborhoods to find a place like El Chilango (who have since spun off a brick and mortar joint in the District, as is often the case with the better food trucks). In any case, there are now food trucks aplenty: 12th Street and 14th Street on the Mall are repleat with them, and the central business areas in downtown and Arlington now sport plenty of food truck options, as do most of the major tourist areas. Indeed, Connecticut Ave on the west end of the National Zoo has quite a selection, and, as we discovered this trip, some of them, like Crêpes Parfait, are actually quite good.
For our DC “Death March”, we ended up walking around 23 miles through the DC area, basically walking from Takoma Park, MD to Arlington, VA, via, well, almost all of the tourist sites. A walk like that requires a good, hearty breakfast, so we decided to convene our walk just a block outside of DC at Mark’s Kitchen in Takoma Park. Walking in, Mark’s looks like your standard American “breakfast restaurant”, and indeed, the menu has all of your standard American breakfast fare: omelets, pancakes, French toast, and the like. But if you dig a bit further into the menu, you notice a lot of items that aren’t on your usual breakfast menu. Ginger scrambled eggs. Seaweed omelets. Kimchi omelets. Bibimbab scrambles. Smoked salmon pancakes. In fact, a single trip back past the kitchen as you wind up the (distinctly not accessible) stairs to the restroom, the rice cookers, jumbo bottles of sesame oil, and various Asian greens being prepped in the kitchen tell you a nice little secret: Mark’s Kitchen is also a Korean place.
As far as I am concerned, a proper pastrami sandwich (or the close cousin, the Quebec “smoked meat” sandwich)is the pinnacle of a good sandwich: moist, seasoned beef that’s been brined and smoked, the resulting meat being carved to order, with a few nice slabs being served up on some good rye bread with some mustard, and maybe some kraut. As you bite into each slice, you get a little bit of meat, a little bit of fat, and, most importantly, a little bit of the salty, spicy, and smoky crust. It’s a bit like going to get some really good smoked brisket at a good Texas BBQ joint. There’s just one problem: the vast majority of places serving up pastrami sandwiches just don’t do that: they usually just slap some sort of pre-made deli meat (like Boars Head) onto some rye bread, and call it good. That’s not a bad sandwich, but it’s missing entirely too much of what makes pastrami sandwiches great. There are some places out there that are that good, and, indeed, a few of them I’ve even written up here, like Guild Fine Meats or the famous Schwartz’s. Or the ones I haven’t, like the famous Katz’s in New York City (I haven’t written up Katz’s? What the Hell is wrong with me? I’ll have to fix that…). But, hidden away on P Street in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood is a nice little gem of a deli that is doing it’s part to offer a good and proper pastrami sandwich.
Every year we do a “Death March” in which we visit a large city, and hike our way through it visiting different tourist sites, and checking out the local food options, usually with around 20 miles of hiking. This April, the destination was Washington, DC. But we arrived two days before the March, pulling into Union Station at 8pm. Being hungry, we decided to check out the area around Union Station for dinner. While I’ve been to Chinatown several times, I was looking for something a bit different, and it wasn’t very far from Union Station that we found Art and Soul.
Donuts are still one of the food items that’s have been on the rise. When just a few years ago the local donut shop was starting to disappear from a lot of areas, there’s been a distinct turnaround, and a lot of areas are opening local donuts stores featuring good quality donuts (you can see a list of other places I’ve reviewed here), and the gamut runs everywhere from, well, plain everyday donuts, to elaborate confections like the bacon donut from Dynamo Donuts. Indeed, on a recent trip to Portland, Maine, we discovered a Portland favorite: The Holy Donut.