Okay, so here's the thing. We're approaching 4 months on the road (6 months living in the van) and we've really missed getting our Chinese food fix. You see, when we lived in Birmingham, Alabama, we almost always ate Chinese after St. Andrew's services on Sunday. And Red Pearl was our go-to place to get it.
I'll admit here and now, we took Red Pearl for granted. I know I read somewhere that it is either one of Frank Stitt's favorite restaurants in Birmingham or his favorite or his favorite Chinese. Regardless, it was on his alleged recommendation we began eating there. Back before they expanded the restaurant and when they could seat maybe 20 or so people at a time. For us, everything else Chinese pretty much paled by comparison.
We figured as we began our travels finding Chinese on Sundays after Melanie finished church services wouldn't be too difficult. Wrong. We ate a fair amount of pretty badly prepared Chinese food before we pretty much gave up trying to find it.
We'd been in Denver for a few days when Melanie suggested we once again attempt to find Chinese food for after Sunday services. My first choice, after reading reviews of the "Ten Best Chinese" restaurants in Denver via a Google search was Hop Alley. The reviewer had me at bone marrow fried rice.
So, after services this past Sunday, I attempted to meet Melanie at Hop Alley. Closed on Sunday. Not sure why I didn't call to make sure, but okay. So we left Hop Alley and traveled to my second choice, specifically to eat Dim Sum, Star Kitchen.
I could see as we arrived at Star Kitchen people were waiting outside the restaurant. By this time, it was approaching 2:00 in the afternoon. I told Melanie I'd check to see what kind of wait there was. As I entered the restaurant, there were probably 20 or so people standing outside the door with 10 more standing or seated inside. I asked a gentleman standing nearby about the wait time. "One hour," he said. I quickly looked to my right whereupon the Asian gentleman with which I locked eyes volunteered, "It's that good."
We were both a bit hangry and an hour was just a bit over way too long. We ate elsewhere and decided to travel back to Star Kitchen on Wednesday when our newly minted friend, Kathy, would be in town from Santa Fe. Wednesday came around and I called to find out when Star Kitchen began serving dinner. Star Kitchen is closed on Wednesdays.
Stymied again, but I quickly called Hop Alley, my first choice Sunday past. Hop Alley begins service at 5:30 and, yes, I should make a reservation, which I did.
Hop Alley is located in a great older neighborhood in the River North Art District of Denver. They can seat 57 including the bar. A reservation is generally advised. It can get a bit noisy once the restaurant fills, but it's a great spot where, it appears, locals love to eat.
Since I'm no restaurant critic, I'll let Scott Mobray of Denver's 5280 magazine tell it.
I was a quarter of the way into an eight-dish, seven-person feast at Hop Alley in RiNo when I waved my chopsticks—with which I had pincered two slippery disks of Shanghai rice cake, each bathed in oyster sauce and dotted with bits of chewy pork—and remarked to my wife, “I think this may be the best food I’ve eaten in Denver in the past year.” She cocked an eyebrow, for few things get me as giddy as a good Asian meal.
So, yeah, we finally found our great Chinese food fix, or Chinese fusion, but regardless, a really fine meal was had by the three of us.
Not sure how often the Hop Alley menu changes, but our meal consisted of Yen Tsai- pickled & preserved veggies; Sicuan Rabbit- green peppercorn, daikon, baby bok choy; and Zha Jiang Mian- ground pork, vegetables, dio mio noodles, egg; and Hop Alley Fried Rice- bone marrow edition. More than enough for three with left-overs waiting in Miranda's fridge. And the wine selection by the glass is not too shabby either.
We're still in Santa Fe (April 11, 2019), but since I have a moment, these two restaurants are ones you'll definitely want to try while visiting. Not fine dining, just great spots to get lunch or dinner. It pays to have good friends who know good food. A shout out to Cathy who lives in Santa Fe and Tom who will.
So, you already know the place. It's the one you find when you google "best tacos" and several sources tell you this is the place to get them. It's that hole-in-the-wall side of the road, conveniently located place, seats maybe 20 people place. The place where you arrive at lunch time and people are lined up outside to place an order. I ordered Carnitas Burritos, two of them. They were, without a doubt, the best burritos I've eaten. Ever. And because I ordered two, Melanie and I had dinner the next evening. Taqueria Mexico, definitely recommended. Oh, and Melanie liked her order of fish and carnitas tacos too,
Otto's German Bistro
After our stop over in Johnson City to visit the Lyndon B. Johnson Historical site, we arrived in Fredericksburg, Texas wondering how we'd missed any mention of the numerous wineries that dotted the road along the way into town.
My first impression of Main Street was that it reminded me of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a place I've never been because descriptions of it as tourists' hell scared me away. But first impressions can be deceiving. Yes, there are the usual multitudinous shops and restaurants of a small tourist location, but underneath all that is a really cool quaint small town with wide avenues and streets and surrounded by lots of vineyards that apparently are producing some pretty smart wines.
We lucked out in the restaurant category right out of the shoot on our first night there. Otto's came highly recommended both by Eater and then by our Uber driver on the way to the restaurant. Reservations are not necessary, but if you don't have one, go early or go before the weekend which apparently starts on Thursday evening.
Cured @ The Pearl
While we didn't have what one may call a full-course dinner at Cured, we did share a very large plate of Charcuterie with our friends, Steven and Kim, over some great glasses of wine. At this point recalling what we ordered would be futile. All offerings on our plate were wonderfully prepared, the wine list is a good one. Check Cured out and don't skip dessert. Jus' sayin'.
Azuda Nuevo Latino Restaurant
It was my hope when we began this website venture that Melanie would be the one who composed our restaurant "reviews." Nothing was ever really discussed about what such a review would be necessarily but, regardless, Melanie would head up this department and post about great dining experiences as they came our way.
She and I should have realized that her acceptance of the directorship of two non-profits would prove too much, especially as she began training for both jobs at roughly the same time and we began traveling full-time too. Hindsight.
So, here's what I intend to do, at least until Melanie can find some time to weigh in. When Melanie and I agree that a dining/eating experience is worth a mention, I'll take a minute to give a few details, remembering she and I decided to only post about restaurants we would recommend to you. If you see a restaurant posted here, we believe it worth your while.
Melanie and I ate here back in November of 2018. We took a few days and drove Miranda into Mobile for Collaborative work she had there, it was also at the time of our wedding anniversary and my 65th birthday. As was usual when I begin looking for a restaurant, I Googled "James Beard & Mobile, Alabama" first. An article in AL.com named Duane Nutter's Southern National as a semi-finalistl for opening the country's best new restaurant.
Nutter was chef in Atlanta at One Flew South before opening Southern National.
While I'm certainly not familiar with the restaurant scene in Mobile, I am familiar with what generally happens when a restaurant is nominated by the James Beard Foundation. If diners were showing up to eat before a nomination, more of them will surely make their way to the restaurant afterwards. Most recently this happened in Birmingham, Alabama where my favorite meat and three there, Johnny's, received a nod from Beard. It immediately became much harder to get a table at lunch.
So, you may imagine my surprise when I contacted Southern National on the Tuesday before we needed a Friday evening reservation and was told we could get a table at 6:45, 7:00 or 7:30. We chose 6:45 and were a bit surprised to find the restaurant almost empty as we arrived Friday evening.
Regardless, the meal we shared that followed was nothing short of extraordinary.
We shared an Arugula + Golden Beet Salad to start. Melanie then had the Grilled NY Strip and I had the Smoked Chicken + Bacon Tagliatelle with a side of the absolutely best Collard Greens I've ever tasted (Sorry Tim, they were the best).
Melanie's not a big dessert fan, but where's there's an offering of chocolate, I'm generally game. The chocolate offering for the evening was Chocolate Three Ways; chocolate cake, chocolate pearls, Nutella custard & raspberry beet sauce. Yes, indeed. I'm trying to remember if we shared a glass of Tawny Port. If we didn't, we should have.
We ended the evening with a pleasant walk back past Cathedral Square to our hotel, Miranda spent the night parked out front on the street.
Melanie and I had a really good lunch at McEwens. It was not our first choice, we had our mouths set for some barbecue, but were thwarted by renovations being performed at a restaurant recommended by a friend from Birmingham. McEwens was a good second choice.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Superior Bathhouse Brewery
Hot Springs National Park is a nice, if unusual, national park. We were there during Trump's temper tantrum in early January when the park was officially closed. We rode our bikes into town one afternoon from the officially closed Gulpha Gorge Campground where Miranda was parked and had lunch at Superior Bathhouse Brewery. I'm sorry to report there's appears to be no online menu to reference and my old memory being what it is, I can't be exactly sure what either Melanie or I had for lunch, but I do recall fresh ingredients prepared very well. And I do remember the great double IPA I had to accompany lunch. Eat there. Then go indulge yourself in a bathhouse.
San Antonio, Texas
The Esquire Tavern
Melanie and I were started out an evening at The Esquire Tavern with friends who live in San Antonio. Located above the River Walk, The Esquire claims the longest wooden bar top in Texas at over 100' long. Opened in 1933 to "celebrate the end of prohibition," the bar is a cool spot to find a favorite libation with friends. They've also received a nod from the James Beard Foundation for "Best Bar."
We ordered snacks to have with our drinks. Melanie and our friends ordered cocktails off The Esquires menu and seemed pleased. I ordered my usual Hendrick's martini shaken and up with a twist. It was nicely done. We had the artichoke dip, shrimp toast and a pimento cheese sandwich sliced up for four people. Solid bar snacks.