La Dolce Vita

From this angle you might question the quality of La Dolce Vita’s pizza. Thoughts like… “maybe they put masala in the sauce?”, “perhaps the cheese is made with yak milk?”, or “is the crust really just a roti with improvised toppings?”… might pop into your head. But behind that sign is a real brick oven and in the kitchen there is the echo of beautiful northern Italian accents.  Yes, the vino is only Goan, but the menu, sauces, and service are full fledged Italian. In the small town of Agonda, where almost every restaurant has the same menu, the culinary options here are a quick breath of fresh air.

When a man from the Middle East comes to visit and brings sweets from his favorite Middle Eastern sweet shop, and that sweet shop happens to be right around the corner from your house, you have to take note. That is how I found Al Sham.

Nestled among a street full of hooka bars and Halal grocers, this unpretentious little shop offers melt-in-your mouth baklava, delicious date cookies, and creamy chocolate dipped cashew straws. Trust me, it is worth the ride to Queens.

Santa Fe has some truly charming older motels. At one time they must have been a fair distance outside of the city, but over the past few decades the city has encompassed them. We chose the Silver Saddle – by far one of the cutest hotels I have stayed at ever, and even better because it was only $45 a night. Plastered walls, a cotton quilt, and a beautifully tiled bathtub gave it all the charm I needed. Add a balcony and it would have been perfect. Oh, and I almost forgot, there is a margarita haven right around the corner.

At the Silver Saddle - In case you forget to bring your cowgirl boots, just borrow the pair by the front desk!

A couple locals had directed us to Maria’s for dinner. They mentioned that Maria’s had good margaritas if we were interested, but they left out the small fact that they offer 100 different types of margaritas — and I always thought a margarita was a boring, unchanging drink. From the outside the place looks deceptively small, but when you walk in, you’ll be greeted by a meandering collection of never ending rooms. Not to worry, margaritas are on the menu no matter where you end up sitting.

The closed gates. Just try to tell me that this doesn't look like a place with sacred dirt.

In Santa Fe I stopped by to see a work colleague. Within the first few minutes of our conversation, she had convinced us that we had to go see the town of Chimayo about 45 minutes outside of Santa Fe. Apparently there is a famous sanctuary in the Chimayo and to take some of the dirt from the ground of this sanctuary is supposed to have bring good luck and health. Decision made. I figured at this point, I should be taking all the help I could get.

Unfortunately the sanctuary closed at 5pm and we rolled up at 5:20pm. Perhaps seeing the sanctuary wasn’t meant to be, but meeting our new favorite chili vendor was. I just wanted to wander into one of the galleries that still looked open, but the chili vendor stopped us. He persuaded us to take a pistachio, “put it in your left molar”, and then chew it with a pistachio shell full of whatever magnificent chili mix he happened to have ready for us. Each trial was followed by a list of possible dishes that could made with the chili: Red was for baked chicken, spaghetti, guacamole. Green was for fish, salsa, etc, etc.

I might just be evolving into a softy for a driven entrepreneur, but within 10 minutes he had sold us not one but two bags of chili. If we actually had a kitchen still in which to use them, I probably would have bought many more bags. Heading back to car, I had the thought — if you can’t walk away with a bag of holy, healing dirt, two bags of chili might just be the perfect substitute.

Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of this great place. My La Nortena experience was “to go”, so I didn’t realize what I had come across until I was miles down the road.

Located in the small West Texas town of Pecos, La Nortena was hard to miss with the full side wall of its former building being painted in bright colors and an arrow pointing across the road. Even with this welcome, the place had a surprisingly understated facade. Simple, clean, and open, walking in you felt as if you were entering an industrial version of your grandmother’s kitchen. A few tall tables off to the side were in front of a line of refrigerators and freezers offering bags of tortillas and pints of beans and meat.

Homemade tortillas and tamales are the house specials, but beans, rice, and perfectly seasoned Asado are also available for purchase in bulk or single counts. I suggest a Burrito Asado (the meat is so perfectly seasoned, there’s no need for the guacamole, sour cream, or cheese) and a tamale dinner with rice and beans.

A teeny store front hidden at the back-end of a small shopping center, The Dunes Cafe in Florence, Oregon was an unexpected surprise find. Admittedly, I didn’t find it myself. Only an eagle eye would have noticed it tucked off of the 101 highway. We were directed to it by the young man at the gas station up the road.

With just a handful of tables and 5 bar stools, the atmosphere was cozy to say the least. It was a little after 10 in the morning and the place was packed. I ordered an egg and bacon sandwich and tucked myself away by the bar to keep out of the fray. Within 5 minutes I had one of the most delicious breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever tasted, and I had made a few new friends at the cafe bar.