This nut free and gluten free granola will change your life forever. Seriously.Read More
Kyoto is an amazing city. Its easy to cruise around on a rented bicycle and there are endless cafes and restaurants that you pass and go “oooh, I want to go there!” as you whiz by. We spent a total of 10 days in Kyoto and you may think, ‘Wow what do you even do in Kyoto for 10 days?’ and the answer is you eat. And drink. Bike, eat, drink, bike, eat, drink, sleep repeat. This is how we travel, and if you are reading this post there’s a good chance you do too. Kyoto is such a chill city with such incredibly unique, well designed restaurants and cafes that not only serve up delicious food but also make the entire experience more memorable or relaxing. I would live in this city if I could.
A few friendly tips to make your time in Japan more enjoyable: First, remember that Japan runs on a schedule and as a culture they prize punctuality. So even if you aren’t on a schedule since you are on vacation, understand that you won’t be able to do everything you want to do without at least a little planning. For example, many restaurants open for lunch only for a couple hours and then close again until dinner. If you don’t think ahead, you could find yourself hungry between the hours of 2-6pm with very few places to go.
Also, the Japanese love their reservations. Many restaurants in Japan worth going to are small with limited seating. If there is no way for you to call or book online, try to go in person a day before because there are no guarantees for walk-ins if they are already booked. That being said, Japanese are extremely hospitable people and will not only do everything in their power to accommodate you, but will communicate wait times clearly and profusely apologize if they cannot seat you right away. As a punctual nation, they respect your time as much as their own and don’t want you to waste it.
Many restaurants in Japan allow smoking indoors and this can become a problem for non-smokers, especially at night, when the Japanese are off work and hitting the izakayas to relax. When the Japanese drink, they smoke. Ironically enough, its considered rude to smoke outdoors, as this is a common space for everyone, but inside a restaurant is somewhere you've chosen to be so it’s fair game, which is a reverse of the thinking in Western countries. So don’t be alarmed when you walk in some restaurants in the evening and get hit with the smell of cigarette smoke. Some restaurants understand that as a foreigner you may be particularly sensitive to this and can at the very least seat you in a part of the restaurant that is the least smoky or may be relegated to non smokers.
Lastly, don’t stress about the language. Everything we heard and read about Japan was how no one speaks English. But upon visiting we found that many Japanese, especially in the restaurant industry, speak at least a few crucial phrases. And deeply engrained in their culture is the need to be hospitable under any circumstances. The customer service in Japan is amazing and tipping would be offensive, because giving you the very best is what they expect of themselves, not anything extra. Not once did I feel judged or unwelcome for not knowing the language or breaking the unspoken cultural rules. Even if they speak NO English, the Japanese will use a big friendly smile, google translate, or escort you personally to wherever you need to go if that’s what it takes. They go to great lengths to make sure you are comfortable and truly feel like a guest in a way that I have honestly never experienced in my travels.
That being said, it doesn't hurt to watch some youtube videos about some of the things that we might want to avoid while in Japan so as to prevent doing something their culture finds offensive, like rubbing the cheap chopsticks together before we use them or taking a business card and throwing it in our purse or pocket as if it’s worthless. But even if you forget and do some of these things, Japanese hospitality wins out and they give us foreigners a pass, so don’t sweat the small stuff.
P.S. The convenience store food is shockingly good. So if all else fails, you know you can actually eat well at any 7-11.
book an authentic KYOTO foodie experience
A darling little coffee shop near Nishiki Market we frequented where they are serious about coffee and you want to come when you have enough time to enjoy your slow coffee and the love that went into it. There’s barely any seating but they have still tried to create a relaxing standing environment with a small garden out front.
Not just one of the best places we ate in Kyoto, but one of the more memorable culinary & dining experiences I’ve ever had. From the time you walk in, chef-owner Yoshihiro has created a relaxing environment that makes you feel like you are in your friend’s house watching them cook. It’s an extremely local, seasonal, and vegetable forward menu that changes daily based on what Yoshihiro finds at the market that day. When you walk in, you notice a big pile of produce along the back wall, as the evening progresses the pile dwindles as the produce is used. There’s a wood fire pizza oven that he prepares nearly all 7 courses of food in and although plated and presented in a beautiful, elevated way, the food itself is simple and honest. He uses ingredients and flavors that perhaps you’e never tried before but in a way that is both familiar and comforting. This was the spendiest restaurant we ate at in Kyoto but it was well worth it. Monk is reservation only but you can make reservations online and also specify dietary restrictions or allergies there so he can keep them in mind when he prepares the menu that day.
While many places in Japan can feel pristine and unapproachably quiet, here you feel can free to speak as loud as you wish and get really get comfortable. It’s nestled in an alleyway with plastic sheeting as an entryway and once you’re in, you feel completely cozy. They serve rotating local craft beers on tap and a wide range of sake, but in addition to having an amazing selection of unique beers, they have a rockstar chef that is pumping out some of the yummiest food, one order at a time in his very small kitchen. It was some of the most incredible Izakaya food we ate on our entire trip, so much so that we came back a second time before we left Kyoto. We ordered a sashimi plate that was some of the softest, best quality tasting fish I’ve experienced, but the tempura, fried chicken, even the gateau chocolat were incredible. If I lived in Kyoto, I would be a regular here.
This is where you come for sushi art. This is a set menu and a truly unique experience. I came in person to make reservations and almost couldn’t find it. Sometimes I think the better places in Japan intentionally make themselves hard to find. I got us in for dinner two nights later and they took note of food allergies then. When you come, you are welcomed into a very quiet but still inviting space and they bring you a tray of 12 bite sized fish & vegetable pairings, arranged meticulously along with various seasonings, soup, sushi rice, soy sauce, and nori. This is where the choose your own adventure begins. You can pick up all these little flavor bomb combinations and roll your own sushi as you like! It was so fun and absolutely delicious; even some of the combinations I was more apprehensive about were scrumptious. I also enjoyed that it pushed me a little outside of my comfort zone and I tried things I probably wouldn’t if I had ordered for myself. At about $20 a person I felt this was extremely well priced for how much time and effort had gone into the food creations we consumed.
This was often our home away from home while we were in Kyoto. We weren’t even guests at the hostel, but this place has great vibes and we always felt welcome to come and chill. Places that are open from morning till night without closing mid-day are a rare find in Japan, and this was a space we could come between 2-5pm when everything else was closed and get comfy or bang out a few hours of work on the laptop without feeling like we were taking up a seat that someone was waiting for. They serve up delicious coffee, soy chai lattes and basic pastries in the morning, then in the evening switch to a full dinner menu. They rotate local craft beers on tap and have a full bar. Basically you can come here any time of day and be happy you did.
Kyoto is famous all over Japan for their Tofu and Yuba, or Tofu Skin. Wherever I travel, I like to try what that region is well known for, so this little vegan spot seemed like the best place to try a tofu-based meal. It’s easy to miss and a fun adventure trying to find down a little alleyway off of Nishiki Market. The bustle and crowdedness of the market makes this quiet little oasis a welcome find. We went for lunch and enjoyed a very reasonably priced set for the amount of food. There was a rice bowl with mushrooms and yuba that was absolutely delicious but what was the standout for me was the little dish of plain tofu in shoyu. It has been my experience in the past that tofu is bland and flavorless, but this tofu was silky smooth and had so much flavor by itself, it was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to really enjoy this little spot.
WIFE AND HUSBAND
Maybe the Coolest coffee shop ever? As implied, owned by a husband and wife team that happen to be the cutest. The shop is small and charming, filled to the brim with antiques but still had a Japanese minimalism to it that made me crush on every square inch of the place. They roast their own beans and use a hand grinder to grind them. They don’t have fancy espresso drinks, just straightforward coffee and tea, hot or iced but they were delicious and clearly made with love. There will most likely be a wait outside, as there are only a few seats inside. We waited about 15 mins for a table and wanted to enjoy our coffee inside the shop, but many opt to rent wooden furniture and a customized basket of coffee and toast so they can take it up to the nearby river front for a picnic. Definitely check their website for opening hours, as they are not open the same days every week. Its waaaaaay up in the northwest corner of the city, but I promise you it’s worth the trip.
Kyoto Nama Chocolat
An oasis of calm, tucked away and surrounded by gardens, this is a lovely little restaurant serving tea and desserts. The owners are another husband and wife team, the husband is Japanese and the wife is Canadian. She's a lovely woman and so easy to talk to. We came here twice as well, because by the end of the week I was craving both the chocolate and the tranquility it provided again. We ordered an iced matcha tea and nama chocolate sets on both occasions, the chocolate melts in your mouth and the tea was so refreshing. They have a few cake options as well, but you must try Nama Chocolat while you’re in Japan and I can’t think of a better place to do it than here.
These are the fluffy pancakes you’ve been looking for. We did as much Japanese soufflé pancake recon on this trip as we were able, and these were our favorite of the entire trip. Maybe not as perfectly formed as some, clearly flipped by hand, but they were huge— not just tall but wide. I was stuffed after eating my own order. The flavor was not eggy as some can be and they were wonderfully vanilla scented. Be prepared to wait at least 30 mins for these pancakes, because good things take time.
There were so many places contending for the number 10 spot in my head but what it really comes down to is how unique or memorable the experience is, and Stardust is as memorable and unique as a place can get. It’s really far North of downtown so you have to be determined to find it and get to it: even with our bikes it was a solid 30 minute ride. But once you enter, you’re glad it’s off the beaten path and not filled with tourists because its the most elegant space. Vaulted ceilings, rustic wood, candle lit, minimalistic but cozy. It’s a vegetarian cafe, so we enjoyed a chicory cafe au lait with soy and some surprisingly scrumptious whole wheat scones with tofu cream and daily jam. We didn’t plan to stay as long as we did, but ended up staying until closing and left feeling so relaxed and refreshed!
Conveniently located near Kyoto Station, they are serious about their coffee here and you can taste the love. They also make a delicious soy chai.
Traditional cold soba noodle sets and delicious tempura. Also their house cold sake was one of our favorites of the trip.
A cozy but famous ramen shop, you order from a machine but there are very few choices so it’s not too stressful. They serve tsukemen style ramen, where the noodles are served separately from the broth, so you dunk your noodles and slurp them up. The broth is super rich, a little spicy and has a unique flavor that we had never tried before. The noodles are thicker than your average ramen noodles and have a wonderful chew.
A nice cozy place to hang out late at night, lights are strung everywhere and there are beer crates with cushions for seats. A lot of fried fare to choose from, but the real gem here is a small mochi stand serving up really unique, gourmet combinations. It was my dessert of choice on more than one occasion.
Pizza Napoletana that was was right up there with ones I’ve enjoyed in New York or Italy. Come for the pizza, but check the handwritten menu in Italian with specials for the day. Save room for Tiramisu.
Looking for a genuinely Authentic Kyoto Tour?
These guys will take you to some seriously cool spots.
Earl grey infused honey, ripe figs, buttery puff pastry. Really is there anything not to like here? You only need a handful of ingredients. The puff pastry makes this come together so quickly, as it eliminates the need to make a pie crust, and the more rustic or imperfect it looks, the better.
It’s sweetened with just honey, so those figs really get to be the star of the show and this ends up being a perfect dessert for those who “aren’t really into sweets” just as much as for those that unabashedly enjoy dessert. With an optional (but highly recommended) scoop of ice cream and served warm, you’ve got this in the bag. Make it for a last minute dinner party, or just for yourself widweek like I did. Whatever occasion you make it for, do it soon, while figs are in full swing, because they are so fleeting!
p.s. Leftovers reheat well and make a very good breakfast, just saying.
p.p.s The tea flavor in the honey is subtle, but detectable. Feel free to steep the honey longer if you have the time for more pronounced earl grey flavor or use any tea you’d like!
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbs loose leaf earl grey tea or 2 tea bags
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
10-12 figs, roughly 1.5 lbs or 700 grams
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten for brushing
2 Tbs Turbinado or course sugar, for sprinkling
Ice cream for serving
WHAT YOU'LL DO
Bring the honey to a gentle boil in a small saucepan, add in the tea and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat. cover and steep for 15 minutes. Remove the tea bags, if using. If using loose leaf tea, reheat the honey on low until it’s liquid again and strain through a small sieve.
Now preheat your oven to 375º F
Slice your figs how you like, discarding the stems and far end slices. I cut mine lengthwise in slices about 1/4 inch thick but you could cut yours into wedges or horizontally as well.
Toss the fig slices gently in a medium bowl with the honey, cornstarch, lemon juice, and vanilla. Some of the fig slices will probably break apart if they are ripe but that’s okay, you can hide those uglier pieces in the corners of the galette later.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out into a rectangle. You should be able to spread your puff pastry from 11”x15” to at least 12”x16” if not larger and the thickness should go from 1/2 inch to 1/4 inch thick.
Place the pastry on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and, leaving a 2 inch border free, poke holes with a fork all over the pastry (about 10 times).
Arrange the figs in whatever pattern you like in the center of the pastry. I put all the ugly torn fig slices along the border first so I knew they will be hidden when I fold the puff pastry over and saved the prettiest slices for the center. Try not to overlap the slices too much so they cook evenly. Once your figs are all arranged, pour whatever honey/fig liquid is left in the bottom of the bowl evenly over the figs.
Fold the edges up and over the figs, creating a 1.5 inch border over the fruit on all sides. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with the course sugar.
Transfer to the center rack of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until deeply golden brown and edges are very puffed. Some of the border will get pretty dark from the sugar caramelizing, but I think it’s yummy that way.
Once you remove it from the oven, let cool slightly and set up, about 10 minutes and then serve still warm with ice cream.
Adapted from this recipe with a blueberry chamomile variation by half baked harvest
Around this time last year, my husband and I were back in America. We had just sold all our remaining possessions in Seattle and were embarking on the second leg of our journey, a "farewell America" tour of sorts to New York, Maine, then down to Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and finishing in California.
In some cities (like New York or LA) we expected great food, but some others we had lower expectations for really ended up impressing us. Raleigh, NC was one such city that wasn’t on our radar as a foodie town, but ended up having so many gems. One brunch restaurant we tried was Beasley’s Chicken & Honey, which as you might have guessed by the name was elevated soul food, fried chicken & waffles the specialty. Of course we ordered what they were famous for, but we also tried a variety of sides, including a mac and cheese custard situation I am still dreaming about and a green cabbage slaw with roasted tomatoes and malt aioli which is what inspired this recipe.
At the time, I was apprehensive about the idea of tomatoes in a coleslaw. Roasted ones at that? In a slaw? I really had never had a coleslaw with tomatoes and was there a reason for that, I wondered? Like maybe it shouldn’t be done? I confessed all my concerns to both the waiter and my husband, who both assured me that I should try it if I was so curious and if I don’t like it we could always get something else, and basically it’s a $3.00 side, not a life partner, so we should move on with our lives and make a decision. The chicken and waffles were of course amazing, but what I was still thinking about days, weeks, and months later was that slaw! Creamy, crunchy, but simple, with the sweetness and smokiness of the roasted tomatoes, and super zingy from the Malt vinegar. I knew I wanted to try making my own version of this at home so I could enjoy those flavors again and again and again.
Although what I love about this recipe is its simplicity, it’s also infinitely adaptable. You could add in shredded carrots, shaved fennel, or whatever other onion or herb you fancy. If you have cherry tomatoes, you could absolutely use those instead. I opted for the larger tomatoes so they would be easier to de-seed, as I didn’t want a lot of tomato seeds in my slaw, so just keep that in mind if roasting cherry tomatoes. When assembling your slaw, all your ingredients should be chilled, and the tomatoes completely cooled after roasting to encourage a nice crisp, crunchy slaw. There is way less sugar in this slaw than would be traditionally in a coleslaw because I personally like slaws to be unmistakably savory and have also added a little yogurt to the dressing to reduce the amount of mayo without taking away any creaminess. Although technically the fennel seeds are optional, please don't skip them. They are really, really good in this.
The other reason I’m so excited about this recipe is because it’s part of another seasonal collaboration! Annie and Rebecca & Ruth invited me to another quarterly collab of food bloggers and this time the theme was TOMATOES, so I knew exactly what recipe I wanted to contribute. Late summer tomatoes, is there really anything better? It’s a fun group of bloggers, all bringing a different, creative dish to the virtual table, so if you’re on IG, make sure you check out the hashtag #wesaytomatoes for some awesome inspo and recipes featuring tomatoes in every way you can imagine. There are close to 70 of us participating so there are too many to link here, but here are just a handful that sound amazing to me:
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
1 large head (about 1 lbs) of cabbage, thinly sliced or 16oz pre-shredded
2 large beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes, de-seeded and diced (about 1.5 cups)
2 tsp olive oil
pinch salt & pepper
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
FOR THE DRESSING
1/3 cup mayo
2 Tbs plain full-fat yogurt or sour cream
2 Tbs malt vinegar
1.5 tsp sugar
1.5 tsp celery seeds
1 Tbs fennel seeds
salt to taste
WHAT YOU'LL DO
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Toss your de-seeded diced tomatoes with the 2 tsp of olive oil and sprinkle of salt and pepper and spread in an even layer on a parchment lined baking sheet or baking dish. Roast your tomatoes for 15-20 mins, until soft and caramelized, nearly charred on some edges. Remove and completely cool.
Put your fennel seeds in a dry pan, preheated on medium heat and toast for a few minutes until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar & pestle and crush lightly, not to a powder but until many of the pods are broken. Set aside.
Combine your cabbage and scallions in a large bowl. Once the tomatoes are completely cooled, add those in.
To make your dressing, combine all the remaining ingredients (mayo, yogurt, malt vinegar, sugar, celery seed, & toasted fennel seeds in a small bowl, whisk until smooth. Add salt to taste. Pour the dressing over the slaw, toss to combine, and serve immediately.
I’m a crunchy slaw girl, as in, I don’t like it when it gets soft in the slightest, so I recommend consuming it within an hour, but my husband ate the slaw the next day after being refrigerated overnight and said the flavors were even better and the cabbage was still crunchy enough to his liking so I think it really comes down to personal preference.
Aka: the only chocolate chip cookie I need ever again.
Every food blogger has their contribution to the heavily saturated chocolate chip cookie world; I'm proud for this to be mine. In my opinion, they are absolutely perfect, exactly what I want out of a chocolate chip cookie. The rye adds a little heft, as well as a slightly nutty/toasty quality. It's almost a savoriness, although there is still plenty of brown sugar to get those familiar caramel notes and reassurance that you are indeed eating a dessert. The dark chocolate fèves actually melt into the dough (unlike chocolate chips that hold their shape), leaving puddles, pools, and ribbons of chocolate throughout the entire cookie. The smokey salt rounds out the whole thing and keeps you coming back for more.
When my husband and I were on our last trip back to America to renew our visas and visit friends (translation: shop Amazon Prime and eat tacos), we spent the last 3 days before flying out in LA and I had a whole list of new restaurants to try. One of them was Sqirl, a popular "new California cooking" spot with a lunch line of millennials that starts to form at 11am and wraps around the building until mid afternoon. Determined to finally get my own moment with the highly instagrammable sorrel pesto rice bowl with kale & preserved lemons, I was prepared to wait it out but when we finally got to the counter we were famished. We ordered with our eyes undoubtably too much food plus coffee, and then in the pastry case off to the right, a salted rye chocolate chip cookie caught my eye. I ordered it, saying it was “for later” which we all knew was a lie, because I was hangry and definitely planning on eating it before the food arrived. I had never tried rye in a cookie before, but since I love it in bread and I’m a sucker for any salted cookie, I was certainly willing to give it a shot. It was fantastic, of course, as was everything we ate there, so I really have to thank Sqirl LA for the inspiration to recreate a version for myself when I returned home.
I love using large dark chocolate fèves, or disks, from Valrhona for these, ever since I let Jacques Torres and the NY Times convince me that doing anything else was futility. I brought back two pounds with me to Thailand in my luggage because that's my level of dedication to good cookies. For these I used the Caraïbe 66%; I think it's such a well balanced and smooth chocolate. You can get them on Valrhona’s website of course, off Amazon, or I have also seen them in Whole Foods in the bulk chocolate section. They aren’t cheap, but they are so worth it. I also used Jacobsen Salt Co smoked salt because its amazing and I wanted to add a slightly smokey touch, but they have other infused salts like chocolate or whisky salt that would be equally amazing. And of course, if you aren’t ready to go down the French gourmet chocolate and infused salt rabbit hole at this time, any good quality dark chocolate and flaky sea salt will do.
This recipe was my first time trying Sarah Keiffer’s insta-famous method to get awesome rippled, crisp edges accompanied by soft centers called bang-on-a-pan that is exactly what it sounds like. Not only did I like the results in my cookies, it's oddly satisfying to bang pans intentionally and watch the cookies rise and fall. Although her method calls for slamming the cookie sheets down against the rack inside the oven, I don’t feel the need to give myself more opportunities to burn my forearms than I already do, so I removed the pan from the oven and used the stovetop for my slamming. If you can't be bothered and want to skip this method, you can just bake your cookies the old fashioned, more quiet way; they will still taste amazing.
One more note of advice: If you’re like me and don’t need 20+ baked cookies around the house for personal consumption, once you portion out your dough, freeze some of it! That way when the cravings are strong or you have last minute guests show up, you have dough on hand to make these cookies appear, fresh and hot, within the hour.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
1 cup butter (225 grams), softened at room temp
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 large egg, room temp
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup dark rye flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
.5 tsp kosher salt
1.5 cups (roughly 250 grams) dark chocolate fèves*
smoked flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
*I use Valhrona chocolate fèves, which are like large, flat oval disks of chocolate so you get wider portions of the cookies with chocolate that actually melts and puddles in the cookie (unlike a chocolate chip).
If you don’t want to invest in these, just use the biggest and highest quality chips, chunks, or disks you can. I like to use at least 65% cacao for a nice bittersweet chocolate flavor. Dark chocolate bars cut into large chunks would also work well.
WHAT YOU'LL DO
In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy and lightened in color, about 3 mins. Scrape down the sides. Add in the vanilla and egg, and beat again, another 2 mins.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk your dry ingredients: both flours, baking soda and powder, and kosher salt.
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and beat until just combined but some patches of flour are still there. Scrape down the sides of your bowl again, then add in your chocolate pieces, finishing incorporating them with a spatula by hand.
Refrigerate your dough for 30-60 mins, so the flour can hydrate and the flavors meld. You want it chilled but still malleable.
Preheat your oven to 350 F/ 180 C. Using a large cookie scoop or spoon, measure your cookies out into roughly 20-24 portions. (I personally get 22 cookies out of this recipe with the cookie scoop I have). If you have a kitchen scale, you want each cookie dough portion to weigh between 52-55 grams. If not using a cookie scoop, shape into a round ball by hand. Place the on a parchment lined or nonstick baking sheet at least 2 inches apart from each other.
Top each cookie dough ball with a pinch of flaky smoked salt.
Bake for 13-14 mins total, but stay close by.
Just over halfway through baking, (at about the 7 to 8 min mark) when the cookies are puffing up and spreading, remove the cookie sheet from the oven, and hover it over the top of the stove or heat safe counter by a few inches. With a little force, bang the entire cookie sheet down and you will see the cookies deflate and the edges spread. This will give you those crisp, rippled edges and pools of chocolate you want on the surface of your cookie.
Return your pan quickly to the oven, rotating it as you do. Repeat this process two minutes later, when the cookies have inflated again and return to the oven to finish the baking process.
Remove and let the cookies cool on their baking sheet for at least 5 mins before moving to a cooling rack.
These are incredible served warm but just as delightful at any temperature. Though the baked cookies freeze perfectly well, I prefer to freeze my dough portions and bake them as I need them, one or two at a time when I have a craving or when I have last minute guests. This IS the cookie dough you always want to have on hand, trust me on this one.
I’ve heard it said that Barcelona has more bars and restaurants per capita than any other European city. After we had the opportunity to roam the streets and eat our way through the city for three days straight, I absolutely believed it. I’ve actually never struggled so much to narrow my must-try list down to only 10 spots. I wanted to give you the most variety as possible in the top 10 so there is something for everyone, but I obsessed about it a lot--in fact, it was actually impossible for me to narrow it down to only 10, so I added some honorable mentions at the end that shouldn’t be skipped just because they didn’t make the list.
Barcelona is an incredibly easy place to get around on foot. Its an absolutely beautiful city with wide, spacious sidewalks. We were there for three days and the only bus we had to take was to and from the airport; we never wanted a taxi because walking is so easy and enjoyable. Honestly, you do so much eating, you need to do all that walking to burn some of it off. Culturally, as a foreigner, there were just a couple things to adjust to.
First, as a non-smoker, the sheer amount of smokers is difficult to handle. There are all these adorable al fresco dining areas and the weather was perfect, but if you are eating outside, just know you will be right next to someone blowing cigarette smoke right into your face and food. Sadly, even though we wanted to sit outside, we often opted for indoor options to avoid smoke.
Secondly, the Spanish eat dinner SO LATE. Like so, so late. When you are walking down the street at 10:30pm, you see grandmas & grandpas hand in hand, young children out & about with their families. At 6pm, the time when most Americans are eating dinner, the Spanish are having an afternoon snack to tide them over until 10 pm when they actually eat their dinner. And please know that this isn’t an exaggeration. Most restaurants are open for lunch, then close for a few hours during siesta; some don’t open back up for dinner service until 8 or 9pm. We made a reservation for dinner for 9pm once and felt like such rebels eating so late, but when we walked in the restaurant, it was still completely empty. By 11pm when we were leaving, it was completely filled. And this was mid-week. So just embrace the late eating and have fun with it.
Without further ado in no particular order...
PINCHOS J TAPAS
This was the very first place we dined upon arrival. There’s a very famous street, frequented by locals that has tapas bar after tapas bar, block after block. It can be hard to choose one, and in theory you don’t really need to. You can walk in, help yourself to one or two tapas, and move on to the next place. We tried quite a few on this street, and we enjoyed this one so much that we came back a second time a few nights later.
So here’s what happens:
You walk in, they hand you a plate and a small glass. You go up to the bar where all the tapas are displayed, pile what you want on your plate. They will warm ones that are intended to be served hot. You eat to your heart’s content, putting your toothpicks in the glass they gave you. At the end, they tally up your toothpicks (usually ranging from $1-3 Euros per tapa) and that’s what you owe. Its that simple.
I suggest doing a tapas crawl along Blai street, but definitely don’t miss Pinchos J. The staff was unusually helpful, the price was right, and the tapas were quite delicious. My favorites were the boquerones with egg & tomato chutney as well as the mushroom croquettes.
This bar was one of our most memorable experiences and treasured finds. Yolanda, the owner/head waitress was so fun to talk to. The bar belonged to her grandparents, and has been running for 80 years. She grew up above the bar and remembers trying to go to sleep with the sound of people downstairs into the late hours of the night. We ordered a bit of everything on the menu, washing it down with copas de cava and ice cold beer served in frosty mugs as we went. There was a set, non-rotating menu of year-round dependables, as well as the more seasonal, daily offerings visible at the bar. We ordered a bit of everything from both menus: a bomba (a mashed potato encased, deep fried meatball, this was all my husband’s doing), oven roasted artichoke (highly seasonal but maybe my favorite thing all night), olive oil soaked bread with crushed tomato (the most classic a Spanish appetizer can get), roasted squash with blue cheese and pepitas, a fried brie situation (this was all my doing), a salad with pesto style dressing (was hoping the lettuce would make me feel better about all the carbs, but then I sopped up the salad dressing with extra bread), and then we finished off the evening with complimentary digestifs: orujo (a Spanish grape brandy) and licor crema d’arros (a creamy rice based liquor that tasted like a mixture of baileys and horchata? no complaints there). We left stuffed and happy as can be, just an all around fabulous dining experience. Reservations recommended.
VILA VINATECA LA TECA
This was the neighborhood grocery store and wine bar of my dreams and if I lived in Barcelona I would try to make my home inside this shop if they let me. First of all, #pantrygoals am I right? All the oil packed tuna and pickled white asparagus you could ever want on the shelf near the cute little step down into the wine bar area. First things first get yourself a bag of truffle chips. They are one of the best things i’ve ever had and they sell them here. Then walk towards the back where they have more cheeses and jamon than you’ll know what to do with and take it all in. Ask to sample a few cheeses, they will happily slice off whatever you are interested in. I got a smoked semi soft cheese there that I’m still dreaming about, wish I could remember what it’s called now. But anyways, grab a bottle of wine, your paper wrapped cheeses, the truffle chips and maybe some olives or boquerones walk on over to the Parc de la Ciutadella nearby and enjoy your picnic lunch there. It doesn’t get much better than that.
This was a brunch spot recommended by our friends Dallas and Sabrina who are amazing photographers from Vancouver, Canada currently living in Barcelona. It was a welcome change of theme as we’d basically been eating nothing but tapas and empanadas for days. The decor was vintage chic and very on trend, the plates were mismatched, and there were dozens of cakes and pies for sale by the slice displayed on glass domed cake platters to catch the eye. Right away I felt at home. Though expecting to have to wait for a table, we were seated right away. From the start I had nothing but good vibes and that continued as our brunch arrived.
The food options were different from the typical Spanish fare we’d been consuming all day every day; apparently “ugot” means cake in Hebrew and they definitely put a modern middle-eastern twist on quite a few classics. I ordered the “benedict Jerusalem”— brioche, tomato confit, caramelized onions, chickpeas, creme fraiche, za’atar, & mint. It was a lovely. We also tried the famed brioche french toast with caramelized pears and mascarpone and washed it all down with cortados and mimosas.
QUIMET Y QUIMET
I feel like you’ve truly 'arrived' when you’re a restaurant that can choose to be closed on the weekends. There was a line already formed at the door when we arrived a half hour before opening and this is the pace until closing. It’s a landmark that apparently remains virtually unchanged over the last 100 years and as far as I’m concerned an absolute must. It’s an extremely tiny bar with no seating so you will for sure be standing at a bar or table with barely enough elbow room to bring the tapas to your mouth but even though its slammed from the moment it opens, the staff is extremely attentive and efficient. They have been doing this a long time and it shows.
We had some of the most elegant and delicious tapas of the trip here, not your average potato and cheese stuffed and fried fare. They serve what they call montaditos, or two bite tapas, open face sandwiches on a super toasty, crisp round bun. We started with fois gras & volcanic salt, smoked salmon on yogurt with truffled honey, goat cheese with tapenade, boquerones and some kind of white balsamic vinegar glaze. They were so mind blowing, we had confidence ordering another round, and another, house made thick cut potato chips, artichokes with caviar, nispero (loquat) with soft goat cheese and anchovy, washing my tapas down with cava and sparkling rose, my husband sampling various scotches by the ounce at an extremely reasonable cost. In fact, none of the tapas were over 3 Euros, which for the quality of ingredients and presentation was remarkable.
This was recommended to me by an instagram friend, Ele, who owns etsy empire Elehandmade. She's an Italian shoemaker living in Barcelona so you already know she’s cool, and as an Italian, knows her gelato. And what can I say, this gelato rivals any gelato I ever ate in Italy as the best I’ve ever had. They had other gorgeous desserts but we stuck to the gelato and although we tried a few flavors and they were all delicious, hands down the cappuccino gelato was in a league all its own. It was the smoothest texture, I can’t even begin to express.
No Top 10 list of mine is going to be without at least one specialty coffee shop. If you only have time for one, let this be it. Nomad was a little piece of the Seattle artisan coffee scene I look for everywhere I go. A true coffee bar and “lab”, with slow coffee options (hello, pour over) with that genuine, intense interest in coffee culture and origins clearly visible. True, you can get a cortado or a cafe con leche at just about any cafe or bar in Barcelona, but coffee at this level of quality you don’t find just anywhere. There are three locations throughout the city (we went to Nomad Every day), so there’s a pretty good chance you can work a stop into your schedule just about wherever you are.
We came here on our very last night and I was disappointed we hadn’t discovered it first because it was definitely a highlight of the trip. This is a vermouth bar, and I for one, I had no idea I liked vermouth so much. They are famous for their Vermut Negre, with a proprietary blend of herbs and spices, served with an olive and orange peel. It was absolutely delicious. Not to mention the incredible tapas, which I appreciated weren’t fried or carb-heavy, but beautifully presented variations of pickled or stuffed peppers, marinated artichokes, anchovies & olives, cheese; basically all the things Sami loves. You could begin your evening here before you meet up with friends for dinner (at 11pm, remember) or let this be your last stop before going home. If I lived in Barcelona, this would be my regular spot. Bonus: the bartender told us there are 5 locations, so it makes it that much easier to swing by one of them.
LA XAMPANYERIA (CAN PAIXANO)
Okay so I won’t sugar coat it, this place is crazy. From open to close, this place is slammed. Can Paixano is the Barcelona equivalent of Katz’ Deli in NY: you are, in a sense, paying for the mistreatment. Not at all that the staff are rude, in fact I found them to be quite patient, but it’s just not a relaxing place. It’s standing room only like being at a general admission concert. However, the upside is that because this is the equivalent of Katz’s but in Spain, instead of cherry soda, they make their own cava. For two dollars a glass, with brut, sweet or rosé options, it’s hard to beat. They are famous for their assortment of sausage, so my husband had a mixed grilled sausage plate that he quite enjoyed (note: if you are not a fan of blood sausage, this would be the time to say “Sin morcilla, por favor” or it would be included). They also have assorted jamón, fois gras, and cheese sandwiches and can fill them with any combination you request. I don’t do much meat, so I opted for a warm caramelized onion and cheese sandwich that was delightful. The portions were nice for the money, but not huge, so you wouldn’t have to make this a main meal or long stop if you didn’t want to. Cash Only.
We came here for our last meal in Barcy, breakfast before we headed to the airport. We had passed it many times walking in our neighborhood and the idea of a proper western breakfast really appealed to us. We loved the cozy, eclectic aesthetic as well as the fact that the space was so roomy and open after days of cramming ourselves into small, crowded bars. I ordered what ended up being one of the best breakfast sandwiches of my life, a grilled vegetable ciabatta sandwich, add fried egg, add goat cheese, duh. The goat cheese came as a medallion deeply caramelized on the outside; it was absolute perfection. We also ordered the pancakes and they were spot on, fluffy and soft with a perfect density. Highly recommended as a chill spot with western options when you need a break from the tapas lifestyle.
Famous for their churros, though I personally found the Crema Catalana here to be more the standout, one of the best I tried in Spain. It’s essentially the Catalan version of Creme brûlée, with a subtle and unique addition of citrus to the custard and that classic burnt sugar crust you break with a spoon.
This place is a must, albeit absolute sensory overload so go when you have the energy to tackle it. It also won't hurt to show up hungry, as it’s a great place to eat your way through, picking up treats or stuffed olives or an endless array of snacks as you go. Any food related souvenirs you may be interested in taking home such as saffron, paprika, olives, olive oil, etc etc etc this is the place to get it.
A gorgeous 100 year old candy store converted to bar: the century old interior is virtually the same and creates an incredible atmosphere. It’s a fun place to stop with friends to have a creative & beautifully presented cocktail. I felt so classy without feeling touristy here.
Another tapas bar on that famous street of the locals. Except this time I ordered Patatas bravas and they were maybe the best I tried anywhere in Spain (and I’ve sampled a surprisingly vast amount in a relatively brief amount of time, thus I consider myself somewhat of an expert). Patatas bravas always come with an aioli of some kind, and with fried potatoes this can feel heavy. This version had a whipped, aerated and very light aioli, unlike anything I have ever eaten before. It was the texture of whipped cream but savory and garlicy.
This cake, though.
It’s dense, moist, and ultra coconutty. But the richness of the coconut is complimented by the soft, floral addition of jasmine.
I love playing around with local ingredients, and jasmine extract can be found in any baking aisle here in Thailand. Thais add jasmine to a variety of desserts usually containing sticky rice, coconut, pandan, tapioca and rice flour, or a combination of these.
But I have to be honest, aside from mango sticky rice, I’m not a huge fan of Thai desserts in general. This is possibly because sweetened coconut milk with ice cubes and corn and/or kidney beans or sticky, oily, gelatinous steamed desserts shaped like floral glycerin hand soap that rarely taste as good as they look aren’t how I want to splurge when i'm going to. I don’t mean this to sound rude, I just mean that culturally what in a Western mind constitutes a dessert is very different than what images might be conjured up in an Eastern one.
So that’s why I’m all about infusing some of these classically SE asian flavors into a more approachable western dessert; its something I’ve done already on the blog a few times now (see: Pandan black sesame rolls & Thai coffee crepe cake) and hope to continue to do.
So this combination of coconut and jasmine isn’t something I invented, but in this cake it works. I’ve made it a few times now for guests and they just can’t stop eating it. With the toasted coconut chips and bit of sea salt on top, it’s about as perfect as a cake could be. Truly. Combine that with the fact that it’s only one layer, so it’s as easy as it gets as far as frosting and serving?
I think my job here trying to sell this dessert to you is done.
Without further ado…
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
FOR THE CAKE:
2 cups sugar
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1.5 tsp kosher salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
1.5 tsp baking soda
2 large eggs
2 cups full fat unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbs lemon juice or white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp jasmine extract*
1/2 cup coconut oil, liquid at room temp
FOR THE FROSTING:
1 cup unsalted butter
2.5 cups powdered sugar, sifted for lumps
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp jasmine extract
1 Tbs coconut milk, if needed
FOR THE GARNISH:
Toasted coconut flakes
Flaky sea salt, I used Jacobsensaltco vanilla bean salt
*you should be able to find jasmine “flavoring,” “emulsion,” or “essence" in any Asian store or online. Don’t waste your money on the pure extract, the cheap stuff will do just fine here.
WHAT YOU'LL DO
FOR THE CAKE:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).
Grease and flour a 13 x 9 inch baking dish or line it with parchment, overlapping two of the edges.
In a large bowl, mix your dry ingredients: the sugar, flour, cake flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the coconut milk and lemon juice or vinegar. Let it sit for just a minute or two and then whisk the eggs in as well as all three extracts: vanilla, coconut, and jasmine. Lastly, whisk in the coconut oil.
Then add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine (without over mixing).
Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.
Bake for 40 mins, rotating the pan halfway through, but begin checking for doneness at 35 mins.
Let it cool in the pan before transferring to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before icing.
FOR THE FROSTING:
In a stand mixer or with electric beaters, cream the butter on medium speed. Reduce to low speed and add the powdered sugar in, 1/2 cup at a time.
Add the salt and three extracts and beat again. Taste and adjust, adding more coconut or jasmine extract to your liking. If the frosting is too thick, add 1 Tbs of coconut milk to thin and beat again.
Frost the cake and top with coconut chips and sea salt.
Serves anywhere from 15-24 people, depending on how generously you slice it up!
Recipe adapted from Molly Yeh’s Coconut Cake recipe from her cookbook, Molly on the Range.