One great thing about traveling is the chance to experience new things. New sites, new people, new cultures and, of course, new cuisines. When I’m on the road, I always try and eat a places that I cannot get at home or sample the local delicacy as a way of trying to grasp a real understanding of where I’m at. I’ve had real Philly Cheesesteaks (I prefer provolone, not Cheese Whiz), Maine lobsters, New Mexico Chile’s, New England Clam Chowder and all the great American BBQ (Texas Spicy, Memphis dry-rub and, still my favorite, Sweet Kansas City). I still have a lot of new flavors to try which is another reason my wander lust has never really gone away.
Although, new is good, sometimes familiarity is a nice thing as well since traveling itself is not always the pleasure-filled adventure us bloggers make it out to be. With this in mind, if there is a city I go back to often, I love having a “go-to” restaurant which brings forth good food, consistent service and a sense of comfort that you don’t always get from a hotel or airport. Whether it’s a simple coffee shop or a place of fine dining, this list is a sample of the restaurants I consistently visit when I’m jet-setting around the U.S.
New York, NY
(330 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012)
New York has over 24,000 restaurants just in the Manhattan area alone which means you could visit a new one every day for the next 65 years and never eat at the same place twice. For someone like me who visits about four times a year, I’d have to live to be over 2,000 years old before I could even make it to midtown. As much as I love exploring new places and new areas of the city, NoHo Star is still one of my favorite places to go for breakfast, lunch or just relax with a cup of coffee.
Located in the neighborhood of (you guessed it…) NoHo, NoHo Star sits on the corner of Lafayette and Bleeker streets and offers a diverse menu consisting of breakfast stables, interesting sandwiches and even Chinese options for dinner. The food has always been fresh and they have an outside dining area that adds to the people watching experience. I personally prefer their breakfast/brunch menu with basil scrambled eggs, omelets or even avocado toast (eat shit Tim Gurner). Top that off with some homemade jams and fresh coffee and I’m good to go for wandering around the streets of NYC. This is definitely a place to try on your next trip east.
Francesca’s on Chestnut
(200 E Chestnut St, Chicago, IL 60611)
Nothing says comfort more than a great Italian meal and I always to try to grab one at my favorite place in Chicago. Francesca’s has been a staple of the Chicagoland area for over 25 years with 19 locations scattered throughout the region. Because my work usually brings me downtown, I mainly stick to the location on Chestnut street a block away from the Water Tower Place and the Hancock Building.
Francesca’s is open for both lunch and dinner (brunch in some locations) and has a wide array of Italian antipasti’s, pizza, pasta dishes and fresh meat courses. They have a vast wine selection to fit every palate and I have found that their sommeliers are very accommodating when helping you find the perfect bottle in your price range. Add on a great dessert menu and you’ll leave needing to walk the entire downtown loop before attempting the buckle your pants again. It’s best to make reservations especially for dinner but don’t be afraid to walk up to the bar if you’re in town on your own. You won’t be disappointed…my guarantee!
San Francisco, CA
Brioche Bakery & Café
(210 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133)
Sometimes simplicity is key when you’re out on the road and in need of a quick meal or pick me up. Brioche Bakery & Café, located on the fringes of Jackson Square, Chinatown and the Financial District, is a small but well established place to just stop and relax amongst the fast pace of the city. They’re limited seating, which extends outside along Columbus Avenue, gives it a cozy atmosphere to enjoy lunch, a light breakfast or just a cup of coffee. They also have free Wi-Fi and decent bathrooms which is a luxury in many cities this size.
Brioche offers a great selection of brunch items, hot and cold sandwiches, salads and other entries. Of course, being a bakery, you can also grab a freshly baked pastry, dessert or an assortment of artisanal breads all reasonably priced for downtown . They even have cakes you can order in advance although I’ve never been in the need on a trip to the Bay area. When the weather is nice, you can grab a drink and sit out on the sidewalk watching the always entertaining San Fran population go about their daily business. Drop in sometime and tell them Dr. People Watcher sent you…they won’t know what the hell that means but I can still pretend!
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine
(7015 W Broward Blvd, Plantation, FL 33317)
Ok, technically this place is located in Plantation, just west of Fort Lauderdale but for the sake of geographical referencing I’m leaving it be for this post. When I’m in the area, I can’t help but get a craving for Cuban food which I believe is a celebration of the culture this misunderstood population has brought to southeast Florida. Add to it the fact that every dish comes with a side of fried plantains and I’m hooked and coming back every chance I get.
Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine has been in business since 1984 when the Vilariño family decided to open their first location in Hollywood, Florida. What started as a small family restaurant has now exploded into 15 locations in the greater Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas. They offer traditional Cuban staples including Ropa Vieja (shredded beef), Masas de Cerdo (marinated, fried pork cubes), several different Emparedados (sandwiches) and much more. Their friendly service and family like atmosphere makes even the most naïve gringo (like me) feel right at home every time I return. I recommend stepping out of your culinary comfort zone and give Cuban food a try. You’ll be rethinking that embargo in no time!
The Local Taco
(4501 Murphy Rd, Nashville, TN 37209)
My obsession with this restaurant began in college at the University of Kentucky which I was excited didn’t have to end after graduation. With locations peppered across several cities in the south, I can get my taco fix without returning to Lexington and having to wade through a sea of college students, administrators and people I pissed off before heading north (it’s a family trait!).
There are three locations in Nashville alone so no matter where I end up, I’m steps away from great food and great music. What else do you need? This small, but charming chain offers unique taco combinations, amazing tomatillo salsa and great sides that keep me coming back for more. Everything is made fresh and the company prides itself on acquiring local meat and produce in order to support the communities where their stores are located. Even as an order-at-the-counter style restaurant, the service has always been great and efficient which only adds to the quality of experience you can expect. If you find yourself in the country music capital of the world, go grab some great tacos before hitting up the honky-tonks. This is a winning combination all around!
Hopefully you’ll swing by one of these establishments or find a place yourself that becomes a go-to. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below and maybe it will make the next list in the future!