Thursday, December 30, 2010

Frugal Foodie on the Road: Denver

Other than passing through the largest airport in America, I've never spent any time Denver. On a recent holiday visit I was thrilled to find the city has some fantastic and reasonably priced cuisine. This entry is for the benefit of a friend who is moving there next week.

We stayed downtown at the Hotel Monaco, where we took advantage of free wine, free cocoa, a free suite upgrade and comfy beds. The best part of the hotel, however, was the restaurant located within it, Panzano. Panzano had the best happy hour deals that I've ever seen, and unlike some happy hours, you actually would order these items even if they weren't discounted. Take, for example, the deep fried brussels sprouts with pistachios and green apple matchsticks (a revelation!) that cost only $3, or a truffle oil and mushroom pizza for $4. Since drinks in the lobby were free, I don't think I've ever spent so little on such a great culinary experience.

We also dined at Panzano for a less frugal breakfast meal, where I had a bottomless bellini and Eggs Benedict with pesto and prosciutto. It was interestingly served over sun-dried tomato polenta (another revelation). Though this was pricier than happy hour, it was still worth every penny.

Another favorite dish was at Osteria Marco, an Italian restaurant that makes their own cheese. One such cheese was an uber silky capra ricotta, or goats milk ricotta, that we spread on crusty grilled Italian bread. So simple yet so divine!

I try to avoid thinking about how much we overpay for exceptional food in Vegas, but I'm always reminded when traveling that noteworthy food doesn't have to be ridiculously expensive. I almost look forward to getting the bill after a meal in other cities. Such was the case at Rioja, where we had a six course tasting menu and four drinks for just $100. The grilled black truffle gnocchi with wild mushrooms and arugula was the highlight here.

If you get to Denver, don't miss the following:

909 17th Street

Osteria Marco
1453 Larimer

1431 Larimer

Biker Jim's Gourmet Hot Dog Stand
16th Street and Arapahoe
(unfortunately we didn't get to eat here since Biker Jim is closed on weekends, but the reviews are phenomenal)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Frugal Foodie on the Road: Barstow's finest and Santa Monica finds

There's nothing like a weekend trip to LA to whet your appetite - so many worthy places to try, so little time. I was surprised, however, to find such good eats on the way to my final destination.

If you are tired of the Mad Greek and other en route Vegas-LA eating options, boy do I have a place for you. On my last jaunt this past weekend I used my handy Yelp app to search out a more unique eatery, and stumbled upon Lola's Kitchen. This pipsqueak of a restaurant in a typically grim Barstow strip mall is run by twin sisters who cook deliciously down-home Mexican cuisine. I only sampled a couple of options, but was tempted to take the rest of the menu to go. The chicken enchilada verde was more than noteworthy, with a tangy, slightly spicy tomatillo sauce, delicately sauteed onions, and cotija cheese ($7). It was still good two days later on the Sunday drive home, when Lola's is closed.

The pork and shredded beef sopes were equally mouthwatering ($3 each). The cornmeal dough crust was expertly crispy on the bottom, and the pork in particular was beautifully fork tender. It was loaded with the freshest iceberg lettuce (not sure how but they take this staple from 'dud' to 'stud') and given a shot of sour cream and a sprinkle of cotija. I recommend these with a touch of their spicy homemade salsa. OOOOh weee. You'll really thank me for this discovery, especially since it will cost you next to nothing.

Once in LA, we went o my new favorite breakfast spot, Amelia's on Main Street in Santa Monica (previously mentioned in Frugal Foodie on the Road). I can't get enough of their lattes, a drink I never order unless I'm here. This time I tried the Chai latte - don't miss out. To bring you up to speed, Amelia's is family owned spot almost too good to be true, as not only do they use the freshest, local ingredients, but the customer service is impeccable. The owner even chased us down the street to return a bottle of veggie juice we just had blended down the street at the Great Life health food store (also highly recommended).

Though we were full after our meal, I could help but gravitate towards a sign across the street that said "Sunny Blue - first store in California to make fresh omusubi." Not knowing what omusubi was, and this being the "first" store to make it fresh, I had to try. I discovered omusubi is a warm triangular rice cake stuffed with a filling of your choice and wrapped in crisp seaweed. The version I had was made with curry pork, scallions, and fresh onion. I always try interesting things and generally they don't WOW me, but this was a definite exception. Had I not been so full I could have eaten a couple more, and for just $2.60, it would have been tempting to order one of each variety.

These spots are enough reason to take a weekend trip. Just avoid coming or going on a Sunday - you'll want to stop at Lola's on the way there and back!

Lola's Kitchen
1244 E. Main Street
Barstow, California 92311

2645 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Sunny Blue
2728 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Company on!

The side deal on today (and tomorrow and Wednesday) is a gift basket of my dog food company's delicious, all-natural treats! I know you like to eat well if you read my blog, so you if you have a dog I'm sure you want them to eat well, too. The basket includes Banana Bark-scotti in a Good Dog Food Company mug, one Scooter Sandwich, one box of Doggie Truffles, one bag of our soon to be famous jerky treats, and a frisbee. Of course the treats are all-natural, wholesome, and made with no preservatives. All of this is offered for just $20 (retail value $40). Is that a frugal gift or what?!

Friday, December 3, 2010


After my disappointment following the closing of my favorite little taqueria, Taquria Los Parados, I've been on an even bigger mission to find the great mom and pop restaurants in Las Vegas. I recently found a great Cuban one in the Northwest called Varadero that needs our support as the strip mall it's in isn't what you'd call bustling.

It's hard to find good Cuban food in Vegas, and sadly we've lost a few of the better Cuban restaurants to the recession. I generally go to Havana Cafe on Eastern, but as much as I enjoy it I can't really say it's frugal. Varadero is frugal, however, and the food is just as good, if not better.

I'm itching to try more on the menu because both times I've gone everything has been just delicious. The traditional black bean soup is well done ($2.25), but a more interesting soup is the Crema Aurora, a cream based tomato and cheese concoction ($2.95). The heavy "soup" is actually more reminiscent of a dip, which paired wonderfully with the complimentary toasted Cuban garlic bread.

The Ropa Vieja ($10.75), meaning "torn clothes," was better than any I can remember having had. The rich, tomato based broth was reduced to perfect gravy consistency, and the shredded beef was tender without being mushy. Another highlight was the Arroz con Pollo ($10.95). It consisted of a juicy roasted half chicken hidden under a bed of creamy, saffron colored Cuban risotto. Both entrees came with maduros, or sweet fried plantains, and moros y cristianos, black beans and white rice cooked together. The latter wasn't done as well as at Havana Cafe but the maduros were as good as you can get.

For the prices and food quality you can't beat Varadero for Cuban food. It's one of the few good non-chains in the Northwest. Great service and friendly staff, too.

5081 N. Rainbow Blvd. Ste. 100
Las Vegas, NV 89130
(702) 463-3609

Restaurant Rating: 9

Food Ratings:
Black Bean Soup: 9
Crema Aurora: 9
Arroz con Pollo: 9.5
Ropa Vieja: 9.5