Any college student will tell you, the best way to keep cash in your pocket and still eat well is to go ethnic. Authentic ethnic eateries are the tastiest of bargains, like New Delhi where a daily lunch ($8.95) and dinner ($12.95) buffet groans with real deal chicken tikka masala, tandoori, dal makhni and other Indian specialties. For Southeast Asian delights, try Le Viet, a stylish year-old newcomer not far from the Italian market. Fill up on a bowl of hearty Pho noodle soup and an order of fresh spring rolls and you’ll still get change back from your $10. Near the convention center, Dim Sum Garden may look nondescript on the outside, but inside, it’s a dumpling lover’s dream. Try an order (or two) of authentic Shanghai soup dumplings, tricky to eat because the soup is on the inside, but once mastered, positively addictive. The family owned Kebab House is a cozy Ottoman oasis specializing in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. Besides kebabs of every stripe (the organic lamb doner is a house specialty), there’s sautéed and baked vegetarian options and an especially creamy hummus for dipping.
In a town full of taqueiras, Tacos Sinaloa rides alone.
The East Oakland taco truck, usually parked at 2138 International, literally on the other side of the tracks from downtown, delivers downhome Mexican street food right across the street from Van’s Tire & Auto Service.
Ok, so it’s not in a fancy ‘hood. But taste one of owner Lupe Bueno’s veggie tacos, piled high with beans, pickled jalapenos, radishes, lime, cilantro and hot sauce, and you’ll be back for more. Priced at a bargain $1.75, tacos also come in asada (beef) and pollo (chicken), marinated tongue (lengua), crispy tripe (tripas) and cow’s cheek (cabeza). Definitely worth a stop.
Conrad Matt is having an off day. Matt, owner/operator of the Pirate Haus Inn in downtown St. Augustine, usually dresses the part. “Sometimes I’m just not up to it,” said the former defense contractor turned innkeeper.
Never mind. There’s enough pirate-mania in this hostel hybrid to go around. Named one of the nation’s 10 quirky hotels by National Geographic, the Pirate Haus is painted with Technicolor murals and offers a range of in suite and bath-down-the-hall options. Stay hostel-style for $20 a night, or in one of the comfy private rooms, a few with bunk beds, for $75-$85 on weekends.
All that and just four miles to the beach. Matt bought this place seven years ago because it reminded him of social stays he’d had while backpacking in Europe. “There’s always somebody who wants to have a beer at a place like this,” he said. A common kitchen, outside deck and TV/computer room comes with the stay. For families on a budget and kids who like to say “Arrr.”
Great stay in combo with the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum.
Find more info about St. Augustine, quirky or otherwise.
Waikiki is to O’ahu’s beaches what the waltz is to the tango. Where Waikiki is a beautiful slice of sandy civilization, the wild and wooly surfing beaches on the Northern Coast are completely untamed. Just an hour or so from Honolulu, spots like Waimea Bay, the Bonzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach along Kamehameha Highway offer nonstop action, as surfers battle waves as high as 40 feet. If watching all that exercise makes you hungry, belly up to one of the many shrimp trucks along the beach. Two of the most popular are Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp and Romy’s– both serve sweet, spicy and garlicky shrimp caught fresh, every day. For dessert, stop by Ted’s Bakery, home of the famous Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie, or share a shave ice, the local answer to mainlander’s snow cones. To learn more about the history of surfing, visit the North Shore Surf and Cultural Museum with its collection of antique surfboards and artifacts.
Since you’ve already taken the thrilling Hana Highway, consider bisecting the island’s heart with a day trip north on Route 37. You’ll see local life up close, travel through fragrant pineapple fields and stop for a tasting at Tedeschi Vineyards, Maui’s only winery. Loop around on the coast to the funky hippie town of Paia, home to a plethora of new age practitioners and one of the best seafood restaurants on the island. Relax a spell at Mama’s Fish House on the beach in Kuau Cove, an old plantation house that’s a throwback to a gentler age. Expect stellar sunsets and even better island fish, at prices that won’t break your budget.
In 1886, Antonio Monteleone–a shoemaker who came to New Orleans from Contessa, Italy, and prospered at his French Quarter boot factory–bought the 14-room Commercial Hotel and gave it his name. Four generations – and a $60+ million renovation later – the family-owned 600-room Hotel Monteleone, a six-time AAA Four Diamond award-winner, is secure in its reputation as a grand hotel. The vibe throughout is retro-European, from the guest rooms’ rich fabrics and marble bathrooms to the liveried doormen, and the 16-story building’s distinctive Baroque façade. With its central location in the French Quarter, a few blocks from Canal St., Jackson Square and the River Walk, the Monteleone is an ideal home base for exploring the Crescent City in style.
At Parma Sausage in Pittsburgh’s wonderfully gritty Strip District, local pigs have been ground into amazing Italian sausage since Alessio Spinabelli gave up shoemaking for sausage making in his Corsican village.
In 1954, his sons, Luigi and Lodovico Spinabelli came to Pittsburgh and followed in their father’s footsteps. The result is some of the best sausage you’ve ever tasted, from spicy Sicilian to flavorful dry cured salami and a Coppa Secca, made from aged pork shoulder butt, that is absolutely to die for. Parma is just one example of the kind of authentic foodie experience that the Strip District is famous for.
Visit Pittsburgh soon, and bring a cooler.
The Executive Inn Oakland is a sleeper in every sense of the word.
Located on busy Embarcadero off I-880, just a few miles from downtown Oakland, the independently owned Inn looks like a basic motor lodge from the outside. But check in, and the surprises just keep on coming.
Ignore the blah parking lot views, and focus on the waterfront side of the property. There’s a swimming pool and hot tub, many rooms offer views of the waterfront and marina and a walking path along the shore is perfect for early morning exercise.
Free hotel shuttles take guests anywhere within three miles, including a nearby Bart station, Jack London Square for the ferry to San Francisco and waterfront dining, and dinner at downtown hotspots like Pican and Mua (so have another glass of wine – you’re not driving!). Internet access is free, as is the airport shuttle and parking. There’s a hot breakfast, fruit and coffee in the lobby and access to a complimentary business center.
The rooms are spacious, with one wing newly renovated, and the original rooms off the lobby just as comfy at bargain rates. Super clean, lots of extras (granite countertops in the bathroom, fridge, flat screens!), friendly staff – this place is a winner.
Bottom line? Corporate rates start at around $75 a night, with most rooms in the $100-$149 range. Now that’s a great value.