My House Fitness + A Giveaway!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016
This post was done in partnership with My House Fitness in Houston, who provided me with a complimentary workout. I was not monetarily compensated for writing this gym post. All opinions are completely, 100% my own!

(Psst, Houston residents -- Scroll down to the bottom for an exciting giveaway!)

A couple of Saturdays ago, I started my morning off bright and early like this:

My House Fitness - a boutique gym in Houston

Despite me having had a *little* bit of wine the night before, I ended up muscling through (pun totally intended) and having a fantastic workout at My House Fitness!

My House Fitness is a boutique gym that is new to Houston and Richmond. I attended a class at their studio in the Heights. My House Fitness also offers community-centric trainings for every fitness level, as well as nutritional and lifestyle support. Specialists take an individual approach by helping gym-goers with personalizing their goals, providing them with measurable progress, and encouraging them to have fun in a non-intimidating environment.

My House Fitness - a boutique gym in Houston

The intimate space is incredibly laid back and welcoming. Chris Markos, who owns the Houston Heights gym with his wife Lyndsey, greeted me with a smile and great enthusiasm. I quickly found out that the other folks attending the class with me were equally as enthusiastic and super chill. My House Fitness is the opposite of a pretentious gym, that's for sure!

The class I participated in that day was their "Games" class, which was basically one hour of adult recess. And yes, it was absolutely as awesome as it sounds!

My House Fitness - a boutique gym in Houston
My House Fitness - a boutique gym in Houston

On that particular day, we were divided into two teams in a challenge of hangman - meets Wheel of Fortune - meets a circuit training class. We were given a card which had blanks on it that would eventually become a sentence. Several stations were set up with letters or hints face down. To receive a letter or hint, we had to complete the exercise assigned to its station. 10 burpees? You get an R. 30 mountain climbers? I'll take an S, Trebek.

(Yes I realize that's Jeopardy. You get the idea).

And look at that exquisite form I've got going on!

My House Fitness - a boutique gym in Houston
Photo: My House Fitness
Just kidding, please don't, I look like a gremlin. Also, WHERE ARE MY PUPILS.

The game was SO much fun, and while I definitely got a great workout, I was having such a blast that it didn't seem like actual work (though my thighs were whistling a different tune the next day)! And nbd my team (TEAM GRYFFINDOR) won the challenge, and the prize was a week of free small group training for everyone on my team!

My House Fitness - a boutique gym in Houston
Photo: My House Fitness

My House Fitness is a wonderful new addition to Houston's workout scene. I cannot stress how comfortable everyone made me from the second I walked in, what a great workout I got, and just how fun the class was! And even after the hour workout, everyone hung around for a while after to socialize, a definite indication of what a positive environment this place is. If you're into community-oriented, personalized, humble, FUN workouts, My House Fitness encompasses all of those things and more!

Here's where the Giveaway comes in:

I decided to give my week of training to one of you all so you could experience the awesomeness of My House Fitness for yourself. HOWEVER, Chris and Lyndsey are so wonderful, that they agreed to DOUBLE the training! This is such an AWESOME deal, y'all. So, one lucky Adventures in a New(ish) City reader will receive two (2) weeks of small group training (which includes their games class!), twice a week, totaling in four (4) sessions at My House Fitness in the Heights, located at 1507-A West 18th Street, Houston, TX 77008. To enter, go to the giveaway box below, and log in with your name and email address (this will not be posted publicly). Once logged in, click the "Enter Contest" dropdown, and then the "Enter!" button. One entry is allowed per person, and only Houston-area residents are eligible. The contest starts NOW - Wednesday, July 27, 2016, and it ends on Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 11:59 pm CST.

**Bonus: If you go over and like my Facebook page, follow me on Instagram, and/or follow me on Twitter, you get a bonus entry for each social media follow. Just click the dropdown on "Like My Facebook Page", "Follow Me on Instagram," and/or "Follow Me on Twitter," then click "Enter!" for each one that you follow! This is applicable for existing followers, as well as new ones.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

My House Fitness - a boutique gym in Houston

Because you need more recess in your life.

The Great 2016 Houston Chinatown Food Crawl!

Friday, July 22, 2016
It's my birthday, and I'll go on a Chinatown crawl if I want to...

Yes, today is a huge milestone birthday for me, the big 3-1!

All right, so maybe it's not a big milestone, but I will say that based on the past year of life, the 30s rock. And I DON'T think 30 is the new 20 because you couldn't pay me enough to be 20 again! (um, hello, fake IDs are so stressful, I mean what? Mom, I swear I never had one of those, thanks for giving birth to me 31 years ago, love you!). Anyway, it was a great year, it's been a great 31 years, and I'm celebrating the Houston food way today with a hot bagel for breakfast, lunch at Benjy's with my mom, and dinner at Oxheart (AHHH FINALLY!!!) with Jon!

And also by telling you all about the amazing food crawl I participated in last weekend! One of my #squad members proposed back in May that we do a Houston Chinatown restaurant crawl, so we put our calendars together and nailed down a date.

(July 17, 2016 to be exact. A day that will be forever ingrained in my foodie brain!)

The members of the food crawl included my friends Isabel, Judy, ErikaSarah, and me. Isabel and Judy are incredibly knowledgeable about Houston's Chinatown, so they were our fearless leaders on our journey of visiting SEVEN restaurants within the span of 4 1/2 hours!

We all met up and piled into my Ford Focus (I think I only almost killed us twice, which was a feat in and of itself, but nvm.). Our first stop was 6 Ping.

This Chinese bakery was filled with lovely sweet and savory baked goods. We went the sweet route (because dessert first, right?), and ordered - pictured from bottom right, going clockwise - pan dan, Japanese cream cheese cake, red bean with mochi bread, and egg custard bread.

The green pan dan sponge cake was super light, with subtle buttery flavors (almost a little too subtle for me). But it was suuuuper light and felt like I was eating clouds! (or so I've heard).

The Japanese cream cheese cake had a very unique texture. It was fluffy, yet slightly spongey, and milky. It was also good, but the others were my two top picks.

The bread pastry filled with red beans and mochi was fantastic. It was smooth, sweet (but not overly sweet), earthy, and light. This was my first time experiencing beans in dessert form, and I totally dug it.

The pastry bread filled with egg custard absolutely knocked the wind out of me. The outer bread was fluffy and flaky, and the inside was sooo creamy, buttery, and not too sweet. It was my third favorite food item of the entire crawl!

Our next stop was San San Tofu.

This convenience store/grocery store/buffet/restaurant is all vegetarian all the time. My kind of place! To start we ordered banh ich, which was essentially dough filled with a meat substitute. The fried outer casing was sweet and chewy, and the insides were savory, had a ground meat texture, and had a sort of barbecue flavor, They were quite tasty!

Then we all shared a bowl of bun rieu, which is a soup that traditionally contains crab meat. This version contained tofu cubes, a crab substitute, noodles, and vegetables, and was served with a side of fresh veggies and herbs. The broth was tomato-y and super light, and the noodles were thin and silky. The flavors and textures were comforting and joyful, and the whole experience was like sipping on clouds (...or so I've heard?). A dash of mint on top added a wonderful bright contrast. Altogether, the soup was absolutely lovely.

We also shared a cup of housemade soy bean milk, which was ricey, fresh, slightly sweet, and very refreshing!

Our third stop was the Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant Hai Cang.

Yes, those are giant living spider octopus lobster things, why do you ask?

No one was really in the mood for spider that day, so we decided to start off with some coconut water, brought to us in actual coconuts! I'm actually not a big fan of the taste of coconut water, but this was definitely better than the bottled stuff. And how can you hate anything that comes in a coconut?

For food, we ordered the water spinach with garlic. The leaves were still slightly crunchy and not too wilted, and it had a very nice subtle garlic flavor to it.

The main course of food was a salt and pepper tofu that we all split, aka my 2nd favorite bite of the Houston Chinatown Crawl! Y'all, this was INSANE. Served with fun sticky rice, the tofu was spicy, beautifully crispy, soft (but not soggy) on the inside, and had a simply awesome texture. The spices were bold and outstanding, and this easily is one of the best tofu dishes I've ever had!

After that, we decided we needed something healthy, so we ordered a cha watermelon from Magic Cup.

...with a side of "Magic Puffs" (help.). The watermelon-based drink is actually Mexican influenced, with chili powder mixed in. It also came with a spicy, zingy tamarind cha moy straw. The candied straw had the texture and taste of a spicy Fruit Rollup. Mixed in with the textured, slushy, fresh watermelon drink, the flavor contrast was divine!

The magic puffs smelled and tasted like funnel cake. They were pure unadulterated delicious doughy fried goodness, and we had no regrets.

(but maybe a little).

Our next restaurant on the Houston Chinatown Food Crawl was Tan Tan!

This Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant is super iconic. We walked in, and I instantly felt de ja vu because I know I've seen it on a food show before. To start, we ordered dessert first (sensing a trend?) - the Thai dessert and the Che 3 Mau. The Thai dessert was a bright pink liquid-y concoction that was waaaay too sweet for my tastes. With a coconut base and gummy candies inside, it was very bubble gum-esque and not really my cup of tea (errr desert?). But the Che 3 Mau was my cup of tea! The layered dessert is made up of different colored beans and tastes like a chilled, sweet bean soup. It was very unique, and once again affirmed my new discovery that I enjoy beans in my dessert! (who knew?)

For our main course of food, it was a two-parter, starting with the tossed flat fried rice noodle with Chinese broccoli. This dish was very similar to Thai drunken noodles, which I love. Tan Tan's version was saltier and slightly bitter. Filling and tasty, I enjoyed it, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if there was a hint of sweetness.

The last dish we ordered was the whole reason we came to Tan Tan and was far and away my absolute FAVORITE bite of the evening! It was the house special rice cake. Sounds pretty unexciting right? WRONG. This eggy omelette(ish) dish is made of eggs, rice cake (not like the rice cakes we are used to), pickled daikon, and green onions. Judy is a pro at ordering this dish, and she asked for it to be fried on both sides to be crispier. Y'all, I cannot even tell you how INCREDIBLE this was. It was crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, creamy, textured, playful and ridiculously good. The cake was already incredible enough on its own, but it was served with a side of zippy, salty sauce for good measure. I think Sarah described this heavenly dish best when she said "If an omelette and a latke had a baby, this would be it." BINGO.

And because we needed more food... we went to the restaurant Xiong's Cafe for some dumplings! My meat-eating friends ordered some fried dumplings with meat, and we also tried the steamed vegetable dumplings. The inside of the veggie dumplings where hearty, meaty, and chicken-like, with some sort of bitter green component included. The outsides were slippery and doughy, and the dumplings fell apart pretty easily. These weren't my favorite dumplings I've ever had, though it sounded like my friends were going nuts over the fried meat ones! I think next time I'll go with the meat dumplings.

Just kidding guys. Gotcha!

Our last stop of the day was Juice Box for some [more] dessert!

The five of us split a shaved ice mixed with pineapple, mango, strawberries, and tapioca balls. This was SO delicious! The shaved ice was covered in sweet, creamy condensed milk, and the fruit was super fresh, juicy, and sweet! The tapioca balls added a fun, playful texture. We ordered ours without ice cream, and honestly it didn't need it! I was a big fan of this fruit-packed dessert.

The dining scene in Houston's Chinatown is absolutely unreal. With hundreds (thousands?) of restaurants, you've got lots of great, authentic options to choose from. And it's super inexpensive! I'm so glad I finally made the trip out there, and I cannot wait for part two!

Because that's what you do when you're 31, says me.

The 5th Annual Sundown at the Grove

Tuesday, July 19, 2016
This post was done in partnership with Sundown at the Grove, who provided me with food and drinks, free of charge. I was not monetarily compensated for writing this Houston event review. All opinions are completely, 100% my own!

We are truly in the thick of the dog days of summer here in Houston.

Sundown at The Grove - a Houston summertime food and drink event

But I have a cure for those hot, sweaty, summertime blues!

(that is, if you live in Houston, aka the center of the swampy sun right now).

And my cure is this: Sundown at The Grove.

Last week I was invited to attend Sundown at The Grove, an event that takes place on Wednesday nights every summer in the Treehouse space above the restaurant The Grove, located in Houston's Discovery Green park. A $20 ticket grants you a couple of hours in this beautiful setting overlooking the trees and park (and people congregating doing Pokémon Go which sorry if you're a superfan but it kind of weirds me out, but then again I read the whole Twilight series *maybe* more than once so judge away), four courses of light bites paired with beers from the chosen brewery of the day, and tunes cranked out by a DJ! Oh, and you also get to enter to win Southwest Airline tickets, which is never a bad thing.

Sundown at the Grove has been on my to-do list the past couple of summers, so I was pumped to finally get to go!

Sundown at The Grove - a Houston summertime food and drink event

I took Jon as my +1, and we were exceptionally grateful upon entering the open, airy, air-conditioned room. We also ran into my Houston blogger friend Erika and got to enjoy our food and drinks with her and her sis. Jon opted for a wine paring instead of a beer pairing (BECAUSE THAT'S AN OPTION), but I stuck with beer since I wanted to report back on it. The featured brewery of the day was Houston's own 8th Wonder, which even though I'm not a huge beer person, I totally dig theirs!

Served buffet style, the first course of food was a mini banh mi, paired with Rocket Fuel. I did not eat the banh mi since it had meat in it, but the Rocket Fuel ended up being my favorite of the four beers! It was dark, chocolate-y, and esspresso-y (excellent descriptors, I know).

banh mi at Sundown at The Grove - a Houston summertime food and drink event

The second food item was my favorite of the evening - the homemade cracker jacks, paired with Dome Feaux'm.

cracker jacks at Sundown at The Grove - a Houston summertime food and drink event

These cracker jacks were ADDICTING. They were only slightly crunchy, so they didn't hurt your teeth, were LOADED with caramel, and absolutely outstanding. I seriously lost my mind over these!

(and may have gone back for seconds? #help.)

I'm no beer aficionado, so moving forward, just know that all of the beers were insanely refreshing, delicious, and paired perfectly with the foods!

The third round of food was a grilled pineapple and chili salad, paired with Astro Turf. This nice light, citrusy salad had a little bite from some red onions, and some texture from pumpkin seeds (I believe). It was the perfect salad for a "my legs won't stop sticking together" kind of summer day!

The last round of food was a bananas foster pudding, paired with Intellectuale.

bananas foster pudding at Sundown at The Grove - a Houston summertime food and drink event

Before my heat-fried brain could register the idea that the pudding probably had gelatin in it, I was a bad vegetarian and took a bite. And I'm not gonna lie, it was pretty darn magical. The pudding was smooth and playful, the banana was beautifully cooked, and the caramel drizzle looped everything back to the cracker jacks. I only had one bite because my brain finally caught up to me, but I can attest that this was an outstanding dessert! And the Intellectuale was my second favorite of the beers - It was light, lemony, and refreshing!

Sundown at The Grove is a fantastic summertime Houston food and drink event. It attracts an after-work crowd, filled with people seeking refuge from the heat and celebrating making it mid-way through the week. The mood is laid back and fun, and the food and drinks are great!

food and beer pairing at Sundown at The Grove - a Houston summertime food and drink event

But I need some more of those cracker jacks...

Media Preview of Houston Restaurant Weeks: Sal y Pimienta

Friday, July 15, 2016
This post was done in partnership with Sal y Pimienta, who provided me with food and drinks, free of charge. I was not monetarily compensated for writing this Houston restaurant review. All opinions are completely, 100% my own!

I don't often make my way out to City Centre, but when I's good.

Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston

Last week I was invited to attend a media preview of Sal y Pimienta's (that's Spanish for salt and pepper!) Houston Restaurant Weeks menu. I had never been, and the food on the HRW menu looked stellar - with veg-friendly options - so I was game! My friend Kelly came along to join in on all the food and fun. Other blogger/writer friends in attendance were Erika, Dalida, and Ellie.

Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston

Before we were brought to one of the restaurant's private rooms for the tasting, we were given a presentation on their fresh, locally-sourced meats by Concept Developer Gianfranco Percovich.

Why, yes I'll show you a picture of some plump, juicy, raw meat!

(I thought you'd never ask.)

meat at Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston

After this vegetarian regained consciousness, they seated us all together, round-table style.

Sal y Pimienta's Houston Restaurant Weeks dinner menu costs $35 per person and includes three courses of food. $5 of every HRW meal purchased goes towards the Houston Food Bank.

First, we were presented with some wine and food items not found on the HRW menu to kick everything off, starting with some house-made chips.

chips at Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston

If you know me at all, you know I have zero self-control when it comes to any and all chips. And THESE chips were no exception. Thick, warm, and slightly-yet-perfectly oiled, they were made even more wonderful when paired with a side of a tart chimichurri type sauce.

Then, we were presented with some flatbreads.

mozzarella onion at Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston
basil, tomato, mozzarella flatbread at Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston

The first of the restaurants' flatbreads was topped with mozzerella and caramelized onion. It was gooey, uncomplicated, and indulgent. The second was a flatbread with fresh basil, tomato, mozzerella, and avocado. I thought the first flatbread would be my favorite, but I ended up loving this one more! The citrus-y, bright tartness of the tomato was wonderfully complemented by the ripe avocado and gooey cheese. It was lovely!

For our first round of food from the Houston Restaurant Weeks menu, I ordered the empanadas Argentinas, choosing the cream of corn and provolone filling.

empanadas at Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston

The outer casing of the empanadas was thick, which combated the all-too-oft-reported issue of a soggy empanada (ammiright?). However, the thick outer casing did not overpower the deliciousness living within. The super creamy and rich creamed corn and provolone was insanely decadent and very enjoyable. These little starters were hearty and satisfying!

For my second course of food, I ordered the canelones of spinach.

cannelloni at Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston

Homemade cannelloni pasta was stuffed with spinach, salsa blanca, and ricotta cheese, and was topped with pomodoro sauce. And this. was. AWESOME. The bubbling cheese was so melty and lovely and EVERYWHERE, and the fresh pasta managed to cut through all of it with a wonderful soft texture. It was incredibly herby and fragrant, and I ate every bite! This was definitely my favorite bite of food from the evening.

Kelly ordered the restaurant's tenderloin a la parrilla, and some other folks ordered the red snapper, which both looked delicious as well!

tenderloin at Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston
snapper at Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston

For our third course of food (aka, dessert), I ordered the flan, and Kelly opted for the petite dulce de leche cheesecake.

flan at Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston

My homemade vanilla flan was topped with dulce de leche, and the texture of this dessert lived somewhere between cake and pudding, which was an unusual, unique experience (for me at least). The flavors were nice - not too sweet, and a bit nutty - but I will say, Kelly's dessert knocked my socks off! The homemade smooth and rich dulce de leche cheesecake was served with dulce de leche sauce, and it was WONDERFUL. It had a prominent cream cheese-esque flavor that I loved, and the sweet caramel topping counteracted with it beautifully. Almost everyone at the table seemed to concur that this was their favorite dessert of the evening!

If you're like me, and you don't get out to Houston's City Centre area much, Sal y Pimienta is a great reason to go. And their Houston Restaurant Weeks dinner menu is certainly one that should be on your radar. With vegetarian and gluten free options abounding, there are many choices for different diets. And for $35 you're getting a hell of a deal in Houston - great atmosphere, delicious food, and a wonderful experience!

cheesecake at Sal y Pimienta - A South American restaurant in Houston

Dream lover come rescue me.

Vacation Days: San Francisco

Tuesday, July 12, 2016
After frolicking (aka drinking) for four days in Wine Country, California, Jon and I were off to San Francisco!

breakfast in Sonoma, California

^ But not before I biked into downtown Sonoma for some food and fun reading time while Jon was still asleep!

(I was able to sneak in a lot of reading this trip, which was so so lovely.)

Then, Jon and I were off!

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

So there's this big red bridge in San Francisco that people go crazy over. Huh.

(I'm kidding YOU GUYS, I know about the Golden Gate Bridge, sheesh.)

Before checking into our rental, we popped into a restaurant called Saru Sushi for lunch.

edamame at Saru Sushi - a restaurant in San Francisco
eggplant appetizer at Saru Sushi - a restaurant in San Francisco
veggie roll at Saru Sushi - a restaurant in San Francisco

We split the edamame, which was good - your standard edamame. Then I ordered the restaurant's delicious - and slightly sweet - eggplant appetizer, as well as a veggie roll filled with avocado and sweet potato. It was soft, warm, sweet, and DELICIOUS. Jon ordered two big ole rainbow rolls and really enjoyed them. He said it was some of the freshest sushi he's ever had!

After lunch, we bought some gear for the Giants game we were going to in a couple of days (since our beloved former Astro Hunter Pence is on the team, this seemed acceptable), and then we checked into our really cute studio apartment we rented off of VRBO.

apartment rental in San Francisco

(it had a killer back patio.)

(which I never used because it was 66 degrees outside and I was cold.)

(you can punch me in the face now.)

Once we were settled in, we walked to the restaurant Al's Place for dinner. This is THE place to eat in San Francisco right now, and it's very hard to get a reservation. Rated the Top New Restaurant of 2015 by Bon Appetit Magazine, I was super pumped.

drinks at Al's Place - a restaurant in San Francisco

Once we were seated, Jon and I looked at the menu and realized we had no clue what we were looking at. Most of the ingredients were completely foreign to us, so we had many questions about the food. In terms of drinks, Jon went with a glass of wine, while I tried one of the restaurant's cocktails. Their small cocktail list is made up of mixed drinks with low proof alcohol that I'd never heard of and fun names such as "Mr. White," "Mr. Pink," and "Mr. Orange." After chatting with our very helpful server about my preferences (we were seriously lost), I opted for "Ms. Brown." It had a light, almost bourbon tinge to it (though I can't exactly tell you what it was), and it was good enough for me to order a second one!

Then we ordered our food. The restaurant's menu is designed for sharing, and our first item to try was their infamous brine pickled french fries with smoked apple sauce.

fries at Al's Place - a restaurant in San Francisco

These were very unique and very tasty. They had the consistency of french fries (with a little more sponginess), but the pickling process gave them a salty fermented taste that made them taste altogether like something else.

Next up was the fava'd mushroom broth chawanmushi (don't worry, we didn't know what it was either) with cherry and pistachio.

colorful broth at Al's Place - a restaurant in San Francisco

To be honest, I don't really remember what this tasted like, so I can't tell you much about it. But the general reaction we were starting to have about everything was, "This is pretty good..but it tastes very different than I thought it would..."

Our next round of food consisted of the General Leo's cauliflower with mashed peas, burrata, pistachio mousse, and rhubarb.

General Leo's cauliflower at Al's Place - a restaurant in San Francisco

Do you see cauliflower in this picture? It's there, I promise...I think? The chilled burrata was very nice, and the cauliflower (the brown stuff below the greens), actually tasted like a very fishy fish. So once again, it was unique... but good... but odd.

After that, we shared the yellow eye bean stew with torn bread. I didn't snap a photo of this one (probably because it was our favorite shared item), but Jon and I really enjoyed this. It was hearty and herby, and did in fact taste like bean stew!

Our last shared round of food (Jon also ordered trout and pork belly, and had similar puzzling-but-not-bad reactions to them) was the campanelle with smoked fumet, charred fava pesto, and goat's gouda.

pasta at Al's Place - a restaurant in San Francisco

Not pictured, I also ordered a poached egg on the side, which I added to it. I enjoyed this pasta as well, and it did taste like pasta. The pesto was a little thicker and earthier than what you typically find due to the use of fava beans, and it was a very hearty dish. It was fragrant, and had some lovely flavors. Altogether, it was a nice course.

After ingesting all of these teensy tiny plates of what we had come to learn were molecular gastronomic surprises, we were hungry for dessert. We ordered some sort of berry and cream compilation that sounded promising and safe.

dessert at Al's Place - a restaurant in San Francisco

...until I put it in my mouth and ATE AN ENTIRE WAD OF CILANTRO!!!! (or something else that tastes like cilantro, because we know it couldn't actually have been cilantro). I haven't recoiled from a piece of food so drastically in a very long time. Jon explained that once he mixed everything together the "cilantro" taste was subdued, but I couldn't stomach another bite. He really liked it, but he also really likes cilantro. SO.

In conclusion, re: Al's Place. If you are looking for a creative - and I will say, surprisingly non-pretentious dining experience (the clientele was chill, and the staff was super friendly), and you aren't worried about paying a premium for it (oof.), you will definitely get that at Al's Place. I think by this point after all of the elaborate meals we had been having recently, Jon and I were pretty tapped out of the culinary dramatics. The food was good, and it was never what we expected it be, and I totally get that that's the whole point. We certainly laughed a lot, and our new game of "Guess what the heck I'm eating now?" was quite entertaining!

After our scientific dining experience, Jon and I hit the hay so we could wake up early for...

Alcatraz in San Francisco

dun dun dunnnn!!


Jon is a major history buff, so this was one of his "must-sees" in San Francisco. We purchased tickets ahead of time for the first ferry tour of the day, so we could beat the bulk of the crowds.

Alcatraz in San Francisco
Alcatraz in San Francisco
Alcatraz in San Francisco
Alcatraz in San Francisco
Alcatraz in San Francisco
Alcatraz in San Francisco

While Jon ate the tour up, I was glad I did it, but probably wouldn't do it again. First of all - and I completely understand that the reason they do this is to accommodate the sheer mass of people that come in every single day - I found it strange that everyone was given an audio headset for a guided tour and walked around in silence throughout the island. It was really bizarre to me. That, and I'm acutely affected by my surroundings - shopping malls depress me (anyone else?), so I'm sure you can imagine what a crumbling maximum security prison might do to me.

But it really was fascinating, and I learned a lot of interesting facts about Alcatraz, like 1) It started off as a Civil War fort, but of course California didn't really do anything in the Civil War, so it remained untouched until becoming a state prison; 2) Since Alcatraz was a state prison, there were like only seven prisoners there who'd gone to jail for murder, since that's a federal crime. Most of the prisoners were there for things like theft and tax fraud; 3) After it closed down, Alcatraz became the site of an American Indian occupation in the 60s, which was a peaceful demonstration that lasted almost two years.

See, I learned stuff!

Also, there were some killer views of San Francisco from the island.

San Francisco, California

After a few hours, we headed back into the city for food!

Tony's Pizza Napoletana - a restaurant in San Francisco, California
Tony's Pizza Napoletana - a restaurant in San Francisco, California

Lunch was at the restaurant Tony's Pizza Napoletana. As advised by my parents, Jon and I snagged seats at the bar, where we had front row seats of the employees making perfect pizzas in the woodfired oven. Jon ordered a pepperoni pizza, and I ordered one of the restaurant's specialties - the tartufo, without prosciutto. Oozing with melted mozzerella, burrata, and goat cheese, the crisp, fluffy-crusted pizza contained wild musrooms, truffle oil, a sprinkling of piave, and some fresh arugula. It was absolutely as rich and lovely and satisfying as it sounds!

Once we'd finished up our food, we did some exploring!

San Francisco, California

We decided we should walk over to Lombard Street, since it wasn't too far from Tony's.

(Sidenote: When I say we "walked" anywhere in San Francisco, what I'm actually saying is we "hiked up a 90 degree incline, aka Mount Everest 2.0.)

Lombard Street in San Francisco, California
Lombard Street in San Francisco, California

Then we wandered over to Chinatown!

City Lights Book Store in San Francisco, California

On the way there, we stopped at City Lights Bookstore, which is a really famous historic bookstore with a bajillion books that I just had to check out.

(Actually, props to Jon - he's the one who did the research and found this gem for me.)

Chinatown in San Francisco, California

San Francisco's Chinatown reminded me a lot of NYC's Chinatown - Crowded, bustling, colorful, and filled with lots and lots of stores containing a variety of different knick knacks.

Once we'd felt we had gotten our Chinatown fill, we went back to the apartment to rest up before dinner.


Speaking of dinner, we actually had reservations at another high profile San Francisco restaurant that night. But as previously mentioned, Jon and I were pretty tapped out and just wanted some chill, no-frills, yummy food. I canceled our reservation, and did a quick search on my phone of restaurants nearby. We settled on Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, located in San Francisco's eclectic Bernal Heights neighborhood.

Emmy's Spaghetti Shack - a restaurant in San Francisco, California
Emmy's Spaghetti Shack - a restaurant in San Francisco, California

The inside of the restaurant was funky and casual (think string lights, aprons hanging on a line, photo booth in the back, etc.) There was about a 15 minute wait, so Jon and I had a drink at the bar. He ordered a glass of wine, while I opted for a white sangria.

sangria at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack - a restaurant in San Francisco, California

I'm not even close to kidding when I say I think this is the best sangria I've ever had! It was sweet and light, and the beautiful flavors of the fresh basil and strawberries were astounding. We were off to a great start!

After we were seated, Jon and I were presented with some complimentary bread with oil and vinegar.

bread at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack - a restaurant in San Francisco, California

The spongy focaccia had a nice hint of rosemary to it, and was a great way to kick everything off.

For our first order of food, Jon ordered a dungeoness crab cake, I ordered  a small mixed greens salad, and we split the bocconcini balls.

salad at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack - a restaurant in San Francisco, California
fried mozzarella balls at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack - a restaurant in San Francisco, California

Jon thoroughly enjoyed his crab cake. My salad was simple, and nothing out of the ordinary, but I was needing some greens in my life, and this is exactly what I was looking for. The two of us went nuts over the bocconcini balls though - Deep fried, ooey gooey fresh mozzerella was wanderfully crispy on the outside and loaded with sensational herby flavors. Served with a house marinara and homemade ranch, they were absolutely fantastic!

After eyeing the size of an order of spaghetti at another table, Jon and I decided to split one for our last round of food (and he got meatballs on the side).

spaghetti at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack - a restaurant in San Francisco, California

And let me tell ya, there's a reason Emmy's restaurant is called the Spaghetti Shack! This was soooooo good. The thick, fresh, gummy noodles were beautifully soaked in a tart, citrusy tomato sauce and sprinkled with fresh parsley and a heaping amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese. This hearty dish was comforting, simple, and just wonderful.

It's safe to say this last minute change-of-plans dinner was one of our favorite meals (and one of the cheapest!) during our entire vacation!

(This is why it's good to make plans, but also be okay with changing them while on vacation based on where you're feeling you are right then in your life.)

The next morning began with more sightseeing, starting with Fisherman's Wharf!

Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California
Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California
Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California
Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California
Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California

The seals at Pier 39 are HILARIOUS. They sunbathe, and do synchronized swimming dances, and make the most ridiculous trumpeting barking noises, and we are kindred souls.

Ferry Building in San Francisco, California

After communing with my seal peeps, we headed to the Ferry Building to grab a picnic lunch, which we enjoyed at West Bluff Park.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

With arguably some of the best views in San Francisco, we were shocked to find that this park was not very busy or touristy at all! I DEFINITELY recommend doing this if you're ever in San Francisco.

And remember how I mentioned in my last post Jon's new passion for Insect Photography? Well...

West Bluff Park in San Francisco, California
West Bluff Park in San Francisco, California

^ Are you dying? I'm dying. Step aside, bugs!

After we'd finished our food and wine, we headed back to the apartment to get ready for the Giants game!

Pride was happening in San Francisco that weekend, and it happened to be Pride Night at the game, so I wanted to buy a rainbow scarf to celebrate! (and keep me warm, let's be real). We headed to Castro street, which was so alive and buzzing with happiness and rainbows, my heart burst into a million pieces.

Castro Street in San Francisco, California
Castro Street in San Francisco, California

There was also a really moving shrine to the victims of the Orlando shooting, which definitely brought me to tears.

Castro Street in San Francisco, California

After we walked around, and I had purchased my scarf, we headed to the game.

AT&T Park in San Francisco, California

AT&T Stadium - where the San Francisco Giants play - is GORGEOUS. With sweeping views over the bay, this is definitely the most stunning baseball stadium I've ever been to.

AT&T Park - the baseball stadium in San Francisco, California
veggie dog at AT&T Park - the baseball stadium in San Francisco, California
garlic fries at AT&T Park - the baseball stadium in San Francisco, California

A few years ago AT&T Park was rated by Peta as one of the Top 5 vegan ballparks. So there were plenty of options for this vegetarian! I went with a veggie dog (slathered in cheese), and I really really enjoyed it. We also kept seeing signs for garlic fries? (because apparently that's a thing in San Francisco?), so we ordered a side of them. They were very good, but very potent, and I'm pretty sure my pores were oozing out garlic for the next three days as a result.

(sorry to everyone I came within feet of.)

AT&T Park - the baseball stadium in San Francisco, California

The Giants won, and the game was awesome! It was a great way to spend our last night in San Francisco.

If you have the opportunity to go to Northern(ish) California, I strongly encourage it. Everything is completely surrounded by jaw-dropping natural beauty, there are so many things to do (WINE.), and lots of fantastic food options. By time we got back to Houston, Jon and I were already talking about what we were going to do on our next trip back!

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

^ Huh. There's that big red bridge again.

*All photos were taken by me with my iPhone, or by Jon with his Nikon.
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