Category Archives: Travel

When in Philadelphia…eat all of the vegan food

Greetings, folks! We returned yesterday from our eastern seaboard adventure. We decided to keep our summer vacation cheap and simple by visiting friends in Philadelphia. Driving the 13 hours and sleeping on our friends’ trundle bed proved to be the most fiscally efficient way to get out of town for a few days, and it made for quite the vegan adventure. Can I just say that I loved Pennsylvania way more than I anticipated? Largely this is due to the complete lack of research I did (I am a control freak and I plan our vacation itineraries to a T–but since we were visiting friends, I relinquished my inner control freak and got to do this crazy thing called “going with the flow”). The small amount of research I did do before we embarked on our journey was to scout out some restaurants along the way where we could pick up some filling vegan fare. Man oh man, did I luck out.

I didn’t take as many photos as I normally do on vacation, but what I lack in pictures I will try to make up for in vivid descriptions of the sumptuous fare I indulged in. Let’s start from the beginning: I packed a lot of vegan snacks for the road. Bananas, clementines, pumpkin clusters, cashews, and clif bars, oh my! Unfortunately that was where the healthy eating began and ended. I indulged in so much fatty delicious food that I fear it will take me a month to burn off all those excess calories. Point in case, I nearly croaked during my treadmill run today after my week of splurging.

Cleveland

Drew Carey would have you believe that Cleveland rocks, and while I can’t say definitively that it doesn’t, it was definitely the low point of our trip. We arrived in Cleveland at about 11:30 pm eastern time. We intended on waking up around 7 so we could make it to Cleveland Heights to grab breakfast at one of the few restaurants in the area that offers vegan breakfast substitutions, Tommy’s, but 7 turned into 8 and we didn’t hit the road til 9. By the time our not-so-trusty GPS navigated us to Cleveland Heights, it was already 9:30, and we didn’t exactly have time to linger over breakfast. We wanted to check out the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but breakfast took longer than we’d anticipated so we didn’t get to spend near enough time in the museum. I’d go back just to do the museum again, but there didn’t seem to be much else in town to warrant a second trip.

Tofu scramble with fruit and dry wheat toast at Tommy’s

The tofu scramble was okay but the broccoli was a little on the (monstrously) large side. It was a good, hearty breakfast before the second leg of our journey, though.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entrance. I don’t know what the plaque below the guitar said, but the building is sort of reminiscent of the Louvre, no?

The line for tickets was crazy long and we sped through the museum like it was our job. We picked up some collectibles on our way out (a shot glass for him, a pint glass for me) and were back on the road by noon.

Philadelphia

I expected Philly to be dingy and gross, thanks to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In fact, it wasn’t (at least, Center City wasn’t). The best part is how vegan-friendly this city is. Even the most carnivorous of restaurants has at least one vegan option, for the most part. I’m always surprised by that as I hail from a very un-vegan friendly suburb of Chicago. We arrived around 6:30 pm and immediately set out to one of our friends’ favorite restaurants, Wrap Shack. I ordered the vegan volcano on a spinach wrap (not pictured, due to my excitement and ravishing hunger) and DAMN was it delicious. Black bean hummus is apparently a thing, and a delicious thing at that. We shared a pitcher of Yuengling, which might not be a vegan beer, but I’m less anal about that. We needed a drink and we wanted to have an authentic ole time in Pennsylvania.

We wound up at several bars that night and drank all of the beer in sight. Center City at night on a Saturday is just lovely and we had a blast.

We ended up at a bar called BAR (insert hipster joke about how it’s so cool that you’ve probably never heard of it) where “pickleback” shots are the specialty. I was too chicken to try one but it’s just a shot of whiskey chased by a shot of pickle juice. Our more courageous friends tried it and said it was delicious.

Sunday was my birthday and we spent it at a Phillies game, followed by a trip to a few bars and brew pubs. Monday, both of our friends were working so we spent the hot-as-balls day in Old City checking out all the historical sights, including the Liberty Bell and Ben Franklin’s grave. But first! We went to Green Eggs Cafe, where I had the most delicious tofu scramble to date (not pictured) which was served with rosemary potatoes. I would go back to Philadelphia just for those potatoes. No joke.

We made a pitstop at an all-vegan pizzeria after touring Old City, which was kind of sketchy but hit the spot.

Daiya and seitan pepperoni pizza

Before leaving Tuesday morning, we stopped at Greens Eggs Cafe again and I had some delicious vegan french toast that rivals that of Herbivore in San Francisco.

This came with non-dairy whipped cream and strawberry deliciousness. (This one isn’t served with rosemary potatoes, so we shared an order, obviously.)

Gettysburg and Pittsburgh

We decided to stay in Pittsburgh on the way back to attend a Pirates vs. Cubs game. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but my boyfriend’s life goal is to tour every ball park in America. Every city we go to, we either attend a game or a ballpark tour if the team is traveling. We had great seats in left field, three rows up, and a home run was caught four people down in our row. So, I was even on TV! How’s that for exciting?

Before Pittsburgh, we stopped in Gettysburg for about an hour and toured the battlefield. It was interesting and I’m glad we made it there.

We didn’t have time for vegan food pit stops in Pittsburgh, aside from some game time food…

Don’t let the name fool you: these are just fries seasoned with Old Bay. We first discovered Old Bay seasoned food in Philly and apparently, it travels as far west as Pittsburgh. They serve the fries with a cheesey sauce that I obviously didn’t eat. I think I need to buy some Old Bay!

While we didn’t have a proper meal, we did hang out at a couple of bars after the game. Penn Pilsner is pretty delicious, I found out, and Iron City isn’t so much. As we were driving back to our hotel, we somehow ended up at a casino (my first time) and apparently, I’m pretty good at Roulette. We each decided to play with just $20 and we won $30. I said I’d never go to a casino but somehow, after a few drinks, I was convinced. When in Rome…

And that was that. Sweet home Chicago was ours for the taking again at around 4 pm yesterday, and I went back to work today. So much good food, so much great beer, and so much fun with friends. We can’t wait to travel again. It was a whirlwind!

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I left my heart in San Francisco

My 7 day trip to San Francisco felt like a time warp. I’m back to the good ole flat Midwest but it seems like I’ve been gone but a day. The vacation wasn’t nearly long enough and unfortunately, a few things we’d planned got cut from the itinerary due to inclement weather, a city that doesn’t open any of its doors until 9 am, and the unforeseen fatigue of climbing SF’s (in)famous hilly terrain. I certainly didn’t plan on coming home with blistered feet. I’m sad to say there are several restaurants we didn’t make it to and sights we didn’t see–but I guess that means we’ll just have to return…one day.

I wasn’t able to photograph every vegan meal I enjoyed, but here is the highlight reel. It was easy to come by vegan food when you knew where you were going, but unfortunately it was slim pickings near our hotel in Union Square. We took the BART to the Mission almost daily just to eat. The Mission was the land of tofu scramble, vegan french toast, soyrizo burritos, fried seitan, and more–oh! so much more.

Have you ever gone on a vacation and felt pure relief when you arrive home because you don’t have to eat out anymore? Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat out, and the vegan options were plentiful, and the food was delicious–but something about it just wasn’t my home cooking. Pre-vegan me¬†hated¬†cooking so this feeling is brand new to me. The seitan was too fried and the scramble wasn’t seasoned just right. Delicious, but I’m glad I can once again take control of my meals. All I want to do is go to the grocery store and pick up my essentials and get cooking!

Berkeley Vegan Pizza from ZPizza. This was one of the two nights that we ordered delivery because we were exhausted and it was late. Unfortunately, it seems that San Francisco restaurants do not stay open late so it wasn’t easy to order delivery past 9 pm. I found this very odd because we were in the center of downtown. It was nothing like NYC or even Chicago. I suppose that’s all part of the laid back California lifestyle.

While we’re on the topic of vegan pizza and delivery, we also ordered from Patxi’s Pizza. This was every bit as delicious as it looks. I don’t think even my own city could design such a delicious vegan Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I don’t think even I could! It’s now on my list of meals to tackle. We both really enjoyed this.

Herbivore, you slayed me with your delicious 100% vegan menu. We went to Herbivore for breakfast not once, not twice, but three times (a lady). We went to both locations–one in the Mission and one a block from Alamo Square. Pictured above is the combo breakfast–vegan french toast, vegan scramble, and potatoes–followed by the tempeh “BLT.” Both were absolutely scrumptious.

Vegan breakfast burrito from Sunrise Restaurant. This was my first (but not last!) soyrizo burrito. It was fabulous and hit the spot. This was not a fully vegan restaurant, so the boyfriend was able to order eggs. My coffee came with regular cream. I didn’t inquire about whether or not they had soy milk because I sincerely doubted it, so I drank my coffee black. It was strong, just how I like it.

Since we’re on the topic of burritos, let’s talk about Papalote. We went to the Mission location and this was, by far, the most delicious burrito I have ever had. It, too, was a soyrizo burrito, and their beans and rice are 100% vegan, as is their DELICIOUS salsa. It looked too creamy to be vegan but it was. Om nom nom. I almost died and went to heaven when I ate this burrito. The restaurant was small and reminded me a little bit of Chipotle, so I was shocked at how good and authentic it was. I would go back to SF just to eat at Papalote. No joke.

Our hotel was just a block from Chinatown, so of course we had to eat some delicious authentic Chinese. The SF Chinatown has the second largest Chinese population outside of China. We stumbled upon this restaurant by pure chance. On our way home from our Yosemite tour, I saw the sign–Loving Hut, 100% vegan. We decided to check it out after our Anchor Brewing Company tour. It turns out that this is a chain with several locations, so this might not be the last time I meet 100% vegan Chinese food! Pictured above is Thai “fishless” curry, spring rolls, and a vegan thai iced tea. I won’t lie to you, we were not sober when we ate here, so I can’t remember much about the food. The boyfriend really claims to have enjoyed his vegan burger, though:

The aforementioned brewery. Every beer brewed by Anchor is vegan, and you get to taste 7 following the brewery tour. The brewery is located near the Mission/Potrero Hill. It’s a hike to get to but totally worth it. I enjoyed every single beer. The tour reservations fill up fast and they’re currently booked through July, so if you ever make it to SF, make sure to book your tour well in advance.

This, my friends, was what I was the most excited for. This tiny little restaurant, called Dante’s Weird Fish, serves fried seitan with vegan buffalo sauce, vegan chipotle sauce, and vegan ranch. It was super fried but really hit the spot. It’s very small and we heard they get really busy at lunch and dinner time, so we made sure to stop in around 3 pm for a late lunch one day. It was fabulous. We also devoured a serving of vegan cheesecake, which I was too busy nomming to photograph. So. freakin’. good.

Other notable vegan eats: Ike’s Place, where I ordered the “meatless mike” and asked for it to be made vegan. They have a vegetarian menu and you can order any of the sandwiches vegan (with daiya cheese/vegan mayo/etc.). We waited in a long line out the door in unheard of 80 degree SF weather and then had to find a park to eat our sandwiches. We had to climb two extremely steep hills to get to Buena Vista Park. By that time, we were starving, tired, sweaty, and my sandwich didn’t look nearly as appetizing as it really was–so no photo for that.

It’s also worth mentioning that if you ever find yourself walking through the entire length of Golden Gate Park all the way to Ocean Beach, you can order a vegan veggie dog at the hot dog vendors. You’ll pay a ridiculous sum of $5, but if you’re extra nice, they might just cook it in clean water for you. You can also order veggie dogs at the Coliseum in Oakland, where we attended about half of an A’s game. Attending a baseball game at that stadium was very weird. I’ve never been to a Chicago ballgame that wasn’t totally sold out, but this place was so empty. Do they even have fans? (We would’ve seen a Giants game instead had they been in town this past week.)

It’s not easy to find vegan fare in Fisherman’s Wharf. Allegedly you can order a vegan potato at Hot Spud but I didn’t try. You can, however, get a free biscoff cookie at the Biscoff stand with any coffee purchase. The lack of vegan food was made up for by the sea lions, I s’pose.

The food court at Yosemite, however, does have vegan options–their menu tells you exactly what is vegan and exactly what is gluten-free. I was happy for that. After a day of hiking to the Sequoias and driving to all the vantage points, I was dying for some filling vegan food. I was able to get some tortilla soup and a vegan hummus plate with fresh veggies and pitas before the four hour bus ride home. Yum!

The city was beautiful and I certainly ate my way through it. Now it’s back to the grind.

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San Francisco, here I come!

This may well be my final blog post before I leave for my trip. Our flight is at 8:35 am at good ole Midway Airport on Saturday morning. This means we’ll be up at the sun-shiney hour of 5 am. Oh boy! I should be packing but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I am terrible at packing. I am usually terrible at planning for vacation in general. This time, however, I have researched San Francisco to the point of feeling as though I could legit pass a culture and geography exam. Yesterday I was so tired–my eyes were burning from hours staring at a computer screen just reading and reading for the past week. Did you ever study super hard for an exam in high school or college and then reach the point of no return? Where you still have, say, 2 hours before the exam, but you feel like your brain couldn’t possibly hold any more information so you decide to take those 2 hours to breathe and then just show up and wing it? That’s pretty much how I feel. I couldn’t possibly read another article about the city. I’m ready to go!

All it comes down to now is the whole packing thing. Tomorrow after work, I will be a busy bee. I have to drop off my beautiful little kitties at my parents’ house, which means they kind of get their own little vacation, and then it’s time to finish packing and then the waiting game begins. I will probably not get a wink of sleep, which is kind of a major bummer seeing as I find it impossible to sleep on planes–and then we’ll be gaining two hours. I imagine I’ll be feeling pure exhaustion by 5 pm Saturday. I probably should have planned a more lowkey day but I’m anticipating getting a second wind after we land. We plan on seeing Haight Ashbury, the Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Park, the remains of the Sutro Bathhouse, and nomming some delicious vegan cuisine at the very least on Saturday. We’ll see where else we end up. The real fun, and the part I’m most excited about, is our daytrip to Yosemite on Monday. It will be a long, long day. It’s really the whole reason we’re going to San Francisco in the first place. I’m a sucker for natural beauty and mountainous terrain.

I almost feel guilty for not working out at all this week, and I know I’ll feel extreme guilt when I indulge in delicious food and drink, but it should all balance out given the amount of walking we’ll be doing. We’re going to try to walk everywhere, except for through the gritty, seedy parts. There’s transit for that. Sore legs and tired feet, here we come!

I’m hoping to have lots to report on all the delicious vegan food I eat. I’ve pinpointed all the restaurants I want to try and, god willing, I should have some delicious-looking food pics when I return. Until then, stay classy!

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not a city girl

I am about to come across as the most privileged, most sheltered, most suburban, most ignorant white girl you may have ever heard. Consider yourself forewarned.

I want to preface this post by stating that I live in the far suburbs of Chicago. Some Chicagoans wouldn’t even consider my town a suburb, I’d venture to bet. I have lived here all my life. When I went to college, I went two hours south to a relatively rural location (comparatively). While I’ve lived 40 miles west of Chicago my entire life, I really don’t make it to the city much. I don’t have any friends who live in the city. For all intents and purposes, whenever I’ve gone into the city, I’ve lived very much the life of a tourist. Typical city day for us: ride the Metra to Ogilvie Station. Walk east. End up at Grant Park/Millenium Park/State Street/Michigan Avenue/Adler Plantarium/Field Musem/Aquarium. Grab lunch/dinner. Walk back to the train. Depart city.

Really, I can count on two hands the amount of times that I’ve entered the city and my experience differed from the above: sure, I’ve been to my fair share of Cubs games. I’ve been to Hawks and Bulls games. I’ve been to the Briar Street Theater. I’ve been to Union Park for Pitchfork. I’ve been to concerts at the Aragon, the Riviera, the Chicago Theater. But by and large, my Chicago visits have been to the same general area. Yes, there are homeless people in abundance. But there are always so many people on the street that I have never felt unsafe. Every morning I listen to the news on my way to work and every day, there’s been a new murder or 10. I keep hearing how our crime rate is increasing. The difference is I know not to go to the crime-ridden areas. Crime can happen anywhere but there are certain areas to stay away from, and I do. In short, I’ve never been in a situation where I really felt fear in Chicago.

I never considered myself so painfully suburban, however, until the past few days. I’ve been researching San Francisco, as we leave for our trip Saturday, and my eyes have been forced open. The crime rate in San Francisco is absolutely, frighteningly high. This is something I didn’t know until we were discussing our trip with my boyfriend’s mom and she made an offhand remark–“just be careful, San Francisco has an incredibly high crime rate.” When we left, we discussed her comment in the car. Was she serious? San Francisco, in my mind’s eye, is full of either a) peace-loving, 4/20-friendly hippie wannabes or b) incredibly successful businesspeople. I googled it. I found out that not only was his mom absolutely right, but our hotel–the hotel I was so excited about–was smack dab in the center of it all.

What’s funny about all of this is that I used to work at a publishing company that printed community guidebooks. I was promoted to staff writer and the first book I got to write was the San Francisco book. I did a lot of research, obviously. I never came across anything like what I’ve come across in the past few days…not that they’d want us to print “the truth” in a book targeting tourists and new residents, anyway.

When I booked my hotel, I knew the neighborhood I wanted. I didn’t want to stay in the Fisherman’s Wharf because I thought I was too cool to succumb to staying in an area so touristy. I was aiming for either the Haight or Nob Hill. The hotel I found was in Nob Hill (or so I thought)…it wasn’t until yesterday that I realized, in actuality, the hotel was in the “Tender Nob”–Lower Nob Hill, where Nob Hill turns into the Tenderloin. For anyone unfamiliar, the Tenderloin has one of, if not the, highest crime rate in the city. I’ve combed through blog posts and informative articles–and even seen photographic evidence–of hypodermic needles in the street, people exposing themselves and pissing on buildings in broad daylight. I found an interactive crime map. Behold:

That big red area is mostly comprised of the Tenderloin and Soma neighborhoods, but also bleeds into the Civic Center/Downtown/Chinatown/Union Square areas as well.

Needless to say, I started to feel really pathetic. Here I was, wanting an “authentic” San Francisco experience. I wanted (and still want) to take transit like a local instead of renting a car. I want to walk everywhere I can. I want to experience the city on foot because one of its hallmarks is its walkable, pedestrian-friendly nature. In my head, I had this idyllic vision that we would leave our hotel in the morning and pick a direction and just start walking. I’ve always refrained from carrying large purses when I walk around in the city for fear of being pickpocketted or mugged–but that’s Chicago. I didn’t think this would be like Chicago. I thought I could carry my big bag with my expensive camera and not worry about being bothered.

I never used to fear this. In fact, I visited Paris when I was 16 for a class trip and my mom made me buy one of those tourist wallets you wear under your shirt to keep your passport and money safe–and I thought she was ridiculous. I wasn’t once hassled in Paris, aside from a few gypsies in the Latin Quarter and a few bracelet-making African implants in Montmatre. By and large, even in a foreign country, I’ve just never really felt unsafe. And now I do. From the stories I’ve read, I’m just a little scared. The reason the crime spills into Downtown/Union Square is, in my assessment, because that’s where the majority of the hotels are located. Hotels = tourists = naive, vulnerable rich people. Easy targets. And I’m going to be one of them (except the joke’s on them because I’m flat broke!)

We’ve already switched hotels once but we’re still only about a block from that big red area on the map. I have half a mind to give up my original plan and pick yet another hotel in the Fisherman’s Wharf. I just don’t want to spend my entire vacation afraid. I don’t want to be afraid to walk back to my hotel at night. I don’t want to feel afraid on the Muni or the BART. I should have known, I guess, that this is the price you pay for staying downtown. Had I been smart, or rich, maybe we would’ve stayed in Sausalito and commuted into the city via ferry each day. But it’s too late for that now.

A city is a city is a city. I should’ve known. I remember being shocked at how many homeless people hung out near the touristy 16th Street Mall in Denver. I should have expected the same experience.

Sadly, I think I’m too suburban for this shit. My bark was much bigger than my bite. Here I go, tail between my legs, to peruse the Fisherman’s Wharf hotel listings once more…

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