As travelers we all have things in common. One of the best, in my estimation, is the opportunity to sample foods all over the world. A meal away from home can be so delicious that you’ll remember it for years.
What makes a delicious meal even more memorable, though, is when you have it in a place where it’s totally unexpected…in a museum, department store or historic home, for example. Even a hotel restaurant can surprise me on a rare occasion since I avoid them because I find most to be mundane and unappetizing. I’d rather set out about town and find someplace that tantalizes all of my senses.
Here are 9 delicious meals I’ve had in 9 delicious, unexpected locations. Each is worth a detour if you’re ever in the area.
Feel free to add your own in the Comments section below.
A Spectacular Lunch in a Department Store
Three weeks ago in Berlin, my wife and I visited the KaDeWe department store, the most famous in the city. We were lured by their 6th-floor gourmet food hall which we wanted to compare to Harrod’s in London, as well as several others. KaDeWe turned out to be over-the-top and unlike any other – not only did it have almost any food you could imagine, it also had a dozen or so counter-style specialty restaurants (also some with tables) and several wine and champagne bars. Find the food you love here – boulibase, pasta, steaks, veal, wurst, soups, seafood, pork, lamb, vegetarian – and watch it prepared in front of you while you sip a glass of wine or champagne or beer. It’s a great place that the store doesn’t advertise. It can get crowded on Saturdays but the meal is well worth the wait. An incredible place to eat and cheaper than any good restaurant. We each had lamb ragout and a glass of very good wine for $52.
Tauentzienstraße 21-24, 10789 Berlin / Tel: 030 2121-0 http://www.kadewe.de/en/
Dinner in a Supermarket
Fairway Supermarket, New York City
New York’s Fairway Supermarket has a café restaurant on its second floor. It’s nothing pretentious — you have to walk up a fairly steep stairway from an entrance in the produce section out on the sidewalk — and it has metal chairs and tables with butcher paper for tablecloths and old brick walls. What really sets it apart are the food and the prices. A sign in its butcher department, which is fairly large and from where they get the meat you’ll be served, claims “we buy more prime beef than anyone on the planet.” For non-meat eaters there’s also poultry and fish. Order a la carte or choose one of its three prix fixe menus ($28, $33 and $44). Their wines are a good buy also.
2127 Broadway (at 74th St), New York / Tel: (212) 994-9555 http://www.fairwaymarket.com/cafe/
Breakfast In a Garden in San Miguel
Posada Corazón, San Miguel de Allende, México
On a visit to the Mexican hill town of San Miguel de Allende, we stayed overnight at the Posada Corazón, a very nice B&B right in the heart of the city. Although it occupies a fair piece of real estate if you didn’t have the address you’d never find it hidden behind the old walls. The morning after we arrived we walked over to the small dining area and opted to take breakfast out on the small terrace in the garden. The breakfast – eggs, homemade breads, fresh tomatoes, bananas, papaya, etc. – was delicious, made even more so by the unexpected beautiful surroundings, all hidden behind tall walls with a beautiful view of the church on the main square just a few blocks away.
37700 San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato Mexico / Tel: +52 415 152 2165 http://www.posadacorazon.com.mx/
Lunch In a Market in Madrid
Mercado San Miguel
Tapas are small hors d’oeuvres-type food you find in many Spanish bars and they’re quite varied and delicious. One afternoon while wandering about Madrid’s Plaza Mayor we turned a corner and stumbled upon the Mercado San Miguel, a great Beaux-Arts building inside which were dozens of tapas bars, pastry shops and paella shops. The crowd was a good mix of tourists and locals, which was great. San Miguel proved to be a luncheon gold mine, where you can have little meat, fish, cheese and vegetable tapas, washing them down with countless varieties of beers and wines. I heard it was great in the evening, as well. Bring your appetite.
Plaza de San Miguel, s/n 28005 Madrid / Tel: +34 915 42 49 36 http://www.mercadodesanmiguel.es/
Chinese “Home Cooking” at Its Source
Green Snow Restaurant / No. 8 Restaurant, Outside Lijiang, Yunnan, China
People in large houses in Yunnan Province in China have converted parts of their homes into restaurants, as they’ve likely done elsewhere, as well. On a tour of Lijiang a few years ago we stopped at one such home named the Green Snow Restaurant (local people called it “No. 8 Restaurant,” according to our guide). When we arrived we were brought to one of the small rooms away from the main house, which we found was usually the custom. It was March and a small coal-filled brazier had been set on the floor to ward off the chill. Along with our Chinese guide and driver we had a fantastic meal of beef, chicken and fresh vegetables, serenaded through the meal by recordings of “Only You” and other old hits by The Platters. There’s nothing like sweet-and-sour chicken served with a side dish of memory lane.
A Wonderful Pasta Lunch by the Lake
Albergo Butterfly, Torre de Lago, Italy
We stayed at a hotel along the Tuscan Coast of Italy a few years ago with our daughter and son-in-law. We had flown into Pisa and had two days to kill before driving to a villa we had rented outside Florence. I chose the Albergo Butterfly because of the cost (relatively inexpensive), it sat on a lake that was a sanctuary for rare birds and it was in the area where Puccini use to compose such works as Madame Butterfly. The small hotel was located on a tranquil pedestrian area, and as we sat alone on the terrace enjoying the view of the lake we had a delicious pasta lunch, “the best I’ve ever had in Italy,” according to our son-in-law.
Via Belvedere Puccini 24 / 26, 55048 Torre del Lago Puccini / Tel: +39 0584 341024 http://www.albergobutterfly.it
And Everyday an Almost Two-Hour Wait…
Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House, Savannah
Who would go to a restaurant in a city with many good restaurants and endure what you knew would be an almost two-hour wait for lunch? I did. Twice. And I’d do it again. Wilkes’ serves up its meals in a family-style setting at tables of 10 – macaroni and cheese, okra, succotash, green beans, rice, cream corn, fried chicken, corn bread, barbecued pork, black-eyed peas, rice and sausage, beef stew, collard greens, cabbage, noodles and peas, sweet potatoes, gravy, rutabaga, mashed potatoes, pork and beans, cucumbers in vinegar, and more – all you can eat for only $18 each. If you go you’ll notice that as people eat at your table, no one says a word. Afterwards no one can stop talking about the food. It’s that good. Lunch only.
107 West Jones Street, Savannah / Tel: 912 232 5997 http://mrswilkes.com/
Dinner in a Historic Home
Mansión Alcázar Boutique Hotel, Cuenca, Ecuador
The beautiful Mansión Alcázar is said to have belonged to Enrique Cordero, the first son of former Ecuadorian President Sir Luis Cordero, and we found that one is still treated like royalty there. Upon arrival we found rose petals strewn on and about our four-poster bead and that evening the entire lobby/courtyard lit only by candles as soft music played. Naturally, we opted to dine there – what hedonist wouldn’t after the candlelight- and rose-pedal treatment). For dinner we were seated in a small greenhouse where a brazier of glowing coals had been set to ward off the slight chill in the evening air. Then, after just three or four minutes, a maid came to our table and asked if we’d like to have our bed turned down, and hot water bottles put under the covers. We were only halfway through reading the gourmet menu and already felt like the King and Queen of Cuenca. PS – the food was delicious.
Calle Bolivar 12-55 y Tarqui, Cuenca Tel: 593 7 2823-918 http://mansionalcazar.com/en/
Dining Like an Austrian in a New York Museum
Café Sabarsky, Neu Museum, New York City
The Neue Galerie is a Museum for German and Austrian Art across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue. Inside is the superb Cafe Saborsky, a Viennese coffeehouse and restaurant that is really a bit of old Vienna in New York. Here you’ll actually feel you’ve stepped back into the Old World amid its beautiful carved wooden walls with ornate moldings, the chandelier hanging in the center of the room, the small marble tables and fireplace mantel. The food is quite good and I’ve found it to be a great place for breakfast and lunch. You’ll find many of the patrons here are from the local German-speaking community who read the local newspapers as they sip a Viennese coffee, or who return later for Spätzle, Bratwurst, Smoked Trout Crêpes and dozens of other delicious offerings for dinner, as well as some great Austrian wines.
1048 5th Ave New York (212) 628-6200 http://www.neuegalerie.org/cafes/sabarsky