Gallery: A guide to South American cocktails

Margaritas, Cuba libres, piña coladas and mojitos are drinks with Latin American origins that have become staples at bars across America. But what about the drinks being mixed up further south? Whether you want to know what to order up at the bar during your next trip to South America or you are looking for a way to raise the bar at home, these mixed drinks will leave you thirsty for more.

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Money in Ecuador: How far can $1 get you?

Ecuador is one place where a little money really does go a long way. Not only does the country use United States currency, but it’s amazing how many things you can purchase for just one dollar. Whether you are looking to drink an oversized beer at a pub or feast on 20 fresh bananas (just try to scarf them all down before they turn brown!), it comes as no surprise that Ecuador repeatedly makes the list of budget-friendly places to visit–as well as our top picks for adventure destinations in 2012.

Start the day with a cup of coffee–or four. Most cafes will give you your caffeine fix for 25 to 35 cents a cup. Just don’t be prepared to get Starbucks-style java: in Ecuador, coffee is usually a cup of hot water with some instant coffee served on the side for you to stir in. If that’s not up your alley, you can get a large party-sized cup of made-to-order juice for just a dollar at a fruterias, or fruit shop. They let you choose any mix of fruit of vegetables your heart desires, and no sugar or water will be added. Don’t be afraid to try a fruit you’ve never seen or heard of before, either: I tried guanábana, maracuya, naranjilla and tomate de arbol while I was there, and still find myself craving them all. On the other hand, if you simply prefer soda or bottled water, it’s also sold at a reasonable price: 30 to 60 cents depending on the size. Most of it comes in glass bottles, too-a fun game to play is to see how long your bottle has been in circulation; my record was a bottle that dated back to 1994.Being introduced to new flavors and climates doesn’t always agree with out bodies, but in Ecuador it’s no bother. If you are having altitude sickness, a stomachache, or a mild allergic reaction, just drop by a pharmacy where there is no need to buy a whole box of medicine-pills are sold individually and they’re usually cheap. Buy what you need, and if you don’t feel better the next day just come back for more. You can also buy a lot of medicines you would need a prescription for in the U.S.-but that’s a whole different story.

Getting around in Ecuador is cheap, too. A taxi will take you up to a mile for just a dollar, while the city bus will take you anywhere around major cities like Quito and Guayaquil for just 25 cents. Buses run all over the country, and as a general rule the cost is $1 per hour-making the uncomfortable 10-hour bus ride from Quito to the coast totally worth it.

As for food, you might not be able to get a complete dinner for a dollar–but choclo con queso, or corn on the cob served with a chunk of cheese, will hold you over for awhile. Some more familiar menu options for just a buck include pizza, fruit cups, and foot-long hot dogs, which are sold in parks and on streets from vendors. Just keep in mind that hot dogs are served with some unfamiliar options like mayonnaise, tomatoes, and crushed potato chips.

Drinking in Ecuador might be one of the best deals to be had. A large bottle of beer is just a dollar at many pubs, and if you search hard enough you might be able to find mixed drinks like cuba libres and rum and coke for the same price. Don’t leave the country without trying a canelazo, a traditional drink made with fruit juice and sugar can alcohol, served hot. And if you smoke when you drink, you can get a cute half-pack of ten cigarettes for just a dollar.

When it comes to souvenirs, a dollar can get you a few things. At Quito’s Mercado Artesenal, handmade bracelets, earrings, coin purses, and finger puppets can be picked up for a dollar or less. Take a short bus ride to the famous Otovalo Market, the biggest bazaar in all of South America, and you can get even better deals.

Although the deals sound great, take my advice: if you plan on visiting bring a roll of quarters and the smallest bills you can imagine. Nobody in this country seems to have change, and very often convenience stores would rather refuse selling you anything than change a $10 bill. The horror stores of cab drivers chastising people for using “enormous bills” when trying to pay a $3 cab far with a $5 bill are true-and if you find yourself with a $20 bill, be prepared to have a panic attack.

[Photos by Libby Zay and Andres Felipe Mena]

January is California Restaurant Month

california restaurantsAs a native Californian and longtime former Bay Area resident, I have to confess there’s no place like home when it comes to the American food/dining/wine scene (New Yorkers, feel free to sharpen your knives…).

California’s always been progressive when it comes to food and drink, from the early days of the vaqueros and Gold Rush-era San Francisco, right up to today’s never-ending parade of talented food artisans, chefs, farmers, and mixologists. It’s only fitting then, to feature a California Restaurant Month.

In January, the second annual statewide celebration is back and better than ever. Presented by Visit California, nearly 30 destinations across the Golden State are creating special restaurant week or month-long promotions and deals, including celebrity chef, prix fixe, and wine pairing dinners, and a series of “Dine and Drive Itineraries” that map out the culinary and scenic highlights of specific regions. Included are “Wine Country Fresh,” “Food Lover’s Classic Coast Drive: San Francisco to L.A.,” and “A Taste of San Diego.” Participating regions for events include cities and counties throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Coast, and Northern and Southern California.

If you’re worried about the calories, California Restaurant Month also offers travel tips on where the best skiing, surfing, hiking, and other outdoor activities are to be found, regardless of your itinerary. And that’s the thing about California. As my dad always said, “What other state offers so much diversity?” Whether bagging peaks, scuba-diving, camping in the desert, or having a blow-out shopping spree is your thing, California’s got it.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Stuck in Customs]

New restaurant in Mexico City combines unique architecture and experiential dining

tori-tori restaurant in mexico city Tori-Tori, a new Japanese restaurant located in Polanco in Mexico City, Mexico, has recently finished completion. The project began in 2009 as a joint venture between the Mexico-based firm rojkind arquitectos and the design company Esrawe Studio, with the aim to create a unique contemporary space.

While the restaurant serves Japanese cuisine, the ambiance is more cosmopolitan than many other Japanese restaurants on the market. Imagine an interior full of open spaces, a bar, and terraces that always keep the guest close to natural vegetation.

The inside is actually an extension of the outside, where the facade seems to grow organically from the ground in a mass of steel ivy. You can see through to the restaurant and vice versa, and the pattern on Tori-Tori’s outside controls the ambiance on the inside by filtering light, shadows, and views.

As for the food, guests can expect an array of options, including salads, curries, pastas, fish dishes, beef, chicken, sushi, sashimi, nigri, and more. For more information, click here. Or, to get a better idea of the design of Tori-Tori, check out the gallery below. All photos are courtesy of photographer Paúl Rivera.

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Vegan meets soul food at Souley Vegan in Oakland, California

souley vegan brings comfort food and vegan food togetherCraving the comfort of southern style cooking but don’t want the meat? Or maybe you just want a healthy option to soul food? Souley Vegan in downtown Oakland, California, can provide you with exactly what you’re looking for.

Owner Tamearra Dyson, a vegan since she was 16, grew up eating soul food. Her goal was to adapt the food that she loved into a healthy, vegan alternative that everyone could enjoy. According to Casey Capachi of OaklandNorth.net, some of the menu items include BBQ tofu, vegan macaroni and cheese, potato salad, cheese-less cheesecake, and yams baked with agave and organic raw sugar. They also have a Cayenne Lemonade, a tasty southern-themed cocktail.

Souley Vegan is located at 301 Broadway at the intersection of Broadway and 3rd in downtown Oakland, California.