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Travel in Tibet 3: Getting Ready for the Road Trip

In the early morning, it started to rain, heavily. Not really feeling myself,  I decided to stay in bed and let my mind and body fully recover from the  high altitude sickness.  ‘Did Xiayu go to the Potala place as planned?’ I was wondering, half-awake. She was already not feeling well last night, visiting the place in the rain would be really daunting…

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Around noon time, my energy finally boosted up. I decided to visit a well known local restaurant, Xueyu Café. By the time I sat down at the table and took a look at WeChat, my feed was already flooded with Xiaoyu’s pictures of the Potala Palace. I was surprised she went.   Hopefully, she was feeling ok. I messaged the whole group and invited them all to have a lunch here. In no time, Xiaoyu’s party, her sister in law and her best friend Caiyun, replied my message. They were joining me.  However, the moment they walked in the resteraunt, Xiaoyu started to feel nauseous. They went back to the guest house right away. Eating alone was boring, so I decided to wait a little longer. Happily,  Wucong and Dengfenglai joined me. We had the Tibetan yogurt cake, the barley cake, and the yolk meat. Honestly, the yak meat was bland, and a little disappointing, but the yogurt and barley  cakes were really good. After lunch, we went to Wucong’s buddy’s studio. Dengfenglai picked a pretty Tibetan costume and dressed up the way she had dreamed of doing.  In the full costume, Dengfenglai walked with me around the Sera Monastery, a well known place to watch lama debate.

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It seemed that Xiaoyu was down, so her sister in law stepped up and messaged the whole group to meet our drivers.  At the first sight of the middle man, I started to worry. He didn’t look like he could be trusted to me… the way he kept smiling at all of us was unnerving, but his eyes was not sending the same message…  I couldn’t help questioning his credibility. Anyway, I  just wanted to  follow the leader, make friends and relax.  I blocked my uneasy thoughts and started to chat with the newly arrived team mates: Chujian and Yujian. Chujian and Yujian were close friends who grew up together . Although they shared no blood relations, they looked like sisters, even twins.  Chujian had a boyish type of character, while Yujian was a very lady-like girl. These two seemed very likeable to me.

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The Fourth Day

Xiaoyu was out of the game.

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Jumping Into Local Culture: An Interview with Lauren Studen

For most people, travel is the perfect way to explore another place. No matter what the destination, travel affords us the opportunity to experience the local culture, to get out of our comfort zone and try something new and different. At the very least, it gives us a chance to step into another life, even if it is momentary.

Here at LeafCanoe, we love talking to other travelers and hearing about why they travel. Recently, we chatted with LeafCanoer, Lauren Studen, who writes about her travels on the blog, “Girl x Departure.” Lauren is a student living and studying in Istanbul, and writes about her experiences traveling abroad. She also has some great reviews of destinations and hotels in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and provides plenty of helpful tips and resources to get you started on your own travels. Lauren’s blog has been featured on other blogs, including Tripoto and Perrero Travel. She certainly has a lot to share when it comes to travel!

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In addition, Lauren has written several great leaves on the LeafCanoe app, including her most recent one, “15 Things to do in Bangkok.” In it, she shares her suggestions for temples to see and things to do, as well as the perfect place to get the best view of the city or the best street food. It’s a great leaf to refer to for anyone interested in a trip to Bangkok.

When we reached out to Lauren, we wanted to hear about what it that is she loves about travel, and how she experiences the local culture during her travels. Here’s a snippet of our interview:

When did you start to travel and get the travel bug?
I started traveling as a child due to my multinational background (my mom is from Poland and my dad is from Serbia), but I really got the travel bug after living a year abroad in the US at the age of 16.

What do you look for when you travel?
I love to get a sense of how the people actually live in their countries. I try to have a local experience by trying the country’s foods, exploring local spots and learning about their culture.

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How many countries have you visited, which one is your favorite and why?
I’ve been to probably 18 countries and it’s so hard to pick a favorite. I think I have to go with Thailand and Turkey. Both countries have amazing landscapes, the nicest locals and delicious food!

What’s the most amazing travel experience you have had so far?
I really loved flying in a hot air balloon over the otherworldly scenery of Cappadocia in Turkey, bathing an elephant in Thailand, swimming with dolphins in the Red Sea and living abroad in the US and Istanbul.

What leaves can we expect next from you?
Definitely leaves about my hometown Berlin and my current location Istanbul.

We loved the insight that Lauren gave us about experiencing as much of the local culture as possible. This is most certainly the best way to learn about any country that you’re visiting. Besides her leaf about Bangkok, Lauren also has a leaf called “10 Free Things To Do in Istanbul,” as well as “Things To Do In Cappadocia, Turkey.” In these leaves, she gives us plenty of helpful suggestions to experience Turkey when you’re on a budget, as well as beautiful pictures to fuel your wanderlust for travel. To read more about these leaves, check out our posts, “How to Explore Istanbul for Free” and “The Best Way to Experience Cappadocia.”

local culture

Ready to do your own exploring? Download the LeafCanoe app to get more ideas of how to experience the local culture in your next travel destination.

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A Food Lover’s Guide to Foodie Calgary

You may not know this, but Calgary has a booming food scene. The third largest city in Canada, Calgary has a population of over 1 million, and offers a variety of activities from shopping to museums, festivals to sporting events. The city attracts over 4.2 million visitors a year. One of the main draws to Calgary is its food scene, which has slowly been gaining an international reputation. Within Calgary’s downtown area alone, there are over 200 restaurants and dining spots to choose from!

LeafCanoer, migrantmuse, recently shared their tips on the Calgary food scene in their leaf titled, “Calgary’s Foodie Guide.” For a taste of what the city has to offer, here’s a food lover’s guide to experiencing foodie Calgary.

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Have a drink
If you’re looking to just whet your appetite, why not begin with a drink? Calgary offers plenty of drink options, both in the non-alcoholic and alcoholic variety. For a daytime drink, there’s Cru Juice, a juice store that sells cold-pressed raw juice. Another popular place is Gravity Espresso and Wine Bar, which offers high end coffee, as well as wine options. Some of the best places to find cocktails in Calgary are Model Milk, where you’ll find unique cocktails mixed with fresh juices and liqueurs, and the Oak Room, which is an old-school style Calgary bar offering weekly live jazz.

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Explore the Beltline
When you’re ready for a meal, head over to the Beltline, Calgary’s main restaurant area. Here, you’ll find places like Corbeaux Bakehouse, which offers French-inspired food, coffee, and pastries, as well as fresh-baked breads. Another restaurant worth visiting is Parc, which also offers French cuisine. This traditional style bistro has a nice selection of charcuteries as well as classic French dishes like steak frites. For more tavern-style dining, head over to Local 510. This is also a great place to hear live music.

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Go local
Locally sourced food has been growing in popularity in recent years, as restaurants and diners become more conscious about the environmental impact of their food. In Calgary, there are a number of restaurants that source their food and supplies locally. The Coup, which offers vegetarian cuisine, uses organic and local ingredients, and makes many of their dishes from scratch. The Beltliner also sources their ingredients locally, and offers a modern interpretation of classic diner food. In addition, Vero Bistro Moderne uses local producers and suppliers to create unique and creative variations of French and Italian cuisine.

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Go global
One of the benefits of Calgary being the third largest city in Canada is its global influences. Here, you can find cuisine from all corners of the world, from Asia to Europe. A popular place for pho, the classic Vietnamese noodle soup, is Golden Bell Saigon. And for Hong Kong-style food, many locals head to Calgary Court. Other popular international restaurants include The Himalayan, offering Nepali cuisine; Las Canaria, a casual dining establishment offering Spanish tapas; and Café Momoko, which focuses on Japanese cuisine.

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Go for comfort
If you’re more in the mood for comfort food, there are also plenty of options. LeafCanoer, migrantmuse, recommends 4th spot, which serves classic meals like burgers, tacos, and pastas. For pizza, many visitors to Calgary recommend Gaga Pizzeria, which offers fresh-baked pizzas, as well as homemade soups and sandwiches. For breakfast, a popular spot is OEB Breakfast Company, which has a variety of healthful and flavorful breakfast selections.

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Go high end
On the other end of the spectrum, Calgary has a large selection of critically acclaimed high end restaurants. Some of the top restaurants in the city, according to Calgary’s premier lifestyle magazine, Avenue Magazine, are Blink, Raw Bar, and River Café. Blink offers French-influenced cuisine, while Raw Bar serves Vietnamese-inspired dishes with a modern and creative twist. River Café, located in Prince’s Island Park, focuses on providing a unique dining experience in a unique setting. They offer a chef-created six-course tasting menu.

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Whether you’re looking to explore the local cuisine, or are in the mood to expand your palate globally, there is something for every taste bud in Calgary. This guide to foodie Calgary is just the beginning. For more information on some of these places to eat, check out migrantmuse’s leaf by downloading the LeafCanoe app.

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Thailand off the beaten path

Exploring Thailand Off the Beaten Path

The country of Thailand is known for its exotic beaches, delicious food, and thriving culture. Located in the center of the Southeast Asian peninsula, Thailand boasts a booming economy and attracts over 20 million tourists a year. In 2013, Thailand was among the top ten most visited countries, and one of only two Asian countries to have made that list. Tourism to Thailand makes up approximately 6% of the country’s economy. Clearly, Thailand is a popular travel destination, and the success of the country’s tourism industry has only made it easier for tourists to visit Thailand. But there is more to the country than beaches and food. Taking a moment to explore Thailand off the beaten path can open up a whole new side to what the Thai affectionately call “the land of a thousand smiles.”

Thailand off the beaten path
LeafCanoer cmlenny recently posted a leaf about Thailand called “Thailand in 10 Days.” Within the leaf are plenty of suggestions for seeing Thailand off the beaten path. Below are highlights from that leaf. A guide, so to speak, to experiencing a new side of Thailand.

Try the local street food
The best way to learn about a country is to try the local food. Thailand is known to have some of the best street food in the world. From cool fresh fruit to a hot steaming bowl of soup, Thailand’s street food is sure to surprise your senses and taste buds. A word of caution about street food, however. Always make sure your food is clean, and if ordering cooked food, make sure it is served piping hot.

Thailand off the beaten path

Go shopping at night
The seasoned traveler will tell you, one of the best ways to experience the local side of a country is to visit its markets. The Night Bazaar in the city of Chiang Mai is one such market worth visiting. Located near the Ping River, the Night Bazaar is known for selling handicrafts, jewelry, toys and artwork. If shopping at night is not your thing, you can easily check out the daytime markets, especially the floating markets just outside of Bangkok. The most popular floating markets are Khlong Lat Mayom, Damnoen, and Amphawa, all located around the city of Bangkok.

Engage in local beauty customs
One of the popular trends in Thai beauty as of late are fish pedicures. For a small fee, you can dunk your feet in a pool or tub filled with tiny fish. These fish feed off the dead skin on your feet, and after a long soak, you are left with smooth feet, and a feeling of refreshment and relaxation.

Thailand off the beaten path

Seek out the hot springs
Thailand has a number of national parks worth exploring and visiting. Within many of these parks are hot springs, which have become quite popular among the tourist set. After a long day of exploring, a dip in the hot springs is a well deserved reward for the weary traveler.

Meet an elephant
Getting to know the locals can extend beyond just getting to know the people. Animals are also worth getting to know. For a personal meet and greet with elephants, you can head out to the Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand. Here, visitors can see an elephant up close and personal, touching it and feeding it, while at the same time learning all about what goes into taking care of an elephant.

Thailand off the beaten path
With so many activities to choose from, it’s hard to pick one that really exemplifies Thailand off the beaten path. In actuality, the best way to explore a new country like Thailand is simply to get out into the country and try new things. In the end, these experiences are what will make your trip memorable and worthwhile.

For more ideas of travel and to read what other LeafCanoers have to say, download the LeafCanoe app.

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Touring the World with New York Restaurants

New York is a city known for its cosmopolitan feel. Home to people from almost every country in the world, a trip to New York can expose you to virtually any culture imaginable. A great way to learn about another culture is through food, and in New York, global restaurants abound, from small hole in the wall restaurants, to large five-star dining establishments. Leafcanoer travelfreak recently shared his top places to eat and drink in New York in his leaf titled “The Ultimate Guide to Eating and Drinking in NYC.” Here are some highlights from that leaf, to get you started on your own global tour of New York restaurants.

Caribbean Flair
El Malecon, located in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, has been serving up Caribbean food, particularly from the Dominican Republic, for over 30 years. The restaurant is famous for its rotisserie chicken, but diners also enjoy their mofongo, flan, and seafood. El Malecon prides itself on serving home-style food. For an introduction to Caribbean cuisine, El Malecon is a great starting point for New York restuarants.

New York restaurants - El Malecon

Authentic Yet Unconventional Chinese
Evidently, the best Chinese food is not in Chinatown, but rather, in Queens! Fu Run Restaurant in Flushing, Queens is famous for their traditional Chinese dishes originating from the Dongbei region of northern China. More rustic in style than the Szechuan style of cuisine typically found in most Chinese restaurants in the United States, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is the Muslim lamb chops. The rest of their menu offers a selection of dumplings, noodles, and rice dishes, as well as meats and seafood. Fu Run Restaurant has won critical acclaim from publications like Serious Eats and the Village Voice.

New York restaurants - Fu Run Restaurant

Discovering Central Europe
A trip across the bridge to Brooklyn takes you to Milan’s Restaurant, which serves up genuine Slovak and Czech cuisine. With dishes like Hungarian goulash and potato pancakes, patrons of Milan’s Restaurant love it for its hearty meals. Milan’s Restaurant also offers a selection of Czech and Irish beer. The restaurant also sells specialty Czech and Slovak grocery items, for those interested in stocking up their pantry with the flavors of Central Europe.

New York restaurants - Milan's Restaurant

Classic Vietnamese Flavors
Heading back towards Manhattan into Greenwich Village, you’ll find yourself at Saigon Shack for a taste of Vietnam. Most Vietnamese establishments are known for their pho, a hot noodle soup with star-anise spiced beef broth. However, Saigon Shack also serves up other classic Vietnamese dishes such as bahn mi sandwiches, spring rolls and summer rolls. On this culinary tour of New York restaurants, a stop at Saigon Shack is worth taking.

New York restaurants - Saigon Shack

An Italian Institution
For classic Italian flavors, head to Alleva Dairy, a New York City institution found in Little Italy. Priding itself on being the “oldest Italian cheese store in America,” Alleva Dairy has been in New York since 1892, and continues to be a popular spot for specialty Italian cheeses and meats. Though not actually a restaurant, Alleva Dairy does serve up a delicious selection of Italian sub sandwiches. The store is family owned, with its founder, Pina Alleva, having emigrated to the United States from Benevento, Italy. Many of the cheese recipes created by Pina are still in use today at the store.

New York restaurants - Alleva Dairy

With such a global selection of New York restaurants, you can virtually take a trip around the world without even leaving the city! Essentially, that is the wonderful thing about New York City. The city is so rich in global cultures, it’s easy to expose yourself to the world, just by walking around the city.

For more ideas about New York restaurants, check out more of travelfreak’s leaf, or download the LeafCanoe app to explore other travel destinations.

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Five Must-Do Activities in Taiwan

Known for its year-round spring time weather, Taiwan is a place that is rich in culture and history. Visited by millions of tourists each year, Taiwan is fast becoming a popular tourist destination. The country has a number of natural and man-made attractions that draw visitors to the island each year. LeafCanoer, Crooked Flight, recently posted a leaf highlighting Taiwan’s landscapes and culinary delights.  For those interested in visiting Taiwan, here is a more in depth look at five of Crooked Flight’s activities in Taiwan.

View the city from Taipei 101
Taipei 101 is known as the world’s second tallest building. Formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center, Taipei 101 stands 1,671 feet tall, with 101 floors and a design that can withstand earthquakes and typhoons. First opened in December 2004, Taipei 101 has both an indoor and outdoor observation deck that visitors can go to get 360 degree views of Taipei. Access to the observation deck is available year round from 9 am to 10 pm via a high-speed elevator.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 Building (photo credit: Eileen Cotter)

Indulge in a traditional foot massage
The practice of reflexology, or traditional foot massage, has gained in popularity across Asia. Made famous by a Swiss priest named Josef Eugster, this traditional Chinese and Egyptian therapeutic practice has taken hold in Taiwan. Taipei’s Minchuan East Road and Linsen North Road are lined with many foot massage parlors, and you can generally get a good price for a foot massage. After a long day of sight-seeing, it’s well worth the cost!

Reflexology

Traditional foot massage (photo credit: Eileen Cotter)

Stay the night in the Hello Kitty room
There is something oddly appealing about Hello Kitty. Created in Japan in 1974, the Hello Kitty brand has gained international popularity over the years among kids and adults, and the company is worth more than $5 billion a year. Hello Kitty holds a special place in Taiwan, where you can find a castle, maternity hospital, and restaurant all featuring the Hello Kitty theme. For any Hello Kitty lover, a stay at the Hello Kitty room in the Hi-Lai Plaza Hotel in Kaohsiung is a must. Decked out in Hello Kitty decor, a stay in the room includes breakfast with a real live Hello Kitty, and the opportunity to ride around town in a Hello Kitty car or bicycle.

Hello Kitty Room

The Hello Kitty Room at the Hi-Lai Plaza Hotel (photo credit: Eileen Cotter)

Experience traditional culture at Taroko National Park
Taroko National Park, located in the northeastern part of Taiwan, is one of nine national parks in the country. Established in 1986, the park was named after the Taroko Gorge. Taroko National Park is a popular place for biking or hiking. The park has a number of must-see spots such as the Eternal Spring Shrine, the Swallow Grotto, and the Water Sheet Cave. Taroko National Park is also a place to experience Taiwan’s traditional culture. Visitors have the opportunity to experience music of regional indigenous tribes several times during the year. And within the national park is a restaurant that serves up cuisine from the indigenous tribe of the region, the Truku.

Aboriginal Meal

Aboriginal cuisine (photo credit: Eileen Cotter)

Enjoy nature at Sun Moon Lake
With the distinction of being the largest body of water in Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake is a popular spot for tourists and locals to catch views of the sunrise and sunset. Visitors to Sun Moon Lake can arrange boat tours to experience the beauty of the lake from the water. In addition to enjoying nature, tourists can also learn about Taiwan’s traditional culture through dance and singing performances by the Thao tribe, the local indigenous tribe. These performances are incorporated into many of the boat tours.

Sun Moon Lake

Boats at Sun Moon Lake (photo credit: Eileen Cotter)

With so many activities in Taiwan for you to enjoy, the possibilities are endless. Whether you’re only staying for a few days or planning a more long-term visit, these five activities are a great starting off point for your Taiwan exploration.

For more travel inspiration and ideas, download the Leaf Canoe app.

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Sweet Escapes At Seattle Ice Cream Shops

Nothing makes you feel more like a kid than digging into a heaping scoop of ice cream. Molly Moon’s, one of the best Seattle ice cream shops, has been making people feel like kids since 2008, and shows no sign of stopping. With stores in six locations throughout Seattle, an ice cream truck, and partnerships with local businesses, Molly Moon’s has established itself as a Seattle institution.

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Molly Moon’s Ice Cream Shop in the University Village

A walk through Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, the site of Molly Moon’s first store, provides you with a glimpse of Seattle’s diverse character. Gasworks Park, a former gasification plant that has since become a city park, is a popular spot for spending a sunny Seattle afternoon. Beautiful views of Lake Union hint at Seattle’s nautical past. While the selection of restaurants, from American style diners, to Southern barbecue, to Japanese sushi, represent the various cultures that have made its home in Seattle.

Within this neighborhood is Molly Moon’s, whose mission is to bring joy to the people of Seattle through ice cream. With milk sourced from local dairy farms, and 90% of its other ingredients locally sourced as well, Molly Moon’s brings a touch of sustainability to its sweet treats.

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A selection of specialty toppings on display at Molly Moon’s

A visit to Molly Moon’s starts with selecting the right flavor of ice cream. Besides classics like Vanilla Bean and Melted Chocolate, Molly Moon’s also offers up unique flavors like Honey Lavender, Balsamic Strawberry, and Earl Grey. If you’re interested in taking some ice cream home with you, many of the flavors are available in pint-sized containers. Molly Moon’s also sells a selection of non-ice cream items such as specialty ice cream toppings, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and a cookbook with all their popular flavors.

Despite the ice cream trend being on the wane, Molly Moon’s is still going strong, with long lines going around the block on any given day. It’s not hard to see what the appeal is to Molly Moon’s. Their ice cream is tasty, and their flavors are unique and whimsical.

But there’s more to Molly Moon’s than just good ice cream. They partner with other business, like Hello Robin Cookies and Trophy Cupcakes, to expand their customer base and complement their ice cream with other sweet treats. They donate to local non-profit organizations who work towards ending hunger. They also treat their staff right, providing benefits and supporting staff in their creative endeavors. However you look at it, Molly Moon’s does a great job of making you feel good.

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Molly Moon’s famous logo

Molly Moon’s is not the only place to get ice cream in Seattle, even though it’s certainly one of the best. Here are three more Seattle ice cream shops worth visiting.

Bluebird Ice Cream
Bluebird Ice Cream has at least three locations in Seattle: Fremont, Phinney Ridge, and Capitol Hill. In addition to being an ice cream parlor, Bluebird Ice Cream also functions as a brewery, serving local beers along with their ice cream.  Bluebird Ice Cream partners with pie shops like Pie in Fremont and A La Mode in Phinney Ridge to serve up the perfect pie a la mode.

Cupcake Royale
Originally just a cupcake shop, Cupcake Royale has now started offering ice cream to go with their delectable selection of cupcakes. Cupcake Royale has locations throughout Seattle, including West Seattle, Ballard, Queen Anne, and Capitol Hill.

Full Tilt
Branded as an ice cream parlor and pinball arcade, Full Tilt serves up some unique flavors of their own, such as Thai Iced Tea and Ube.  Full tilt has new and vintage arcade games in their four locations throughout Seattle.  Offering beer in addition to ice cream and pinball, Full Tilt is a great meeting spot for gamers.

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The perfect scoop of Salted Caramel ice cream at Molly Moon’s

Need some more ideas of where to go in Seattle? Explore more of Seattle by downloading the Leaf Canoe app.

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Tastiest brunch spots in Manhattan

For such a bustling city like New York, the locals still have an affinity for taking things slow when they can. This is most prevalent on easy Sunday mornings, where many people take to the streets and local restaurants to indulge in a long and lazy brunch. This tradition is carried out by everyone – families order pancakes piled high with candied and syrup, while twenty-somethings often cure their headaches form the night before with unlimited mimosas often included with the meal. Each popular, famous or cozy establishment has its own personality, so it can be well worth the time for travelers to try a few on their next NYC visit.

Choosing a brunch style

It’s really an art form when it comes to eating out on late weekend mornings. Calling ahead for reservations is almost always advisable, due to its popularity all over the city. If interested in unique libations with a meal, ask about included drinks. Or, if trying to impress family and friends, decide on a spot that has a wide variety of selections and some memorable eats. Many establishment will also run specials during restaurant week or have daily deals online to sweeten the deal even more.

Top picks for brunch in NYC

Ilili – American-style brunch may be a classic choice, but sometimes travelers will want to stray from the norm. This stylish eatery offers delectable Lebanese cuisine that’s still include staples like eggs, but they are coddled and prepared instead with fresh spices and sides. Bunch deals also come with a standard mimosa, or guests can sip some tart pomegranate cava, or sparkling wine.

Back Forty West – People who hate making decisions should head straight for this restaurant. On weekend mornings, the pro chef presents a special tasting option that allows patrons to sample many delicious things on the menu at once.

DBDG – Here you can order a stack of pancakes, or go for a more lunch-like brunch, complete with juicy burger sliders and fries. Having a light dinner the night before can be best, as the not-to-be-missed prix fixe menu includes a basket of fresh pastries and a ice cream dessert to finish.

Cafecito Bogota We had to include a great Brooklyn spot as well, as this funky neighborhood as just as much to offer as Manhattan. With a decidedly Latin flair and three free refills on your brunch cocktail, this place more suited sapping stories form the night before than a tranquil meal. Savor poached eggs in passion fruit sauce with South American salami or any of the other filling options.

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