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11 spots for great sushi in Bend, Oregon

June 1st, 2017

For some, it’s weird to imagine finding good sushi in a landlocked city nearly 200 miles from the nearest ocean.

But you don’t just find good sushi in Bend—you find AMAZING sushi in at least 11 different places around town. And I made it my mission to dine at every single one to ensure I’m giving you a fair and balanced overview. (Related: My job does not suck).

Here—listed from north to south—are 11 fab places to find sushi in Bend, Oregon.

 

Shinsei Sushi

Since I’m a longtime resident of northeast Bend, Shinsei Sushi is my go-to spot for quick takeout on my end of town. They have an impressive selection of not just sushi, but also yakisoba, stir fries, lunch specials, and more.

Blogger Tawna enjoys takeout sushi from Shinsei while her thieving cat lurks nearby.

But it’s the sushi that pulls me in, and I almost always pick from the day’s selection of specials. There are typically three, and it’s a great way to try something new and so-fresh-it’s-still-flopping.

The Bachelor Roll is my personal fave, made with real crab, avocado, and cucumber, then topped with fresh tuna, fresh salmon, and unagi sauce. Their spicy tuna rolls are also excellent.

The sushi chefs here offer the warmest greeting in town, with shouted hellos as you enter and a cheerful chorus of thank yous as you depart.

Chi Chinese and Sushi Bar

This restaurant on the edge of the Deschutes River made my list of 11 great spots for river view dining in Bend, so there’s more than just great sushi to be had at Chi Chinese and Sushi Bar.

Enjoy cocktails and sushi with a river view at Chi.

The happy hour here is one of the best in town, and their creative cocktail menu makes it tough to choose just one (so don’t pick—order both The Emperor and Mr. Chu and share with me!)

Not just a sushi joint, Chi offers traditional Chinese fare with a gourmet flair. They also have some pretty cool river views from the outdoor patio. If the weather isn’t great, their indoor dining room is also quite lovely (and for some reason I’m especially fond of the bar seating).

My favorite roll is the Last Samarai, which is made with tempura jalapeño, unagi, asparagus, butterfish tempura fried, then topped with spicy salmon poke, soy infused tobiko, and unagi sauce. Yum!

 

5 Fusion & Sushi Bar

There’s a reason Chef Joe Kim of 5 Fusion has racked up multiple James Beard nominations (sorta like the Oscars of the culinary world). Actually, there are many reasons, and many of them can be found on the sushi menu.

The cool overhead water feature at 5 Fusion is one of many reasons to make sure this hip dining spot is on your list.

5 Fusion offers an eclectic mix of creative fusion dishes, mouthwatering sushi rolls, and plates that will appeal to non-fish-loving members of your party (order them the filet mignon lollipops for your sushi-skeptic uncle and watch him start to drool).

Besides amazing food, 5 Fusion boasts a stunningly beautiful dining room space with a unique water feature on the ceiling. They also have an incredible happy hour, which makes this a great spot to get your evening started before you spend a night strolling Downtown Bend.

Enjoy more tastiness from chef Joe Kim with a noodle bowl from Ajii.

Keep an eye out for their regular charity dinners, which are a great way to score a fabulous multi-course meal while supporting great local causes.

Sidenote: Though not a sushi spot, it’s worth mentioning the brand new Ajii Asian Kitchen in Bend. It’s owned by 5 Fusion’s Joe Kim, but offers a much more casual dining experience than 5 Fusion. Noodle and rice bowls abound, and prices are super-affordable. The food is hearty, nourishing, and delicious, and it’s a great lunch stop for families who love the simplicity of a one-dish meal.

 

Kanpai Sushi & Sake Bar

When my sushi-loving sister-in-law visits from Seattle, Kanpai Sushi & Sake Bar is always on her shortlist of restaurants to hit.

Yummy sushi at Kanpai.

Small and cozy with a sunny outdoor patio, the sushi is always super-fresh, and the sake is plentiful. Sushi superfans will find plenty to choose from here, and they boast an impressive wine list to boot.

If you’re a sushi newbie who’s not super-adventurous just yet, try ordering their sushi combo that includes three nigari, sashimi, half a California roll, and a spicy tuna roll. It’s a great way to get your feet wet if you can’t decide what to order.

Personally, I adore the Orgasm Roll (and not just for the name). It’s made with tempura unagi, crab, and cucumber topped with avocado, creamy scallops, tobiko, and sweet soy reduction. So tasty!

 

Sora Sushi Restaurant

The newest newcomer to Bend’s sushi scene, Sora Sushi Restaurant has the added bonus of offering our city’s only sushi train (ie. the sushi conveyor belt that provides a rotating roundup of delectable sushi you can grab as it goes by).

Checking out the sushi train at newcomer Sora Sushi.

The visual appeal of the conveyor belt makes this a great place to bring kids, and my stepdaughter loves seeing her options roll past so she can snag what looks yummy. The prices are good, too, with a handy pricing structure that lists the price of the dish according to the color of the plate.

There’s a regular menu, too, plus a popular happy hour seven days a week. But if you’re in a hurry, sit at the conveyor belt and grab what catches your eye. Save a little room for one of the tasty tiny dessert bites you’ll see rolling past.

 

Juno Japanese Sushi Garden

Another sushi newcomer in Bend, Juno Japanese Sushi Garden is the smallest, coziest restaurant in the roundup. But don’t let the size fool you (and don’t let the “reservation only” signs on the door scare you. While it’s true you’ll need one on busy nights, there’s a good chance you can stroll in and make a reservation on the spot if you show up on a slower night).

Enjoying fresh, flavorful sushi in the dining room at Juno.

The restaurant is the baby of Michi Nakanishi, a native of Kyoto, Japan who moved to Bend at 17 and worked in three different sushi spots around town before starting her own. Focusing on “true Japanese food,” the menu is small but mighty (tasty).

Everything they offer tastes unbelievably fresh, and the interesting addition of mild jalapeño peppers gives many of the rolls a refreshingly bright pop. The El Sancho roll was my personal favorite, with soft shell crab, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, avocado, and lettuce. Also outstanding was the Ninshi Jin (a “non-everyday special” made with seared albacore, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, mango, avocado, and cucumber).

And if you’re looking for a unique appetizer, try the Cream Corn Korroke, which is a deep fried potato and corn croquette covered in panko bread and served with the most delectable sauce imaginable. Top it off with a small carafe of sake, and you’re good to go!

 

Mio Sushi

Located in the Old Mill District, Mio Sushi is one of my favorite spots to drop by with my stepdaughter for a kid-friendly sushi lunch. She loves the mango iced tea, and I love the fact that the menu spells out very clearly what’s in each roll (and what non-sushi options are available if she isn’t in the mood—she swoons for the tempura!)

Blogger Tawna at Mio Sushi with stepdaughter Violet.

This is also home to one of my favorite sushi rolls in town, the Bubble Bubble. Made with avocado, tobiko, salmon, and ikura, it’s topped with the thinnest, most scrumptious slices of fresh lemon you can imagine. Trust me when I say the lemon adds a whole new dimension to the dish that’ll have you ordering it again and again (and possibly commanding your husband to swing by on his way home from work to grab a double order—what, that’s just me?)

Bonus: Coming here will give you a great excuse to stroll the Deschutes riverfront and check out the cool shops in the Old Mill District. Not that you need an excuse.

 

Okawa Japanese Steak House & Sushi

I made my first visit to Okawa Japanese Steak House & Sushi quite recently, and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. The former home of Outback Steakhouse, this expansive restaurant is much more than a sushi joint. It’s a hibachi grill where the entertainment value from the chefs is every bit as awesome as the food.

Don’t miss the sushi at Okawa, but also make sure you order a hibachi meal cooked right at your table.

Make sure at least one member in your party orders a hibachi dish, and that you request a seat next to the grill. Be prepared for an acrobatic display of tool flipping and flames, not to mention a tasty and hearty dish. Also be prepared for leftovers, as these meals are HUGE.

If you’ve come for the sushi, you won’t be disappointed. The menu boasts some of the most creatively-named rolls in town, including the Stinky Roll (spicy crabmeat, asparagus, and avocado inside Cajun albacore and topped with garlic ponzu sauce), and the One Night Stand roll (spicy tuna, asparagus, and avocado, topped with seared salmon and served with basil sauce).

Expect to see a few rowdy groups of birthday parties or girls’ night gatherings. Better yet, schedule your own.

 

Tomo Sushi

A locals’ favorite on the south end of town, Tomo Sushi is best known for offering half-priced sushi on Mondays from 4 to close (sorry, no to-go orders, and wait times can be long).

But paying full price won’t break the bank here anyway, as the sushi and non-sushi dishes are all reasonably priced and plentiful. The ambiance is surprisingly cool and funky, and the cocktail menu is impressive.

This is also another kid-friendly spot where you won’t get dirty looks for bringing in youngsters who haven’t fully mastered chopsticks.

Try the Back in Black roll with tempura shrimp, avocado, and spicy tuna, topped with blackened tuna, spicy aioli, unagi sauce, and spicy masago. And scope out their selection of local beers on draft, which make a nice accompaniment to many of the sushi rolls.

 

Grocery store sushi

I know, I know . . . there’s a stigma that comes with grocery store sushi, and it’s not great.

But trust me when I say there are two spots worth a second look, especially when you’re seeking an on-the-go sushi meal to take with you on a picnic or a day drive from Bend.

Customers survey the selection at Market of Choice on $4.99 Sushi Wednesdays.

The first is Newport Avenue Market, which is a local favorite for fresh, gourmet ingredients and unique grocery items you won’t find in other stores. Their sushi is made fresh daily, and ranges from tempura rolls to sashimi balls to specialty rolls. My favorite perk is the fact that you can always find rolls made with brown rice, which adds a nutty flavor and unique texture I find appealing.

Another good grocery store option is the new Market of Choice on Bend’s west side. They have an on-site sushi kitchen, and a surprisingly good (and well-priced!) variety of rolls to pick from in their deli case. But the best deal of all is their $4.99 Sushi Wednesday special, which offers up to 10 varieties for $4.99 all day each Wednesday. Just look for the special red Sushi Wednesday sticker.

6 things you must eat or drink in Bend, Oregon

May 11th, 2017

Visiting a new city always sends my inner foodie into a frenzy, a fact I rediscovered last week when traveling to Barcelona. It’s not enough to know that I must try paella. I must find the absolute perfect spot to enjoy the classic paella experience with views of the cathedral and maybe a flamenco guitarist serenading me while I eat.

Figuring out a region’s signature dishes and the best place to enjoy them can be exhausting, I’ll admit. So I’ve helped you get rid of the guesswork with these suggestions of dishes and drinks you absolutely must add to your Bend bucket list.

Grab a burger at Dandy’s or Pilot Butte Drive In

Bend is home to a zillion amazing hamburgers, and I blogged about 12 of them right here.

Dandy's-Bend-Oregon

Servers on roller skates have been delivering burgers right to your car at Dandy’s 1968.

But if you’re seeking the quintessential Bend burger experience, I suggest you try one of two places.

The first is Pilot Butte Drive In. Located next to Bend’s iconic Pilot Butte State Park, this cozy little diner has been a Bend landmark since 1983. You’ll find tasty goodies like homemade malts, scrumptious steak & eggs, and of course, a delicious variety of burgers.

My personal fave is the Ortega Cheeseburger, piled with grilled mild green chilis and melted jack cheese with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Go inside and grab a cozy booth by the fire, or park and order from your car for a true drive-in diner experience.

And speaking of the drive-in experience, that’s the specialty at Dandy’s Drive-In. This nostalgic little burger joint has operated in Bend since 1968, with servers who arrive on roller skates to take your order through the car window. Don’t expect a lot of frou-frou condiments and crazy toppings here, but do expect a darn good traditional burger.

The Dandy Deluxe is a standard burger with the addition of cheese, tomatoes, and special sauce. It’s deliciously drippy and extremely satisfying, especially when paired with an old fashioned Cherry Slice and an order of their to-die-for onion rings.

 

Eat the sourdough scones at Pine Tavern

One of the oldest restaurants in Bend, Pine Tavern has been operating since 1936. The name hails from the two ponderosa pine trees (one living, one not so much) that jut up through the center of the restaurant.

Bend’s iconic Pine Tavern is a great dining spot to have on your bucket list.

But even more than the trees, what Pine Tavern is best known for are its sourdough scones with honey butter. Fluffy and light and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, they’re paired with homemade honey butter that will leave you swooning at your table. Be forewarned that the scones are only available with dinner, so don’t show up at lunch expecting to order them.

But dinner is a great time of day to be there anyway, especially if you can nab a river-view table on their patio. Their meatloaf is especially tasty, as is their classic prime rib. Plan on taking home a doggie bag after you’ve filled up on those scones!

 

Grab a beer at Deschutes Brewery

Beer fans trekking the trail of suds along the Bend Ale Trail will debate furiously over which of the 15 breweries has the best beer.

Deschutes-Brewery

Grab a taster tray at Deschutes Brewery and discover where Bend’s beer revolution began.

But one thing that’s not up for debate is who started it all. Deschutes Brewery is the granddaddy of Bend’s beer scene, establishing the first Bend brewery in 1988 and eventually growing to become one of the nation’s largest craft breweries.

These days you can nab a table in the very same pub where the first beers were brewed, ordering a taster tray that includes originals like Black Butte Porter and Jubelale as well as seasonal selections and nitro brews available only in the pub. Pair your brew with a tray of tasty hot wings or one of their scrumptious salads to make it a lunch or dinner affair.

Honorable mention: While there’s no question Deschutes kicked off Bend’s beer scene, Bend Brewing Company wasn’t far behind when they opened their doors in 1995, making them the city’s second oldest brewery. It has the vibe of a friendly, cozy local watering hole and a darn fine meal menu. Order a pint of Ching Ching or Elk Lake IPA, along with their scrumptious sriracha seasoned cauliflower or a steak and spinach salad.

 

Devour a Nacho Mountain at Mt. Bachelor

If your visit to Bend includes a ski day at Mt. Bachelor, no trip to the mountain is complete without a Nacho Mountain at the Clearing Rock Bar.

The Bloody Marys at Mt. Bachelor are almost as legendary as their Nacho Mountain.

This legendary, culinary treat is made with your choice of chipotle chicken tinga, hearty beef chili, or smoked pork. That’s piled atop a hearty plate full of chips, cheddar-jack cheese, fresh tomato, olives, sour cream, cilantro, jalapeños, and red salsa.

Pair it with one of Mt. Bachelor’s famous bloody marys or a local brew for the ultimate après ski treat.

 

Savor an ice cream sundae at Goody’s

Goody’s Chocolates has been Central Oregon’s go-to sweet spot since 1984, and now boasts several locations that manufacture a whopping 20 tons of chocolate a year.

Belly up to the old-fashioned soda fountain at Goody’s for a taste of nostalgia with your ice cream treat.

But it’s their ice cream that holds the most nostalgic qualities for folks who’ve been vacationing in Bend and Sunriver for decades. Grab a waffle cone brimming with creamy Oreo cookie goodness to enjoy as you stroll to nearby Drake Park, or park yourself at the counter to share a banana split with your favorite family member.

They also have an old fashioned soda fountain serving up treats like phosphate sodas and egg creams, plus an impressive array of candy you can buy by the pound.

 

Salmon and steelhead and trout, oh my!

When people ask about local cuisine in the Pacific Northwest, my first thought always jumps to fish. Salmon, steelhead, and trout make appearances on plenty of local menus, each prepared in uniquely Central Oregon style. Three spots with the most Bend-esque flair for fish dishes include Greg’s Grill in the Old Mill District, 900 Wall in Downtown Bend, and Ariana Restaurant just outside the Downtown zone.

One of several great spots to feast on fish in Bend.

The latter (Ariana) gets an additional shout-out as a foodie’s paradise with oodles of critical acclaim. Named one of the top 100 restaurants in America by Open Table, they boast an impressive wine list and classic European dishes mixed with specialty Northwest cuisine. Try their rainbow trout with pan-roasted, smoked fingerlings, sauce gribiche, and dill oil, and prepare to be blown away.

 

5 places to dine outside when the weather’s chilly in Bend

March 9th, 2017

Outdoor dining in Bend is as common as craft beer, golden retrievers, puffy jackets, and Subarus loaded with bike gear.

In other words, no Bend vacation is complete without a few of those things.

While patio dining with a river views is a hallmark of summer, and noshing next to a fire pit is a quintessential winter experience, what about those in-between times when the weather is less-than-ideal?

No worries! Here are 5 places you can eat outdoors even when the weather outside is frightful.

 

McKay Cottage

One of Bend’s most popular breakfast spots, McKay Cottage is famous for its scrumptious hashes, delectable croissant-style French toast, and melt-in-your-mouth bacon.

Snuggle up in a blanket with a mini fire pit in the center of your table at McKay Cottage.

The aforementioned popularity means wait times on weekend mornings can be long, especially in mid-summer when everyone’s jockeying for spots in their sunny outdoor courtyard.

But in fall, winter, and spring when temps are chilly and outdoor dining isn’t at the top of most folks’ to-do list, you can skate right to the front of the waiting list by requesting one of those patio tables.

The tables boast gas fire pits in the center, and your server will cheerfully bring you a stash of blankets to help ward off the chill.

Bundled up in your blankie, you can order tasty belly-warming favorites like the Hoodoo Hash made with golden-brown sweet potatoes, all-natural prime beef brisket, caramelized onions, roasted peppers, Grafton Village smoked cheddar, poached eggs, and house-made hollandaise. It’s served with a homemade butter scone and fresh fruit and is huge enough to split or to package up for leftovers the next day.

 

Sunriver Brewing (Galveston Pub in Bend)

It’s a fact that craft beer tastes better outdoors, and few pleasures rival the experience of sipping a pint next to a fire pit at your favorite stop on the Bend Ale Trail.

Have you ever eaten dinner inside a covered bridge? You can do it at Sunriver Brewing’s Galveston Pub.

But for a truly unique outdoor dining experience at a brewery, check out the Sunriver Brewing Company’s Galveston Pub in Bend. Their indoor space has an industrial vibe and garage doors that open up in summer, while the outdoor space has a fab fire pit to keep you toasty.

But best of all is what’s adjacent to that fire pit. It’s an incredible replica of the Shevlin Covered Bridge, with a spacious row of tables inside. The space is kept toasty warm with heat lamps, and open to the elements on either end.

Bonus: On chilly nights, there’s usually a shorter wait-time for spots inside the bridge than there is for an indoor table.

Double-Bonus: The kids’ menu here is one of my faves, with entrees like mini hand-dipped corndogs, pulled pork sliders, mac & cheese, chicken strips, and more. Each comes with your choice from a list of sides that includes fresh fruit or cold veggies with ranch dip (a great way to make sure the young’uns are eating healthy).

Triple-Bonus: Pineapple poppers made with pepper bacon-wrapped pineapple, queso fresco, jalapeños, and burgundy reduction. Need I say more?

 

The Lot

For the crème de la crème of outdoor dining in Bend, look no further than The Lot.

So many tasty (and cozy!) dining options at The Lot.

This one-of-a-kind eatery offers a unique spin on the food cart pods you find in many cities. A cluster of culinary trailers surrounds an open-air seating area with built-in tables, heated seats, and overhead heaters that keep the space nice and toasty.

There’s a bar with 16 tap handles, and plenty of space for families, dogs, or a group of pals to hang out. They’re open seven days a week, rain or shine, and can keep you toasty even on the chilliest days.

The food carts themselves offer a huge variety to choose from.  A La Carte is my personal fave, with unique creations like their gorgonzola bacon fries, a mouthwatering array of tacos, and their famous mint lemonade. The winter months bring out their scrumptious lemongrass and coconut milk clam chowder, which is TO DIE FOR.

 

10 Barrel Brewing

As I said before, many of the stops on the Bend Ale Trail have fire pits, but the one at 10 Barrel takes the prize for size and flexible seating.

The massive fire pit is the centerpiece of the courtyard at 10 Barrel.

You can fit a buttload of beer drinkers around it without feeling too crowded or giving up privacy. I’ve enjoyed countless romantic beer outings here with my hubby on the wide bench seats that allow us to snuggle up and tune out the other people around us.

Of course, if you feel like being social, it’s also a good place to chat up your fellow travelers or locals coming down from a long day on the slopes. There’s room enough for everyone!

Tip: Study the menu closely for their awesome suggestions on which beers pair best with each dish. Also, their pizzas here are OUTSTANDING.

 

Kebaba

Okay, so what if it’s really lousy outside? Like snowing sideways with winds gusting hard enough to make even semi-open-air dining impossible.

The outside of Kebaba’s enclosed sun porch.

What you really need is a way to dine in a clear plastic bubble, complete with heat lamps, heated benches, and beautiful views of the outdoors. But where would you find such a thing?

At Kebaba, of course!

This charming little Middle Eastern bistro features mouthwatering kebabs, babaganoush, gyros, schwarmas, and hands-down the best hummus I’ve ever eaten (seriously—I don’t even like most hummus, but I once drove across town in a snowstorm at rush hour just to get my hands on theirs).

Tasty lunch from inside the Kebaba bubble.

But back to the plastic bubble. The whole restaurant is situated in a charming craftsman bungalow, and the bubble is essentially a sun porch screened in with clear plastic panels. You still get the charm of outdoor dining and views of their pretty courtyard, but you stay nice and toasty and dry.

My favorite dish here is the karnabeet, which is a cauliflower dish that’s simply out-of-this-world. Their lunch plates are affordable and flavorful, or come for dinner and scope out plastic bubble dining with the magic of twinkle lights around you.

 

 

 

10 ways to make the most of Zwickelmania 2017

February 23rd, 2017

For as long as I can remember, Oregon’s statewide celebration of craft beer has taken place Presidents’ Day Weekend. But Central Oregon shook things up for Zwickelmania 2017.

Blogger Tawna in her Girl vs. Beer t-shirt (the unofficial uniform of Zwickelmania).

While Portland held the event as usual last weekend, Central Oregon is hosting Zwickelmania 2017 on February 25 instead.

While I’m personally bummed because I’ll be out of town, I’m professionally thrilled to bits. No more fighting holiday weekend crowds to get your beer, or splitting your time between Zwickelmania and Oregon Winterfest. Beer fans can devote a whole, luxurious afternoon to the one glorious day when breweries throw their doors wide open for tours, tastings, and more.

Planning to attend Zwickelmania 2017? Here are 10 tips to make the most of your experience!

 

Study up

There are oodles of online resources to help you achieve Zwicklemania nirvana, and it pays to study them before you’ve had a sip of beer.

Review the map to plot your best route between participating breweries.

Skim the online directory so you know what each brewery is offering in terms of beer samples, food, live music, tours, and other amenities.

Follow the Oregon Brewers’ Guild on Instagram and Twitter for up-to-the-minute info on Zwickelmania, and sign in on the Facebook event page so everyone knows you’re going.

It’s like cramming for a test, but soooooo much better.

 

Be selective

When it comes to completing a Bend Ale Trail passport, you can take years to do it.

The official 2017 Zwickelmania map.

But your time is limited when it comes to Zwickelmania 2017, so it’s okay to be choosy. With sixteen breweries participating from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., it’s not physically possible to hit them all unless you plan to dash through the door, grab a beer, and pound it while sprinting to the next brewery.

I don’t recommend that.

What I do recommend is pinpointing a handful of breweries on the list that you really, truly want to visit. Maybe you’re dying to ask questions of the head brewer at McMenamins, or maybe it’s your life’s ambition to taste special brews straight from the Zwickel at Crux. Perhaps you’ve been wanting to see KC Flynn perform at Cascade Lakes Brewing, or maybe you really want to sample the cold-brew cocktails they’ll be doling out at Deschutes.

Bottom line: Pick what you most want to see/do/drink/eat and start there. Then work your way down the list.

 

Go with a full tummy

The event kickoff at 11 a.m. can throw you for a loop if you show up several hours post-breakfast and fail to get something substantial in your belly before you start guzzling beer. That’s why it’s key to grab a good snack before you set out.

Protein-rich foods like chicken or salmon take longer to digest, which will slow how fast your blood alcohol level goes up. Foods high on the glycemic index like pasta are also a good bet, since alcohol changes your body’s stores of glycogen (a quick energy source stored in the liver).

Depending on weather, many of the breweries serve up Zwickelmania suds outdoors.

It’s also smart to snack along the way so you’re filling your belly with something besides beer suds. Most breweries will be doling out free food, so take advantage of it!

 

Pay attention to location

While many breweries are hosting Zwickelmania 2017 festivities at their actual pub, some are throwing open the doors at the brewing facility itself. Sometimes that’s the same place, and sometimes it isn’t.

To be safe, make sure you consult the list before setting out.

 

Buddy up to a brewer

Besides the free beer and nibbles, one of the biggest things that separates Zwickelmania from a regular trek around the Bend Ale Trail is the chance to interact with a brewer.

Chatting with brewers and checking out the brewing equipment is one of the highlights of Zwickelmania.

At most participating breweries, the brewers themselves will be on hand to answer questions, talk about the brewing process, or even pour you a pint.

It’s a great opportunity to get the inside scoop about your favorite beer direct from the guy or gal who made it, so don’t be shy! If it helps, jot down a question or two before you go.

 

Drink plenty of water

Making sure your body fluid doesn’t become 100% beer over the course of an afternoon is crucial when you’re attending a beer-centric event like this. I always stuff a Hydro Flask full of ice water in my purse and refill often as I go.

 

Leave the driving to someone else when you book an outing with the Bend Brew Bus.

Don’t even THINK of drinking and driving

There are gazillion ways to travel between breweries without risking a DUI or someone’s life. Here are just a few of them:

While Lyft and Uber aren’t yet in Bend, city officials are getting closer to making it happen (hopefully as soon as May).

But bottom line: There’s no excuse for driving while impaired. Ending up dead or in jail will put a serious damper on your Bend vacation.

 

Grab a memento

Zwicklemania is a big deal, and it’s fun to have a souvenir to commemorate it. Many participating breweries are offering deep discounts on schwag, so stock up while you can!

You definitely need this souvenir growler from Crux.

GoodLife Brewing’s Zwickelmania specials include sales on merchandise and packaged beer, while Cascade Lakes Brewing has schwag bags they’ll be handing out while supplies last.

Most others will have T-shirts and hats for sale, or pick up a logo’d growler to take home.

 

Know the secrets

Psst….want a few tidbits of insider info? Here you go:

  • Did you notice 10 Barrel Brewing isn’t listed in the lineup of participating breweries? I won’t go into the politics of why that is, but I will tell you they’re definitely still rolling out the red carpet for Zwickelmania. In fact, their Zwickelmania event is typically the first one I hit (and there have been years where I’ve just stayed there the whole day!) This year’s celebration features free Hawaiian style burgers and dogs from Mauna Kea Grill, pulled pork sliders and chicken tacos from Curb B Q, live music, and tons (literally, tons) of free beer. The event takes place at their brewing facility on NE 18th, though there’s a free shuttle from the pub that’ll run you out there and back.

    Mmmm….beer.

  • Not sure you want to spend precious Zwickelmania time driving all the way to Sisters for a visit to Three Creeks Brewing? Here’s something that’ll convince you: The brewery is hosting their annual Zwickelmania breakfast from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., with breakfast snacks, breakfast beers, tours, zwickel tastes, and coffee. It’s a great chance to get an early start before the rest of Zwickelmania festivities even start.
  • While Zwickelmania technically ends at 4 p.m., festivities run a little later at Crux Fermentation Project. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., they’re offering behind-the-scenes tours, rare tastings from their BANISHED series (straight from the barrel!), and tons of great food including their Pork Parfait, Smoke-Aroni, and Rooster’s Kick-Ass Beef Jerky. If I were a betting woman, I’d say the food could run out earlier in the day, but it’s worth staying late anyway for great beer tasting and chats with the brewers.

 

Don’t forget your Bend Ale Trail passport

Zwicklemania is a great way to collect a whole lot of Bend Ale Trail passport stamps in one afternoon, so make sure you snag an atlas at the first brewery you visit or download the free Bend Ale Trail app.

Finished gathering stamps? The Bend Visitor Center is open seven days a week so you can collect your prize anytime. Stop by the corner of Lava and Oregon in Downtown Bend between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays or 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

 

7 tasty aphrodisiac ingredients (and where to find them!) when dining in Bend, Oregon

February 16th, 2017

Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but there are plenty of other reasons to feel the love in Bend. I mean besides the fact that Livability.com named us one of America’s most romantic cities, or the fact that there are so many fab spots to kiss, get married, get engaged, or honeymoon in Bend.

As blogger Tawna can attest, the riverfront dining at Anthony’s will give you fond feelings for more than just the oysters.

Incidentally, this is what happens when you have a romance author writing a tourism blog.

But today I’m talking about aphrodisiacs. You know, those special ingredients that leave you feeling happy, loving, and maybe a little frisky.

Here are 7 popular aphrodisiac ingredients (and the best spots to find them!) in Bend.

 

Oysters

Let’s start with the obvious. Oysters have long been touted as aphrodisiacs, and for good reason. They’re high in zinc and contain amino acids that have been found to trigger the production of sex hormones.

So where can you find good oysters in landlocked Bend? One of my favorite go-to spots for tasty seafood in Bend is Anthony’s Home Port. They’ve got a wide variety of oyster preparations ranging from baked to pan fried to barbecued to oyster shooters. Several are included on the happy hour menu, and all are served up with stunning views of the Deschutes River.

High Tides Seafood Grill is another fab option if you’re looking for a quaint, locally-owned spot that not a ton of tourists know about. Their pan-friend oysters are legendary, or try their tasty oyster bisque when it’s in season.

 

Asparagus

Yes, it makes your pee smell weird. But if you’re sniffing pee on a date, you likely have issues that aphrodisiacs won’t solve.

Mmmm….tasty pork chop with pan sauce, mashed potatoes, and asparagus from Stihl Whiskey Bar.

In any case, asparagus is packed with potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin E, all of which help boost energy and libido. You’ll see it popping up on a lot of menus in March and April around Bend, though plenty of places offer it year-round if you know where to look.

The Green Hornet omelet at the Victorian Café features fresh spinach, asparagus, jalapeños, scallions, and Gruyere cheese in a three-egg omelet topped with avocado. That’ll pep up your morning!

If you have a hankering for sushi, try the Shogun Roll at Kanpai. It’s made with escolar, asparagus, and avocado, then tempura fried and topped with spicy salmon, tobiko, and unagi sauce.

If you’re looking for a hearty winter meal, check out the pork chop at Stihl Whiskey Bar. It’s served with a melt-in-your-mouth pan sauce, along with mashed potatoes and a generous helping of asparagus.

 

Basil

This leafy herb has several libido-boosting nutrients like vitamin A, beta carotene, and magnesium.

Caprese salad with fresh basil, along with their homemade focaccia bread at Ariana.

While basil tastes good in almost anything, one of my favorite uses is in pesto. Cibelli’s Pizza lets you add dollops of the green goodness to any pizza, so load up and chow down.

Another great use of basil is in caprese salad. You’ll find it at oodles of restaurants around Bend, but one of my personal faves is the one at Ariana Restaurant. They shake things up seasonally, depending on what’s fresh, but their use of olive oil crumbs, heirloom tomatoes, and burrata (not to mention fresh basil from their summertime garden) take this caprese to a whole new level.

 

Bananas

This tasty fruit contains bromelain, which some believe can trigger testosterone production. Whether you’re interested in testosterone or just a tasty smoothie, check out Mother’s Juice Cafe. They have three ­locations around Bend, including a brand new spot that just opened downtown.

The digestion smoothie with banana, along with their Great Grains salad from Mother’s.

Tons of their smoothies include bananas, but my personal fave is the one called Digestion (I know, I know…not a very romantic name). But the flavors are fab, with pineapple, banana, avocado, mint, ginger, cinnamon, honey, and coconut milk.

You’ll also find banana pancakes on the menu at Original Pancake House, which has a location in Bend as well as one in Redmond right by the airport (perfect if you have an early morning flight!)

 

Chili peppers

A little spice can stimulate endorphins, which are the brain’s natural feel-good chemicals. They can also speed up your heart rate, and is there anything more stereotypically romantic than having your heart flutter just a bit?

The Eggs Caesar from Chow have plenty of chilis to rev your engine.

Bend has plenty of great restaurants serving Mexican food or various forms of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine that are brimming with good spices.

The Crying Tiger at Noi Thai Cuisine is particularly tasty pick, made with grilled flat iron steak marinated Thai style with dry chili and dipping sauce. Both Barrio and El Sancho offer a huge array of unique twists on Mexican street food, with plenty of chili-filled options to choose from.

To get your chili fix for breakfast, order the Eggs Ala Caesar at Chow. The dish features poached eggs, cheesy corn cake, roasted chilis, avocado, queso, and chili hollandaise. Bonus: Chow makes their own fresh salsas that are guaranteed to add some extra kick to your meal (and possibly your love life).

 

Champagne

I hesitate to include any alcoholic beverages in this roundup, since consent is kinda vital when we’re discussing amorous exchanges.

But if you’re limiting your intake to one drink, sparkling wine has some definite perks. Besides the fact that it lowers inhibition by slowing down the central nervous system, it also has a “giddy effervesce” that lends itself to quicker absorption.

If the swanky, intimate vibe of the dining room at 10 Below doesn’t leave you feeling romantic, the Mellow Yellow sure will!

Lots of spots around Bend offer champagne cocktails that give me the aforementioned giddiness, but I’m particularly fond of the Mellow Yellow at 10 Below. It’s made with whipped cream flavored vodka, lemon juice, and champagne syrup.

There’s also the Mirrorball at Astro Lounge, which is made with Crater Lake vodka, infused watermelon vodka, cranberry juice, simple syrup, and champagne.

I’m also smitten with the Pear to the People at Stihl Whiskey Bar, which is made with pear vodka, elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice, and champagne. Cheers!

 

Beets

I’ve loved beets long before I knew they had aphrodisiac properties, but I love them more knowing they’re a good source of tryptophan and betaine, which promote a feeling of well-being. They also contain high amounts of boron, a trace mineral that increases the level of sex hormones in the human body.

Beets. They make you feel good. Like reeeeeally good.

There are dozens of beet salads in Bend that make me swoony, but some of my faves can be found at Worthy Brewing, Craft Kitchen and Brewery, and Jackalope Grill. The varieties are endless, too, ranging from your standard purple-red beets to more exotic candycane beets.

I recently discovered the roasted beet salad at Stihl Whiskey Bar, which has the added bonus of an orange clove vinaigrette dressing that’s super-tasty and an amazingly unique complement to the flavors of beet and goat cheese.

Oh, and if you ever happen to find yourself at 5 Fusion on an evening they have the beet martini on the specials menu, ORDER IT! You’ll thank me later.

9 things you need to know about the Bend Ale Trail

October 27th, 2016

November is Bend Ale Trail Month, and 2016 marks the third time we’ve enjoyed this month-long celebration of Bend’s craft beer scene.

Behold, the coveted Bend Ale Trail Month trophy.

Behold, the coveted Bend Ale Trail Month trophy.

While you get a killer souvenir Silipint anytime you turn in a completed Bend Ale Trail passport, doing it in November earns you extra bragging rights, along with the oft-coveted Bend Ale Trail trophy to put on your mantle.

You’ll also have a shot at additional prizes throughout the month, which you can earn by posting about your Bend Ale Trail adventures on social media (keep reading to learn more about that!)

While we’re on the topic of the Bend Ale Trail, here are nine things you should know about trekking the nation’s top trail of beer.

 

You don’t have to drink a drop

Don’t get me wrong—if you want to spend your Bend Ale Trail adventure sipping your way through creamy porters and hoppy IPAs, rock on with your bad self.

But you’re not required to drink a single drop of beer. You do have to show up in person at each brewery to get your passport stamped, of course. But eating, drinking, or buying anything at all is optional. This is good news for teetotalers and designated drivers.

You don't have to drink a drop to complete the Bend Ale Trail, and many breweries (like Deschutes!) have tasty non-alcoholic options for those choosing to abstain.

You don’t have to drink a drop to complete the Bend Ale Trail, and many breweries (like Deschutes!) have tasty non-alcoholic options for those choosing to abstain.

And while kids under 21 aren’t allowed to participate in the Bend Ale Trail program, they’ll find plenty of non-alcoholic selections along the trail. My personal fave: The root beer and ginger beer brewed up fresh at Deschutes Brewery.

 

Pace yourself, buddy

If you do plan to swill beer during your Bend Ale Trail journey, it’s important to be smart about consumption. A few quick:

  • Eat a hearty meal before you set out, and plan to eat at a couple breweries along the way.
  • Take frequent water breaks. Tote your own Hydro Flask, or ask your server to set you up with a big glass of ice water.
  • Opt for smaller schooners instead of full pints of beer, or stick with samples.
  • Share a taster tray with a pack of friends so everyone can try a wide variety of beer without overindulging.
  • Don’t try to hit all the breweries in one weekend. Take it nice and slow!
  • Make a plan before you set out, including how many breweries you plan to hit and how you’ll get safely back to your Bend hotel or vacation rental.

 

And speaking of being responsible…

Don’t even think of drinking and driving. Seriously.

Leave the driving to someone else when you book an outing with the Bend Brew Bus.

Leave the driving to someone else when you book an outing with the Bend Brew Bus.

There are gazillion ways to travel between breweries without risking a DUI or someone’s life. Here are just a few of them:

While Lyft and Uber aren’t currently in Bend, city officials are currently exploring the possibility. Bottom line: There’s no excuse for driving while impaired. Ending up dead or in jail will put a serious damper on your Bend vacation.

 

There’s no expiration date

While you do need to turn in your completed passport in November if you want the trophy for Bend Ale Trail Month, there’s no urgency to hit all the breweries in one trip to Bend. Your Bend Ale Trail passport never expires, so you can gather stamps over multiple visits to Bend. Heck, we’ve had folks show up in the Bend Visitor Center to claim passports they’ve been working on for years. Take your time and savor every last drop!

 

Wanna win stuff?

I already mentioned the trophies, which are clearly the top prize during Bend Ale Trail Month.

Bend Ale Trail Month is a great time to visit some of the newer breweries that were recently added to the program, including Sunriver Brewing.

Bend Ale Trail Month is a great time to visit some of the newer breweries that were recently added to the program, including Sunriver Brewing.

But beyond the trophies, the breweries are extra generous with prizes this time of year. Hats, shirts, stickers, gift cards, Hydro Flasks, Silipints, and so much more can be yours with just a few taps of your phone screen.

Just snap a pic of your beerventure and share it on Instagram using the hashtag #bendaletrailmonth. We’ll randomly select winners to receive schwag throughout the month. Easy peasy!

 

Don’t break the bank for a place to snooze

Unless money’s no object, you don’t have oodles of cash to spend on your Bend Ale Trail journey.

Save your funds for important things like beer and food by checking out our deals page for discounts on Bend lodging. Plenty of Bend hotels offer special pricing and packages during Bend Ale Trail Month.

 

The Grilled Cheesy from Crux Fermentation Project. It'll change your life, I swear.

The Grilled Cheesy from Crux Fermentation Project. It’ll change your life, I swear.

The beer’s great, sure! But have you tried the food?

I love beer, don’t get me wrong. But the thing I love best about doing the Bend Ale Trail is the chance to sample tasty chow at so many different breweries.

Since it behooves you to have some food in your belly while you’re trekking the trail, here’s a handy guide to my favorite dish at every brewery on the Bend Ale Trail:

The only brewery on the list that doesn’t currently have food is Boneyard Brewing, so I can’t weigh in on the best dish there (though I can tell you their RPM IPA will vastly improve your life). But since they currently have a new brew pub under construction, you can expect to see food very soon. Keep an eye on their website for updates on the completion date.

 

Jog it off

Planning to visit Bend for Bend Ale Trail month, but worried about all those extra beer calories? Never fear! Sign up for the Bend Ale Run on November 12 and fit in a little cardio with your fellow beer-lovers.

There’s a half-marathon and a 10k, plus an option to pedal the course for cyclists. You can even opt to walk it with a generous 5-hour time slot for completion.

To learn more and to register, go here.

 

Yum.

Yum.

There’s an app for that

Not in the mood to pack the Bend Ale Trail atlas with you everywhere you go? No problem!

Save trees and keep everything tucked neatly in your pocket when you check in at all your stops using the handy Bend Ale Trail app.

It’s free to download for iPhone and Android devices, and you can gather virtual stamps right there in the app (not to mention plotting your route, reading up on each brewery, and finding a place to stay). Download the app here.

7 fab ways to do date night in Bend, Oregon

October 20th, 2016

Date nights are a rare and precious thing in my world. Between family time, my job at Visit Bend, and my not-so-secret life as a romantic comedy author, it’s tough to find free time for a bathroom break, let alone a whole date night.

But studies have shown regular date nights are crucial for any relationship, so I’m making the effort. Luckily, Bend is a great place to plan one. Or two. Or heck, a whole week of them.

The new Broom Closet Bar at McMenamins has a cozy, romantic vibe.  Photo by Kathleen Nyberg

The new Broom Closet Bar at McMenamins has a cozy, romantic vibe.
Photo by Kathleen Nyberg

Here are seven tried-and-tested date nights to try in Bend, Oregon.

 

Dinner and a movie with a Bend twist

Turn your boring “dinner and a movie” habit into something magical (not to mention convenient) when you park yourself at McMenamins Old St. Francis in Downtown Bend.

The property got its start as a 1930s Catholic schoolhouse, but was transformed into a hotel, movie house, brewery, and more in 2004. A brand new renovation completed in July 2016 added two new buildings, a bunch of guest rooms, and even a new “hidden” bar, all of which are worth checking out if you haven’t been there for a while.

Start in the cozy Fireside Bar for an intimate pre-dinner drink, or head straight to the Old St. Francis Pub for dinner. You’ll find standard pub fare like pasta, burgers, and pizza, or opt for something more exotic like the poke marinated ahi (my personal fave).

With your bellies full, head for the movie theater and snag a comfy loveseat for two so you can snuggle. Don’t worry if you didn’t grab dinner first. You can order food to enjoy in the theater, including full meals or just Cajun tots and a beer.

After the show, head for the soaking pool. You and your honey will luxuriate in soft, saline water while scoping out the artwork and shimmering turquoise tile. Don’t forget to look up through the open ceiling for a glimpse of the stars.

Time for a post-soak drink? Park yourself by one of the fire pits at O’Kanes, or hunt for the elusive new Broom Closet Bar. Then retire to your room at McMenamins knowing you accomplished an entire date night without venturing more than a few hundred feet from your bed.

 

The Downtown get-around

Can’t decide which Bend restaurant or watering hole you want to visit? There’s no need to choose! Plan a route through Downtown Bend that lets you hit all the hot spots on your list.

Start with a happy hour drink at Dogwood Cocktail Cabin, which has some of the most unique concoctions you’ll find anywhere in town. Happy hour is also a great time to hit 5 Fusion, which boasts a menu created by Chef Joe Kim, a three-time semifinalist for the James Beard Award (sorta like the Oscars for chefs). Order an array of tasty sushi, or satisfy any non-fishy fans in the party with their filet mignon lollipops.

The balsamic grilled artichoke is a new addition to the menu at 10Below and sooooo tasty!

The balsamic grilled artichoke is a new addition to the menu at 10Below and sooooo tasty!

With your appetite whetted, head someplace you can order smaller dishes with some fun variety. I’m partial to Joolz with its unique Mediterranean fare and specially-priced menu that’s available anytime you opt to sit at the bar. The Camel Wings and the cauliflower are my personal faves.

Ready to get down? Head below street-level to The Capitol to soak up live music and a fun, funky vibe while you sip the Capitol Manhattan with blackberry and cocoa nib bourbon.

Want to keep going? There’s a terrific late-night happy hour at 10Below Restaurant & Lounge that features great deals on drinks and apps. Keep it light with their sweet cardamom pretzel with three dipping sauces, or indulge your craving for savory with their mouthwatering balsamic grilled artichoke.

Wrap up your evening by calling a cab so you make it safely back to your Bend hotel or vacation rental.

 

Plan a picnic (even in the dead of winter!)

Date nights don’t necessarily need to take place at night. Why not plan a romantic picnic so you can savor time with your sweetie in Bend’s beautiful outdoor spaces?

Try a romantic post-Thanksgiving outing with Wanderlust Tours.

A winter picnic makes a great date!

First things first: The food. Stock up on gourmet nibbles or grab-and-go eats at Newport Avenue Market. You’ll also find a terrific selection of ready-made salads and wraps right across the street at Devore’s Market.

Now you need to pick a place. If it’s warm outside, peruse this list of local parks to find the right spot. With nearly 80 parks scattered around our fair city, you can pick among cozy pocket parks, scenic riverfront locales, or a snazzy covered pavilion near a playground so you can frolic like kids after your meal.

And don’t think you have to skip the picnic just because there’s snow on the ground. Take a romantic winter Nordic skiing adventure together with the picnic goods in your backpack. Once you’ve worked up a good sweat on the trails at Virginia Meissner Sno Park, stop at one of the romantic warming huts to enjoy your meal (along with the views!)

 

A night under the stars

Love the idea of an al fresco outing, but you don’t feel like picking a place, rounding up gear, and driving to your destination?

One of many couples to get engaged during the Bonfire on the Snow outing with Wanderlust Tours.

One of many couples to get engaged during the Bonfire on the Snow outing with Wanderlust Tours.

Let Wanderlust Tours do the work for you! During the winter months, book their Bonfire on the Snow tour. You and a small group will join a knowledgeable naturalist guide as you hoof it through the starlit forest to an amphitheater carved in the snow. There, you’ll nibble sweet treats and sip an adult beverage as you take in the stars together. Wanderlust has had dozens of couples get engaged on this outing over the years, so if you’re thinking of popping the question, this is a fab time to do it.

In warmer months, Wanderlust Tours runs moonlight/starlight canoe tours on the High Cascade Lakes. What could be more romantic than canoodling in a canoe? Just like with the snowshoe tours, all your gear is included, along with transportation and treats.

 

The Old Mill stroll

One of Bend’s most vibrant shopping districts spans a scenic section of the Deschutes River. That makes the Old Mill District a terrific spot for a mid-afternoon date that can continue as late as you like.

Grab a romantic river view table at Greg's Grill in the Old Mill District.

Grab a romantic river view table at Greg’s Grill in the Old Mill District.

Seize the daylight before sunset and set out on a stroll along the Deschutes River. Make it a game to see who can spot otters, beavers, or countless birds shown in the free birding guide you can pick up in the Ticket Mill (along with free rental binoculars if you like).

Weave your way in and out of cute boutiques and cafes, stopping to grab a cup of coffee at Strictly Organic or a glass of wine at the tasting room for Naked Winery or Va Piano.

When your stomach starts growling, head to Greg’s Grill or Anthony’s  for a romantic riverfront dinner. If you’ve planned ahead, you can reserve a table with views of the water so you don’t have to give up a single second of sightseeing.

After dinner, stroll over to Flatbread Community Oven for a scoop of gelato and an excuse to warm your ice cream chilled hands in someone else’s back pocket. Um, preferably your loved one.

 

Get jazzy with your sweetheart

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of jazz music.

Blogger Tawna on a date night for Jazz at the Oxford.

Blogger Tawna on a date night for Jazz at the Oxford.

But you know what? That’s never stopped me from thoroughly enjoying Jazz at the Oxford events hosted October through March in the Oxford Hotel for the last seven years.

Maybe it’s the terrific food and wine or the swanky setting, or maybe it’s the thrill of doing something a little outside my normal comfort zone. Either way, I’m not surprised the shows sell out every single season.

Which is one reason I was thrilled to learn the Riverhouse on the Deschutes just launched their own jazz series spanning October through April. This is a great chance to check out the $10-million renovation project they just completed, and to have a killer meal in the new Currents restaurant.

You can see the schedule (and learn more about their special Jazz + Ski + Stay packages) right here.

 

Come on baby, light my fire

I love fireplaces and fire pits so much that I once wrote an entire blog post about them.

Even if you don’t share my fire fanaticism, you’ve gotta admit there’s something magical and romantic about snuggling up beside crackling flames as you sip a craft beer or enjoy a romantic fireside meal.

Sipping beer by the fire at Crux Fermentation Project makes a romantic date night in any season.

Sipping beer by the fire at Crux Fermentation Project makes a romantic date night in any season.

Why not do a mini-tour of some of Bend’s best fireside hot spots?

Start with brunch at Jackson’s Corner Eastside, which boasts a cool patio fire feature in front of the restaurant. Cozy up together and enjoy matching bacon biscuit sandwiches and warm mugs of local tea.

After that, head for the Old Mill District to do a little shopping. You can make a fire pit pit stop (har!) at several locations including Pastini Pastaria (which boasts two vertical, standing outdoor fireplaces), Greg’s Grill (which boasts a huge outdoor fire pit that seats 20) and Anthony’s  (which has three fire pits that can hold about 12 people each).

Finished shopping? Time to check out Bend’s craft beer scene with a stop or two on the Bend Ale Trail. The fire pit at Crux Fermentation Project is one of my favorites, and makes a great spot to share a taster tray. Make it a relationship-building exercise to choose your six sample beers together or try and guess what your loved one might pick.

10 Barrel has a killer fire pit as well, along with a tap list that always includes at least a couple sour beers (yum!) You can also cozy up together in the biergarten at GoodLife Brewing to share a snuggle by the fire, followed by a lively game of bocce ball.

 

13 tasty mocktails and booze-free sips to quench your thirst in Bend

September 15th, 2016

Tons of travelers visit Bend with growlers in hand and their sights set on tackling the Bend Ale Trail. Others sip their way through distilleries and cideries that make up Drinkable Diversions.

But what if you want your liquid libations with no risk of hangover the next morning?

Yummy passionfruit limeade from El Sancho.

Yummy passionfruit limeade from El Sancho.

Whether you don’t dig alcohol in general, or you’re taking a break for some reason, there’s no need to stick with water. Here are thirteen tasty booze-free beverage options in Bend.

 

Passionfruit limeade at El Sancho

They have some of the tastiest tacos in town, and their candied yams are to-die-for. But El Sancho also makes one of the most flavorful, refreshing alcohol-free beverages in town. Each day, the folks at El Sancho squeeze a buttload of fresh limes to make their limeade base. You can order it just like that, but to really have your socks knocked off, order a passionfruit limeade. It’s blended with real passionfruit puree and so flavorful you’ll polish the whole thing off before your meal arrives.

 

Tasty, locally-made kombucha

Bend has at least half-a-dozen kombucha breweries in town, and you’ll find this healthful, fermented beverage on tap at lots of local pubs and restaurants. Parilla Grill (one of my favorite lunch spots) has three taps flowing with kombucha from Caboost, Bucha Buena, and Humm Kombucha—all of which are based in Bend. You can also fill a growler with kombucha at places like The Growler Guys and Food 4 Less (both of which have Humm Kombucha and Brew Dr. Kombucha on tap). Taste test all the flavors and pick a favorite (or 12!)

 

Blueberry mojito at Brickhouse

Plenty of upscale Bend restaurants will be happy to mix you a “mocktail” version of your favorite cocktail on their menu, but one of my favorites is the Blueberry Mojito at Brickhouse Steak House.

The tasty virgin Blueberry Mojito at Brickhouse.

The tasty virgin Blueberry Mojito at Brickhouse.

It’s made with freshly-muddled mint, fresh lime, oodles of plump blueberries, and a healthy splash of ginger beer. Bonus: It looks just like its alcoholic counterpart, and as plenty of women can attest, that’s handy if you want to swill a booze-free beverage without fending off unwanted inquiries about pregnancy.

 

Elderflower soda at Ariana

The first time I tasted this, I’d taken two food journalists to dinner at Ariana Restaurant to show them one of my favorite Bend culinary gems. Since I prefer to stay sharp when I’m in work mode, I asked the server for a non-alcoholic option. I was so blown away by their simple concoction of soda water, elderflower syrup, and lime that I wanted to drink this all night and skip the wine (which is a shame, considering Ariana’s wine list, but I digress). So simple, yet so flavorful, this little n/a soda puts most boozy cocktails to shame.

 

Fancy French cider at Jackalope Grill

Want to feel like you’re sipping something extra-special on a romantic date night, but skip the booze that might sabotage the romance? Order a glass of Duche de Longueville non-alcoholic sparkling cider at Jackalope Grill.

Foodies will love this extra-special non-alcoholic cider at Jackalope Grill.

Foodies will love this extra-special non-alcoholic cider at Jackalope Grill.

This alcohol-free cider comes from a 50-year-old apple orchard near Dieppe, France, where 15 chosen apple varieties are used to produce it. It’s served in a fancy wineglass to make the whole experience feel more luxurious.

 

Smoothies at Mother’s Juice Café

As the name implies, Mother’s Juice Café has plenty of freshly-squeezed juice to pick from. But my favorite libations here come from the smoothie menu. Pick from creative concoctions like the Little Bear (apple, strawberry, peach, vanilla yogurt, honey, fresh orange juice) or the Lavender (apple, mixed berries, banana, vanilla yogurt, hemp milk). But my favorite thing to do is to ask the smoothie experts at Mother’s to mix up something special. I spotted the cardamom syrup behind the counter recently and asked what would taste good with that. A few minutes later, I was sipping a delightful blend of fresh coconut meat, banana, almond milk, and the aforementioned cardamom. Delicious!

 

Freckled lemonade at Red Robin

Some people get snarky about chain restaurants, but the parents among you know sometimes that’s part of the package when you’re traveling with young kids. The familiar comfort of Red Robin’s bottomless freckled lemonade (complete with juicy hunks of strawberry) is made more delightful by the killer views of the Deschutes River you’ll soak up if you’re lucky enough to snag a window seat or a spot on the patio.

Scope out the Deschutes River in the Old Mill District when you sip your Freckled Lemonade at Red Robin.

Scope out the Deschutes River in the Old Mill District when you sip your Freckled Lemonade at Red Robin.

 

Bonus: Catch a movie or do some shopping in the Old Mill District when lunch is done.

 

Egg Cream at Goody’s

I’ve always been amused by the name “Egg Cream,” since the beverage contains neither egg nor cream. Popular on the East Coast, Egg Creams are made with soda water, chocolate syrup, and half-and-half. Locally-owned Goody’s Chocolates is a great place to grab one, with locations in several spots around Bend and Sunriver. I recently introduced my 10-year-old stepdaughter to the beverage, and upon her first sip, she declared it her new favorite drink.

Fresh-brewed root beer or ginger beer at Deschutes Brewery

I’ve always said the facility tours at Deschutes Brewery are fun for kids from a science/how-things-work perspective, but they recently made things even more kid-friendly with the addition of their own craft-brewed ginger beer and root beer.

Want to hit a brewery but skip the alcohol? Try a freshly-brewed root beer or ginger beer at Deschutes Brewery's tasting room.

Want to hit a brewery but skip the alcohol? Try a freshly-brewed root beer or ginger beer at Deschutes Brewery’s tasting room.

Even the grownups among you will appreciate having a couple alcohol-free options available. When I swung by during a mid-afternoon outing with Bend Electric Bikes, it was nice to do a little beverage tasting without sucking down anything that would render me groggy for the remainder of my workday.

 

Thai iced tea at Toomie’s

Bend has tons of terrific Thai restaurants, and all of them offer some variation on the classic Thai iced tea. But there’s something about the one at Toomie’s that always seems extra special. Maybe it’s the aesthetic of the tall glass it’s served in, or the sweet, slightly-smoky flavor. Maybe it’s the way it pairs so perfectly with the green curry chicken I adore so much.

toomies-thai-iced-teaEither way, this sweet and creamy tea makes a perfect non-alcoholic accompaniment to your meal in downtown Bend.

 

Fresh juice at Salud Raw Food

I’ve gushed previously about my fondness for this cozy little café specializing in raw and vegan food (which is noteworthy since I’m a devoted carnivore). In addition to having an awesome array of salads, wraps, and desserts, Salud Raw Food has a killer selection of fresh, organic juices. They expertly blend fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices for optimum flavor and zing. Try unique concoctions like the Hippy Hoppy (apple, carrot, spinach, lemon, beet, and ginger) or the Heavy Metal Detox (cilantro, lime, apple, pineapple, mint, and celery). And save room for dessert.

 

Dog beer from Dawg Grog

This one’s not for humans (though it’s totally safe to drink if you did want to try it). Dawg Grog is the original “dog beer,” a delicious and nutritious liquid treat supplement for dogs that’s made right here in Bend. Crafted with brewers wort, vegetarian k9 glucosamine, and vegan trace minerals, it’s a fun and alcohol-free way to share a cold one with your pup.

Mmmm....Dawg Grog!

Mmmm….Dawg Grog!

Pick some up at retailers all over Bend, including the Bend Visitor Center.

 

Italian Sodas at Bellatazza

Italian sodas were my go-to booze-free beverage for many years, with their simple blend of soda water, flavored syrup, and (optional) half-and-half. Unique flavors have always been my favorite, so I fancy the Italian sodas at Bellatazza Coffee in downtown Bend. Their syrups are produced by a local maker, who creates intriguing offerings like cardamom, lavender, and pumpkin spice. If Italian sodas aren’t your thing, have some of the syrup added to your coffee or chai.

11 tasty spots for the best fish tacos in Bend, Oregon

July 7th, 2016

There’s something about a good fish taco that just screams “summer.” This is probably why I love eating them even when it’s 30-degrees in the middle of December.

Despite being nearly 200 miles from the ocean, Bend has a deliciously abundant selection at fish tacos in fine restaurants, breweries, and little taquerias around the city. Here are eleven of the best.

 

Worthy Brewing

Blackened steelhead tacos at Worthy Brewing.

Blackened steelhead tacos at Worthy Brewing.

This is the fish taco that sparked this whole blog post. A friend recommend the blackened steelhead tacos at Worthy Brewing, I ordered them, and life has never been the same.

You get three tacos with your meal and a generous side of tropical fruit salsa. Both the salsa and the hearty slabs of avocado help tone down the spiciness just a touch, and the flavors blend together in a perfect medley of creamy, tangy, and peppy. The blackened steelhead is moist and flavorful and surrounding tortillas are made with a blend of corn and flour. The cilantro-kale slaw and chipotle aioli rounds out the flavor profile perfectly.

Use your Worthy time wisely by pairing your fish tacos with a tasty Worthy beer. The menu recommends the Coeur de la Peche Saison, which is a fine choice, but I was partial to the hoppy dimensions of the Tower Encode IPA. If the weather allows it, nab an outdoor table on Worthy’s expansive patio.

 

Parilla Grill

Ask any crowd of Bend locals to name their favorite fish tacos and I guarantee you’ll hear at least a couple votes for Parilla Grill. There’s a good reason for that.

Hefe's fish tacos at Parilla Grill.

Hefe’s fish tacos at Parilla Grill.

Parillla’s fish tacos are a carnival of textures and flavors that’ll make your mouth happy. There’s the crunch of the hand-breaded fish filets, the pillowy softness of their fresh flour tortillas, the zip of the corn salsa, and the creamy zing of their famous fish sauce. Add a sprinkle of cheese and a generous helping of spinach and cabbage, and you’ve got a meal that’s not only pleasing to the palate, but to your mother (who always reminded you to eat all four food groups in one sitting).

You can pick and choose your condiments as you move through the line, but I suggest just answering “yes” when they ask if you’d like the recommendations. That’ll ensure your tacos are served up exactly the way nature (or at least Parilla) intended. Personally, I sometimes request they go a little light on the fish sauce, since that flavor can dominate when applied too generously.

Since these are some of the largest tacos in the roundup, make sure you plan according to your appetite when deciding whether to order the trio or individual tacos. Leave room for the killer kombucha they have on tap, or better yet, one of their famous margaritas.

 

El Sancho

Fish tacos and candied yams at El Sancho.

Fish tacos and candied yams at El Sancho.

I’m so in love with the tacos at El Sancho that I don’t even know where to begin singing their praises. Is it the tender mildness of the mahi mahi they use? Is it the perfect, simple freshness of their cabbage slaw with cilantro dressing? Is the creamy goodness of their fresh crema and avocado salsa? Is it the fact that they’re perfectly sized for easy eating with little risk of toppings glopping out onto your lap?

It’s all of those things, of course. But it’s also the friendly, bustling casual atmosphere of the place itself. Their taco menu is simply staggering, and everything on it is scrumptious. Though the focus of this post is fish tacos, the fact that you can order everything individually means you should leave room in your belly for a few other options like barbacoa, mushroom, or even lengua (yes, beef tongue) tacos.

But don’t fill up entirely on tacos. You haven’t lived until you’ve sampled their to-die-for candied yams, which make a great side dish for everyone to share. Pair it all with their refreshing passionfruit limeade, and you’ve got yourself a meal that’ll make your whole summer.

 

Barrio

By now you’ve noticed everyone has a different opinion about which type of fish goes best in fish tacos. At Barrio, you’re not limited to one choice. Pick between salmon and grilled rockfish, or round out your taco trio by getting one of each, plus a third taco of your choosing.

Barrio fish tacos in their snazzy little taco holder.

Barrio fish tacos in their snazzy little taco holder.

This may be a silly detail to praise so heartily, but one of the best things about Barrio is the way they present their tacos in a spiffy little server that holds all three upright. Taco connoisseurs will appreciate how this keeps all the fixins’ in place and makes everything easy to eat.

Barrio tends to be extra-super-generous with the fish, so if you like the dominant ingredient to be of the finned variety, this is your go-to spot. If you’re looking to pair it with a cocktail, try their Tamarindo Whiskey Sour (a particularly good option when it’s discounted during happy hour).

 

Longboard Louie’s 

Two varieties of fish tacos wasn’t enough for you at Barrio? How about THREE choices at Longboard Louie’s?

Salsa-packed fish tacos in three varieties (rockfish, halibut, and salmon) at Longboard Louie's.

Salsa-packed fish tacos in three varieties (rockfish, halibut, and salmon) at Longboard Louie’s.

Their expansive fish taco menu includes rockfish, halibut, and salmon, and you can order individually or try all three (though make sure you have a hearty appetite if you go that route).

The rockfish is breaded, but the salmon is not. You have your choice between breaded or grilled with the halibut. All three are served in corn tortillas with pico de gallo, fish sauce, and generous helpings of cabbage and/or lettuce. I sampled all three and went back and forth swooning for different reasons. If pressed to pick a favorite, I’d have to vote for the breaded halibut. The fish is rich and flavorful, and a moist contrast to the crispy breading and the abundance of flavorful veggies.

You can opt to hit their famous salsa bar for an extra flavor boost, though I found these to be perfectly dressed already. Also, if you happen to be dining at the eastside Longboard Louie’s, you’ll find an infinite variety of customizable fish taco options in their build-your-own line. Both locations also have shrimp tacos, and depending on the season, I’ve occasionally been lucky enough to see crab on the menu.

 

Spork

I very rarely state my favorite when I do these “best of” blog posts for Visit Bend. But if someone put a gun to my head and forced me to choose only one set of fish tacos, I’d probably narrow it down to Spork and El Sancho. Then, after gauging the size of the gun and the proximity of the shooter, I would glance lovingly at the grilled sweet corn side dish and say, “Okay, Spork—you win this round.”

Catfish tacos and scrumptious grilled corn at Spork.

Catfish tacos and scrumptious grilled corn at Spork.

Setting aside from the nirvana that is the grilled sweet corn at Spork, the fish tacos here are mighty tasty. Made with battered and fried catfish, they’re piled with a scrumptious blend of cabbage, radish, cilantro, green onion, and a chili mayo that’s guaranteed to make your toes curl. You can add more spice if you like with the generous pile of jalapeño on the side, or squeeze on some extra lime for added zing. The grilled tortilla adds an extra smoky dimension that ties the whole thing together perfectly.

The fish tacos are made even tastier with a one of their creative cocktail concoctions. I fancied the Smoky Sunset made with rye, Townshend’s Tea Spirit Smoke Tea Liqueur, fresh lemon and orange juice, and a hint of sugar.

Did I mention the corn?

 

El Rancho Grande

This north-end option is a good choice for families shopping at the Cascade Village Shopping Center or returning from an afternoon of hiking at Smith Rock State Park.

Parmesan-dusted halibut tacos at El Rancho Grande.

Parmesan-dusted halibut tacos at El Rancho Grande.

The fish tacos here are made with top-quality halibut, which is a point of pride for the staff at El Rancho Grande. The fish is sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro, wrapped in soft corn tortillas, dipped in red sauce, lightly fried, and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. The whole thing is topped with avocado slices and pico de gallo.

If you’re thinking that sounds like a taco you’d need to eat with a fork, you’re right. If you’re thinking parmesan sounds a little odd on a fish taco, you’re wrong. It actually lends a unique flavor to these gooey, hearty tacos that come with a generous serving of beans and rice.

This restaurant is one of my step-kids’ favorite spots for family-friendly dining, and they make a fun presentation out of birthdays. Order the fresh guacamole (made right at your table) for an extra treat!

 

Hola!

If you’re a sucker for grilled food, Hola! is the spot for you. Both the halibut and the soft corn tortillas are grilled here, which lends a scrumptious, smoky flavor to the dish. The pico de gallo is fresh and flavorful and serves as a zingy contrast to the creaminess of avocado and sour cream.

Tasty fish tacos and a cocktail at Hola!

Tasty fish tacos and a cocktail at Hola!

There’s a handy convenience factor with Hola!, since they have five locations around Central Oregon. Swing by the Old Mill location if you’re shopping or watching a movie there, or stop at the Downtown Bend restaurant when you’re strolling Drake Park or hitting the historic Tower Theatre.

If you’re a cocktail aficionado, make sure you have a designated driver lined up. Unique offerings like the Vanilla Mango Mojito, the Pisco Sour (Peru’s national drink), and the Capirinhas (Brazil’s national drink) are sure to be palate pleasers and a tasty complement to your fish taco binge.

 

Real Food Street Bistro

This is one of two food carts at The Lot that offers fish tacos (the other is A La Carte, but more on that later). When polling local pals on their favorite spots for fish tacos, Real Food Street Bistro is one of the names I heard pretty frequently.

Panko and feta add extra dimensions of crunch and flavor to the fish tacos at Real Food Street Bistro.

Panko and feta add extra dimensions of crunch and flavor to the fish tacos at Real Food Street Bistro.

Panko-breaded Pacific cod is the centerpiece, and the panko adds an extra-crunchy dimension that’s a lovely contrast to the mildness of the cod. The tacos are rounded out with a chipotle avocado aioli, cilantro, feta cheese, and a pickled veggie blend that showcases this food cart’s flair for fermented food (they’re famous for their kimchee).

My favorite part of ordering at Real Food Street Bistro is their fondness for itty-bitty sides that let you try a few different things without filling up. The tacos come with a side of Himalayan red rice and black bean salad that’s a delicious accompaniment to the main dish. For an extra couple bucks, you can add another little side salad like the cucumber/carrot/sesame one I chose.

Insider tip: I found the double tortillas a little overkill here, so ditch the outside one if you prefer more focus on the taco guts than the taco wrapper.

 

A la Carte

While you’ll occasionally spot fish tacos on the specialty menu at A La Carte, they’re not a regular menu staple here.  But don’t let that stop you from hitting this tasty little food cart and grabbing an order of their shrimp tacos to keep your tastebuds on their toes.

Okay, so shrimp isn't "technically" a fish. You'll still love these tacos at A La Carte!

Okay, so shrimp isn’t “technically” a fish. You’ll still love these tacos at A La Carte!

Served in a smoky grilled tortilla, these tacos feature a handful of plump shrimp nestled in a flavorful blend of pineapple salsa, cotija, sweet onion, cilantro, radis, cabbage, and a drizzle of their tasty citrus sour cream. The overall flavor profile is very tropical, so go here if you’re feeling extra beachy.

Bonus: A La Carte sells the most deliciously sinful fries you’ll ever taste. If you’ve hit the Bend Ale Trail a little too hard, get your grease fix with their gorgonzola bacon fries cooked in peanut oil and served with gorgonzola aioli, chopped bacon, green onions, Cajun seasoning, and fresh gorgonzola.

 

Bend Brewing Company

Bend’s second-oldest brewery has long been one of my favorites for their proximity to the Deschutes River, their super-awesome kids’ menu, and for Ching Ching (their oh-so-yummy sour beer). But their brand new, recently-unveiled menu featured something I hadn’t seen there before—fish tacos!

Mahi mahi tacos on the brand new menu at Bend Brewing Company.

Mahi mahi tacos on the brand new menu at Bend Brewing Company.

Bend Brewing Company’s version features sriracha-seasoned mahi mahi in white corn tortillas with cabbage, cilantro, lime sour cream, and pineapple pico de gallo. The pineapple is what really makes this dish, plus the perfectly-petite size of these tacos makes them a lovely lighter lunch fare. They’re served with a side of chips and locally-made O’Hana salsa.

And since you’re on vacation anyway, go ahead and pair that lunch with a 22-ounce bottle of Ching Ching (since it’s only available on draft at certain times of the year) or a pint of their tasty Elk Lake IPA. Cheers!

 

 

 

4 good reasons to get up early in Bend, Oregon

March 10th, 2016

I am a morning person. My night-owl husband is not.

Sunrise in the Old Mill District (or anywhere else in Bend) is worth getting up a bit earlier during your Bend vacation.

Sunrise in the Old Mill District (or anywhere else in Bend) is worth getting up a bit earlier during your Bend vacation.

I was pondering this the other morning when I was out walking the dog under the most beautiful orangey-pink sunrise and thinking, “Too bad he’s missing this.”

On the other hand, there are some things that will lure him out of bed before the birds start chirping or the last starry-pinpricks have faded away. That got me tallying up things in Bend that are worth rolling out of bed early for, even if you have a chronic love affair with your snooze button.

Here are 4 good reasons to get a super-early start on your day at least once during your Bend vacation.

 

Did I mention the sunrise?

Bend is famous for its breathtaking cornucopia of color in the morning and evening skies. While just about everyone who visits Bend has witnessed a magnificent sunset firsthand, the sunrises can be a bit more elusive for late-risers. Luckily, that will change this weekend.

Sunrise happens pretty darn early in the first weeks of March (ranging between about 6:20 and 6:45 a.m.) but Daylight Saving Time gives you a nice little bonus in mid-March. In 2016, we spring forward on Sunday, March 13, and for about ten days after that, sunrise will happen between 7:20 and 7 a.m. It gets earlier again after about March 24, so the night-owls among you should seize that special date range to get out and catch the sunrise and still catch a couple extra ZZs.

For a handy reference guide to sunrise and sunset times in Bend, go here.

 

Mmmm . . . breakfast!

Bend has dozens and dozens of amazing restaurants where breakfast is served daily, and options range from a decadent eggs benedict to grab-and-go breakfasts that make it easy for you to hit the hiking trails early (more on that later).

The blackstone benedict at Chow is a darn good reason to get up early.

The blackstone benedict at Chow is a darn good reason to get up early.

But there are certain breakfast hotspots that are insanely popular among locals and visitors alike, and when you show up ravenous at 9:30 or 10 a.m., it can be frustrating to face an hour-long wait. I know I’m not along when I say that makes me pretty “hangry.”

Which is why it pays to get up a bit earlier if there’s a breakfast spot on your wish list that you know is prone to weekend crowds. A few that leap to mind that are well worth a wait, but so much nicer when you get there earlier and don’t have to wait: Chow, The Victorian Café, McKay Cottage, and Jackson’s Corner (the Westside location—Eastside isn’t usually as packed, so that’s a good option to try, especially on a day you plan to head east anyway for a Badlands hike).

It can vary a bit among restaurants, but generally speaking, showing up around 8 a.m. or earlier will help you avoid the crowds.

 

Time to fly

One of the best ways to get my night-owl hubby out of bed early is the motivation of an early morning flight. When we’re leaving Bend for vacation and heading someplace exotic, we do our best to get on one of the earliest flights in the 5-6 a.m. range.

The arrival waiting area at RDM airport.

The arrival waiting area at RDM airport.

Did you know RDM offers daily nonstop flights from Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City, and coming soon, Phoenix? Several of those can have you in Bend before noon, which means you’ll be on the ground in time to score a fabulous lunch or hit a few stops along the Bend Ale Trail.

Go here to check flight times in and out of RDM.

 

Early birds get the worm . . . and the solitude!

Some of the most popular hiking trails around Bend can get pretty packed, particularly once the weather turns warm. That can kinda kill the mood if one of the reasons you’re venturing into the woods in the first place is to commune with nature or find a little peace and solitude.

2014-New-Years-Day-Sunrise-Adventure-5diii-10The earlier you can hit the trail, the better your odds will be of having the place to yourself for at least a little while. Why not kill several early birds with one stone by getting up early for sunrise, snagging the aforementioned grab-and-go breakfast, and then heading out on the hiking trail for your day’s adventure?

This is especially true if you’re hoping to hike at a spot that requires a bit of a drive to reach it. Go here to learn about five spots worth the extra drive time to visit when you’re in Bend. Then plan accordingly and get an early start on the day you want to visit.

 

 


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