Chicago travel blogger

Amman & Petra

It's rare to find a city like Amman: steeped in history, is clearly Middle Eastern and at the same time is beautiful. Roman ruins carved into mountains right in the middle of a bustling downtown. Hipster coffee shops teeming with students and expats sit not too far from mosques and traditional restaurants, showing a society that has been there for centuries yet is also adaptable to the times. All the while, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are only a drive away.

I spent this trip with much family time, relaxing, taking things slow, and eating delicious home-cooked seasonal Syrian food. I also had the pleasure of helping out some friends at Happiness Again, a non-profit aiding traumatized Syrian children displaced from the war, which will come in a later blog post. For now, I'll be sharing photos from Amman, and keep reading to see highlights from Petra!

My dad and I took a day trip to Petra sort of last minute. Quick tip: if you have the time, I'd suggest staying overnight. The place is HUGE, and there's really so much to explore. Petra is also apparently very special to see at night, which we did not get a chance to experience. We got a chance to see just about all of it in the handful of hours that we had. It truly is an impressive and majestic place.

✨Favorite Non-Middle Eastern Places to Break Fast During Ramadan in Chicago✨

Chicken enchiladas and chicken pozole at Estrella Negra

Chicken enchiladas and chicken pozole at Estrella Negra

Ramadan is in full swing. For many of us that means more family time and more home-cooked meals. But every once in awhile, you don't want to prepare that home-cooked meal. Maybe your non-fasting friend asks you to grab dinner, and you're sick of that one Middle Eastern place your family eats at every other day, so you try to think of another suggestion.

Read below for some of my favorite non-Middle Eastern places in Chicago where I love to break fast. Requirements: friendly and relaxed atmosphere, don't have to wait too long for food, serves soup, serves coffee all day and has hearty but not straight-to-the-gut food.

Estrella Negra

Estrella Negra

Estrella Negra: I love this place. Its location makes it sort of under the radar, which is what I prefer lately. I've been coming here for years because the food is on point and the atmosphere is quirky yet no-fuss. The reason why this place is perfect for iftar is because each entree comes with a complimentary starter, which means their chicken pozole (soup) is included with your meal! I love any place that makes iftar easy for me, and this place does just that. Their service is also quick and reliable, so you don't have to stare drooling at other people's plates for too long.

Beatrix: What's not to love about Beatrix? They have incredible coffee, their food is clean and fresh, and they have enough options for any heart's desire. The ample juice options are definitely a plus, especially during Ramadan, and their soups are always delicious. Even though they change their soups seasonally, they always list what they're serving online, so you don't have to worry about showing up to the restaurant and finding out there's an unexpected ham or bacon addition (don't you hate when that happens?), and I'm pretty sure the soup is always either vegan or vegetarian. The rest of the food is really great as well. My favorites include kennebec fries, brussel sprouts, any of the salads and short ribs.

Grilled cheese and tomato and fennel soup at Bite Cafe

Grilled cheese and tomato and fennel soup at Bite Cafe

Bite Cafe: I came across this place a few Ramadans ago when I was really craving a tomato soup and grilled cheese. And let me tell you, after fasting, Bite Cafe's tomato and fennel soup and grilled cheese on sourdough really hits the spot. It's pretty much the main reason why it made this list, not to mention the friendly and quick service, Dark Matter coffee served all day and lovely atmosphere.

You'll probably have room for other food post-fasting. You can round out the meal with their Super Salad or their Roasted Beet Salad, or if you really want to go for it, you can dive all-in with a flank steak or burger. Tomato soup, grilled cheese and steak? Sounds like a winning iftar to me.

Ropa vieja at 90 Miles Cuban Cafe

Ropa vieja at 90 Miles Cuban Cafe

90 Miles Cuban Cafe:  When I think of what I want to eat to break my fast, I think of hot, hearty food that's been stewed for a long time over a kitchen stove. Maybe it's because I was blessed to grow up with an amazing home cook (and now catering business owner) who poured her whole heart into everything she fed us. 90 Miles' ropa vieja is just like that. It's packed with flavor and tastes like someone's mama or grandmama slaved over it all day. Eat it with a side of plantains and beans & rice and have yourself an awesome meal. Soup and coffee are also served.

Bite Cafe

Bite Cafe

Silom 12: I love Thai curry for iftar because it's hot, it's fresh and it warms your soul as it goes down. There were a couple other places I was thinking of including, but I landed on Silom 12 because of one simple reason: they have straight coffee, no added sugar, no condensed milk. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Thai coffee or Thai tea, but after a day of fasting, all I really want is a nice cup of hot, fresh black coffee. This also obviously made the list because Silom 12's food is delicious. I wouldn't mind going for a nice Panang Curry right about now.

Can someone please tell me why I decided to write this post while fasting? Excuse me while I go drool and lay horizontal on the couch until it's time to eat again.

Do you guys have any favorite places to break fast? Leave it in the comments below! I'm always looking for new suggestions.

Beirut, Lebanon

I was beyond excited leading up to our Beirut trip in the beginning of March. I had been dreaming about it for almost 15 years, after all (yeesh that makes me feel old). Why? It's obvious to anyone that's visited and has been enchanting people for centuries. Juxtaposition is a common theme, with dilapidated and broken vs. fresh and new, a party that never stops vs. extreme religiosity. Its unique history makes it absolutely captivating with its constant battle of preservation and ingenuity. Again, just like last time, I can't wait to go back, hopefully this time sooner than 15 years from now. I hope these photos satisfy your visual wanderlust, and scroll to the bottom for a list of what we did!

To stay: Villa Clara, hands down. It's super cozy, in the cutest neighborhood, and the breakfast, cooked daily by chef Rami Boutros, is to die for. The rooms are also each individually and adorably decorated. Do it!

To eat: I could probably go on about this for days. Here are some of our favorites we tried:
Mayrig: Mmmmm....super yummy Armenian food with the loveliest garden.
Tawlet: I wish I went back to this place again and again. It's owned by the same people as the farmer's market Souk El Tayeb. Everything is super fresh according to what's good in the market that week. The inviting long wooden tables just ask people to hang out for an entire afternoon and go back to the buffet for seconds...thirds...and maybe fourths. That day we ate kibbeh nayeh (Middle Eastern beef tartare, only to be eaten in the freshest restaurants), cauliflower fetteh (a tahini and yogurt dish made with fried cauliflower and croutons), so many salads, green beans in yogurt, and so much more.
Al-Sultan Brahim: Definitely worth the drive to Jounieh for this one. We came here specifically to get the little fish that give the restaurant's name: sultan ibrahim. I also had fish kibbeh for the first time here! There's also the typical Lebanese fair, which also looked amazing, but we weren't hungry enough, so we saved it for next time!

To do:

  • Walk around Mar Mikhael
  • Go to the Sursock Museum
  • Visit Souk el Tayeb, open on Saturdays
  • Take a day trip to Jeita Grotto (so cool), Byblos, Harissa (in the mountaintops) and then Jounieh for sultan ibrahim!
  • Shop! I didn't have time to do as much as I wanted, but I absolutely loved Zawal and the showroom slash jungle oasis slash cafe above it called Beyt. Seriously, inspiration overload.

I hope you enjoyed reading these! By the way, I'm thinking about putting some content together to help you capture your life, either in everyday, in important moments, or when traveling. Tell me, what would you like to know! What can I offer you? Comment below or shoot me an email! I'd really love to hear from you.

Until next time!

Seville, Spain

Hey guys. It's been a whirlwind of a couple months. I really thought I was going to keep up to date with posting while I was traveling! Better late than never. 

I'm so excited to be posting about Seville. I first visited when I was 15 years old, and I decided it was my favorite city we visited in Spain. I've since visited many other cities (including a study abroad experience in 2006), and I continue to have such a strong connection to it. It's romantic and historic. Calm and relaxed. I always feel so happy when I'm there. It's no wonder that when we were discussing where to host our wedding, Seville quickly became the top of the list. Keep reading for some photos and some of our favorite things to eat, see and do in this beautiful city!

 

*did you see my parents up there in Casa de Pilatos? aren't they adorable??

To stay: the beauty of Seville is that everything is super close. I've stayed at Hospes las Casas el Rey de Baeza, which is a perfectly charming boutique hotel in the old part of town. I've also stayed at the Hotel Alfonso XIII, which is luxurious and historic. If you don't get a chance to stay at the Alfonso, at least make a point to have a brunch there (they have jazz brunch every Sunday) or sit in the courtyard for a drink or coffee.

To eat: So eating in Spain is funny. The food is literally so good, and the ingredients are some of the best in the world, but it's kinda difficult to navigate. There is a huge risk of finding tourist traps, especially in a city like Seville. You kind of have to know where to look and what's typical for certain regions. To get a crash course on eating in Seville, we did the most sensible thing: took a tour. You can definitely navigate the eating on your own, but we knew we would have to educate people for the wedding, so taking a tour seemed like the best and quickest way we could learn how to eat (the right way) so everyone could have the best eating experiences possible. Devour Food Tours was seriously awesome, and I often refer back to their website for restaurant recommendations in Spain, and all of the recommendations have been top-notch.
conTenedor: Our favorite meal in Seville. Organic, fresh and well-sourced ingredients with a frequently changing menu. The atmosphere is also jovial with great service, so it's hard not to have a good time.
La Bulla: Also so good. Taking care to have the best ingredients in a slightly more casual atmosphere than conTenedor.
Freiduria Puerta de la Carne: Fried seafood is such a thing in Seville. We saw lines out the door just about everyday before we decided to eat some of our own! Be sure to grab lots of lemon wedges and snag a seat outside. 
You can also tapear by hopping to various bars and trying their bites of food. If the place is crowded, that's a good thing. Be sure to take a look around and see what people are ordering to see what looks good to you. After one tapa, move onto the next place!
For must-try dishes, I'm not even going to try to list them. I'll just refer you to the Devour Tours website here.

To shop: La Lina 1960 has some seriously gorgeous traditional flamenco digs and accessories. The shop was opened by the shop owner's mother, who even dressed Grace Kelly! Everything is handmade and of the utmost quality. 
Arjé has super stylish vintage and new home decor. We only picked up some coffee cups here (space and weight was limited), but there's so much more! 

To do: Walk the streets. Seriously, just walk and get lost. Otherwise:

  • It may sound cheesy, but see a flamenco show. You might get lucky and spot one at a random bar. If you don't want to leave it to chance you can see a tablao. My favorite one is Tablao Los Gallos.
  • I think this goes without saying, but go to the Real Alcazar.
  • Visit the Casa de Pilatos. It's absolutely gorgeous.
  • Go to the Plaza de España

Overall, just take it easy. Andalucia is notably slower than much of the rest of Spain, so enjoy the siesta, take in the atmosphere, and let yourself fall in love. Watch out for more posts coming soon! I can't wait to tell you about Beirut.