Thursday, March 28, 2013

Top 100 U.S. Hot Spot Restaurants

2013 Diners' Choice Award winners for Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in the United States have been announced today.
These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 15,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Winning restaurants are scattered throughout 21 states. California topped the list, taking 26 places on the list of winners. Florida follows with 18 winning restaurants. New York has its share of fashionable honorees, claiming 14 spots on the list. For the second year in a row, Illinois accounts for 11 winners, followed again by Nevada with seven standouts. Georgia and Texas restaurants earned three places apiece, while Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, and Tennessee each boast two. Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina are also represented. Cuisines at the winning restaurants are as eclectic as the list itself. American, Asian, Greek, Italian, Japanese, and Mexican fares are represented, as are pizza, sushi, and tapas, among others.
"This year's winning restaurants have all the ingredients diners need to spice up any evening, whether it's a midweek meal or a destination celebration," said Caroline Potter, OpenTable Chief Dining Officer. "Beyond cool crowds, daring drink lists, and inventive menus, these hot spots are cultivating a sexy see-and-be-seen ambience that will make for a night to remember."
The Diners' Choice Awards for the Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants is generated from more than 5 million reviews collected from verified OpenTable diners between March 1, 2012 and February 28, 2013. All restaurants with a minimum "overall" score and number of qualifying reviews were included for consideration. Qualifying restaurants were then scored and sorted according to the percentage of qualifying reviews for which "hot spot" was selected as a special feature.
Based on this methodology, the following restaurants, listed in alphabetical order, comprise the top 100 hot spot restaurants in the U.S. according to OpenTable diners. 

2013 Diners' Choice Award Winners for Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in the U.S.
Ada Street – Chicago, Illinois
B.B. King's Blues Club – Memphis, Tennessee
Baoli Miami – Miami Beach, Florida
Bavettes – Chicago, Illinois
The Bazaar by Jose Andres – Los Angeles, California
The Bazaar by Jose Andres at SLS Hotel South Beach – Miami Beach, Florida
Beauty and Essex – New York, New York
Bestia – Los Angeles, California
BOA Steakhouse – West Hollywood, California
The Boarding House – Chicago, Illinois
Buccan – Palm Beach, Florida
Buddakan – New York, New York
Buddah Sky Bar – Delray Beach, Florida
Campo – Reno, Nevada
Catch – New York, New York
Cavo – Astoria, New York
Chambers Eat + Drink – San Francisco, California
Chino Latino – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Cleo-SBE – Los Angeles, California
Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House – Chicago, Illinois
Del Frisco's Grille – Dallas, Texas
Departure Restaurant and Lounge – Portland, Oregon
do Restaurant at the View – Atlanta, Georgia
El Vez – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Firefly Tapas Kitchen Bar – Henderson, Nevada
Fly Bar & Restaurant – Tampa, Florida
The Food Market – Baltimore, Maryland
FT33 – Dallas, Texas
Gilt Bar – Chicago, Illinois
Girl & the Goat – Chicago, Illinois
Grille One Sixteen – Tampa, Florida
Hakkasan – San Francisco, California
Hendrick's Tavern – Roslyn, New York
Herringbone – La Jolla, California
Hip Kitty Jazz & Fondue – Claremont, California
Honu Kitchen and Cocktails – Huntington, New York
HUB 51 – Chicago, Illinois
The Hurricane Club – New York, New York
ink. – Los Angeles, California
Juvia – Miami, Florida
Katana – West Hollywood, California
Katsuya-Brentwood-SBE – Brentwood, California
Katsuya-Hollywood-SBE – Los Angeles, California
Lavo – Las Vegas, Nevada
Linger – Denver, Colorado
Lulu California Bistro – Palm Springs, California
The Macintosh – Charleston, South Carolina
Manhattan Beach Post – Manhattan Beach, California
Mateo – Durham, North Carolina
Mercato di Vetro – West Hollywood, California
Miss Lily's – New York, New York
Monsoon Asian Kitchen & Lounge – Babylon, New York
MUA – Oakland, California
N9NE Steakhouse – Las Vegas, Nevada
Nada – Cincinnati, Ohio
nopa – San Francisco, California
Ouzo Bay – Baltimore, Maryland
Palmilla Cocina Y Tequila – Hermosa Beach, California
Paris Club – Chicago, Illinois
Picca – Los Angeles, California
Playground – Santa Ana, California
Prato – Winter Park, Florida
Provisions – Houston, Texas
Red Ginger – Traverse City, Michigan
Red Lantern – Boston, Massachusetts
Restaurant IPO – Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Rocco's Tacos & Tequila Bar – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Rocco's Tacos & Tequila Bar – West Palm Beach, Florida
RPM Italian – Chicago, Illinois
Searsucker – San Diego, California
Searsucker – Scottsdale, Arizona
Soco – Brooklyn, New York
The Spence – Atlanta, Georgia
The Stanton Social – New York, New York
STK-Los Angeles – West Hollywood, California
STK-Miami – Miami, Florida
STK-NYC-Meatpacking – New York, New York
STK-The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas – Las Vegas, Nevada
Sub Zero Vodka Bar – St. Louis, Missouri
SUGARCANE raw bar grill – Miami, Florida
Sunda – Chicago, Illinois
Sushi POP – Oviedo, Florida
Sushi Roku – Scottsdale, Arizona
SUSHISAMBA dromo – Miami Beach, Florida
SUSHISAMBA strip – Las Vegas, Nevada
Tao – New York, New York
Tao Restaurant and Nightclub – Las Vegas, Nevada
The Tasting Kitchen – Venice, California
Toku Modern Asian – Manhasset, New York
Trio Restaurant – Palm Springs, California
The Tropicale – Palm Springs, California
Tsunani Shaw Center – Baton Rouge, Louisiana
TWO urban licks – Atlanta, Georgia
Untitled – Chicago, Illinois
Virago – Nashville, Tennessee
Wang's in the Desert – Palm Springs, California
Wynwood Kitchen and Bar – Miami, Florida
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar – Miami Beach, Florida
YOLO – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Zuma Japanese Restaurant – Miami, Florida

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

10 Tips on How to Make a Difference When Traveling Abroad

Llama Expeditions Offers Ten Tips on How to Make Donations Meaningful
When Traveling Abroad
Yours Truly with a local in Peru

When traveling internationally, I always wrestle with my good intentions, never wanting to insult the locals but sincerely wanting to make a difference, albeit in a small way.  Thus, when I came across the following information provided by Llama Expeditions' Diane Valenti, I deemed it a "must share."  Go here to check out Diane's web site.

1) Ask. Don't assume that you know what people need or want. I heard a story when I was hiking with llamas in the Lares Valley. About a month before, a trekker had given his fleece jacket to one of the local kids. He thought the kid, dressed in his traditional clothing, looked cold. The community was offended and incensed. They saw the gift as a slight, as if the trekker was implying that their traditional clothing wasn't good enough.

2) Patronize businesses that help. For example, we make it a habit to patronize Heart's Cafe in Ollantaytambo. Living Heart is a non-profit organization that provides services to impoverished people living in the Andes. They have projects focused on helping with nutrition, education, health and sustainable agriculture. The profits from the Cafe go to helping fund the projects.

3) Support local businesses. This could mean choosing locally owned hotels over international chains and eating in locally owned restaurants. This helps improve the standard of living for the local people as your money stays within the community, doing good for the community. Even better, participate in community tourism by doing a home stay. This benefits local communities directly and it makes for an unforgettable vacation experience as you fully immerse yourself in a different culture.

4) Buy handicrafts instead of handing out money. This cultivates a culture of entrepreneurship instead of a culture of begging. Sometimes buying handicrafts from children can be touchy. In some countries, if you buy handicrafts from children, you are encouraging their parents to keep them out of school. In other countries, school is not an option. So, buying handicrafts from children can help put food on the family table. If you are not sure, ask a local.

5) Do your research. Make sure that the non-profit you want to support is in the business of empowering the communities with which they work instead of doing it for them. We work with the Center of Traditional Textiles of Cusco. They help communities in the Andes maintain and pass on their weaving traditions. The Center helps these communities to form cooperatives. They teach them about marketing and finance so in the end the community has a viable weaving business.

6) Consider volunteering but carefully vet the organization first. Make sure the organization you volunteer with has a lasting positive impact on the community. Doctors Without Borders is a good example. If you are going to be reading to orphans or building a school, consider the long-term impact. What is the impact to those orphans of having so many people pass through their lives? Are you taking away a local job by building a school locals could build?

7) Give goods instead of cash. Unless you are donating directly to a reputable non-profit, it is often better to give goods instead of cash. Toothbrushes, notebooks, pens, books in good condition can all be meaningful contributions. Cash can too easily disappear.

8) Don't think you have to give a lot to make a difference. Depending on the country, you can spend $25 or $50 for supplies or equipment to make a real difference to a school, a group of kids playing ball, or a clinic. Every drop in the bucket adds up.

9) Prove your intentions are pure. If you are going to be hanging out with children for any length of time, expect to go through a background check. You might be a good person, but not everyone has an agenda that is so pure. Responsible tour operators will ask you to submit a background check for the protection of the children.

10) Go on a philanthropic tour. The advantage is that the tour operator has done all the legwork for you and will incorporate many if not all of the suggestions above. 

About Llama ExpeditionsEntrepreneur and outdoorswoman Diane Valenti hatched the idea for her company in 2008 over a home-cooked chicken dinner at close to 14,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes. She has been able to apply her over 20 years as a business consultant working with clients such as Genentech, Nike, and Starbucks Coffee Company to her enterprise that goes beyond just ordinary tourism.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Travel Book Recommendation

For those of you who want to travel economically, I recommend "How to Travel the World on $50 a Day" by Matt Kepnes. 

At his San Diego book signing Nomadic Matt (of Nomadic Matt blog fame) suggested, "Travel like locals live" and "don't eat within three blocks of a tourist attraction."

His philosophy of the US: "We don't have a travel culture, we have a vacation culture."  To check out the book, go here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Today, March 21

Happy Fragrance Day!  Yes, that's what today, March 21, represents.  Along those lines check out this article on making perfume in France.

GRASSE, FRANCE – For the first time I’m on the French Riviera – in Cannes. Traveling with my 22-year-old daughter, Kathryn, our route takes us along the seafront boulevard, beneath umbrella-like palms and past beaches sprinkled with sun worshipers. As we negotiate promenade de la Croisette, we continue pass bustling outdoor cafes.

“Where are we going?” you might question. What could be a greater lure than the aforementioned French enticements?

The answer: perfume.

For the rest of the story, go here.


Answer: The Tyrol region of Austria.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 20, 2013

Happy 1st Day of Spring, which officially began at 7:02 am (EDT) today.
Along those lines: Where, oh where, in the world is this?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On the Road Travel Emergencies

You can’t safeguard against every travel upset. But what’s the worst move travelers make? They leave home unprepared, says Alex Puig of International SOS, a U.S. company offering emergency evacuations. Here’s a primer on how to bounce back gracefully from a trip gone awry.

I’ve Been Robbed

One recent survey named Barcelona as the top pickpocketing destination, followed by Rome, Prague, and Madrid. Regardless of your locale, always watch your things when in a new place. Carry a throwaway wallet or decoy purse containing daily cash and old photos but nothing that would make you hesitate to hand it over in a holdup. Keep a credit card and cash in an inside pocket.
1. Hand over the fake wallet.
2. Notify the police.

My Passport’s Gone

When it comes to your most important carry-on—your passport—practice triple redundancy: Keep a color copy in a safe place (such as your hotel room), leave a copy with someone trusted at home, and scan a copy as an electronic document and store it in “the cloud” (try DropBox or Google’s Drive). Copies of the passport ID page, airline tickets, driver’s license, and credit cards can also help verify your identity.
1. Contact your embassy or consulate immediately.
2. Alert your airline and travel insurance company if you need to change your travel plans.

Credit Card: Denied

Your American credit card may lack a microchip used for security internationally, or your credit card company may cut you off due to its fraud-detection system. Before leaving home, let your credit card company know of your travel plans to ensure the fraud algorithm doesn’t shut down your spending power. While you’re at it, ask your bank about getting a card with a microchip and PIN number, the type accepted in places such as Europe. In 2013, most major U.S. credit card companies are moving to a “smart card” system—cards with a microchip and signature.
1. Call the international toll-free number on your credit card.
2. Switch to debit or cash.

Is That a Riot Ahead?

It may be tempting to lose yourself in a demonstration—especially if it’s newsworthy—but resist the urge and avoid the vicinity of strikes, protests, and mobs.
1. Leave the area of the riot as quickly as possible.
2. Do not take photos. A foray into photojournalism could place you in more danger.
3. Return to your hotel. Or go to the nearest embassy or consulate. If the violence spreads, leave the country.


From iffy time-shares sold to resort guests to that “special” offer on Thai jewelry, scams have long lured distracted travelers. Beware of pitches made in places frequented by tourists, such as famous landmarks, airports, and train stations.
1. Notify the police.
2. If you used a credit card, dispute the charge.
3. Report the scam online (Facebook, Twitter) to warn others and put the scammers on notice.

When Natural Disaster Strikes

If you’re staying where a disaster such as a tsunami is a possibility, get familiar with warning signs, such as the sirens that warn of an approaching wave.
1. Heed any official warnings.
2. Ask before acting; it may be smarter to stay put than to evacuate (such as during a hurricane, when seeking shelter is often wiser than trying to outrun the storm).
3. Leave the area as soon as it’s safe to travel.

Solve Every Crisis article from National Geographic Traveler, Christopher Elliott

Monday, March 18, 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Irish Prayer“May the road rise up
    to meet you
May the wind be always at
   your back
May the sunshine warm
   upon your face
The rain fall soft upon
   your fields
And until we meet again,
  may God
Hold you in the palm
  of His Hand.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Travia: State Fact Colorado

Photo by Cynthia Dial

State Fact: Colorado - In 1976 it became the only state to turn down the Olympics.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Travel News: United Airlines

United Airlines Postpones Flight So Passenger Can Say Goodbye to His Dying Mother

If Kerry Drake missed his connecting flight, he wouldn't get to the hospital in time to say goodbye to his mother.
Drake got the news on the morning of January 24 that his mother, who had been ill for years from rheumatoid arthritis and had been especially sick the last four months, was dying.
To get to his mother in Lubbock, Texas, the San Francisco resident booked a United Airlines flight, with only 40 minutes between connecting flights in Houston. When his first flight was delayed, Drake thought he would miss his connecting flight to Lubbock, the last one of the day.
He started crying, obviously distraught. The flight attendants brought napkins for his tears, said they would do what they could to help, and most importantly, got his connecting flight information to the captain.
Photo by Cynthia Dial
For the rest of this feel good story, go here.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Travel Warning: No Photos in Flight

Watch out if you're taking photos while in flight, especially on United.  Check out what happened to this travel blogger. For the rest of the story, go here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Insider's San Diego

Great night at Warwick's Books in La Jolla attending book signing of Rorke Denver, Navy Seal author of "Damn Few" who also appeared in movie Act of Valor. Love Warwick's, nation's largest independent book store.


Photo by Cynthia Dial
The world's smallest independent state is the Vatican City, with a population of about 1,000 and a zero birthrate.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, Canada

In my recent BC visit I experienced luxury in two completely different environs - the first on an outer island in a rural retreat and the second smack dab in the middle of downtown Vancouver's vibrancy.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim. My re-entry into a faster pace was seamless—by private car from the heliport to the harbor (courtesy of the luxury hotel’s BMW car service).
Photo by Cynthia Dial
For details, which were featured in JustLuxe, go here.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Photo by Cynthia Dial
American Airlines operates a NYC-LAX flight #21, so named because, at one time, its in-flight menu minimicked the menu at New York's venerated 21 Club.