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A Stay at the American Trade Hotel in Panama City, Panama

Tropical prints in the library at the American Trade Hotel in Panama City

During my recent trip to Panama City, I stayed at the newly opened American Trade Hotel, which is part of the Ace Hotel collection and it’s first Central American outpost. As soon as I entered the lobby, I felt like I had been transported to Havana during it’s heydey– but that probably had something to do with photo shoot that was happening, complete with a handsome male model rocking a Castro-esque beard.

Lounge chairs at the American Trade Hotel

Located in the historic Casco Viejo district, the American Trade Hotel feels like an Ex-Pat hangout of yore, yet only opened last year. Props to the team at Commune Design for pulling it off. 

The pool at the American Trade Hotel is small, but pretty

Since Ace properties aren’t known for having spacious rooms, I was divided my stay between two room categories: the smaller Cuarto, and then a Suite. I was surprised to find the Cuarto was spacious enough and would have been fine for my entire stay. The suite had a separate living room and very impressive bathroom, but was more space than I needed traveling solo.

I loved the vibrant mix of colors and layers of texture

The communal spaces are high on both comfort and visual impact, with an outdoor terrace, a small pool and lounge chair area, a gorgeous library, and a cool lobby. There is free wifi throughout the property.

The Living room of a suite at the American Trade Hotel

Both rooms had exceptionally high ceilings with fans, as well as all the usual creature comforts. And Ace properties always have standout bathrobes. The mini bar featured regional snacks like plantain chips and chips called Chicharrón that took me a minute to figure out were pork rinds.

Gorgeous tiled bathroom in a suite at the American Trade Hotel

The staff was friendly and helpful and the cafe con leche sublime. They were open to hearing comments (I suggested they add a way to vary the fan speed, the chain to change it was so high up I couldn’t reach it).

Left: Dual rain showers in a suite at the American Trade Hotel Right: Aesop bath amenities

My one complaint– It was noisy. Not so much the fault of the hotel or hotel design, but Panamanians like loud (and sometimes bad) music and there was a party hosted on a nearby rooftop which made sleeping a bit tricky. Both rooms had balcony access overlooking the park.

Gorgeous claw foot bath tub and tile combo

The restaurant was lovely and served excellent pulled pork, and service at breakfast and lunch was great. I thought the bar staff could have been a bit more on proactive, but overall I had a great stay at the American Trade Hotel and wouldn’t have any problem recommending it to anyone interested in checking out this charming barrio in Panama City.

Comfy King-sized bed in the bed room of the American Trade Hotel

The view from the lobby to the restaurant

Excellent pulled pork and a local beer for lunch

Left: Tropical upholstery in the hotel’s restaurant Right: I loved the colorful tile in the restaurant

Empanadas for lunch

The sleek bar felt like a modern riff on a Colonial ex-pat hangout

Panama hats ironically hail from Ecuador, but look cool poolside

American Trade Hotel

Address: Plaza Herrera, Casco Viejo, Panama
Phone:+507 211-2000
Rates start at $249

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Scenes From Panama City’s Casco Viejo Barrio

Casco Viejo has an Old Havana type vibe

When my plans for a trip to Havana recently fell through, I took the opportunity to instead visit Panama, making the Central nation  my 77th country visited. I’ve spent the past few days using the American Trade Hotel (an Ace Hotel Property) as my home base. It’s been 90 degrees with humidity to match, but I’m made an effort to get out with my cameras and shoot some photos.

The colorful Casco Viejo barrio in Panama City

The American Trade Hotel is located in the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood, which is in the middle of being gentrified, the vibe has some definite similarities to the crumbling beauty of Old Havana. There are restaurants and hotels popping up in the barrio which feels a world away from the “Dubai of Latin America” vibe you get other skyscrapers in other parts of the city.

Left: An abandoned building near Casco Antiguo Right: A nun walking the street

Unlike Havana, there are no cool old classic pre-embargo cars on the streets, and the traffic is some of the worst I’ve seen. But the Latin American love of life is clear here, and the coffee is some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Panama hats poolside at the American Trade Hotel

My American Ex-Pat friend who lives here swears by Gesha. If you’re not heading to Central America any time soon, worry not. You can buy Gesha for $69 for a 1lb bag of whole beans from Stumptown.Drinks and taxis and food are very reasonably priced. $20 will buy you a killer Panama hat (a misnomer, by the way, so-called Panama hats originated in Ecuador).

Cool street murals in Casco Viejo (mobile photography)

Panama’s mix of cultures has caught me a bit off guard, but the cultural mashup and diverse ethnic makes sense when you think of Panama’s strategic location as the bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and sitting between North and South America.

Texting on the job

It’s been fun exploring the barrio. After being here a few days I’ve observed that Panamanians seem to like their colors bright and their music loud. They party into the wee hours.

Scene from a Hot Saturday Night in Casco Viejo, Panama City

To be honest, I couldn’t figure out if the people I saw on the street at 7 am thought it was late at night or early morning. I’m not sure it even matters because everyone seemed to be having a good time. I know I did.

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Where to Eat in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone: The Lark

The cozy outdoor patio at the Lark is kept toasty with heaters

During my recent trip to Santa Barbara, I wanted to have dinner at The Lark, which had come highly recommended to me by a friend. The Lark is located in a building which used to be a fish market in the middle of the Santa Barbara Funk Zone. I’ve always been a fan of re-purposed spaces and was very excited to check it out for myself.

The Lark’s funky space is a renovated former fish market

Since I had my dog, Scarlet, with me on this trip, I decided to keep her in the car rather than leave her unattended at the Santa Barbara Auto Camp. Santa Barbara is a very dog friendly town and the valet made sure my car was parked in the restaurant’s lot so he could keep an eye on Scarlet. Did I mention the valet parking was free? I love that about Santa Barbara. The valet got a big tip for watching Scarlet.

The Lark’s casual chic vibe is so perfect for Southern California

The Lark is very on trend. Their menu focuses on locally sourced tapas and small shareable plates, and they have a wine menu that features a lot of Santa Barbara area wine producers. There is also an impressive cocktail menu (I give a thumbs up to the $12 Maduro Margarita made with green chartreuse, agave, and egg white) and a lot of mircobrews on their menu.

Staying on point, The Lark has an “of the moment” 24 seat communal dining table. I invited my photographer friend who lives in Goleta to join me for dinner. He was impressed that The Lark was doing so well since it opened last year because “there are A LOT of restaurants in this town.”

The Skuna Bay Salmon $14 was a bit tricky to share

Our server was very helpful in suggesting the right amount of food to order and offering suggestions. Instead of bread, flavored popcorn was offered on arrival. Flavored popcorn is like a thing in Santa Barbara.

For our first course, we had the Roast Beet salad ($12)  and it was winner. It was earthy and easy to share with dandelion greens, blood oranges, and feta.

Next we tried the Citrus Cured Skuna Bay Salmon ($14). It was served with black‍ pepper creme fraiche, yuzu, dill, pickled shallot, and brioche. This was my least favorite item of the evening, because it was a bit tricky/messy to share (and salmon isn’t my favorite fish).

We followed that with a trio of sliders which were a special that evening. They were yum but I can’t remember the price. Next we had the Hanger Steak ($15) served  marinated and grilled, with charred broccoli crispy shallots, chile and mint. For me, the Hanger Steak was the standout dish of the evening and the portion perfect to share.

The Lark’s dinner menu

Our meal was so good we decided to try the Passionfruit Pavlova (price forgotten) made with braised pineapple, white chocolate ganache and kiwi. I was underwhelmed by the ganache, but the braised pineapple was unique and tasty and paired nicely with my herbal tea (suggested by our waitress).

The entire experience at The Lark– from valet to dessert– was fantastic, and it’s no shocker the restaurant has been embraced by locals and visitors alike.

TIP: The Lark is hot, I’d advise making reservations well in advance (I made mine via OpenTable). The Lark also is social media savvy. Check out  some of their killer food porn on their Instagram and Twitter accounts.

The Lark

Address: 131 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, United States

Phone:1 805-284-0370

Tuesday through Sunday

Dinner:  5pm – 10pm

Bar Only:  10pm – 12am

Much thanks to Linda Clark at for giving me this fantastic recommendation. I’m passing it on.

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Where to eat in Santa Barbara: Norton’s Pastrami and Deli is a Delicious Bargain

Mom’s PLT made with crispy pastrami & chipotle mayo at Norton’s

I ate well during last week’s trip to Santa Barbara, and one of the most memorable meals came in at under $20 and was from Norton’s Pastrami and Deli. A friend of mine who had learned about Norton’s when he saw it on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network and had tried it. When he started waxing nostalgic while describing Norton’s Mom’s PLT Sandwich– made with the crispy parts of the pastrami, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo on toasted sourdough bread, I knew I had to try it.

The Philly Steak sandwich at Norton’s goes for $8.79

A full Mom’s PLT will set you back $8.99. You can also order a half sandwich for $6.99. Norton’s has two locations, and I ate at the Norton’s on South Milpas Street. You order from a snack bar type shack at the East Beach Batting Cages and eat on simple picnic tables on the patio. The menu goes beyond pastrami, and the Philly Steak sandwich ($8.79) was also good but not as memorable as the PLT.

Norton’s Pastrami has two locations in Santa Barbara

The Mom’s PLT from Norton’s was so hella delicious, I thought about returning for another one during my visit. I’ll definitely be heading to Norton’s again the next time I’m in the Santa Barbara area. Norton’s Pastrami is a budget friendly find. Don’t expect much atmosphere– at Norton’s it’s all about the pastrami!

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli

Two Locations:

Norton’s Pastrami and Deli

18 W Figueroa St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

1 805-965-3210

Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 10:30am-3:30pm

Norton’s Pastrami and Deli East Beach Batting Cages

226 S. Milpas Santa Barbara, CA 93103

Hours: Mon-Sat 10:30am-4pm


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Where to Eat in Big Sur: Sierra Mar Restaurant at the Post Ranch Inn

A pomegranate margarita at the bar at Sierra Mar in Big Sur

If your budget doesn’t allow for you to spend a night at the amazing Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, be sure to dine at the hotel’s Sierra Mar Restaurant. With unobstructed views of the Pacific and a prixe fix lunch menu for $50 (with optional trio of wine pairings for $29), a memorable meal in these special surroundings is a fine dining bargain.

People who live in glass houses should enjoy the view at Sierra Mar Restaurant

Chef Jon Cox’s dinner menu changes frequently based on the best of locally sourced ingredients. There is a four course option prixe fix for $120 and a nine course Taste of Big Sur for $160 (with optional wine pairings offered for $110). I wasn’t up for a four course dinner, and fortunately you can also order a la carte.

Part of the the breakfast buffet at Sierra Mar Restaurant

The Morro Bay oysters came highly recommended, but due to my shellfish allergy I had to pass. Instead I went for the mixed green and chicory salad with cucumber and buttermilk dill emulsion. The salad was beautiful  with bright flavors and perfectly dressed. 

House made guacamole & salsas are offered on the bar snack menu

Service is top notch– when I found my beef tenderloin a little underdone for my liking, my server quickly got it back on the grill and delivered to me perfect.

The firepit on the patio at Sierra Mar takes the nip out of of cool California air

Sierra Mar has an extensive wine list with over 2,600 selections. There is also wine by the glass and cocktail menu. The pomegranate margarita had just enough kick and was very refreshing at lunch.

John Steinbeck memorabilia on display at Sierra Mar

Guests at the Post Ranch Inn have breakfast included in the room rate, and the buffet spread is impressive with house cured lox, an omelette station, fresh fruit, yogurt, and pastries.

Sierra Mar is sexy at night

Reservations are essential at Sierra Mar (as you have to pass by the security gate to get to the restaurant).

The mixed green salad with fennel and a light buttermilk dill dressing

Beef tenderloin and brussel sprouts

With sexy surroundings, killer views, delicious cuisine and great service, Sierra Mar is worth the splurge for a memorable meal.

Sierra Mar Restaurant at The Post Ranch Inn

47900 California 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, United States

Reservations: (831) 667-2800

Breakfast: 8:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.

Lunch: 12:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. (three-course prix-fixe $50)

Dinner: 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (four-course, prix fixe $120)

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