Mexican - Destin - South Walton

Just in Queso, an Insider’s Guide to Mexican Food in South Walton

Maybe it’s because it’s Friday and maybe it’s because I am sick to death of making “smart meal choices” (side note, I never say the word diet, just will not happen) but I am craving some Mexican food. I’m not talking about Taco Bell or even the typical #27 from the eight-page menu at any number of Mexican restaurants. I want the good stuff, I know just where to get it and if you keep reading, soon you will too.

Grin-Go’s Tex-Mex Cantina This little gem is tucked away right by the parking deck at The Village of Baytowne Wharf and you won’t find fresher ingredients anywhere. Tim Reese, a Texas native, has a true passion for this unique cuisine and continually works to perfect the menu, using only the freshest ingredients. My current favorite is the Fish Tacos. Tim purchases fresh Mahi-mahi straight from the Destin Harbor and serves it up on warm flour tortillas with housemade savory cilantro lime sauce. If you’re like me, and you prefer corn tortillas, you can get them street style. Is Craft Beer your thing? Grin-Go’s serves Saint Arnold’s in a big frosty mug. It’s Texas’s oldest craft brewery and is a delicious accompaniment to the tacos.

Opens at 9:00 AM and breakfast is served all day.

Insider tip: For $5 you can take a mason jar of Grin-Go’s housemade salsa with you and bring your jar back for a $3 refill.

Fun fact: Would you believe that before they started using fish caught straight from our Gulf, Grin-Go’s only sold around 5 orders or 1 – 2 pounds of fish tacos a week – since he’s made the switch, word is out and he probably goes through 90 – 100 pounds a week.

Pepito’s Mexican Restaurant  I love Sunday Brunch just as much as the next girl, but sometimes I just want a big margarita with unlimited chips and salsa. I can get that fix at Pepito’s. Everyone in Destin has probably dined at Pepito’s but until you’ve had their chilaquiles verdes from the Taqueria menu, you really shouldn’t say you’ve experienced Pepito’s.  Along with the chilaquiles, I always order one shrimp taco and one steak taco, also from the Taqueria menu and only $2.75 a piece.  They are served in a handmade, corn tortilla with fresh cilantro and onions on the side and they are amazing.

Three locations (Destin, Miramar Beach, Niceville) all open at 11:00 AM.

Insider tip: Skip directly to the white page of the menu.  This is the Taqueria menu and everything is fresh, handmade and delicious.

Fun fact: Usually, chilaquiles are eaten at breakfast or brunch. Take home your leftovers and serve them for breakfast the next day topped with a fresh egg cooked over easy – you can thank me later.

El Mercadito My last insider’s tip on authentic, delicious, Mexican food in South Walton will probably get me in trouble with the few people who know of this place but you guys come first and it wouldn’t be right to keep it from you…the next time you get a craving for a Mexican coke and a tamale, head over to El Mercadito. It’s not fancy and truly is just as the name translates (a small market) but man, is it good.  I hear the Cuban sandwich is incredible but I haven’t tried it yet.  Even though this is currently the only place in town to legally purchase an authentic tamale, I tend to gravitate to the burrito and it’s one of the few places left that still serves Mexican coke. I also hear that you can take your own beer but I haven’t tried that yet either.

Located on HWY 98 in Santa Rosa Beach – hours are questionable but they are usually open it seems.

Insider tip:  Spice up your order with grilled jalapeños and green sauce – not for the faint of heart but so, so good.  Also, brush up on your Spanish or keep your order simple.  It’s better that way anyway.

Fun fact: At least four people are going to give me a hard time for giving away this well kept secret.

2014 Resolutions

Hello 2014, We’ve Been Waiting For You!

I am all for growth, personally and professionally…so why is it so difficult to set (and keep) New Years Resolutions?  December is certainly a time of reflection and as I look back over the past year, I am proud of the goals I have accomplished but even prouder of the people who I have surrounded myself with and who helped me realize these goals.  My commitment to those people will be one of more focused dedication…I’d also like to get in “beach body shape” by the end of February but let’s face it…the first goal is more realistic and rewarding.

My resolutions aside, this reflection has made me appreciate how important it is to intersect your personal and professional life.  When you are setting your goals for 2014, I think it’s important to take that into account.  Evaluate the people you surround yourself with and make sure that in 2013, they were on your team.  To me that means you had joint goals in mind and they took extra effort to help you achieve those goals.

As a vacation rental manager, I consider myself a team member for each of the homeowners and guests that I get to work with.  Everyone has very different goals but our commonality is that we both want the same outcome – a successful rental year for our homeowners or a memorable vacation for our guests.  Understanding that those goals can mean very different things for each person is part of what makes my job so rewarding.

Consider what is important to you in the coming year – how do you plan to grow your business and who can help you get there?  I absolutely love this article from our partners at LiveRez – Five Ways Vacation Rental Software Can Help You Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions.

Regardless of the industry you represent, we can all benefit from reflection (on our hits…and our misses) from the past year and make adjustments to improve the coming year.  Instead of daunting, unrealistic or too-easily-broken resolutions, focus on reasonable goals, take action to achieve them, partner with those who will help you achieve those goals and put yourself on a path for an incredible year.

Get Your Roll On

Rollin’ With My Homies

I can still remember my first sushi experience.  I was just out of college and dining with a couple who were in their 30’s – boy had I arrived!  We sat at the sushi bar, a little place off of HWY 280 in Birmingham, Alabama and once the Chef discovered I was a novice, he delighted in offering up rolls that took me from beginner to expert in just under an hour.  I even had octopus (first and last time).  Since those days, I’ve had the pleasure of dining at amazing sushi joints around the country but I have been hard pressed to find any that beat the ones here in my backyard.  I’ve put together a list of favorites and to be fair, I enlisted the help of several locals, who are all very passionate about how they roll.

After all of the votes were in, there were a few that were too close to call for top seed so I thought I would share the suggestions based on the best night of the week to go instead.

MondayCamille’s At Crystal Beach – Not only is Camille’s a top local favorite for both atmosphere and yumminess, but on Monday nights, if you dine in the bar or sushi room, you can enjoy some of Destin’s best sushi for just $6 a roll.  Locals love the Backdown Roll and I have to agree, but if you care to get creative, just ask, these talented chefs can oblige.

TuesdayCrush Wine Bar in Seaside – Daily Happy Hour from 4 – 6pm, 1/2 price drinks and 1/2 price sushi.  Try the Nola or the Zolie specialty rolls for something truly unique and delicious.  Friday nights are just as nice and you can stroll through Ruskin Place and enjoy the First Friday Art Walk after Happy Hour.

WednesdaySushimoto of Destin – Locals are extremely passionate about Chef Andy and his wonderful creations.  In fact, I have so many recommendations for Sushimoto, that I just have to share my favorite which is So Fresh So Clean.  You can try it too, just make sure to check their website as this family establishment sometimes closes its doors for vacation.  Don’t fret, December 1st they will be rocking and rolling again.

ThursdayHarbor Docks - Just about any night of the week you are likely to find Chef Yoshie (who is responsible for training several of the talented Gulf Coast sushi chefs) rolling out some of the best sushi on the Gulf Coast (winner of Best of the Emerald Coast several years running).  In season, Thursday night is the preferred local’s night to go – it’s ladies night, offering live music on an open deck with 1/2 priced well drinks for the ladies and $2 off sushi rolls. (Update!  Harbor Docks is now offering a sushi special on Tuesday nights)

FridayOld Florida Fish House – I must admit that I am particularly partial to James and his team at the OFFH in Seagrove Beach. In season, they offer a ladies night special with $1 off drinks and $2 off sushi rolls on Wednesdays.  This time of year until around March, you can expect live music, a great atmosphere, and the best sushi on the coast (this blonde’s opinion is backed by many) on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday nights.  My favorite combo is not on the menu yet – order the Summer Summer and Miami Heat and if you are a fan of steak, the Uptown Beef is a must.

SaturdayThe Gathering Spot and Sushi Bar at Watercolor – Considered by many to be a hidden gem, you can enjoy cocktail and sushi specials for happy hour daily from 5pm – 6pm.  If you are in the mood for live music, switch it up and head over on Monday and jam out with some of South Walton’s finest musicians.

Sunday - Seeing as my Sunday nights are typically reserved for The Red Bar in Grayton Beach, I will leave this one up to you – you might not find sushi on Sunday, but if you head to The Red Bar, you are likely to find this blonde bobbing her head with the rest of the locals to the tunes of Dread Clampitt.  More on that next time…until then, let me know your favorites below and everybody get your roll on.

Keep Calm

I’m Only Happy When It Rains, Part II

Earlier I shared a few of my favorite rainy day indulgences with you.  As I look out of my window on this gloomy day, I can’t help but feel that my list was lacking.  It’s Friday, it’s raining and I think it’s time to do some damage.  Here is how I plan to spend my afternoon – what about you?

Pimento Cheese Sliders and a Matinee   Movies are awesome but day movies are best.  The new Carmike Grand Boulevard Cinema 10 is my new favorite place to watch a movie and it has everything to do with the Ovation Dining Club.  Where else can you be served wine and beer with the push of a button while watching a great movie on a rainy day?  The food is delicious and even if you forgo the pimento cheese sliders (this blonde’s #1 pick), the comfortable seating is worth the upgraded ticket price.  The only downside is the limited movie selection, in which case you should go see the movie of your choice, walk a few extra steps and indulge in happy hour.  Fleming’s 5 for $6 ’til 7 PM includes 5 cocktails, 5 wines by the glass and 5 appetizers for $6 each, served at the bar until 7 p.m.  The Prime Burger is a must and pairs well with the Classic Vodka Martini – make sure to ask for the Blue Cheese Hand-Stuffed Olives.

Shopping    This might be the most obvious yet but if you are in or around the 30A, Destin area, you should make a trip to Silver Sands Premium Outlets - it’s only the nation’s largest factory designer outlets and one of my favorites. There are 110 outlet stores and you can make a day of it!  Be sure to go online first and check out their Deal of the Day Calendar – as I type, there are 38 special deals today alone!  When you get tired of shopping, just walk over to one of the many restaurants and congratulate yourself on your loot with a nice meal and glass of wine – you will die for the bread at Ciao Bella Pizza and their Toscana Salad is addicting.  Buon Appetito!

I'm Only Happy When It Rains

I’m Only Happy When It Rains

When you are lucky enough to have sunshine almost 365 days a year (and you live near the world’s most beautiful beaches), you tend to miss out on the fun pastimes the landlocked enjoy.  Let’s face it, you can’t choose any of the following activities over the beach on a sunny day without experiencing some tinge of guilt,  which is precisely why I am hoping for a (guilt free) rainy day in my future.  If you find yourself in need of some rainy day adventures, borrow from my short-list below.

Free Make-Over   Head to the mall and pick a makeup counter for a mini-spa encounter that will brighten any gloomy day.   My top local picks are Bobbi Brown at Belk’s in Destin Commons (the staff is super sweet and go heavy on the samples) or Sephora (also Destin Commons) where  you can actually learn super fun tricks like how to tight line your eyes from their professional makeup artists.  You can just show up, but it’s better to call ahead for an appointment.  It is appreciated if you purchase products while you are there so if rain is on the horizon and you are running low on concealer, make this a priority.

Spa Day     There are very few things a glass of champagne and a good massage can’t cure.  The best part is that if you select the right spa, you can make a day out just one treatment.  Serenity by the sea* at the Hilton Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is consistently rated Best of The Emerald Coast by Emerald Coast Magazine readers.  Another local favorite which has the same design concept is Serenity Spa at Wyndham Bay Point Resort.  The difference makers for both spas is the wet area or lounge.  This blonde recommends arriving at least an hour before your treatment and spending time sipping champagne and indulging in the sauna, steam room and whirlpool.

*Please be aware that Serenity by the Sea is currently undergoing renovations and has been moved to a temporary location until further notice.

Napping     Once you’ve mastered the art of relaxing at the spa or your choice, reward your efforts with a glorious, rainy day nap.  According to the National Sleep Foundation,  a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance.  You may believe that you already possess the know-how to nap but The Wall Street Journal insists that there’s an art to napping.  Hone your skills here - The Perfect Nap: Sleeping is a Mix of Art and Science.

Now that you know my favorite rainy day indulgences, I hope you’ll try one or two – and don’t feel guilty, just follow Milli Vanilli and “blame it on the rain”.

More fun found here – part 2

Inspired Trips, Handy Tips, and Delightful Quips!

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