Cheap (Family) Eats: Edinburgh Edition

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in EdinburghOne of the biggest ways we save money as a traveling family is to stay in a vacation rental and prepare our own meals. A cheap dinner out for a family of 5 can easily be 50 euros, or more if you happen to be in an expensive city like Paris. In Italy, we ate out only twice during our two-week vacation because the prices were high as were the stakes in betting on the quality of the food.

But in Edinburgh, we ate out every day.. for lunch AND dinner. We couldn’t believe the affordability of budget restaurants, the generous portions, nor the variety of mouthwatering dishes.

Now, when I think Scottish food, the first thing that comes to mind is haggis (you, too?). I’m not an adventurous eater, and I often walk on the vegetarian side, so clearly the sheep stomach specialty wasn’t going to be an option. But, I was thrilled to find that not only does Edinburgh have plenty of ethnic food options, but they have some seriously spicy burritos!

Below are a few of our family’s favorite cheap eats in Edinburgh plus a list of restaurants we didn’t have time to visit. You can find more suggestions for kid-friendly restaurants and things to do on my Scotland with Kids Pinterest board.

Our Favorite (Family) Budget Restaurants in Edinburgh

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in Edinburgh

Baseball bat burritos at Illegal Jack’s.

Illegal Jack’s. Oh. my. Illegal Jack’s has a reputation for seriously good burritos and even better service. It did not disappoint. It’s not the best Mexican I’ve ever had, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything better for the price in Europe. We ordered two burritos and the beef chili nachos for the five of us to share. The burritos were mysteriously missing lettuce (?). The chicken can’t compare to the tender, marinated strips from Chipotle, but the beans, salsa, and guacamole had a little Mexican party goin’ on inside my mouth. Our favorite, however, was the flaming pile of beef chili nachos smothered in white cheddar cheese. Whoa, Nelly. Add to that free wifi, free refills, and high chairs – I’m already wishing we could’ve gone back for seconds.. and thirds.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in Edinburgh


Wannaburger. Burgers, fries, onion rings, Dr. Pepper, pancakes, MILKSHAKES! I only had to browse the menu (and the prices!) for a few seconds before I knew Wannaburger would be one of our favorite meals in Edinburgh. I wouldn’t list hamburgers on a list of favorite foods, but when we eat them, it reminds us of home and of great American institutions like In-N-Out and Five Guys. The portions are small, in line with the prices (kids meals are TINY). The black bean burger was not what I expected, but in a good way. The kids loved the chicken goujons, but the burgers were the best (pass on the hot dogs). After the blandness of German food, Doc Sci and I fully appreciated the heat that the cajun fries delivered. But, really, the absolute best thing on the menu at Wannaburger is the chocolate milk shake with peanut butter. Dear me, I might have to go recreate that in my kitchen post haste!Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in Edinburgh


Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in Edinburgh

The best peanut butter shake EVER. If we would’ve known, we wouldn’t have ordered the kids’ size…

The Tailend Restaurant And Fish Bar. While I wouldn’t consider us serious fish & chips fans, we always make a point of indulging in a local chippy whenever we’re in the UK. The Tailend is rumored to be the best fish fry in Edinburgh, and their “to go” prices are a steal. For example, the haddock fish supper comes in at £6 for takeaway; the same fish special sells for nearly double in the restaurant.

Yocoko Noodle Bar. I remember reading somewhere that the service at Yocoko leaned toward the snotty side, so I planned accordingly. In reality, the restaurant was just busy, and the waiters were simply doing their job. Don’t expect warm service, but don’t be put off by their demeanor. This is a student hang-out, after all. One thing that was rather annoying, though, was that one could choose either chopsticks OR a fork, but not both. My husband and I prefer to eat with chopsticks, but the kids haven’t learned yet. It was a bit stressful to arrange for the kids to get forks. But, when our gigantic bowl of udon noodles arrived, I embraced the awkwardness and took the opportunity to slurp my soup. The fried noodles are nothing to write home about; go for the udon instead. The kids went nuts for edamame and fully enjoyed drinking weak-but-free green tea from tiny cups.

Los Cardos. A total Chipotle knock-off (seriously, look at their website), Los Cardos only has one advantage over Illegal Jack’s.. they deliver! I didn’t think it would work since I don’t have a UK phone number, but I somehow was able to set up a dinner delivery for our last evening in Edinburgh. The food arrived on time, hot & fresh. Unfortunately, without salsa, these burritos have no claim to fame. Again, the lettuce was absent (?!), and the rice and beans bordered on bland. But once we heaped the delicious black bean & corn salsa on top, and scooped up the salsa verde with or tortilla chips, we didn’t care. Even Los Cardos on a bad day is better than most German attempts at Mexican food.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in Edinburgh

Burrito from Los Cardos. Just add salsa.

More Cheap Eats

  • The Baked Potato Shop.  Jacket potatoes with your choice of hot or cold filling. Vegetarian and vegan options.
  • Red Box Noodle Bar.  Fast and filling, veggie or carnivore, eat in or takeaway, choose your own Asian noodle box adventure.
  • Viva Mexico. Touted as Edinburgh’s “original and most authentic Mexican restaurant,” I’ve heard rumors of lunch specials for £6, Fajitas for £9, and dinner entrees for £12-15.
  • Black Medicine Coffee Co. Not a restaurant, but a friend who lived there for a year promises this is the best coffee she has ever tasted.
  • Mums Great Comfort Food. If mushy peas or bangers & mash are your thing, I’m told this is the place to indulge.
  • The Holyrood 9A. The burgers are a big pricier here (£9), but they have SWEET potato fries! Red Squirrel is another handmade burger joint with sweet potato fries. Seriously, we need a burger & sweet potato food truck in my city..
  • Union of Genius. Soup Bar – 6 soups daily with a sampler option. Served with artisan bread. Great for warming up on a grey, Scottish day.
  • Mother India. Daily specials and take-away menu items under £6 as well as many (Indian!) tapas dishes under £4. I’m rather disappointed we didn’t have time for this one.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in EdinburghPrices are current at the time of writing. As always, double check restaurant information and current prices before visiting.

Would you have gone for the haggis instead of the habanero? What kind of budget restaurants do you look for when visiting a new city?Signature-Marigold

Ketchup: The Past Four Months + the Future in 1000 Words (or More)

Practicing our Spiderman skills in Croatia

Practicing our Spiderman skills in Croatia

So now that I’m back in the saddle, I thought I’d try to close the distance between where I left you and where we are now.

I’d like (you) to think I’ve been nothing but a good student for the past four months, but I’m a terrible liar. While it’s true I always did my best to complete my homework, it’s equally as true that I played hookey a good bit during my studies. In between the worksheets and flashcards, our little family has had plenty of adventures near and far, both exceptional and everyday.

Ready for the recap?

In no particular order..

Multicoolty, a blog that compiles stories about expats living in Germany, featured me in May, though I wrote my thoughts way back in January. Check out what I had to say and a silly old picture I dug up from our first trip to Berlin here.


Köln (Cologne)

My husband gave me a fantastic birthday gift this year – two days alone (ALONE!!) in Köln (Cologne). This was before language lessons had started, so it was a blissful quiet time to do whatever I fancied whenever I pleased.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Keukenhof Gardens with Kids

The biggest boy exploring the tulips with me at Keukenhof in the Netherlands.

To ease my disappointment over last year’s pathetic lack of tulips at Keukenhof in the Netherlands, I took my oldest son on a quick trip for a better look. We took the overnight train up to Amsterdam, bussed over to Keukenhof to gawk at the fields of tulips, made our way back to Amsterdam, scarfed down a pancake dinner, and caught the night train back home. Whew! And yes, it was actually fun, and yes, he was a champ on the overnight trains. I would definitely do it again!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro

Flying away in Zadar, Croatia.

Several days after our up-and-back Netherlands trip, the five of us flew to Croatia for ten days. During our trip, we stayed in Zadar, Dubrovnik, and Split. We also drove through a bit of Bosnia and took a day trip to Montenegro. One of the most fun moments of the trip was meeting SJ of Chasing the Donkey and her family!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Mexican Food in Germany

The taco truck!

While we didn’t find any Mexican food in Croatia (and opted out of another fantastic dinner at Los Pilones in Amsterdam in favor of a pancake feast), we have been going gangbusters at the Holy Taco Shack taco truck. We took our American-expat-in-Luxembourg friends there a few weeks ago. They’re just as salsa-crazed as we are, and they gave the burritos two thumbs up. Now, if I could just get the taco truck to deliver…

Thrifty Travel Mama | potty trainingThis little champ has kicked daytime diapers and now only uses a nappy at night and during his nap. We did the same thing with all three boys – an awful, torturous, bodily-fluid-soaked potty training boot camp for a weekend followed by the shock and awe of daytime dryness.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Picking Strawberries in Germany with KidsStrawberry season came earlier this year, and we hit the fields several times. We made many of our favorite recipes from last year including strawberry fruit leather, strawberry syrup, and strawberry shortcakes.

Those strawberry shortcakes were made with coconut cream for me as I went dairy-free at the beginning of the year and have kept it up except for a four-week break while we traveled to Croatia. P.s. – I miss cheese and there is NO substitute that even comes close..

Thrifty Travel Mama | Losing TeethOur oldest little adventurer has lost enough teeth to officially apply for Jack-o-Lantern status, and the tooth fairy is flat broke. This photo is a few months old. He’s now missing three teeth on top, and two on the bottom!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Riding a LaufradThe youngest learned to ride a bike without pedals (Laufrad). And now we are losing sleep over his daredevil ways that now are ON WHEELS. Yikes.

Can you guess why we called it the poo hike?

Can you guess why we called it the poo hike?

As soon as the thermometer sailed over the 12C mark, we flexed our hiking muscles. In between our travels, we’ve been able to do a handful of hikes, including one we affectionately call the poo hike and one insane 15km trek with four kids and nearly no complaining. Kilimanjaro, here we come!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking in the Alps with kids

Back in the Alps!

And, speaking of hiking, we (okay, mainly me) became obsessed with the Alps after our excursion to Schilthorn last summer. Last weekend, we took our first summer hike near Engelberg, and we’ve got more ideas for Swiss outings than there are Saturdays before the snow falls again.

Due to an insane amount of planning and the wonderful generosity of friends, I managed a week of solo parenting (single parents, I know this is wimpy – hats off to you!) while my husband went off to Milan for a conference.. and to look for a new job.


The last point brings me to a big change coming for our family…

We have decided that Doc Sci won’t be renewing his employment contract here in Germany when it ends later this year. Professionally, he needs to move on; unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity to do that where we currently live.

Where will we end up? Only God knows, but most likely, we’ll move back in the US, though we may consider something in Europe if the circumstances are right. This is a decision we have wrestled with for months. We love so many things about living in Europe; it will not be easy to leave our life here behind. But, ultimately, we both know our days in this city are numbered. Sigh.

And, if you will forgive me for throwing one.more.thing your way, I’ve decided to change the boys’ nicknames here. When I started this blog, I never dreamed that anyone would read it, let alone the hundreds that do. I also never thought I’d be writing for nearly four years. In that time, the boys have painfully outgrown their silly pseudonyms.

This also may be a good time to explain why I use nicknames. Yes, there’s the usual safety concerns, but really, it’s a matter of respect for me. My kids aren’t old enough to know that I write about our life on the internet (heck, they don’t even know what the internet is). As such, they have no say in the things I post.

When they are older, they may not wish to have their faces and names plastered all over this space for public viewing. So, until the day when we can have a conversation about their wishes, I’ll respect the option of anonymity by using nicknames.

But then, there’s the matter of what to call them. I thought Small, Medium, and Large was good enough for me, basic… but boring. I tried it in German, but I just can’t call my kid Gross (large).

I’m still keeping it simple, but I’m steering in the ABC direction. The boys will now go by the first three letters of the Pilot’s Alphabet that is commonly used in the travel industry – Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Plus, these names are actually spot on when it comes to their personalities, Creepy!

I’m seriously over my 1,000 word target, and that’s about all the changes and updates I can handle. If you have a blog, post a link (or three) below with exciting news, fantastic trips, handy DIYs, or winning lotto numbers. I’ve love to catch up with you, too!

Now, tell me, which of our adventures above would you like to read about first?Signature Thrifty Travel Mama


Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris EditionParis might be a gorgeous gal, but she’s an absolute shrew when it comes to penny-pinching travelers.

We lucked out on accommodation; a friend of a friend lent us her place for the week. But food was a different story. While we could save money by cooking dinner at the apartment, logistics made lunch out a necessity.

As I briefly mentioned in my post on the French version of Chipotle, 9 euros for one burrito was actually reasonable in Paris! If you want a burger (which hopefully is only the starving expat crowd), be prepared to pay even more. We stumbled upon FrogBurger in the Latin Quarter and couldn’t believe it… 11 euros for a skinny burger?! At least they have some comical brews.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

FrogBurger prices!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

FrogBurger beers.

I combed Pinterest, scoured the Rick Steves city guide, and searched high and low in the blog world for the best budget eats in Paris. Below are a few of our favorites plus a list of restaurants we didn’t have time to visit and a few splurges.

Our Favorite (Family) Budget Restaurants in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

Chez H’anna Falafel with a gigantic grilled eggplant on top.

Chez H’anna. Delicious, fresh falafel for under 6 euros. I could’ve eaten one of these every day! If you want to have a falafel tasting, do not waste your time at Chez Marianne around the corner. See L’As Du Fallafel below which is just down the street from H’anna.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

You never know what you’re going to find at Churrasqueira Galo!

Churrasqueira Galo. A short walk from the Sacré Cœur in Montmarte, this unassuming Portuguese chicken joint serves up gigantic platters for 9 euros. All five of us stuffed ourselves full of rotisserie chicken, salad, rice, and fries. We ordered two platters and barely finished the food. Even David Lebovitz recommends this place.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

My dark chocolate crepe at Chez Nicos.

Chez Nicos. One of the cheapest crêperies we found, and one of the best. The dark chocolate crêpe was stuffed with nearly a whole bar of chocolate! Doc Sci and T-Rex devoured the specialty – Nutella with an entire sliced banana.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

Eiffel Tower pizza picnic from Pizza la Gourmandise.

Pizza la Gourmandise. Not anything near true Italian pizza, but the pies were a steal compared to most pizzerias in town. We ordered ours to go and ate in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

More Cheap Eats

  • L’As Du Fallafel. We ate at Chez H’anna instead, but this one is Lenny Kravitz’s favorite. Beware the queue! Mi Va Mi is across the street to add yet another option to the falafel question.
  • Gusto Italia. Pizza place (takeaway or dine-in) near the Eiffel Tower, slightly more expensive than Pizza le Gourmande. Two locations across the street from each other at 199 and 218 Rue de Grenelle.
  • La Charlotte de l’Isle. A cute and quirky tea room serving loose leaf and hot chocolate. We arrived just as the last customers were seated and the cozy dining room was completely full. Boo.
  • Breizh Cafe. Apparently, they serve the best salted caramel crepes and affordable savory galettes, but we visited on Monday when they were closed!
  • Berko. Another closed-on-Monday strike out, I must’ve been on a salted caramel kick when making trip notes because this cafe has the coveted flavor in meal-replacing cheesecake form.
  • La Crêperie Bretonne. Each crepe costs approximately €7 (as of September 2013), and the Ratatouille galette comes highly recommended.
  • Krishna Bhavan. Indian specialties, suitable for vegetarians and cheapskates.
  • Le Royal. Located on the infamous Rue de Grenelle. Carte highlights: 5 euro omelets, 9 euro plats, 14 euro menus.
  • Apparemment Café. After heavy French food and fried falafel, a create-your-own salad shop would be nice for a change.
  • Smooth In The City. Another stop for those in search of healthier fare. Fresh fruit smoothies and menus available.

Places to Splurge for a Special Treat

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

  • Angelina. At nearly 8 euros for a hot chocolate, this cafe is not cheap (nor easy to get into if you visit the location near the Louvre). Sneak into the Angelina tucked into a corner at Galeries Lafayette instead. Sure, the service is snobby, but savoring the liquid chocolate and fluffy cream is (nearly) priceless.
  • Berthillon Ice Cream. Lines were out the door here, even in winter!
  • Pierre Hermé or Ladurée Macarons. These cookies are obnoxiously expensive, but you shouldn’t leave Paris without trying at least one. Bet you can’t guess what flavor I’d recommend… (salted caramel!)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris EditionBon appétit! Did I highlight or pass over any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below!Signature-Marigold

Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?Hey, hey, happy February!  ‘Tis the Valentine season, and cupid’s quiver is full of posts on…. Paris!  I’ll be sharing all sorts of adventures, tips, and tricks for visiting the city of love with kids (oh, how romantic!) in the next few weeks.

Other gals may go for diamonds, truffles, or expensive perfume and whatnot.  But, me?  I’m much easier to please.  A three-pound burrito wrapped in shiny tinfoil should do it.

Chipotle… in Europe?

While we were in the magical city of Paris, we savored our first taste of Chipotle in nearly eight months.  It was the lovely Maria of Busy as a Bee in Paris who first gave the heads up that the burrito king was in town.

Not long after, my friend Christy in Estonia (hi, Christy!) broke some even bigger news to me… Chipotle had recently set up shop in Frankfurt!  We needed to renew T-Rex’s passport in early January, and naturally we’d all be absolutely starving and in search of lunch after the morning appointment…

In a span of two weeks, we had eaten our hearts out at Chipotle in France and Germany

Chipotle… in Europe?  I must be dreaming.  But, I’m not.. they have SIX locations in London too!

So… How’s it Taste?

This is the real question, isn’t it?  If you slap a Chipotle sign on a mediocre Mexican joint, really, what’s the point?  The authenticity of ingredients and flavors is what’s important.

In short, both the Paris and Frankfurt locations dished up burritos and salads that tasted very close to American Chipotle cuisine.  However, we noticed a few slight differences.

German Chipotle:

  • Serves lemon-cilantro rice, not lime, that is extremely cheap in the worst way (think Uncle Ben’s, not basmati).
  • Beans are not as savory, especially the black ones.
  • Marinade on the chicken wasn’t as flavorful.
  • Salad dressing packs a punch – it’s much spicier than at home – and is noticeably creamier.
  • Tomatillo-Green Chili Salsa tastes even better than in America with a delicious, gentle heat.

French Chipotle:

  • Rice was also lemon instead of lime, but of better quality.
  • Salad dressing was extremely close to the original, but it had a subtle difference we couldn’t place.  Another taste test is on order..
  • Tomatillo-Green Chili Salsa is full of flame; our mouths were on fire!

In both the French and German locations, the portions were petty.  However, the staff acquiesced each time I begged for “a little more” of each ingredient.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?

Chipotle in Frankfurt, Germany

What’s Different?

Not much is physically different in the Paris and Frankfurt locations.  Both interiors are all done up in the same wood and stainless theme.  The brown paper packaging, logo napkins, clear plastic cutlery, Tabasco sauce bottles… it’s all there.  Even the water dispenser looks identical.

(Oh, and the water is free.  Some restaurants in Germany will serve you complimentary tap water but not cheerfully.)

The biggest difference between the American Chipotle and the French and German Chipotle restaurants is the price.

Both European locations charge 9 euros per entree (burrito, tacos, salad, bowl) with your choice of one meat (chicken, steak, barbacoa, etc).  All the toppings are included except guacamole which comes with an additional 3 euro charge.  Yikes.

Currently, a Chipotle chicken burrito in our old Orlando location costs $6.25 (steak, carnitas, or barbacoa will set you back $6.65).  If you were to convert the 9 euro German burrito price tag to dollars, you’d be looking at $12.15 per burrito… or almost double!  If you want guac with that, be prepared to fork over $16.20!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?

Chipotle in Paris, France.

That’s some serious cash for a beans & rice fix.  You might be wondering… why are the entrees so expensive?

The simple answer: ingredients.  To make Chipotle’s marinades, salsas, dressings, and other delicious menu items, you need foreign ingredients like chipotle peppers, tomatillos, cilantro, adobo, jalapeños, poblano peppers, and chiles de arbol.  These are usually Mexican or American products which means that they need to cross an ocean.

Unfortunately, the European palate doesn’t seem to be suited for frijoles which means that the demand isn’t high enough to produce these kinds of ingredients within the EU (perhaps climate is an issue as well) which would help reduce costs considerably.

Now, I can’t say I’ve ever asked for “everything” on my burrito back in America, but both the French and German Chipotle locations allowed us to order every single topping (except guacamole – see above) without charging extra.  I seem to recall that the fajita vegetables were instead of beans and that one may order cheese or sour cream.  At the European restaurants, you can have it all!

At least there’s a small consolation when it comes to order budget (and waist-line) busting burritos…

The Verdict

Frankfurt is our closest Chipotle location, but it’s still two and a half hours away.  When we add the price of fuel to cost of a burrito, it ends up being too expensive and time-consuming to be worthwhile.

In Paris, I was shocked when I realized that 9 euros for a quick dinner was average, so there’s a good chance we’d be regulars if we lived there.

For now, we’re happily obsessed with our town’s taco truck.  But, that’s not to say we wouldn’t indulge if we happened to be in Frankfurt… and I’d be lying if I said we wouldn’t jump at the chance to try a British branch of Chipotle!

Any Londoners out there want to host a family of five for the weekend?  Burritos are on us!

Have you tried Chipotle in Europe?  If not, would you pay 9 euros for a burrito with authentic Mexican ingredients?


Marvel: German Taco Truck

Thrifty Travel Mama | Marvel: German Taco Truck!Maybe this post isn’t of serious interest to those who live in, say, San Jose where the beans and rice flow freely.  But for the salsa-starved crowd in Europe, today’s news is downright thrilling.

We finally have an authentic, affordable source of Mexican food in our little German city!

I couldn’t be more excited.  Well, actually, I think Doc Sci has me beat.  The man has decided we need to add a line item in our budget for burritos.  No joke.

So, what’s the big deal?Thrifty Travel Mama | Marvel: German Taco Truck!

Well, an American expat (Geoff) and his wife have set up The Holy Taco Shack in a truck where they serve authentic tacos, burritos, and quesadillas… emphasis on authentic.  If I wasn’t so cold, I would’ve done a little happy dance when I saw ingredients like tomatillos, cilantro, carnitas, cheddar cheese, and homemade corn tortillas on the menu.

Patrons can pick from three meals: tacos, quesadillas, or a burrito.  The fillings include shredded chipotle chicken, carnitas (pork), and a vegetarian option.  Dishes are topped with one of three salsas – mild salsa verde, Chili de Arbol salsa, and pico de gallo – and finished with a healthy dose of cheddar cheese, onions, and shredded lettuce.

Hungry yet?Thrifty Travel Mama | Marvel: German Taco Truck!

We ordered two taco plates, one with pork and one with chicken.  I don’t normally eat pork, but I thought the carnitas had great flavor.  And the handmade corn tortillas?  Wholy guacamole!  I can’t remember the last time I tasted masa harina.Thrifty Travel Mama | Marvel: German Taco Truck!

However, I must say that the burrito was our favorite.  The gigantic portion almost puts Chipotle to shame.  The flour tortilla was loaded with seasoned rice and creamy refried beans followed by an avalanche of chipotle chicken, pico, and cheese.  I’ve never had Mexican food in our German city so delish outside of my own kitchen.

I was recently thinking how the presence of a decent Mexican joint might change my decision about whether or not to stay in Germany.  I’m completely excited that the aforementioned Chipotle has decided to expand into Europe (more on that in a future post).  But, I have to say, I never dreamed I’d be making regular trips to a taco truck for a fix.  If my husband has his way, that will be our new reality.

Of course, we’ll need to make a few more visits… you know, for quality control purposes of course.  And next time, we’re springing for the quesadillas!  Who’s with me?

For locations and hours, check out The Holy Taco Shack website, or like them on Facebook.  At the time of writing, burritos cost 5 euros, quesadillas are 4 euros, and tacos are also 4 euros for 3.  I was not asked or paid to write this post – I just really, REALLY like the food.  And you will too.  So go!Signature-Marigold

Los Pilones: Mex-Mex in Amsterdam

An enchilada end to our day in Amsterdam.

An enchilada end to our day in Amsterdam.

Doc Sci and I have a new flavor obsession: chipotle.  Yes, we love the restaurant, but lately we just can’t get enough of that smoky pepper goodness.  These little buddies give a little kick to everything from salsa to salad dressing to soup to enchilada sauce.  Chipotle peppers impart genuine Mexican flavor, and any restaurant in Europe using them is most likely legit.  Los Pilones in Amsterdam is no exception.

Los Pilones has a presence in three different Amsterdam neighborhoods: Nieuwmarkt, Leidsebuurt, and Jordaan.  We visited the Leidsebuurt location because it just happened to be closest to the bus station.  I wasn’t able to figure out the opening hours from their website, but lucky for us, the restaurant starts serving up fajitas and frijoles at 4pm.

The menu advertises the food as Mex-Mex (as opposed to Tex-Mex).  I didn’t hear any Spanish being spoken, but corn tortillas and Mexican cheese are good signs.  No one wants a taco topped with Gouda!Thrifty Travel Mama - Los Pilones, Mexican food in AmsterdamWe ordered the Beef Tacos Alhambre and the Enchiladas Verdes as well as a side of rice and beans.  The server brought us a tiny bowl of chips and pico de gallo (heavy on the cilantro) and a flask of water with small, traditional blue-rim glasses with ICE!  I can’t remember the last time (if there ever was a time) I had ice in my drink when eating out in Europe.

The beef in the tacos was not ground; rather, the dish was prepared with chopped steak.  The presence of bacon in the Alhambre preparation was a new flavor in my Mexican food experience.  It added a hint of smokiness which is almost always a good thing.  The tacos come unassembled, and the only downside is that you only get four tiny corn tortillas.  More tortillas can be ordered separately.Thrifty Travel Mama - Los Pilones, Mexican food in AmsterdamAuthentic green tomatillo sauce smothered the enchiladas.  I usually prefer red sauce on my enchiladas, but this platter was a delicious exception.  The chicken nestled inside the tortillas lacked spice, but the slight heat in the sauce made up for it.  A small scoop of black beans accompanied the enchiladas as did a smattering of thinly sliced red onions.

And, speaking of black beans, we ordered a side of negros refritos to stretch the meal and feed all four of us.  The seasoning on the beans tasted just right – not too timid, not too spicy.  Unfortunately, the rice bitterly disappointed with its addition of vegetable bits but lack of flavor.  But no matter, we just doused it in the house chipotle sauce.

If you’re an expat or just crazy about Mex-Mex, I highly recommend visiting Los Pilones for an authentic Mexican meal in Amsterdam.  Two thumbs up!

Headed to Amsterdam?  Check out our Snapshot of Amsterdam with Kids, and don’t miss a visit to the Kinderkookkafe!Signature-Marigold

Snapshot: Amsterdam with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Amsterdam with KidsNo BeNeLux itinerary would be complete without a stop in Amsterdam.  Doc Sci and I have been to the city before, so I thought it would be fun to incorporate some kid-friendly activities this time.

I’ll outline our day in this post, but several of the activities deserve their own separate space.  Look for more complete reviews of specific attractions in the coming days.Thrifty Travel Mama - Amsterdam with Kids9:30am – Hop on a bus headed to Amsterdam from our home base in Haarlem.  Since we planned to walk everywhere that day, we decided the boys should have something to keep them interested and minimize “are we there yet” complaining.  T-Rex rode his scooter and Screech toured Amsterdam on his laufrad (balance bike).

I gotta get me one of those!

I gotta get me one of those!

We opted for the pram instead of the backpack carrier for Big Foot.  Was this the right choice?  It’s hard to say.  There are sidewalks in Amsterdam, but most of them are narrow and made of stone.  The hardest part was keeping the whole circus (pram, scooter, balance bike + two adults) somewhat together on the sidewalks.  But 10 hours is a long time to carry a baby and Big Foot sleeps better on the go when he’s in the pram.

Solution: If you can, do as the Dutch and rent a bakfiets for the day!

10:15am – Arrive in southwest Amsterdam and plot a walking course to our first stop.  Upon arriving at the bus station, we noticed one of Amsterdam’s public urinals.  Did we try it?  To quote the oft-sold saying, “What happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam.”

Free public urinal at the bus station.

Free public urinal at the bus station.

11:00am – Pop in to the most anticipated stop of the day, the Kinderkookkafe!  This place is (obviously) designed just for kids, and it’s awesome.  All the food is made by the kids themselves!  The boys put together pizzas while Doc Sci and I downed some delicious Dutch cheese sandwiches we had brought and drank tea to warm up (did I mention it was blowing snow when we left Haarlem that morning?).

The Kinderkookkafe, where kids are the star of the meal.

The Kinderkookkafe, where kids are the star of the meal.

12:30pm – Take a walk through Vondelpark, the most beautiful park in Amsterdam.  The place was hopping with tourists and locals alike.  Our favorite feature of the park was the multilingual lost and found.

Lost a glove in Vondelpark?  Check here.

Lost a glove in Vondelpark? Check here.

1:00pm – Shop at HEMA, the discounter (think Target) known for its Dutch design and reasonable prices.  We drank hot chocolate at the cafe which has an IKEA restaurant feel.  HEMA is a great place for budget travelers to stock up on unique souvenirs (we found a fun Netherlands puzzle for 4 euros) or any travel necessities you might have run out of or forgotten.  If you don’t love HEMA, it’s because you just don’t know it yet!

Knocking back hot chocolate at HEMA.

Knocking back hot chocolate at HEMA.

2:30pm – Hit up Kitsch Kitchen Supermercado for whimsical gifts and home items.  As luck would have it, the store was having an Easter egg decorating contest.  My boys were thrilled to be able to sit down and paint hard boiled eggs while I browsed the shelves.  I big fat puffy heart LOVE serendipitous events!

Painting Easter eggs at Kitsch Kitchen.

Painting Easter eggs at Kitsch Kitchen.

3:30pm – Get lost in a parade of clothing from past eras at Episode Vintage Doc Sci is always looking for quality denim in his size, and I can go for a fun peasant top any day.. as long as it fits me.  Alas, we didn’t find anything that day.  If you’re looking for cheap clothing, this is not the place.  Shopping at Episode Vintage is for those seeking one-of-a-kind or nostalgic pieces.

Piles of surprisingly organized vintage clothing.

Piles of surprisingly organized vintage clothing.

5:00pm – Order savory enchiladas and tasty tacos at Los Pilones If you’ve hung around Thrifty Travel Mama for long, you know that I’m always on the hunt for authentic Mexican food in Europe.  When I discovered that Los Pilones sells its own bottled chipotle sauce, I knew this was THE place to go for Mexican food in Amsterdam.  Yeah, buddy!

An enchilada end to our day in Amsterdam.

An enchilada end to our day in Amsterdam.

6:30pm – Catch the bus back to Haarlem.  We munched on stroopkoeken (Dutch syrup cookies) all the way home.  What an exhausting but enjoyable day!

Bye, bye Amsterdam - next time we'll have to get around by water taxi!

Bye, bye Amsterdam – next time we’ll have to get around by water taxi!

Have more than one day in Amsterdam?  Here’s what I would’ve added:

  • NEMO Science Center – Admission is expensive, but the place looks bonkers cool.  Plan to spend at least a half day to get your money’s worth.
  • The Dutch Riding School – It’s free to poke your head in and take a look at the riding classes.
  • Albert Cuyp Market – The largest street market in the Netherlands.  I also stumbled upon a tip that there’s a vendor selling fresh stroopwaffels on Saturdays!
  • De Kaaskamer – A store dedicated to Dutch cheese.
  • Pancakes! – Serving up every kind of pancake imaginable from blini to crepes to American-style flapjacks.
  • The Pancake Boat – For a two-in-one experience, the pancake boat offers all you can eat pancakes while cruising around the Amsterdam harbor area.
  • De Taart van m’n Tante – A super funky cake shop.
  • Bierfabrik – A restaurant specializing in organic, charcoal-grilled Cornish game hens.  Eat with your hands, and get to know your neighbor!
  • Le Pain Quotidien – Excellent choice for breakfast or lunch.  Think Panera gone all French.
  • Bagels & Beans – Perhaps not as exciting to US travelers, but expats craving bagels (Einstein Bros or otherwise) will love this place.  In addition to coffee (hence the beans), this chain brews loose leaf tea.

Have you been to Amsterdam with kids?  Did I miss any fun places that little ones would’ve enjoyed?Signature-Marigold

Review: El Gallo Mexican Restaurant – Freiburg

The boys are back at kindergarten this week (hip hip, hooray!), so Doc Sci and I had time to squeeze in a few more dates before the end of his paternity leave.  We had heard about an okay Mexican joint in Freiburg, a city just on the edge of the Black Forest.  Considering the crap Mexican we’ve experienced everywhere in Germany (except Berlin), we agreed to gamble on “okay.”

We hit up El Gallo on Tuesday because – thrifty as we are – burritos and quesadillas are on special for €6,50 all day.  Though it’s not clear from their website, El Gallo does have a lunch menu (Mittagskarte) that features a smattering of dishes from the main menu with smaller portions and prices.

The server spoke decent English, and we ordered one of each of the specials, a chicken quesadilla and a beef burrito.  He brought us the teeniest cup of chips and a tablespoon of salsa to tide us over while we waited.

Thrifty Travel Mama El Gallo FreiburgThe chips were real fried corn tortillas (a good sign), but the salsa was a mystery.  It looked like tomato puree with several flecks of spices.  However, when it hit the tongue, all flavor disappeared.  It tasted like… nothing.

My chicken quesadilla was more like a burrito folded in half.  It oozed with juicy shredded chicken and a smidge of cheese.  A thick squiggle of sour cream adorned the top, crowned with another sprinkling of shredded cheese.

Thrifty Travel Mama El Gallo FreiburgThe quesadilla is supposed to come with crumbled goat cheese, but I asked if cheddar could be substituted instead.  The server had no problem with this, but he explained to me it was a mix of cheddar and mozzarella.  Say, what?

The chicken, although greasy, did not smack me in the taste buds – no heat and minimal seasoning.  Germans do not like spicy food, and this quesadilla would not disappoint them.

Doc Sci’s beef burrito had a little more zest.  The meat had specks of jalapenos in it as well as some peppers, onions, and tomatoes.  It had a certain porky aftertaste, though the menu insisted it was totally beef (Rindfleisch).

Thrifty Travel Mama El Gallo FreiburgBeans and rice accompanied the burrito, but the flavoring was all wrong.  The yellow rice lay there devoid of tumeric.  The bean mixture contained only white, no pinto.   It reminded me of a bean and onion confit with tomato, nothing Mexican about it.

Both the quesadilla and the burrito came with a German-style salad: iceberg lettuce mounded with hearty tomatoes, hefty cucumbers, corn, and a slice of bell pepper smothered in creamy dressing.  If you don’t like gobs of white salad sauce drowning out the vegetable flavor, request it on the side.

Thrifty Travel Mama El Gallo FreiburgThe verdict?  El Gallo is not really Mexican or even Tex-Mex as I know it.  But, it is edible, and not as far away as Berlin (or even Strasbourg).  It’s only fair to give El Gallo another try, though next time I’ll go for the fajitas or nachos.