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eli's travel recommendations

eli's travel recommendations

My recommendations for things to do – generally those that are interesting and/or delicious – in places I've lived or spent significant time. Enjoy!

Last updated October 18, 2023. Contact: @frozenpandaman

1. Japan

1.1. Tokyo

1.1.1. Food

Restaurants in Japan often specialize in one type of food per place. Below are my favorite restaurants in the city, grouped by category, and the name of the area of Tokyo in which they're located.

  • Tonkatsu: Tonki (in Meguro) is my top recommendation. Just watching the production and creation of hundreds of tonkatsu plates in the center of all the place settings as one person memorizes every single order is incredible. The super tiny Marugo and Fukuyoshi (both in Akihabara) are also both out-of-this-world great.
  • Noodles: Nishi-Azabu Shūichi (near Todoroki Station, Setagaya), a cute hole-in-the-wall place with great tsukemen (dipping ramen noodles). Tsurutontan (a chain in Ginza, and a few other places) is also great with huge portion sizes.
  • Oyakodon: Tamahide (in Meguro).
  • Yakitori: Sasamoto (in Omoide Yokochō, Shinjuku). Note that there are nights when they only accept Japanese (or sometimes Japanese-speaking) customers.
  • Fish: The wholesale (inner) section of the Tsukiji fish market closed in October 2018, but the outer market (adjacent shopping area) is still open! The new main fish market – for great, fresh, albeit expensive (but worth having once) sushi, sashimi, etc. – is Toyosu Market.
  • Curry: Even though it's a chain that's everywhere in Japan, CoCo ICHIBANYA is honestly very good.
  • Dessert: yelo (in Roppongi) for kakigōri/shave ice, and Fukusaya (in Meguro) for castella.
  • For more, see my map on Tabelog (essentially a Japanese Yelp) or ask me!

1.1.2. Activities

  • Take a walk along the river and and explore the beautiful, hidden-away Todoroki Valley, the only natural ravine in all of Tokyo's 23 special wards. This is tied for my #1 recommendation, along with…
  • The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka – please go here if at all possible. It is an architecturally magical building and space. If you're in Japan the month prior to your visit, you can get tickets for the following month at any Lawson konbini on the 10th of each month at 10 a.m. (this is the easiest method by far) – otherwise they must be purchased online in advance.
  • Walk down the narrow, dimly-lit alleys of Omoide Yokochō ("Memory Lane") and Golden Gai in Shinjuku at night, packed with hundreds of tiny bars and eateries.
  • For the best view of the city from up high at night, the Mori Tower in Roppongi (paid admission) gives a beautiful view of the city (and also houses a cool art museum). In the daytime, the observation decks in the Shinjuku Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (free admission) are nice.
  • Visit Ito-ya in Ginza for an incredible 12 floors of stationery-related goods – floors dedicated solely to paper, pens, stamps, stickers, etc. They also have a second building across the street with six more floors (and a basement).
  • Walk around and explore Shimokitazawa, an eccentric and eclectic neighborhood with a Bohemian feel and lots of live music, used clothing retailers, graffiti, hole-in-the-wall cafes, and an independent movie theater named Tollywood.
  • Walking around Yoyogi Park and visiting Meiji Jingū shrine in the daytime is pretty pleasant!
  • Conversely, at night, visit Sensō-ji in Asakusa, Tokyo's oldest temple. The area around Zōjō-ji in Minato with its view of the Tokyo Tower is also nice.
  • The teamLab Borderless museum/exhibition in Odaiba opened up in June 2018 and has excellent reviews. Closed 2020.
  • For weird stuff – art, clothing, stickers, zines, etc. – in a retrofitted one-room apartment, go to artist Ken Kagami's Strange Store in Shibuya/Daikanyama (it's open most days, but you can double-check on Instagram).
  • The wholesale section of the Tsukiji fish market is incredible to walk around and see, and of course has great fresh fish for sale. Closed 2018.

1.2. Nagoya

1.2.1. Food

  • Coming soon...

1.2.2. Activities

  • Coming soon...

2. Budapest, Hungary

2.1. Food

  • Rengeteg RomKafé: the most amazing, special, full-of-life-and-character shop in the world, located two blocks from Corvin-negyed. Walk in and prepare to be served a thick hot chocolate tailored to what the owner thinks would resonate with you, e.g. "23.4% dark chocolate, with hazelnut, raspberries, red currant, and rum." Decorated from floor to ceiling with a collection of teddy bears of all shapes and sizes collected over 50 years; curious knick-knacks on every table such as old binoculars, felt dolls, and finger puzzles; a collection of found twigs mounted in picture frames; and old Communist-era train ticket punchers. This is my favorite place in the entire city.
  • The family-run Zeller Bistro has absolutely fantastic food and is nice for a fancier meal. You should go here once for sure. The only alcohol I've ever enjoyed the taste of in my life is their homemade elderflower champagne (served free to all guests). Reservations most likely needed.
  • Bors GasztroBár, on Kazinczy utca, for sandwiches. Run by two five-star restaurant chefs who decided they wanted to sell street food instead. Rated one of the top places for food in the city.
  • Eat lángos (fried dough with sour cream and cheese) and kürtőskalács (chimney cake) at least once, from any street vendor around the city.
  • Gelarto Rosa, right by Szent István-bazilika (St. Stephen's Basilica), has amazing and beautiful gelato shaped like roses.

2.2. Food, continued

Places that are more relevant if you'll be living in Budapest, or there for an extended period of time.

  • El Rapido Grill on Kazinczy utca is open very late (into the early morning) and has pretty decent Mexican food, including cactus quesadillas. Across the street is Ramenka which has pretty good & cheap ramen.
  • LEVES., by Kálvin tér, also has great soups & sandwiches.
  • Babam Török Gyorsétterem, a 24-hour Turkish street food place on Blaha Lujza tér, has excellent (and cheap, like everything in Budapest) gyros.
  • The best Japanese food in the city is Biwako (a few blocks from Oktogon), run by two Japanese women who also have a small selection of Asian groceries for sale. Komachi Bistro is also decent.
  • The best Indian food in the city is Curry House (close-ish to Rákoczi tér) – better than Taj Mahal or Indigo.
  • A Presto near Opera, a few blocks from Oktogon, has very good pasta and great fresh-squeezed orange juice. Closed 2021.
  • The Donut Library, by Jászai Mari tér, has good donuts.
  • There aren't bagels in stores in Budapest, but if you're craving some, go to Budapest Bägel by Kálvin tér.

2.3. Activities

  • The Citadella has the most stunning, magnificent view of the city at night; Buda Castle and Fisherman's Bastion don't even compare. It's worth the short uphill walk. Go when it's fully dark out, after sunset, but before midnight when the bridge lights get turned off.
  • Budapest is known for its ruin pubs. The most iconic of these is Szimpla Kert, an almost-overwhelming architectural marvel with dozens of interconnected rooms, maze-like balconies, and staircases. You need to go to see this, preferably at night. It also hosts a Farmers' Market on weekends and functions as a community center.
  • Also in the Jewish Quarter is Gozsdu Udvar, a short pathway comprised of seven connected building complexes and courtyards. Cool to walk down at night and see the cafés, restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, etc.
  • See my note about Rengeteg RomKafé in the section above. This is less about "food" and more about the experience as a whole, which is why it gets lited again in this section.
  • The Hungarian Parliament Building is stunning lit up at night. Walk by or take the 2 tram along the Duna (Danube). It's the largest building in Hungary and the tallest in the city.
  • The best escape room in Budapest (where they originated!) is Claustrophilia, by Blaha Lujza tér.
  • The baths are nice! Check out the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, at end of the yellow (M1) métro line. This line is also the oldest transit system using electric traction in continental Europe, and the second oldest in the world, operating since 1896. The other two most well-known baths are Gellért and Rudas.
  • Budapest has incredible public transit, and you'll most likely use it a lot to get around (especially the 4-6 tram on the ring road). For something a little different from the "regular" transit (métro, trams, buses, trolleybuses, HÉV, ferries…) is the Cog Railway, tram #60. It runs up in the Buda Hills, farther away from busy downtown Pest and city center, and has gears for wheels to go up the steep inclines! It runs nearby a park called Normafa which is relaxing and beautiful. This railway also connects up to the Children's Railway (Gyermekvasút), a train line completely run by 10–14 year olds (except for the driver).
  • Szentendre, located at the end of the HÉV 5 (suburban railway), is a very nice little town and great to walk around in for a day or half-day, and has many good places for food.

3. Seattle, Washington

3.1. Food

  • The best Mexican in town, hands down – for taste and price – is Fogón on Pine St. in Capitol Hill.
  • Up in the U District, Guanaco's Tacos Pupuseria is the best (only?) pupuseria in town. It's also right around the corner from the amazing Hey! I Am Yogost for boba and smoothies.
  • Seattle has so much great Ethiopian food, for both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Go down to the Central District on Cherry St. and take your pick between Zagol and Cafe Selam (or one of the nearby places, also assuredly wonderful). There are good places down in Columbia City as well.
  • The two best places for Japanese food in the International District are Maneki and Tsukishinbo. Fort St. George is a very hidden-away third. Also down in the ID are Uwajimaya, a Japanese/Asian grocery store with a great selection, and Milkie Milkie Dessert Cafe for bingsu (Korean shaved ice).
  • Ice cream! Sweet Alchemy – with locations in both the U District (larger) and Capitol Hill (smaller) – is Seattle's best, for sure. (And RIP to the former greats: Central District Ice Cream Company, Kurt Farm Shop, Old School Frozen Custard, and the Capitol Hill Full Tilt.)
  • While ice cream is great, nothing can beat Fainting Goat Gelato in Fremont and Wallingford.
  • Kamonegi in Fremont has very good (albeit a bit pricey) handmade soba noodles and tempura (and sake). Also in Fremont, Cafe Turko has amazing Turkish food and dessert.
  • Oasis Tea Zone, with ID (larger) and Capitol Hill (smaller) locations, is good for boba. The other best boba places in Capitol Hill are Tea Addicts and Drip Tea.
  • I adamantly believe the best ramen in the city is at Betsutenjin (but it's incredibly hard to trust their hours online, and they're near-unreachable by phone). In second place is Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya.
  • The literal only good poke in the mainland US is at the little counter in 45th Stop N Shop up in Wallingford. Fresh fish, generous portions. Also in Wallingford, Chocolati Café is worth stopping by for a snack.
  • Pel Meni Dumpling Tzar has really good late-night Russian dumplings, with locations in Fremont and Capitol Hill.
  • Motherindia in Westlake near SLU has probably the best Indian in the city proper.

3.2. Activities

  • I think the Ballard Locks are incredibly cool to watch and are a feat of human engineering. See the salmon ladder too!
  • Seriously, please, go see any play that is currently showing at the Seattle Rep. It is a truly world-class theater that has genuinely never put on a less-than-stellar show. Their lighting designer is nothing short of a genius. They have a lot of pay-what-you-want tickets for many of their performances.
  • In the mood for some other local theatre? Look at what's playing at the well-known 5th Avenue Theatre or ACT Theatre (both downtown), or at ArtsWest (West Seattle). For companies performing more experimental/blackbox-type stuff, see what Annex Theatre (Capitol Hill), Strawberry Theatre Workshop (Capitol Hill), or the Lesser-Known Players (Bainbridge Island – take the ferry!) are sporadically putting on. Finally, if you're down for a drive south, the company at the Lakewood Playhouse is so, so worth supporting. For more (yes, there's more)… please ask!
  • Gas Works Park really does have a very, very nice view of the city, especially on a sunny day, and is an iconic Seattle park and destination overlooking Lake Union from the north.
  • The Elliott Bay Book Company is worth stopping by if you're in need of a good independent bookstore. Or Left Bank Books by Pike Place Market if you lean anarchist in your literature taste (support your local infoshops!)
  • The Seattle Pinball Museum in the International District is one of the city's most unique "museums" (and more interactive than most) – and worth a visit.
  • Play tons of board games for free at Mox Boarding House in either Ballard or across the lake in Bellevue – and they're open till midnight. Food (or drink) purchase suggested, because it's polite, but not required. You can buy the board/card games directly from them too, naturally. You can also go to Blue Highway Games at the top of the hill in Queen Anne, too, and they host game nights.
  • MoPOP is always pretty cool (and if you know someone with a public library card, you can all get free tickets if you plan for it a month-ish in advance via the Museum Pass program). It's fun to walk around the surrounding Seattle Center area too. And if you just happen to be around in early November, check out the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival – the city's without-a-doubt best annual event for some very cool zines, art, and other miscellany.
  • See the cherry blossoms up in the UW campus if you're visiting in the spring! There's also a street of them in northern Capitol Hill on 21st Ave E.
  • The poetry-focused bookstore Open Books: A Poem Emporium up in Wallingford is pretty cute.
  • Go hiking somewhere nearby. Even if you don't have a car, in the summers, King County Metro offers the Trailhead Direct shuttle buses! (In general, Seattle's transit is really good. Make use of it!)

4. Hawaiʻi

4.1. Honolulu & Oʻahu

4.1.1. Food

Honolulu has some really, really good food. Recommendations are grouped by type of food; the stars indicate 100% mandatory places to go or food to try if you're visiting Oʻahu.

  • ★ Poke: The best poke on-island and the best you will ever have in your life is at Off The Hook in Mānoa Valley. This is what you've come to Hawaiʻi for – trust me.

  • ★ Shave ice: Hawaiian shave ice – not "shaved"! This is what sno-cones want to be. Either of the Shimazu Store locations, on Kapahulu or School Street, is definitively the best in town. Avoid Waiola Shave Ice – it's small, pricey, they skimp on syrup, and their condensed milk is too watery.

  • ★ Hawaiian food: Kalua pig, lau lau, lomi lomi salmon, squid luau… Oʻahu Grill in Kaimukī (lesser-known but great) or Helena's in Kalihi (very popular and in a very not-touristy part of town) are where you want to go to eat this. Order & try some poi (pounded taro, a staple food) too… important to do, even if you don't end up loving it!

  • ★ Malasadas: Portuguese fried "donuts". Leonard's Bakery at the top of Kapahulu is the iconic/classic place (better than Pipeline Bakery).

  • ★ Crack seed: Sweetened dried fruit. Go to Crack Seed Store in Kaimukī and try whatever sounds appealing. Li hing mui powder is very Hawaiʻi and a very unique flavor that's worth trying (I recommend getting 1/4 or 1/2 pound of the li hing lychee).

  • Tonkatsu: My first experience at Tonkatsu Tamafuji (in Kapahulu) was one of the best meals I've ever had in my life. Granted, tonkatsu is one of my favorite foods, but this place is truly incredible. Packed every hour of the day, every day of the year. Near-impossible to reach by phone; get someone to make an in-person reservation for you, ideally a month or so ahead.

  • Sorbet: Henry's Place in Waikīkī (which also sells fresh cut-up tropical fruit, along with sorbet and ice cream), open late but cash only – try their lychee sorbet.

  • Shaved ice: As an alternative to shave ice, try the Korean version of shaved ice: bingsu. The in the city is NIO Snow Ice & Tea downtown, easily beating out Jujubing in Ala Moana.

  • Local food: Side Street Inn on Hopaka Street by Ala Moana (not the one on Kapahulu, which has a very different vibe) has the hugest-ever portions of local comfort food – it's not super healthy, but it's delicious. Plus there's live English & Hawaiian music most nights.

  • Japanese: Apart from tonkatsu listed above, Maguro-ya (in Kaimukī) is my go-to place for Japanese food – for fish, rice bowls (especially oyakodon), dessert (their oshiruko/zenzai is great), and more. If you're looking for a Japanese place open even later, Izakaya Torae Torae has a great happy hour menu (oh man, that ahi tataki!)

  • Ice cream: Scoop Scoops in Mōʻiliʻili is unbeatable. I'm unhealthily obsessed with their honeydew sorbet, which comes with little mochi chunks in it. I have changed my spending habits to mathematically optimize getting stamps on their stamp-only-for-$10-and-up-purchases stamp cards. Closed 2023.

  • Curry & more: Da Spot (in Mōʻiliʻili) is a casual place with cheap, healthy, delicious fare – usually curry-type dishes served with rice and a salad, but sometimes also stuff like lasagna – plus 35 kinds of homemade smoothies (!!) and baklava and brownies for dessert. The shop also works with the local non-profit Mālama Meals to provide food security via free meals to those in need.

  • Japanese noodles: The wait at Marukame Udon in Waikīkī is always absolutely ridiculous, but it's honestly very good and worth it. There's another location in Chinatown, too, which never has a wait. For soba, go to Shingen Soba Izakaya at Heart Moon in Mōʻiliʻili.

  • Other noodles: Mio Pastalogy in Mōʻiliʻili has homemade, create-your-own-pasta dishes (and shares a lobby with a good Japanese bakery).

  • Gyros: The only good place I've found to get a real gyros sandwich is Leo's Taverna Express, with locations next to Don Quijote (near Ala Moana) and also apparently in Waikīkī.

  • Andagi: These are Okinawan fried donut holes. They're served at obon matsuri dances in the late summer, or by Andagi Bros. in front of Don Quijote (near Ala Moana) every Wednesday afternoon.

4.1.2. Activities

  • I think the Bishop Museum is important to visit, to learn about Hawaiian history (which is not often taught or known about) and the history of the islands. See one of the planetarium shows if you can. Note: Avoid the Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore which claims to do the same thing – it's run by Brigham Young University and the Mormon church.
  • If you're renting a car (or taking TheBus route 60), head up the windward side of the island and to the North Shore, and see the "real" Hawaiʻi en route – not just a tourist's view of resort areas. Explore Haleʻiwa and then head back down to Honolulu on the highway. For food up north, get fresh shrimp with garlic at Giovanni's or other trucks around Kahuku and Laie. It's worth spontaneously stopping at stands selling fresh fruit or mac nuts, too.
  • The Mānoa Valley Falls aren't that magnificent of waterfalls themselves, but it's a short hike/walk in the beautiful, lush, overwhelmingly-green valley all around you.

4.2. Kauaʻi

  • See the Nā Pali Coast – no matter what. I highly, highly recommend leaving in a smaller boat from Hanalei Bay, i.e. from the north (wading in water required), and not going on a big boat from ʻEleʻele in the south.
  • In Līhuʻe, get saimin at Hamura Saimin, and banana pancakes at the Tip Top Motel Cafe.
  • Anuenue Cafe near Poipu is fantastic for breakfast. Fresh sunrise papaya with lime!
  • Between Koloa and Popiu is Makai Sushi – housed in the Kukuiʻula Market grocery store, it has the island's best poke (the Gorilla Poke Bowl is especially good). Outside in the parking lot is Waikomo Shave Ice with all-natural syrups.
  • Also on the south side, Spouting Horn is cool to see, plus Waimea Canyon with its red, red sand. Drive all the way to the end to see the Puʻu O Kila Lookout (right at the start of the Pihea Trail) for a stunning view of the Nā Pali Coast and Kalalau Trail.
  • On the north shore, Wishing Well Shave Ice in Hanalei has great açaí bowls. Also stop at Banana Joe's fruit stand.
  • From there, keep driving as far west as you can (across many one-lane bridges) to see the vines hanging down from the impossibly-high vertical cliffs which come right up to the road at Keʻe Beach.

5. Iceland

  • My top tip is to rent a car and drive around, unless you're only there for one or two days.
  • The Golden Circle (near Reykjavík) can be touristy, but has some truly amazing sights on it – the three main stops are Þingvellir National Park, Strokkur & Geysir geysers, and Gulfoss waterfall, which are all worth seeing. I really loved Kerið, a crater lake, as well. Brúarfoss is a bit of a trek from the road, especially if it's rainy or muddy, but has the bluest water you will ever see in the world.
  • South Iceland is beautiful and amazing, and there is so much to do and see in this area, but definitely requires driving across vast stretches of nothingness. The most stunning waterfall is Seljalandfoss, which you can walk behind, with the enormous Skógafoss (with an optional ~500-step climb to see it from the top) in second place. You can hike up the base of the glacier Eyjafjallajökull. Nearby, walk to the hidden, small, outdoor swimming pool at the base of a mountain called Seljavallalaug. Closer to Vík you have the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara, with columnar basalt (and extremely dangerous sneaker waves, so stay far away from the water), Dyrhólaey arch, and the crashed DC-3 plane on the desolate Sólheimasandur beach (4 km walk from the road).
  • In northern Iceland, there are beautiful sights all around Lake Mývatn: the Goðafoss waterfall, pseudocraters in Skútustaðagígar, subterranean caves of Grjótagjá, the Hverir (Námafjall) geothermal area, and Dimmuborgir lava fields. The quaint town of Akureyri (the second-largest in Iceland, with a population of ~18,000) is charming and beautiful in all seasons. The Blue Lagoon is expensive, overrated, and crowded – if you're going up north too, go to the Mývatn Nature Baths instead!


Ask me for specific recommendations for the following places:

  • Japan – Tōhoku (Miyagi, Iwate, Aomori, and Akita prefectures), Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Kanazawa, Takayama, Matsumoto
  • Europe – Berlin, Stockholm, Northern Sweden (Gällivare, Porjus, Jokkmokk), Madrid
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