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Another year, another Taste of Hillcrest! Can you believe it's been going on for 15 years? This year I was provided a pair of media tickets for their event on April 18, 2015 between 12-4pm.

I was planning a birthday dinner for Dennis with friends and made a reservation for Davanti Enoteca in Del Mar. We've been here a couple times before, including San Diego Restaurant Week and have enjoyed the food.

It's a cute restaurant. Look at these big empty wine bottles as props near our table! I want one for my room!

There's also a bicycle out front for deliveries. Or maybe it's just a decoration.

They gave us this handy glossary guide when we were seated! I loved how it defined the unfamiliar words I've been seeing in italian restaurant names (davanti enoteca i.e. in front of the wine bar).

While waiting for the rest of our party, Dennis ordered the Churchill Downs cocktail. We were a little shocked when this cup full of crushed ice came out. The waitress said it was in the same style as the original mint julep...

We took a day off work to visit Catalina Island for Dennis's birthday. Did you know that you could get a free round trip starting the day of your birthday? I got this idea from marvelous Mary of This Tasty Life. You must sign up ahead of time and reserve with the email promo code they send you. 

Dana Point was our starting point since it was the closest. The telephone rep had told me to arrive 1 hour prior to departure but they don't even hand out tickets until 1 hour and 20 minutes before departure!

After getting tickets ($76.50 for mine, FREE for Dennis), we had to wait in another line to get long term parking pass ($12/day) because we had to move our car out of short term parking (free with a 4 hour limit only).

We hadn't eaten anything yet so we rushed to the nearby RJ's Cafe for a quick bite. This breakfast place was within walking distance, about 0.3 miles per Google maps.

I ordered a stuffed French toast with orange and cranberry sauce. It came out big and bulky! You could see the batter on the toast and inside was a huge chunk of cream cheese!

The family was celebrating dual birthdays (Dennis and his sister Lisa) and decided on Dumpling Inn. It used to be a tiny but popular hole in the wall off Convoy Street but they recently moved into the next building (previously a supermarket).

Off to the far left side seemed to be party central because we, along with other large parties, were seated there.

To the right of the entrance was a pick-up or to-go area and smack dab in the center of the restaurant was a bar area, probably the center of their Shanghai Saloon add-on for the afternoon/evening crowds! There were plenty of tables all over the restaurant as well.

We browsed the menu but of course dumplings were a MUST at a dumpling house. This was the Pork Potstickers.

We've only tried one Argentinian restaurant so far (Pampas Argentine Grill) so when a groupon popped up for another, Puerto La Boca, I immediately picked it up. Puerto La Boca is located in Little Italy along the busy India Street but is pretty close to the I-5 Hawthorn exit. The groupon stated that a reservation was required so I called about 2 hours ahead to set up a table for 4. We were joined by two good friends.

Upon entering the restaurant, there's two dining areas, one to the left with a bar and piano area (pictured) and a dining area to the right. We were seated near the window in the regular dining area.

The first thing to come out was a complimentary appetizer with chimichurri, olives and butter, plus a sliced loaf of bread. The chimmichurri sauce was tasty though Dennis thought a little more spice would have made it better. The butter reminded us of Jack cheese but without the cheese taste, maybe because if all the stuff inside. Also this was more salty because of the mixins which may have included olives. The actual olives were just olives... but it was very nice to have so many options!

Earlier this year, Dennis invited me to join him for lunch at a vegan restaurant called Evolution Fast Food. It's not in the heart of Hillcrest, but rather a little farther south, located next door to the original Extraordinary Desserts. And if you happen to end up there for desserts, we'd totally understand! ;)

The parking lot is tiny but there's always street parking. You also have the option of going through the drive thru, which fits with the "fast food" name and theme. Dennis mentioned it's a bit awkward due to the sharp turn to the first window (hug that curve when you drive in)! After ordering, you wait a few minutes at the second window for your food and then continue on your merry way.

For dining inside, you place your order at the counter and wait for your name to be called. They have a few housemade lemonades and teas to choose from, showcased in clear plastic beverage dispensers. We upgraded one of our entrees into a meal deal for $2.75 extra, which adds fries and a drink.

I decided on a Mushroom Swiss Burger ($6.95). Evolution gives you three patty options: tempah, 1/4 lb beef, and black bean. Don't forget that the second option is "beef"-like ...

Last year Dennis and I were visiting family in Orange County and decided we were in the mood for sushi. We headed to a restaurant called "I Love Sushi" which Dennis had visited a couple times in the past. Maybe it had been a REALLY long time ago because it had been replaced by EON Sushi. The time was around 3pm so it wasn't too busy for one sushi chef and one waitress. Service was really fast anyway.

We usually look for rolls based on ingredients or appetizing pictures and ended up with three rolls that were also some of the most popular.

Bento Box (10.99) - tuna, salmon, albacore, avocado, spicy crab meat. This one was rice-less and the most interesting roll. The pieces were large plus the sushi wasn't tied together in any way. It was like a fish lasagna with fish layer on the bottom and top with crab mix in the middle.

We enjoyed the Latin Food Fest in San Diego last year and were pleased to be invited back for the Los Angeles grande tasting on March 21. Even though it's farther away, we knew there'd be many, if not all, new restaurants for us to sample! The sipping of spirits was also a plus.

The Los Angeles location was at Hangar 8, a 15000 facitity at the Santa Monica Airport. Paid parking lot ($10) and ticket pickup were to the right with the event to the left.

Entrance to the Latin Food Festival. It doesn't look all that big on the outside but there were additional booths, mainly the spirits, located in the back building.

We first got in the Stella Artois line for the purpose of collecting their cute glassware. I'm a fan of Belgium style beer so this one is nice and familiar. I also like their cider too.

While waiting for beer, Dennis picked up samples from the nearby Rosa Mexicano booth. The tableside guac was yummy but we needed more than two chips! The pink lemonade mixed drink was refreshing and light. The El Floridita booth had pork with a banana chip. The strands of meat were long which made it a bit chewier for us.

To the left of Stella was Coni'Seafood, serving raw shrimp marinated in jalapeno juice. There were definitely some hesitant looks as we took pictures. I finally gave it a shot and...