CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Bucktown and Wicker Park, Chicago Loop, Edgewater, Oak Park

Lincoln Park: Still looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day plans? Geja’s Cafe has you covered with not one, but two Valentine’s events. First, join Geja’s for the Celebration of Marriage on Monday, February 12. Couples will receive 1% off their food bill for each year of marriage under their belts. Or, go for the Valentine’s Day Dinner Package! The package includes a cheese fondue appetizer with assorted bread, apples, and grapes; Geja’s salad with cucumbers and a dijon vinaigrette; lobster, shrimp, and beef entree fondue with assorted vegetables and eight dipping sauces; flaming chocolate fondue dessert; and a glass of sparkling rosé at any point during the meal. You’ll also receive a Geja’s keepsake to take home with you! Package seatings are at 4 pm ($100 per person), 6:30 pm ($115 per person), and 9 pm ($115 per person). Tax and gratuity are both included in the per person cost. The 6:30 seating is sold out, but the 4 and 9 pm are still available! Book your table now, here!

Lakeview: Want to get fit and give back this Valentine’s Day? Check out the Cupid’s Undie Run this Saturday, February 10. Run through Wrigleyville in your unmentionables and raise money for finding the cure to neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that affects 1 in every 3,000 children born. Participants can raise funds to earn prizes including shirts, undies, and engraved flasks. There’s also a kickin’ afterparty at John Barleycorn! The event is from 12 pm to 4 pm and costs $40. Check-in is at 12 pm, the run starts at 2 pm, the run concludes at 2:15 pm (it’s a “brief” one), and the party is over at 4 pm!

Bucktown and Wicker Park: Valentine’s Day is the same day as Ash Wednesday this year. Need a place to go? Try Mac’s Wood Grilled in Wicker Park, located at 1801 W. Division St. They’re doing a Lenten Fish Fry beginning at 5 pm. They’ll offer $12 Fish and Chips, fresh beer battered cod with crispy hand-cut fries. The deal will run every Friday from February 16 to March 30. Find more information on their website!

Chicago Loop: Looking for a little scandalous fun this Valentine’s Day weekend? Check out “The Naked at the Art Museum Scavenger Hunt”. This Saturday, February 10 and Sunday, February 11 at 1 pm, you can scour the Art Institute for their best nudes. Seek out bathing beauties, sultry sirens, and more provocative art, all while learning about art history. Tickets are  available through Watson Adventures on their website. They’re just $38 dollars, including admission to the museum.

Edgewater: Treat your sweetheart to an unforgettable dinner this Valentine’s Day! Join Francesca’s on Bryn Mawr for “Wine & Dine with your Valentine”. The menu begins with an Insalata Mista con Lampani: mixed greens with a raspberry vinaigrette, caramelized walnuts, and bleu cheese. Next is the Ravioli Degli Innamorati: heart-shaped four cheese ravioli with a white truffle cream sauce, chives, and fresh tomatoes. Then, choose from the Branzina alla Zaffarena: pan-roasted sea bass with shiitake mushrooms, red and yellow peppers, green onions, and a saffron cream sauce; or the Filleta al Gorgonzola: grilled filet medallions served on a bed of spinach with gorgonzola sauce and grilled portobello mushrooms. Finally, finish your romantic meal with the Cuore Bianca: a warm maple butter cake with vanilla gelato, fresh berries, and a chocolate heart. Make your reservation here, now!

Oak Park: Celebrate your Valentine with a romantic concert! Soprano Christine Steyer and company present “My Funny Valentine” at Nineteenth Century Club in Oak Park. This program of love songs will help you get in the mood to celebrate this month of love! A new tenor, Emanuel Carama, will also be featured. The program is this Monday, February 12 at 1:15 pm. There is a suggested $10 donation and you can make a reservation for lunch as well. Find more information on their website!


Restaurant Review – Aloha Poke Co.

It’s always awesome to find easy, healthy food on the go. This week, I stumbled upon Aloha Poke Co. With seven locations in the city, it’s safe to say this chain has blown up here in Chicago. I went to the location in Lakeview, at 843 Belmont Ave. It’s an adorable counter-service spot, with brightly colored chairs and hula figurines adorning the walls. The menu is small and simple. First, you choose your size: little (8 oz.), big (16 oz.), or kahuna (24 oz.). Then, you select your base: white rice, brown rice, or mixed greens. Next, select your poke: ahi tuna, salmon, or tofu. You can choose to have your protein marinated in a sesame and shoyu sauce or “naked”. Next, you can either choose a House Bowl with pre-selected ingredients or a P.Y.O.B- pack your own bowl! My best friend decided to try the Aloha Bowl. She had chosen brown rice and tuna. The Aloha is packed with pineapple, cucumber, scallion, jalapeño, maui onion, and a sesame vinaigrette. She said it was absolutely delicious! The ingredients were perfectly proportioned and she really liked the sesame vinaigrette. I decided on a P.Y.O.B. I started with brown rice and marinated salmon. Then, I added cucumber, maui onion, jalapeño, edamame, pineapple, ginger, and avocado. Finally, I got to choose a sauce. I could choose from Samurai (sweet and savory), Spicy Aioli (tangy and spicy mayo), Wasabi (horseradish and wasabi), Sesame Oil (toasted and nutty), Sesame Vinaigrette (light, citrusy, and sweet), Volcano (chili and ponzu mayo), or Yuzu (Japanese citrus ranch). I love aiolis, so I decided on the Spicy Aioli. The whole bowl was wonderful! The mayo was creamy and spicy and really added to the fresh, crunchy veggies in my bowl. We will definitely be back to try another bowl!

This location of Aloha Poke Co. is open 10 am to 10 pm 7 days a week. You can find information about their other locations here. Aloha Poke is also available for pick-up and delivery. Check that out here!


Kathy’s Home & Garden Tips – Snow and Ice Removal

We have not had too much snow around Chicago this year. But winter is not over yet. We need to be careful when removing snow from various surfaces. We should also be careful when choosing which salt to use to protect surfaces, as well as our pets and plantings.


Watch Out For: Rock salt used for de-icing. The salt enters through cracks and corrodes the steel reinforcements embedded in the concrete, forcing early replacement.

Best Practices: Use calcium chloride instead, which is less corrosive. Make sure to follow package instructions. It works in temps well below zero. However, it can damage grass, so don’t over apply.  Seal your driveway every three to five years to protect rebar. For a more environmentally friendly deicer, use potassium chloride. Overall it works well, but not in temperatures below 20 degrees F.


Watch Out For: Badly cracked or brittle material. Aggressive shoveling or plowing on an uneven surface can chip off chunks of asphalt.

Best Practices: Keep shovels, snow blower, or plow blades at least half an inch off the surface. If your driveway is badly aged, consider repaving it. It would be best to use potassium chloride-based deicer here also.


Watch Out For: Pavers or bricks that protrude from the driveways’ surface. They can be damaged by the tips of metal shovels or the blades of snow blowers or plows.

Best Practices: Plastic and nonmetal shovels are your best bet for getting rid of snow. And when the thaw comes, tamp down any pavers or bricks that stick up. Use salt sparingly with brick and pavers.

With any salt, it’s best to use as little as possible to get the results you want. It is a good idea to be careful storing salts if you have pets. Even with salt mixtures that are environmentally friendly or pet safe, they are still poisonous if ingested by pets. If you have dogs, get booties for them and always wash their paws after being outside.

Always make sure you remove the snow in stages. Taking up snow a few inches at a time is much easier than trying to shovel 6 or more inches at once. Also, take it easy and take frequent breaks. Take small shovels full and don’t overexert yourself. Better yet, invest in a small snow blower. It’s not worth a heart attack, so be careful. 


9 Things to Know About Buying Pre-Construction Homes

There are obvious perks to buying a brand new home; namely, new materials, the ability to customize to your liking, and the potential to buy at pre-construction prices. But as convenient as new home construction may be, there are certain things that buyers should be wary of when buying a new home from a builder.

Understanding all the ins and outs of buying pre-construction can help you make a more informed decision before being bound by the contract.

1. You’ll Need a Hefty Down Payment

When you purchase a resale home on the market, you can put as little as 5% down for a conventional mortgage (with private mortgage insurance), and even 3.5% for government-backed mortgages. But buying new home construction with a builder will require you to put a bigger down payment towards your purchase, typically as much as 20% or more of the final purchase price.

That said, the down payment isn’t usually due all at once. Typically, builders require buyers to submit a 5% deposit upfront, then pay the remainder in increments over the course of the next year or two. If you’re buying new home construction, be prepared to dish out a larger down payment for the property.

2. Delays Are Commonplace

When you buy a new home with a builder, your contract should stipulate the completion date of construction. However, it’s very common for these completion dates to get pushed out a few times and by several months or more.

It should be no surprise that anything can happen to cause delays in the completion of construction. Even still, delays can be frustrating for buyers who have already made plans to move in by a certain date.

While delays with new builds are common, it would still be in your best interests to do some research on the builders that you’re considering buying from to see which ones have a habit of experiencing delays versus those who are pretty good at sticking to their schedules. Some builders are just better than others at foreseeing potential delays and taking steps to reduce their occurrences.

3. There Could Be Hidden Costs Involved

In addition to the deposit and purchase price spelled out in the purchase contract, be wary of plenty of other hidden fees that might not come up until well into construction. It’s possible for buyers to get hit with a ton of surprise closing costs, such as development charges and levies. These extra expenses can cause the overall price to soar.

Do your best to be diligent when inquiring about any extra charges that are likely to pop up right before closing so you can budget appropriately. If possible, set a limit of how much you are comfortable with paying from the onset so you don’t wind up stuck with a contract that will cost you more than what you expected. Ideally, these extra fees shouldn’t end up costing you any more than 2% of the purchase price.

4. Model Homes Are Usually Filled With Upgrades

The model home is probably what prompted you to buy from the builder, thanks to all the fancy upgrades and finishes that are typically used to create a stunning home. But don’t be lured into making a purchase after being mesmerized by the model home. Many of the finishes used in model homes are upgrades, which means they’ll cost extra.

Find out exactly what finishes and materials come standard with the home purchase versus those that are considered an upgrade and will require additional expenditures. It’s crucial that you fully understand what you’ll be getting with the base price and how much you would have to spend to get certain finishes that don’t come standard. Calculate exactly how much any upgrades will end up costing you so you work with a price that you’re comfortable with and won’t be unpleasantly surprised.

5. Builders Don’t Like to Negotiate on Price

It’s commonplace for buyers and sellers to negotiate on the price of resale homes, but builders typically expect to be paid the quoted price of their homes. They’re not in the habit of wheeling and dealing with buyers, because if they do, that will open the floodgates to more negotiations with future buyers, which they would much rather avoid.

That said, you can still try to lower the overall cost of the home purchase by asking the builder to cover some closing costs or throw in an upgrade or two. Builders may be more open to negotiating in this way while still keeping the purchase price as is.

6. The Home Should Be Inspected When Complete

Just because you’re buying a brand new home doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be inspected before you take possession. Even though new homes are often required to pass inspections from the municipality, you might want to bring in your own home inspector to check the place out in addition to the final walk-through that builders generally allow just before closing.

7. Not All Warranties Are All-Encompassing

New homes usually come with a warranty from the builder, but that doesn’t mean that the warranty you get covers absolutely everything. Many components of new homes come with their own warranties from contractors and manufacturers, such as those for windows, doors, HVAC systems, and so forth. In this case, you’d have to deal with third parties if issues arise. It’s important to find out exactly what is covered and when those warranties expire. 

8. Other Surrounding Developments Can Pop Up in the Future

Just because there may be greenspace surrounding the home you buy today doesn’t mean there won’t be other structures built some time in the future. Be aware that future developments surrounding your home and subdivision can be built, which could impact your enjoyment of your home if you’re not prepared.

Builders don’t necessarily have to tell you about what plans might be in the forecast, so it’s up to you to either find out if there are plans in the works for other developments or simply accept whatever pops up in the near future.

9. You Should Get Your Own Real Estate Agent

Builders typically have their own team of agents who are responsible for sealing the deal with buyers, but that doesn’t mean you have to go in it alone. Instead, you’d be well-advised to hire your own real estate agent to represent you in order to ensure the contract you enter is a sound one. The builder’s agents represent the builder, not you. That’s why you should have your own representation to look after your best interests.

A real estate agent can guide you about which features you might want to add for resale purposes. They’ll also be able to help you identify which features come standard versus those that are upgrades and come at an additional cost.

The Bottom Line

Buying a brand new home from a builder can afford you with the benefit of being able to customize the home to your tastes and not have to worry about repairing or replacing any materials or systems anytime soon. It’s also a great opportunity to buy at pre-construction prices and build some equity by the time the closing date arrives.

But buying pre-construction doesn’t come without its downsides. The earlier you’re made aware of certain potentially negative aspects of buying pre-construction, the better able you’ll be to make a sound buying decision.


Are you ready for Super Bowl Sunday?  Well, this weekend offers a variety of events for everyone, whether you’re a football fan or not!

Prior to the Big Game on Sunday, Saturday has a few events you might be interested in –

Join Meet People Chicago, Chicago’s #1 social group and the largest creator of Chicago bar crawls, at their 1st annual Mardi Gras Bar Crawl on Division Street from 4:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. at Division St. and Damen Ave. in the Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village neighborhoods.  The crawl includes 5 bars in 5 hours, specials at each participating bar of either a Mardi Gras drink or food special, complimentary beads and a Mardi Gras masquerade mask at the first bar, and a contest to win best Mardi Gras costume!  It’s the next best thing to spending Mardi Gras in NOLA!!

Join the South Side Irish Parade as they kick off their St. Patrick’s Day festivities with a Pre-Parade Fundraiser from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at 115 Bourbon Street (3359 W. 115th St.) in the Merrionette Park neighborhood.  This fundraiser will feature raffle prizes, a silent auction, selection of the South Side Irish Parade Queen, live Irish music by The Larkin & Moran Brothers and the Avondale Ramblers, and much more!  Help make this year’s South Side Irish Parade a huge success!!

This event does not take place in Chicago; however, you might be inclined to celebrate the holiday of Groundhog Days whether Phil has seen his shadow or not.  Pack up the family and head out to Woodstock Square (200 Van Buren St.) in Woodstock, Illinois, located 51 miles northwest of the Chicago loop (easy to reach by car or train).  Saturday’s features include:  Groundhog Day the movie starring Bill Murray, Groundhog bowling, Jim May’s Groundhog tales, a chili cook-off, a walking tour of the filming sites, Groundhog Day Bingo, Groundhog Day Pub Crawl, and more!  Sunday’s features include:  breakfast with Woodstock Willie, Woodstock Willie’s family funday, as well as a showing of Groundhog Day and a walking tour of filming sites!

Our beloved Bears may not be playing in Super Bowl LII this Sunday, but there are still plenty of fun ways for Chicagoans to get into the spirit of the big game!  Two such events are:

Super Bowling at 10pin located at 330 N. State St. on the Near North Side from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.  Let 10pin host your Super Bowl party with flowing beer, sizzling wings, and bowling.  Then, sit back and enjoy Super Bowl LII on their huge 9-foot screens!  Check out their website for available packages!!

King’s Bowl Big Game Celebration located at 1500 N. Clybourn Ave., #102 in the Lincoln Park neighborhood from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.  Free bowling is available all day while guests enjoy a gourmet menu of game-day favorites, all while watching Super Bowl LII on more than 50 HDTV’s and HD projection screens!

Finally, your 2018 guide to Chicago’s Super Bowl LII is just a click away.  Find viewing parties, specials and more on the Big Game Day as the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles battle it out in Minnesota!

Are You Ready for Super Bowl Sunday?

CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: Lakeview, Bucktown and Wicker Park, Lincoln Park, Gold Coast, Andersonville, Evanston

Lakeview: Looking for a new trivia spot? Mad River Bar & Grille is the place for you! Located at 2909 N. Sheffield, the bar hosts Sporcle Trivia on Tuesday nights. What is Sporcle, you ask? Sporcle is your host for your pub trivia experience. Your team registers to play with the host- it’s free to register. You can play alone or with friends! Sporcle plays two games a night that clock in at just under an hour each. Sporcle’s partnered venues supply gift cards to the top two teams in each game! Mad River will provide BOGO half off appetizers, $3 Crispin, $4 select draft beers, $4 Absolut, and $5 Fireball. Come and get your trivia on!

Bucktown and Wicker Park: Join the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce for their first networking mixer with the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce. The mixer is on Wednesday, February 7 from 6 to 8 pm at Concord Music Hall. DJ’s will be spinning music while you check out some favorite vendors from the upcoming Health Expo and Rejuvenation Crawl (held in April). Ipsento Coffee is providing mini donuts, there will be small bites from Violet Hour, Big Star, and samplings from Restaurant Week participants Dove’s Luncheonette and Publican Anker. There will also be cocktails! If you are a non-member, tickets are $10 and can be purchased ahead of time here. If you are a WPB member, log in to RSVP with your complimentary tickets here.

Lincoln Park: Still need plans for Valentine’s Day? Whether you’re planning a night for your special someone or just looking for unique things to do, Lincoln Park has something for everyone! Suuri Design is offering some fantastic jewelry deals: $15 off your purchase of $50 or more, $25 off your purchase of $100 or more, and $50 off your purchase of $200 or more. White Oak Tavern (1200 W. Webster) has a special 4-course prix fixe menu. The delicious meal is $58 per person and can be enhanced with a wine pairing menu for $35 per person. Want date night and a show? Head to the famous Steppenwolf Theatre and see “Open Heart Surgery 2: Invasive Procedures”. In this collaboration with WildClaw Theatre, they explore matters of the heart in original comedic bits and pieces.

Gold Coast: Mark your calendars for Raising the Stakes for Vision, the Chicago Lighthouse’ 2nd Annual Poker and Casino night. Held on Thursday March 1, doors open at 5:30 pm and the cards fly at 7 pm. The event is at Gibson’s Steakhouse (1024 N Rush St) and features charitable casino games, Gibson’s signature dinner, premium cocktails, Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament, desserts, and over $20,000 in prizes! Proceeds support the programs and services of The Chicago Lighthouse North in Glenview for people of all ages in the north/northwest suburbs who are blind, visually impaired, disables, and Veterans. Get your tickets now! Early Bird prices end February 19: $150 for casino guests and $200 for poker players. All prices will increase by $50 at the door. Find more information and purchase your tickets here!

Andersonville: Andersonville is ready to give back- and you can be too! Andersonville businesses are joining together to donate 14% of their sales to a variety of charities and non-profits from February 9 to the 14. “With Love From Andersonville” signs will be posted on the doors of participating businesses and will indicate which charity/non-profit the business is donating to. Participating businesses include Appellation/Pastoral, City Olive, Foursided, KOVAL Distillery, and Women and Children First Bookstore. Find the full list here!

Evanston: Dads, order your corsage and invite your daughters to this special Daddy-Daughter Dance! Held at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, the event will feature light refreshments, fun activities, and dancing! You and your daughter will have a special, memorable way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. There will be a special photo area set up for taking Daddy-Daughter photos. Admission is $5 per person and both dads and daughters need to register.


10 Simple DIY Projects to Give Your Home Equity a Boost

If you’re thinking of selling some time in the near future, you might want to take a look around and pinpoint areas that could use some improvement. Making some updates around the house can add some extra value to your home that you can recoup when it comes time to sell.

No matter what your budget might happen to be, there are projects you can tackle yourself to add a little extra equity to your home.

1. New Front Door

If your front door is tired-looking, you might want to reface it. But you can add even more value to your home by replacing it altogether, especially if you swap your old door for an esthetically-appealing, durable steel door. They’re not as expensive as you might think, given the material used.

In fact, you can probably snag one for as little as $150. Of course, you can always spend a lot more for something more elaborate, but the point is that a new steel front door can give your home’s curb appeal the boost it needs to bring up the value of your home. If you can handle this job on your own, you can save a few hundred dollars in installation costs, which will help keep more money in your pocket.

2. New Garage Door

While you’re replacing the front door, you might want to consider replacing your garage door too. These components play a key role in curb appeal, which is critical to the perceived value of your home. You might want to think about changing your old garage door for a new model and set it up with a motorized garage door opener too (if you don’t already have one).

While you might want to get some assistance from a friend or neighbor to install your new garage door, you can recoup as much as 150% on the cost of the material.

3. Clean Exterior

If your home’s exterior walls are covered in grime or have become discolored over the years, you can breathe some life into them with a good power wash. If cleaning the exterior isn’t enough to brighten them, you might want to go so far as to paint them. Even if you have to pay someone to tackle this job for you, it’s still rather affordable in terms of remodeling and can help make your home look like new.

4. Updated Landscaping

Before you tackle the interior, take a close look at your home’s landscaping. As mentioned earlier, curb appeal speaks volumes in terms of perceived value, so anything you can do to grab attention – in a good way – can help add some equity to your home.

For starters, get rid of any clutter that may have accumulated, including dead leaves, kids’ toys, or shoes on the front porch. Trim the bushes, cut the grass, plant some flowers, and fix any loose stones or bricks along the walkway. If the driveway is full of cracks and potholes, have them filled and give the surface a new coat of asphalt.

It may take a full weekend of work, but a refreshed landscaping job can do wonders at adding value to your property.

5. New Fixtures

You’d be surprised at how much of a difference little things like door knobs and electrical outlets make to the overall look of a space. Swapping your old fixtures and hardware for newer, more modern ones can give your home just enough of a facelift to add a little value to it.

Assess all of the light fixtures, curtain rods, door handles, and light switches, and see if they could use some updating. Making some changes can make a dramatic difference in how your home looks and how it is perceived by buyers.

6. Crown Molding

The addition of crown molding at the joints between the walls and ceilings can add an element of luxury at a reasonable price. And the installation process is actually quite easy and shouldn’t require the help of a paid assistant. Most home improvement stores carry crown molding in various designs. All you need to do is measure your space, cut the molding to size, and affix it with a nail gun.

7. Freshly Painted Walls

Perhaps the easiest and most cost-effective way to add equity to your home is to simply give the walls a fresh coat of paint. In fact, a new paint job can recoup as much as 300% after paying for a few cheap buckets of paint and rollers. Newly painted walls can give a home a new and updated look, which can go a long way at impressing buyers. Just make sure to fix any dents first and paint in a neutral tone in order to make your home more attractive to a larger group of buyers.

8. New Window Treatments

Any old-fashioned drapes or cheap plastic blinds that are covering your windows are just taking away from the esthetics of your home. If your window treatments could use an update, consider making some changes to improve the looks of your windows and potentially even let more natural light in, which is always a good thing. This simple improvement can go a long way at improving the looks of your home, which buyers will notice.

9. Restored Hardwood Flooring

Many older homes have hardwood flooring, even if they’re covered with wall-to-wall carpeting. Whether your home has exposed hardwood or floors that are hidden from sight, restoring and refinishing them can bring back some gleam and luster that your home’s floors have been lacking. While it’s a messy job, sanding down your hardwood floors and refinishing them can all be done yourself with the right tools.

By restoring your hardwood flooring, you can add plenty of value to your home, which will make the job well worth it in the end. And if your home doesn’t have any hardwood, consider installing them with click-lock hardwood planks, which can also be done all on your own.

10. Refaced Kitchen Cabinets

The kitchen is undoubtedly the most important room in the home and its condition and style can either add or take away a lot of value. If your kitchen cabinets leave much to be desired, it may be time for a makeover.

While you could replace the cabinet doors altogether with a newer, more modern material, you can also save a little money by sanding them down and repainting them instead. All you need to do is remove the doors and all hardware, clean out the cabinets, and get yourself some paint or stain in the color of your choice for a completely revamped look – and more value – to your kitchen.

The Bottom Line

There are tons of different projects that can add immense value to a home, but many of them are super expensive can don’t bring in much of an ROI. On the other hand, there are plenty of little DIY projects you can tackle on your home that can add value without breaking the bank. In the end, you can recoup any money spent on these improvements – and then some – to make the sale of your home even more profitable.

Restaurant Review – Bar Cocina

This week took me to Bar Cocina, a Mexican fusion restaurant in Lakeview (2901 N. Sheffield Ave.). I’ve been to Bar Cocina for brunch, but never for dinner, so I was very excited to try it out. Their website says, “Bar Cocina fuses traditional Mexican cuisine and various multicultural cooking techniques into modern Mexican fare. Our fresh ingredients and three distinct beverage categories will let out your sweet, smoky, and spicy side while you drink to the joys of life.” With that introduction, I knew I had to start with one of their signature cocktails. Because we arrived before 6 pm, their On Tap Cocktails were half off. I started with the House Margarita: Avion Silver tequila, cointreau, agave, and lime. It was delicious! It wasn’t too sweet, something I often find with house made margaritas. Their menu is separated into three sections: With Chips, Shared Plates, and Tacos. The “With Chips” section was also half off during happy hour, so we started with the Queso Fundido, smoky, melted cheese mixed with chorizo, poblano rajas peppers, and topped with a soft boiled egg. This dip was absolutely wonderful. The egg was such a unique addition and the texture was perfectly creamy. Then we decided on the Thai Chicken Quesadilla: chihuahua cheese, chiles, and a peanut sauce. This was very tasty as well. My boyfriend and I agreed that we would have liked a little more spice in the quesadilla, it would have created more contrast between that and the very creamy peanut sauce. Before we ordered our tacos, I decided to try the Blood Orange Paloma: Cazadores Blanco tequila, jalapeño, grapefruit juice, blood orange, agave, and lime. This was my favorite cocktail I’ve had in a long time. The blood orange was fresh and crisp and the jalapeño gave it just the right amount of spice. Our last dish was The O.G. Cheeseburger Tacos: a set of three tacos with spiced beef, smoked cheddar, cabbage, pickled red onions, and mango “catsup” sauce. We both loved them! I love fusion style tacos and the flavors were unique and delicious. We will definitely be back!

Bar Cocina is open Mondays through Wednesdays from 5 pm to 12 am, Thursdays and Fridays from 5 pm to 2 am, Saturdays from 11 am to 3 am, and Sundays from 11 am to 2 am. You can make reservations online, here.


Kathy’s Home & Garden Tips – Big Game Dips

The easiest and best loved appetizers are dips. Try these easy ones for a great Big Game Sunday. Most can be made ahead of time, leaving more time for you to enjoy your guests and family.

Everyone loves guacamole! I have a simple, general recipe that everyone loves. Start with mashed avocado and add chopped jalapeño, red onion, and chopped seeded tomato. For spices, I use garlic powder, salt, and pepper. A generous squeeze of lime juice and hot sauce to taste complete the dip. Always buy authentic tortilla chips, unsalted if possible.

Make a quick Queso Cheese Dip by combining equal parts Velveeta and your favorite salsa. You can control the heat with your choice of salsa, as well as the flavor. There are so many different flavors and types of salsa on the market now, from traditional chunky tomato to green smoky tomatillo. Heat in the microwave till melted, stirring frequently.

For a quick Buffalo Chicken Dip, combine ½ cup sour cream, ½ cup hot sauce, 2 tablespoons whole milk, and one brick of room temperature cream cheese. Use a hand mixer. Add 1 cup chopped, cooked chicken. Bake in a 8-inch glass baking dish for 25 minutes. Top with thinly sliced scallions and lettuce. Drizzle with bleu cheese dressing and serve with pita chips. Make your own chips if you’re ambitious!

You can make your own homemade French Onion Dip. First, slice a large, sweet onion and drizzle with EVOO and pepper. Grill on a grill pan with an unpeeled whole garlic clove. Grill till tender and slightly charred, then set aside and cool. Peel the garlic and place in a food processor with the onion. Add 4 oz. softened cream cheese, ½ cup sour cream, ¼ cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce. Pulse till combined but still a little chunky. Serve with chip, pitas, or veggies.


6 Things to Consider Before Buying Land to Build on

It can sometimes be a challenge to find a home on the market that checks off all the boxes on your list of must-haves. If that’s the case, there’s always the option to buy a piece of land and build your own home, customizing it from top to bottom to your heart’s desire.

But while buying vacant land is a potential alternative to buying resale, there are certain precautions you will need to take before you sign on the dotted line. Without in-depth research into the land you have your eye on, your enjoyment of your new home can be negatively affected.

Prior to purchasing land to build on, be sure to take the following factors into consideration first.

1. Location

The absolute most important factor to consider before buying land is its location. In the world of real estate, location trumps everything else and should always be the first thing to think about before buying. And not only should the municipality be considered, so should the precise lot location in relation to the overall community. For instance, a lot that’s situated at the end of a quiet culdesac and backs onto greenspace would be worth more than land in the same neighborhood that’s adjacent to a busy roadway.

Depending on your exact needs, you’ll want to assess the location of the lot and its proximity to amenities like public transit, highways, schools, parks, and so forth. You’ll also want to factor in the proximity of the land to your place of work in order to ensure the commute isn’t going to be much longer than you’d like it to be.

2. Property Setbacks

The setbacks of the land – which are the rules that stipulate how far the structure can be set back from the lot’s border – need to be considered before purchasing a plot of land. Where you’re allowed to build the house on the lot will be dictated by the property’s setbacks. And if you have a desire or need to build a home of a certain size, you’ll want to be sure that the lot can accommodate that size, and the setbacks play a big role in this.

3. Zoning Requirements

Jurisdictions may have land that’s zoned for residential or commercial use, or both. You’ll need to find out if the land that you buy is allowed to have a residential structure built on it, especially if the surrounding area is used primarily for commercial purposes. Besides, you probably wouldn’t want to build a home in an area where a bunch of industrial buildings will be erected.

Further, you will need to determine whether or not the area is zoned for additional structures – such as sheds or detached garages – if you have intentions of building them. In addition, there may be zoning restrictions that dictate the minimum size home that can be built on the lots in the area. If you don’t want or cannot afford to build or operate a large home, make sure the minimum structure size fits within your means.

4. Natural Hazards

Ideally, the parcel of land that you purchase will not be vulnerable to specific natural hazards. Depending on exactly where the land is located, it could be at risk for fires, which has been a huge problem in parts of California as of late. Determine whether or not the land is located within a fire zone before buying.

In addition, you’ll want to have the soil assessed on the land to check for its quality and composition, which will affect how your new home is built, the cost of the home’s foundation, and any landscaping you may want to do.

5. Easements

If there’s an easement on title of the property, you’ll want to know about it before you commit to buying. An easement gives another person or entity the legal right to use another person’s property for a specific purpose, regardless of who actually owns it. If, for instance, there’s an easement on your property that allows others to cross over it in order to gain access to another lot, it could have an impact on your level of privacy.

6. Utility Sources

Once your home is built, how will it be powered? Where will your water source come from? You’ll want to find out how your home will gain access to water, electricity, gas, waste, and even phone or cable. This is especially important in remote locations where the cost to hook up to municipal utilities can be extremely expensive. You’ll want to get in touch with the water and utility companies before putting in an offer on the land to find out what the costs would be to connect water, power, waste, and other connections.

The Bottom Line

There’s no better way to ensure the home you buy is fully customized to your liking than to build it yourself. But your first step is to buy some land to build on, and that doesn’t come without its own set of tasks. Do your research on the lot you plan to buy to make sure it’s exactly what you want without restrictions. Team up with a real estate professional who is well-versed in buying vacant land to help you find a lot that meets all your needs without compromising how you’ll be able to use and enjoy it.