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The Check-In: Eat (and drink!) your way through San Francisco, a new Universal experience, and more

Welcome to The Check-In, our weekend feature focusing on all things travel.

Universal opening a frightfully fun year-round 'horror experience' in Las Vegas

Horror fans, rejoice — soon you won't have to wait for Halloween to get spooked. Universal Parks and Resorts announced on Wednesday that it is opening a year-round horror experience in Las Vegas as part of the expansion of the Area 15 entertainment district. This is a brand new concept for Universal — while Halloween Horror Nights take place every October at Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando, this will be the company's first-ever permanent horror experience outside of its theme parks.

Universal Parks and Resorts said in a press release that Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man are just some of the characters that might make appearances, and guests can expect "modern horror and suspense stories through collaborations with such high-profile filmmakers as Jason Blum, James Wan, and Jordan Peele." Sounds like it will be a scary good time.

An artist's rendering of the upcoming Universal horror experience in Las Vegas.

Courtesy of Universal Parks and Resorts

New Yorker eats at 18 Michelin-starred restaurants in 24 hours, setting record

It was a day of dining that Eric Finkelstein will never forget. On Oct. 26, 2022, the 34-year-old healthcare IT consultant ate at 18 Michelin-starred restaurants in New York City, over the course of 11 hours. This feat put Finkelstein in the books — in December, Guinness World Records recognized him, certifying that he set a world record for dining at the most Michelin-starred restaurants in one day.

"The planning was more than half the challenge, just to get restaurants to agree to do it and then finding a logical route that worked," Finkelstein told CNN on Tuesday. It took 14 months to get everything together, and there were a few kinks — shortly before his record attempt, four of the restaurants on his list lost their stars, and he needed to go to Plan B. It all worked out, and on the big day, Finkelstein enjoyed his many courses, including grilled avocado salad at Le Pavillon, oysters at The Modern, and steak tartare at Oiji Mi. He spent $494, before tax and tips, and told CNN he "did get really full."

A plate of food.

Jonathan Fickies/Bloomberg via Getty Images

So you want to ... eat your way around San Francisco

One of the beautiful things about San Francisco — and there are many — is the extraordinarily diverse culinary scene. From a hole-in-the-wall taqueria to a classic banquet hall in Chinatown, the flavors of the world can be found here. It's a place to be adventurous, to try the most intriguing dish on the menu, or splurge on the wine pairing. San Francisco's prime location in Northern California also puts it a stone's throw from some of the best farms and dairies in the state, and many restaurants tout the fact that their ingredients come from within 100 miles — it's not unlikely that the produce on your plate was picked just a few hours before your meal.

Ready to plan your own feast around San Francisco? The first step is to look online and search for restaurants matching the cuisine you're interested in. Read the reviews, and should you have any questions, don't be afraid to pick up the phone and call the restaurant. If you have any friends or family who recently visited, ask them for suggestions, and remember that you can — and should — ask locals for recommendations once you're in town. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

At Ilcha, a Korean hotspot on Lombard Street, it seems like nearly every table orders the perfectly crispy Korean fried chicken, and for good reason. It's incredibly juicy, and while it's flavorful on its own, the taste is enhanced by enjoying your bite with one of the accouterments, like the pickled radish or gochujang. Don't overlook the other star of the show: the beef bulgogi, which can be found on the bulgogi tater tots and in the bulgogi jeongol hotpot. With the tater tots, you have the crunch of the potatoes and the gooey goodness of the melted cheese, topped with the tender bulgogi. The hotpot offers an assortment of vegetables, tofu, japchae, rice cakes, and that bulgogi, and every spoonful seems more flavorful than the next — it's a delicious way to warm up on a cool night. The servings are plentiful — expect to have leftovers, and to be thrilled about it.

A meal at Ilcha.

Courtesy of Ilcha

The menu at Ancora is small but mighty. This seafood restaurant in the Mission District embraces local ingredients, and proudly makes note of the anchovies coming from San Francisco and the petrale sole from Half Moon Bay. That freshness shines through in the dishes, especially when it comes to the produce — the crunchy celery caesar is exceptionally crisp. The plankton tagliolini, complete with white sturgeon caviar, leek fondue, and bottarga, is simply breathtaking, with its indulgent yet delicate sauce. There is also a prix fixe menu for $125, giving diners a chance to sample more of what Ancora has to offer.

Traveling with a group that doesn't always see eye to eye when it's time to eat? San Francisco has two spaces offering something for everyone. Inside the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, there is a marketplace that has small vendors and restaurants serving up everything from hand-battered fish tacos and agua frescas (Cholita Linda) to all-American classic burgers and onion rings (Gott's Roadside) to fresh oysters from Tomales Bay (Hog Island Oyster Company). You can also pick up food to enjoy later, like a loaf of bread from the beloved Acme Bread Company or some macarons from Miette Patisserie. There's shopping that can be done, too: The Epicurean Trader is a must-see gourmet market for anyone who likes to cook and wants to treat themselves to a specialty item, like small-batch chocolate or a hard-to-find vinegar.

The Ferry Building.

Courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association

The hardest part of visiting the La Cocina Municipal Marketplace in the Tenderloin is figuring out where to eat — and that can be remedied by picking up something from each one of the seven restaurants here. La Cocina was established to boost women of color, giving them a place to launch their businesses, and they are thriving. Flavors from all around the globe can be found under one roof at La Cocina, with Nepalese, Creole, Salvadoran, Algerian, Mexican, and Senegalese cuisines represented, and there's also the Fluid Cooperative Cafe, run by three trans leaders and artists. La Cocina is an inclusive space for everyone.

Editor's note: Catherine Garcia was a guest at Ilcha.

Meet Wildhawk's Marguerite Regan

If you want to know the scoop about a city, all you have to do is ask a friendly neighborhood bartender — and in San Francisco, that's Marguerite Regan. The bar manager at Wildhawk in the Mission District, she knows the scene, having been in the hospitality industry since she was 15 and in the San Francisco Bay area for 14 years. She spoke with The Week about getting creative with cocktails, questions she fields from tourists, and how Wildhawk came to be.

Are there any cocktails San Francisco is known for, that you have to order while in town?

I think San Francisco is known for having access to interesting spirits you can't find anywhere. I would say go into a cocktail bar, look at the menu, and talk to the bartender. We love to create a great cocktail as well as a great experience and maybe introduce you to something new.

What's it like being a bar manager in San Francisco? How do you decide what to put on the menu, and how do you stay ahead of the curve?

We have access to so many unique ingredients and we are sometimes a test market for fun new products. People come to Wildhawk to try new things, so it keeps us on our toes. I'm never bored and it keeps us from becoming stagnant. ... We try a lot of spirits — there is truly some really cool booze out there — [and] we like to have a balance of stirred and shaken cocktails and make sure to represent the classic base spirits on every menu (vodka, gin, brandy, agave, rum, whiskey), and then we get to play with the modifiers and create interesting cocktails that you can't get anywhere else. We hope we're staying ahead of the curve. I feel with our profession, if you keep learning you'll stay creative.

Drinks at Wildhawk.

Catherine Garcia/The Week

What do you hear from tourists who come into Wildhawk?

Our visiting guests ask a lot of questions — they want to know what different ingredients are and ask where certain flavor profiles come from. Mostly people want to try things they aren't familiar with, like an African sugar cane vodka [called] Vusa, and find out things like what a milk punch is.

Where did the name Wildhawk come from? How was the concept of the bar developed?

The name comes from a description of Lola Montez, a very interesting historical figure (I recommend looking her up). She was a dancer and adventurer, living a very Bohemian lifestyle. She was called a Wildhawk by people of her day. We created the bar with Lola in mind, a dark, beautiful space with delicious cocktails, interesting backbar, and hospitable staff. ... Wildhawk has been around for almost seven years. We took over the space from the Lexington Club, which was a well-established lesbian bar; we endeavor to keep it a safe space for all as well as a great neighborhood bar. We love new faces, and hope to welcome all travelers — 21 and older with valid I.D. — to San Francisco and especially Wildhawk.

Inside Wildhawk.

Catherine Garcia/The Week

Why should people visit the Mission District? What will they find there?

The Mission District is a vibrant place with great food and drinks. There are fun venues for music and shows. The restaurants range from delicious taquerias to Michelin-starred experiences. Walk down 24th Street and you'll be able to find great shops selling Mexican art and jewelry, or walk up to Dolores Park and have a picnic with snack from Bi-Rite. It's really a choose-your-own-adventure neighborhood.

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