Typically, when I’m talking about Hartford, I’m talking about the food.  Like any city, Hartford boasts a diverse population, but the variety of what you can eat—not to mention how good it is—is staggering.  The food stands at El Mercado on Park Street are favorites, though I can’t decide whether I like the heaping plates of rice, beans, and marinated or fried meats from Cuchilandia or the tacos de lengua and salsa verde (weak-in-the-knees-good at $1.50 a pop) from El Tepeyac. Not to mention the place has the biggest bodega I’ve ever seen.

Then, just over on Broad Street, you’ve got Firebox, and their seasonal, locally produced, Contemporary American cuisine.  They’ve got it all, high quality multi-course dinners to a killer pub menu, and it’s Connecticut Grown.  Put that in your economy and smoke it.  And did I mention that it’s connected to a community center, an arts studio, a farmer’s market, and residential space?  How fantastic is that?

When you finally get full—and you will—take in a movie at Cinestudio up at Trinity. They’ve got a great variety of wide-release and independent films, and it all goes down in a recreated 1930’s era film house.  It’s not like going to a massive cineplex, the atmosphere of the theater takes on a more important role in the experience.  I also really like the Hartford Public Library on Main Street.  It’s a beautiful, open building…very easy to lose track of time in there. Check out a book and go sit at Tisane, or The Half Door, or at Sunrise Overlook on Prospect and enjoy the vibe.  When you stop and take it all in, it’s really a beautiful city.

Carefully designed open spaces meets rich history meets an ethnic and cultural patchwork meets that brash, salty New England attitude we love to flaunt so much. In short, we go hard.

HARTFORD.COM NOTE: John Lepak was one of 9 artists selected to create temporary art installations for The Awesomest Art Thing Ever.