Tonight I’m sitting in Joolz, a new restaurant in downtown Bend, that is both completely exotic and urban-contemporary. From the moment you walk in the music, the ambiance and the smells of rich middle-Eastern cuisine transport you to somewhere exotic and lush. I feel as if I have just stepped off the plane in Zanzibar or Morocco. Greeted by warm chocolate brown colors with accents of lime green and orange, the walls are decorated with contemporary art and colorful glassware. A line-up of hookah jars along one wall, and colored glass candle holders dangling from the ceiling along another complete the sensory vacation.

My dining companion and I choose seats at the bar. We are here on a mission: To try the delicious food and libation everyone has been raving about during happy hour. We settle in facing an ornately carved mirrored bar and the friendly bartender recommends pomegranate mojitos. Instantly refreshing on a squelching summer’s evening. We order a lineup of delicacies and our conversation flows easily through the summer’s great hangouts downtown: McMenamins Old St. Francis School, home of O’Kanes the little bar in the back of the parking lot with a fantastic outdoor patio and multiple fire pits, and the glamorous bathhouse soaking pool, the new gallery above the Bond Street Market, and the vibrant photography showcased in Lone Pine Coffee in the alley off of Minnesota Ave. This is what summertime is all about in Bend. Gorgeous outdoor locations for picnics, live music in the parks, the various Farmers Markets (my favorite is at the Hospital on Friday afternoons from 2-6, but there are others as well: Wednesdays in Drake Park from 3-7, and the newest one at Northwest Crossings neighborhood Park on Saturdays) and of course the new restaurants that seem to be popping up all over just waiting to be tried.

Our food comes and smells divine! We ordered a variety of couscous, baba ganoush, pita and hummus, domas and cheese. Savory meets crisp, minty fresh tastes in every bite. I melt. I’m a sucker for exploring and Bend and my current moment of lively conversation, good company and the perfect happy hour have me swooning. Yes, this may very well be my new favorite restaurant in Bend. Delicious. We’re tempted by the dessert sampler, but instead opt for a walk downtown through the summer energy of the crowd lingering at outdoor seating at various restaurants, and watch the sunset over the mountains from Drake Park. Bend truly is a treasure with something for everyone.

Sarah McMurray is a wanderlust, a hopeful romantic, an artist, a writer and a passionate connoisseur of coffee and culture. She holds a BA from Seattle Pacific University and has been transitioning from higher education to the non-profit sector. Currently she resides in Bend, Oregon where she feels she is the luckiest girl in the world to call herself a native.

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