January Favorites 2021

Kickin’ off the new year with my January favorites. Lets roll!

$: Thin Mints, Organic Crispy Coconut Rolls

$ Bargain Find

Carne Asada Burrito (Tacos Los Reyes): I’m sure they use lard, but gosh darn it! it tastes so good! If you want authentic Mexican food, Tacos Los Reyes (Yelp Review) in Orange, CA will not disappoint. For $6, I got a carne asada burrito (which I ate for 1.5 meals), chips, and salsa. It’s a steal if you ask me.

Thin Mints (Girl Scout Cookies): I’m confident the vast majority of the internet knows about Girl Scout cookies, but you may not remember when you can get these seasonal munchies! The 2021 Cookie Program ($5 a box) is scheduled to run from January 22 – March 21 and you can get them online here if you don’t have a go-to Girl Scout already.

Organic Crispy Coconut Rolls (Costco): I must be late to the game for these, but these are delicious. They’re sweet, but light and flaky and the price tag doesn’t break the bank. They retail for $7.99 at Costco, but during this month’s January promotion they were $2.50 off for a total of $5.49.

$$ Curry (Marugame), TMS Lip Gloss (The Makeup Shack)

$$ Moderately Priced

Curry Nikutama Udon (Marugame Udon): Japan is a country I’ve been longing to visit and while I likely won’t do international travel this year, Marugame Udon is probably the closest experience I will probably have in experiencing that country. They are an international business with branches all over the world, and six locations in California. I visited the South Coast Plaza branch in Costa Mesa, CA and this cafeteria style foodie spot is a great affordable option. I ordered a large Nikutama $15 and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Lip Gloss (The Makeup Shack): I’ve been a big fan of the curated makeup from The Makeup Shack (IG) in Orange, CA since I started cosplaying. I’ve always loved TMS eyelashes (Review Here) and recently tried some of their other makeup items. Honestly, I’m super impressed with their line of lip glosses. For $8.99, you can add rich colors to your lips that also gives you shine. They work perfectly with my Disney Princess cosplays.

$$$ Corn Garlic Cheese Bread (Calic Bread)

$$$ Splurge

Corn Garlic Cheese Bread (Calic Bread): This Korean Garlic Cream Cheese Bread is not for the faint of heart. It’s ooey-gooey and I’m sure it accounted for my calories for the week. Nevertheless it was worth it. It is a bit of a process to find way to get this, but I outlined some options here. The sourdough loaf itself it $25, but the shipping varies based on where you live.

January’s list definitely has some top contenders for my 2021 Best of List; however, February is going to have an EPIC list, as I’ve already pre-ordered a TON of stuff online. I can’t wait for them to come and share with you. Did you try something amazing this month? Share below!

Until Next Time,

Irene

Best of 2020 – Bargains and Splurges List!

With a new name I figure I should have new content too, and after thoughtful consideration I plan to blog at least once a month to highlight my favorites of that month! But before I jump right into my January Favorites I thought I’d share a few of my BEST 2020 finds. 2020 was a rough year for everyone, and while I think these businesses are the bomb, I want to do my part so that they can stay in business for years to come! So, without future adu here are 2020 Favs!

$ Bargain Finds

Brioche Bread (The Brioche Lady): One of the few entries I did in 2020 was about this amazing little bakery called The Brioche Lady in Fresno, CA. See my entry here and lets just say that I got one of my foodie friends hooked and now her freezer is stuffed with loaves of these breads (and we live about 5 hours away lol). I believe a loaf is $5.50 or $6.50 depending on which flavors you pick.

Hot Chocolate (Timothy Adams): I drank a lot of hot chocolate in 2020, but the BEST Hot Chocolate ever is from Timothy Adams Chocolates in Palo Alto, CA. Read all about it here. For $7.50 you can indulge in the finer things without breaking the bank.

Matcha Toffee Drink (Urban Ritual): The most unique and tasty dessert drink you will probably ever have. I went to Urban Ritual twice in a week which is saying a LOT! But this was worth it. Read my full yelp review and order here. $6.50 for a decadent drink is pretty sweet (pun intended lol)

$$ favorites: Burrito (Taqueria San Bruno), Chimi-Churri Skirt Steak Pizza (Cambalache Grill), Student Noodle & others (Phnom Penh Noodle Shack), Garlic Chicken Pizza (Kech Cafe)

$$ Moderately Priced

Burrito (Taqueria San Bruno): The best burrito I found in 2020 was a surf and turf in San Bruno, CA (Northern California). You can read my full yelp review here, and for about $14, you can enjoy two meals and feel like a king/queen.

Cambodian Noodles (Phnom Penh Noodle Shack): I visited Phnom Penh Noodle Shack in Long Beach, CA pre-pandemic, but it’s been on my bookmarks for a LOOOOONG time. Read my full yelp review here. In short the Student Noodles (roughly $10) were the bomb!

Chimi-Churri Skirt Steak Pizza (Cambalache Grill): Wednesdays have officially become Pizza Night at Casa de Irene, because it’s BOGO Pizza from Cambalache in Fountain Valley, CA. For about $15 you can get 2 pies and please lots of happy family members. They have other types of pies, but the Chimi-Churri Skirt steak is definitely a family favorite and always devoured promptly.

Garlic Chicken Pizza (Kech Cafe): Kech Cafe truly defines the “never judge a book by it’s cover” slogan. Located in a gas station in Fountain Valley, CA, you’ll have a counter with everything made to order. $15 for a pie that will surely scare away all the vampires. Read my full yelp review here, along with other recommendations.

$$$ favorites: Secret Honey Dresses (Mary Poppins, Library Belle, Snow White)

$$$ Splurge:

Cosplay (Secret Honey, Hana Castle): I’ve often wondered where some cosplayers get their Disney Princess outfits and was introduced to this Japanese company called Secret Honey (IG Account) This brand sells cute fashionable outfits, but what makes them special is that they do annual Halloween collaborations with Disney to replicate outfits of popular Disney characters – honestly, their stuff could easily be mistaken as official Disney Parks outfits!

Unfortunately, Secret Honey only sells official licensed items in Japan and a small number of other countries. The US is not among them *cries* However, I was introduced to other company called HanaCastle (IG Account) and they are a third party site that sells untagged versions of those outfits. They also ship nationwide! Untagged means that the product didn’t meet the final inspection for official sale, but I’ve bought a couple Untagged outfits and did not notice any flaws. They’re also usually sold at a discount, but they still cost a pretty penny (Avg. Price $300 – $500 an outfit). I loooooove these outfits, and they photograph beautifully! In 2021 I’m sure I’ll have more professional photos taken, but if you want to see more be sure to follow my Cosplay IG account to see them! Suffice to say I’ve found a new guilty pleasure, and I can’t wait to see what new additions they’ll have this year!

$$$ favorites: Adorkabow custom bows

Adult Bows (Adorkabow): I’m a nerd and dork at the core, and bleed Sailor Moon – so when I found out about this independent shop that does Sailor Moon (and other franchises) inspired hairbows I was super interested. Adorkabow (FB Account) primarily sells Sailor Moon inspired enamel pins; however, Sarah, the founder and artist’s passion is making custom one-of-a-kind bows. I’ve ordered 5 already from her, which should say something! My small bows were around $40 a piece and the large one $60, although she can make extremely elaborate ones for more.

What business did you discover in 2020 that you want everyone to know about? Comment below!

Until next time!

Irene

Who is that girl I see…

It’s definitely been a hot minute since I last blogged; however, considering this year’s lockdown orders and the evolving status of Covid-19 I’ve had a pretty low key year in terms of adventures and discoveries. Nevertheless, as I reflect on this chaotic year I’ve come to the conclusion that life is short and we too should grow and evolve.

Photo Credit: my mom; Photo Editing: Alan K from Portraits.n.cosplay on IG

I’ve had the username @yurockstar or Rockstar for the past 5 years maybe? and while I will still be known as Rockstar by some of my friends I think Insider Irene is much more inclusive of my interests and also allows others to get a peak into some of my latest finds – whether it be restaurants, fashion, nerd culture, historical landmarks, etc. I think at my core I’ve always liked discovering new things, supporting mom n’ pop shops, and sharing it with everyone so for the coming years I hope that I’ll be inspired to share more consistently. If you like my cosplay stuff go check out my other alias @cosplaycounselor where I integrate counseling with cosplay. I’ve posted tons of video content www.cosplaycounselor.com.

For now I’ll just leave you with this announcement and pose this question: What is something that you think EVERYONE should know about. It can be a restaurant, a cool shop, landmark etc. Let me know below!

Love, Irene

Finally! The Best Fruit Tart Cake found!

Growing up my dad always bought an asian fruit cake for my birthday. Unfortunately, the cakes were tasteless and less than memorable. However, upon some research a few of my foodie friends raved about the fruit cake at Long Phung Bakery. Could there be a delicious asian fruit cake?

My grandma recently turned 92, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to bring a traditional and familiar sweet, but not too sweet, treat to celebrate. Upon further research I found out that the 1/4 sheet fruit cake (which feeds 20 people) did not need to be ordered ahead of time as that size is readily available and for $30 (a very VERY reasonable price-point), the stars could not have aligned more perfectly.

When you arrive at the shopping plaza, the bakery is nested behind several outdoor plants and tucked away in a corner. I certainly would not have known about this place if I wasn’t looking for it – it truly is a hidden gem. The shop itself is pretty small with a single case of ready-made cakes and many orchids for sale. I would have never thought a bakery and florist to reside in the same space, but it makes perfect sense for any celebration.

The shop keeper hand pipped “Happy Birthday Grandma” on our cake and we were on our way. I paid in cash, as many asian owned restaurants prefer this form of payment, but I’m not sure if they accept credit card, etc. Regardless, I would gladly go to the bank to make a withdrawal because this cake was uh-mazing. The spongy cake at the bottom was light and fluffy, and the puff pastry crunch in the middle gave a really nice texture with the fresh fruit on top. I really enjoyed it as did the rest of my family. Two thumbs up and I definitely will be back to pick up another!

 

XOXO,

 

Rockstar

 

 

Long Phung Bakery

8926 Westminster Blvd

Westminster, CA 92683

Enjoying a little bit of France in Fresno

I love bread, but it all goes to my hips, so, I seldom eat carbs now in days. However, on my recent Fresno trip I stumbled upon a little bakery called The Brioche Lady – the name alone perked up my ears and I was eager to try her baked goods. When I entered, to my right were two racks of fresh Brioche with little colored stickers indicating their flavors. They have a lot of traditional, as well as asian inspired fillings, so my parents and I bought a couple of loaves: strawberry cream cheese, taro, and red bean.

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cute decor and my three loaves!

We also tried the chocolate chip croissant warmed up and a Croque Madame (brioche, ham, egg, sandwich). The appearance of the Croque Madame wasn’t as elegant as I imagined in my head, but it tasted good, and the chocolate chip croissant was buttery and flakey. Definitely worthy of the calories.

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We asked if they could slice and warm up for us – it was heavenly 😀

I gifted one of the loaves to my uncle who loves bread and even though we were going to have lunch, he dug in and wanted to try some. Little did I know his little piece turned out to be 1/4 of the loaf (!!!) but I can’t blame him, since I myself also kept eating my leftovers.

If you’re in the Fresno area this little bakery is definitely a wonderful charming place to indulge in carbs – especially if you’re not baking sourdough at home. Did I mention that they’re award winning too? (2017 People’s Choice Award – Fresno Food Expo)

 

XOXO,

Rockstar

 

The Brioche Lady

1085 E Herndon Ave #101

Fresno, CA 93720

Stuffing my face with the BEST chicken pot pie ever!

When most people think of the Ontario area they don’t think of it as a hot foodie destination, but I beg to differ! A couple of my FAVORITE restaurants are located out in the Inland Empire including Marisco Jalisco in Pomona, and Ashiwad The Blessing and Daddy O’s in Upland. Over the weekend, I visited the area again to attend Anime Los Angeles and found another epic spot! Home Pie Bakery & Cafe in Ontario, CA is certainly a place worthy of a visit!

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Chicken Pot Pie $5.95

This small mom n’ pop shop is located in an unassuming business complex and seems to cater to local businesses for lunch. Their hours are limited as they’re only open from 9am-4pm Monday-Friday. Thankfully, I scheduled a visit for Friday lunch and boy am I glad I did! My friend and I each ordered a savory pie – Roasted Chicken and Leek for me, and Chicken and Mushroom Pie for him. We also shared one hand-held savory pie. Lets just say that we licked the plate clean and are planning to come back here for our next Anime Los Angeles visit.

img_2697Personally, I loved the chicken and leek better than the mushroom. In my opinion the mushroom overpowered the compact dish, whereas the leek and chicken have a much milder flavor. Yet it still made you feel comforted like a warm hug.  It’s such a simple dish, yet the crust was flaky and the chicken was incredibly moist and tender. I’m trying to cut down on my carbs, but I feel this dish was a worthy guilty pleasure.

What dish is your kryptonite?

 

XOXO,

Rockstar

 

 

Home Pie Bakery

1960 S Archibald Ave

Ontario, CA 91761

Devouring Authentic Cheap Tacos in Santa Ana, CA

Over the weekend I was craving for some authentic street tacos and Taqueria Tapatia (Yelp) in Santa Ana, CA was highly recommended by two of my Mexican friends. Located near Santa Ana College this hole-in-the-wall was a poppin’ place at 9pm. Additionally, it was a cash only establishment and 95% of the clientele looked Hispanic so based on my initial observation it was a good sign for it being a legit experience.

Counter

After looking through the menu my friend and I decided to try all their tacos since they were only $1.35 so we grabbed one of each! We did the Al Pastor, Asada (+$.27), Lengua (+$.27), Chorizo (+$.27), Carnitas, Pollo Adobado, Buche, Cabeza, and Birria. After waiting 10 minutes or so the hostess called out our order and the three plates looked so incredibly drool-worthy!

Tacos

I tried a bite of every taco and suffice to say they tasted very authentic. The meats were juicy and the flavors were distinct. I sincerely enjoyed them although I unfortunately had no idea which taco I tried. LOL  However, I do know that I didn’t care for the lengua (beef tongue). I wasn’t a fan of the texture, but all the other tacos were definitely on point and would order again.

What type of taco would you order? Asada? Carnitas? Something else?

 

 

XOXO,

Irene

Glancing at the Garden of the Gods

Colorado Springs is a peaceful and serene place, and while I nearly died on the Manitou Incline (Post here), I was blown away by the beauty of the Garden of the Gods. This natural rock formation evokes a type of Jurassic World meets Cars Lands (from Disneyland); It’s really a sight to see and these photos don’t do the attraction justice.   Visitors can choose to hike, drive, horseback ride, or bike around the mountain to admire the landscape. I came here twice during my Colorado trip and got to see it from various vantage points – up high and right at the base. Spanning a 1,367 acres the size alone would warrant a name worthy of the Gods – yet it was originally called the Red Rock Corral. The name was changed in 1859 from a group of surveyors who thought that was was a place fit for the Gods and since then the name stuck!

You honestly feel like you’re in another world, and even though I’m not really an outdoor girl, I can certainly appreciate the natural wonders!

How would you enjoy this park? Driving? Hiking? Horseback riding?

 

 

XOXO,

Rockstar

 

 

Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center 
1805 N. 30th Street in Colorado Springs

Chowing Down on Authentic German Cuisine in Colorado Springs, CA

Colorado is known for it’s picture perfect scenery, but when its came to food, I hadn’t the slightest clue as to what to expect.  It was my first time visiting this state, so when my coworkers (who were based out in Colorado) made reservations to their favorite German restaurant I figured I’d be in for a treat! And right I was! Upon entering I noticed several awards and accolades and crossed my fingers that Edelweiss Restaurant would be all that and more.

Live Entertainment

Our party of 20 entered the restaurant and it was truly decked out in an old world fashion. It seemed as if we were were transported to a German square and I had major Pinocchio vibes. There were many wooden furnishings and while the restaurant was spacious it had a cozy warm feel to it. We were seated quite promptly in a long table and menu had many traditional offerings. A singer came by and serenaded to use with his accordion, as we were deciding on what to order.

Rahmschnitzel ($20.50)

After thoughtful consideration I ordered the Rahmschnitzel, a breaded boneless pork cutlet sautéed and topped with a mushroom cream sauce, house spatzle, and fresh vegetables, as it came highly recommend. Boy! let me tell you this is definitely not diet food, but considering I almost died on the Manitou Incline (Post here) I felt this dinner was worthy of the calories.I essentially polished off the plate and looking at my coworkers entrees it seemed that everyone enjoyed their meal as well.

Do you have a go-to entree when you eat German food? Schnitzel? Bratwurst? Something else?

 

XOXO,

Rockstar

Conquering the Manitou Incline in Colorado Springs, CO

If there’s two thing that my friends all know it’s 1) that I’m not a morning person and 2) I definitely do not like hiking; however, on a recent work trip in Colorado Springs, CO I did the unthinkable. I woke up at 4am (Colorado time, so it’s in essence 3am California time) to go (you guessed it) hiking *Gasp* But hear me out… It’s not everyday I get to visit a new state, so when some coworkers volunteered to lead a group up the Manitou Incline before our professional development training it seemed opportune to experience one of Colorado Springs most popular (and fatal) attractions.

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Sunrise on the way up

At the beginning of the the hike I was very optimistic, but with each step I felt increasingly more light-headed and fatigued. If I’m being brutally honest, I felt like I was going to die. The top was 9000 feet above sea level and we were starting at 7000 feet and for someone who lives at sea level this drastic change in elevation was really hard on my body. It became increasingly more difficult to breath with each step and the stairs were extremely steep.

The Incline

There were so many moments when I wanted to quit and go back down although it might have been more dangerous had I done that. I eventually made it to the halfway point where hikers can take a safer and much more even way down and while I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t make it to the top, I am proud that I at least did the halfway since I remember wanting to quit 1/4 of that!

Would you do this incline? I didn’t notice the sign until I looked more closely, but people have died from this hike!

 

XOXO,

Rockstar