Happy Birth (day, week, month) to me! and what better way to celebrate me than by redeeming free stuff! Here’s a list of what I redeemed during April 2021. Come check it out!
Del Taco (Free Milkshake): Join the Raving Fan Club and they’ll email you QR code to redeem a free shake! The coupon expires with 1.5 weeks of your bday. I usually get the strawberry milkshake. Yum! (est. value $3.29)
Hapa Cupcakes (Free Cupcake): They’re known for their alcohol infused cupcakes, but have various options if that’s not your thing. Join their mailing list to redeem your free code!
Habit Grill (Free Burger): Join the CharClub and redeem a free cheeseburger! (value est. $4.29)
Paderia Bakery (Free Cookie): Get on their email list and they’ll send you a code to redeem a free cookie on your next visit! I got the triple chocolate which was devine! ($4 Value)
Tastea ($5 off any purchase): If you love bubble tea this is a fantastic perk! Sign up for their loyalty program on their app to redeem this free perk.
Togo (Free Sandwich): Pull up rewards from you app for free lunch! Most sandwiches apply! (Est Value $9.24).
Hot Topic ($5 Birthday Credit): Sign up for Hot Topic’s “Guest List” and earn a $5 Birthday Credit to use within a month of your birthday. I signed up during my birth month I was also awarded a $5 anniversary credit. During my shopping spree I was able to combine both rewards towards a B1G2 Free clearance sale! This year I purchased a pair of Harry Potter workout pants, a Gryffindor raglan tee, and an Incredibles shirt for about $10 total!
Makeup Shack ($5 off any Makeup Shack Product): I purchased a new contouring brush and paid the difference. I think about $1.50 or so, and it’s a great brush! You’ll sign up at the store with your phone number!
Sephora (Makeup): For some reason I didn’t get an email this year, but if you’re a Beauty Insider be sure to redeem your free beauty or skincare deluxe sample. For the month of April I picked up a Laneige cleansing kit which included a sleeping mask, moisture cream and lip sleeping mask! How lux!
Did I miss a cool freebie? Comment below because sharing is charing!
It’s that time of month – monthly favorites! and for the month of April I visited San Francisco and the surrounding cities during my Spring Break! (!!!) Woo!!! It was much needed.
During that trip I knocked off a few more of my bookmarks and several of them made this month’s favorites! Check out my list below to see who made the cut!
Duck Chow Mein (Sam Wo): This Chinatown SF staple has been serving the community for over 100 years, so they must be doing something right! I ordered the Duck Chow Mein ($9.05) and boy was I in for a surprise. I absolutely loved it. The noodles had a nice chew to it and it can easily feed you for two meals. Read all about it here.
Roast Pork Entree (New Lun Ting Cafe): The mysterious orange gravy may look off-putting to some, but boy that sauce slathered over a thick cut of roasted pork and rice is beyond amazing. See full review here. For $9.25 you can feed two people with that popular entree. I will DEFINITELY be back for this on my next visit to SF Chinatown.
Japanese Confectionary Treats (Osaka-Ya): Osaka-Ya is a Sacramento staple that has served their loyal customers since 1963 and their authentic treats are both beautiful and delicious! They have many different flavor combinations and while I ordered 2 sets of four types in a future visit I will need to order way more! This was by far my favorite stop in Sacramento and the prices were very reasonable although it’s very hard to just pick one: Mochi ($1.50) Manju ($1.60), Flavored Mochi Bites (Box of 12 small bites, $4.75). See my full review here.
Falafel (Falafel Stop): Healthy fast food for a reasonable price. For $7.11 you can get a very nutritious and filling meal. The Falafel in a pita bread, may look small, but it is packed with a lot of ingredients! See my full writeup here.
Thrifting (St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store): There are multiple branches of this charity good store; however the San Mateo location has a great assortment of garments and misc items. See full review here.
$$ Moderately Priced
Pad See Ew (Bangkok Spice): This Anaheim mom n pop shop is legit! The portions here are enormous and very reasonably priced. An order Pork Pad See Ew was $10.95 and could easily feed you for two meals. See what else I ordered here.
Boba Drink (True Dan): This small 3 chain boba shop serves Taiwanese drinks with a twist. I visited the Burlingame location and tried the “Fresh Milk With Brown Sugar, Crema, and Oreos” with Oat Milk Substitution (+$.50) = $6.50 and wow it was amazing! Honestly, it beat out my 2020 favorite boba drink (see list here), and that’s saying a lot! See my full review of my True Dan experience here.
Shanghainese Food (Zen Noodle Bar): If I want authentic Shanghainese food in the Bay Area Zen Noodle Bar will definitely be my top pick! Their Beef Wrap ($8.96) was amazing (perfect marriage of all flavors) and all the other dishes were solid. For a variety and a party of two I’d recommend three dishes. See what I recommend here.
Afternoon Tea (Malaya Tea Room): For about $33 a person, you can enjoy finger sandwiches and an unlimited pot of tea of your choice, in a classy, tropical destination. I tried Butterfly pea for the first time (See Video here) and seeing it change from blue to purple was pretty cool. To see the breakdown of my tea experience click here.
Fruit Flavored Sugar Cane Drinks (Sugarmama): I grew up drinking sugarcane and when I found this home-based small business up in Oakland called Sugarmama, who specialized in fruit flavored sugar cane beverages, I was eager to check her out. At the time she did glass jugs – See my IG post here. Many flavors were in the $30 – $32 a flavor, and a jug can yield 5 cups. I think now you can buy a large jug (since she moved to plastic) for $23-$25 (though Durian is $29). I loved the strawberry sugarcane drink as it was very refreshing! If you’re local to Oakland you can pick up on Wed, Fri, or Sat or for a small fee you can have it delivered within the Bay Area. She also does individual sized drinks ($6-$8), but I thought the jug was great to share!
Artisanal Pastries (Baker Doe): You can get a dozen croissants from Costco for about $5, or you can get one Croissant that’s basically a work of art for $6. I won’t lie it took me three attempts (meaning three different days) to get an order in, since he sells out super fast! You can read my instructions and review on each pastries here. He has a different menu every week, but my writeup will give you some insight on the experience. Honestly, probably the most beautiful and buttery croissants I’ve ever had and if you want to see what all of them look like click here. I ordered two of everything that was available that week and the total came out to around $70ish.
It’s the end of March and time for announce my monthly favorites! Come see my top picks!
Fish & Chips (English Fish and Chips): If you want a generously portioned and inexpensive seafood option English Fish and Chips in Long Beach, CA is a fantastic choice. I got the snacker which included a large filet and fries for about $5. See my review here.
Pistachio Gelato (Michielan Pistachio Gelato): Honestly, I’m not huge on desserts but this gelato is heavenly. So luxurious and creamy, and for just $8.59 a carton at Costco! This is definitely worth it! Feel boujee, without breaking the bank.
Thrifting, (Deja New): This is an oldie, but a long time favorite. I haven’t visited Deja New (IG) in a while, so it was great to check them out again. See my full review here. As always they still have excellent deals! On my visit all outerwear and bottoms were $5, and misc clearance items were $4. Each week they have different promotions and since the pandemic started their hours and days of operation has changed. So far, it’s been Wed-Friday 10am-3pm and some Saturdays, but the best way to see when they’re open is to check their Facebook page.
Pad See Ew with Shrimp (Tasty Food to Go): This Long Beach, CA take out spot is popular among the locals and for good reason. Food tastes authentic and is reasonably priced. My Pad See Ew with shrimp was $9.59. See my full review here.
Udon Combo (Han Nam Udon & Sushi): You know how hard it is to find a noodle shop that doesn’t use pork/ beef/ chicken as their protein? It took me a LOOOONG time, but I was in the mood for udon and I finally found a great local spot in Garden Grove, CA that offers dine-in! My udon and sushi combo was $9.99. They also gave ban chan (side dishes) too! Check out my full review here.
$$ Moderately Priced
Beyond Meat, Beyond Burger (Costco): I’ve been craving meat all month long and this plant-based patty from Costco was a really good alternative to curb my taste buds. At the time Costco had a $4 off coupon, making this 8 patty package a grand total $10.99 ($1.37 a patty).
Tasting Event (Taste of Universal): For $53.66 (Adult Price, Saturday) patrons can enjoy shopping and outdoor dining (complete menu) throughout the Upper Lot of Universal Studios Hollywood in Hollywood, CA. Each ticket grants five tasting items and there were tons of options! I had a fantastic time and you can see my vlog experience here and here.
Botana (Mariscos Las Islitas): Finding an affordable and fresh seafood option has been a challenge, but I found an incredible spot with major tropical vibes. For $20, my friend and I shared an abundant plate of shrimp, abalone, imitation crab meat, octopus, and more. I had such a great experience – chefs kiss! See my full review here.
Cinderella Wig (Lisa Fabio): Some of you know that Cinderella was one of my all time favorite Disney Princesses growing up, and while I have been doing some wig stylin Cinderella’s french twist updo and bang swoop are still techniques I’m not comfortable doing yet. I decided to commission from Lisa Fabio (IG) a well established wig stylist with more than 10 years of experience. Suffice to say this is probably one of the most beautiful wigs I’ve ever owned. Her artistry and experience does come at a hefty price ($275) for this parks style bang, french twist updo, but this wig sure is beautiful!
Dole Whip (Touch of Disney): Its been ages since I’ve last visited the Disney Parks, and during the months of March and April they created a Tasting event in Disney’s California Adventures. Tickets were $75 and I ate a lot of them park food, but Dole Whip remains at the top – come see my post here to see what else I ate!
Which of these would you want to try? Let me know! Also, I’m going to get to eat meat and poultry again soon. Give me your top picks on where I should indulge!
Some of you know that I do a forty-day fast each year for Lent. I usually pick eating out as my sacrifice, but this year I wanted to try something different. I decided to give up meat and poultry (which started back on Feb 17th), but I will still eat eggs and seafood. So for this and next month many of my food picks may be vegetarian/pescatarian. But don’t fret, I will never compromise my reviews for the quality of taste and I had some pretty amazing finds to share (both food, art, and fashion). So without further adieu, lets see the Top February picks!
Number Cake (Sweets from Liz): Sweets from Liz (IG) is a home baker in North Orange County who creates custom sweets. I ordered a number of different items including her Micky and Minnie Cocoa bombs, and chocolate covered strawberries, but her Number Cake ($20) was definitely my favorite. The presentation was spot on and everyone in my family loved eating it. The cake was light and the berries were very fresh. I cannot wait for another opportunity to order it! Also, if you live in Orange County she delivers for $3! You can read all about why I was celebrating 8 years here.
Thrifting (Pick of the Litter): I’m quite picky about my thrift shops and “Pick of the Litter” was definitely top dog on my recent thrift adventures. Not only do proceeds benefit the humane society, but I really liked the assortment of curated items they had and the prices were very reasonable. I bought a hair of dress slacks for $2.50 and a gold formal gown for $5. See my full review here.
Fortune Cookies (Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory): I’ve never really liked fortune cookies since they often tasted stale, but these at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory were freshly made and gave me a completely new outlook on what they were suppose to taste like. They offer a variety of flavors including Sesame, Green Tea, Strawberry, Chocolate, and their original flavor. I loaded up on a bunch of bags (roughly $6ish depending on flavor) to gift family and friends. Suffice to say they were all gobbled up. If you’re in the Bay area you should definitely check them out. They’ve been a huge part of SF Chinatown for the past 57 years! Read the full review here.
$$ Moderately Priced
Chicken Wings (Capital Restaurant): If you love chicken wings the Salt and Pepper Chicken wings from Capital Restaurant in SF Chinatown is the bomb. It is THE place to grab wings, and on my visit EVERYONE included it in their order. See my full review here.
CNY Macarons (Macarons By Natalie): I recently discovered Macarons By Natalie (IG), who is a home baker based in Oakland, CA, who specializes in character macarons. At the time she offered preorders of her Chinese New Year Macarons ($30) and they were adorable! She currently does local pick-up in the Bay area, but maybe one day she’ll do shipping or open up a brick-and-mortar. I stocked her IG stories and the brick and mortar dream is a very definite possibility! She does custom orders, but it looks like her $30 assortment boxes happen during major holidays so St. Patty’s Day and Easter must be next! Want to see what flavors you incorporated with her designs? Read it here.
Laska (Lion Dance Cafe): I’m usually suspicious on a hipster’s take on authentic cuisine, but with lots of praise from various press including the San Francisco Chronicle, Eater SF and more I was very curious to see what the fuss was all about. Lion Dance Cafe is known for their Shaobing sandwich (photo here), but I was blown away by all the complex flavors in their Laska ($16). Order open up on Wednesday for Friday, or Saturday pickup. See my full review here.
Pizza (June’s Pizza): $30 a pie is expensive especially when it’s all vegetarian. However, June’s Pizza (IG) uses the freshest ingredients available that week and honestly I didn’t even notice that it was meatless because it was so flavorful. Every week they have different “special” pies depending on what’s in season. On my trip it was butternut squash, ricotta cheese, and fresh cracked black pepper *drool*. It was so good, and when when I’m not doing a meat-fast I definitely want to go back and try more pies! It is somewhat of a process to get since they only serve 60 pies a day, but worth it! See my cliff notes on how to order and the full review here.
Crab (PPQ Dungeness Island: I haven’t had crab in a long time, but the crustaceans at PPQ Dungeness Island were top notch. At the time of my visit they did offer outdoor dining, but we had to reserve in advance. I want to say it was $60 a crab or market price, but the way they prepared it is definitely worth a visit! The Peppercorn and their signature “roasted” were my favorite, but click here to read the entire review.
Beskar Baby Yoda Doll (BeskarBabyYoda): Beskar Baby Yoda (IG) $249 + $20 Shipping. If you love “the child” Shawn is an incredible artist who really takes it to the next level. He does Baby Mando, Baby Boba-Fett, and Baby Armorer. He’s also working on Jedi Grogu now! You can see my unboxing video here to get a closer look at all the details.
Kickin’ off the new year with my January favorites. Lets roll!
$ 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.
$$ 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): 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!
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)
$$ 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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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)
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!
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.
Personally, 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.