CHI - Mcdonald's Global Headquarters Edition

That's right, McDonald's opened up a headquarters here in Chicago and made their store that's attached an international one meaning they have a few items from their global markets. We walk by it quite often when we look for food after climbing but the other day I noticed some of the screens inside displaying international flags and realized that my managers at work were talking about this specific McDonald's having international pieces on their menu. I mentioned it to Christel so of course we had to go and try it and today was that day. 



I'm not gonna lie, there weren't as many international items as I expected but there was enough to make up a pretty good meal and Christel and I were pretty happy and full in the end. The introverts that we are just hogged the self-order kiosks gawking at the menu unable to make a decision for 5minutes. I actually really like these screens and while I have no problem walking up to the counter to order being able to just pick whatever I want and customize it without having to repeat myself over and over again to a person is nice. Also, since some of these items were international I had no idea what they had inside and it was way more relaxing to just order from the screen and make whatever modifications I wanted without looking dumb and asking what each thing was. We each got a McSpicy Chicken sandwich from Hong Kong which just comes with lettuce and mayo (I went light) and I got us a Cheese and Bacon Loaded Fries from Australia to share. I also ordered one of their new mix sprite tropic berry which wasn't bad or overly sweet. The McSpicy chicken was exactly what I wanted. It's a great burger and the chicken was moist but crispy on the outside and the spice totally hit you the more you ate it but wasn't too spicy or hot in the end. The mayo and lettuce were a great balance for it and I actually would order this more if this was an American choice I think. The cheese and bacon fries were also pretty good but I think I'm just a lover of plain fries. The cheese got to be a little too overpowering and Christel and I were both digging around to find plain fries to balance the super cheesy ones. The bacon came as bits so they didn't stick super well but it was all good in the end. Cheese fries are just not for me when I could have nice salty plain fries. 


We also decided we would get dessert and Christel contemplated more fries with her vanilla soft serve but we were totally full after the sandwich and cheese fries that we each went for plain ice cream. I decided to get a McFlurry Prestigio from Brazil which is the classic vanilla soft serve with strawberry sauce and mini chocolate coconut candies (think mounds). It actually wasn't super special and I ended up wishing I got the strawberry top sundae which is pretty much the same thing but with two cookie straws instead of the mini chocolate which I found to be too sweet and hard to wrap my head around with the extra coconut flavor on top of everything else.

All in all it was a fun adventure but I don't think I'm going to miss this stuff too much. I'm always just gonna want fries and some chicken nuggets when I come to McDonalds' and I'm happy with that.  

Mario's Italian Lemonade

Keep an eye on this post guys because I've just gone to Mario's but I know I'm going back soon to try more flavors already!


Thanks for the Street View Google!

Thanks for the Street View Google!

Mario's Italian Lemonade is this staple of Chicago especially if you go to UIC. It's right around the corner from East Campus and I've heard about it since I moved here two years ago but their on one of those summer schedules and I never understood the hype so I didn't go at all last year. This year we saw them reopen again a couple days ago when May 1st hit and Chicago decided it wanted to finally be hot and kill us with the first 80º day of the year so today Christel and I decided to stop by on our way back to campus from lunch. 


One bite and I understood the hype. This Italian Lemonade is so good. It's not too icy and frozen, it scoops super easily but melts super slow and is still drinkable through the straw a little too. It's cash only so I'm pretty happy Christel had some on her so that we could finally taste these. 

Today we opted for Pomegranate and Lemon and we were both pretty excited about it. I'm so happy I have Christel to try these things with because I just steal her cup and hand her mine for impromptu switches while we walk back to the studio and this way we basically get a pomegranate lemon mix without the messy mixing. We've already planned our trip for tomorrow and strategized what flavors we want to try that still go well with each other. I'm starting to understand why this place is so popular and I don't have a problem with it. 

Watermelon with fruit chunks hidden inside. Did not disappoint

Watermelon with fruit chunks hidden inside. Did not disappoint


It's the last final week of classes for me (for real this time) yet Christel and I are still managing to find time to go out and hit some spots on my list while I'm still in Chicago. We checked out the menu online and it's just weird and fusion enough that we needed to check it out right away. 


Their tagline one on of the menu's online was "Long Noodles, Short Rice, Phat Dumplings" which just sold us. We figured we could order a little of each and go family style on this meal to test them all out. When we got to the restaurant the current menu was a little different from what we saw online but we had a basic idea and just altered our plan a little. 


We ended up getting coconut curry phowok fried rice cakes, and togarashi fries which come with a curry mayo. Since it was so warm out we decided to just opt to sit outside even though it was getting a little later and windier. It was still a great decision and it's so nice to finally be able to sit out and eat in the sunshine. 

Everything was so delicious and while I can be a little skeptical of asian fusion I was super happy at urban belly. The rice cakes were by far our favorite. There was shrimp, peanuts, toasted garlic and chives and had a great pickled kinda cucumber thing that was super well balanced with the textures and flavors of everything else. The menu describes this as their version of a Pad Thai which I like as a reference because it's pretty much a nail on the head with what they've accomplished. Christel and I are also both suckers for good rice cakes like this so it wasn't a hard sell for us. The coconut curry pho was an alright choice, a pretty good flavor but honestly just tasted like a normal Thai coconut curry with pho noodles in it. Not the most imaginative dish but also not a miss either. They nailed the coconut curry so it wasn't hard to like. The togarashi fries were also pretty good in terms of seasoning and the curry mayo was a nice touch. I'm not a huge fan of dips but mixed mayos and aiolis are usually pretty good in my book. 

And of course we somehow managed to get lucky and there was a special deal for the 1st of every month where each dumpling was offered for $1 each instead of $1.50+ for dine in which sent Christal through the roof because she HAD to take advantage of the deal. So, even though we had all this food we went for a dumpling round as well and ordered two of each dumpling to test them out.     

Pork and Cilantro

Pork and Cilantro

Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry

Beef and Cheddar

Beef and Cheddar

Sweet Potato and Maple

Sweet Potato and Maple

So here's the run down on each of the dumplings really quick 

Pork and Cilantro - Pretty classic for a dumpling, it comes soaked in soy sauce and ready to eat without any need for dipping but it does get a little salty so maybe less sauce is more. 

Chicken Curry - SUPER light flavor for what you think a curry dumpling would be. The chicken was a good texture and it was a clean bite but could actually use more of a kick.

Beef and Cheddar - If you like pizza rolls this guy is for you. Tastes pretty much like a beef and cheese pizza roll with a crunchy exterior and a pretty recognizable taste. The pickled onion on top was a great touch that made it a little different and 'elevated' it from the pizza roll world.

Sweet Potato and Maple - This was a perfect combination, not surprisingly, but it was a little tough to chew into and I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of the texture of the potato. I love pirogies but this was missing the mark for some reason and while the flavor was good I'm not sure I would get this dumpling again. 

All in all, I say Urbanbelly was surprisingly good but then again I was skeptical to start with so I'm not sure that's saying much. I would go back but I'm not sure that I would ever really crave anything I ate.    

CHI - Umai

You would think finals quickly approaching would mean buckling down and getting some work done but not for me. When stress hits my flight response is totally on board and I go into complete denial about how stressed out I am. Cue aimlessly walking around target and going out to dinner with Christel (who's already finished defense) while I avoid my final projects.


I've heard about Umai a little before and I'm not one who likes to be left out of new things so I asked Christel if we could go since we were both down for some dinner and she agreed because she's great at humoring me. I've actually heard more about sushi and Umai but when we looked at the menu a bunch of the udon/ramen dishes looked pretty great to us so we decided to skip the rolls and go straight for the noddles.

I decided to order the nabeyaki udon which is an udon noodle in dashi broth that comes with a piece of shrimp tempura, a poached egg, spinach, fish cake, shiitake mushroom, and chicken (although I don't recall a piece of chicken in mine but instead for sure had imitation crab and what seemed like two pieces of tomago which I'm not mad about). After much deliberation Christel went with the udon kare which is udon in a Japanese curry and she went with beef and added a poached egg as well. Honestly I think we both ended up wanting a ajitsuke egg instead but poached was alright. We also ordered an ika butter which is just squid sautéed in butter with mushroom and lemon as our app and it was so worth it I'm pretty happy about that decision.   

I love udon more than ramen just because of the chewiness and texture overall so I'm always happy to find a bowl because it's not as common or popular. Since my dad is a chef he usually just throws in udon for me into whatever soup he's making and I'm always happy but an actual udon dish just warms my soul... and my stomach. This dish was super hot coming out which is great, I just had to give it time to cool before I burned all my tastebuds off. I also regret not taking my tempura out as soon as it got to me because by the time I picked it up to eat it was super soggy and the batter was basically mush, but again that's my fault. The tempura flavor was actually really great and well balanced to me. I love shiitake's and tomago felt like a better sweet substitute to chicken which struck me as odd on the menu. The broth was well balanced, a little sweet but super savory without being salty. I'd say if any gets umami, it's Umai. I would totally go back again for this udon or to try their sushi which looked pretty great from where we sat at the bar. Christel seemed happy with her udon too and even had curry and beef leftover to cook with some rice for lunch tomorrow. Overall, it was a successful outing and I'm happy I got to get some udon in my belly.   

CHI - Umami Burger

As I've likely said before, I'm not a huge burger craver but we went bouldering and decided to get some food afterwards so we walked towards the west loop and ended up at Umami Burger because I've never been before.



Of course this restaurant is fairly well known so it's been on my list but we didn't want to waste a meal in LA on something we could get in Chicago so now was a good time to try it out. I decided to just go with the basics and order an Umami Burger seeing as it's the namesake of the place and I added shoestring fries and I truffle'd 'em (if that's the right way to say it). The umami burger comes with parmesan frico, shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, and Umami ketchup and while I'm not a condiments person and dislike ketchup I decided to leave it in knowing that was the intention of the dish and also that they must've added some sort of twist to ketchup to call it their own. 

I was overall pretty happy with this burger. Christel pointed out that it's such a clean burger to eat because it doesn't drip all over your hands and the bun holds everything in so nicely it didn't even really fall apart or slide around which is extremely rare for a burger anywhere. I'm in love with the parmesan frico which gave everything a nice crisp texture. I didn't really taste or see the shiitake mushroom and the tomato was also pretty subtle too so they didn't really have any sort of impact for me which is disappointing because I love shiitakes. The umami ketchup itself was pretty unobtrusive and I was fine keeping it in and Christel and I speculated that their 'umami' flavor just comes from truffles. As much as I love potatoes and fries, shoestrings always make me a little sad because they're so crisp they loose their potato flavor. I found the truffle fries themselves to be a little too salty, not being balanced enough with how much truffle cheese and salt they put on the fries overall. Naked fries tasted much better and were more fun to dip in their sample of garlic aioli and diablo sauce. 

Overall, not a bad experience though nothing to rave about. Pretty basic mid-level burgers that are perfectly fine to eat but Au Cheval has nothing to worry about here.  

CHI - Bombobar

This Saturday was a rough one for me which means Christel wanted to cheer me up with ice cream!


Now usually cheer up ice cream consists of an attempt for banana split but we've had no luck with finding them nearby anywhere when we're looking for them so we've found alternatives. This time we decide to go to Bombobar based off of some cool things we saw on Instagram. Bombobar promotes their decked out hot chocolate which includes a mini donut and a biscotti and some whipped cream - the works. However, I'm not a chocolate fan in general and not a fan of cocoa or milk so hot chocolates are not for me. Christel has a distinction of not like hot chocolate, only chocolate milk so again, Bombobar is almost wasted on us.


Our saving grace and our reason for going was for the Bombolato, vanilla gelato made from scratch there at Bombobar, sandwiched in the middle of one of their famous bombolonis (an Italian hole-less donuts), covered in salted caramel and fruity pebbles. Basically, sugar on sugar with more sugar in the middle. 

My favorite part of this dessert (or breakfast if you really wanna roll that way) was the gelato inside. It was a really nice consistency, had great vanilla flavor, and was creamy but not too creamy. I would go back for the gelato and skip all the extra sugar (maybe keep the fruity pebbles...). Christel's favorite part was the donut - a light texture, not too sugary but still a great flavor without being too dense. 

Since the hotter chocolate is what Bombobar is known for we got a lot of interested looks from incoming customers and had several people ask us what we ordered. This doesn't seem to be a well known choice but I'm pretty glad we tried it. Honestly, the salted caramel was the only aspect that was very overwhelming and I tried to switch it out for something else but that wasn't doable. I don't mind caramel but it got into everything and pushed the sugar over the top. We talked about it and maybe next time we'd order it without caramel if Bombolatos were the goal, otherwise I would go for gelato and Christel would go for the bomboloni instead. No hotter chocolate for us - even for the insta. 


C2E2 is here and I took it as an opportunity to take Christel to her first comic convention-y thing to look at some merch and see what illustrators sell at these kinds of things! After a few hours walking the floor we finished up and decided to have a late lunch in Chinatown.


We just decided to walk around and see what looked good. I was in the mood for some carbs (noddles specifically because I'm dying from a cold and my body wants what it wants) and we ended up at MCCB Chicago. 

Neither of us have heard of this place before but we've of course walked by it many times and from the looks of the menu we thought we would like it so we walked in and were seated by the window right away. I was still feeling the cold but have been sick long enough to feel like I wouldn't get Christel sick so we figured I would just be careful and we could go family style. 

Since I was craving some noddles, we decided on the Spicy Dan Dan Noodles pretty quickly. Christel was feeling like some seafood and from what we could see there was a pretty popular whole fish dish but she opted for a safer choice of shrimp. MCCB has some pretty unusual flavors which caught our attention and we wanted to be slightly adventurous since we'd never see that before and ordered Mango Crispy Shrimp. Seeing as we're us, we had to round the meal out with some veggies as well so we picked our go to veggie anywhere, the infamous string bean. 


Turns out the crispy shrimp had rice included with it so we were really rolling in some carbs and my sick body was all over it. Everything was perfect and just what I wanted. The spicy dan dan noodles had the perfect kick to them but were balanced with a creamy peanut-y flavor. Green beans are always a win with me and the crispy shrimp turned out to just be the creamy shrimp my dad makes at home with a very mild mango flavor. I loved every single one of these dishes and would absolutely go back to MCCB. 

Our waiter that day was the nicest guy I've never met in my life. I wish he could be my waiter everywhere that I went because he was just so sweet and I think he enjoyed out quirky the two of us are. MCCB also had a nice promo where if you spend $25 you get a free Italian soda or a sweet dessert soup kinda thing and while I was drinking hot water for my throat, nothing screams Emily like a free soda so I ordered a pomegranate Italian soda, which our adorable waiter said was his favorite, and got it in a cool mug to take home (I even asked him and he said it was for me and even brought me a lid). I'm not a huge fan of dairy like this but it wasn't a bad drink and free is free so I'm always down for it. 

I'd love to go back and try some fish but I'm worried my hopes will be up and no one will be as great as the waiter we had our first time at MCCB.

CALI - Last meal at the Packing House

Our last day in California with our last meal over at the Anaheim Packing House was such a fun experience. Packing House is an old Sunkist citrus packing house that was repurposed into a food court with different vendors, bars, and famers markets. There are incredible skylights and plants everywhere that make the inside beautiful and the architecture inside is fantastic. It's an amazing open space that fills up with people but it's enough of a hidden gem that it's not overly crowded. 



Food court style means that Christel and I go half on everything and get to try a few more things so we decided to go to The Chippy Fish & Grill for the 2 cod fish & calamari combo with a side of onion rings because Christel was hardcore craving it, Black Sheep GCB for their #1 (goat cheese, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, and an arugula pesto), and then we each got a drink over at Mini Monster because we're suckers for cute drink jugs with plastic ears. I got the sunset strawberry lemonade with boba while Christel got the strawberry lemonade without. 

I literally ran to the table with excitement once everything was ready for us. This is honestly such a beautiful setting for lunch and I would love to just move into this place because the available light is what dreams are made of. 

All of our food was great. The grilled cheese was well balanced and creamy but crisp on the outside. The fish and chips were huge and tasted so good. The calamari wasn't chewy and the onion rings stayed with their crust pretty well. I shouldn't have ordered boba with my drink because I was so full we couldn't even finish everything between the two of us. It was delicious and it was fun to sit there and hang out and eat and people watch. There was a cute family of four sitting next to us on this bench that we enjoyed and all the people walking around were happy and just having a good time eating lunch. This is easily one of my favorite spots of the trip and I would recommend it to everyone because there are so many options and its reasonably priced and tasty.  

CALI - Street Taco Time

Dinner time finally arrived and with it came street Tacos!! Christel's little brother Keith told us about some really great street tacos that he wanted to try so we met up with him and a group of his friends. 


Since these were street tacos they weren't the easiest thing to find and Christel and I ended up coming first down a semi sketchy alley way. We did see a lone man with a taco cart and elotes and almost stopped to buy tacos from him but I voted to drive a little further down the street where a bunch of other cars seemed to be going and check it out before the boys arrived. We ended up all the way down Artesian Pl, parking by the train tracks but thats where we saw the whole line of cooktops and people with tacos so we figured it was a good call. 


I'll start off by saying, these guys are fast. Even if there's a line it moves like the wind so be ready with cash in hand and know what you wanna order before you get there. They don't have a menu written down anywhere so this really is one of those spots that you only go to if you're in the know but its well worth it because these tacos are great.


All the basic meats are there, chicken, pork, beef, and then a wild card of pork stomach which some of the boys tried and liked as well. I think the fan favorite was the pastor (pork) which was lucky for me because that's what I ordered for me and for Christel seeing as I walked up to the counter first. Since we ate so much through the day I decided on two tacos and Christel went for three. Since this is street style we were handed a plate with the tortilla and meat and added our own toppings from the stand set up to the side. We also walked up several times to the end of the stand and got fresh potatoes which were the lifesaver of the night from hidden super spicy kicks in the guac and meat.

It seemed that these tacos were some of the best we'd had as a group. Christel did point out that she couldn't enjoy the flavor as much because of all the chaos of standing and not knowing what everything was and where to go and what to do and I totally understand what she was saying. As an experience this was super fun to me but it can totally be stressful and all of that adrenaline can be a distraction from the food. I would love to go to this kinda thing again because it feels fun and authentic and knowing what to do a second time around would make this more enjoyable but as a first time experience it was still fun. 

CALI - Snack pt.2 at Dirt Dog

You would think after lunch and first snack of milk buns we would calm down a little before meeting Christel's brother for dinner but no, that would've been too sensible. Not only did we go for snack part two at dirt dog but we stopped at Coco along the way to get some bubble tea too. Our stomachs are insane when we're on vacation but I'm happy I found a friend who handles marathon eating better than I do. 



Christel has been mentioning dirt dog since we started planning our trip and its right next to USC where her brother currently goes to school so it was a convenient spot for us to check out while waiting for dinner. We were trying to be a little good about food and not fill up too much so we could eat dinner with him and his friends so instead of ordering a hot dog we just decided to share an order of elote fries

The line for this place goes out the door but honestly we were inside and ordering in less than 15minutes. They have a system where you can't save a table until you've placed your order at the counter but theres just enough space inside that there always seems to be just enough seats waiting for you once you've ordered. 

I'm not a huge fan of hot dogs but fries and corn are my jam so this is a perfect combination. Elote fries come with corn, lime mayo, chili powder, cotija cheese, cilantro, and bacon. This was a perfect dish for me. I loved every component; the fries weren't too crispy but not soggy either. There was just enough corn to go with the potatoes. The kick of lime and spice were great and the lime mayo on top was a great creaminess as well. I would go back just for these fries honestly but they also have a bunch of other combinations I would love to try. I'm a sucker for variety and toppings on fries are never a bad call to me. 

CALI - Snack time at Bao Dim Sum House

Christel has been talking about milk buns the whole time we've been here in California and we finally found a lull today in our schedule to eat a snack so we headed over to Bao Dim Sum House.


Christel called them ahead of time and asked for one order of milk buns to go and we headed over from Griffith Observatory giving them plenty of time to make our buns! 


These guys are little so we didn't want to go in to the restaurant and sit down so we just took them out to Christel's car and inhaled them while we planned the rest of our day. Luckily we got a great parking spot with a meter still running and had tons of free time on our hands to kill. 

I've never had bao's like this before but they're kinda great. They're soft and warm on the inside and have an almost gooey airy texture to them. They taste milky/custardy through out and are dense as all hell so it's good they were little but they still have a great chew to them. I'm not sure I would crave this but I hope if I do I'll be able to find them somewhere because this is the first time I've heard of these and I don't want it to by my last. 

CALI - Gangnam Umuyi

My first go at Korean cold noodles today because I showed some interest in trying cold noodles and Christel is like my magical food genie while we're here in California.


Neither of us have been here before but we looked up Korean cold noodles on yelp and decide to just go, and we lucked out. Gangnam Umuyi opens at 11:30am and we showed up about 10minutes after that so we were the first customers of the day! 

Let me just say, this place is super cute. The woman who was our waitress was the cutest little Korean lady ever and was so great to us, filling us up on small plates and taking care of us so well while also watching Korean game shows on the big screen next to our table. 


I decided to get Mul Naengmyun which is a cold noodle with sliced beef and vegetables with broth and Christel got the Kalbi + Mul/Kalbi Bibim Naengmyun combo which is kalbi and sliced beef and a spicy version of my cold noodles. Our sweet waitress then advised me to put in chili paste that she gave me and some vinegar on the table into my noodles because it would 100% taste better. She was right and I'm so glad I listened to her. I think I might've added a little too much vinegar because it was a little too tart and sour but all in all it was a great meal. I managed to finish all my meat and noodles and was stuffed in the end but the good kinda stuffed. Cold noodles leave you filled but not gross; its light and cool for your stomach and you feel satisfied but not sleepy and heavy. I almost wasn't able to finish it all and it got a little difficult to eat in the end because it has a lighter touch to it which is not something I'm used to but I'm going to be craving these cold noodles again soon, I can already tell. 

CALI - Somi Somi

Every day is eating day for us and it never ends. Next up after Marugume is some ice cream for dessert in the cliche fish cone!


In case you didn't notice it, we ended up back right next to Sul & Beans for some ice cream. That  night Christel and I noticed some people with ice cream in those fish cones that is pretty trendy right now. I declared that when we go to California I wanted one of those ice creams so Christel indulged me and we went for our own. 


SomiSomi is super cute and small and had a line out the door the night we went to Sul & Beans but was pretty quiet when we went today in the middle of the day. Its on the second floor of this open air mall space and was pretty easy to get to. We didn't have to wait in line and just got our ice cream before a semi large group came in after. We both decided to get Ube Vanilla swirl no filling in a fish cone. Christel got graham crackers on top and I went for the fruity pebbles. 

The downside of getting ice cream in the middle of the day is that it's training time and the girl making our cones was definitely new. She'd make a cone, rush to the back and show her boss to make sure it looked okay before topping it and giving it to us. I actually saw her fill my cone, and then dump all the ice cream out and fill it again because the swirl wasn't perfect. Seems like a waste of perfectly good ice cream to me but hey, I don't work here. We also noticed that they were making some fish cones and just finished a fresh batch but all three had holes in them from not enough batter being placed in the waffle iron. Quality control seems to be all over the place in the middle of the day. Still the ice cream tasted good and the cones were a nice chewy consistency. It gets a little hard to eat near the bottom where it's mostly cone and the ice cream is trying to gush out. Very messy but still tasty.

The mall itself isn't super great, we had a few random guys come up to us and bother us for various reasons while we were trying to eat on the ground floor which was not enjoyable. Maybe next time we'll stay upstairs or bring a little brother with us.  

CALI - Marugume Monzo

Marugume Monzo was our intended lunch destination for the day but seeing as we were hungry in the moment and 40minutes was too long of a wait for out hungry stomachs we stopped by TaNoTa for a quick appetizer. This takoyaki break killed about 25minutes so we rushed back across the street in the hopes that we might be called early. 


We managed to find a nice semi shaded spot in line outside of Marugume and waited for our name to be called. When we got back from TaNoTa we only had about 4 more people in front of us so we were seated in about 10 or so minutes which wasn't bad; just enough time to digest our takoyaki and get hungry for some udon. Christel and I both love udon and seeing as it's not as popular as ramen don't get to eat it as often. Of course thick chewy noodles are where its at so udon is perfect. 


Christel has been here before and knew she wanted the Miso Carbonara Udon. Marugume is famous for their Sea Urchin Cream Udon but I've only had sea urchin once and wasn't a huge fan so I didn't want to risk my one treat at udon on something I was unsure of. Christel doesn't like sea urchin either so there it would be a dish wasted if I didn't like it so I aimed for something a little safer. I decided to try the Mentai Squid Butter Udon because she said one of her brothers tried it before and enjoyed it. It comes with seasoned fish eggs butter sauce with squid and onions and I also decided to add some green onions for a few cents to add some fresh green lightness to a pretty heavy dish. I'm not saying the green onions did a lot but I like to pretend.

The bowls that they serve the udon in are huge which is comical to see but also fun to eat out of. My udon's were a little fishier than I was craving and the texture of the squid was smoother and softer that I'm used to but I ate every bit of that handmade noddle till I was ready to burst. We each ordered sprites to help wash down some of the heavy creaminess which was a smart move for us. All in all, I would go back again. Marugume has a ton of crazy flavor combinations that all sound pretty delicious and the texture of the noodles is perfect for me. The line moves pretty fast and everything was really great; definitely a great way to mix things up from the flood of ramen everywhere. To me, udon is the true unsung hero of noodles.  



My first go at takoyaki comes from our dire need for food. Christel and I spent the morning at The Broad and it was a fantastic morning at that; very lucky meeting super nice women in line and an incredible experience with The Broad architecture. We finished up at the museum earlier than we expected because things went so smoothly and went to get lunch but our wait in line was an estimated 40minutes so we decided to go get an appetizer ASAP while we waited! Luckily Japanese Village Plaza was right across the street from us so we ran over to TaNoTa.


I've never been to TaNoTa before nor have I heard about it but they had a perfect 'to-go' walk up window and you could see a worked making takoyaki in the window as you order on their take out iPad right outside. Visually, this is a great thing to see to get people hungry and ready to order. I'm always fascinated by open kitchens and I love watching people cook in windows.

Since I've never had Takoyaki before, Christel decided it would just be best for us to order and original so I knew what the basics were and next time around I can order fun fusions like Parmesan. Takoyaki is a light batter thats cooked into a little ball form with other ingredients mixed in. Original comes with octopus, green onion, and some crunchies mixed in the batter. It's topped with bonito flakes, seaweed, kewpie mayo and tanota sauce. 


It came out pretty quickly (5mins) after ordering so we didn't have to wait out in the sun too long and was ready to travel in this little boat. TaNoTa gives you chopsticks instead of skewers which I enjoy cuz I have more control. These suckers are HOT too. Takoyaki teaches you that looks can be deceiving because the outsides look great and ready to eat but as soon as you bite into them, hot lava octopus scorches your mouth and you can't feel anything for days. However, we were prepared for this and poked holes into all of our takoyaki balls to air them out and took turns passing the boat back and forth to give our selves a rest in between steaming hot batter. I honestly am in love with Takoyaki now though. I'm already craving it and can't wait for my next chance to eat some more of these guys.     


CALI - Sul & Beans

Family time part II with shaved ice at Sul & Beans.


Even though Christel's little brother Keith said he had homework to do, he still got pretty excited to take us out for dessert after Sun Nong Dan so we met back up at Sul & Beans not too far away for some shaved ice. 


Sul & Beans does a Korean shaved ice with a variety of toppings and each can be a little pricey (about $10) but for the four of us we decided to share two flavors. After Sun Nong Dan it might not have been the best idea because we only finished about one and a half but it was still fun to try a couple different things. 

We all decided to get the strawberry cheese bingsoo which was basically a strawberry cheesecake shaved ice and Christel was gunning for us to try the injeolmi bingsoo which is a ground nut and mochi shaved ice meaning it tasted a lot like powdered peanut butter. 

We're all so asian, the fruit bingsoo was a big hit and we scooped that bowl clean but the injeolmi was a little trickier for us and we ended up only eating half of it. For those of you interested in it, beware because I'm pretty sure Christal almost died accidentally inhaling the powdered nut mix upon her first spoonful. It was all pretty good and I love different textures of ice cream and shaved ice that I keep coming across. I'm pretty happy that Keith brought us to this place and I had a whole night of new dishes.  

CALI - Sun Nong Dan

Family bonding time with Christel's aunt and little brother! 


We let Christel's little brother Keith pick the place because he's currently at USC and is pretty social so he knows where the good spots are. He initially picked a cantonese restaurant but later confessed that he made up some excuses to go to Sun Nong Dan because he was craving Korean. Cantonese pushed to a later date, we set off for Koreatown.

Sun Nong Dan is a super busy restaurant in the middle of a tiny plaza so the line to get into the parking lot already wraps around the block but Christel made her little brother get out of the car and put our name down on the waiting list to get ahead of the crowd. It wasn't terribly long but maybe 5-10mins later we got to the valet and jumped out of the car. Luckily, Christel's aunt beat us to the restaurant and put her name down on the list before we even got close so while her brother's name was 18th on the list, aunt Natalie came in clutch at 4th and we were seated not too long after we parked. I feel a little bad for the other restaurants around because theres a huge crowd of people waiting for a table in front of Sun Nong Dan but the rest of the plaza is completely clear with no lines. Good signs for the food though. 


We were seated at a table near the kitchen in a semi small space but food came out fast and they take your order while you're still outside so by the time you sit it's just about ready. 

Keith has been here before and says he and his friends always get the Galbi Jjim with Cheese so that's what we got this time around too. Galbi Jjim is just a braised beef short rib and it comes with rice cakes, potatoes, carrots, onions and a bunch of other stuff all cooked together. The exciting part was that they place this dish on your table and then proceed to light the thing on fire with a hand torch to melt the cheese. I can honestly say, that was the best way to start the meal; who doesn't like fire and melted cheese?

This is the first time I've had galbi and it was really good. I'm not sure what heat level Keith ordered but it was spicy in such a good way. The braised beef was a little chewy and could've been better texture wise but flavor wise everything was great. I had enough rice and loved the potatoes and carrots in the dish. This place was packed and the line outside never seemed to die down but I totally understand the hype because it was pretty good.   

CALI - Mitsuwa!!!!

I've never heard of Mitsuwa before but after going in California, I understand everyone's anger in it being so far away from us in Chicago. 


So Mitsuwa itself is an asian grocery store which also had a food court, a pastry shop, and a little book store. Christel purposefully took me here for some amazing tempura and another round of ramen because I'm always ready for some ramen. 



Since our goal for lunch was to eat some tempura we decided to share a small bowl of chashu hot miso ramen because Christel was saying that Santouka is a pretty famous chain and she wanted to make sure I tried it. I did have to add extra chashu because apparently a small comes with one piece and seeing as we were sharing I figured we could go for a little more meat, especially since I love pork belly. This little bowl of ramen was incredible. The meat was a great texture, the noodles were the perfect amount of chewy and this is one of the best broths I've had. I wanted to drink the whole bowl if only it weren't oily and spicy. I would totally go back to eat Santouka again.   



In all honesty, I haven't had too much tempura in my life but the few times I have tried it in Rochester I've loved it. I like the tempura is crisp and light and usually involves really great vegetables being battered and fried so I was pretty excited to eat this really great tempura that Christel was dreaming about.

Tempura was our main dish for the meal so we each decided to order our own original tendon which comes as white fish, two shrimp, a soft boiled egg, seaweed, pumpkin, broccoli, and a shishito pepper over rice with a side of miso soup. This is the best tempura I've had in my life. The first bite of fish was like an incredible explosion in my mouth. The fish was soft but still flavorful without being too fishy, the batter was crisp and just had a light oily flavor and texture to it that melted across my mouth. Everything after that was just amazing. The shishito was strong and bitter but didn't linger, the shrimp disappeared so fast because it was just so good, and my favorite pumpkin was fantastic. Even the broccoli, which can be mushy when its tempura, was still crisp and had the perfect broccoli texture. By the time I got to the rice and egg I was stuffed and I couldn't finish it in the end so this would be a good meal as a stand alone but I wasn't going to pass up the option of ramen so there are no regrets there. Even the miso was perfect and helped me wash down any lingering oily flavor and feel full but not heavy.

I love every part of this meal and it may be my favorite of the trip.   


CALI - Shin Sen Gumi

Goal number 1 - Check! 


One of the places my friend Jimmy told me to go to in LA three years ago was Shin Sen Gumi. I didn't make it back then but believe me, I was dedicated this time and Christel was completely willing to help me make this happen. Our own trip ended up being a schedule of where we wanted to eat with places to visit as filler in between meals. As a true city vacation should be. We went and got Christel a haircut at her regular salon nearby on sawtelle and decided to hit up Shin Sen Gumi for dinner and boy was I a happy camper. 


We were very lucky with parking and got a spot on the street right next to the restaurant and only had to wait a couple minutes for a table to be cleaned before we were seated. Jimmy also gave me specific instructions on how to order my bowl of ramen but he's crazy and I'm sure I would've died in the sea of spice and oil he was recommending so I went a little off book. We each ordered 1/2 hakata sizes of ramen just so we could also order arabiki sausage because Christel has had them before and really wanted them again upon seeing several tables with that dish. They were great so I wasn't going to complain. I got my ramen hard/chewy, with medium oil, and medium broth strength, without ginger. I also added a flavored egg because perfectly soft boiled eggs in ramen are life. I also added a little chili oil on top of mine because Christel has turned me over to the spicy side of food and while I was alright with spice before, I love it a little more now.

This food was great. I love the bustle of the restaurant and the servers speaking Japanese to each other. The soup was balanced and had a really amazing flavor to it with a great kick from my chili oil. The half size was enough for us and we each finished the whole bowl (I can't say I drank all the broth but I probably could've if I was hungrier). I love the ability to customize the ramen a little and while I went midway on everything to see what my tastes were, I can see why people go back again and again.  

CALI - In-n-out

When in Cali - In-n-out

I'm not even going to say which one we went to because there are so many in Cali and we went on a whim while we were running errands. So let's just say it was somewhere in Anaheim and call it that. 


Christel and I have both been before, and we were craving burgers and fries so we just decided to look it up and were lucky enough to find one less than 5minutes away from where we were at that moment. In-n-out seems to be like Starbucks; you can be in one and see another one nearby. 

Of course we go for the cheeseburgers animal style, and just order the combo each which comes with fries and a drink. I swear, nothing beats In-n-out prices for this amount and at this quality. I really appreciate it and while I'm a fan of thicker cut fries, these still hold a nice potato flavor while being thinner. 

I'm not a huge fan of burgers, but one stop at In-n-out while I'm in town feels right.