Eating My Way Through Japantown! (SF)

My first time at the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival was filled with many surprises. For two weekends, San Francisco’s Japantown is transformed into a vibrant culture-fest complete with entertainment, fun, and food! From carefully crafted trinkets to bowls of delicious ramen, Japantown had it all – attracting locals and tourists alike!

CherryblossomSF1Weekend #1 at the festival was spent exploring all the food booths lined up along the streets. Continue reading

My Top 5 Favorites from December Nights at Balboa Park

Imagine tens of thousands of people congregating in one location for the celebration of the season! That’s exactly what I experienced during my day at December Nights in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park. This event has been a city tradition for 35 years, attracting locals and travelers of all ages. December Nights, formerly Christmas on the Prado, has everything you could want in a holiday celebration and then some! – Countless vendors and food trucks lined the walkways, the International Houses showcased cultural performances and dishes, the Organ Pavilion (amphitheater) hosted music performances, and the museums graciously opened their doors for FREE during the evening-night.

This was my second year going to December Nights and I came prepared! Here’s a clip of my itinerary:
AJ's December Nights ItineraryNotice how I scheduled in spots for “food” ;). I spent a total of 10 hours at the park and there wasn’t a dull moment, especially since I had my camera on hand and took lots of pics (which I still have yet to fully sort through). There were so many things to talk about that I’ve decided to pick my Top Five Favorites:

#5: The Japanese Friendship Garden –
If you’re looking for a quiet place to escape the crowd, this garden is the perfect spot. The Japanese Friendship Garden features a couple walkways, one leading to a shed of bonsai trees, and the other leading to a tranquil koi pond.


#4: The Spanish Art Village –
A hub of arts and culture, the Spanish Art Village provides studios for local artists to display their works, as well as conduct their day-to-day business with clients and with each other. The entire village participated in the festivities, showcasing their finest crafts and Christmas decor. Some artists also conducted public demonstrations of their skills; for several minutes, I watched as a woman spun llama wool tightly around a spool. I then proceeded to the kiln to watch a man blow glass. It was truly awe-inspiring seeing him work away at his piece of molten glass, unfazed by the heat.


#3: Reuben H. Fleet Science Center –
This was my third favorite because of all the activities available for families. It was very busy inside but I was always able to find something to do and discover a new piece of information along the way. The science center has this exhibit called “Grossology”, explaining all those things we consider gross about our bodies – burps, acne, snot… you get the picture.


#2: The Christmas Story –
A classic tale of the birth of Jesus, the Christmas Story at the Organ Pavilion is hosted by a local Baptist Church who’ve donated the large Christmas tree on stage. This pretty much remains the same every year but I always look forward to it. The performance is different than most because of the scenes that accompany the story; the Christmas tree opens up and a different scene from the story is displayed by actors.


#1: International FOOD –
The food at the International Houses was awesome! Where else can you find a place that has so many interesting cultures at once? With that in mind and an empty stomach, I went on a food-crawl to the International vendors. My first stop was the House of Spain, serving up delicious paella. Afterwards, I proceeded to the House of India for chicken curry, the House of the Philippines for lumpia, then the House of Italy for an espresso. As the night grew colder, I stopped by the House of Lithuania for some hot apple cider. YUM!


The Bad: Parking has consistently been a problem for years due to the sheer popularity of the event. I’ve heard of horror stories of people circling around the area for several hours only to find out they had to be redirected to another location and take the shuttles (which were crowded too).

Parking Tips: The park however, offers parking for $20 but I suggest only using that as your last resort; it’s very convenient and helps pay for the free shuttle system for the event. Another great parking lot is at the San Diego Zoo but that too is hard to enter after 1 pm. Some parking can also be found on nearby streets a few blocks away, luckily Balboa Park has been aware of this problem and has recently initiated a construction project to build a parking structure across the bridge.

If you’re ever visiting San Diego during the holidays, I highly suggest coming to Balboa Park for December Nights! There is something for everyone to enjoy. And it’s a great way to get in the holiday spirit! 🙂

Happy Holidays,


Hide Away Cafe

During my weekend in Solana Beach, I felt like having some brunch one day and came across this little quaint place called the Hide Away Cafe. This cafe is literally a little shack near the beach situated between a parking lot and some other small businesses.  It makes up for its lack of square footage with its large portions of good food.

I ordered the Vegetarian Omelet (consisting of: broccoli, sprouts, tomatoes, onions, and a generous portion of cheddar cheese all enveloped in a light and fluffy egg mixture) which also came with a side of freshly sliced hash browns and a couple pieces of toast with jelly.  You can choose among a few number of side dishes.  This entire meal cost under $9 not including tip and it certainly gave me my money’s worth.  The flavorful combination of veggies, eggs, and cheese was just what I needed to start my day before going to the San Diego Safari Park (formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park).  The hash browns were a tad on the greasy side but I didn’t mind.

The service was very friendly; our server greeted us right when we opened the screen door.  There is no reserved seating so you are welcome to sit wherever you like, inside or outside.  Our orders were taken efficiently and the food was delivered just as fast.  The Hide Away Cafe although quite small has a cozy atmosphere and resonates the laid-back beach vibe.

I’d recommend this place if you want somewhere to escape the hectic life of the city and just relax with some good food while enjoying the great beach weather. Overall I’d give this restaurant 3.5 / 5 stars:  good, hearty food, chill atmosphere, fast and friendly service.

Old Fashioned Food in a Modern World

My friend took me to this place, Philippe’s French Dipped Sandwich eatery, in Los Angeles.  This business has been around since 1908.  What’s even more impressive is that they have remained in the same location since their establishment!  Upon first entering, I was amazed by the number of customers; four or five lines were formed with customers eager to place their orders at the counter for the classic grub.  The inside houses remnants from Philippe’s early years with wooden booths, old telephone booths, pictures, and even saw dust covering the floor like the olden days.  I was kind of turned off by the saw dust but still willing to try the food.

I had a roast beef French dipped sandwich, iced tea, cream of broccoli soup, and some pecan pie.  The food was relatively cheap and very satisfying, a classic American cuisine.  The meat is pre-dipped in au jus sauce  for you, so all you have to do is chow down and enjoy.  I love my soups and Philippe’s cream of broccoli is by far the best version of that dish I’ve ever had.  It was very creamy, a little sweet, and adorned with chunks of broccoli.  The pecan pie tasted delicious and not as sweet as I had expected but that was a GOOD thing.

Overall I would rank this place 4 out of 5 stars:  good home-style food, friendly workers, old-fashioned atmosphere, decent prices, crowded, saw dust covered floor, and a huge established legacy 🙂

‘Til next time. Go out and discover SoCal, one bite at a time!  ~ AJ