I Survived SXSW (and Lessons Learned)

SXSW can be described in one word: madness. Although this blog post is a little bit overdue, I really do want to share my SXSW experience. It was both exhausting and fun. My bf and I went to SXSW during the music weekend in hopes of seeing some artists, which we kind of did. Before the trip, we made sure to RSVP to every single event possible — and that was was overwhelming and exhausting.  When I was endlessly researching and shuffling through all the events and Twitter posts, I knew that it was just the beginning.

I’m pretty sure I am cursed. Everywhere I travel to, I bring rain..okay not every time, but a good 80%. Which is why I was not at all surprised that during SXSW, it was raining during the two most important days: Friday & Saturday. And you guessed it — the sun came out Sunday, the day I left.

SXSW - RainBut rain or shine, my bf and I managed to make the most of our time. Our first stop was at The Windish Agency Party where we waited 1.5 hours to see ODESZA. Sad to miss BORNS, but so worth it to see ODESZA perform. This picture inaccurately portrays how we were feeling after half an hour in the rain. It’s actually quite cold and miserable, but sometimes it’s worth it. Tip: If there’s a slight chance of rain, bring rain boots! These things are serious life savers.

Later that night, we waited in line for 3 hours only to realize that we weren’t getting into this one event so we left. Hopeless from our failure, we decided that the next day none of our time will be spent waiting in line. Instead we wandered and explored, which was fun. We collected so many freebies. And freebies always make up for lost time! Not really, but it does help.

So to help future SXSW noobs like us, here are my top 5 key takeaways from SXSW:

1. Use Twitter Religiously 

Go on Twitter and follow SXSW-related accounts before the event. This way you can RSVP to all the free events.

Twitter is a great resource. Use it know how long lines are, where free food, what parties are poppin’, what to do, what not to do, etc. When you have a question or want details about an event, just tweet at the main SXSW accounts and use the appropriate hashtags. For example, after waiting in line for 3 hours and leaving, I asked Twitter where to go next.

Also, you can enter sweepstakes for VIP upgrade and entry to events. I entered a sweepstake and won VIP passes to the Hype Hotel Party which was awesome — no lines, free drinks and live performances!

2. Don’t Wait in Line for More Than 2 Hours 

Just remember that priority is given to badge holders and wristbands. If you’ve barely made progress after 2 hours, then it’s best to move on. I know, we’ve all been there — ” But what if by the time I leave the line starts moving? Or but I’ve waited so long, so I might as well wait longer…” No, just leave and never look back!

3. Get a Free Official SXSW Guest Pass at Multiple Locations

Some events will only allow you to enter if you have these guest passes, such as the McDonald’s event this year. There’s no line to get these passes and they allow you entry to certain shows and showcases. Definitely worth getting!

4. Uber Will Be Expensive

If you’re far, I definitely do not recommend Uber. They had a carpool Uber special during SXSW, but that didn’t save us much money. We spent about $60 on Uber the first day, so it was more cost efficient for us to drive and park in a garage for $20. At one point in the night, Uber fares were 6x the original rate!

Plan accordingly.

5. Not Every Event is *FREE* (even if it says it is)

During the last night of SXSW, almost every party had a line and a cover charge. Some events will say free online, but will make you pay if you didn’t RSVP, so RSVPs do matter! It seems that parties/venues were charging entry fees, because it’s the last day and demand is high.

And yes, I did eat and tried some blog-worthy new restaurants in Austin that I’ll be sure to feature in my next post!

When East Meets West: Adventures in Vegas

I can’t believe it’s halfway through the week and almost a week since my trip. For Vo’s spring break, we decided to fly to Vegas and fit as many activities/cities/restaurants in our 5 day trip. We were in Vegas for two days then we drove to San Diego, Los Angeles and back to Vegas — and yes, that was pretty exhausting! We barely had 24 hours in San Diego or LA. Lesson learned: Next time, I won’t be too ambitious.

Since we were in Vegas for two days, we tried the most amount of food there — and I can’t wait to share with you my new faves! However, I must first share with you our hiking adventures at Red Rock Canyon. Since we had an early morning flight, we landed in Vegas at 7:30 AM and because we couldn’t check-in, we thought it would be a great idea to go hiking. While it was beautiful, hiking in the dessert with only 2 hours of sleep is not the best idea. Worth it? Yes, but only in retrospect. For those who aren’t into hiking in the hot heat, I recommend just doing the scenic drive. But note that each car costs $7 to enter the park.

Beautiful scenery

Part of the scenic loop drive

Couldn't check-in early so found myself a bed

Couldn’t check-in early so found myself a nice comfy bed

Now let’s move onto my favorite part… F O O D

Here’s a list of places we went and my thoughts:

  • Mr. Mama’s – A low-key breakfast place that serves your typical American style breakfasts, such as buttermilk pancakes, egg benedicts, biscuits & gravy, etc. I definitely recommend this place even though it’s a little bit out of the way. There’s nothing fancy about this restaurant, but their food is delicious and reminds me of home. Their service is on point and their prices are cheap!
  • Cheffini’s – A small hot dog joint in downtown Vegas. They have a great selection of unique, gourmet-style hot dogs. We got the El Mexicano that’s bacon-wrapped and topped with a whole bunch of stuff, such as avocado, green chile and garlic aioli. I thought it was one of the best creative hot dogs I’ve tried – it wasn’t overwhelming and the flavors blended well with each other. Highly recommend as well!
  • Gordon Ramsey’s BurGR – Located right on strip and a Gordon Ramsey restaurant so expect to be waiting in line. We were lucky and came around 10 min. before opening, so we didn’t have to wait that long. I got the Euro Burger, which has goat cheese, arugula and truffle. The truffle flavor was mellow, but goat cheese and arugula gave it a nice flavor. The medium beef came out perfectly pink with no oozing blood. The truffle fries were steak fries; it had a nice truffle flavor and crisp (even though they were steak fries). Worth a visit, but not worth waiting in line for more than 30 mins!
  • Earl of Sandwich – A fast food restaurant serving salads, soups and sandwiches — similar to Panera Bread. Located on the strip as well and a great option for those who want something cheap & quick. I got the chipotle chicken sandwich and really enjoyed it. My favorite is their crispy & buttery bread.
  • Poke Express – This is my favorite discovery in Vegas! A little bit out of the way, but so worth it! Poke bowls are a Hawaiian specialty that features raw fish or seafood served salad style and is eaten with rice or by itself. I recommend coming here early so you can try as many samples as you want! During the day, the begin to run out of food so they have to limit their samples. Seriously, one of the owners was so friendly and insisted that we try whatever we wanted.  The pricing is very reasonable for the quality of seafood. We got the spicy tuna, shoyu tuna and sweet chili tuna. On certain days they have a rice bowl special where you can add rice for about $2 extra. My boyfriend and I shared two rice bowls and a pound of raw tuna for only $18 — and just compare that to sushi. And a pound of raw tuna is A LOT…
soo much deliciousness in one meal

soo much deliciousness in one meal

  • Off the Strip (American Steakhouse) – Contrary to its name, OTS is located near The LINQ hotel so pretty close to the strip. I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. My bf and I decided to eat here, because it was one of the few restaurants opened late. We got the lamb gyro and salmon pesto penne. The lamb was tender and the salmon was perfectly flaky. The pesto cream sauce was delicious — I’m seriously addicted and want a recipe for this. The fries were thin and crispy! All in all, everything we got didn’t disappoint. I recommend this place as well for dinner.
  • Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace – Known as the buffet of gods, or the best buffet in Vegas, Bacchanal buffet is definitely doing the most. The famous $17 million buffet with 500+ items is quite expensive at $54 for dinner, but worth it? I definitely think so, but only if you have time to truly make your moneys worth. I love how the food selection is diverse and fresh. Each cuisine (e.g. Asian, Italian, Seafood, etc) has their own station with chefs cooking the meal right in front of you. I even saw Chinese workers making the duck and dumplings — pretty impressive. The dessert section is to die for as well with a gelato station, shaved ice, cupcakes, fudge bars, gummy bears, etc. — it’s the best dessert station I’ve seen at a buffet. So come here with time to spare and feast like the gods.

I keep telling myself to keep my posts shorter, and I keep failing…I’ll be sure to make the next post half the size!

Friday Night with EatZi’s Pizza

I LOVE EatZi’s for so many reasons. It’s a great place for pretty much everything. It has delicious pre-made dinner/lunch options, cheese, wine, dips, dessert, etc. It’s really a one-stop shop for a delicious, quick meal, making it a great stop for a picnic.

On Friday nights, EatZi’s sells pizza, and I LOVE pizza as well. Therefore, I was super excited to discover EatZi’s pizza special. I mean everything at EatZi’s is a guaranteed delicious meal so I had high expectations, and yes – these expectations were too high. Don’t you hate it when you do that?

There are about 4-5 options; I don’t really remember them, but we got the chicken alfredo (see below – sorry for the poor quality photo, blame the lighting). All their pizzas are thin-crust, and all comes pre-made (no mixing & matching toppings). The chicken alfredo pizza was topped with white chicken strips, red onions and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. The best part about the pizzas here is that they’re only $10! You really can’t beat that. However, since the pizzas are being made one after another, there’s a high chance you’ll get a pizza that’s been sitting out for a while, which was the case for us. Therefore, by the time I got home, the pizza was cold and needed to be reheated. Even though everyone loves EatZi’s pizza, I found it to be disappointing. It dried up too fast, which made it cloying. Additionally, I found the flavors to be quite bland and when it dried up/cooled down, it was even more bland and cloying! Regardless, EatZi’s pizza still makes a great, cheap dinner option and a healthier pizza option as well. Knowing me, i’ll be back to try the other flavors just cause I can’t judge EatZi’s pizza off of one pizza. I mean it’s $10 a pizza…so why not?

chicken alfredo pizza

chicken alfredo pizza

Masami: New Sushi Favorite

Yay! I finally found my favorite sushi joint in Dallas, albeit I haven’t been to many sushi restaurants; I guess that only means I can’t stop here. However, after trying Masami this past weekend, I am a fan! Masami is a small, but cozy and cute restaurant that serves a great selection of entrees, sushi rolls, appetizers and dessert.

Masami

When you first walk in, you’ll be greeted by a maneki-neko (a Japanese lucky cat) and a moving banner that says “Welcome 2 Masami.” I love this set-up, because it makes you feel like you’re at a Japanese restaurant the instant you walk in. The origami laid out on the table added a nice touch to it as well.

Do note that the restaurant is a bit tight so there isn’t much of a waiting area. I came here for a birthday party so together we were a party of 10 people. As a former server, I know how tough it can be to serve a large party, but I thought that our server was very patient and did a good job. We weren’t rowdy or demanding, but he was patient and kind with us when we all took our time to order and asked for our checks to be split. So no complaints, which was surprising since I’ve been having the worst luck with service.

Since the restaurant is small, the staff is small as well…meaning that it will take a while for your food to come out. At the back of the restaurant you’ll find a cute, bald sushi chef putting your order together. This chef just looks like the kind of sushi chef you’d expect to see at an authentic sushi restaurant. So just know your sushi is in good hands and that it will take a while, but it’s worth it.

Masami will flood with you all different types of menu, which can be a little overwhelming. Do note that there’s also a *secret* special menu on the back wall! This is where you’ll find their famous darvish roll and green tea cheesecake.

Darvish Roll

Reading all the Yelp reviews, I noticed almost everyone recommends the darvish roll so I definitely had to get it. And boy, were they right – the darvish roll is delicious (see left picture). The darvish roll just has all the right things: salmon, urchin (!!) and scallops. You really can’t beat that. The urchin is mixed with the scallops in the roll, the salmon is slightly seared and topped with jalapenos, which give it a nice little kick.

House Special #2The next roll I got was the house special #2. This roll is also pretty good. I don’t really remember what it’s in it, but I know it had white tuna and tempura bits. I definitely recommend this roll as well.

Lucky for me, I also got to try the green tea cheesecake since my friend had birthday perks. The cheesecake is rich, drizzled with condensed milk and had a subtle matcha taste. If you’re obsessed with green tea or matcha like me, then I recommend this as well.

What’s really cool is Masami’s reward system. If you go there for dinner before 7 p.m., you get a stamp for every $20 you spend (which isn’t hard at a sushi restaurant) and after 10, you get $20. Granted you have to spend $200, but I don’t think it will be too hard.

I’m so glad that I discovered this place, but so sad that it’s in Richardson. Because if it was any closer, I’d definitely take advantage of their punch card system!