Favorite Fridays: Cheap Eats in Dallas

In my previous post, I mentioned how this past weekend I kept eating out, and because of that I really had to watch my budget. This led me to discovering some new and great cheap eats in the city, so for today’s ‘Favorite Friday’ post, I wanted to share with you my top 5 cheap eats in the city. Besides, who doesn’t love a cheap and delicious meal? These are the places that will give you the most bang for your buck!

1. eatZi’s

eatZi’s is your one-stop shop for everything delicious. Don’t be fool by its size, because you can find almost everything there –pasta, sandwiches, dips, chips, beer, wine, fruits, ice cream, among others. It is the perfect place to grab a quick meal for picnics, breakfast, lunch, dinner and/or dessert. I am pretty obsessed with this place, because everything you get here is great – you can’t go wrong. My favorite? The basil dip, fougasse bread, carrot cake, pasta and sandwiches. So yeah, pretty much everything. Be warned: you’ll walk out spending more than you anticipated — so it’s not that cheap per se, but it can be (if you have self-control).

2. VertsKebap

When I was in Berlin, all I ate was street food, in particular doner kebaps. They are cheap, delicious and healthy — encompassing the 3 most important traits in a meal. So consequently, I became addicted and obsessed with them. And I mean obsessed, as in I couldn’t stop thinking about them until I finally found VertsKebap (a year and half later). After months (more like 14 months) of endlessly searching on Google and Yelp for places that sell doner kebaps (no, not gyros and sure, they’re similar — I was just very particular about getting doner kebaps), I finally found the answers to my prayers: VertsKebap. So you can imagine my excitement when I made plans to travel to Austin, the birth city of VertsKebap. And yes, these doner kebaps taste pretty darn close to the ones I had in Berlin. However, at that time VertsKebap was only in Austin..and it’s only recently that they opened one up in Addison (which is probably the most exciting thing ever!). Also, the owners are from Germany so this is as close as i’ll get to those highly addictive doner kebaps. And one last thing: do NOT get the fries; they are soggy and disappointing.

faces of excitement

3. Mr. Max

I already wrote my review for Mr. Max a few weeks ago, so I won’t go into much detail here. So to sum it up: Mr. Max is a cute, quaint Japanese gastropub that serves tapas-style dishes for cheap!

4. Aloha Hawaiian BBQ

Aloha Hawaiian BBQ is one of the new restaurants I discovered this past weekend — and I am in love! It’s a hole-in-the-wall type of fast-casual restaurant located on Lemmon. There’s also one in El Paso so it’s not a true hole-in-the-wall, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. I got the BBQ combo platter with the spam musabi — everything was fresh, flavorful and tasty. The BBQ meats actually reminded me of KBBQ. As much as I hate to admit this, I love Spam, and it was my first time trying spam musabi so that was pretty exciting. Although “Hawaiian,” there are definitely Japanese, Korean and Filipino influences in some of their dishes.

aloha bbq

5. Tacos La Banqueta

Just like Aloha Hawaiian BBQ, Tacos La Banqueta is a hole-in-the-wall type of Mexican restaurant with several locations in Dallas. The tacos here are super cheap (around $1.25). Come here if you want to enjoy tacos that are not like Taco Bell. They come with corn tortilla, a little bit of onion and cilantro and that’s it. Simple, fresh and tasty.

tacos la banqueta

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A Taste of Chicago’s Deep Dish Pizza

Over this past weekend, I ate out for almost every single meal and discovered some great cheap eats around the area — so it was pretty hard for me to pick one to write about. However, considering that I LOVE pizza, and it was my first time trying a true ‘Chicago-style’ deep dish pizza, I have to share it with you.

On our way to Ikea, my boyfriend and I decided to eat lunch at Taste of Chicago in Addison, a pizzeria that also has salads, wings, pastas, thin crust pizzas — but is famous (at least on Yelp it is) for their deep dish pizzas. The setup is casual and reminds me of a Pizza Hut restaurant, minus the salad the bar.

That crust....Being the noob that we were, my boyfriend and I did not call ahead — and no, it’s not because it’s super busy, but because their deep dish pizza takes 40 MIN to bake. That’s a long waiting period, especially when you are suffering from hunger pains. So learn from our mistake and order before you arrive. Yes, we could have ordered appetizers, but knowing how filling the pizza is, we decided it was better not to.

However, when that 4-inch deep pie full of cheesy deliciousness arrives at your table, it is the best thing ever. You get to customize your toppings so we got sausage, pepperoni and onions — and it was AMAZING. The crust is crispy and the cheese is gooey. The marinara sauce is nicely sweet as well. The pizza is layered with your choice of toppings, mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce. It’s definitely one of those dishes where you need a bib, fork and knife. Although I’ve never had deep dish pizza from its motherland, I can confidently say that Chicago’s deep dish pizza will not disappoint. Given how massive it is, expect to have leftovers (which taste just as good as if they’re freshly baked) and to be in a food coma immediately after consumption. Also please note, that my pictures don’t do the pizza justice.

A 4-inch deep, 5-pound pie full of cheese, regrets and amazingness

Favorite Fridays: Healthy Recipes

So not only do I love to eat, but I also love to cook and try new recipes. Thanks to Pinterest — finding new, fun recipes is super easy. And for today’s post, I want to feature 5 of my favorite healthy recipes, since eating healthy is all the rage these days. I’m also working on my food photography skills so most of these recipes, but perhaps in the future that will change!

1. Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad from Damn Delicious

I love this recipe, because it’s super easy and delicious. I like to eat this with some croissant or over a bed of spring salad mix topped with roasted pecans, reduced balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil (see picture below). I also like to poach my chicken breast (find instructions here) since it’s healthier, and then I like to keep the stock leftover for other recipes (such as the chicken noodle soup found below).

chicken salad sald

2. Parmesan Baked Chicken Nuggets from Gimme Some Oven

This is a fun, easy and delicious way to make chicken nuggets – so much better (and healthier) than the frozen ones!

3. Chicken Noodle Soup from Budget Byte

I change this recipe up a bit by poaching the chicken for about 14 minutes (same instructions from the chicken salad recipe) then using leftover chicken broth. Sometimes this broth not might be enough, so I add store-bought chicken broth in increments then taste and adjust it to my liking.

4. Creamy Tomato Basil Soup from Joyful Healthy Eats

For this recipe, I had to add a little bit of heavy cream to achieve the creaminess flavor I liked. However, this might be different for you — but, overall, a delicious and easy recipe to make.

tomato basil soup

5. Carrot Sticks from Healy Eats Real

Ever find yourself with leftover carrots in the fridge, and you don’t know what to do it with? Happens to me all the time. I always feel so guilty for throwing away food, so I’ve been pretty good about finding recipes to help me eat all my veggies before they go bad — and these carrots sticks are a great one! You can even use zucchini instead of carrots, and add other seasonings like cayenne red pepper, paprika, etc.

Mr Max: A True Hidden Gem

Mr. Max is a quaint Japanese restaurant that’s deceivingly tucked away in a grungy shopping center in Irving, TX. Located right behind a donut shop and right next to a sketchy hair salon, Mr Max matches the low-key attitude of the plaza with its plain sign and exterior. However, as you walk into the restaurant, you’ll be greeted by friendly workers from the host stand to the kitchen.

Mr. Max is set up to resemble an izakaya (an informal, casual Japanese restaurant), and  there are only two seating options: bar seats or Japanese-style floor seats (a fun option for larger parties). The Japanese floor tables and quaintness of the restaurant gives Mr. Max a comforting and homey feeling.

If you read Yelp reviews, many claim Mr. Max as an “authentic” Japanese restaurant, and I couldn’t agree more. Even though I haven’t been to Japan nor have any credentials to claim Mr. Max’s authenticity, I can tell by the menu selection, the prices, the ambience, the service and the quality of the food that Mr. Max is a restaurant aimed to stay true to its Japanese roots. Additionally, Mr. Max (who recently passed away) is claimed by many as a lovely man who was passionate and putted a lot of love into his food. After his death, the restaurant closed down temporarily, but is now being operated by a Japanese restaurant group. The new Mr. Max made changes to the menu, but supposedly kept some of the original menu items. Although I’ve never been to the original Mr. Max, I was still pleasantly surprised by the new Mr. Max — and will be definitely coming back again.

The menu offers a variety of Japanese dishes that are not commonly found at sushi or teppenyaki restaurants. Mr. Max reminds me of a Japanese tapas style restaurant. There are a lot of small dishes to choose from as well as sashimi, ramen and udon noodles. Overall, great menu selection with so many delicious options to choose from! However, my boyfriend and I decided on a half-order of the tonkatsu ramen, karasge (Japanese fried chicken), homemade curry and grilled squid.

half an order of tonkatsu ramen

half an order of tonkatsu ramen

karasge with a side of mayo

karasge with a side of mayo

grilled squid

grilled squid

  • Tonkatsu Ramen – The half bowl is perfect for someone like me — big appetite, small stomach. The ramen was delicious — the broth was flavorful and the noodles had a nice bite to it.
  • Karasge – Crispy and tender. Mainly dark meat so it got a little too greasy for me.
  • Homemade curry – Like the name suggests, it tastes homemade as in it’s simple yet delicious. The curry tastes like a green curry with ground beef, garnished with some kind or relish and served with rice.
  • Grilled squid – For about $5 you get a whole entire grilled squid that is fresh and delicious — you can’t beat that.

The best part is that all of this only costed my bf and I $24 (without tip)! In addition to the good food, the service was great. Everyone was attentive and kept checking-in and refilling our waters.

Additionally,  our dinner from the moment we entered and left was only 35 minutes long — and we were taking our time! This is evident of their fast and wonderful service. Tip: If you want to order a few of their smaller dishes, I would suggest order a couple first and the rest later; all of the food comes out fast and all at once.

Rodeo Goat Comes to Dallas

Rodeo Goat opened up in Dallas a few weeks ago, and I haven’t had the chance to check it out until this past weekend. If you do come here during peak times (i.e. weekends), expect to park across the street and/or wait in line for 30+ minutes. In addition to waiting 30 minutes for our seats, my bf and I had to wait a pretty long time for our food, which was frustrating (#hangerpains). I feel as if Rodeo Goat’s kitchen & staff are unable to accommodate their capacity. However, they do have a nice, open seating area, including an outside patio. Given that we spent 80 percent of our time waiting, we probably won’t come back during peak hours, and I advise you to do the same. There are endless burger options in the area *cough* hopdoddy *cough*.

However, let’s move on to the food. I got The Mike Rawlings Burger and the surprise fries. The Mike Rawlings Burger was slightly overcooked, but pretty good. My favorite part is obviously the candied bacon. The surprise fries is LOADED with brisket (albeit it’s more like ground beef) cheese and jalapeños. These fries are HUGE — enough to feed eight people and enough to give you a heart attack. I thought the fries are OK. There’s just too much going on in one dish. Additionally, the heavy toppings made the fries soggy.

heart attack on a platter

heart attack on a platter

Rodeo Goat Burger

THE Mike Rawlings Burger

Overall, Rodeo Goat is moderately priced, and has a great, fun selection of burgers, drinks (both cocktails and draft beer) and appetizers.

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!