OmG Omakase by Gino

With an advanced 3-month reservation, OmG Omakase by Gino currently has been one of the most sought after seats in Orange County, a restaurant located in Downtown Santa Ana that only seats 10 around the sushi bar. Within less than a year since the opening of the restaurant, it has already gotten many recognition and praises from chefs and foodies throughout the city.

OmG Omakase by Gino

For those that do not know, “omakase” is a meal where you completely entrust in the chef to pick out all of your dishes in your meal. Based on what they think you will like and their expertise, you will follow blindly as they take you through a (hopefully unforgettable) experience with food. Be sure to book a reservation through Yelp here!

It is strongly advised to come 5-10 minutes before your reservation time as the dinner will start promptly. My dinner was on a Saturday at 5:30 PM and we got there about half an hour early. We were directed and seated a few minutes prior to our reservation time, placed our drink orders, and got handed the menu.

OmG Omakase by Gino
The menu as of August 2019.

There are 2 different dinners you can order, either the “House” (top) or the “Seasonal” (bottom) menu. I noticed the prices of the menu has been increased by $15 since the time I made the reservation.

Gino explains the menu and tells you what is on the seasonal selection for the day. For my dinner party, it was Uni, Ootoro, and A5 Wagyu. I opted for the House since I am not a fan of Uni. Unlike other Omakase places, the chef does not ask you if there’s anything you do not like, which is fine but just a difference that I would like to note.

After everyone has been seated and ordered their drinks, Gino started the dinner courses:

OmG Omakase by Gino
One: Tomato with Caviar
OmG Omakase by Gino
Two: Oyster
OmG Omakase by Gino
Three: Monk Fish Liver

I dislike monkfish liver so I gave this dish away.

OmG Omakase by Gino
Four: Seared Toro
OmG Omakase by Gino
Five: Steamed Egg
Six: Sashimi
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Seven: Uni Truffle Pasta (cold)

The chef made us a cold take on uni pasta since we were eating in the hot summer weather. The truffle on the pasta smelled so delectable!

Soon after, the server will quickly take away your plate and give you a towel on a tray rest. The towel is for you to wipe your fingers as you grab one by one your sushi off the bamboo serving tray. You can also use your chopsticks if you choose to.

Please do not pay any attention to my soy sauced sushi tray.

OmG Omakase by Gino
Eight: Blue Fin Toro
Nine: Kanpachi Belly Sushi
OmG Omakase by Gino
Ten: Sea Bream with White Soy Sauce
OmG Omakase by Gino
Eleven
OmG Omakase by Gino
Twelve: Seared Scallops with Uni from San Diego
OmG Omakase by Gino
Thirteen: Clam soup with mushroom
OmG Omakase by Gino
Fourteen: Toro
OmG Omakase by Gino
Fifteen
OmG Omakase by Gino
Sixteen
OmG Omakase by Gino
Seventeen: Ikura
OmG Omakase by Gino
Eighteen: Tamago
OmG Omakase by Gino
Nineteen: Dessert

Seasonal Dishes:

OmG Omakase by Gino

There were 3 seasonal dishes that you can get as an upgrade to the house menu. These are presented in lieu of the dish fourteen, sixteen, and seventeen.

OmG Omakase by Gino
Seasonal selection #14: Toro, caviar, and black truffle
OmG Omakase by Gino
Seasonal selection # 16: A5 Wagyu with gold flake
OmG Omakase by Gino
Seasonal selection #17: Hokkaido Uni

Overall, I was pretty full by the time the dinner ended, but it didn’t deter me from grabbing a beer afterward! Truthfully, I was content with my choice of picking the House menu because the feedback I got from my friend on the Seasonal menu wasn’t enough for me to have FOMO.

She mentioned the Wagyu was torched a little overcooked and the Hokkaido Uni was not as sweet as the San Diego one we received prior. If you have an extra $30 to blow through, I say go for it!

Happy Eating, Sushi Lovers!

Lunch Spots near John Wayne Airport (SNA)

On a typical 9 to 5 corporate job, the average worker is faced with a tough decision every day. And no, it’s not whether or not you should call out of work that morning. Rather, what you should eat during your favorite time of the workday, lunch.

Lunch is the most exciting time of the day and is something I am always looking forward to at work. It is when you know you are halfway through your workday. My work is near the John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Irvine, lunch options are not as abundant as the other areas of town, luckily, there are some pockets of restaurants and take-out places to fill my yummy needs.

Places worthy of your lunchtime period nearby John Wayne Airport:

Habuya Okinawan Dining

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My favorite lunch spot till this date. If it was a little closer to my work office, I would frequent Habuya more often. This little restaurant is serving up lunch special bento boxes only offered during certain hours of the day.

The Okinawa Bento Box was SO good and for a great value. It comes with sashimi of the day, kimchi, Soki, rice, Okinawa soba, and house special salad. If you add $1, you get ice cream! The Soki is a stewed pork rib that is cooked so tenderly that the meat falls off of the bone. Everything from start to finish was so delightful and exquisite. I practically licked my plate clean!

 

The parking is limited. Be sure to allocate enough time for lunch as it took me well over my lunch hour. Highly recommend! I never walked out of a lunchtime meal so in awe of my food as I did at Habuya Okinawan Dining.

Bottom line: Delicious food

14215 Red Hill Ave, Tustin, CA

TRADE

Sometimes eating as a group is difficult because everyone has their own preferences. Food courts, like TRADE, make it easier to go out with co-workers considering everyone can pick something they like.

There are 9 different food stalls to choose from, you may even order a little something from each one. Many vendors move in and out of Trade, check out their website for an updated list of the merchants and offerings.

Two Birds at Trade

When I go to TRADE, the two places I visit are Two Birds for chicken sandwiches and Center Hub for drinks. The chicken sandwiches at Two Birds are decent and there are tasty alcoholic specials at Center Hub. After work hours, Center Hub offers Happy Hour for beers and cocktails at a discounted price. 

 


TRADE has come a long way. It used to be a depressing, all-white food court with subpar choices. Though I worked across the street, I only visited twice before the renovation and open-air environment. Granted, TRADE is nothing you should go out of your way for as it is a no-frills food court but it is definitely a huge upgrade from what it was before. The downside is that parking can be quite challenging here when it gets busy.

Bottom line: Lunch with a group of co-workers

2222 Michelson Dr, Irvine, CA

Mess Hall Market

Mess Hall Market, named after a place military personnel eat and socialize, is a building filled with various eateries located in Tustin, off of Barranca Parkway and Flight. It offers plenty of free parking, seating, and restrooms, another perfect place for a lunch outing!

There is a variety of different cuisines based on your mood. You can get seafood at Slapfish, pizza at Big Parm, burgers at Vaka Burger, sandwiches at Sandwich Society, Pho at Saigon Kitchen and several more. View the complete list of vendors here.

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I have personally tried a cup of coffee at The Lost Bean and a chicken sandwich at Fowl Play. The Lost Bean Organic Coffee and Tea has a hipster vibe with a decent selection of drinks. Fowl Play is known for the Nashville Hot Chicken style of food but could use a tad more spice. There are 3 levels of spiciness: mild, medium and hot. The hot was no where near what some people might call “hot”. Overall, not a bad choice and a better value for your money in comparison to other food stalls.

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Bottom line: Plenty of choices, parking, and space for group lunches

KRISP Fresh Living

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In the same plaza as Trade Food Hall, KRISP is first known for being a coffee shop, but with their offerings of fruit smoothies, acai bowls, pastries, soups, wraps, bread boxes, and avocado/hummus toasts, it became a perfect contender for having a healthy lunch. KRISP is more geared towards healthy eating with cold-pressed juices and the focus of being “fresh”. In addition, there are fruit smoothies that are delicious. I suggest the Refresher as it truly is refreshing!

 

 

For coffee, I have tried all of their lattes and my favorite one is the Honey Lavender Latte; the Pistachio Rose Latte and Nutella Madeleine Latte are no match for it. My coworker swears on the Mayan Mocha. There is a drink for every coffee lover. Matcha and other teas are also available.

A concern some might have for jumping ship to KRISP for your morning coffee rather than the typical Starbucks is the rewards system. KRISP has a rewards program of their own.

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The salads displayed behind the glass cabinet is available for sampling, if interested. The bread boxes are made to order and a fun alternative to a sandwich. The pastries, from what I’ve been told, aren’t made in house. Overall, KRISP is a quick and healthy alternative to eating lunch.

Bottom line: Healthy food and delicious caffeinated drinks

2272 Michelson Dr., Ste 100, Irvine, CA

HiroNori Craft Ramen

HiroNori Ramen
Photo Credit: Leonard Ng

In the same plaza as Trade Food Hall and KRISP is HiroNori Craft Ramen, a small ramen shop with limited seating. It’s not the best for workers who have time constraint for lunch. It usually gets very busy during lunch and the parking lot is challenging. It might take you well over an hour to have lunch here. The service is a different style here than what many are used to. You get hurried in and out of the restaurant like herded sheep and will get cut off when they need to bring out someone else’s meal. It is more efficient but does not give the best experience. On top of that, mandatory gratuity is included in your bill.

As for the ramen, it is better tasting than the closeby Ajisen Ramen with prices ranging from $10-$13 a bowl. The noodles are thicker than your average noodle and the egg costs extra ($1.50). I’d be happier if HiroNori had a spicy ramen option. Irvine doesn’t have many ramen restaurants, so it’s safe to say that HiroNori is the best ramen in town.

Bottom line: Best ramen Irvine’s got

2222 Michelson Dr, Suite 234, Irvine, CA

Roll It Sushi & Teriyaki

Roll It Sushi & Teriyaki

Bento boxes are like adult elementary cafeteria lunches. They are one of my favorite things when it comes to food because of all of the different choices that are connected together to make one great meal. At Roll It Sushi, you get to choose between the main entree, salad, appetizer, and a 4-piece sushi roll. The entrees are chosen between the proteins: chicken, steak, salmon, or katsu. Aloha Maids are available in the fridge and I would highly suggest grabbing one as they are delicious. I got the Strawberry Guava and it goes great with the meal.

The bento box delivers a great lunch option whether you decide to eat it there or take it back to the office. Roll It can get a little crowded during lunch but the line moves quickly.

Bottom line: Efficient Bento box lunch

4221 Macarthur Blvd, Newport Beach, CA

Ike’s Love & Sandwiches

Ike's Love and Sandwiches

Making its way down from Northern California and spreading throughout Southern California, Ike’s prepares heavy, savory sandwiches for a big price. The list of sandwiches creations on their menu can be a little overwhelming but just remember to get it on the Dutch Crunch bread and you can thank me later.

If you don’t see a sandwich you like or know of one that isn’t on the menu, you can still order it! There is a secret menu sandwich called “Kryptonite” which consists of every meat and add-ons that they have and comes in 2 different sandwiches. I don’t recommend getting this unless you have 2 or 3 people to help you finish it. Ike’s is your place for lunch for delicious sandwiches

Bottom line: Tasty sandwiches

4221 Macarthur Blvd, Newport Beach, CA

El Torito

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Conveniently located next to the John Wayne Airport, El Torito offers lunch specials at a bargain price. Other than Lunch specials, they offer Taco Tuesdays, Happy Hours, and occasional food deals such as Buy 1 get 1 when you subscribe to their mailing list.

When dining at El Torito, free tasty salsa and chips will greet you at your table. Whether you are there for a quick lunch or hanging out after work with coworkers, it is a great place to do either. Now, don’t discredit me just yet for recommending El Torito. The prices are reasonable and I highly recommend the Chicken & Sour Cream Enchilada and Beef Crispy Taco Combo with refills of chips and salsa. The sweet corn cake always leaves me wanting more.

Bottom line: Affordable lunch specials

18512 Macarthur Blvd, Irvine, CA

Puesto 

 

 

Gourmet tacos at a premium price. Puesto has great tacos if you know what to order because not all tacos are made equally. Be sure to ask about their secret menu options that’s where all the good tacos are, off-menu! One of the secret menu items, a surf and turf taco or “Hero taco”, is definitely the way to go! This crowd pleasure consists of both lobster and filet mignon.

 

 

Taco Tuesdays are available so I wouldn’t go on a regular day unless it’s on someone else’s dime. Even better, catch their Happy Hour on Taco Tuesday from 3-6PM. That way, you can get tacos for significantly less than the normal price tag and also $6 classic or spicy margaritas! The perfect pairing.

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During lunch, it can get pretty packed with people, so expect to spend longer than an hour here.

Bottom line: Flavorful artisan tacos

3311 Michelson Dr, Irvine, CA

The Kebab Shop

The Kebab Shop

Typically, food that looks aesthetically pleasing in pictures make me skeptical, but The Kebab Shop delivers! This place has my stamp of approval for it being both pleasing to the eyes and to the tongue.

As you enter through the doors, you order your food at the cashier. First, you start with how you want your food presented, either in a wrap, fries box, rice box, panini sandwich, or a plate; followed by picking your proteins and sides. The sauces are self-serve with 3 different types available. The green, spicy cilantro sauce is my favorite!
The Kebab Shop, a chain famous for Mediterranean selections, is a healthier, quicker, and tastier option than a fast food joint most people choose for lunch.

Bottom line: Aesthetic and fresh lunch

17655-G Harvard Ave, Irvine, CA

Pier 76

 

 

 

A fast and casual seafood restaurant with great smoked fish tacos for $2 on Taco Tuesdays! Great flavors and value, perfect for a quick lunch. Happy hour is also available here.

Bottom line: Taco Tuesday

15080 Kensington Park Dr, Suite 330, Tustin, CA

Pepper Lunch

Pepper Lunch

Located in Diamond Jamboree, Pepper Lunch is an eatery specializing in food served on sizzling hot plates. It is a cool, simple concept that lets you know the food is piping hot.

You first pick what type of protein and flavor you like to be served, then add your sauces and MIX, MIX, MIX! There is usually a long wait here but you get your food fairly quickly since all they need to do is put it together and bring it out to you while it cooks on the hot plate. Be cautious when you eat, because it is HOT! The portions are just right because it is enough for you to feel content and not overly full or leaving you hungry.

Fun and tasty addition to Irvine’s ever-growing roster of restaurants for a decent lunch.

Bottom line: Sizzling hot plate lunch

2750 Alton Pkwy, Ste 101, Irvine, CA

Sgt Pepperoni’s Pizza Store 

 

What is a quicker, easier and a more delicious lunch option than pizza by the slice? You simply choose your flavor of pizza through the glass case display and the employee will heat up your pizza and bring it out to you after you pay and grab a seat. In addition to the delightful pizza, the pinwheels are also a great add-on option.

 

 

 

There are lunch special combos available for your convenience. I got the meatball ricotta and I would unquestionably order it again.

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Bottom line: Quick, delectable pizza

2300 SE Bristol St., Ste F, Newport Beach, CA

North Italia 

 

Delicious Italian food with handmade pasta made in-house and so fresh that you can peek through the window to the kitchen to see the pasta being made. It is no surprise that North Italia is a very popular lunch and dinner spot. You can taste the quality of the ingredients here and how everything on the dishes compliments each other.

 

I highly recommend the pasta here and not other items such as the pizza and salads. The appetizers are also divine. I would be surprised if you didn’t enjoy your meal from start to finish.

Bottom line: Handmade pasta

2957 Michelson Dr, Irvine, CA

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Happy hunting for a lunchtime spot to make your workdays a little more bearable!

Make sure to leave a comment if I’ve missed any of your favorite lunch spots near John Wayne Airport!

Take it Easy in the Big Easy New Orleans, Louisiana

Most people have New Orleans, Louisiana on their bucket list for the biggest celebration during February, Mardi Gras. Others have it for Bourbon Street and crawfish. For me, I just wanted to visit my friends and New Orleans’s food culture. Whatever the reason, New Orleans is a great place to visit for food and fun!

Grub

Crawfish

Crawfish

In New Orleans, crawfish is locally grown and has many different ways of preparing and seasoning these crustaceans. The crawfish is always boiled but the seasoning can either be sweeter, spicier, or saltier. Whichever your taste buds desire, you will find a crawfish shop to serve to your choice in flavor.

When the crawfish are in season, the prices are low at roughly $3-5 a pound. If you plan to consume crawfish boil, try to avoid the tourist areas since they will charge twice or three times the price. Since there is an abundance of crawfish eateries in New Orleans, I went on a crawfish tour. The locations I visited are:

  • Cajun Seafood
  • Dat Cajun seafood
  • Cajun Corner
  • J’s Bayou Seafood
  • Behrman Cajun Seafood
  • Big Fisherman Seafood

Cafe Du Monde

There are locations throughout New Orleans for Cafe Du Monde, but the one you need to check out is the original one located on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. It is open 24 hours daily; some go for breakfast and others go after they’ve had a long night. The morning line is ridiculously long, so it’s probably better to go at night.

At Cafe Du Monde, they are famous for their beignets, which are French doughnuts. It is fried on the outside and hollow on the inside. All that is on the menu is beignets and coffee, so it is recommended that you get the Cafe Au Lait and an order of beignets. I personally like the frozen Cafe Au Lait over the hot.

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Beignets are so good here. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s so addictive! I liked it so much I went back 5 times during my trip, all at different times of the day.

Tip: Cash only! Ask for hats, they give them out for free like at Krispy Kreme! Also, the water they give you is not for drinking… it’s for cleaning your hands due to the powdered sugar!

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

It is not considered the South unless there is some damn good chicken and luckily for you, America’s Best Fried Chicken is right here at Willie Mae’s. This chicken is well-known and featured on many television shows and articles. The fried chicken is described as piping hot, extremely crispy on the outside, and juicy on the inside. Definitely, don’t skip out on sinking your teeth into this greasy, tender goodness!

Acme Oyster House

Acme Oyster House

As stated in their name, Acme is the perfect establishment to get oysters. It wouldn’t be a trip to New Orleans without ordering a dozen oysters to yourself. You can get them either raw or chargrilled. NOLA oysters are bigger and meatier than the ones from the Pacific.

Acme usually has a long line all day so be prepared to wait, but once inside you need to order some of the New Orleans classics such as Jambalaya and Étouffée.

Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar

For Creole favorites, Felix’s is your place to go. Like Acme, it is also another great place to get your oyster fix. You can also get other New Orleans favorites such as Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffee, Hamburger Steak, Shrimp and Grits, and Po-Boy Sandwiches. Unsure of what to get? There is also a Bayou Platter Sampler where you can try a little of each red beans, Jambalaya, and Etouffee.

Dat Dog

For exotic hot dogs such as alligator, crawfish, and duck, Dat Dog has you covered! Pick your sausage and your toppings to fit your flavor palette with a side of “White Trash” fries (“WTF”) and you will leave satisfied. There are several locations sprinkled throughout New Orleans, but the one with fun decorations is the one on Frenchmen Street (go upstairs to the bar).

Creole Creamery

Creole Creamery

Eat Ice Cream, Be Happy!

Creole Creamery is the best place to get ice cream in New Orleans. There is a large selection of different flavors. If you are indecisive like me and want a little of everything, there is a mini scoop sampler available where you can get 4 or 6 small scoops of different flavors. There are also sundaes available. Remember to bring cash as this place is cash only!

LOVE Ice Cream? There is a “Tchoupitoulas Challenge” which includes 8 scoops and 8 toppings. If you are able to finish the entire sundae without any help, you get your name on the Hall of Fame!

Smoothie King

Smoothie King

Driving around New Orleans, I noticed the Smoothie King Center and it made me curious as to what it’s all about. In the West Coast, I love Jamba Juice and was thinking Smoothie King was exactly another version of it. However, unlike Jamba Juice, Smoothie King focuses heavily on the smoothies being healthy or dieting.

Raising Cane’s

Raising Cane's

Raising Cane’s originated in Louisiana and now there are locations spread throughout the nation. If you are looking for fast food in Louisiana, I would say skip the McDonald’s and get Raising Cane’s or Popeyes.

Other Restaurant Recommendations:

  • The Ruby Slipper Cafe
  • Mother’s Restaurant
  • Galatoire’s Restaurant
  • Oceana Grill
  • Muriel’s (rumored to be haunted)
  • Stanley (for a good brunch)
  • Surrey’s Cafe & Juice Bar (located in the Garden District)
  • Drago’s Seafood Restaurant
  • The Company Burger
  • The Rum House (for tacos and drinking)

Things to Do

Downtown New Orleans

Carousel Bar

Like many cities, downtown is where all the action is in New Orleans. During the daytime, you can visit the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium and Audubon Aquarium of the Americas or see alligators on a Swamp Tour. At night time, head over to The Metropolitan to shake your booty, walk around with frozen daiquiris, bar hop between places like The Carousel Bar, or take a Haunted History Tour to learn about the spirits and history of New Orleans.

Drink Your Way Down Bourbon Street

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As you turn the corner and onto Bourbon street, you will get a strong whiff of the things that happen here. There is a mixture of sweat, urine, and dried up alcohol all in one go. Sound pleasant right?

Big Easy Daiquiris

Bourbon street is a lot tamer during the day as most people are looking for food rather than drinks, but you will still find people looking for an early drink. It’s a lot different seeing the street during the day versus the night.

Drink on Bourbon Street

When the sun sets and the party starts, patrons celebrate Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street year round. This means women flashing their melons, tossing beads, and having the time of their lives… wasted!

Frozen daiquiris are a big thing here so remember to stop by Jester Mardi Gras Daiquiris and Tropical Isle to get The Jester and a Hand Grenade, advertised to be the strongest drink in New Orleans.

Besides drinking, there are other adult entertainments available Downtown, such as hustler clubs, lingerie stores, and strip clubs. Everything you are looking for, you might just be able to find them here.

Gamble at Harrah’s

Harrah's Casino New Orleans

Take a break from the craziness and try your hand with Lady Luck at Harrah’s. While you’re inside Harrah’s, dance your ass off at Club Masquerade.

Tip: Parking around Bourbon Street can be very difficult. Try parking at Harrah’s and gamble your way to free parking.

Explore French Quarter

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French Quarter is the most iconic area in New Orleans. There are several places you can explore in the French Quarter. There is a Tiki Bar called Beach Bum Berry’s Latitude 29 where you can get a drink called the Snake versus Mongoose which is shareable between 4 people or of course, delectable beignets at Cafe Du Monde.

Take a walk around and be sure to keep your eyes wide open to admire the architecture and the history behind this area.

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There are also live performances during the daytime which gathers crowds of people to see and hear dancing and jazz music.

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Looking for souvenirs, antiques, or fresh produce? Farmers Market has a wide array of things both new and used.

Joan of Arc Statue

The history of New Orleans is embedded and sprinkled throughout the French Quarter wherever you go. One of the statues is the Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans. It was a gift from the people of France to the Citizens of New Orleans.

Visit Jackson Square and the Mississippi River

For a little quieter side of New Orleans, take a stroll to Jackson Square to see the Andrew Jackson statue and Saint Louis Cathedral. The Mississippi River is also across the street to watch the boats float by (I wouldn’t touch the water if I were you).

Mississippi River

Frenchmen Street

When Bourbon Street is too much to handle, head over to Frenchmen Street where the locals hang out and there is less traffic. You can listen to live music all night long alongside drinks and late-night eats. Drinks with a view just began to be a new thing in New Orleans. This sparked the birth of rooftop bars in the area. One of the rooftop bars to visit on Frenchmen Street is at The Frenchmen Hotel.

Learn U.S. History at The National World War II Museum

World War II had so many moving parts, accomplished a number of things, and goes down in history as the one that had the most bloodshed and money spent.

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The National WWII Museum does such an excellent job at highlighting every detail that happened at the beginning, throughout the years, and the end of the war. You will learn so much if you take the time to read and understand what the museum has to offer.

There are also displays, quotes, and replicas of things that can show you what the living conditions and objects looked like back in the war times to put things in perspective.

There are also interactive things you can do throughout the museum such as dress up like Rosie the Riveter!

There are bomb shelters outside that you can climb into to see what it was like to be in one of these things designed years ago.

If you are into automobiles, tanks, and planes… there is a whole big area of actual equipment from World War II! You can see everything life-sized and real in front of you.

I am usually not into visiting museums but the National WWII Museum was a lot of fun. It was also fun to explore the gift shop!

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Don’t buy the replica hand grenade if you are flying on a plane, it will probably get you into big trouble!

I would definitely recommend this museum to visit but be sure to allocate at least 3 hours to be able to see everything.

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Take a Guided Tour at the Oak Alley Plantation

Slavery is part of American History that we, as a country, is not proud of. To stop the repeat of past history, we must educate the future and show how life was like prior. At Oak Alley Plantation, the history of slavery runs deep here. Today, it is a restaurant and an Inn, as well as a tour of the slaves’s conditions and daily life. After you are done with the guided tour of this historic plantation, cool down with a flight of mint julep in the restaurant.

Get Drunk, Have Fun, and Eat Creole Cuisine!

Shuck Oysters
Crossed off one of my bucket list items in New Orleans – learn to shuck oysters!

Mouthful of Howlin’ Rays

For those who have heard, and still, many who haven’t, Howlin’ Ray’s has been taking over the Los Angeles fried chicken scene since 2015 filling stomachs with fiery Nashville Hot Chicken. The screaming hot sauce has been calling out to hungry souls all over southern California and the daunting lines display it proudly — with estimated wait times averaging around two to four hours. Luckily, there is another way to get your hands on Howlin’ Ray’s without spending excessive amounts of time standing in line so that you may use more of your time enjoying that classic Tennessee kick.

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The Preparation

You can create a pre-order two months in advance with a minimum of ten entrées.

Yes, you read that correctly. After all those years of procrastinating, your parents were right after all — planning ahead in life could actually save you time and stress in your future. So, rally up your friends and family (or be prepared to eat ten orders of chicken and various sides with no judgment at all from me) and send in that order so that you won’t have to put your yearning on hold for any longer!

Be aware, though, that even though the pre-order method, you have to be QUICK! Howlin’ Ray’s is a hot item both figuratively and literally, and there is still plenty of demand for it. This means that once dates are within the two month reservation window and are released, you will need to be up and ready at midnight to book your chicken meal. These time slots fill up faster than you can say “Howlin’ Ray’s Nashville Hot Chicken”!

After you complete your order, it will be confirmed via e-mail, which is followed by passive waiting and you continuing to pursue your life through the trials and tribulations of finding the next place to challenge your taste buds. You go about your merry way until the daily humdrum abruptly from suspended about a week before your arrangement: the final invoice. Be aware you must fork up the full bill at least 24-hours in advance. That is the price you pay for cutting out your wait in line — ten entrées worth for anyone who remembers.

But do not fret! Those delectable menu items are worth enjoying whether you decide to take the active or passive waiting approach. You can choose from items such as just the chicken, the sandwich, wings, hot chicken, and waffles, along with sides such as fries, collard greens, potato salad, and vinegar slaw.

Their spice levels are as follows:

Country (No Heat)
Mild (Brush of Heat)
Medium (Feel the Burn)
Hot (Burn, Baby, Burn)
X-Hot (You’ve Been Warned!)
Howlin! (Can’t touch this. 10++)

On the Howlin’ Ray’s website, there is no option for their secret menu spice level Howlin’ Plus. So for those who enjoy flirting with death and would like to try their hand at this spice level from hell, let the staff know you’d like the Howlin’ Plus when they confirm your order via e-mail the day after you order it!

The Experience

My appointment for my chicken day was this past Saturday. Needless to say, my two month-long wait had culminated to this extremely exciting moment! I walked past sullen, starving patrons — in my heart of hearts, I, too, share your ravenous spirit, my brethren.  But the difference between you and I is that my patience has led me on a different path — directly to the front of the line. I spoke to an employee and mentioned I had made a pre-order. He was eager to ensure that sure my chicken was fresh out of the fryer and a healthy sized helping. “If I’m not happy, you’re not going to be happy,” the Howlin’ crew member stated about his opinion on the presentation of my meal. Meet my Hot Chicken spirit guide, Mario, who was doing everything in his power to make my experience at Howlin’ Ray’s one to write home about — ahem.

While I was waiting for the final touches on my meal, Mario resurfaced from the kitchen with a box of his secret menu “Mario fries” complete with french fries, slaw, cheese, chicken breast, pickles, and Howlin’ Ray’s sauce. It was a thoughtful and tantalizing teaser for the meal to come!

Like a mother holding her child immediately after birth, you know I had to snap quick pictures of my fare in its place of origin! My friends and I ordered each spice level starting from Hot and working our way to Howlin’ Plus. We asked for white meat (breast and wing), an order of the half bird, and the Sando (chicken breast sandwich).

The Kick

The spice levels are NO JOKE! And this is coming from a group of individuals who can handle their heat quite well. The Hot was already burning a hole in my mouth but the Howlin’ Plus? It tore us all up! My friends were in agonizing pain the entire time and throughout the remainder of the day. Made with Carolina Reapers, it is the kind of heat that, for those who are not aware, is subtle at first encounter, then in a few minutes, will PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE. HARD. As your face and body go numb, you won’t feel the tears trickle down your face, but you will recognize the agonizing waves of regret ripple through your thoughts. And yes, hallucinating is a possible side effect because it is far too spicy to be a part of the reality we live in.

I was warned that the X-Hot would be 1-day recovery, Howlin’ would require 2 days, and the Howlin’ Plus would necessitate a 3-day recovery and endless prayers for forgiveness.

As Smash Mouth put it, “Now I’m a believer.”

The spice levels were exactly as labeled. Be prepared for the pain or at least refrain from complaints if you decide to order something labeled “X-Hot” and its spice level comes to kick you in the gonads. If you can’t handle it, respect it for the precedent of truth it set forth and maybe order the country or the mild next time.

The Review

Was it good?

Yes. The chicken was genuinely moist, juicy, and hot… the way chicken SHOULD always be served! 

Would I wait 2-4 hours for it?

I don’t wait in line for food, so no. 

The way I went about attaining my Howlin’ Ray’s was perfect for an impatient individual such as myself. The thing I would change is definitely checking my ego in at the door and stepping down the spice level. My overall experience with Howlin’ Ray’s was exceptional from start to finish. Howlin’ Ray’s is far deserving all of the success and attention that they are getting.

If you are ever in Los Angeles, more specifically in the Chinatown area, swing by and give Howlin’ Ray’s a try! That’s if you have hours to spare.

HAPPY EATING!

Mouthful of Habana-na-na-na

I can’t help but sing the song “Havana” by Camila Cabello ft Young Thug when I was walking up to Habana (yes, I know, it’s Habana, not Havana.. but 1 letter, c’mon). My friend hit me up to eat at Habana on a Wednesday night after talks with his friend that they recommend this place. Both my friend and I haven’t had Habana since years ago when it was only at The Lab in Costa Mesa.

As we walked in, we were directed to the waiting room and soon after taken to a table. On a Wednesday night, it wasn’t very crowded as only about half of the tables are occupied. We got seated in a tucked away corner next to the exit. I do wonder why there are so many other tables available they had to give us one where we would often time be forgotten. But that’s just me.

Moving onto the atmosphere. This place is STUNNING! I mean, down to the little details. The outside patio decorations with the lights, the menu, the plates and the glasses are all beautiful additions to the restaurant.  It’s a nice place to take someone on a romantic dinner date. This is one area Habana knows how to score well in, and just with that alone is every Instagrammer’s dream. Flocks of Instagrammers will soon flood the doors to have the chance of photographing the place, food, and drinks.

Cocktails

The whole back page of the menu is dedicated to alcohol, with their fine presentation of their cocktails to their white and red wines.

“Al Centro, ‘Pa Dentro” with Havana Club Anejo Rum

When you are browsing through Instagram, the most recognized cocktail of Habana’s would be the coconut water mixed with a white or dark rum of your choice, garnished with mint in a young coconut ($12). Easily replicated at home but what makes it unique is the use of a branding iron to stamp the Habana name onto it. Great additional detail to this cocktail as well as a good marketing tool for Habana. (8/10)

Don Y La Dona

The server advertised this drink to us and mentioned that it can be for 1 person or shared between 2. I think it was more along the lines of just 1 person, but put it in a nice pineapple cup and let’s charge for the price of 2 drinks. The alcohol it contains is the Ron Zacapa 23 yr rum, Havana Club Anejo rum (similar to my coconut water one), passionfruit, orange, guava and nutmeg for the price of $22.  It was very sweet and masked the taste of any alcohol. Nonetheless, it tasted good but it felt like I was simply drinking fruit punch. The presentation was nice as expected. (7/10)

Appetizers

Chicken Empanadas

At the beginning of your meal, while you get your drinks, Habana gives you complimentary chips with chimichurri and another salsa. I have to admit, the chips were very good. I could eat them all day!

In addition to the complimentary chips and dip, we ordered the Chicken Empanadas ($12). The Chicken Empanadas were the size of a small hand, pretty flaky, filled with chicken picadillo accompanied with a mango slaw and banana-habanero ketchup. The Chicken Empanadas were average, not bad but nothing to write home about. The mango slaw was different and pretty tasty. While I can commend Habana for making something unique with the banana-habanero ketchup, it did not work for me. Instead, the Chicken Empanadas were best paired with the complimentary chimichurri, so make sure you ask for more of it if you decide to get the Chicken Empanadas. (6.5/10)

Ceviche Tropical

The Ceviche Tropical ($16) was recommended by our server, along with the Spanish Chorizo Sofrito Steamers which we passed on. We were told that they get a new shipment of fish every day so they do not have the fishy taste. The Ceviche Tropical contains shrimp, fish, octopus, coconut broth, cucumber with mariquitas inside a coconut, of course, for the presentation. However, this dish fell short for us. In all honesty, this was probably my least favorite dish out of all the ones we ordered. It was pleasant to look at but the taste was not. (5/10)

Main Plate

El Churrasco

My friend was craving a skirt steak so we had to get the El Churrasco ($30). It is an 8 oz skirt steak with chimichurri, white rice, beans, plantains, and corn on the cob on the side. The corn on the cob was accompanied with cotija cheese sprinkled on top. This was an okay dish, with a lot of different things to mask the size of the skirt steak. I wish Habana gave a bigger piece of skirt steak and took away one of the items to fill up the dish. It really took away from the main focus, the skirt steak. (6.5/10)

Dessert

Flan Carribean

The first dessert we got to try was the Flan Carribean ($6). It was smooth, creamy, and light in flavor. I’ve never had a fruit flan before so this was different. A good different. I enjoyed this dessert and wouldn’t mind to have it again. (8/10)

Banana Fritters

The second dessert we got was the Banana Fritters ($6) which are crispy fried bananas with vanilla ice cream and chocolate dulce de leche drizzled on top. I love fried bananas so I did enjoy this dessert also. However, the banana fritter was a bit too hard to bite into that when I tried to eat it with the ice cream all at once, I was having difficulties. My tip is to break the banana fritter in half first and then eat it, so you don’t suffer like I did. Trust me, when you get this dessert, you’ll understand what I’m saying. (7/10)

Conclusion

Nothing in particular on the dinner menu makes me count down the days to go back. However, brunch does look enticing so I would go back to try that sometime. In addition, their bakery items are pretty solid so if I were ever in the area again, I would stop by to pick up a few pastries or desserts.

Happy Eating!