Wanderlust Wednesday: Trip to the Land of the Rising Sun

Tokyo, Japan

I am not sure why, but I had always been drawn to Japan. I originally went on a group tour around part of the country. Initially, I had the philosophy of only going somewhere once, unless I had already finished seeing all that I needed from the world. So far, this is the only place that I made that exception.

My first tour here ended in Tokyo, but I had only spent half a day here and had to leave first thing in the morning back home. Our hotel (Prince Park Tower Hotel or Tokyo Prince Hotel…I couldn’t remember the exact name) was near Tokyo Tower. We were not able to see as much as we wanted in that short period of time.

We booked this trip for a few reasons: It was my husband’s and my fifth anniversary together, and it was a collective birthday present for us (as we both have birthdays in April). Plus, my brother had always wanted to go during cherry blossom season.

Saturday, April 7, 2018 – Arrival

We arrived at Narita Airport on a VERY windy day (as in “first-time-getting-motion-sick-on-a-plane-type-of-windy.”) Clearing immigration and getting our bags didn’t take a lot of time. However, we were planning to get our Tokyo Rail passes at the visitors’ center, and by the time we finished with customs, the desk was closed (missed by 5 minutes, at 8:50pm). It was evening, we were tired, and I didn’t feel like figuring out the rail ticket machine. Besides, the last time I was here, the ride from the hotel to Narita wasn’t that much.

Boy was I wrong!

The charge for the taxi ride from Narita to Ginza, Tokyo, was upwards of $250!!!

Later, I was reminded that we had a shuttle from the hotel that we were at to Narita (oops).

Moral of the story here: Learn from my mistakes and do your research on transportation options before arrival.

Now that we have taken care of our PSA moment, on to the rest of the story!

We arrive at our hotel, Mitsui Garden Hotel Shiodome Italia-gai (2-14-24, Higashi-shimbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 105-0021). It is minutes away from Ginza, Tokyo Tower, Zojo-ji Shrine and the Imperial Gardens. They also provided a free loaner smartphone that guests could use to make and receive calls, as well as for email, GPS and social media services. I mostly used it for GPS to navigate through the city.

We were also next door to a Lawson Station, one of the popular convenience stores – along with 7-Eleven – in the country. What was different about these convenience stores is that they carried more variety of foods, including hot food. It has been the locals’ favorite for fresh, convenient food. They are open 24 hours a day, which helps if a worker has an early 4am start or if they are just getting off of work at 10pm. Also, just like back here, there is one Lawsons’ or 7-Eleven on every other block (at least in Tokyo).

7-Eleven has their own set of ATMs, which I found to be the only ATM that worked for my Chase Card. The only downside is that the minimum amount available for withdrawal is 10,000 JPY (about 100 USD). This is important because not every place accepts credit cards. There are a good number of stores and restaurants that take cash only. This leads to PRO-tip #2: Bring cash.

Sunday, April 8, 2018: Tokyo Station, Sensoji Temple, Akihabara

So, our first stop was to acquire our rail passes (for clarity, the passes for me and my husband – my brother arrived earlier and received his already). Plus, it gave me an opportunity to test run the loaner phone from the hotel.

One of the Stores in Tokyo Station (Looks Familiar, Can’t Put My Finger on It…)

Once we had reached Tokyo Station, we were able to get our Rail Passes (yay!) The station has a number of restaurants in the lower level. Ramen Street is a stretch of restaurants in the basement level. Some will be traditional restaurants where they seat you and serve you. Others had a vending machine where you would put in the money, make a selection of what you want to eat and then it would print out the receipt for you to give your server or the cook. One such place was Rokurinsha on Ramen Street.

Dipping Ramen (with Tonkotsu)

Once we were fed, we continued on our trek. We started at Sensoji Temple (2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taitō, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan). It was pretty crowded for a Sunday. It was a beautiful day though.

The Meiji Temple
The Main Gate
Nearby Street Market

We then hopped on the rail to Ueno and onto Ueno Onshi Park. We were on a mission to find cherry blossoms. I had heard that they had already bloomed, but there were some late bloomers around still. We were lucky to find some there!

Having a Picnic Under the Sakura Trees

We also wanted to look for a cat café. According to the GPS, there was one nearby: Neko Maru Café Ueno (7 Chome Ueno, Taitō, Tokyo 110-0005, Japan). There was a fee schedule, but the one we chose was 30 minutes for $6 USD. They had coffee and tea, as well as some snacks. They also had a few bookcases so you could sit and read while surrounded by the cats. If you want, they also had kitty toys to engage with the cats/kittens in house.

Welcome to the Kitty Cafe!
Cafe Menu and Helper
There are Enough Boxes for Every Kitty!
Shh! Do Not Disturb!
This is Part of their Elevated Cat Walk
Pretty Fur-Baby!
Beautiful Bengal

Next stop: Akihabara to check out the electronics district.

Inside the Sega Building – they have these types of games on the first 3 floors
These Remind me of the Slime blog-things in Dragon Quest

The streets were closed for the shoppers.

Proof of Life!
Interesting KitKat Variety

We noticed that some electronics were more expensive there than online. Only exception seemed to be those from Japan, and the prices seemed more fair.

After some shopping, we started back towards home for dinner and to sleep off some of the jetlag.

Salmon with Rice, Miso Soup, Pickles, Salt Cod Roe, and Egg

Monday, April 8, 2018: Mt Fuji

We went on a day tour through JAPANiCAN. Our first stop was the Mt Fuji 5th Station.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have as clear a view as we had hoped. It was also 1 degree below Centigrade when we were there, so just a little cold!

Mt. Fuji is Behind those Clouds Somewhere!

Next stop was at Oshino Hakkai. The snowmelt from Mt. Fuji formed several fresh water springs in the area. It’s also a cute little village where we were able to get another view of Mt. Fuji. The sun had come out and some of the clouds were starting to clear.

Mt. Fuji is starting to Peek Out thru the Cloud Cover!

There were some shops along the street – some selling food, others selling souvenirs.

These were very yummy BBQ Beef Skewers

Our next stop was Shiraito Falls. The falls are fed by the snowmelt from Mt. Fuji also. There were also a number of shops in the area, including soft serve ice cream.

Green Tea/Vanilla Mixed

Main Waterfall

Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha Shrine. The head shrine for Sengen and Asama shrines throughout Japan.

Shrine Entrance

The White Ties and Wooden Tags are All Wishes
Shrine’s Lagoon

A Much Clearer View!
Happy With the Sight!

On our way back, our tour guide informed us that Mt. Fuji can be clearly seen 60 to 65 days out of the year (so we were lucky!)

For dinner, we stopped by one of the restaurants nearby our hotel – Akami Yakiniku Horumondokoro Nikuman. (1-23-6 Hamamatsucho, Minato 105-0013, Tokyo Prefecture).

We were seated at the bar. Each table/seat had a mini grill and a vent right above it. We decided to share the Tonya place.

Since the meat is thinly sliced, it was cooked quickly.

With full stomachs after a full day, sleep came easy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018: Tsukiji Fish Market, Namiyoke Inari Shrine, Hachiko Memorial Statue, Shibuya Crossing, Meiji Shrine, Ginza

Tsukiji Fish Market is a famous market located in Central Tokyo. It is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. As part of development for the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo 2020, the fish market is slated to be moved Toyosu, Kotu in the Fall of 2018. If you can get there anywhere from 3am to 5am, you can observe the tuna auction (we opted not to do that). If you do decide to go, it is highly recommended to wear rubber boots.

There is two parts of the market – the Inner Market, where wholesale vendors are located, and the Outer Market where people like us can purchase items in more manageable numbers.

Tea Vendor

We wanted to find one, if not two places to eat. So our first place was here (apologies, I’m not sure what it translates in English).

I felt like we were lucky because it wasn’t so crowded here, nor was there a line for us to wait in. As far as the food goes, I had once heard that “Fish should taste like the sea, and if it doesn’t, then it is no longer good.” The fish that we had here tasted exactly like the sea and I was extremely happy.

Traditionally Wasabi is In Between the Fish and the Rice (and they used FRESH Wasabi!)

After our sushi brunch, we continued walking through the market. Where a variety of items were up for sale as you can see here:

We came across another set of restaurants with long lines.

Apparently people lined up since opening to eat at these places.

After a few hours of walking and shopping, we decided to try another sushi place. This was located just outside the market, called Iwasa Sushi (6 Chome-27-3 Tsukiji, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan). Incidentally it was highly rated on tripadvisor.com, so we wanted to see if it lived up to the hype. They have a set menu, and you basically choose between three or four different sets of sushi combinations. They only have seats at the sushi bar and they only accept cash.

Our Sushi Chefs


When we were done, I made a quick stop at Namiyoke Inari Shrine. Its name literally means “protection from waves.”

After that, we dropped off our purchases at the hotel and headed towards Shibuya.

Our first stop outside the Shibuya Station was the Hachiko Memorial. Hachiko was an Akita dog that was owned by Professor Ueno Hidesaburo from Tokyo Imperial University. Hachiko would meet Professor Ueno at Shibuya Station at the end of the day, and it became their routine. One day, Professor Ueno had a cerebral hemorrhage at the University, and never came home. However, Hachiko would go to the station every day for almost ten years. This statue is a symbol of the loyalty and love that Hachiko had for Ueno. Fun fact: Hachiko was present when the statue was unveiled.

There was a LONG line for taking pictures with the statue, so I improvised. The important thing was that I was there.

Now, there is a famous intersection near this statue that maybe the busiest intersection in the world: Shibuya Crossing. The lights turn red/green at the same time to control the pedestrian traffic. Even though there are crosswalks, when the light turns green, the intersection gets swarmed by people.

We crossed and survived (phew!)

We were walking through Shibuya in order to get to Meiji Shrine. In our walk, we encountered these:

For Those Who are Familiar with Sutadonya at Mitsuwa in Arlington Hts…
Stan Lee would Approve!

Meiji Shrine is a Shinto Shrine that is surrounded by a forest, and was built to honor Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.

Camphor Tree

After that, we went back to our hotel to freshen up a bit before dinner: Itamae Sushi, Ginza Corridor (J Bld.1F, 8-2-13, Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, 104-0061, Japan).

The City Never Sleeps!

Our Sushi Chefs at Ita Mae Sushi


Fresh Seafood Salad
Menu Said “Live Squid” but I think they meant “Raw Squid” with Wasabi vinagrette (it was still good!)

So far, the only critique that I had was that they used powdered wasabi (what can I say, I was spoiled from the fresh wasabi from earlier today). However, the taste made up for it. I would have to say that the first place we ate at today and Itamae Sushi were the better of the three places we ate today.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018: Zojo-ji Shrine, Tokyo Tower, Departure

We had a half day left here in Tokyo. I decided to do a quick stop at Zojo-ji Shrine and Tokyo Tower before we left.  There is also a mausoleum where the most loyal samurai are buried as well.

If Zojo-ji Shrine looks familiar, its because it was in the movie “Wolverine” (2013)





And Here I Have Come Full Circle!

In case you were wondering what I was doing at all those shrines, it was because of this: my notebook filled with Goshuin, which are unique stamps/seals and calligraphy from the temples that I had visited. I had been introduced to this during my first visit here and acquired quite a collection!

Alas, our trip had come to an end, but our hearts are full with the memories that we had made. Thank you for reading, and I hope that this inspired you for your next adventure!



Suburban Highlight: Schaumburg-esque

I’ve come to realize a growing popular opinion: The suburbs have nothing to offer.

Excuse you. Check yourself.

So I’m going to do a mini series of suburban highlights. I’ve had to reiterate how often we do date nights within a 10-30 minute drive and not have to get on a highway. It’s so nice to NOT have to pay for parking or walk a couple blocks from our car to get to the front door of the restaurant. I’m starting with my hometown of Schaumburg. Because trust me, you’re going to enjoy this as much as I do.

Continue reading “Suburban Highlight: Schaumburg-esque”

First Bites Bash 2018

Every year to kick of the coveted Chicago Restaurant Week, Choose Chicago hosts a little event called First Bites Bash. With over 60 restaurants, it’s a means of getting a glimpse of the 14 days that follow.

This year, it took place inside the Aon Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier, and it was a perfect venue.


As you walk in on the lower level, you are obligated to not just look around you but ABOVE you, towards the grand ceiling.


You were also able to enter on the second floor and from the wrap-around balcony, getting an aerial view of the hustle and bustle below.

Continue reading “First Bites Bash 2018”

Hubbard Inn Winter Menu Preview


This time of year is always a time full of family, magic, and holiday cheer, but it is also always a time of frantic planning, shopping, hosting, and altogether chaos. Some nights, I just need a short break. A few hours where I am able to relax, dine, and drink with adults. I replace the Doc McStuffins theme song with jazzy lounge music. I replace the yoga pants and slippers with fitted pants and some boots. Continue reading “Hubbard Inn Winter Menu Preview”

Be Thankful


Today I am thankful for very many things. In order of appearance in my day (not priorities, I swear!), there is coffee. 20171123_081702

I am thankful for this sustenance that allows me to carry on with my multi-faceted lifestyle. It’s been a crazy way of living, balancing work life, food life, and family life. If you know me personally (or even superficially via Instagram), you know calling me a coffee addict is an understatement. But trust me when I say this: you do NOT want to be with me on a day I haven’t had a cup of strong coffee before 9am. 

Whoops, let’s focus on positive thoughts. I’m thankful, furthermore, for the Chicago foodie community that I have grown closer to over the past year.


I’ve been taking pictures of my food & writing restaurant reviews for over 10 years now, but it hasn’t been until recently that I started finding “my people”. The people who just get it, who don’t judge when I get excited about the visual appeal of a dish. We get criticized & ridiculed, often while we’re working (YES it IS work!),but with the support of my friends, we’re able to laugh it off.

Now, let’s get to the sensitive mushy stuff.

I’m thankful for my family – both immediate and extended. I’m a mother of two, a sister to one (-in law to 3), cousin to way too many. I try to spread myself out and give attention to everyone, but sometimes often I find that my priorities are mixed and I choose the superficial lifestyle over what’s real. To be honest, it’s because it’s easier. Or it’s because I’m too tired to make the efforts. But regardless of how much I know I’m sucking at this adulting gig, my family is always there for me. And the unconditional love goes way beyond my need for coffee, my need to take pictures, and definitely beyond my need to network (I’m horrible at that sometimes too so -meh-). Guys – I’m sorry to make you compare your life to mine, but my family is pretty darn amazing. Today and every day, I wake up (okay fine, and hunt for coffee first) and realize how lucky I am to have them.

My girls, first and foremost, are my everything.


We go on adventures with almost all of the free time I have. Sometimes it’s as simple as a late night drive thru trip for some Steak & Shake Side-by-Sides. Other times, we make a day out of Chicago. Or Skokie (Hi Shake Shack.. sponsor me please. Or just build in Schaumburg). But no matter what we do or where we go, we’re making memories. And eating and taking pictures of what we’re eating but hey.. they’re my daughters after all 😉

And then there’s this guy.


Today marks 10 years since the last first kiss I ever had. 10 years since my last “first date”. 10 years since I thought “Alright, maybe it’s okay to settle down and let one guy make me his priority for once” 10 years since I thought “This will be the only guy I crush on that has a fauxhawk.” (also the last time I ever thought that). We’ve been through a lot together, and I can’t imagine going through any of it with anyone else. He’s got my back and I’m lucky to have him too. As much as I roll my eyes at almost everything he says & does, I also love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone. But let’s be real here – he’s way lucky to have me too. Do you know how much random free food he’s gotten in the past year? The way to a man’s heart is bringing home a Chuy-changa “just because”. AND IT WASN’T EVEN LEFTOVERS – that’s real love there people.

Anyways, that’s enough for today. I made Mia a fortune teller/cootie catcher, and she’s growing very impatient that I’ve told her to “hold on” before playing for the 17th time (I’ve counted).

Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving! I can’t wait to see what everyone’s dinner table spreads look like! I’ll be sharing ours on my Instagram story, so if you haven’t already, make sure you’re following along!

Family Fun at Frato’s!

Summer is officially over for my kids and their friends. And with the end of summer comes the end of planning play dates at water parks & outdoor playgrounds. Some days when trying to make plans, I give up because indoor activities can get either played out (indoor bounce “zones” only last so long before someone gets sick or hurt) or expensive. And then I still have to find places for them to EAT – and let’s face it. Kids can get picky. And picky eaters get cranky way too quickly for the parents to truly relax and enjoy their meal.

Enter our saving grace: Frato’s Pizza & Catering in Schaumburg.


I used to think of Frato’s as just take-out/delivery pizza. Then one day I decided to take my family with me to just eat there (I’ll be honest: it’s so that I wouldn’t have to clean up after everyone. Which is A HUGE deal for a tired, over-worked mom). I realized this is a place I could make a regular outing.


And what a PERFECT opportunity this past weekend. My 1st grader & her friends all went separate ways for school this year, so the parents and I wanted to meet up for an “end of the year” lunch. So we decided to take the risk of bringing not 1-2 kids, but 6 KIDS AND A BABY with us, 4 poor old souls (3 moms & 1 dad) and eat at Frato’s.

[Drool-worthy pictures after the jump!]

Continue reading “Family Fun at Frato’s!”

Meal-Prep Monday: Chicken Adobo (Filipino Style)

Hi There!

The Filipino Chicken Adobo that I grew up with was a stew made with chicken, beef or pork that we placed on steamed rice.  The best part for me was mixing the stew liquid with my rice (at one point, I was convinced that I could live just off of that).

If you were to ask three different Filipinos how they make adobo, you will get three different answers.  Even if you were to go to the Philippines and asked three different people in the same village, you will get three different answers.   It’s kind of like mole with Mexicans – you ask three different people how they make their mole, you will get three different answers.

When I was (trying) to learn how to make this dish, my Mom would adjust amounts by taste – she never knew if it was 1 cup of this and 2 teaspoons of that.  At one point I did measure out everything, but can’t seem to find the recipe that I made out.  Even now, I season to taste (which probably doesn’t help my fellow readers much!)  Fear not, I found a recipe that was close to the ratios of the ingredients that I used (see below).  However, the way I was taught to make it was slightly different.

You will need:

Chicken drumsticks, thighs and/or wings (I used a package of 4 thighs and drumsticks each)

4 cloves Garlic

1 sliced or chopped onion

Whole Peppercorn

3 Bay Leaves

White or Apple Cider Vinegar (there is debate on which to use among Filipinos, I hear!)

Soy Sauce


Sugar (brown or regular, again, up to debate)

Fresh ground salt/pepper to taste

Steamed Rice for Serving

Gathered all the ingredients first, of course

This dish can be made on a stove top, slow cooker or pressure cooker.  Today, I went old-school and made it on my stove top.

A lot of recipes will state to let the chicken sit in the soy sauce/vingar marinade for 1 to 3 hours.  However, this recipe seems so forgiving that, if you just put everything in the pot, it would still come out delicious!

In fact, that is what I did – I just threw everything in the pot, from the liquids (soy sauce, vinegar and water) in a 1:2:1 ratio (for example, 1 cup soy sauce, 2 cups vinegar, 1 cup water) into my stock pot.  Then added the garlic, onion, peppercorn and bay leaves.

Followed by the meat.

Allow to come to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes until cooked through.

Serve on top of freshly steamed rice, with vegetables of choice, such as steamed green beans or asparagus.

No, I didn’t eat the bay leaf…

Disclaimer: I sometimes forget the peppercorn when I make this.  However, because this dish is so forgiving (at least for me), it still tastes great with just the fresh ground pepper on top.

There you have it!  Have you made Filipino Adobo too?  What did you think of it?  Please leave your comments in the box below!

Until next time!