Eat, Sleep, Love

Lariza Barcena runs the popular Instagram account @TheSleepyFoodie where she snaps photos of some of the best bites in the farm-to-fork capital

Photo by nicole fowler

Follow Lariza Barcena aka @thesleepyfoodie on Instagram to keep up with her food adventures throughout Sacramento.
Lariza Barcena runs the Instagram account @thesleepyfoodie where she posts photos of delicious dishes found throughout Sacramento.

The temperature read a steady 101 on a recent Wednesday evening when Sacramento transplant and local social media influencer Lariza Barcena sat sweating it out on Sac City Brews’ patio, beer in hand. Barcena was awaiting the rest of her order and, as with anytime she’s out to eat, it’s a mix of business and pleasure fueling her body (and her Instagram feed) simultaneously.

A dancer in local hip-hop crew Boogie Monstarz and a die-hard foodie, Barcena’s Instagram account, @thesleepyfoodie, has garnered a mostly local following of more than 4,100 over the past two years.

Her feed is filled with artfully arranged, colorful concoctions from every stop along the local food and drink continuum: A fiery red bowl of khao poon, a Lao soup, from The Spot in South Sacramento; sticky golden-brown Monkey Bread French Toast from Punch Bowl Social downtown; decadent burrata atop apples crowned with microgreens from Paesano’s in Midtown. Each post is sprinkled with puns and playful humor that work as complementary word garnishes.

As with many creative endeavors, Barcena’s was a humble beginning.

Born to Filipino parents in Milan, Italy, where she was raised until her late teens, Barcena described a constant struggle with her sense of identity and belonging.

“There was always that clash between those two cultures. It was an internal conflict for me. For those I knew who were raised in the Philippines, I wasn’t Filipino enough, but as a daughter of immigrants, I never felt fully accepted by Italians,” she said.

In her struggle for acceptance, she learned to use the power of food as a unifier with a twist on an old adage: The quickest way to an open mind is through the stomach.

“When there would be a party at my house, my Italian friends would eat Italian food, but they would also eat our Filipino food, and vice versa,” Barcena said. “I’ve always seen it as the first thing that’s widely accepted. You might not understand someone’s customs or someone’s ideas, but you’ll always be open to trying someone’s food.”

Her family relocated to Sacramento in 2008 when Barcena was 17. The variety of the Capital City’s food scene left her teenage head spinning.

“It was like landing in a food mecca. To this day, I’m learning about new dishes and getting access to different ethnic cuisine I didn’t have [in Italy],” Barcena said. “There’s never a month where I don’t try something new. It blows my mind how much food there is out there, and that feels special about Sacramento.”

Barcena left Sacramento in 2011 to study anthropology at UCLA, where the first rumblings of @thesleepyfoodie began.

“In college, I was always looking for things to do and places to go with my friends,” she said. “I had a notebook that I kept—like a sort of personal local guide. It had all the places I wanted to go to divided by neighborhood and prices. Then whenever I would go somewhere, I would write down what I ate and I would rate it.”

It wasn’t long before she became the go-to for all of her Bruins buddies on where to eat in the L.A. food scene.

Back in Sacramento after she graduated, Barcena was looking for ways to turn her passions into purpose. It was 2013 and Instagram was booming with popularity, and social media content creators and influencers were gaining serious traction. Barcena’s rumblings grew stronger.

“One of my goals after college was to go after things I’m unsure of, or that I was afraid of,” she explained. “I would see all these accounts, and in the back of my head, I thought, ’Maybe I could do that.’ So one day, it’s just like, let’s go. And I started my Instagram.”

She said that the initial growth of her account came rather easily with the first 1,000 or so followers. After that, it takes effort to build an audience.

“It’s all been organic for me; I’ve never paid to advertise my account. But it definitely takes time,” she said as a waiter arrived at the table with a banh mi and a plate of BLT sliders.

Without hesitation, Barcena realigned the long, rectangular trays, staging them just so, before capturing a few shots with her phone.

“Aesthetics do matter, but you can always play around … and make it look good for the camera,” she said between bites. “Taste is the most important factor … Some of the smaller establishments that are not all glitz and glamour actually do have the best food.”

That authenticity and appreciation for the little guy has earned Barcena respect from her influencer peers.

Fellow local content creator Dixie, who runs the Instagram account @deets.on.eats, met two years ago at an Instameet event through a mutual friend.

“Lariza is very confident in who she is,” Dixie told SN&R in a recent phone call. “She doesn’t ever let anyone dictate what she’s going to put up. The real Lariza comes across in everything she posts.”

Barcena’s constant stream of posts and steady growth of followers has turned her Instagram account into a mini side hustle. She has a few business relationships with local restaurants—including Sac City Brews—and has received invitations to local influencer events.

But in a world where nearly everyone is letting their food get cold to snap some pics for the ’Gram, what sets @thesleepyfoodie apart?

“What you see is what you get,” she said. “I don’t edit [my photos] a hundred times. They are personal, what I feel about the world.”

Barcena leaned back from the table and laughed nervously. “I just want to show others all that Sacramento has to offer because of all that it has offered me.”