Starry Kitchen is a (Now Legal) Downtown Godsend. Just Make Sure You Go By Friday!
I’ve only been in L.A. a few weeks, so I never got a chance to try the now infamous Starry Kitchen. But it sounds right up my alley! An underground, take out, Asian food dinner spot being run by a couple out of their North Hollywood apartment? Amazing. Sadly (but not surprisingly) it was closed down by the Department of Health after a 9 month run, but has resurfaced as a legal lunch’ing option Downtown in the “watercourt” at California Plaza (on Grand btw. 3+4th.)
Unlike the apartment “supper club”, which only served one dish a night, the new lunch spot offers a slightly larger menu of options. Admittedly, the “Asian Fusion” menu will make some purists cringe- and eating at a generic looking lunch place in a Downtown food court is not exactly as exciting as eating out of somebody’s illegally run apartment restaurant. But if you work near the watercourt, and the thought of choosing between Mixt Greens or Salads 2000 one…more…time makes you want throw up in your own mouth, you should be super excited about the arrival of Starry Kitchen.
This week’s menu, and a look at the food is after the jump…
The menu looks kind of daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it it’s pretty manageable. There are four or five different proteins which will rotate in and out every couple of weeks, and you can order them in any number of ways (as a banh mi, a wrap, a salad, or a plate). And every order comes with a side dish, which also rotates. I attempted to sample it all (except for the chicken… because contrary to what most people in this city believe- chicken is freakin’ boring!)
Started off with the Vietnamese braised coconut pork, in a wrap ($7.50). I’m a sucker for Asian wraps (actually I’m a sucker for Asian everything) so I was totally down with this.
Hardcore Vietnamese food fans might wonder what makes it Vietnamese (lemongrass maybe?) but whatever… it was tasty. According to Gastronomer, the dish is known as Thit Kho, and is a staple of Vietnamese home cooking. (Why couldn’t I have grown up with Vietnamese home cooking!) The meat was right on the border of being perfectly tender and slightly dry (like a lot of carnitas you get at Mexican places) but I don’t mind that either. The slaw in the wrap moistens the whole thing up just fine. I could eat this bad boy 2 or 3 times a week…
It came with a side dish, so I tried the japchae (korean glass noodle salad). Great for fast food japchae, and they give you a ton of it. No complaints at all.
Followed that up with the Korean short ribs, in a bahn mi (also $7.50). Calling sandwiches like this “banh mi” is always a double edged sword. The French influenced, Vietnamese concoction is the sandwich du jour, so it gets people kind of excited… but anybody who know what a real banh mi is supposed to taste like ends up holding it up to a higher standard than if it was just called a “sandwich”. Plus there is something about paying over $5 for a banh mi that is off putting to many regardless of where you’re serving it or how much your rent is (at least that was my experience in NYC. Is that how it is here?)
Of course arguing about the authenticity of a banh mi that has galbi in it, seems like a waste of time. In the end, it’s a decent sandwich. The bread is really good- but no heat (although there was sriracha you could add yourself), no cilantro, and the pickled veggies are just ok… but as a sandwich on french bread it was not bad. The worst part of it was actually the Korean short ribs, which had an ok flavor but were not nearly tender enough. No worries though, they’re going to be replaced at the end of the week with Japanese style hamburger curry (hello!) And I’m guessing this sandwich, with the pork I got in my wrap would be dynamite!
For my side dish on that one, we got the fried rice (which this week is pineapple fried rice.) Not amazing, but not terrible. The taste of pineapple wasn’t overpowering, so it wasn’t as sweet as you might expect (which most people will consider a good thing). Most importantly it’s better than most fast food fried rice… which is about as much as you can hope for at the price.
Surprisingly my favorite protein was the crispy tofu balls! (Don’t tell anybody, it might ruin my cred.) The ground up tofu, gets balled up and rolled in rice before being deep fried. The result is almost like an Asian falafel, if falafel was covered in Rice Krispies. I thought the green might be cilantro or something fancy pants like that, but it turns out the rice they use to cover the thing is Vietnamese green glutinous rice… so it’s purely aesthetic. (Hello food coloring!) The whole thing gets topped with a spicy sriracha mayo, and all in all it’s a crunchy delicious ball of goodness.
We got the tofu balls as a Lunch Plate (although I think they would be the most perfect in a wrap) which comes with a side dish and white rice ($8.95), or you can pay $1 extra to get the fried rice instead. They’re listed as a “Game Changer” on their menu, which is completely true… if by game changer they mean a vegetarian dish that even a fat, meat loving carnivore would like! Sadly they are getting rotated off the menu on Friday, and being replaced with a kim chi stir fry as the lone vegetarian dish. So if you want to try them, you should probably go… like… today. Or you’ll have to wait for them to get rotated back in (although I’ve heard these guys have hundreds of different dishes up their sleeves, so you might be waiting awhile!)
So not everything about Starry Kitchen is amazing, and you could certainly nitpick dishes to death (the banh mi wasn’t authentic, the short ribs were chewy, the pork was a little dry and my wrap fell apart under the weight of its own juices…) and I’m sure many bloggers will. Plus I don’t know how this food compares to what they served out of their apartment. But this isn’t an apartment. The volume is greater, the rent is more expensive, and the expectations are higher. For most, those expectations might not get met, but I’ll tell you this… if I worked within a five minute walk of California Plaza I’d choose this over (insert any Downtown food court generic lunch spot there) every single time.
Hours: Open for Lunch Only. Dinner Coming Soon.
Parking: If you are driving, enter the California Plaza Parking Garage on Olive btw. 3+4th. It’s only $3 with validation (i.e. cheaper than a meter.)
THE + (What somebody who loves this place would say)
- A legalized version of Starry Kitchen that I don’t have to trek to North Hollywood for? Woo hoo!
- Authenticity be damned, I love cheap fast food Asian fusion (especially in wrap form)
- It’s way better than Panda Express…
- I work in the area I’m so sick of all the other options in the watercourt (don’t get me wrong… Mendocino Farms is great, but I can’t eat there every day!)
- They rotate their dishes every week, so you’ll never get sick of the options
- The fried tofu balls are amazing! Please don’t take them away.
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I ate at the original Starry Kitchen, and the increase in volume has meant a decrease in quality
- SK was never about the food… just about the cool locale. I ain’t going to some stupid Downtown food court for this
- You can get far better (and authentic) Asian food… uh… everywhere
- When I hear the words Asian and Fusion in the same sentence I automatically throw up on the person who said it
- When I find something I like, I like to eat for months and months. Please don’t rotate your dishes every week!
Starry Kitchen, 350 S. Grand (in the Watercourt), 213-617-3474