One of the latest culinary trends is fusion fried rice, creatively mixing fried rice with street taco ingredients. It’s the brainchild of Coly Den Haan, a third-generation restaurateur, and Dean Harada of the restaurant Earl’s Mar Vista. While looking for a location for a new dining venue, they discovered a neglected turquoise, stand-alone restaurant in the up-and-coming neighborhood Virgil Village in East Hollywood. After months of improvements they introduced their unique fare last Saturday to the public with great success.
While driving north on Hoover, I couldn’t miss the 7’ tall Hot Hot Food neon sign. Den Haan welcomed me and proudly gave me a tour of the restaurant. “It was a Chinese restaurant in the 60s,” she said. “Then it was a prep kitchen for years.”
The pink and cream diner-style flooring was cleaned and buffed to preserve its retro look. Other enhancements include mustard, strawberry and chocolate milk colored bold stripes on the walls, the Warhol-esque peeled banana on the men’s bathroom door and a ripe peach on the women’s door offering a little whimsy. Admiring the hammered brass Tom Dixon lighting fixtures of different shapes, Den Haan told me she painted them to give a period look.
The star of the cafe is a 1990’s jukebox playing free music from the 70s to the 90s. Hungry guests walking through the front door can make a selection on the jukebox and hear their song resonate throughout the room, while waiting for their elevated comfort food to arrive. The Latin to Asian inspired fare is an homage to Los Angeles’ melting pot of cultures and tastes, with base dishes starting under $10.
During the day and warm summer evenings, metal garage doors roll up, inviting guests to sit out on the expansive dining patio. Guests can cool down by sipping watermelon Shantys made with fresh watermelon slush, a little lemon, a sprinkle of chili plus cayenne and sea salt. They also offer a ginger lemonade slush that goes well with the staple item on the menu – LA Fried Rice. It’s fried rice topped with avocado, pickled onions, diced jalapeños and an artistic drizzle of housemade salsa verde. Be sure to add a fried egg on top for protein. To make it even more flavorful, order the base dish topped with crispy braised pork carnitas; or pan seared or tempura battered shrimp. There is an Aloha version with a grass-fed beef patty and brown gravy topping the rice.
I really like the slow cooked Jidori chicken in coconut milk with lemongrass and lime fried rice. Vegetarians may add purple and green kale with some wild mushrooms. It’s a vegan dish without a fried egg.
Not a fried rice fan? No worries, there is a grass-fed carnitas burger; beef brisket chili with cheese, hominy, and the Huevos on Your Face made with a crispy housemade blue corn tortilla layered with a white bean spread, melted Monterey Jack cheese, tomatillo, cotija cheese, charred green onions and a fried egg. It’s crunchy, savory and needs to be eaten with your hands, not utensils.
There are four salads that include a wasabi aioli shrimp with avocado and a chile lime Jidori chicken diced with bacon and a soft quail egg on top. This salad is dressed with a pleasing, spicy avocado buttermilk verde dressing.
Kids and adults love the warm mac and cheese with Goldfish crackers on top. Sounds odd? It’s going to be an LA cult favorite. The creamy pasta with crunchy cheese cracker is a winner. Kids will also enjoy the smashed potato cakes with ketchup, similar to a hash brown.
To be eco friendly, the team serves their Hot Hot Food on biodegradable palm leaf plates that break down in less than one month.
Continuing with the diner theme, they make shakes that include a coconut milk toasted marshmallow and strawberry shake, and an artisan shake blended with bananas, almonds and graham crackers. The most unique is a lemon olive oil with sea salt shake.
Open for breakfast, diners can order slightly crispy battered cinnamon French toast with strawberries, chocolate chips and whipped cream. Another favorite is the avocado toast-ada with sliced fennel, pickled onions and goat cheese.
Check out the newest Virgil Village area dining venue to take food home or sit inside while listening to an old school jukebox and enjoying elevated comfort food. $ Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 654 N. Hoover (323)522-6927.