A ginger-turmeric Slushie and a bowl of Goldfish Mac n' Cheese, followed by pork fried rice and pan-seared Baja shrimp, with a Fluffernutter sandwich for dessert? It sounds like the kind of menu a child foodie might serve up at a dinner party, but Coly Den Haan and Dean Harada, co-owners of Silver Lake's newest fusion joint Hot Hot Food, pull it off with gusto.
The restaurant opened May 20 on a sleepy stretch of Hoover Street, and is already drawing a hipper-than-thou crowd of girls in clear-framed glasses and guys in jorts, most of whom are as eager to Instagram the purple-and-yellow neon "Hot Hot Food" sign out front as they are to sample the food itself. The building, now painted an eye-catching shade of millennial pink with turquoise accents, has had many incarnations over the years. "First it was a pop-up called the Hoover, then a commissary kitchen for Casbah Cafe, then an El Salvadoran restaurant, then for 30 years it was different Chinese restaurants," Den Haan told LAist. Now, the intimate 50-seat space is devoted to Mexican-Chinese fusion with an emphasis on quirky side dishes.
Hot Hot Food is just a few blocks from the neighborhood mainstay Sqirl, but Den Haan says they're not trying to compete with the Virgil Village brunch mecca. "Some of that L.A. new cuisine—avocado, fresh eggs, vegan options—is here, with a Chinese/Mexican spin," adds Den Haan, who previously opened L.A. restaurants The Must and Perch, and hopes to build Hot Hot Food into a creative, playful fast-casual staple. "I love that the L.A. food scene is starting to be taken seriously on the level of New York and San Francisco, but I do feel like things have gotten a little precious, a little dainty. We wanted to create a fun, delicious restaurant, still using the freshest local ingredients, but we don't take ourselves all that seriously."
Den Haan previously worked at the now-closed Barney Greengrass in Beverly Hills, and there are subtle nods to her Jewish-deli background in the latke-like “Big Papa” smashed potatoes and in the “Netflix & Chili”, made with beef brisket. Mostly, though, Hot Hot Food’s menu draws inspiration from Mexican street food and Chinese takeout; the eye-watering Watermelon Chili Salt Lime Slushie recalls the spicy bags of chili powder and lime-topped fruit sold for $5 from carts around the city, and the L.A. fried rice holds its own against anything you'll find in Chinatown. "We're developing our bao buns—we want to do a carnitas bao," Den Haan says, "and we're planning on using lots of jackfruit this summer."
"The fried rice is our star," Den Haan notes, adding that Hot Hot Food's Fluffernutter sandwich was on the menu at The Must over ten years ago, "...and ever since, it's followed me everywhere I've gone. Who doesn't like peanut butter, bananas, marshmallow and dark chocolate?" There's a similar story behind the Goldfish Mac N'Cheese, which Den Haan included on the menu "just because," but has already proved to be a hit with kids and adults alike. Still, some aspects of Hot Hot Food's decor are decidedly not for kids, like the boob-shaped "Nip Jar" on the register and the cheeky "Banana" and "Peach" illustrations on the men's and women's restroom doors.
Hot Hot Food's decor features the best of the '70s - mustard-yellow, gold accents, glitter-flecked tile—while jettisoning the decade's more regrettable fads (no shag carpeting in sight.) Hot Hot Food in the process of obtaining a liquor license, so B.Y.O.B. and it's easy to imagine a dash or two of vodka at work in the restaurant's collection of whirring Slurpee machines—vintage, via Craigslist. This June, Den Haan will use her background as a sommelier to open Vinovore, a wine shop/bookstore, down the street from Hot Hot Food, and hopes to host "wine and rice" block parties for the neighborhood. Hot Hot Food is the perfect place for a first Tinder date; even if it's going really badly, there are enough surprises on the menu to keep the conversation going until the Fluffernutter sandwiches arrive.
Hot Hot Food is located at 654 North Hoover Street in Los Angeles. (323) 522-6927. They are open Monday through Saturday, 10a.m. to 10p.m., and Sundays 8a.m. to 8p.m.
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