LA’s Holy Basil and Hanchic lead a new wave of Asian-American restaurants – Robb Report
hanchic and Holy Basil they’re modestly sized Los Angeles restaurants, but their collective impact makes them feel that much bigger. In May, during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, both restaurants opened pop-up windows throughout the city as they worked on aggressive expansion plans. In the process, they made it clear that they represent the future of Asian-American food in Los Angeles.
Hanchic, where chef Justin Min serves up appetizing mashups like kimchi tagliatelle, bulgogi risotto and mandu with a doenjang-based bolognese riff, is a 1,200-square-foot space with seven tables in a strip mall on the outskirts of Koreatown. But that limited space hasn’t stopped Min and his partners at In Hospitality Group from using it as a test kitchen for multiple concepts. Chimmelier, In Hospitality’s fried chicken spot that started as a pop-up after Min created some sauces at Hanchic, just opened a physical location a couple of blocks away.
In Hospitality, led by Min, Dustin Lee, Kevin Son and Jeff Jun, has also partnered with baker sensation Jiyoon Jang to open the stylish Mil Bakery at All Good Things Market, in the same building as Chimmelier. Beyond serving beautiful pastries like black sesame mochi cake bars, miso-garu cookies, and ssuk marble cake, Jang is creating a new bun for Chimmelier’s fried chicken sandwich.
The group’s portfolio also includes Kinn, where an alumnus of New York’s two-Michelin-star Korean restaurants Jungsik and Atomix serves a six-course tasting menu for $72. Chef Ki Kim’s summer prix fixe features his versions of a Korean corn dog (with Dungeness crab), Pyongyang naengmyeon, and elegantly plated tteokgalbi chicken that’s topped with edible herbs and flowers. And a perfectly cooked piece of octopus with gochujang ($20 extra for the tasting menu), which is crispy yet juicy without being mushy, has become a signature dish at the Kinn in less than a year.
And while Kim says he’s happy with its current price point and its cozy space with a tasting counter and a few small tables, Lee says he’d love to find a larger location that would be more optimal for Kim’s ambitions for good food. table.
A Holy BasilOperating out of a 700-square-foot location in the Santee Passage food hall downtown, chefs Deau Arpapornnopparat and Joy Yuon prepare uncompromising, gloriously herbaceous, habit-forming Bangkok street food with premium ingredients. There is green curry with Jidori chicken and gra pow (a dish enhanced with the Thai herb known as holy basil) with wagyu or crispy pork. Mushroom larb is a vegan dish bursting with acid, spiciness, and contrasting textures. Arpapornnopparat and Yuon also run The Base, which makes sweeteners and beverage starters and has popped up at the Smorgasburg food market. And Yuon is a beverage wizard who could have a tea bar, with a production team dedicated to his beverage, at the next location in Holy Basil.
Arpapornnopparat and Yuon are working to open that new restaurant in Atwater Village later this year. They will have outdoor seating and are considering adding a children’s menu and a market with Asian produce, including some they grow themselves. After that, Holy’s biggest project basil skyline it could be somewhere near Koreatown, a 3,000-square-foot space that would include a Thai omakase bar along with curries, noodles, and rice bowls.
“Joy and I talked about this recently,” Arpapornnopparat says of the omakase bar. “Why would we stay in this box? We can totally cook anything to be Thai food. A tasting menu is always driving who we are as chefs. Just open your mind, whether you’re cooking up a very old recipe or elevating a new one. I feel like there aren’t many people making Thai food like this, so why not us?
Even at their little downtown digs, Arpapornnopparat and Yuon have served up tasting menu dinners, including a special pop-up party for AAPI Heritage Month. That dinner, with heirloom rice from Thailand, fried barramundi and fermented pork, was during the same month that Holy Basil cooked up at both days of The Infatuation’s Eeeeeeatscon LA festival and appeared at Mama’s night market.
Hanchic also cooked at Eeeeeeeatscon. And the night Chimmelier served up his excellent fried chicken and dips at Mama’s Night Market, Min cooked up several dishes for an AAPI collaboration dinner alongside dessert sensation Domi at Chinatown’s Steep teahouse. And somehow, In Hospitality brought Chimmelier to Smorgasburg every Sunday and opened their physical Chimmelier and Mil locations. And then Min, who was also part of a Sundae School panel discussion in Smorgasburg in May, and Hanchic participated in the June 5 Taste of the Nation event.
If you ask Hanchic and Holy Basil why they are saying yes to so many things, they will give you similar answers. They’re not in this just to have a restaurant of the moment. Each wants to create a prosperous Asian-American hotel group. And there was no way they were going to turn away from major events in a month that the AAPI community celebrates.
“First and foremost, our priority is to get our name out there,” says Lee. “And especially with AAPI month, there were a lot of great events trying to support companies like ours. We didn’t want to miss any opportunity. We just had to say yes to everything.”
“The main thing for us, because we are still small, is that we want to advertise ourselves,” says Arpapornnopparat. “Any good opportunity that comes along, we make it. It’s just to get a constant boost. And with something like Mama, it’s cool and it’s also Asian, right? We have to be there for our brand.”
Another thing that feeds Hanchic and Holy Basil it is their belief that there is plenty of room for Korean and Thai food to grow, respectively.
Lee recently visited San Francisco and ate at San Ho Won and Benu with Kim.
“I was surprised how Korean food got this far,” says Lee. “It motivated us to keep going. We want to approach Korean food in different ways, because there are so many good traditional Korean restaurants in Los Angeles. We thought it would be better if we put our own style on it.”
Lee says the idea for In Hospitality originally came from a trip to New York City, when he ate at Cote, Jua, Take31 and Nowon and realized he wanted to help create a new-school Korean food scene in Los Angeles. Angels. He knows that he and his teammates run as fast as they can and often just notice things while running. But after opening Hanchic in September 2020 and surviving a pandemic that isn’t completely over yet, Lee is energized by the possibilities he’s seeing in Hospitality.
“Last year we were racing, but we hit the wall,” says Lee. “Now I can see where we are going.”
When I tell Lee that there’s still nothing like Jungsik and Atomix in LA, he nods and says, “That’s why we have to hurry.” Lee sees an opportunity to do something for his culture, so his goal is to put himself and his associates in a position where they can change the conversation about Korean food in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, when I tell Min that it’s a good thing that small independent restaurants like Hanchic are still up and now going up, she laughs.
“More like getting ready to climb,” says Min. “It’s just the beginning, now that things are getting back to normal.”
When you operate small independent restaurants, it’s often about the day-to-day: staffing, cooking, pandemic-related challenges that still linger. But it is also important to look to the future.
Chimmelier is something that In Hospitality hopes to turn into a quick service chain. Beyond fried chicken, Chimmelier serves kimchi fried rice and street food like corn cheese and shrimp tostadas.
“It’s like the Korean Jollibee,” says Lee.
And In Hospitality is not limited to Korean food. Min, who previously cooked Vietnamese food at Little Sister, has been putting together a pop-up lunch menu with pho and other Vietnamese dishes at Hanchic.
Holy Basilfor its part, it’s ready to pour it all into a Koreatown-adjacent restaurant that could open in late 2023. Arpapornnopparat and Yuon want that space to be a hub for experimentation, where fast-casual dining and elaborate wine-pairing tasting menus coexist. . , where they constantly test new ideas and develop new concepts.
“The plan is to have a group of Thai restaurants and some Thai products, like in Thailand but grown in Los Angeles,” says Arpapornnopparat.
He and Yuon have been exploring multiple spaces throughout Los Angeles. As always, they are quick to say yes if they see a good opportunity.