If you keep up with the online food world in Los Angeles, you have probably at one point stumbled across Starry Kitchen, the pan-Asian proto-restaurant of Nguyen and "Kitchen Ninja'' Thi Tran, which popped in and out of existence in the couple's literal backyard. Alongside the trucks and carts and pop-ups, it was another chapter in L.A.'s not-a-restaurant restaurant saga: The Trans cooked and their customers ate without being charged, although they were encouraged to leave a donation to pay for the cost of the food. How did you find out about the dinners? Through Facebook and Twitter, of course — at one time, Starry Kitchen, named for a Hong Kong cooking show, was the highest-rated Asian restaurant on Yelp.
Now Starry Kitchen has walls, doors and a big plate-glass window — and a location in a downtown food court, cheek-by-jowl with the chains and across the courtyard from Casa. A hungry office worker, attracted to the place by its deranged-star logo and its cheerful lunch-joint interior, might have no idea of the restaurant's underground origins. What you eat at Starry Kitchen changes with the week, but there might be deep-fried, glutinous rice-wrapped tofu balls, Malaysian chicken curry or curried Angus meatballs — sometimes even pork belly — which the kitchen will lay across a Cobb salad, put into a wrap, serve atop rice or fashion into a Vietnamese-style banh mi sandwich, among other options. It's simple, it tastes good, it's cheap and it's lunch. And they validate parking, too. Will the menu expand when dinner starts next week? We'll see.
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STARRY KITCHEN: 350 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn. (213) 617-3474, starrykitchen.com.