Update: The first Starry Kitchen UberEats pop-up was so successful, there is another round of Malaysian chicken curry and tofu balls available to order for dinner Tuesday, July 28 (from 5 p.m. 'til it's gone). Another bonus: Nguyen himself may deliver your food in his signature banana suit.
It's been six months since perpetual pop-up Starry Kitchen failed to reach an ambitious $500,000 Kickstarter goal (dubbed #saveourballs) and was forced to serve its last orders of Singaporean chili crab, pandan churros and crispy tofu balls.
And while Starry Kitchen's owners — chef Thi Tran and her hashtag-loving, banana suit–donning husband, Nguyen — announced at the time that it was the end of their roving restaurant, the duo now is readying for a one-night-only comeback that's almost as weird as they are: an experimental pop-up hosted exclusively through a delivery service.
Starry Kitchen will rent out an industrial kitchen in Santa Monica and cook up a limited number of individual-sized servings of Malaysian chicken curry and crispy tofu balls (#cockandballs). It doesn't really matter where the food is being made, though, because it's where you want it delivered that really counts. The meals will only be available to order that night through UberEats, the ride-sharing service's burgeoning food-delivery arm, which brings food from L.A. restaurants to addresses on the Westside and downtown in less than 10 minutes.
“It's the laziest pop-up in the city,” Nguyen says. “You can have your own party or binge-watch Netflix shows alone. You don't have to go anywhere to eat our food this time.”
Before shutting down in January, Starry Kitchen's 5½-year history was filled with tumult; fans of the couple's cooking had to keep up with their itinerant nature just to snag a bite. The project had gone from an illegal underground dinner club out of the couple's San Fernando Valley apartment to a downtown brick-and-mortar (where the Trans hosted dinners featuring white truffle, marijuana and illegal Mexican ant eggs) to a tricky-to-find pop-up to a semi-permanent pop-up out of the Grand Star Jazz Club in Chinatown.
Nguyen says doing another traditional dinner at a new location wasn't an option. It had to be something different.
“Our history is so confusing,” he says. “We were so hard to find for so long. I thought, 'Why not make it easier for people?'” Nguyen says he approached Uber with the idea. “I owe it to the people who followed us around for years.”
Nguyen says he does want to see Starry Kitchen come back in some capacity. Maybe these Uber-partnered pop-ups are a glimpse of that next iteration (as well as a peek into the next wave of futuristic pop-ups in general). On the other hand, six months is a long time to be removed from L.A.'s fast-paced restaurant scene, and in that stretch other Southeast Asian restaurants such as Cassia and Simbal have opened. Is Starry Kitchen's next chapter still something that diners are eager to experience?
“I'm curious if people still want our food or not,” Nguyen says. “Are we still relevant? I really don't know.”