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Let's Do Lunch: Starry Kitchen

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There are some great lunches to be had in this town, and we want to celebrate the midday meal. So, let's do lunch, shall we?

If you make great food, it's natural to want to share it with others, and for many, the next step is to open a restaurant. But for husband and wife team Nguyen and Thi Tran, the road to Starry Kitchen at California Plaza started inside their North Hollywood apartment, where for some time they ran an underground restaurant that brought to their doorstep a constant stream of enthusiasts for their playful, Vietnamese-based Asian fare as prepared by Thi, and also the Health Department, who were met by an enthusiastic Nguyen.

Soon after the Health Department knocked, so did opportunity, and the Trans decided to shift their operations to a restaurant in Downtown, where they've been serving up their delicious eats for the lunchtime masses since February.

The menu is about mixing and matching, but if you're at all unsure, host Nguyen will cheerfully walk you through how it works, with bonus "whaps!" of his open palm on the large chalkboard wall for emphasis. Diners can pair one of a handful of rotating protein options (for example Malaysian Chicken Curry, Nebraska Angus Japanese-style Meatball curry, or even Braised Jackfruit) with the "vessel" of their choice (such as Banh Mi-style sandwich, salad, wrap or plate). Pick a side, like the Korean Glass Noodles (japchae) or the Asian sesame slaw, and dig in.

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While the "vessel" options don't change, the rotation of protein options makes frequent trips an adventure, since you may want to time your next visit to find a particular choice available, like the much-lauded Crispy Tofu Balls. The best way to know what's on is to keep up with SK on Twitter or Facebook....and keep your eyes out for when the Trans declare it's a great day, because that might mean a free soda with your lunch.

Sound fun? It definitely is, and if you're working away at your Downtown cubicle, lunch at Starry Kitchen could surely liven up your day. The food is tasty: the chicken and meatballs tender and well-sauced, the slaw crisp and not too creamy, and the noodles slippery and savory. It's even a great spot for vegans and vegetarians; we tasted the mysterious braised jackfruit, which looks like a mound of shredded tender pork, but there's nary a drop of meat in the dish.

Up until now, SK has been a weekday lunch-only operation (M-F 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Never ones to ignore their fans, the Trans have announced they will be launching dinner service starting May 27th, serving the same menu from 6-9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. If you're calendar and culture savvy (or curious) you'll be glad to know that means they'll be open for evenings during the summer Grand Performances series on the Plaza.