Kimchi Obsessed? Burrito Crazed?

By Nancy Powell

Posted June 29, 2011 in Eats

Cart envy? I’m not talking about Mario-Kart for the Wii, and I’m not talking Go-Kart racing off the 60 freeway. No, I’m discussing the phenomenon that plagues us Inland folk when the subject of food trucks and cart cooking pops up. We feel left out, denied, snubbed, and jealous once more of the scene kids who live further west. From the Border Grill Truck, to The Flying Pig, to the Shrimp Pimp, there are enough meals on wheels going on in L.A. to make a desert boy weep into his chain burrito, especially when he ponders the drive to experience original and exciting fusion cooking like Roy Choi’s with the Kogi truck.

But wait, a bit of culinary comfort has arrived on our shores. Red Hot Kitchen has landed. And if it’s appearance and early impact on the Riverside foodie scene hasn’t quite swung the whoa meter in the same way as The Salted Pig, perhaps that’s simply due to location. The Salted Pig is downtown; it draws hipsters like Anthony Weiner draws scorn. Red Hot Kitchen is on University, across from the Bobby Bonds Sports Complex. It draws prostitutes, winos and plain old poor people.

And also the curious and the kimchi obsessed. Want to try a pickled kimchi taco without an hour drive? Try one here. Kimchi, that particular Korean dish, so strong, so pickled, so occasionally smelly when un-jarred, has long been a foundation of Korean cooking, and lately of creative Korean fusion. On the tacos at Red Hot, the kimchi performs a complicated and lovely dance with the fantastically tender spicy pork that ends up being the first taco I wish I could drink, frequently. Even the heat waltzes delicately on one’s tongue, slowly building only to drawn back by the sweetness of the pork. But Red Hot is much more than amazing tacos; it’s the sort of place I want to eat through the menu.

Much of this resides on the freshness of the ingredients. The avocado and mango salad is so vibrant, almost teeming with all sorts of goodies; that’s it’s the clichéd “meal in itself,” a heap of beautiful mango, jicama, avocado, and cabbage that lacks only a more creative dressing to bring it all together. Their jalapeno bombs are the perfect two-in-the-morning drunk-food; all lightly fried shell, cream cheese and hot sauce, along with imitation crab; they manage to be refined stoner food, another example of the fusion going on in the kitchen.

I’d not start off with their more traditional Mexican fare, not because it’s bad, but just not half as interesting as the rest of the menu. On the day we went we sampled a tostada, and it was fine, better than 90 percent of tostadas in the vicinity. Looking back though I wish I had tried the deep fried (in tempura batter) bacon cheeseburger or the kimchi pancake quesadillas or their variation on the Philly cheese steak. With crimson booths, quirky music, and a lone television playing CNN with the sound down, Red Hot Kitchen is an iconoclastic gift to the neighborhood.

Red Hot Kitchen, 1995 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 684-9800; Mon-Sat, 11AM-9PM; Sun, 9AM-8PM. AE, D, MC, V.


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