Johnny Lee would really prefer you not order the tako fries at Spirit House, at least when he’s around. Because he’s a pretty exacting cook, and tako fries are kind of a pain to make. I mean, he peels the potatoes when they come in, and he hand-cuts them, and he soaks them in lemon water for a day or two just to get out some of the starch. Then he fries them for a while in coolish oil, just to cook them through, then chills them, partially freezes them for a while to help set the texture. Then he fries them to order, pretty carefully, actually, so that they come out straight, and crisp, and just slightly molten underneath, before he squirts them with mayonnaise and sweet sauce, sprinkles them with nori seaweed, and finishes them with a handful of thinly shaved bonito that shimmers from the weight of the potatoes. There is no octopus, tako, in tako fries, but they are dressed exactly like the Japanese octopus balls called takoyaki, and the sensation is quite similar.
Spirit House, on the second floor of the Lincoln Plaza Hotel, is probably the most reliable cocktail bar in the Monterey Park area, but its specialty is probably Japanese beer, and they have more of the various IPAs and double IPAs and red rice ales than anyone in town. Nothing goes better with a Japanese ale than Johnny’s tako fries, and he knows it. He estimates that between a quarter and a third of his time in the kitchen is spent making them.
So when you huddle around the firepit on the terrace, at least think about getting an order of the chashu tacos. He cooks kurobuta pork shoulder sous-vide to get the firm yet melting texture that he likes, and he pats his tortillas to order. They’re pretty good, those chashu tacos. You’ll like them. And nobody’s saying you can’t get the tako fries too.
123 Lincoln Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 872-0353, www.spirithousebar.com