Starry Kitchen is back. This time, with crispy tofu balls and arcade games

Starry Kitchen is back. This time, with crispy tofu balls and arcade games
Nguyen Tran and his wife, chef Thi Tran hold a dish of Singaporean chili crab at Starry Kitchen, when it was a pop-up in Tiara Cafe. The duo will open their newest installment of Starry Kitchen in Echo Park later this year. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Starry Kitchen, the pop-up restaurant known for its crispy tofu balls, chile crab and co-owner Nguyen Tran's banana costume, is back. And this time, there will be arcade games — and beer.

The restaurant will be operating out of Button Mash, a new bar/arcade project in a strip mall in Echo Park, slated to open as early as late September.


"It will be a full restaurant," said Tran, who added that he's a big video game fan. "I have 600 console video games at home. My parents used to manage 7-Elevens, and I'd play arcade games all day long."

The restaurant will feature a sit-down area, an arcade game area and a bar and pinball area.

Tran's chef-wife, Thi, won't be making her famous chile crab, but you can expect the crispy tofu balls, tamarind chile chicken wings, a couple different kinds of fried rice, mac and cheese, a pork belly sandwich and some vegan and vegetarian dishes.

"We want to be vegan friendly because of the area, with some really good vegetarian stuff too," Tran said. "We're doing a Coca-Cola-braised jackfruit sandwich with mozzarella cheese on a roll."

Tran and Thi are also working on a burger, but nothing fancy.

"As crazy as we are and as crazy as the burger scene is, we just want to do a good burger, not something super fancy," Tran said. "Everyone else is doing a fancy burger. Why should we?"

They also are testing fermented tofu-roasted peanuts as a free bar snack.

The restaurant and arcade will open for dinner, and there are plans to add lunch and brunch service. There also will be beer and wine at the bar.

This is the second time Starry Kitchen has resurfaced after Tran tried to raise half a million dollars through a Kickstarter campaign to save the restaurant late last year. Starry Kitchen also is delivering meals through Uber Eats every Tuesday (except Sept. 8).

The Kickstarter campaign, named #SaveOurBalls, was meant to help raise money for Tran and his wife to find a permanent spot for the restaurant, which popped up every Wednesday and Saturday evening at the Grand Star Jazz Club in Chinatown.

And as for Tran's famous banana costume, you may see it around Button Mash in the future.

"If I feel like wearing it one morning, I will," Tran said. "But you should know when I wear the banana suit, I wear it all day long ... to the bank and the grocery store too."

1391 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. 


Some people hate bananas. I like them. Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_