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From Apt. 205 to the LA Food Fest: The legend of Starry Kitchen

Starry Kitchen began back in 2008 when Tran and his wife launched an underground restaurant in their North Hollywood apartment. Now, it's one of the more popular eateries in L.A. and Tran has written a book about his culinary journey.
Starry Kitchen began back in 2008 when Tran and his wife launched an underground restaurant in their North Hollywood apartment. Now, it's one of the more popular eateries in L.A. and Tran has written a book about his culinary journey.
Courtesy of Harper Collins

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This weekend, the LA Food Fest takes place at the Coliseum in downtown. Among the many A-list eateries strutting their culinary stuff will be the pan-Asian eatery known as Starry Kitchen. 

Starry Kitchen began back in 2008 when Nguyen Tran and his wife launched an underground restaurant in their North Hollywood apartment.

Dishes like crispy fried tofu balls and Singaporean chile crab were a phenomenal success, and for a while Starry Kitchen was the top-rated Asian fusion joint on Yelp.

The problem was, it wasn't legal.

So the health department threatened to shut them down, and the couple started a pop-up restaurant in Chinatown. Going legit, says Nguyen Tran, wasn't easy.

"Everyone says it's a money pit, but you have no idea how much of a money pit it is until you get into it. Youv'e got to pay unemployment insurance, and also income tax, state income tax, federal income tax... it just ends up being so much more than you think, but I love making food and I love making people happy from that. And you know what, that is my drug."

Over the years, that addiction has led to some wild adventures – cooking with illegal Mexican ant eggs, hosting an illicit multiple course marijuana dinner – then in 2014, Tran decided to go big, or go home: Starry Kitchen launched a Kickstarter for half a million dollars to open a permanent restaurant. 

It didn't work out.

But Tran, not one to shy away from failure, has now chronicled all this and more in a new book called "Adventures in Starry Kitchen."

In first chapter, titled "The Restaurant in Apartment No. 205," Tran reveals he and his wife had NO clue their underground eatery would quickly become a smash hit.

“When it started catching fire and we started getting people from all over the city and all over the country, we’re like, ‘There must be something happening here? Is this actually working? We didn’t expect it to last even as long as now, so this is pretty eye opening.”

Click on the play button above to hear Tran talk more about the journey of  Starry Kitchen with Morning Edition.