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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

HRD Coffee Shop

I have a feeling this place may be my new Kenny's.

When I was in college, my friends and I frequented a cafe in West LA called Kenny's. It was always a treat to go there, and after my first bite of a "royale" - a simple, heartening scramble of Asian-marinated meat, onions and eggs served with rice and topped with salsa, I was smitten. Every biteful was meaty, eggy, spicy, and slightly sweet - a perfect balance - and comfort food at its best.

Which is why we were all heartbroken when a city-mandated redesign (you entered this homespun spot by first walking through its open kitchen) proved too expensive, causing them to shut down.

Fast forward more than a few years, to when my friend Ms. Gorgongzola, who knows a lot of great spots in the Bay Area, told me about an old school Asian-infused coffee shop located at the edge of South Park. It piqued my interest. But delivered way more than that.

I’m not exactly sure what a greasy spoon is, but HRD has a lot of that dive-y, diner-y, old school energy (in fact, Diners, Drive Ins and Dives featured this very place last year).
Starting with the name, which according to lore, derives from an old Human Resources Department that used to be housed near there.

Whether that’s true or not, there’s certainly a well-worn authenticity about this place. The grill looks like it’s satisfied millions of hungry customers, and the formica-topped counters and stools look almost Edward Hopper-esque.

But the menu is 100% in the moment – without being trendy, if that makes sense. You’ll find typical diner fare – like burgers, omelettes and fries, but the bulk of the menu offers Chinese, Korean and Japanese dishes. Only done with an American slant - like Korean tacos, Asian pork chops with fries, or a sloppy "jojo" with pork and kimchi.

I tried the spicy pork burrito, which was delicious with Korean-marinated meat, kimchi, fried rice, nori, and a spicy bean paste sauce instead of salsa. And their “Mongolian cheesesteak” was a sweet/savory combination of meat, mozzarella cheese and hoisin sauce – a hearty combination I have never quite tasted before.

Ms. Gorgongzola also advised trying the “Crunchy Roll fried rice” – a fiery dish of spicy pork, spam, and chicken fried rice topped with a fried egg – which is a plateful of Asian comfort food at its best.

And that’s the thing about comfort food – if it does its job correctly, one bite can take you back to a moment or place in time. For me, it took me back to my college days and Kenny's in West LA. To royales and coffee and the kind of good times you can only have in those days before life got serious. And that just might be one of the highest compliments I can give.

But be forewarned, just like Kenny's used to, HRD only opens for breakfast and lunch Monday-Saturday, and if you're going for lunch, you'd better get there early to avoid the long lines which snake out the door and down the block.



bready said...

Love this place!

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