How The Couple Behind Hit Inner Sunset Superette Queens Plan To Bring Korean-Chinese Food To The People Of Hotline
The scents of fried garlic and ginger waft through the air around the Hotline Outer Sunset restaurant, which opened at the corner of Taraval Street and 46th Avenue since the start of the year. Inside, a steam table features platters of jumbo shrimp wrapped in batter and smothered in a sticky soy glaze, tofu cubes turned scarlet by a fiery mix of gochugaru and fermented chili, and threads vermicelli noodles tangled with rice and vegetables.
The dishes – kkanpoong saewoo, dubu cards, japchae bap, etc. – may or may not be recognizable to some. But they spark strong memories of family dinners and football lunches after the kids for Eddo Kim, who owns and operates Hotline alongside his wife Clara Lee. Both identify as Korean-American and say they grew up eating this hybrid Korean-Chinese style of food called junghwa. With Hotline, they hope to make it accessible to anyone looking for a taste of nostalgia as well as introduce it to diners who may not have been aware of junghwa food before. “Is it Korean? It’s Chinese ? Kim says customers sometimes ask. “I think for us to have these conversations has been a good thing.”
Bay Area foodies may know the couple from their first food-related business, Queens, the Korean Marketplace the couple opened on 9th Avenue just south of Golden Gate Park in 2019. Kim says the couple were sipping glasses of wine at Oakland Wine Bar Ordinary when they first discussed the Hotline idea. “We were craving it, and Clara, she loves cooking it,” Kim laughs, referring to junghwa food. Korean-Chinese cuisine has its roots in the port city of Incheon, home to Korea’s only official Chinatown, Kim says. There, Chinese immigrants to Korea began doing what immigrants often do: mixing local flavors with the foods they were already used to eating. The result is dishes like tang soo yook, a version of sweet and sour pork, and gan jjajang, a textural delight made with ground pork and fragrant black bean paste.
Dining style is key too, an a la carte model Lee remembers, appealing to a family where everyone wants a taste of something a little different. That’s why Hotline’s combo plates allow diners to choose between one and three entrees, plus a choice of fried rice or japchae bap, glass noodles sautéed with vegetables. For anyone who has ever ordered a combo plate from Panda Express, the format will be familiar. “That’s what we grew up eating,” Kim says. “And that’s how Clara and I came to know junghwa restaurants”
Steam table options won’t change often, Kim says, because the menu is less about swapping seasonal dishes and ingredients and more about bringing classics to customers. The former Boavida kitchen now houses two woks for frying big batches of prawns and breaded pork and serves as a prep space for the team, who prepare everything down to hot mustard and pickled daikon in-house. The menu has a few vegan or vegetarian options, including the spicy dubu mapa and crispy mandoo, which are stuffed with Impossible pork. On the drinks side, they serve draft beer and wine — and natural wine lovers should be sure to check out the bottles stored in the fridge, which can be enjoyed on the spot or taken away.
Cooking and serving hundreds of pounds of fried pork a week has been a new challenge for the couple, Kim says. Hotline is the couple’s first proper restaurant, although they’ve been serving lunch in Queens for several months. Kim and Lee both ended up in the food business unwittingly; they lived in New York and worked in education before moving to San Francisco, where they felt Korean dining options left something to be desired. Lee started cooking, first sharing his food with friends and family, before creating an e-commerce site and delivering food to customers. “But eventually we just couldn’t ride fast enough,” Kim recalls, so they started doing pop-ups at Birba Wine Bar in Hayes Valley before landing in the brick-and-mortar space whom Queens currently calls home.
Kim says Queens, which sells a selection of Korean food items and prepared foods, is a completely different experience. At the convenience store, the couple and their team can educate customers about Korean pantry staples, rare kitchen items, and the ins and outs of soju. At Hotline, there’s less time for one-on-one conversations, but also the potential to bring junghwa food to a much wider audience. Eventually, Kim says they would like to open more hotlines in the Bay Area; but even with the one location, they’re able to offer pickup and delivery through DoorDash, which means San Francisco diners can have yang jang pi, a cold salad of dressed mung bean jelly noodles. of a hot mustard vinaigrette, for lunch or dinner .
It’s exciting to see a handful of Korean food makers and restaurants gaining exposure in the Bay Area recently, Kim said. In November 2021, Korean-American chef Corey Lee – who earned four Michelin stars at his three San Francisco restaurants Benu, In Situ (now closed) and Monsieur Benjamin – launched San Ho Wan, an upscale Korean barbecue restaurant range in the Mission. In the East Bay, chef Steve Joo makes fresh Korean-style tofu, or dooboo, as well as banchan featuring local vegetables at his casual deli Joodooboo. Of course, there has long been a vibrant Korean food scene in Santa Clara, and a number of Bay Area restaurants have incorporated junghwa dishes into their menus (for example, Kim Names Great China in Berkeley and San Tung in San Francisco), but there is a growing sense of community around Korean cuisine in the bay. “We just want to be part of that narrative,” Kim says.
Help line (3560, rue Taraval) is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Thursday to Monday.