4 out of 5 Stars
Red Hot Kitchen, established in Riverside in 2011, is the second restaurant to come from Travis Cho after founding his popular original restaurant in Los Angeles. This restaurant is a Korean fusion taco shop that screams Mexican food, but is decorated in an Asian-esque fashion, with lucky bamboo shoots, fans, vases, and oriental art. The set-up is quite an interesting shock as it really fuses more than just the menu items. In one area of the restaurant, there were standard chairs like you’d find at any other taco shop sitting across from Korean-style mats, really selling the restaurant’s Korean component. While most of the decorations seem like a mash of random stereotypical Asian decor, the contrast with the more Mexican decorations makes the overall aesthetics of Red Hot Kitchen stand out.
I ordered the Korean barbecue tacos and the sampler platter, which had quesadillas, mushroom poppers and jalapeno bombs. I also had the chance to try the kimchi fried rice, the chimichangas and the kimchi spinach quesadilla roll.
The kimchi fried rice came first: The presentation was very nice and had an authentic feel to it. Upon tasting it, the rice and flavor was very good and comparable to other Korean restaurants. However, the weak point was the most important and vital part of the dish: the kimchi. It was a cabbage kimchi and it was not cut properly. It was cubed and many times I found big chunks of nothing but cabbage, which would be okay if the cabbage tasted any good. But sadly, the cabbage had not gone through any sort of the kimchi process of flavoring or fermenting. However, the flavor of the rice along with the nicely presented fried egg on top saved the dish.
The kimchi spinach quesadilla roll came next in a well-presented fashion, with spinach garnish and some sesame seeds to finish it off. This dish was ordered vegetarian-style, and with the absence of meat, I had hoped there would be some sort of compensation, like more vegetables, but it looked as if they had just scooped out the meat from the original dish. Some pieces seemed hollow and it was overall incomplete. Now, I am not a vegetarian, but if I were, I would reconsider whether this would be worth my money. Luckily, as opposed to the fried rice, the kimchi in this dish was surprisingly good. It had been properly seasoned and soaked in the flavoring, authentic to the Korean-American standard and offering a huge plus to this dish.
The chimichanga was seemingly their most famous dish, and definitely with good reason. The burrito was huge and wrapped in something with the texture of fried wonton wrappers. This gave it a delicious new spin on the Mexican classic. The chimichanga was ordered with short rib filling, which were surprisingly very tasty and quite similar in flavor to Korean restaurant short ribs. The burrito itself was cut into four pieces and it had sauces drizzled on top that added much to its already bountiful amount of flavor. This was a burrito deserving of its fame.
The sampler platter looked minuscule — there was a whole lot of cheese quesadilla, but very little of the other two foods in the platter. The quesadilla was standard and did not hold anything truly spectacular, but the mushroom poppers and jalapeno bombs were quite magnificent. These two food items were much different from the ones you find at other restaurants, because most poppers are merely something stuffed with cream cheese and then deep-fried. However, the mushroom poppers and the jalapeno bombs were both made with crab along with cream cheese. They were deep fried to perfection and were possibly some of the best poppers and bombs I have tasted. I wouldn’t exactly call putting crab into a well-known American appetizer as “Asian fusion,” but it was nonetheless a good idea and proved to my taste buds that this should be the only way poppers and bombs should be made.
And now for the Korean barbecue tacos! When the waiter brought the tacos to my table, they did not look much different from a standard carne asada taco you could get at any taco shop. I ordered them with short ribs and that proved to be its selling point. With the first bite, you can tell that they are something different. They weren’t just normal tacos, they were truly “Asian fusion.” The tacos had fresh cuts of lettuce that covered up the mass of short rib meat and were all contained by two tortillas. The result: the best tacos I have had in a very long while, and I am from Southern California! These tacos delivered what they promised and did not disappoint at all due to the flavor and the authenticity.
This restaurant has a funky feeling of a taco shop trying to be Asian, but the food needs to be tasted before hasty judgments are made. This place has a really interesting mash-up of Mexican diner and Korean-style seating that really shows how much of a fusion this place is. This is a great place to grab a quick meal or a good long lunch or dinner, but if you are looking for a late night-snack, this place closes at nine, unfortunately. I suggest coming with a group of friends and those who like Korean and Mexican food. They won’t be disappointed.