A new vegan-friendly restaurant named Hana Kitchen recently opened at 6558 Pardall Road next to Blenders in the Grass in the space previously occupied by Fat Mo’s Burgers and Car Wash.
A fusion of mostly Japanese and Chinese cuisines, Hana Kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and currently offers a menu of vegan tacos — with flavors including teriyaki mango, spicy sweet and sour and jalapeno wasabi — for $2.75 each. Hana Kitchen’s full menu will be available to customers during its grand opening on Jan. 1 and will provide more vegan options as well as choices for non-vegan eaters.
According to owner Weston Suh, the restaurant is his way of providing Isla Vista with more vegan dining options — something he believes the community currently lacks. With 25 years of restaurant business experience owning 16 other restaurants throughout southern California, Weston said he took a new approach to Hana Kitchen’s menu.
“Hana Kitchen is an eclectic Asian restaurant that is half-vegan,” Suh said. “What we decided to do is create a much more robust vegan menu.”
Suh said his vegan platters will be appetizing for customers of all palates alike because, despite not having any animal products, the food uses a soy-based protein that gives it what Suh describes as an unconventional vegan taste.
“If you try it, I think you will be pleasantly surprised that [the food] is vegan,” Suh said. “It’s vegan but it’s tasty, [and] that’s really the bottom line! The [soy] product not only tastes like chicken but it also almost creates its own category of food. It’s not trying to imitate or replace an existing category; it is a whole new category.”
According to Suh, his inspiration for Hana Kitchen came from the taco trucks in Los Angeles. He hopes to raise the bar by creating an interesting and healthy menu for Isla Vista residents.
“Our idea here is to create the gourmet food truck experience but without the food truck,” Suh said. “What we are trying to do is create a healthy alternative to pizza and burgers. [But] if it does not taste good, we are not interested in selling it.”
By the time it opens in January, the restaurant will have an outside deck, gas lamps, free WiFi and an open kitchen setting, according to Suh.
First-year chemistry major Ami Mehta said she had a hard time finding appetizing vegan dining options in the dining commons and looks forward to trying out Hana Kitchen’s tacos.
“The dining common doesn’t really offer me much so I end up eating chips all day,” Mehta said. “I’m pretty excited about some more options, but [I] will like to see more vegan options on the [restaurant’s] menu.”
Current customers are encouraged to stick around after their meal for a potential free taco gift card for their next visit.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of November 13th, 2012’s print edition of the Nexus.