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Here’s Looking At You: Redefining Tomorrow’s Cuisine

Nestled on the corner of 6th and S Oxford Ave in Koreatown you can find Here’s Looking At You. Located in the center of all the action of Los Angeles, this space feels like home immediately upon walking through its doors. The restaurant, owned by Jonathan Whitener and Lien Ta, is all about originality and individuality all while celebrating global cuisine.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Lamothe

Lien Ta grew up around Vietnamese and Chinese cooking because of her parents, but for most of her formative years after age 13, she was found eating fried chicken sandwiches, frozen foods, and baloney sandwiches. This picky palate stuck with Lien up until her freshman year of college in Boston, MA. Her closest and dearest friend at school just so happened to be from New Orleans and both her and her gracious mother encouraged Lien to visit over that first summer. This is the pivotal moment in which Lien fell in love with this particular kind of cooking.

New Orleans soon became her favorite U.S. city. It opened her eyes to not only food but food experiences. Lien told us that “even here in LA, you almost can’t remember the potential of what a great dining experience or community between guests and restaurant employees can be because those dynamics are often a bit segregated in LA.” But, in New Orleans, it’s a community, it’s a party, and they even make take out something fun. This spirit translates directly to the entire vibe of Here’s Looking At You.

Lien originally was a writer, editor, and reporter but found that she wasn’t happy in this role. She found the human connection to be really disconnected and felt extremely self-conscious. While meeting and interviewing celebrities, she couldn’t find her true self in that superficial manner. This led her to think about the fact that she wanted to open a restaurant but it was becoming a long lost idea as time passed. She thought that it would take a miracle to find a great chef that she truly loved and believed in all while aligning with her vision and being a great business partner. After a year of working as colleagues in Animal, Lien had an epiphany that it could be Jonathan.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Lamothe

The partnership came out in a very nonchalant way. They both knew that they would have a chef-driven, destination restaurant to showcase what Jonathan was going to cook. No neighborhoods, in particular, stuck out to them but the only glimmer of hope was Chinatown. They looked into it for about five minutes and decided it wasn’t a fit. Then, space landed in their lap right in Koreatown, the actual, physical center of LA. Lien expressed to us that this location inspired her business plan. She “wanted the cohesion of flavors of different cultures to make sense on a plate as well as putting something original in an original location.”

They took off from there. Jonathan visited the space, went home to think about the menu, and quickly added 18 dishes in sequential order on a blank sheet of paper at Lien’s dining room table. Contrary to what most would think, Jonathan creates dishes and menus overnight. He is known for his amazing ability to put an assortment of flavors together and make them work. He certainly is not stale, he’s too fast and bored by the dishes he creates on menus, hence why the dishes change frequently. The staff at HLAY agrees that they have confidence in the fact that the food will never be passé.

The chef and cook coaching process is a whole other experience to invest in, as well as the bartender coaching process at HLAY. This is something that is very important to both Jonathan and Lien as they believe it’s important to invest in the people that work at HYLA, as this directly translates into the guest experience at HLAY. When asked what her favorite part of working with Jonathan was, Lien expressed to us that she “truly believes he is the best chef she’s ever met and he incorporates elements of surprise in his cooking that are truly singular to who he is.”

Photo courtesy of Lauren Lamothe

Lien and Jonathan excel as a team because they see eye to eye with a strong ambition to succeed. It is extremely difficult to learn restaurants, not to mention running a restaurant comes with various challenges every day. Lien conveyed that it is beyond comforting to have a partner that knows what those challenges are and is willing to solve those problems daily.

The biggest motivation behind Here’s Looking At You is to evoke joy. The menu might be more forward-thinking and every individual may not be familiar with all the ingredients, but when you eat the food, you’re reminded of a moment that is familiar. Lien and Jonathan have created an unbelievable restaurant that exemplifies the ideal complete culinary experience from beginning to end. The food, the ambiance, and the employees all work to make sure that every guest feels seen and heard. It is clear that Here’s Looking At You has a great sense of surprise and even a sense of humor that makes it so attractive. We love that Lien and Jonathan take creating moments very seriously and embrace this special opportunity every day.

Here's Looking At You Website HERE

Check them out on Instagram HERE

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