HiFi Kitchen - Justin Foronda and team

Justin Foronda and his team at HiFi Kitchen in Historic Filipinotown.

Neighborhood Flavor profiles the people behind the familiar restaurants, bars and food businesses of the Eastside

Historic Filipinotown --  From dancer to drummer, nurse to chef, Justin Foronda has done it all.

A brief stint in culinary school provided him the skills to start his own brunch pop-up Benaddictz, as a side hustle to his nursing career. Even though he rose through the ranks quickly as a nurse, Foronda felt he needed a creative outlet, so he officially opened HiFi Kitchen inspired by the Filipino dishes he enjoyed growing up.

Here’s what Foronda said about running his own business"

Where did the name HiFi Kitchen come from?

I remember not knowing where Historic Filipinotown started and ended. I would visit Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Little Armenia, Thai Town. When you're in those places, you know you're in those specific cultural enclaves. 

Filipinotown never had that. So as a young kid, I would always wonder, how can I change it? I'm turning 36 in July, and it still hasn't changed, so I figured I'm going to take it into my own hands. That's why I named the restaurant after the neighborhood to provide visibility, so people know what it is. When you see HIFI kitchen, you think it probably has something to do with music. When they get there, they realize like, oh HIFI stands for Historic Filipinotown. 

HIFIKitchen - Talib Kawali

HiFi Kitchen’s Talib Kawali is a crispy marinated pork belly with a cucumber-tomato salad, atsara, and cilantro chimichurrie

What did you do before you opened HiFi?

I had been a nurse for around five years. I made it up the latter pretty quickly. And I was like, is this it? Is this gonna be my life? I don't know everything but I kind of got into like it was a 9-to-5 type of deal, where I'm clocking-in, doing work, clocking-out. All my peers were starting to get married and buying houses and shit. I was just like, is this what I'm supposed to do now? Like is this the end of my life? (Laughs) 

How did HiFi Kitchen come to be?

HiFi Kitchen - Tortang Talong Burger

This is Justin’s Tortang Talong Burger which is a veggie burger made of a roasted eggplant omlette patty with cucumber salsa, fresh lettuce, and 7k dressing.

I don't have kids, so I felt like now's a good time to do it, because if I fail, I'm only affecting myself. I can always go back to school. I can always become an NP later on. 

I started doing a brunch pop-up. It was called Benaddictz. We did different kinds of Eggs Benedicts, while I was a full time nurse. L.A. Weekly [wrote about us] us, and we went from having just a few people on the waiting list to like 70 to 100 people on the waiting list for these brunches. I was like, "Can this be something? Can I really do this?" And that was kind of like the indicator that maybe I could. 

And then a few years later, somebody that had connections with the space that I'm in now, caught wind of my brunch, came to the brunch, and was like, "Hey, I know these guys that have a restaurant space and it's been closed for a year, you want to take it over?" And I was like, "I'm going to jump in." 

What is the best part of owning your own business?

Seeing your passions and ideas through. Figuring out how those come to fruition, because there's so much more that goes into cooking. One, you gotta learn how to cook. Two, you have to learn how to run a business. It's also kind of like the worst part, coming from a medical background. It's a very steep learning curve. The problem solving is really fun. 

As a breakdancer, beatboys, there's no school. There's a lot of problem solving, techniques and grit and grind that I learned from that. I have to really self evaluate, be very self conscious about the process. I take that analysis part and apply it to my business. 

How did you adapt to COVID?

When everything shut down, I actually left the restaurant to work more hours at the hospital. We are pretty dependent on the local offices and our area doesn't have a lot of walking foot traffic. It was just a ghost town, so I had to think of different ways to get people in. Let me get back to the drawing board.

Me being a nurse my first reaction was like, "We got to serve the nurses." We have to figure out a way to donate food because they're working a lot, right now. The first hospital that we donated to was the one that I worked at.

HiFi Kitchen - Adobo Chicken

HiFi Kitchen’s adobo chicken bowl is Foronda’s favorite dish and also currently one of their most popular dishes. It’s savory cranberry-soy marinade, tender boneless chicken thighs with cucumber-tomato salad served on top of steamed rice.

What is your favorite item on the menu? Can you describe it?

It has to be the chicken adobo. My dad taught me how to make it. I flipped it with ingredients that I was familiar with. He taught me a traditional way, and being from L.A. and just being a weird creative kid, I was just like, what if we sub-out the vinegar for this? What if we sub-out the soy sauce with this?

It's sweet \-savory, like umami, super tender. The way the rice soaks up the jus is probably the best part. I mean the chicken is good, but what makes it different, and what makes it delicious is how the rice carries the jus. We do our own pickled cucumber salad and that helps cut through the sweet umami of it. 

Can you share any tips or recipes for the readers?

Don't be afraid of getting creative. If something calls for salt in the recipe, think of something else that's very salty and add that. Don't worry about following recipes. One person's pinch of salt is different from another person's pinch. I mean, just get funky with it, man.

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