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On The Move

The Burntzilla Modern Eats Restaurant is Born!

Written By: Deirdre Michalski
Photographed By: Dhrumil Desai

It is not often that two successful food truck owners get together and open a restaurant. But that is exactly what has just happened here in Irvine. Local food truck fans will put this combination together rather quickly, but for everyone else, who may not be in the know—here is the news. The Burnt Truck (serving gourmet sliders) and Dogzilla (known for their specialty hot dogs) have collaborated to create a free-standing restaurant. They are serving up their most popular fare, and it has been a real hit since opening their doors just weeks ago. At lunch time the line is out of the building, and “to go” orders are flying out the door like fast pitches off the mound.

The restaurant is friendly and approachable with patio seating and umbrellas flanking the entry. Huge roll up garage doors create a two-sided stainless steel countertop with bright red bar stools for pull-up seating. It’s a California easy, breezy, indoor, outdoor vibe. And for those who want to grab their order and go, the staff makes that seamless as well. They use the perfect size of take-out containers, so the cargo stays upright, and even offer covered trays for larger orders and events.

Rarely do I meet a nicer group of owners. These four gentlemen are so kind, fun to be with, and are sharing their passion every day. The vibe is infectious, and before long everyone is smiling and enjoying the banter. The day begins at 7:30 a.m. with an activity that smacks of a ritual. Boxes of King’s Hawaiian rolls are delivered each morning, opened, and the sheets of rolls are cut using an electric knife—horizontally for the sliders and vertically for the hot dogs. They are then wrapped to maintain their freshness. We are talking about 1, 000-1, 500 buns daily, so this is quite a process!

This team is taking the term “House Made” to an entirely new level. Exclusive of the rolls, meat, ketchup, mustard and Sriracha, just about everything else is made completely from scratch. Looking at the size of the kitchen, that seems to be a daunting task, however co-owner Paul Cao reminds me that the restaurant kitchen is a mansion compared to prepping on one of the food trucks. Touché! The chili proudly simmers for six hours and to create it is a two-day process. The guacamole is mashed right there each morning, the buttermilk chicken is marinaded for 24 hours to ensure tenderness, the basil aioli, garlic potato spread, country gravy and pickled onions are all done from scratch.

Reading the menu items, it takes a bit of creativity to imagine some of these flavor combinations, but magically they work superbly! It is best not to over-think it—just sit back and enjoy. The marriage of textures, flavors and toppings are perfectly balanced.

The concept of “Modern Eats” is all about small bites in a quick-serve setting. Sampling many different items is encouraged—from one end of the menu to the other. They have miniaturized it all and based on the playful combination of toppings, they ensure the most incredible taste experience. These are the all-American snacks everyone grew up with, but with an updated twist to each one.

The Menu includes: Sliders, Zillas, Tater Tots & Fries, a couple of desserts (cookies & ice cream) and beverages (sweet tea with strawberry puree and sodas). Here is a sampler of some of the entrees and sides one can enjoy at Burntzilla. The Dogzilla is one of the most popular menu items and lands a big surprise, as it is bursting with flavor. This is a beef frank, served with avocado, grilled onions, Japanese mayo, teriyaki, furikake and sprinkled with bacon. Not for the faint of heart and so delicious. Now to clarify, Japanese mayo is a bit creamier and sweeter than American-style. Furikake is often sprinkled on rice. It is a blend of seaweed, salt, sugar and sesame seeds.

Next up was the Carne Asada Tater Tots. This is not on the menu. However, the locals know to order it. This is served in a Chinese-style “to go” folded box. It is filled with crisp tater tots, with soft fillings, and topped with a colorful array of items. This includes: the Carne Asada marinaded meat, chopped tomatoes, guacamole, pickled onions and lime crema (sour cream, lime, cilantro and chiles). The pickled onions are bright pink. They use red onions and marinade them in red wine vinegar.

The Fried Chicken Slider is a home run. The chicken is marinated in buttermilk and fried to order. On the roll, this sits atop a garlic mashed potato spread and drizzled with a rich country gravy.

Everything is better with cheese, and the Fried Cheese Slider is similar to a Caprese salad on a bun. The lightly breaded mozzarella patty is adorned with a basil aioli, tomato jam and is packed with flavor!

The PB&J Slider, which is more in the dessert category, features homemade peanut butter (with crushed pretzels for added crunch), homemade blueberry jam, and freshly sliced bananas on top. It is very rich and creamy, and a hit with the kids.

There are four partners in this endeavor, and each one brings their unique capabilities to the table. That is what is so special about this team. Paul Cao attended culinary school to follow his passion. He had been a successful business person at Deloitte, but he had to answer this calling and has not turned back. Paul owned the Burnt Truck producing gourmet sliders. Martin Tse was the owner of Dogzilla, putting a Japanese twist on the classic hot dog. They have been featured on The Food Network’s Chopped, East Street, Carson Daily, Buzzfeed, Orange Coast Magazine, Best of OC by OC Register and OC Weekly. The thought of owning a restaurant blossomed and they reached out to two other friends, Minh Pham and Phi Nguyen. Three of the four grew up in the neighborhood where the restaurant is located. They used to ride their bikes to the Golden Spoon, which is where Burntzilla now resides. Talk about coming full circle!

Guacamole Recipe

After tasting the guacamole I just had to secure the recipe or at least the key ingredients. Paul obliged and provided this list. Fresh, ripe avocados mashed well, is of course, the foundation of this dish. Added are the following ingredients:
Finely chopped cilantro
Serrano chiles
Lime juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
A dash of Cumin. (That is the secret spice not often found in guacamole.)

Native Knowledge: The Secret Hand-Shake—Not on the menu, but items the locals all know to order
1) The Carne Asada Tater Tots are not on the menu, but should be.
2) The Golden Combo ($9) includes two sliders or zillas, one side, and one beverage.
3) Weekly Specials are being rotated in and out, so do ask about those items.
4) Custom Tater Tot favorites include adding cheese or chili on top!

Burntzilla Modern Eats
14493 Culver Dr
Irvine, CA 92606