TV Chef Debbie Lee to Serve Korean Pub Grub at Her New Highland Park Concept

Yi Cha will come to York Boulevard bearing gifts of Korean deliciousness from the culinary cerebrum and deep ancestry of Chef Debbie Lee
TV Chef Debbie Lee to Serve Korean Pub Grub at Her New Highland Park Concept
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Yi Cha — a Korean pub-grub concept conceived by Chef Debbie Lee of “Next Food Network Star” season five — will open in a former factory space at 4941 York Boulevard in Highland Park

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Before appearing on the Food Network; publishing her own book, Seoultown Kitchen; or opening her concept Ahn-Joo at the Americana at Brand in Glendale, the French-restaurant-trained Lee operated a food truck of the same moniker throughout neighborhoods of LA. 

Named after the small bites that accompany soju and beer at Korean bars, Ahn-Joo was arguably ahead of its time.

Ahn-Joo offered “interpretations of Korean nachos using rice cakes, Korean fried chicken, and pork potstickers,” aptly tapping into both Lee’s heritage and her pioneerism, and perhaps paving the way for what is now a thickening flood of Korean restaurants in Los Angeles

A decade after Lee’s initial restaurant endeavor, Yi Cha — meaning “second round” during a night out drinking in Korean culture — arrives primed to join the ranks of the aforementioned influx. 

However, in an effort to combat the malignant tumor that is gentrification, Lee has already begun actively engaging the community. 

“Highland Park sits near and dear to my heart. We’re not trying to be a trendy hipster restaurant. We’re already reaching out to schools, community centers, and the fire department to get to know our neighborhood,” Lee told Eater LA

Lee will also host cooking classes and gardening lessons — including those for kids — in the restaurant’s outdoor space where large planter boxes reside. 

Prior to Yi Cha’s summer 2023 opening, What Now Los Angeles caught up with Chef Debbie Lee for a few more details: 

WNLA: Why did you close Ahn-Joo in 2012? 

DL: Our lease was up at the kiosk and I had a health scare. I needed to focus on getting healthy immediately. 

WNLA: After Ahn-Joo’s closure and your lengthy culinary career, did you ever see yourself here, opening a restaurant like Yi Cha in Los Angeles?

DL: It has always been my dream to have my version of a Korean pub in the heart of LA. It’s funny how you evolve as a chef and ultimately come full circle. 

WNLA: Which, if any, Ahn-Joo creations will be served at Yi Cha? 

DL: The menu is a work in progress. I’m still developing what I will be bringing back regarding some of the favorites [from Ahn-Joo] and which new dishes we’ll be serving. 

WNLA: Which Yi Cha menu items are you most excited about? 

DL: That’s a tough one. Truly, the whole menu will be a representation of my culture and ancestry, so it will be hard to choose favorites. 

WNLA: What was your major inspiration for choosing Highland Park? 

DL: This was the third location we had considered and the neighborhood, the community, and the neighbors just spoke to me. I felt like I was home. 

WNLA: Who is Yi Cha’s ideal customer? 

DL: Anyone who likes to eat and get to know their neighbors.

WNLA: Pending Yi Cha’s likely success, do you hope to open up more locales around SoCal?

DL: It would be incredible for this location to be the flagship of K-grub love throughout SoCal. But, first things first — gotta get the first-born on its way to walking. 

Amanda Peukert

Amanda Peukert is a Los Angeles-based writer with a love for tattoos, music, food, and film. She received her BA and MFA in creative writing from California State University, Long Beach. Her work has appeared in/on SPIN, LA Taco, Tattoodo, Skin Deep, and Tattoo Energy. When she’s not writing, you can catch her listening to Alice in Chains and Tupac, or watching movies like The Crow and Halloween while eating tacos and drinking a cold beer.
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