Walking into Hot Joy, I feel as though I entered a speakeasy from a 1970s Kung Fu movie—there’s over-the-top Chinese trinkets, murals and intricate booths lining the back of the restaurant with a dim red hue glowing from the lights. Artist Jamie Stolarski, who also created the Spurs veladora as well as redesigning the new look for Bakery Lorraine, outdid himself with this unabashedly American-Chinese restaurant.
Much has been made of Hot Joy—including a recent nomination as one of Bon Appétit’s top 10 new restaurants in America—so I stopped by with some friends to check it out during lunch.
I started with the fried pork and glass noodle spring rolls. If you think anything you wrap in lettuce would be too healthy, keep in mind that inside contents were brought out deep-fried. And we are talking a “fair food” kind of fried. The bonus was the Thai dip that came with the rolls, which we saved as a dipping sauce for the next course of hot fried chicken.
This is the plate that you need to order, especially if you have the ability to take a nap afterwards. Pieces of deep fried chicken with chili oil, Szechuan peppercorn and sour chiles were accompanied with blue cheese—this plate is dense and has a balance of spicy and savory. Hot Joy’s hot fried chicken was as if General Tso had an illegitimate child in Buffalo.
Those deep-fried pieces of chicken somehow maintained their crispiness in spite of being drenched in a very rich sauce. I particularly loved some of the smaller chiles on the plate that were edible—too often I leave those red peppers found in Asian dishes on the plate.
While I haven’t been to Hot Joy at night, I hear that the restaurant gets bumping and can understand why. The seating near the windows lets you people watch folks strolling along South Alamo Street, the pocket seating can provide a more secluded experience and the fully stocked bar with seating in the round would make it easy to strike up a conversation.
As good as it is brazenly garish, Hot Joy brings a unique dining experience to the Alamo City.