Illegal Food is bringing the Hank back with pop-up at Sister Louisa’s

The Hank, served at Illegal Food, is a house-ground burger served with American cheese, shredded iceberg, sweet Vidalia onion, house-made dill pickle and special sauce. (Becky Stein / beckysteinphotography.com)

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The Hank, served at Illegal Food, is a house-ground burger served with American cheese, shredded iceberg, sweet Vidalia onion, house-made dill pickle and special sauce. (Becky Stein / beckysteinphotography.com)

The owners of former Virginia-Highland restaurant Illegal Foods are bringing their concept back as a pop-up at Old Fourth Ward bar Sister Louisa’s Church.

Illegal Food will make its return May 25, with menu items including the popular Hank burger, topped with American cheese, shredded iceberg, sweet Vidalia onion, housemade dill pickle and special sauce. Chef Steven Lingenfelter, who co-owns Illegal Food with his wife Laurie Dominguez, said he will draw inspiration from Vietnamese and Chinese cuisines for dishes like Vietnamese grilled eggplant and Uncle Mala’s Fried Chicken.

Lingenfelter said he plans to “keep it slow” with a menu that’s “small and easily executable” and will likely remain static, with a few tweaks a couple of times a year.

To start, the pop-up will offer a full menu from 5-11 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and a snack menu with options including pork rinds, pimento cheese and barbecue hummus from 5-11 p.m. Sundays-Tuesdays.

Opening at Sister Louisa’s is a homecoming of sorts for Lingenfelter, who served as the general manager of neighboring Corner Tavern in the mid-2000s and initially launched Illegal Food as a pop-up at Joystick Gamebar down the street.

Sister Louisa’s owner Grant Henry purchased Corner Tavern in 2020 and expanded the bar into the space. He reached out to Lingenfelter during the pandemic when the latter was paying the bills by delivering meals to people’s houses, and asked what it would take for him to take over the former Corner Tavern kitchen space.

“He said, ‘What’s your ideal food situation? What would that look like?’” Lingenfelter said. “And we talked about it and made it happen.”

Lingenfelter opened Illegal Food as a brick-and-mortar at 1044 Greenwood Ave. NE in early 2015. The restaurant, which developed a cult following for its sandwiches and sides including okonomiyaki fries, closed in 2017.

Since then, Illegal Food has popped up at local restaurants including Little’s in Cabbagetown and the now-shuttered Dish Dive in Kirkwood. Lingenfelter was also slated to develop the menu for Cabbagetown restaurant Mouth of the South, which opened in 2018 and closed the following year, though those plans fell through.

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