Chef Steven Lingenfeltermay started Illegal Food in 2013 as one of the first pop-ups in Atlanta. The pop-up eventually turned into a brick-and-mortar and garnered praise from all sorts of local and national media, especially for his famous Hank burger. Illegal Food is now a pop-up again, with a residency at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium from Wednesdays – Saturdays from 5-11 p.m.

Illegal Food serves what Steven affectionately calls “Stoner Asian Food,” which includes a heavy dose of Vietnamese cuisine. Why Vietnamese? Trips to Quoc Huong on Buford Highway for banh mi’s as a high school served as his gateway drug to escape the vanilla food tastes of his family growing up and eventually led to multiple trips to the country to explore the cuisine. 

Illegal Food’s take on Vietnamese Grilled Eggplant (Cà Tím Nướng) is inspired by Steven’s first experience of the dish in Vietnam at a roadside stall while sitting on plastic stools. He says that since Vietnamese food is regarded as highly customizable, he decided to tweak the recipe by adding some of the other flavors and textures he tasted while exploring the country including peanuts, shallots, the herbs tía tô and Thai basil, and a squeeze of lime and nước chấm dressing.

He says, ‘I am inspired by Vietnamese flavors and cooking techniques but as an  outsider, I use these as a jumping-off point, never attempting the most “authentic” version, just a great tasting one.”

Illegal Food will be serving Cà Tím Nướng at Soul of the South, a pop-up event with 14 pop-up chefs hosted by @gatherroundatlon September 29.

➡ Behind the Food is a new column from Punk Foodie’s Sam Flemming that highlights some of the most unique and delicious dishes from the Atlanta underground dining scene. Go deeper via Punk Foodie’s weekly guides and pop-up calendar

Sam Flemming is the founder of Punk Foodie, the love letter, fanzine, and directory newsletter and Instagram account for the Atlanta underground dining scene.