After gaining traction and a fan base as a pop-up, Illegal Food opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. Their focus on fresh and local, Instagram-worthy Okonomiyaki fries and award-winning burgers are only a few of the reasons this eatery is so well-loved. Two more reasons are the folks behind the scenes: Chef Steven Lingenfelter and Laurie Dominguez. Laurie brings her 10 years of service and management experience to the team and is an invaluable player. You will find her at the front of the house, but her influences can be found in the menu as well. From the stellar service to the piled-high burgers to the loaded fries, everything at Illegal Food is beyond average and will exceed your expectations. Meet the gal who keeps the restaurant running, today’s FACE of Atlanta, Laurie Dominguez.
How would you describe the culinary approach at Illegal Food?
Illegal Food is a collaboration between what food we find locally, Steven and myself. It’s part what’s in season and available and part what do we think is going to taste amazing.
What is the biggest misconception about farm-to-table dining?
I think some diners think farm-to-table dining is just a way for restaurants to cash in on a food trend, but for us, it is so important to know where our food is coming from, how it was raised and what quality we can expect. Our menu is reflective of what our local farmers brought in that morning, and we’re proud to be able to support them.
As a woman, what challenges do you face working in a role that has traditionally been dominated by men?
Women are finding their place more and more in the hospitality industry, but the challenge is forging your own path in a way that’s respected but still true to who you are.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I think anyone in this industry is just happy to do what they love. I love getting to meet our guests and try to speak with each one. We have a great group of regulars that have now become good friends. Of course, it’s hard work but seeing people love our food and love what our place represents is always rewarding.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
There is no typical day at Illegal Food, and that’s why I love it. Typically, each week starts with getting the restaurant ready, placing orders, writing schedules or you can find me in the kitchen prepping for lunch or dinner service. (P.S. I’m the brains behind the Okonomiyaki fries!) Sometimes you’ll find me mixing drinks behind the bars or even up at the hostess stand. Where there’s business to get done, I’m there.
What goals do you have for yourself in the next five years?
I would love to travel out of the country and sample authentic cuisine in Japan and China. I would also love to see Illegal Food’s hot sauces, condiments and cured meats on store shelves!
What is your favorite dish by Chef Steven?
That’s hard, there are so many! Probably his Vietnamese coffee rubbed beef brisket over fragrant rice, topped with a sunny side egg.
What is one ingredient we can always find in your kitchen?
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
Thrift stores and my couch.
What restaurant is at the top of your must-try list?
It’s more of a lounge than restaurant, but I would love to try Himitsu for cocktails, bites and atmosphere.
Is there a hidden culinary gem in Atlanta that we must know about?
Steven and I absolutely love Buford Highway, especially Northern China Eatery (not so hidden, but a favorite).
What do you think distinguishes Atlanta — and its culinary scene — from other Southern cities?
Atlanta’s neighborhoods in general make it different from other Southern cities. The food along Buford Highway is completely different from what you’ll find near us in Virginia-Highland. I love that you can hop cuisine like that in the same city.
What is the most memorable meal you have had?
An 18-course prix fixe lunch at Per Se in New York City, in a private dining room that overlooked Central Park.
What is the best piece of advice you have received, and from whom?
My parents always told me to trust my instincts.
What books can be found on your bedside table?
Some vintage cocktail books.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family, and friends?
Foot massages, a good cup of espresso and vintage shopping.
Thank you to the uber-talented CatMax Photography for today’s fantastic photos!