Every now and then it’s fun to imagine trying a hip, popular restaurant in downtown Los Angeles; that is before I’m quickly reminded of the traffic and lack of decent parking anywhere in the city. Not to mention there is usually a long wait for a table in those kinds of places, so by the time your meal finally arrives, you’re already an hour and a half into the excursion.

Fortunately for me, I recently had that sought-after, trendy dining experience, only without the hiccups, at Next Republic Artisan Kitchen, much closer to home in Alhambra. With its dark interior, palm leaf wallpaper, wooden tables, sleek black chairs and modern light fixtures, the new Asian fusion restaurant gives foodies Instagram-worthy content as a bonus to amazing food. Next Republic’s own Instagram page features stunning photos of their dishes that can make anyone want to pay a visit. Although they had a soft opening in December, their official grand opening was on Aug. 18. 

Since its soft opening, Next Republic has changed its menu items quite a bit after hiring a chef consultant who modified their offerings. New items are easy to spot on the menu as they are labeled “new,” and items that have been removed like the ramen burger are only remembered through past Yelp reviews.

Now, is there anything better than cheese? Before you mull that question over much longer, the correct answer is no. There is nothing better. So when my partner and I saw Korean Chilli Cheese Chicken Bites ($12) on the appetizer menu, it was an easy and quick decision to order. This shareable appetizer is essentially hot wings on a bed of thick, melted cheese. I have to admit, I’m not a huge hot wing lover, and the hot sauce tasted like something generic you could find at a grocery store, but the cheese and chicken bite combination gave this dish an exceptional flavor.

It’s important to note that Next Republic has one of the most extensive “shareable” menus I’ve seen, with more than 20 options, most under $10. Showing off its “fusion” cuisine, they offer gyoza ($7), tuna rolls ($6.50), popcorn chicken ($6.25), onion rings ($4.50), poke nachos ($8), cream cheese wontons ($5.75), pizza tater tots ($7), tacos ($7), and potato wedges ($5) to name a few. Our second appetizer was the pork belly buns ($7.50) — all less impressive than the chicken bites, though still tasty.

As my main course, I ordered the chicken pan fried noodles ($11.50) and relished every bite. They had a crisp texture and greasy goodness that would make them the perfect meal following a hangover. The thin noodles also have a decent chicken to veggie ratio, and can be ordered with beef or veggies only as a vegetarian option. Although noodles in any form are one of my favorite things to eat, these were so filling and heavy that I had to take most of the plate home to enjoy later.

Every one of the burgers on the menu is labeled new, so my partner had the waiter suggest which is the best, to which he quickly answered the truffle burger ($14) is one of the most popular choices. It was a pleasant surprise that the burger was made medium rare by default, as all their burgers are cooked, unless ordered otherwise. The burger was flavorful with tasty beef held together with an egg, truffle sauce and cheddar cheese between two thick toasted buns. Overall, most of the entrees are rather heavy, so let this serve as a warning before you order one too many items like we did. Other notable entrees include the Japanese Miso Yakiniku burger ($12) and pasta that can be ordered in penne or spaghetti with a choice of kimchi pork ($13.50), bacon ($12.50), as well as shrimp or chicken pesto ($13.50/ $12.50). Next Republic also has teppan on the menu, with choices of meat, sauces, and sides ranging from $16.50 for chicken to $22 for the marinated beef short ribs.

We made it in time for their happy hour which goes from 3 to 6 p.m., then from 9 p.m. to close and boasts a few of their shareable dishes as well as decent beverage options. Our waiter was friendly and eager to answer questions to help us decide on drinks. I ordered the lychee white sangria ($7) which had a lychee and slice of orange garnish, and tasted sweet and refreshing. While they do offer a hefty list of beers, a more unique variety to solidify their wide-ranging menu would make it all the better. For those who are not into wine or beer, they have a few interesting cocktails, including “My Cup of Tea,” ($9) made with honey, oolong tea, and sapporo, and “Beauty and the East,” ($9) which contains lychee, sabe gold rum, butterfly pea, and mint.

Although they only have two dessert options — Creme brulee ($6.25) and Nutella cheesecake ($6), there is plenty to try in downtown Alhambra if you’re not ready to call it a night. While it seems Next Republic Artisan Kitchen is still trying to figure out what works best, it’s clear that they’re close and already on to something amazing with great service, an expansive menu, and decor as stylish and pleasing to the eye as their food.