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Finally, on my third visit to Wild Kitchen, everything was revealed. At the register was a take-charge Korean-American named Joon who turned out to be the owner. He moved to Houston from Northern California, where he had a 14-store chain of London-style fish-and-chips restaurants, he told me. Joon already has two other fish-and-chips restaurants in Houston. But he said that everybody down here asked for spicy Cajun-style seafood, so he decided to try his own concept featuring both London and Cajun-style fried fish. And so Wild Kitchen was born.
"Why did you move to Houston from Northern California?" I asked him.
8806 Stella Link
Houston, TX 77025
Special burger: $6.25
Animal burger: $5.45
Oyster burger: $4.45
Fish basket: $3.75
Ten hush puppies: $1.95
He said the move had caused him a lot of grief with his teenage daughters, who found the climate in Space City a little on the wet and sticky side. But Texas was his dreamland. He had stars in his eyes when he talked about the 800 Korean-owned doughnut shops in Dallas. Here in Houston, the sky was the limit for a Korean entrepreneur with the right fast-food concept.
I am guessing the inspiration for the never-been-frozen hamburgers was California's "In and Out" burger chain. I asked Joon if the Animal Burger was his best. He pointed instead to the "Special Burger" on the countertop menu.
The description read, "Both sides of the bread are toasted. Two 100% ground fresh meat, two slices American cheese, with mayo, mustard, thousand island dressing, Extra (lettuce, tomato, pickles), 4 pcs onion ring, and cut in half. 7 oz meat $6.25." I tried to explain to Joon that if the sandwich contained two seven-ounce burger patties, then the menu should read "14 ounces of meat." But he thought I was impugning his burgers. "I personally guarantee this burger," Joon said, thumping his finger on the menu adamantly. So, of course, I ordered one.
The two halves of the burger were laid face down side by side in a long cardboard boat forming a seven-inch column of burger, bun and condiments. The onion rings were actually in the sandwich -- they formed an extra layer on an already tall burger. It was difficult to get the thing into my mouth.
The burger patties were juicy, the condiments were just right and the onion rings added a wonderful crispy texture. If you have ever eaten a spider roll at a sushi bar with a hot, crunchy, tempura-fried soft-shell crab inside a layer of soft rice, you get the concept. It was an awesome burger, but even though I had just played 18 holes of golf and I was extremely hungry, I could only finish half of it. I took the rest home in a Styrofoam box.
On my fourth visit, I sampled the hot wings and the fried chicken tenders. Both were covered with a spicy flour coating that didn't get crispy enough in the fryer. It tasted wet and pasty. The wings were underdone and coated with a nasty vinegar-heavy hot sauce. So much for the chicken.
I highly recommend the burgers, the London-style fried fish, the juicy oysters and the perfect onion rings at Wild Kitchen. And I encourage you to sample the Special Burger -- if you have a very big mouth.
Will Houston embrace the Wild Kitchen concept and turn Joon, the Korean entrepreneur, into the next Tilman Fertitta? Time will tell. But I think he has a few kinks to work out with the marketing. For starters, he could offer one of his daughter's high school teachers a couple of burgers to translate the menu into English.