Kobecue opened quietly four months ago, tucked between Skewers and Aroma Classique in the flagstone-fronted strip center at Richmond and Weslayan.
"Most of our customers come over after seeing us from Costco," said the young man at the counter when I dropped by this past Sunday. I'd ended up there in much the same way: Driving by after trying to eat at two other restaurants that had been mysteriously closed on a Sunday evening. It was luck that brought me to Kobecue, but it will be the food that brings me back.
If the name sounds somewhat familiar, it's because Kobecue sounds strikingly like Kogi BBQ, the famous Los Angeles-based food truck that has been extremely influential in bringing both Korean fusion food and a new generation of food trucks to the national stage. Some of the menu items are even similar: You'll find Korean pork and short rib tacos at Kobecue, too.
But Kobecue puts its own twist on Korean fusion, with dishes of bibimbap and items like sweet-and-spicy chicken wing rice bowls rounding out its menu. There are bibimbap beef burgers here and kimchi cheese fries similar to those at Kimchi Cult in London, as well as a help-yourself kimchi bar that I'm told goes fast every single day. (Kobecue doesn't make its own kimchi, but purchases it from a local company.)
And although it might have competition in the form of the roving Oh My Gogi! food truck, Kobecue doesn't see it that way. "They're like advertising for us," joked the kid behind the counter. The more people who try Korean fusion the better, as he sees it, and Kobecue gives you a place where you can try it in a brick-and-mortar location.
I tried an assortment of dishes that night, splitting them with a friend. The kimchi cheese fries are bound to horrify any true connoisseur of Korean food, but were nevertheless fun and appropriately gooey. The kimchi on top was a little too salty, but the paper boat of fries was quickly balanced out by some vinegary bibimbap sauce.
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Of my two tacos, the short ribs were overcooked and tough, but the bright, heady flavor of the sweet, sesame-and-garlic marinade stood out anyway. The pork in the other taco was perfectly cooked, as tender and juicy as a tortilla full of carnitas -- you even get lime, cilantro and onions with your tacos here.
My friend's rather bland beef bibimbap was nothing spectacular, but it's an inoffensive dish to order for your more truculent guests if they're not quite up to a spicy pork burger or a bowl of fermented cabbage. They just won't know what they're missing...