Born in South Korea and moving with his family to the US when he was 11, Jae Kim started Chi’lantro in a trailer in 2010 and has built it into a seven (soon more) brick-n-mortar empire of Korean-Mexican fusion. The tag line for Chi’lantro is “Korean BBQ inspired,” a hint that of the Korean fusion that Kim has conjured for his restaurants. In fact, the name Chi’lantro is a portmanteau of kimchi (Korean) and cilantro (Mexican).
Kim’s food has earned trumpets from the Food Network, the Cooking Channel, Food and Wine, Huffington Post, and Shark Tank. Chi’lantro offers bowls, burrito wraps (ssäms, although traditionally they are lettuce wraps [which would not be a bad idea…]), wings, and kimchi fries fused with Korean flavors in a fast-casual, hip, and friendly atmosphere. In fact, Kim is credited with inventing kimchi fries, an item that has taken off nationally.
Ordering can be a little daunting since there are many choices. Although not shown on their on-line menu, the storefront includes a “Signature” bowl and ssäm, which is a good place to start. A Signature bowl or ssäm runs about $10, but you still have to choose a base (jasmine rice, brown rice, japchae noodles, lettuce and cabbage, spinach, or fries), a protein (Korean BBQ Angus steak, spicy chicken, soy glazed chicken, or marinated tofu), and sauce (carrot ginger, lime juice, sesame vinaigrette, magic sauce, spicy ranch, salsa roja, and sriracha). Standard ingredients include black beans, grilled corn, green leaf lettuce mix, carrot, red cabbage, kimchi, onion, cilantro, and sesame seeds). A small ssäm (a small taco) goes for $3.50 each.
Chi’lantro has long been a fave of The Bride because of the salad base and the flavorful carrot ginger sauce. Their ssäms are California burritos with a Korean twist. Chi’lantro invented kimchi fries (~$10) back in the trailer days as a late-night snack where Kim caramelized the end-of-the-day kimchi and piled it along with onions, cilantro, Magic Sauce, sriracha, and sesame seeds (+protein for an extra charge) on top of French fries—essentially a Korean poutine. The dish is festive on the eyes and the taste buds. In fact, all of their dishes, with the exception of the silver bulleted ssäms, are festive and photogenic. The Korean fried chicken wings (market prices; about a buck a wing for my visit) are (apologies to Colonel Sanders) finger-licking good with a thick, flavorful sauce speckled with sesame.
Chi’lantro’s stylish dining rooms just re-opened from the pandemic, which also allows you to experience their friendly staff, also a hallmark of the business. If dining in isn’t on your option list yet, they have pickup, curbside, and delivery options as well.
I wrote this review for the Allandale Neighbor.
web&where: interwebs; 5222 burnet road (but also all over town)
what’s the deal? Korean BBQ bowls, burritos, and fries! (fast-casual)
overall: *** (food***; drink*; atmosphere**; service***; instagrammability***)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best] each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)
each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)