Walking in the front door of JKogi Seoul Street Eats on Second Street in Jackson Ward, it’s clear that no one’s meant to linger. Not because the owners don’t like you. This just happens to be the deal — JKogi is quick Korean food. You could squeeze in — and I mean squeeze — and sit on a stool at the counter along the window for a bite, or dally longer at an outdoor table on warm days. Generally, though, you’re grabbing and going.
They make it quick and convenient, with ridiculously easy-to-use online ordering and payment software on the JKogi website. You can take care of business online and then walk in, pick up your bag, pivot and walk out. Or on the flip side, you can pay the two bucks plus tip for delivery. Even though Richmond doesn’t quite necessitate the level of efficiency that must work great in Seoul’s bbali bbali (hurry hurry) culture, I’ll take it.
If you haven’t had Korean fare, you might feel a tad lost. My advice is to order in-house on your first visit. The mustachioed man behind the register really knows Korean food. He answers questions about each menu item so knowledgeably and specifically — along with correct pronunciation — that I give him a million stars for not regurgitating the menu and simply suggesting the dishes that are popular.
The foundation of Korean food is kimchi. This tangy, kind of slimy, magical elixir of seasoned, fermented cabbage is prevalent on the menu, showing up in crêpe-style pancakes ($5), in fried rice with bacon ($5) and on the side ($2.50). Like its German cousin, sauerkraut, it’s a taste that can take some getting used to and, for those new to kimchi, JKogi’s version is a good place to start. All varieties are delicious, especially the pancakes.
My favorite dishes are the smaller bites all listed under the menu’s chef’s choices. I start with fried chicken wings ($6.50). They come two ways, with a sweet soy garlic sauce or kan poong gi fire sauce. The meat is basted with the sauce rather than doused with it, and although both styles are good, there’s no discernible difference, at least with my order. Also, “fire” might be a misnomer because the house doesn’t burn down as I hope. This is true for other spicy menu items I try — news that could be good or bad depending on your tolerance for the sweet struggle of eating hot peppers.
But thukbokki ($5), fish and rice cakes in a thick chili sauce, lives up to the pepper icon on the menu. I love the textures — the fish cakes are flat, noodle-y strips and the rice cakes are thick, tubes reminiscent of gnocchi, but chewier. Soondubu ($6), spicy rib-eye soup, reminds me of hot-and-sour soup from a Chinese takeout joint. Be forewarned, there isn’t much rib-eye going on here. Instead, it’s a light, flavorful broth with chunks of silken tofu, nourishing and warming, like something that could bring you back from a bout of the flu.
For a meal-sized portion, go for a rice bowl. You choose the meat, starch and vegetables. I try tofu jorrim ($8) and order all the vegetables — carrots, cucumbers, pickled radish, kimchi, bean sprouts and purple cabbage — arranged around a massive bed of rice that’s topped with grilled tofu. It’s light, fresh and balanced. On another visit, I try the rib-eye bulgogi ($9) with less success. The meat is tough, the shredded cucumbers are a mushy mess, and everything tastes heavy and dense. The trick, I find, is to limit your selection of veggies or ask for lighter helpings.
Or go for the kimbap, which looks like sushi made with cooked meat and fish. But unlike sushi, which you can eat pounds of in one sitting and still want a meal 20 minutes later, JKogi’s kimbap is more substantial and filling. Thick rolls of rice surround meat and vegetables, and you need more than one bite for each slice. I enjoy the grilled and smoky squid and minced pork belly, but the rib-eye roll is too laden with beef. The spicy tuna roll is actually a spicy tuna salad filling. And I avoid the Spam roll. I’ve gotten this far in life without trying Spam, though I’m betting there are a few of you who are going to be psyched about its availability. Oh, you secret Spam lovers, you. I know you’re out there.
A bottle of Milkis ($1.75) rounds out a full-fledged Korean dining experience. This is a flavored carbonated milk drink that tastes a little like cream soda — but totally weird. And good. And sugary. Shikae ($1.50), another super sweet drink on the docket of strange and fun, is worth a try. It’s essentially rice sugar water — and it’s sugar like you’ve never had before. Dessert is unnecessary. S
JKogi Seoul Street Eats
Sundays-Thursdays 5 p.m.-midnight; Fridays-Saturdays: 5 p.m.-3 a.m.
325 N. Second St.