Korean cuisine is one of the most delicious experiences you can have, especially when you have the opportunity to do a full Korean barbecue. While it can get quite expensive, if you have enough people with you it can cut the cost of the food considerably.
I have been to many Korean restaurants, and have even written about a couple, but I have never been to Kung Fu BBQ. A newer restaurant to the campus scene, Kung Fu BBQ offers a wide variety of food from grillable items to single serving dishes. I have been in the mood to try something new so I was looking forward to a trip there, though I was fearful that it would cost a painful amount of money that I currently do not possess (the holiday season was a hard one, folks).
Kung Fu BBQ, located in the former White Horse Inn, is set in a prime location. Students and community members can get to it easily and surprisingly the parking situation is not too bad, especially compared to virtually everywhere else on campus. You still have to pay, but I felt it was not a big deal.
The interior was nice and spacious. The lighting was what you would expect from a place that used to be a bar, but the darkness did not take away from the aesthetic. Overall, it seemed really relaxed. My friend and I were greeted and taken to our seats quickly. The staff seemed very friendly and attentive, and when they gave us our menu they explained what the most popular dishes were to aid our search.
My first impression was that there were so many options. I knew off the bat that since there were only two of us, we did not need to do the grilled food. The cost of serving two people was a little high and it would have been too much food. Even though it was a bit overwhelming in the beginning, eventually my friend decided on the rice cake with shredded pork, and I opted for the spicy noodles with beef and chili soup, both at the reasonable price of $8.99.
I was warned by my server that the dish I ordered was very spicy, but what can I say? I enjoy a little heat. That feeling of when the corners of your mouth are on fire and when your nose is a drippy mess are some of the many joys of spicy food.
Our food arrived promptly and it looked pretty darn great. The best part was that there was so much of it. The smell my noodle soup was both rich and inviting, and there was definitely no skimping on the beef. The broth was spicy, but not as hot as I was hoping it would be. The way the waiter made it sound I thought it would be face melting, but sadly it was nowhere near what I was expecting. Despite this, it was still very good.
The noodles had an excellent flavor, mostly because it absorbed all the flavors of the dish. Sometimes when you get a soup with noodles, the noodles themselves are a gross, sodden mess. This was not the case for these noodles; they were a little firm which is just what I like.
The beef was cooked really well, almost comparable to pot roast. It was beautifully tender and very juicy, but maybe cut a bit too large. It would have been more pleasant to have smaller pieces throughout the dish. Despite that, I thought it was seasoned really well with the chili. There was also this really interesting pickled vegetable that looked and tasted exactly like pickle relish. It was strange but oddly enough it did not taste out of place. Considering all of the components, the dish was not too complex, but definitely tasted good. It was very rich, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The next dish also was a sizable amount. The rice cake with shredded pork looked amazing. There were a bunch of different vegetables like carrots, onions, and mushrooms, plenty of shredded pork, and it smelled heavenly.
I was expecting rice that was molded into a firm, cake like shape, but what I got was different. They were actually similar in size and shape of a sliced water chestnut, but the texture was something else. It was smooth and gelatin like, almost the texture of noodles in pad thai. It was an interesting contrast to the vegetables that were cooked to al dente. It was a good contrast that gave the dish a little more complexity.
The balance of the dish was interesting: I was expecting there to be a lot more spices, but it was pretty mild. That was not necessarily a bad thing because the flavors of the vegetables were able to stand on their own. The only disappointing aspect was the pork. The pork was good, but it was overpowered by all the other flavors. If the pork was seasoned a little more, it would have been better. The dish was also a bit too oily, possibly from the cooking oil. Despite this, it still was delicious.
Though I wish I had a chance to try the barbecue, I thought that the single serving food was well worth the price. With the good food and good atmosphere, I can see Kung Fu BBQ becoming a campus staple.
Kung Fu BBQ
510 E John St, Champaign
Tuesday-Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
All photos by Merry Thomas.