Korean barbecue is heating up in Tucson.
While 7 Ounce Korean Steakhouse opens on Thursday at Speedway Boulevard and Swan Road, Kogi Korean BBQ quietly opened within the past few weeks up the street in the former Seoul Kitchen space at 4951 E. Grant Rd.
First, let’s make two things clear: Kogi has no association with the food truck of the same name popularized by chef Roy Choi. As for Seoul Kitchen, they haven’t closed — they quietly relocated to the former Third Base Bar space at 6255 E. Golf Links Rd.
Back to Kogi Korean BBQ — it’s a misnomer. The restaurant has no tableside grills, but KBBQ dishes such as bulgogi and kalbi are on the menu. Additionally, the menu includes a handful of Japanese options such as donburi, sushi rolls, yakisoba, and ramen, along with a handful of Chinese dishes such as crab puffs and fried rice. But the restaurant still is mostly Korean.
Most Korean restaurants include banchan, which is an assortment of small side dishes, mostly pickled and fermented dishes such as kimchi. If kimchi was on a 1 to 10 scale for fermentation with 1 being freshly-made and 10 being deeply fermented and funky, Kogi’s kimchi would be a 6 with a higher acidity than a medium-aged kimchi. A little lighter on the garlic and ginger too, but still solid.
The Korean Don Katsu Kim Bap ($6.95) featured a breaded pork cutlet, spinach, pickled radish, carrot, and egg wrapped with rice and seaweed akin to a sushi roll. The side of katsu sauce tasted like a thick Worcestershire sauce with a touch of apple puree sweetness.
For a larger appetizer to share, order the Haemul Pajun ($12.95). The thin eggy crepe featured shrimp, mussels, and charred scallions. The accompanying sauce tasted soy sauce-based with a touch of rice vinegar, sesame, ginger, garlic, and gochugaru (Korean red chili flakes).
Lunch Bento Box specials, available 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, range from $7.95 to $8.95 and include miso soup.
The Chili Cheese Pork Katsu Lunch Bento Box ($8.95) included the katsu on a bed of sliced cabbage along with a couple slices of a California roll, white rice, cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi, cucumber salad, marinated cold tofu, and a wedge of watermelon. The name was confusing and the server described the katsu as “topped with Mexican chili and cream cheese.” As it turned out, it was a pounded flat pork cutlet topped with jalapeño and cream cheese, then breaded and fried. If you love jalapeño poppers, then you’ll love this.
It’s too hot outside right now to crave soups and stews, so we’ll be back in a few months to try those out.
Operating hours are 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Friday – Saturday.
Kogi Korean BBQ is located at 4951 E. Grant Rd. For more information, call (520) 838-0312.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran’s Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...