California Kitchen and Craft Pub
The burritos, burgers and chilli bowls of Gyeongnidan’s Cali Kitchen have been a vital source of sustenance for many of us for a couple of years now; come rain or shine, owner Chuck Chun has been serving up a taste of California since mid-2015.
Having outgrown the original space behind Maloney’s pub, Chuck closed down operations during the spring of 2017 in order to bring his new concept to reality. It’s been an agonising wait for some of us, but with the partial help of a Kickstarter campaign to help them over the line, to which I contributed a small amount (does that make me an investor? are royalty cheques about to come flooding in? I can dream…), the newly rebranded California Kitchen and Craft Pub officially opens today after a short soft opening, and I’m pleased to say that it’s a winner.
[Note: No money, free food or other inducement was asked for or received in return for this post. As stated above, I contributed $50 to the Kickstarter fund that helped Cali Kitchen open in its new premises. Soju Sunrise accepts freebies only very occasionally and will always explicitly state if this is the case.]
The concept of Cali Kitchen 1.0 revolved around simple but well-made Californian food; burritos and burrito bowls, burgers, topped fries and so on. In its new iteration, California Kitchen and Craft Pub has retained that core concept, adding a couple of menu items but broadly sticking to the customer favourites that have been so popular among the loyal clientele that have migrated, huffing and puffing, up the hill to the new location.
The burgers are the centrepiece of the menu in many ways, and the new restaurant builds on the classic, In-N-Out inspired burger with a couple of new varieties. I’m glad to see a chili burger on there, since Chuck’s chili is pretty damn good and adding it to a burger makes perfect sense.
The burritos and burrito bowls are also terrific. My go-to is the chicken burrito bowl topped with guacamole and sour cream (above), but your mileage may vary. Like everything on the menu, all of Cali Kitchen’s food is customisable; if you want it extra spicy, want a double portion of meat, or like me prefer your food without corn on it, then just ask.
The fries look expensive at first glance, but you’ll perhaps feel differently when they arrive at the table, because they are pretty damn big. What distinguishes the food here from a lot of other places is that everything is fresh, and tastes it; the flavours pop, the colours jump off the plate.
During soft opening they’ve also done Taco Tuesdays, and the tacos look set to continue on the menu as a semi-regular item. Again, simple, cheap, but so good.
In its new evolution, Cali Kitchen is now also a Craft Pub, and it’s a big part of the new concept. There’s a selection of twelve draft beers and a range of bottles, including (at the time of writing) beers from the Hardywood Park brewery in Virginia, Firestone Walker, and Prairie Artisan Ales. Quite a few of them are beers that are hard to find elsewhere, and the tap list (which you can check out live online on their website) will rotate frequently to keep things fresh.
Some of the beers are quite pricey, in line with their desire to offer the best beer selection in the greater Itaewon area; others are pretty good value for money, starting around 6,500KRW. Serious beer aficionados will, I suspect, find a lot to like about this place. But if you want a bog-standard cheap-ass Korean beer to wash down your burger, you’re out of luck.
For those who remember the original space a bit further down the hill in Gyeongnidan, the new restaurant is a pretty dramatic change. The open kitchen is fronted by a long bar, being propped up by insalubrious types such as this reviewer, but there’s also table seating and stools by the large windows, so if you prefer not to be within range of Chuck’s terrible puns and double entendres, you can do that too.
It’s probably obvious from the foregoing paragraphs that I’m a big fan of the new California Kitchen and Craft Pub, so are there criticisms? Not really, but in the interests of balance, let’s venture a couple of qualifications.
As mentioned before, the focus is very much on craft beer so, while they do have a couple of bourbons and other drinks, if you want a Cass, a Cabernet Sauvignon or a cocktail, you’ll need to head elsewhere. As for the food, as much as I enjoy it, there are restaurants out there with more variety; at Cali Kitchen, the burrito bowl tastes very similar to the taco, which in turn is similar to the Cali fries, so in the unlikely event that you don’t like one, you’re unlikely to like the others, either. Finally, I suppose, if you are after healthy dishes, you’re probably going to struggle here, though I would contend that the walk up the hill will burn off most of those calories anyway.
These are minor criticisms, if they’re criticisms at all. California Kitchen and Craft Pub fills a gap that few other places in the area truly manage to do, and their range of beers will make them a destination venue for many beer lovers.
They should also be open late on weekends, allowing you to get a late night fix of food after a long day of work (or play). Perhaps that’s why I’ve been there two or three times a week over the past fortnight. But don’t let put you off! Highly recommended.
- Category: American
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Chicken burrito bowl
- Subway: Noksapyeong Station (녹사평역) exit 2
- Directions: Cali Kitchen is on the main Gyeongnidan road heading up towards the Hyatt. Keep walking up the road, passing Namsan Chemistry and Coffeesmith on the left, and you will come to a small junction with a big GS25 on the right which usually has people sitting outside drinking beer. Cali Kitchen is on the second floor overlooking this little square, just above a small 7-11 and next to the Baskin Robbins Café.
- Address: 이태원동 212-24 라인빌 제2층 201호
- Hours: Cali Kitchen is open six days a week except Wednesdays. Regular evening service is 5 – 11pm, closing a couple of hours later on Fridays and Saturdays (1am) and a couple of hours earlier on Sundays (9pm). On Saturdays and Sundays they will also be open from 11:30 – 2:30 for lunch. You can check their Facebook page and the live tap list on their website for up to date menu and opening times.