Chi’Lantro, a kimchi inspired fast-casual spot that started as a food truck in 2010, has just opened its fifth location in South Shore neighborhood off Riverside. Founder Jae Kim, born and raised in Korea, moved to the U.S. at age 11, and came up with this Korean BBQ model to help teach people how to enjoy this style of eating in an easy way. The contagious Chipotle business model that has blown up in NYC in the last two years with every type of cuisine, has not necessarily spread to Austin yet besides Chi’lantro BBQ. My theory is that no one in Austin is racing during lunch time as New Yorkers and there aren’t as many people in a condensed area fighting to get something fast. Therefore, I see there is less quick “in and out” dining experiences craved. Although that being said, the food truck scene which Chi’Lantro does have, is at a constant boom here.
Anyway, as if the fifth location isn’t enough to celebrate, Jae and his team recently stunned America when they showed up on Shark Tank and won a grant from Barbara Corcoran for $600,000.
So my thoughts on Chi’Lantro BBQ. I have to say, I was afraid of those Kimchi Fries that you see on every social media post or article written about the place. They looked so intense and are covered in cheddar, jack cheese, onion, cilantro, magic sauce, sriracha, sesame seeds, caramelized kimchi (of course), and beef. Damn I liked these. Way better than chili cheese fries because you can actually taste each flavor and they aren’t soggy.
It only makes sense that there is guac and chips here because, hey, we are in Texas, and hey, Chipotle, this is your world! I enjoyed having my own portion of guac atop my salad bowl. So you choose salad, rice bowl, noodle bowl, burrito, or tacos, then your protein and then all the fix’ins. The fried tofu is melty, warm and perfect for winter. Also, go for the hot kimchi and pickles. All these flavors work and then you can top it off with your choice of sauce which can be overwhelming because there are so many. Salsa verde, Salsa Roja, Magic Sauce, Spicy Ranch, Sesame Vinaigrette, Carrot Ginger, Kimchi Sauce, Ginger Scallion Dressing…good luck!
I have to say in the last year, I’ve eaten at so many fast-casual spots like Cava Grill, By Chloe, Inday, Mulberry & Vine, The Little Beet, Glaze Teriyaki, and Sweetgreen, but this place really stands out and it’s simply because of the personality behind it. You see Jae bussing tables, sweeping the floor, talking to customers, and with each action, he has a huge smile across his face. When you see a person tied to something, it makes you enjoy the experience more and you’re not just getting a transactional experience when ordering your chips and guacamole.
Go for the kimchi fries, stay for the fried tofu and be careful watching your friends eat those wings on a Friday night.