Chego debuted onto the L.A. restaurant scene in the Spring of 2010. Part of the Kogi BBQ family (yes, THE Kogi BBQ that started the whole gourmet food truck craze), Chego promises to continue to challenge the taste buds of Angelenos who have yet to be introduced to K-cuisine, comfort style–and not from a truck, but from its brick and mortar home in the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City.
Chego’s bright orange sign welcomes diners to come in for a Chego experience. What exactly does Chego mean? Loosely translated, it means “the best” in Korean. According to its tag line on the website you can expect “chillax peasant food from the soul“. I was intrigued, eager to learn more and after studying the menu online, I’ve summed it up as Korean comfort food with a modern twist. We’ll actually see if I’m close to the mark. The restaurant itself is not far from the National Avenue exit off of the 10 Fwy heading east from the 405. Located on Overland Avenue, Chego is in a small strip mall flanked by a market to its left and a laundromat to the right. Not what I expected to see. The line of people waiting to place an order was almost out the door and it appeared to be packed. Parking, well, to put it in a word–sucks. Chego shares the parking lot with the other small businesses in the corner strip mall. I, however, got lucky. There was one open parking space when I pulled into the small lot. Had that not been available, I would have been circling the block for a parking space. Okay. So far so good. A friend of mine who was coming from Hollywood to meet me for dinner was not so lucky. She had to circle the block but found a space on very busy Overland Avenue a block away.
The smell of Korean BBQ wafted through the air and I became very hungry all of a sudden. My friend and I got in line and it moved pretty quickly. I noticed that there were a few people waiting for their orders holding metal stands with numbers. I quickly scanned the room. It’s a small, cozy space. The wall to the left when you walk in displayed a variety of colorful,creative typesets which spelled “Chego”, walls were painted in soothing colors, the wall to the right was tiled with mirrors. Shelves installed higher than normal displayed odds and ends to give it a homey feeling.
The seating arrangement was interesting. You have your choice of sitting family style with other diners at the large picnic table or standing in the center of the restaurant, elbow to elbow with other Chego-ites or sitting on low stools, watching yourself eat facing the mirrored walls on equally low narrow tables. Behind the cashier was a blown up version of the menu. I had already viewed the menu online and called my Aunt Josie and cousin Gina in San Francisco to get their recommendations on what I should order. They have both been to Chego and I knew they wouldn’t steer me wrong. I told the cashier that it was our first time there and he proudly told us that everything on their menu was excellent. He said it with such conviction that I believed him.
We placed our order and were directed to go around the corner to grab our bottled waters from the coolers in the back as well as our “place settings” (i.e., utensils and napkins). The crowd started to thin out a bit and we scored on two seats in the back. While waiting I started snapping pictures and surveyed the crowd. It was an eclectic group and appeared to be mainly students from nearby UCLA. Popular hip hop music blared from its speakers. I thought it would have been cool to actually play Korean hip hop/rap/dance music from South Korean artists such as Big Bang, Rain, MBlaq, Epik High, 2PM or 2NE1 and maybe mix it up with its American counterparts (Timbaland, Usher, Justin Timberlake, Drake, etc.).
Our food finally arrived but not all at once. Our Ooey Gooey Fries were served up first and recommended by my cousin Gina. At first glance, I thought the pickled garlic were grapes. The fries were crisp and with the melted monterey jack and crumbled cotija cheeses, chiles, cilantro and sour cream sambal crowning the fries, it was total bliss. You gotta order these fries. They are the bomb!
My friend ordered the Tiny’s Prime Rib Rice Plate which included a chili-rubbed prime rib, fried egg, water spinach, creamed horseradish, roasted garlic serrano paste, and shallots. The plate displayed layers of flavor and the steamed rice provided the foundation to the dish. In theory, it all sounded really good. The dish did show lots of promise but unfortunately, there was too much going on. The flavors were in competition with one another and it was very spicy. The fried egg was not successful in cutting through the spiciness of the dish. The prime rib, which was hidden underneath the fried egg, was surprisingly about the size of my friend’s hand and half of the meat was fatty. It was good–just a bit too spicy and unfortunately not enough meat.
I ordered the Chubby Pork Belly served with the kochujang-lacquered kurobuta, w/fried egg, pickled watermelon radishes, water spinach, cilantro, cotija, and peanuts served in a recyclable, compostable bowl. This dish reminded me of bibimbap without the heavy cast iron bowl and the sizzle. The kurobuta (Japanese Berkshire Pork, a top grade pork) was “lacquered” with the kochujang, or Korean red chile paste, grilled with a nice charr and cut into bite-sized pieces. Generous scoops of steamed white rice and a medley of vegetables, along with the kurobuta and the fried egg made this a colorful dish. Fortunately, the pork had a nice kick to it but not too spicy. The way to eat this dish is to mix everything together so you can enjoy all the flavors at the same time. I enjoyed it; I just wish it had a bit more meat so that I could have finished the rice and vegetables.
Chego’s smiling haraboji gives its menu a thumbs up. Overall, it’s pretty good and I’d like to come back and try the other items on the menu, particularly the desserts such as the Upside Down Peach Cake with Breakfast Ice Cream and the Rock Yer Road. Now if they can be just a bit more generous on the meat, I would give it two thumbs up!
3300 Overland Avenue
Culver City, CA 90034
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30PM-11:30PM