It’s slightly indecent. You wouldn’t want to do it in front of just anyone. Maybe not in public at all. Most people tend to do it in their cars, according to photographic evidence. Still others engage with pride and delight, right there on the city street, in full sunlight. And why not? There’s nothing to be ashamed of really. It’s just a cheese pull.
Here’s what it entails: First, head to Kimchipapi Kitchen, an Allston restaurant making a name for itself with its Korean-style corn dogs — mozzarella, beef hot dog, or both, impaled on a stick, dipped in batter, coated in panko, and deep-fried until golden, then topped with sugar and served with ketchup and mustard on the side. A popular street food in Korea, the corn dogs have arrived in cities like Los Angeles and New York, but they are hard to find here. (FIYA Chicken, about a half-mile away from Kimchipapi Kitchen, also makes a version.)
“People have been coming from far and wide to try it,” says owner Joon Son, a.k.a. Kimchipapi, a nickname a friend gave him because he was always cooking something. That’s a drawing of his bespectacled face on the restaurant’s logo, although he’s hard to recognize because he doesn’t usually wear glasses. “I’m kind of secretly Kimchipapi. I don’t really tell people. It’s like Batman,” he explains.
For maximal cheese pull, order the straight-up mozzarella version. Adjourn to your venue of choice, a place where you feel prepared to bite into a crunchy fried cylinder (sometimes a corn dog is just a corn dog), extend your arm, and witness melted cheese in all its stretchy glory as sugar showers your lap, along with blobs of ketchup and/or mustard, if you’ve applied them. When the cheese pull is at its apogee, take a picture. Or perhaps you’d like a video of the experience. Either way, it’s best to bring a friend, because documenting the cheese strands at full extension is a challenge when one arm is holding the stick and the other the phone. (I may know this from experience. No, you cannot see the results.)
Why are you doing this? Because it’s fun. Remember fun? The participants in Kimchipapi Kitchen’s recent cheese pull contest do. The restaurant’s Instagram shows a series of videos of people eating Korean corn dogs with nothing less than joy. There are videos like this all over the Internet: Korean corn dog cooking lessons, Korean corn dog mukbang (broadcasts that also originated in Korea, featuring a host eating food for viewers’ pleasure), Korean corn dog ASMR videos. The consumption of the crispy treat is also a soothing feast for the ears, it turns out.
But if the corn dogs seem like a gimmick, that isn’t the case. They are incredibly delicious. The crunch, the light sweetness of the fluffy batter, the salty interior, and the sprinkled sugar: It all comes together just so. Once you start eating, it’s very hard to stop. Kimchipapi Kitchen also offers a beef-only potato corn dog, coated in French fries. (There are deep-fried Oreos, too. “People need dessert,” Son says.)
The corn dogs can, however, function as gateway snacks. If you’re going to get one (or two), why not also order some Kimchipapi Fried Chicken — with honey teriyaki or sriracha BBQ glaze — or a poke bowl?
The KFC is great, particularly sandwiched on a Hawaiian sweet roll with spicy mayo and pickled cucumbers. But at Kimchipapi Kitchen, the bowls are the heart of the matter.
Son opened his first business in 2008, shortly after graduating from UMass Boston. At the Buzzer wasn’t a restaurant at all. It was a footwear boutique. Son was really into sneakers. Always had been. Same with his friends. The sneaker resale market was developing, still cool, not yet the multibillion dollar industry it is today. “I wanted to do a consignment shop for sneakers. There weren’t any in the area. I wanted to be the first one,” he says. He ran the shop until 2015. The sneaker industry was changing. “It got a little corporate and watered down. It wasn’t the same feeling,” says Son, 38. (“I kind of wear comfort now. I’m not into flashy. I like to wear my Crocs.”) It was time for something new.
But not entirely new. His mother, Ho Jeo Son, used to run Wu Chon House in Somerville, a pillar of the local Korean restaurant scene until it closed in 2010. Retired and living in New York, she returned for a few months to help him open his restaurant, in the same space where the sneaker boutique once stood. His sister, Heather Kim, lives in LA and serves as consultant, helping with trend-spotting and marketing. Kimchipapi Kitchen opened in 2018, bringing together two influences: “For the restaurant, I was really inspired by my mom and inspired by all the poke restaurants opening up,” he says. Kimchipapi Kitchen’s bowls meet in the middle, versions of poke that incorporate Korean ingredients like kimchi, pickled radish, and spicy bean sprouts.
There are no bad choices, from the Flyin’ Hawaiian Bowl (sushi rice, crab salad, raw tuna, mango, avocado, and more) to the Bibimbap Bowl, a straighter take on the classic rice dish. But my favorite might be the Kimchimama Bowl, which combines rice, greens, raw tuna and salmon, crab salad, fish eggs, kimchi, spicy pickled cucumbers, gochujang, and roasted seaweed. The dish is very similar to one called hwe dup bap, with the banchan, or side dishes, mixed in. “I dedicated that to my mother,” Son says. “It was always the dish I ate at Wu Chon House.”
It has not been an easy road for Kimchipapi Kitchen. Five months after the restaurant opened, the roof collapsed. “We had to close down. I was running out of money. I was worried about the future,” Son says. Then, the pandemic. Finally, things are getting smoother.
“It’s been pretty busy, probably the busiest we’ve ever been,” he says. “I just want to have a normal … I don’t know. What is normal? Just a year where we can conduct business.” With customers coming from far and wide for the love of the cheese pull, that doesn’t sound like a stretch.
81 Harvard Ave., Allston, 617-208-8005, www.kimchipapikitchen.com