I didn’t expect to feel moved when I went to pick up fried chicken for a backyard picnic on Mother’s Day in May. Then Seoulju Korean Kitchen & Bar owner John Lee popped out of his North Austin restaurant with a gift card for a family picking up an order.
"My mom wanted me to give this to you as a Mother’s Day gift," Lee told the woman.
Lee’s mother, Sang Mi Kang, was in the kitchen, as ever, frying her popular Korean fried chicken, while her son was busy running front-of-house operations. They formed the core of a small team working on Mother’s Day to feed customers and keep their family-owned business alive. Fried chicken with a familial side story of generosity and resilience. It wasn’t their first act of generosity, either; they’ve also teamed with ATX Hospital Meals to feed frontline workers at St. David’s Hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lee returned to Austin from South Korea in 2018 and helped his mother reboot the business she started as College Roadhouse in 2015. The centerpiece dish: twice-fried chicken tossed in one of a variety of sauces, like my two favorites: slightly funky and sweet Korean chile and pungent garlic fish sauce. I asked for the sauces on the side to preserve the crunchiness of the chicken on the drive home. Our KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) dinner included a whole fried bird chopped into pieces ($23), served with sides of expressive kimchi and the refreshing crunch of pickled radish. The restaurant also serves soju, plum wine, beer, cocktails and more.
Lee has fought to keep Seoulju open during the pandemic. He has kept his dining room closed in order to protect the health of his small staff and the public. But part of Seoulju’s business model is attracting people to drink with friends late into the night. Korean food, especially Korean fried chicken, makes for some of the best drinking food. Unable to maintain the bar side of the business, Lee has curtailed the restaurant’s takeout hours in recent weeks to Thursday-Sunday night.
He was able to do so in part because of his new relationship with Kitchen United Mix, a commercial kitchen complex at 8023 Burnet Road that offers takeout service from 10 food operators, including Ramen512, Teji’s Indian Restaurant and Bao’d Up. So for the time being, you have two places to get some of the best Korean fried chicken in town.
Information: Seoulju Korean Kitchen & Bar. 9515 N. Lamar Blvd., No. 230. 512-382-1858, seouljuatx.com. Seoulju at Kitchen United Mix. 8023 Burnet Road. 512-593-5140, kitchenunited.com.
How it works: You can order takeout from Seoulju on North Lamar by calling 512-382-1858. You can order Seoulju from Kitchen United Mix online at kitchenunited.com.
Seoulju takeout hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday-Sunday
Seoulju at Kitchen United Mix takeout hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily