It was love at first taste. I had heard incessantly about Namu’s KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) to the point of annoyance, wondering if every person reporting to me had been fried chicken depraved for years.  But alas, this was one of those few times when the raves of the masses were clearly correct. Worth every diabolical calorie, Namu’s fried chicken easily rivals that infamous little dish at Momofuku made by the more infamous creator, Chef David Chang.

Crispy, crunchy, sweet and just a tad of a kick to it, this fried chicken immediately rose to my number one favorite in San Francisco. The meat was tender and juicy while the mounds of crunchy skin dripped with a piquant Gochujang glaze so luscious you can’t stop yourself from licking your fingers ever so slowly. The accompanying gravy and slaw were delicious but completely unnecessary. I could go on about this insanely decadent bird but there are other dishes well worth mentioning.

Grilled okra sported a smoky flavor without the gooey mucilage that make people shy away from this underappreciated vegetable. Soft gnocchi dissipated on my tongue, while its roasted squash and sweet soy glaze blended together in a surprisingly light, well balanced dish. Another addictive spotlight was the Potato Puffs- creamy balls of mashed potato and Parmesan lightly breaded and fried with a Gochujang aioli that offset the savory with a splash of spice. 

One of my surprising favorites of my fourth visit was the octopus- incredibly tender and garlicky, enveloped in a sweet and spicy Gochujang sauce. For those of you who typically shy away from octopus, this dish will eradicate every preconceived notion you’ve ever had about this sea creature. I promise- you’ll fall in love.

Making my way from one dish to the next, I could understand why owner and Chef Dennis Lee and his brothers had earned both an ardent following and a few detractors. Lee’s cooking is both down home goodness and sophisticated; Korean and not Korean; innovative and simple. Every morsel of food coming out of Namu’s kitchen has a very unique spirit embedded- a spirit that screams pride of its Korean origins yet has adapted to its American home.

Food critics and bloggers have struggled to categorize Namu, some naming it Korean fusion, others calling it modern Californian. Having spent time eating in Korea and California being my home state, I prefer to leave Lee’s food classified as only that which adds to why San Francisco has long earned a glorious reputation as a global foodie mecca. This is a restaurant meant for the open minded and true foodies who understand that a great chef and his ambitious, young team should be allowed to express their culinary prowess with freedom, caring most about making us, the guest, feel a range of emotions through each dish.

In my last bite of the Coffee Shaved Ice, I marveled at how the Four Barrel coffee (a local San Francisco favorite) made me feel like I was enjoying SF on a sunny afternoon while the crunchy bits of tapioca mixed into the ice brought me to the streets of Asia. I was happy in that moment, suspended between two continents, both equally my home. And I said a silent thank you to Lee and his team, for making me feel through each taste.

Namu Gaji Website