Takeout dining review: Ajumama's Korean-inspired cuisine adapts delightfully to stationary setting
Under normal circumstances, Ajumama is a top-tier mobile restaurant. The food truck normally roves about Columbus serving inspired Korean-American-leaning cuisine that has led Laura Lee, Ajumama’s talented proprietor, to multiple Food Network appearances. Running a food truck during a global pandemic, though, would not be filed under “normal circumstances.”
Flexing her creative muscle, Lee has reconfigured her business and largely morphed Ajumama into a veritable contactless caterer that operates from the parking lot of Food Fort — a food-truck hub just off East Fifth Avenue in Northeast Columbus. That’s where Lee expertly prepares, carefully packages (several items are “some assembly required”) and places her wares on outdoor tables on Fridays and Saturdays (at prearranged, precise times) for customers who preordered the previous Tuesday.
You never know what’ll be on Ajumama’s frequently changing menu — which is released in an entertaining weekly email newsletter (contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the list) — but you can be sure about two things:
1) Eating Lee’s distinctive and delicious food will be among the most fun you’ll have all week
2) Every dish tells a story
Get restaurant reviews and food news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Describing one week’s featured entree — roll-your-own Hallyu Burritos ($55; serves at least four) — Lee touched on the surging popularity of Korean culture ("hallyu" means "Korean wave"), newfangled burritos and a celebrated San Diego taco shop.
That’s all interesting, but the proof is in the burritos — and they were terrific. Huge, toasty flour tortillas were provided to wrap around seared, bulgogi-flavored, sizable steak strips; grilled sweet shrimp; crispy fries; spicy, kimchi-accented pico de gallo; shredded cheese; fresh avocado; and tangy “kochu crema.” The result was a wild and wonderful, surf-and-turf party in my mouth that was part Korean, part Mexican and wholly American.
Another featured entree — KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) Style Wings (12 for $22; 24 for $42) — were big, meaty and non-greasy flappers encased in a craggy and delightfully crunchy, golden-brown coating. Two appealing sauces were offered (I opted for both on the side): a creamy, fruity and medium-spicy “maple peach kochu” and a sweet-and-salty soy glaze. Keeping with Korean convention, the wings were served with plenty of sweet pickled daikon cubes.
I also loved the gigantic Chilled Sesame Noodles ($30). This toss-it-yourself salad starred a mammoth tray of vibrant plant matter that included multicolored pepper slices, multicolored grape tomatoes, blanched green beans and sliced cucumber, plus daikon and carrot slivers. When combined with the provided al dente thin rice noodles and sesame-soy dressing (harmoniously salty, sweet, rich and umami-forward), it's a great summertime entree for four to six people or a side dish fit for a small army.
The addictive Bindaetteok ($13 for a dozen) was one of Ajumama’s best bargains. Although sometimes called Korean falafel, these puffy-yet-crisp little mung-bean pancakes are much closer to latkes. Make that closer to latkes when dunked in Lee’s sesame-ranch sauce, and closer to jeon (the pancakes popular in Korean eateries) when dipped in the tamari-vinegar sauce. I wanted them closer to my mouth either way.
Expect such offerings to be grouped with seasonally apt add-ons. Some recent examples: a pleasant, sesame-enriched riff on coleslaw ($6 per quart); irresistible fresh pickles (Korean Style Cukes and Onions, $7 per quart); a sweet, floral and unusual Carrot Walnut Persimmon Salad ($7 per quart); plus flavorful thoughts such as, “Time seems to be a very abstract concept as of late. Sometimes I think it's still March,” and “ Wheeeww it's a little warm outside isn't it? Hope you are all staying cool and safe as summer hits with the force of a sledgehammer.”
If you’re lucky like I was once, Lee’s super-refreshing, heat-beating Mango Ginger Lime Mixer ($13 a quart) will also appear in the newsletter with this description: “Goes great with tequila, which you're going to need, so you might as well buy a bottle this week.”
Ajumama Korean Street Food