Don Pocha Serves Classic Korean Barbecue with Memorable Sides
Jo Chong, the owner of Poong Mei Asian Bistro, has closed that Reed Road restaurant but opened another right next door.
Jo Chong has long dreamed of opening a Korean barbecue restaurant. Ask him why, and he laughs as if the answer is obvious: fun.
I’d argue “fun” sells the 9-month-old Don Pocha short of its true character. (“Don” means pork in Mandarin, and “pocha” translates to street food in Korean.) The 60-seat restaurant, with a mix of regular and inset grill tables for DIY cooking, is fun, squared.
Sure, it checks all the traditional KBBQ boxes, including bulgogi, savory pancakes, hot pots, stews and marinated beef and pork. But the execution made me want to turn around and walk back in the second I left. Fresh meat with smoky chars and rendered fat. A seemingly never-ending rollercoaster of savory, bitter, sweet, spicy and fermented flavors. And a friendly staff ready with a recommendation or two.
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The best barbecue orders give equal weight to pork and beef. Just make sure the LA Kalbi, aka marinated short ribs ($26 entrée; available in barbecue combos), are on the table somewhere. It took time for Chong, also the owner of Poong Mei next door, to perfect this marinade (which I’m still dreaming about days later), packed with pear, pineapple and apple for sweetness, soy sauce for umami, and sesame oil for a toasty bite. [Note: Poong Mei closed after this story ran in the September issue of Columbus Monthly, and some of its dishes are expected to transfer over to Don Pocha.]
The beef and pork combo for two ($55) is a great place to start. It comes with all you could desire. The aforementioned marinated short ribs, of course. Plus thinly sliced beef brisket—perfect with a dip in sesame oil and salt, plus a dab of bracing wasabi mayo. Wonderfully fatty curls of pork belly that need little more than a sprinkling of salt, but shine when wrapped in lettuce with all the trimmings on the table. And charred boneless pork back ribs that crave a dousing of the accompanying fermented bean paste.
(Bonus: If dining in is not in the cards, Don Pocha offers substantial barbecue to-go boxes that include all the trimmings.)
Originally from South Korea, Chong’s vision is to showcase the best of Korean barbecue but with his own touches. Translation: He features side dishes that diners won’t likely find anywhere else in the city—like lightly pickled daikon radish, punchy mustard greens, cucumber pickles, and crispy and bright scallion salad. “The meat is kind of greasy,” he says. “So the sides are fresh.”
There are plenty of gems to be found beyond the grill. Complex stews layered with flavors ($12 each). Ultra-crispy Korean chicken wings doused in spicy sauce ($9) or a comforting crock of steamed egg ($3). And the aptly named Crazy Squid Hair ($8) is fried and shredded squid topped with Parmesan cheese and served with Sriracha mayo for dipping. It looks a bit like a funnel cake—airy on the outside with the slightest chew inside. This dish isn’t just a good time; it has substance.
No matter what’s on the table, the meal will begin with banchan (a series of sides) such as cabbage slathered in gochujang with subtle spice, pickled radishes, a sweet potato salad and kimchi. Use them to fight the palate fatigue that comes from a heavy, charred-meat meal. And wash it all down with a cold lager or shot of strawberry soju.
Bottom line, I wanted to hang out at Don Pocha all night. In fact, my dining companion and I practically did. We finally said goodbye knowing the best part about leaving Don Pocha is that we get to come back for more fun.
Don Pocha Korean BBQ
4710 Reed Road, Upper Arlington, 614-459-9292, donpocha.com