Bonchon emptied my wallet but didn’t fill my appetite


Hitting the road—an attempt on my part to get some more hours and experience behind the wheel—my mother, brother, and I had appetites larger than life, and we were nothing short of famished.

On the hunt for food, particularly for an interesting addition to our palette, Bonchon caught our eyes while cruising down Beltline; with a sleek exterior and flags indicative of their recent opening, I learned what a “Michigan left” was in an effort to experience what lay inside.

After pulling into the wrong parking lot, my expectations were growing more and more colossal like an untameable weed. With almost excellent parking—I’m still learning—I was inside the restaurant almost instantly, and whether my feet were motivated by food or warmth is still up for debate.

Underneath the sign on the outside, Bonchon is labeled a “Korean Fried Chicken” eatery, so what resided inside was not what I was expecting. A mature ambiance, one created by the sparse amount of people dining and the hushed tone throughout, screamed out at me, forcing me to clam me up into a shell. To be frank, I was expecting a twist on a place like Buffalo Wild Wings, but Bonchon was on the opposite end of the scale.

While taking in the upscale surroundings—a nice bar, prodigious, pellucid windows, and gleaming wood paneling—an affable hostess welcomed us in and steered us to a table in the back.

The black stools at our table looked unappealing, verging on industrial and uncomfortable, but once seated, they were a blessing; oddly comfortable and movable, I found these chairs to be a charming surprise that I hoped would be the theme for the rest of the night.

But, man, was I wrong.

Bonchon’s vast menu, filled with Korean and Asian dishes extensively ranging from kimchi to spicy chicken tacos, stumped me. Many of the dishes intrigued me, but with the descriptions and the pictures thankfully provided, there was always one aspect that seemed off-putting for each dish. Stuck between the previously mentioned chicken tacos and their claim to fame, chicken wings, I opted to stick with my mystifying mentality that tacos reign supreme in the food world—blame Taco Bell.

An attentive waiter, one who was very understanding with my barrage of questions, soon came around to greet us and take any appetizer orders; pulling bravery I never knew I had out of me, I asked for a dish of takoyaki. Pulled in by the aspect of octopus—strange to say as a “picky” eater—takoyaki was described as fried octopus dumplings with mayo and katsu sauce and bonito flakes.

Was this a bold move? Yes. Spoiler alert: I would regret it very, very soon.

But such adventurous food proved that Bonchon provided exactly what I was looking for: an expansion of flavor and new foods to enjoy.

In roughly ten minutes, the appetizer came out, and it looked eminently flavorsome. Steam radiated from the dumplings that came as six deep-fried balls on a plate. Ignoring the steam acting as a bright, flashing warning, I popped the whole dumpling in my mouth. Immediately, I felt the burning heat, but something tasted amiss; the dumpling was mostly dough and mayo, a combination I despised, and not until my last scorching bite did I taste the octopus.

The octopus inside, just a tiny portion, was rubbery—nothing like the quality octopus I had relished at countless other restaurants. To say the least, trying the second dumpling just to see if it was a one-time occurrence was a mistake. Yet again, the sauce was overpowering, it was too much mushy bread, the octopus inside was minuscule, and the bonito flakes stuck to my tongue, coating it in a flavor I do not want to retry; I pushed my plate to the middle for others to try, and their reactions were nearly identical to mine.

So far, the best thing I had was my Diet Coke drink, and I was not looking forward to my main course: spicy chicken Korean tacos.

When they arrived, I was in awe of how much was in each taco. Coming with three tacos total, each one was packed with chicken, lettuce, and onion, but that was barely perceptible underneath the mountain of sauce.

Coating almost every inch of the taco was dressings; ranch and spicy mayo drowned the tacos in an unwanted sea. Already comparing it to other tacos, I was not delighted to try it, but at the price of $10.95, I promised myself I’d eat exactly one.

Upon the first bite, my mouth was full of bread, lettuce, and sauce—too much sauce. Probably more sauce than I had ever eaten, and I love drowning food in barbeque sauce. However, once I had taken more bites, I could hardly taste the real gem of the taco: the chicken.

The meat itself was outstandingly tender, and despite the mountain of mayo and ranch, the spice was appreciated like a warm hug compared to the overwhelming dressings. In an effort to savor the chicken more, I began to scrape off the sauce and focus more on the meat; with this method, I had devoured one and a half tacos, but I could not stomach another bite despite being outrageously hungry.

After not finishing either of my dishes and practically giving up on them, I began to doubt if I had ordered the correct items. Bonchon was known for their fried chicken, so I sampled one of my mother’s chicken wings.

Spice hit me right in the face. As someone unaccustomed to such flavorful heat, I had to take a few sips of my drink after each bite; thankfully I wasn’t taking many bites since the chicken wings were average at best. Compared to Buffalo Wild Wings, I’d take their selection, sizes, and prices any day over Bonchon’s “famous” wings.

With so much food leftover as none of us particularly enjoyed what we had ordered, we only took my brother’s noodles home, which honestly, I took one bite of and then threw away.

Leaving the restaurant, I was yearning for something to remedy this meal, but unfortunately hearing the bill only made it worse; the total was over $60 for food I couldn’t even enjoy. Whether this failure of a meal was a random mess-up with Bonchon’s recent opening, I don’t see myself ever making the long trip for less than mediocre food.