Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chili King - But Not Really

Good chili requires some key criteria.  A rich, complex chile flavor that combines sweet, bitter, hot, fresh, and fruity elements in balance. A robust, beefy flavor.  Beans that are tender, creamy, and intact.

Chili King's chili is not bad, but it's not great.  When we ordered a bowl of their steaming hot chili, I was expecting greatness.  This expectation was founded on rave reviews online, an article in 10 Magazine, and a friend's recommendation.  Unfortunately, Chili King really under-delivered.

When an expat starts from humble beginnings (in this case, a chili truck), I want them to do well.  When an expat is able to get a business going in Korea, I try to support them because I know how difficult it is to get everything together and start a restaurant here.  Bao is an excellent manifestation of dreams, hard work, and passionate food.  When I walked into Chili King, I was ready to love it.  All they needed to do was provide the goods.

Upon entering, Chili King is not impressive, but it has a certain homey quality to it.  The different kinds of hot sauces strewn across the walls is impressive and speaks promisingly of zingy, hearty chili to come.

We ordered the Jalapeno Ranch Burger (10,890 won including tax), Bowl of Chili (9,790 won including tax), and the Chili Cheese Dog with a side of Poutine (11,990 including tax).

The first thing I noticed were the prices - they're a tad higher than what I'm comfortable paying for a casual sit-down meal.  But, I understand they're working with beef which is pretty pricey to begin with.  My problem isn't the price.  If you're going to charge upper-middle range prices, you should be able to do more with it.  The burger patty was just a burger patty.  Not seasoned and hand-crafted.  The bun is unspectacular, and the burger didn't have any vegetable component to speak of except a few pickled jalapenos.  I relied on the coleslaw to provide balance against the heavy burger, but coleslaw is essentially just veggies covered in mayonnaise.  It didn't really work.

The Chili Cheese Dog was the most disappointing.  On the menu, it's described as being "smothered in chili."

Does that look smothered in chili to you?
The cheese sauce is weak and runny.  I didn't get that cheddar, cheesy taste, and the pork dog was a huge problem.  I have no problem with pork dogs, but this one should have been beef.  It was spongy, pink and dense.  Not juicy and robust like a beef hot dog.  Who makes a chili cheese dog with a pork dog?!  For 10,000 won, the frank should be BEEF.

The poutine was smothered in an overwhelmingly salty gravy.  The really annoying part of this "poutine" was the cheese.  There was barely any to speak of, and it wasn't melted.  Poutine should rest two minutes before being served so the gravy, cheese and fries can meld together into the greatness that is poutine.  This poutine was TERRIBLE.

Show me the cheese.
Lastly, the bowl of chili.  It was good, but I've had better, even in Seoul.  The chili had some of the components I look for in a chili but the flavors weren't developed nor were they complex.  I want smoky and rich.  Hot with a deeply-browned beef flavor.  This chili isn't beefy enough.  The beef flavor is drowned out by the spice and tomatoes.  The spice is pretty one-note and needs more depth.  All I got was SPICY.  I like my chili to unfold in flavors with each bite.  Holy god, was that coffee?  unsweetened chocolate?  Bourbon?  Cumin?  This chili robbed me of any such eureka moments.  Unfortunately, there were no umami bombs or complexity of flavors.  The texture had the uniformity of blended cat food, and not the lovely chunkiness I would expect from a robust chili.

I don't think being from Texas makes me as picky about chili as I come off.  In high school, I was in a charity chili competition with a bunch of members of my high school's National Honor Society.  We ended up with raw, pink beef swimming around in a can of undrained kidney beans and Heinz canned tomatoes.  I think the judge nearly vomited in my face.  I can appreciate that chili is a difficult dish and one that requires a boatload of patience.  In the end, Chili King didn't live up to its hype.

For directions and menu, click here.

Chili King can also be found on MangoPlate, a restaurant discovery app available in English and Korean.


  1. oh good you finally added a comments section.

    "It was good, but I've had better, even in Seoul."

    where? i've been meaning to give the king a try, but if you know where a superior bowl of chili can be found i'd like to know.

  2. You're not going to like my response...I've had better in friends' kitchens. You could argue that Chili King is the best chili for purchase in Seoul, but I really don't think it's above and beyond the chili other restaurants use to top their chili burgers and dogs. I really think your best bet would be make your own. I had a friend make me a massive batch and froze it (chili freezes really well). I just defrost and heat some up when I want some. Awesome for this cold weather.



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