Well, I finally did it. I ate at Cham Bistro, the Korean darling of the Pasadena food scene, but instead of a full meal, I stopped in for their weekday CHAMtail Hour when their tapas, beer and wine are 15% off (regular prices noted below - the tapas are part of their full menu)!
Bulgogi beef topokki ($5): loved how tender the rice cakes were, but the beef and sauce packed quite the salty wallop.
Crispy pork belly with fingerling potatoes ($5): the pork belly worked well with the gochujang sauce and potatoes, but the dish was served lukewarm. I would order it again in the hopes of it being served at a hotter temperature.
I had wanted to try the kimchi and cheese pouch, but they were sadly unavailable, so I ordered the spicy chicken and arugula steamed bun, which isn't part of the tapas section, but as they gave me 15% off my entire check, this item was discounted, too. When there was a mixup and I didn't get my steamed bun with my first two dishes, the staff gave me free spicy tuna tofu pockets while I waited!
Loved every single component, even the seasoned rice, which is sometimes given short shrift. I've stopped ordering spicy tuna rolls in restaurants in an attempt to make sustainable fish choices (some places may use albacore tuna for those rolls, but I just decided to cover my bases by not ordering unless noted as such), but these were gifts and already on the table. So, I ate them and they were awesome.
Spicy chicken BBQ and arugula steamed bun ($3): I was pretty stuffed by this point, so I focused my efforts on the chicken, which actually lived up to its name on the spice level (color me surprised!).
Cham Bistro has got two things going for it: the dishes aren't diluted past the point of recognition, so the integrity of the Korean cuisine hasn't completely left the building, and the order-at-the-counter setup is easy breezy, allowing people to take a moment to enjoy their meal or grab their food and go, which has to be appealing to the college students and families alike in the neighborhood. I really enjoyed my Korean tapas (admittedly, I am not used to throwing this phrase around yet) and can't wait to go back for lunch or dinner.
*CHAMtail Hour (Mon - Fri: 3pm - 6:30pm)
851 Cordova St
Pasadena, CA 91101