Chicago’s Korean barbecue scene may not be as nationally recognized as LA’s or New York’s, but for the last 26 years, San Soo Gab San has been the city’s most acclaimed. The family-owned restaurant on Monday embarks on a new chapter with the opening of San Soo Korean BBQ. It’s Chicago Korean barbecue for the next generation with a patio and an emphasis on cocktails. Customers accustomed to San Soo’s grill tables with feel right at home inside the new restaurant at 401 N. Milwaukee Avenue in River West.
Determining the best Korean barbecue in Chicago is a difficult endeavor and there’s no consensus, with many of the restaurants clustered on the North Side in Koreatown in Albany Park. For the last two years, Michelin has bestowed San Soo’s Western Avenue location with Bib Gourmand recognition as a value for the money pick. It’s the only Korean barbecue in Chicago to earn such an honor.
So when co-owner Christopher Kim announced plans to open an amped-up version of San Soo closer to downtown Chicago, there were some skeptics. Kim’s parents run the San Soo locations on the North Side and in suburban Morton Grove. For the opening, the menu will feature the basics. The newer items that Kim teased earlier will be added at a later date.
“We want to hold back a bit and find our stride serving more traditional Korean before getting into the fun stuff (i.e tacos and K.F.C — Korean fried chicken),” Kim texted.
Another difference is the lack of charcoal grills inside. The charcoal is a San Soo staple, but anyone firing up a backyard grill knows that charcoal produces some intense odors from the smoke. They’ll go electric inside and use charcoal out on the patio, which won’t be open for the debut. Kim wants to focus on dining room service at first.
“We wanted to update the interior with a smokeless downdraft cast-iron grill while keeping it ‘SSGS traditional’ in the backyard using the charcoal grilling,” Kim texted.
Ownership wants to open more of this new breed of San Soo. It’s a collaboration between the Kims with Alvin Kang (Angry Crab) and Zach Friedlander (Aloha Poke Co.). Check out more coverage later this week.