One of Chicago’s best Korean restaurants is closed for renovations. Work began on Monday, April 3 at Perilla Korean American Fare and the River West restaurant will remain closed until Tuesday, April 25, according to co-owner Thomas Oh.
Oh and co-owner and chef Andrew Lim say they’ve waited three years to spruce up the space at 401 N. Milwaukee Avenue in River West. Their efforts have already made it a Michelin Bib Gourmand member, and have earned the acclaim of fellow Korean restaurant owners. They took over the restaurant in 2019 and made some changes, but not to extent that wanted: “A global pandemic had quite the impact slowing our initial goals and plans,” Oh writes to Eater.
The prior tenant was another Korean restaurant, a third location of San Soo Gap San that was tweaked to a more American audience as opposed to Korean immigrants. With chef Lim, who ran a fast-casual Korean spot, City Rock, inside the Thompson Center, Perilla also focused on Korean American cuisine. It added fancier cuts of beef for Korean barbecue but also expanded the menu beyond grilled items. They also added an expanded cocktail menu with Korean spirits.
Lim says the renovations will be done in phases. First, they’ll install new tabletops, clean up the walls, paint murals, and add new furniture. Then they’ll relocate the bar and add eight grill tables. The final phase is a big one. Not many Korean barbecue restaurants have patios in Chicago. Perilla does and they plan on enclosing their patio for all-season use.
The tabletops will receive upgrades using an ancient ceramics process called Kintsugi which fuses broken pottery back together using powdered gold. The Japanese popularized the method, but Oh points out that the method has origins in Korea, Vietnam, and China. The tables at Chicago Concrete Studio in suburban Blue Island are handling that work.
The Perilla owners, who also have their own podcast, called Kimchi Kids, have made art a priority. In 2019, they brought in Korean graffiti artist Royall Dog to paint a mural of First Lady Michelle Obama above the restaurant on the corner of Milwaukee, Kinzie, and Desplaines. The artist’s work depicted the Chicago native wearing a traditional Korean Hanbok.
Given the love of murals, one big change will be a new work inside the restaurant from David Heo, a local artist who’s already painted a mural in the back of the restaurant. Oh and Lim say they’ll also adjust the layouts with new banquettes with a warmer and more intimate color scheme.