Chas Market Kitchen
1431 N. Pine St., (210) 227-1521, facebook.com/chasgrill
Though I lived off Pine Street for just under a year, I often wondered what was inside the Chas Market & Kitchen, and sadly never ventured in. The market, at the corner of I-35 and Pine, needs a paint job and the parking lot can be a bit of a nightmare (an 18-wheeler was idling out front during our visit). But the interiors hold a very different story.
Owned by J.T. Kim and Hwa Youn Kim since the mid-1980s, Chas Market & Kitchen feels like an NYC bodega meets Rhea’s Deli Market in San Francisco’s Mission District. But instead of Rhea’s massive Korean barbecue hoagies made behind a deli counter, Chas Market brings the 'cue to your table. The addition is fairly new but the breakfast tacos and lunch plates have been part of the store for much longer. The rest of the shop is a colorful mishmash of produce, beer, sodas, all the cheesy daytime TV you can handle and giant posters explaining the menu.
Lunch and dinner entrees vary from $9.99 to $17.99, but the main event is the All-You-Can-Eat Gogi. At $19.99, this makes for a pricy lunch, but there’s no way you’re leaving without a few leftovers.
Pro-tip: Call ahead for a reservation. The restaurant might seem dead, but there was a steady stream of to-go orders and sit-down lunchers while we ate.
The dining area is split in two sections of square four-tops and picnic-style benches outfitted with indoor smokeless grills. Because we weren’t savvy to the call-ahead suggestion, we strolled in and the cashier let our cooks know we were there for the Korean barbecue. It was go-gi time.
Our cook lined white banchan-filled saucers and sturdy serving plates in front of us: from pickled daikon, to kimchi, to all manners of cucumbers and seaweed topped with gochujang (red chili paste) to thinly sliced fried fish cakes with cured fish similar to that found in ramen. (Bottled waters were presented as well.) We happily picked at these while our cook bounced back and forth between dropping off a container of rice and the kitchen.
And then came the meats. Our cook cut through crisp pork belly, which gave way to tender and flavorful bulgogi, and by the time she arrived with spicy pork and beef short ribs in tow, we were in a meat-induced euphoria. Paired with the sticky short grain rice that held a perfect clumpy chew, it was hard to find faults in this lunch.
There are a few lulls, so don’t partake if you’re in any sort of rush. Don’t give away your leftovers to coworkers like I did, because you’ll be thinking about this meal for days on end. Make this Korean feast part of your San Anto bucket list. — Jessica Elizarraras