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So right as I was about to get back into the whole “let’s eat healthy!” and “I can eat nothing but salad for weeks at a time!” thing, an amazing, delicious, and tastebud-tantalizing new restaurant opened just a few steps away from the FresYes office.
KoJa Kitchen—”KoJa” is a term coined from the Korean and Japanese influence on the flavors and dishes served by the restaurant—got its start as a food truck in the Bay Area, rapidly gaining a loyal and devoted fan-base that clamored for their short-rib KoJas (a burger-like concoction that uses a pressed, sticky-rice patty in place of a bun, and a sweet, spicy short rib in place of ground beef) and Kamikaze Fries (crisp waffle fries piled with minced Korean barbecue beef, kimchi, Japanese mayo, red sauce and green onions).
The Fresno location marks the sixth brick-and-mortar restaurant, and the furthest location from the original five, which has presented a few challenges, says District Manager Jay Chen. Surprisingly, some staple food items, such as the waffle fries, are astronomically more expensive to obtain from local suppliers than in other areas.
The franchise seeks to utilize local, fresh ingredients whenever possible, and will be working to build relationships with local providers, “especially a daily, fresh produce provider who can bring in fresh grown ingredients from the Valley.” (Hint, hint: If you know any farmers, nudge them in KoJa Kitchen’s direction.)
In addition to amazing and unique dishes and locally sourced ingredients, Jay told us that customer service is at the heart of everything KoJa Kitchen does, and they want to hear their customer’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas.
• Short Rib KoJa (Korean barbecue short rib (kalbi), sesame vinaigrette, lettuce, katsu aioli, and sesame seeds on a pressed rice patty bun). We all enjoyed this and would happily order it again. In fact, I can’t wait to order it again! The beef is savory and sweet, tender, and flavorful, and the texture of the rice is perfect and dense.
• Teriyaki Zen KoJa (Soy and portabella mushroom blend patty, pineapple, sesame vinaigrette, teriyaki sauce, and sesame seeds on a rice patty bun). A surprisingly tasty KoJa as well, especially for my husband and I. Neither of us likes mushrooms and we both really enjoyed this. The flavor and texture make it hard to believe it isn’t meat you’re eating and the teriyaki sauce isn’t overly sweet or too overpowering—a big win.
• Ahi Tuna Bowl (Sashimi, seaweed and imitation crab salad, wonton crisps, wasabi mayo, masago, soy ginger vinaigrette, and red sauce over steamed rice). My husband was very happy with this dish. Personally, I’m not a sashimi fan, but I tasted the rice with the house-made red sauce, which has a great spicy kick to it, and I think I want to put that sauce on everything now. This bowl can be ordered with ahi, salmon, or a mix of both.
• Kamikaze Fries (Waffle fries piled with minced Korean barbecue beef, kimchi, Japanese mayo, red sauce, and green onions). We all enjoyed these greatly; in fact, this was my favorite dish. The fries have that amazing, red spicy sauce, but it’s well-balanced by the smoky sweetness of the beef.
• Umami Fries (Waffle fries with miso-coconut braised pork, red sauce, garlic aioli, fried onions, masago, and green onions). Jay said this pork was his favorite thing on the menu, and for good reason. The pork is very good, and I can see why Jay loves it.All four of us loved these fries too. These aren’t quite as spicy as the Kamikaze Fries, if you prefer less heat.
• DMZ Wings (Habañero-infused barbecue sauce, black pepper, and sesame seeds on traditional, fried chicken wings). These tasty wings have great flavor without that strong vinegar taste that can be unsavory in a traditional wing sauce. Not as spicy as one might expect with the habañero, but with a great depth of taste, wing-lovers will definitely enjoy the DMZ.
• Fresh Fries (Off-menu item). Jay suggested we try the waffle fries with Japanese mayo and green onion, claiming they taste like sour cream and onion potato chips, and we had to admit, he was right! A good flavor combination, obviously.
• Strawberry Mint Mango Lemonade. This signature drink tastes like all flavor ingredients are cut fresh, infused into the lemonade, then strained to provide a pulp-free and refreshing drink. We all enjoyed this, and it will likely be even more refreshing in the summertime.
In summary, if you love food with complex flavors and textures, great spiciness, or a smoky-sweet, rich barbecue flavor, you’re going to LOVE KoJa Kitchen. Since so many things on the menu utilize rice over bread, Koja also is a great place for those who need to pass on gluten (a number of menu items are, or can be, prepared gluten-free, so just ask).
The service we received was efficient and extremely friendly and the restaurant (located in the former Thai Palms location next to Eureka Burger on Palm and Nees) was clean, open, and bright.
My fellow diners and I give KoJa Kitchen two incredibly enthusiastic (and slightly red-sauce-covered) thumbs up!