A new generation of restaurants is rising in Carrollton’s Korea Town. Across the parking lot from the traditional soft tofu stew shops, dumpling counters and barbecue houses, two recent openings offer unusual spins on Korean-Japanese and Korean-American fusion foods.
At Kurobuta Ramen and Tonkatsu, “super spicy” ramen and cheese katsu — yes, that’s big chunks of fried cheese — share a menu with more traditional tavern snacks. And the burgers at Munchiez span the globe, from Thai burgers with papaya salad to a pretty darn good Cubano.
It’s a bad time to go on a diet in Carrollton. Here’s a look at how two immigrant-run restaurants are turning multicultural backgrounds into required eating.
Munchiez: Cheesy katsu burgers and bulgogi nachos? Yes, please.
I didn’t know my burger contained a blanket of molten cheese until I took the first bite.
To my knowledge, I’d merely ordered a pork katsu burger, on which a lightly tangy coleslaw acted as the frame for an enormous slab of breaded and fried pig ($9). The first bite did nothing to change that impression — only to confirm my choice in ordering. The katsu crunch was massive and loud, the meat inside hot and tender. Coleslaw spilled around the edges like veggie confetti. I stared out the window, thinking about how this lunch couldn’t get better.
And then I looked down. My burger was oozing.
A slow-motion avalanche of mozzarella cheese was rolling out of the pork patty, obliterating everything in its path. I quickly gobbled down another bite. Ah, yes: crunchy batter, meat, vinegar, bread, molten cheese. Perfection.
Everything at Munchiez is like this. The menu created by proprietors Tim and John Kim is tiny — barely more than five sandwiches — but all of them stretch the burger genre in new directions. These young restaurateurs are treating the burger like a passport, stamping it with flavors from all over.
On a return visit, I opted for a patty of tender, pink baby shrimp held together in a plank of breading, then topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and a handful of kernels of sweet corn ($9.50). It’s a beautiful bite of food.
Not everything here is Asian-inspired. I’m quite taken with Munchiez’s deliciously inauthentic rendition of a Cuban sandwich, which stacks pulled pork and ham on a squashed and toasted hamburger bun ($8.50). The pickles inside are big chunky spears, not thin coins, because chef Tim Kim likes the crunch. Would this fly in Miami? Maybe not. Do I care? Definitely not.
Munchiez’s fries, offered in a wild variety of seasonings and toppings, are a lot more interesting than the average fast-food basket. I prefer the tangy hot habanero seasoning mix ($3), a perfect foil to the friendliness of the shrimp burger, to the furikake fries, which find an undertone of sweetness in the classic Japanese seaweed-and-sesame spice blend ($3).
Almost everything here is made in-house, from the shrimp patties to the Thai sticky rice, which forms the base of an open-faced burger topped with papaya salad ($9.50). Slider buns are housemade, too; only the main burger buns have been outsourced to a bakery following Munchiez’s recipe, because the restaurant’s grown too busy.
For the Kims — who aren’t related, but longtime best friends — Munchiez is a creative escape. Tim Kim took over the kitchen after years managing room service and banquets at the Ritz-Carlton; John Kim runs the front of the house after doing so at his mother’s restaurant, the ultra-traditional (and very good) Ajumma Kimbob Deli. Now the friends are breaking free from tradition and sailing off to new, uncharted waters of deliciousness.
I know I’ll be back soon. There’s a pan of jalapeño mac and cheese fries with my name on it.
Kurobuta Ramen and Tonkatsu: A traditional katsu house with a modern spin
At first glance, Kurobuta looks more conventional than Munchiez, and certainly more traditional than consultant Brian Chong’s previous Carrollton restaurant, Ddong Ggo. At Ddong Ggo, the specialties included kimchi cheese pizza pancakes, cocktails with frozen pops in them and the iconic “Cheese Island.” Kurobuta’s menu, meanwhile, divides neatly into three categories: ramen, tonkatsu and donburi.
The classics are here, certainly. But look farther down the menu and Kurobuta’s brand of Korean fusion becomes clear: cheese katsu? Short rib ramen?
On my first visit, I stuck to a mainstay: pork loin katsu ($11.50), to which I added a side cup of curry sauce ($2). The portion was enormous: Alongside my pork chop, Kurobuta served a mountainous cabbage slaw with the occasional kernel of sweet corn, a bowl of rice, a smaller bowl of spicy pickles, a sweet-savory dipping sauce brimming with sesame seeds and a thick smear of horseradish mustard. The pickles are a nice nod to banchan, which aren’t served here; a little bit of the mustard goes a long way.
And then there’s the katsu breading, jagged and fierce and not in the least bit greasy. The crunch is truly something to behold for both teeth and ears. I wish a few seams of fat had been trimmed out of the meat, but it was otherwise flawless and served on a small wire rack so that if any grease had been present, it would have dripped down.
Katsudon, a rice bowl topped with another slab of pork katsu, came up to nearly the same level ($9.50). This time the pork could have used a pinch more salt and seasoning, but the breading was still spectacular. The rice bowl, with a layer of eggs on top and mixed-in slices of radish, ginger and onions, proved compulsively comforting, especially as crisp flakes of katsu breading fell off the pork and got mixed in with the rest.
The two ramen bowls we tried were less consistent. “Nagasaki” seafood ramen was the clear winner ($13). In a rich, creamy broth, the enormous bowl brought forth squid, mussels, clams, long chunks of green onion and, comically, two shrimp, one of them enormous and fully intact, the other smaller than a penny. I couldn’t stop slurping up noodles. But I found it very easy to stop with the beef kalbi ramen, served in an ultra-meaty broth with a smoky aftertaste ($14). This ramen played just one note — grilled meat — and played it loudly. One or two bites were enough.
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There isn't a ton of starters or sides available at Kurobuta, though ownership informs me that a new menu of “drinking snacks” will be added in a few weeks. They’re starting with takoyaki, the fried dough balls with slices of octopus hidden in the middle ($5.50 for six). These aren’t the best takoyaki in town — those belong to Mr. Max in Irving — but they rank near the top, with tender morsels of seafood and a big drizzle of barbecue sauce.
When those drinking snacks roll out, I’ll give them a try, especially if Kurobuta brings back the mentaiko noodles they experimented with early on. Until then, diners will converge under the watchful eyes of a colorful cartoon pig mascot, devouring some of the Dallas area’s most technically flawless katsu. Even if it’s just breading on cheese.
Munchiez, 2625 Old Denton Road, No. 606, Carrollton, 469-289-3300. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Kurobuta Ramen and Tonkatsu, 2625 Old Denton Road, No. 612, Carrollton, 972-446-8282. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday