Although my attempt to rename Convoy Street “Anderson Cooper” has failed (you had to be there), I still feel gleeful anticipation in exploring the restaurants along Kearny Mesa's main drag. Recently, I had a hankering for Korean, and the cheerfully named Friend's House Korean beckoned. I'm a sucker for both friends and houses. Score!
I will preface this with a shameful admission for a food writer. My mouth is a sissy. Don't get me wrong—it's brave and adventurous and will try anything. What I'm referring to is the spice factor. I'm a terrible wuss when it comes to heat. I've tried to build up a tolerance, attempted to trick myself into embracing the pain, but I just can't seem to enjoy the “high” that I've been told comes with really getting your capsicum on. That said, I couldn't help but keep shoveling various spicy bites into my gullet, heat be damned. Of course, every little nibble had to be followed by generous clumps of glossy, sticky rice and ineffective but superficially comforting ice water.
There are plenty of non-spicy options available for my timid-tongued brethren, but even you bold chili chompers will enjoy the flavorful offerings on the menu at Friend's House, regardless of the heat factor.
My new favorite thing to eat (and say) is Bul Gogi Dup Bap, a relatively common yet utterly delicious dish of sirloin marinated in a sauce—possibly angel tears—that's both rich and savory but with an overall impression of satisfying sweetness. There's sugar and soy sauce and garlic, but this isn't cloying teriyaki. The thin strips of beef are tender and packed full of umami—that elusive fifth taste that foodies like to obsess over.
As I write this, the news is saying the overnight lows where I live—the coast, where the temperature rarely varies—will be dipping into the 30s. This is perhaps why I can't stop thinking about the blisteringly hot bowl of Oduk Mandu Gook. Don't be afraid to ask for a fork and spoon if you can't handle chopsticking all the hot treats out of the bowl. Yeah, that's right, spicy foods and I don't get along and I also can't use chopsticks. I'm an Asian-food-eating embarrassment, but as long as it gets to my belly in a respectful and mannerly way, what does it matter?
The glassy vermicelli noodles are shiny, clear and sepia-tinted, with a chewy texture that holds up to scalding broth—no starchy mush here. The soup is filled with falling-apart gyoza dumplings and some nutty little “rice cakes.” Picture smooth white disks, about the size of a banana slice, with an odd and gummy texture. Now picture yourself enjoying them. That was my experience with the rice cakes; they had a dessert-like quality.
The highlight of a meal at Friend's House is the collection of tiny dishes—the essence of true Spanish tapas, but from Korea—that arrive before your main dish.
Spicy slices of cucumbers, pickled radishes, sweet and creamy potato bites and, of course, kimchee, brightened the table with their myriad colors.
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The quantity and quality of food served at Friend's House is also a great value. For 10 bucks I had an enormous plate of food with plenty left over for dinner, not to mention all of the bite-sized warm-up acts that come before the main course. Spicy, sweet and savory, this is a friend—and a house—worth visiting again.