Bored of the average sit-down restaurant?

By Mytam Vo, Art Editor

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In a city like Chicago, there are a plethora of different dining experiences at affordable rates. Many of these restaurants allow you to cook your own food, or provide a buffet of selections that you can choose from. Here are two fun Asian food hubs to go to during the long summer break. Make sure to bring a lot of friends, because these places will stuff you with their wide variety and satisfy you with their quality!

Gyu-Kaku: A Camp in the Heart of the City

The smell of charcoal and caramelized soy sauce marinades welcomes you to Gyu-Kaku, a hub for those who want the food of a barbeque campfire with the modern appeal of Streeterville and its shops. Located by the Grand Red Line station, Gyu-Kaku is a Japanese yakiniku, or grilled meat restaurant that lets you cook your own food at a charcoal grill at your table. From elegant 21-day dry-aged angus beef and wagyu beef to traditional affordable cuts like pork belly and ribeye steak, Gyu-Kaku is a restaurant for everyone.

We had a reservation and were seated promptly, but on weekends and holidays, you would have to wait about 10 to 15 minutes with a reservation, and about 30 minutes without. The service throughout the meal was great; the waiters refilled our water multiple times and changed the grill when necessary. They explained how long to cook the meat for, which would be very helpful to those new to yakiniku.

For an appetizer, we had a seasonal special of okonomiyaki, or a savory Japanese pancake with octopus and pork. Not only did the inside layer melt in my mouth like soft velvet, the octopus was springy enough to give an extra layer of chewiness that broke up the wheat-flour blanket. Our party ordered a wide variety of meat: toro beef, ribeye, bistro hanger, kalbi chuck rib, pork belly, spicy pork and spicy intestines. All of the meat was high quality and cheap enough so that we could try a little bit of each cut. For the meat, my favorite was the toro beef. It was a fatty piece of beef that resembled bacon sliced paper-thin. You can dip your meats in the premade sauces provided: ponzu, a citrus sweetness that cuts the greasiness of the meat; spicy, which gives a slightly throaty heat; and sweet soy, a light sauce with a familiar soy-sauce flavor. Smokily coating the caramelization of the meat marinade, the charcoal grill is amazingly ventilated downwards so minimal smoke gets in the way of your grilling.

All in all, Gyu-Kaku’s communal atmosphere is great for all occasions. The only thing that would have made our experience better would have been a wider variety of desserts, as they only offer crepe cakes, smores and mochi ice cream.

 

Happy Lamb Hot Pot: A Twist on Tradition

Happy Lamb Hot Pot, previously called Little Sheep Hot Pot, is one of the best hotpot restaurants in the Chicagoland area. Despite the name change, their service and quality is still on par. In fact, they even sell their own dipping sauces and broths so you can have your own Happy Lamb hotpot at home.

A new addition to the restaurant was complimentary chips, candy and ice cream for afterwards. Their soft serve ice cream was the perfect complement to a hot, scalding meal.

Hotpot originated in the Qin dynasty 1,000 years ago. It is a traditional Chinese food, with very specific regional ingredients, such as bok choy, fish paste, tofu and various types of meat. The quality of meat really defines how good a hotpot joint is, and Happy Lamb has many prime cuts, such as prime aged lamb, kurobuta pork and ridiculously marbled fatty beef.

Happy Lamb has two traditional broths available, a bone broth that is white from the long boiling of beef bones, and a spicy sichuan style broth that is filled with oily peppercorns and numbing spices. The original bone broth is sweet, savory and contains a lot of umami punch. Most hot pot places offer additional sauces, but the sauce range is limited here, as the broth is flavorful enough to coat the meats and vegetables. The sauces they do offer are a spicy chili garlic sauce, a peanut sesame sauce and minced garlic.

The hotpot experience is a two hour all-you-can-eat buffet where you can order as much as possible. Personally, the whole fun of hotpot is not just gorging yourself on meat, but rather, the conversation that takes place over the course of your meal. Hotpot creates a perfect atmosphere to share with your friends and family: not only sharing food, but stories and updates about your life. Looking around the restaurant, there were couples, families and friends celebrating. Happy Lamb is an integral part of Chinatown: not only did it have fantastic food, but it also provides a place for people to catch up with each other in their busy lives.

 

Gyu-kaku has multiple locations. Streeterville: 210 E Ohio St. West Loop: 1364 W Randolph St. Lakeview: 2813 N. Broadway Ave.

Happy Lamb Hot Pot is located at 2342 S Wentworth Ave and has a location in Naperville at 1170 Iroquois Ave #106.

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