Itaewon Grill

build-your-own korean bbq bowls

by Sammi with Offline

Photo by @foodieteee

The Need-to-Know

What: The Triangle’s first BYO Korean-fusion BBQ 

Where: 2608 Erwin Rd #132, Durham, NC 27705

When: Every day from 11a-9p

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Why we love ‘em

  • Fast-casual traditional Korean or fusion fare. 
  • Four-step, BYO process; with five bases, nine toppings, five sauces, and six proteins.
  • Signature sauces you can mix and match.
  • Food, drink, dessert, packaged goods: ALL KOREAN. 

Itaewon Grill 101

You know the saying “go where the locals go?” We’re big believers. Follow any Duke student, Vet or hospital employee and you’ll find ‘em flocking to Itaewon Grill, Durham’s adorable and unique gem tucked away in an unsuspecting plaza off Erwin Road. Those who work and live nearby have been quietly relying on this fast-casual spot, indulging it on the daily as an always speedy go-to for fresh, flavor-packed, healthy Korean BBQ—but tough luck to those tight-lipped locals because secret’s out.

But let’s back it up a sec, and get you properly acquainted. Owners Jay and Amanda Park, the pioneers behind this sensational spot, take hella inspo from their time spent together in Itaewon, South Korea’s “Little America” ‘hood known for its fun nightlife and neon-lit alleys full of endless eats. The Parks met and fell in love (aw!) in South Korea, before relocating to the states and embarking on a successful run with a Korea-fusion food truck in Boston. Encouraged by the food truck’s success, the Parks decided it was time to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant to fully showcase his talents. Where’d they end up? Good ol’ Bull City, of course.

Cue Itaewon Grill, the Triangle’s very first build-your-own Korean BBQ spot, meeting at the intersection between a menu full of Park’s signature tried-and-true recipes and a quick-service experience reminiscent of grab n’ go Chipotle. Since their debut in early spring 2018, they’ve been on a mega mission to make the typically complicated and prolonged process of Korean BBQ a much more accessible option for all, preserving all the traditional flavors of classic Korean cooking while making it approachable to unfamiliar palates. 

What to order

Itaewon delivers a phenomenally executed fusion of simplicity and complexity. They’ve got a four-step, BYO process; with five bases, nine toppings, five sauces, and six proteins (plus the choice to mix and match), the possible combinations are virtually endless so you can enjoy a bowl that’s all your own, every time. 

Got it? Cool, now let’s marinate on the topic of complexity because we’re about to dive deep into the seriously special recipes that Park has been perfecting for over a decade. 

Begin With Your Fave Base

Keep it classic by starting with the Seoul White or Busan Brown Rice or dollar up for their yummy Fried Rice. But if you’re planning on going heavy with all the fixins (we won’t judge you), you can’t go wrong with the lighter Jongro Salad, a mix of fresh greens that adds a healthy punch when you’re in a crunch.

Now if you’re feeling for a photo-worthy noodle pull, The Hongdae Noodle is essentially spicy, thick and grilled udon noodles that are covered in their house Gojuchang sauce (that we’ll be cluing you in on later) and is all the craze over on the ‘gram. 

Add All the Tasty Toppings

Huzzah! It’s time to throw on all the (free) fresh extras that span the bar. They’ve got the standard greens, organic carrots & beets, corn, and cheese, plus fresh edamame and bean sprouts. 

It’s almost crucial. You’ve got to get Pickled Cabbage (the most popular and mandatory topping) for some fermented flair or one-up to the house Kimchi that’s abso-freaking-lutely worth the itty bitty fee.

The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For (Protein!)

First up, Korean BBQ, duh. They’ve got two options: Beef Galbi Jim A.K.A. braised short ribs and their signature Beef Bulgogi. Unlike traditional bulgogi, theirs gets some extra from a bath of house-made sauce before it even hits the grill. 

Jeyook Pulled Pork puts their spin on NC-style BBQ and is probably one of their most approachable proteins if you’re not feeling too adventurous. Check out their Garlic Chicken if you want a more familiar flavor.

And if you’re leaning full-fledged into the fusion side of things, Itaewon recently rolled out their own take on Cupdak, sweet and spicy (and friggin’ delicious) Korean Fried Chicken Nuggets. 

Time For The Sauce-Sational Finish

Park is known as The Sauce King for a reason. His recipes have stolen locals’ appetites and respect, offering more fusion-style flavors in his mayo-based concoctions and incorporating all the tradition with his highly-acclaimed Itaewon sauce (special mild n’ spicy Gojuchang) and signature Gojuchang. With five options to choose from and combine, you can get creative with your bowls every time. 

Pro Tips

  • You can (and absolutely should) combine their famous sauces. 
  • Kimchi, A.K.A. sour yet spicy, crunchy fermented veggies, is the staple of Korean cuisine—but have you ever tried their not-on-the-menu grilled kimchi? Ask for it and thank us later.
  • Their smoothies are a serious steal. They’ve got two options that pack the traditional and refreshing Korean flavors of Yuja and Maesil (read: citron and plum tea).
  • Make sure you ask for your 10% off if you’re a Duke student or employee, veteran, or VA employee. Bonus! Duke students can score a free small drink during lunch rush (11a-1p).
  • Psst, did you know you can ask to sample anything?!