Adventures in Korean BBQ and Tofu

My friends and I were on our way to another delicious brunch at Frary Dining Hall, mouths watering in anticipation of charcoal-bottomed pancakes showered in piss-yellow butter, when a passing friend offered to take us out for Korean food. We gladly accepted the offer. But before I describe my experience at this restaurant, I feel obligated to acknowledge that I do not know a thing about Korean food, so I can’t speak to this restaurant’s authenticity. I don’t have any pretenses about having a refined palate, either.

Back to the restaurant. We took a short fifteen-minute drive from the Claremont compound through the potholed streets of Pomona to the Madang Tofu House in Chino Hills, Calif. It sits on the corner of a suburban neighborhood and is right next door to the delicious 85C Bakery, a Taiwanese bakery chain. After making our way through the crowded dining area, we were greeted with menus advertising a $9.99 lunch special. Ordering was a no-brainer. The lunch special begins with a small salad topped off with cubes of tofu and a plethora of delicious side dishes.

We started off with some crispy fried fish, spicy kimchi, stir-fried vegetables and soybean sprouts. The main course consisted of a tofu broth with additional meat, a stone bowl full of rice and a side dish of meat. I added meat dumplings to my broth and got a side of spicy pork bulgogi.

This was my first time eating tofu and frankly, I was a little apprehensive. Something about those gelatinous white cubes did not sit well with my stomach. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Its texture is more akin to a boiled vegetable than you’d expect and it takes on whatever savory flavor you put it in. The rice forms a nice crunchy crust along the bowl and the bulgogi pork is exceptionally tender and soft. In short, the meal was badass.

My only issue with Madang Tofu House is the service. They are understaffed and just couldn’t keep up with the lunch rush. That may sound like a minor inconvenience or criticism, but it can mean life and death if you are foolish enough to order your broth with extra spice. Twist your head around and scan the dining room for the waitress all you want, but that glass of water ain’t comin’. Make peace with your slow death by immolation.

If you never got that water cup refilled and need to heal those burns, then consider grabbing some boba and dessert at 85C, the Taiwanese bakery next door. Their “sea salt mountain green tea boba” beautifully balances a hint of the savory salt with the sweetness of the tea. It's refreshing, and nothing beats chewing on the occasional tapioca balls that shoot up through the straw. Their baked goods were just as good, with their airy and light dark chocolate chiffon cake.

Follow my example and find a friend with a car. This trip is well worth your time—two amazing places in a single visit!

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