We associate many things with Austin’s annual SXSW festival: music, technology, media, education, tacos, BBQ, day parties… While the list of affiliated foods, drinks, and entertainment goes on and on, it’s undeniable that there is one delectable treat that stands out. Over the past six years, SXSW attendees have come to crave Chi’Lantro’s acclaimed Kimchi Fries. This creation from Jae Kim has become a SXSW, as well as an Austin, staple.
This reinvention and fusion of Korean and Mexican cuisines is unlike anything you have ever tasted and no line is ever too long to wait in for Chi’Lantro’s fare. After years of indulging on Chi’Lantro’s menu, we just had to chat with Kim about one of our most favorite eats of SXSW.
Festival Foodie: Chi’Lantro is reinventing traditional Korean and Mexican cuisine, where did the idea/inspiration for your food truck and restaurants originate?
Jae Kim: I started the business with 30k in savings and by maxing out a credit card to 30k. I didn’t have the resources, or an experience to start a restaurant, so, leasing the food truck provided an opportunity to serve Korean BBQ inspired menu. We grew organically and took out a loan to open a restaurant.
FF: It’s easy to associate Austin, and Texas as a whole, with traditional BBQ- Ribs, Brisket, Pulled Pork, the works. Over the years, Chi’Lantro has made its own distinctive mark on Austin’s BBQ and food scene with elements of Korean BBQ. Can you explain what makes Korean BBQ different and how are Chi’Lantro’s rib-eye and pork Bulgogi prepared?
Kim: I heard Aaron Franklin of Franklin’s BBQ talking recently and he said making Franklin’s BBQ is a like a science because timing, temperature, and quality has to be perfect. I think Korean BBQ isn’t as time consuming as Texas BBQ because weather doesn’t play into the factor, but we use over 20 ingredients to mix our thinly sliced meat, marinate them for over 24 hours, and cooked on a hot flat top grill.
FF: As a vegetarian option, Tofu is offered as a protein menu item. Is your tofu prepared in any particular manner?
Kim: It’s very simple, yet very good. It’s cubed and fried lightly to give it a slightly crunchy texture on the outside, then pour in our house made tofu sauce for taste.
FF: Where can attendees find Chi’Lantro at this year’s SXSW? Will you be partnering with any specific brands this year?
Kim: We are at Southbites, Austin Convention Center, Palmer Center, 823 Congress, 1509 South Lamar, and East 6th Street. We’ve partnered with multiple brands to give away food during Interactive and Music portion of SXSW. It will be exciting.
FF: How would you describe those famous Kimchi Fries in one word?
FF: How did these fries become such a staple to SXSW?
Kim: Word of mouth. We do our best to give our customers quality and consistent food and service and it’s been recognized by our fans and customers at SXSW. We are humbled and thankful.
FF: In addition to your Kimchi Fries, what other menu items would you suggest to someone who has never had Chi’Lantro?
Kim: Our bowl is 2nd most popular item on our menu and we won’t disappoint you!
It all started when a much younger Jackie dove into her parents’ record collection, grabbed that trippy Magical Mystery Tour album, and played “Strawberry Fields” over and over again until it was engrained into her soul. She grew up on the dreams and stories of Simon and Garfunkel, “Bleeker Street” being one of her favorites, the seduction of The Doors, Van Morrison, because “Brown Eyed Girl” is definitely her song, and the likes of Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Jimi Hendrix…you get the picture. It may not show on the outside, but Jackie has a hippie heart, and that reflects in her musical tastes today. While some of her favorites may or may not be jam bands, her taste in music feeds into many genres. From alternative, Brit, and indie rock - OK, maybe all rock - to pop, to rap, to electronic, she loves it all. As a northerner, she thought she would never understand country until she found herself on a Georgia farm in cowboy boots watching Luke Bryan shake it for her- yeah, she got that. She is a chronic wanderluster, she doesn't believe in guilty pleasures, enjoys a great Moscow Mule, and is an absolute music festival fanatic- you’ll find her wherever the music takes her.