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Halfway through our first meal at Kim's, a Korean American restaurant, my dinner companions and I had forgotten that we were dining in an identical space that once served birrias, tacos and a duck mole.

Other than the few new earthenware pots on the shelf and several new bar stools, this restaurant still bears the handsome bones of its predecessor, Sooki & Mimi: the blonde herringbone floors, the cantina-esque bar, that beamed ceiling.

Kim's, which opened in November, indeed feels wholly new. Is it the vibe? The bar is now filled with people angling for a table (the restaurant is now walk-in only). The kitchen brims with a little more energy. And the afterglow from all the publicity surely fills diners with hope that celebrity chef/restaurateur Ann Kim is now fully embracing her Korean American heritage.

She is. And through a team run by talented chef de cuisine Kyual Cribben, Kim delivers a menu that honors this duality: Apple Valley, where she was raised, and South Korea, where she was born.

Consider hotteok, a type of Korean street snack, traditionally a pancake resembling a flatted pin cushion, often filled with a brown sugar syrup. Here, it's plainer, though no less gratifying. Appealingly chewy, like a dense, golden English muffin, Kim's hotteok can be eaten with honey butter (my favorite), as a burger with a smashed beef patty (good) or with "Ann's ham," a riff on Spam, kewpie mayo and yellow mustard (better).

Two banchans, or sides, are equally diasporic. A small but potent pile of mustard greens cues the West via tofu tahini and salsa macha, and it packs a nose-throttling punch, while creamy kabocha squash is fermented in kombucha.

The Bubbling Egg Soufflé.
The Bubbling Egg Soufflé.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Calling the restaurant Korean American may feel like Kim is absolving herself for things that don't feel authentic to assuage the purists, but they needn't worry. The kimchi here is coiffed into a neat, miniature stack, and it's forthright without tasting like it was fermented to abandon. The bibimbap is sized to Midwestern supper club proportions; the amount of bulgogi in there feels a little vulgar; and the socarrat can be spotty (crispy bottom one night; soggy the other). Yet it's the only bibimbap rendition I'd return to in the Twin Cities. The ribbons of bulgogi in every bite are silky, the flavors true.

At many Korean restaurants around town, in fact, you won't find dongchimi, a cleaner and more genteel take on kimchi. There is one here, called daikon kimchi, on the menu, and it's stellar. You may not find gyeranjjim, or steamed egg, around town, either. Kim's cleverly markets hers as a "bubbling egg soufflé," which is appropriate because the rise is just as virtuous as on any good gyeranjjim served at a restaurant in Seoul, even if the salted shrimp has been muted for the Midwestern palate.

Another Korean staple, the haemul pajeon, or shrimp and scallion pancake, is deeply reminiscent of the ones served at credible Koreatown eateries in New York and Los Angeles, though at Kim's it can be doughy at times. A better evocation of this is the bindaetteok (mung bean vegetable pancake), with its handsome, crisped edges and sharper seasoning.

Kim's Stone Bowl Bibimbap, with short grain rice, bulgogi, marinated and pickled vegetables, sunny egg, and chojang, is a top-notch version of the Korean staple.
Kim's Stone Bowl Bibimbap, with short grain rice, bulgogi, marinated and pickled vegetables, sunny egg, and chojang, is a top-notch version of the Korean staple.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

The unapologetically funky tofu gets it right in spirit, too, but I wish the silken tofu weren't rough and dimpled. And I wish the ssäms compelled me more. The pork belly, for one, could be lusher, while the hanger steak could use a more tenacious sear. In both cases, their lettuce wraps were limp on our visits.

But it's less likely diners go to Kim's to wax lyrical about the sanctity of Korean food. Since 2010, Kim has subverted norms around being Korean, imbuing her voice on American classics, like pizza (Pizzeria Lola, in 2010; Young Joni, in 2016). It's a shame that her take on tacos, inspired by her travels to Oaxaca, wasn't met with the same fanfare. Sooki & Mimi's mushroom birrias were a revelation.

Diners will no longer have birria to look forward to at Kim's, but there are fries. Slender, yet not too skinny; crisp, but yielding within; subtly ridged, so it sates any French fry dilettante. The Shin Ramyun spice "dust" peppered atop the fries sent our table into a state of selfish delirium, as it will yours. So will those nori crackers that accompanied a faultless salmon tartare.

The KFC wings don't rise to such heights, because on our visits the chicken was overcooked and overbattered. Nor does the otherwise hearty fried rice, which ate like a kitchen sink of leftovers, namely thanks to unwieldy chunks of the "Ann's ham." Desserts are an afterthought, but it seems like they always were at Kim's restaurants. This time around, though, Kim's tries harder. Before the selection recently changed, there was pumpkin cheesecake mousse that yields as lightly as a cloud and a delicately poached Korean pear, floral with ginger and orange.

They're good enough so you may leave happy, forgetting that an anemic-looking grilled shrimp one night was mushy, or that the hospitality can be spotty. A server one night cut off our inquiries with curt replies and, mid-service, set a utensil so haphazardly that it fell from the table. Another dropped off dishes with such efficiency and joylessness, as if they were auditioning to be replaced by a robot waiter.

Transgressions notwithstanding, Kim's proves that you can build something meaningful when you color outside the lines. Just do it loudly and tastefully.

Claire Puffer and Ted Woxland recently dined at Kim's in Uptown. The restaurant still bears a resemblance to its predecessor, Sooki & Mimi.
Claire Puffer and Ted Woxland recently dined at Kim's in Uptown. The restaurant still bears a resemblance to its predecessor, Sooki & Mimi.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune


⋆⋆ 1/2 Highly recommended

Location: 1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., 612-540-2554,

Hours: 4-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 4-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Prices: Snacks range from hotteok ($6) and silken tofu ($7) to KFC wings ($16) and salmon tartare ($20) with plenty in between. Sandwiches are $12; plates and bowls have a variety of offerings and price points, from a mac and cheese ($15) and fried rice ($19) to bibimbap ($26) and hanger steak ssäm ($28). Banchans are $4-$6, and desserts are $12.

Beverage program: A variety of spirited and spirit-free craft cocktails ($6-$12) and a well-tailored wine and beer list. A few soju and makegeolli options, too.

Tip or no tip: Kim's is a no-tipping restaurant; a 21% surcharge is added to all bills.

Noise level: It won't be easy to hold an intimate conversation here, so pick the booths if you can.

Worth noting: Being an early bird has its perks; there are happy hour specials Sun.-Thu. from 4-5:30 in the upstairs bar. Speaking of bars, the lower-level Bronto Bar, accessed from the back alley, has not lost its charm. Turntables and reel-to-reel tape players provide a lively soundtrack, and a variety of full-proof, low-proof and no-proof cocktails await. There's a limited food menu, too. Open from 5 to 11 p.m. Thu.-Sat.

What the stars mean:

⋆⋆⋆⋆ Exceptional

⋆⋆⋆ Highly recommended

⋆⋆ Recommended

⋆ Satisfactory

Jon Cheng is the Star Tribune's restaurant critic. Reach him at or follow him at @intrepid_glutton.