The Charms of BBQ Tofu & Kobucha Chips at Cham, Pasadena

by Jessica on June 24, 2011

Kid Hit Menu Items: A sizzling platter of BBQ tofu squares and a plate of the summer seasonal special fried kobucha chips coated in sesame seeds went over smashingly well at Cham Korean Bistro. A few of the sweet radish pickles and lettuce cups from the beautifully composed ssam garden platter got eaten, too. (Buckwheat noodles were a bit too spicy for my guy.) I hoarded shiso from the veg plate to create weird wraps with various parts of the meal; probably not culturally kosher, but I hate seeing those gorgeous leaves go to waste. Next time we’ll save room for Cham’s summer watermelon salad.

Adult Perks: Decision making was tough, since so many of the menu items are a great balance of protein and fresh foods. I wound up with the sizzling hot bibimbap with beef bulgogi served in a cast iron skillet, from which I scraped up almost every last grain of crispy rice that deliciously clung to the searing hot pan surface (plus the caramelized onions from the tofu skillet). Throughout the summer, Cham will serve a peach cobbler beer float, which combines vanilla ice cream, sliced peaches, and Lambic. There’s a small beer and wine list. Korean tapas happy hour is generally a good deal in the late afternoons/early evenings.

Pros: The room is bright and airy, with utilitarian wood and concrete surfaces, and a mix of seating styles and options. A counter with taller chairs lines one wall, a banquette (best for kids) is mounted on the opposite side of the room, and tables fill up the space in between. Ninety-degree angled blocky low back chairs don’t invite you to recline with a glass of wine, but Cham’s not that kind of place. Which isn’t to say it’s cold and unwelcoming either. (It closes at 9 p.m. anyway, so you’re not gonna linger the night away here.) We had a lovely mom-and-kid dinner date in the quiet dining room at 6:00 on a Thursday night. Though the big open kitchen and counter is well set-up for efficient ordering (i.e. I thought maybe it was counter service only), table service was excellent and attentive. Cham also stocks pre-packed to-go items.

Cons: Getting back into the underground parking lot is confusing. We took the elevator and came through the lobby of the mixed-use building to get to the restaurant. But because the lobby serves as access for residents, it’s locked from the outside. So we had to walk all the way around and take the stairs from the other side of the building. Or maybe I was having a Dolt Moment.

Changing Station: No

High Chairs: Yes

Parking and Access: See above for disorienting parking situation. You can also avoid the whole garage and look for street parking on Cordova or Lake or other nearby streets.

Other Tidbits: The contemporary riffs on Korean food and Cham’s benevolent fusion cuisine will bring me back to try the various noodle, stews, “tapas” and such, even if it’s kind of a bummer to have what’s essentially billed as a Korean meal but without the banchan. But as long as those cubes of tofu get scarfed down with gusto, that’s OK with me. Recessed lighting in the beadboard ceiling is an example of a design component that shows attention to detail, but isn’t so precious that it can’t be replicated if Cham were to go on an expansion binge. Should the geometric patterned wall decorations come off as too sleek, then chalkboard handwritten menus add homespun, unchain-like touch.


851 Cordova Street (at Lake), Pasadena
(626) 792-2474
Cuisine: Korean
Price: $$
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Daily Gluttony June 24, 2011 at 11:19 am

Cham is one of our family faves. My 3 y.o. gobbles up the sizzling bibim bap (without the spicy gochujang of course) and the sesame soy noodles every time. Let me know if you’re ever up for going together!


Jessica June 24, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Totally! Let’s do an early dinner sometime when we’ll be out of other people’s way. :)


Nancy June 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm

We love this place and was just there last weekend. I ordered the grilled tofu plate for my 1 year old and she finished 3 big slices! My husband and I got the CA bimbimbap and it was very refreshing.


Jessica June 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Nancy: Oh good, glad you and your family enjoy Cham, too!


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