4647 Convoy Street #101A, Kearny Mesa
From the outside, there's not a lot to distinguish Friend's House from the many restaurants lining Convoy Street. It sits at the end of a shopping center, touting photos of dinner specials on a poorly printed ad banner while promising superior Korean BBQ. You know, the usual.
But the inside tells a different story. A few sheets of plywood and some corrugated metal roofing frame the restaurant's interior, giving it a real shanty feel. Which doesn't sound like much, but it's actually kind of impressive what they've done with a quick trip to Home Depot. Throw in some culture-appropriate tchotchkes, camping lanterns and a room length mirror, and you've got yourself a unique decorative theme built more on elbow grease than design savvy.
I ordered the dolsot bibimbap – a hot stone bowl of rice, beef and vegetables – but if I'm being honest, I was really in this for the banchan. The small side plates come gratis, of course, but you've got to order something from the menu to get them. Today they consisted of broccoli, potatoes, fish cakes, two kinds of bean sprout and, of course, kimchi. I took to them so quickly, it took a moment to realize I was eating with metal chopsticks. I've eaten with wood, plastic and enamel, but never metal, so I had to geek out for a moment how light and easy they were to grip.
My bibimbap showed up right on top of the banchan, so I couldn't linger over every spiced vegetable they way I'd have liked. That stone bowl shows up hot enough to burn rice, and I like to stir mine up before it gets too crunchy at the bottom. Still, before I mixed it all together and poured on the Sriracha, I did notice the egg on top was covered by a green spice blend.
I really don't have the patience for hot bowls. The spice blend had a novel flavor that I apparently thought I might be able to pick out if I kept shoveling the still-too-hot dish into my mouth. Fortunately, I had ordered an iced coke, delivered in a thick branded glass with a bendy straw. I guess you could say I was about as satisfied as I might ever be with a burnt tongue.
Moreso, I felt a long way from the heavily trafficked streets of Kearney Mesa at that moment, and almost looked for that signpost from M*ASH that tells you the distance to Burbank, Seoul and Decatur. Not because the place felt like some made-for-TV version of Korea, but because I'm pretty sure you could make one pretty easily with a couple of tools and a buck's worth of nails.