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Cafe Soho: The Mecca of Korean Fried Chicken And K-Pop.

October 24, 2012

Text by Seri Chao. Images by G.W. Miller III.

You know you’ve found the Mecca of Korean fried chicken bliss when you come face to face with the statue of a mysterious red monk that greets you at the front door. The next thing you should anticipate is the wait. You’re not the only one who’s been salivating all day. Welcome to Café Soho.

Shining liked a crowned jewel on Cheltenham Avenue,  the Seoul-chic lounge serves up the tastiest chicken wings in Philadelphia. It’s true. Ask Micheal Solomonov, the James Beard Award-winning chef of Society Hill’s Zahav and the uber-popular Federal Donuts. He’s such a huge fan that  Federal Donuts serves chicken wings inspired by Café Soho.

Magical seems like an unusual and even tacky way to describe the feeling you get when you’re eating fried chicken but there doesn’t seem to be a better way to describe the gluttonous rampage you will experience at Soho.

On most nights, owner Sue Park stands firmly, surveying the restaurant like the general of an army while her infantry of servers hustles back and forth with large trays of perfectly fried chicken.

Park opened Café Soho, her first restaurant venture, about five years ago with the intention of introducing Korean fried chicken to Philadelphia. The décor of the restaurant is a reflection of her impeccable taste. The ceiling is a beautiful black tile that reflects the glow of the red-leather booths and other color accents that flow throughout the restaurant. In the middle of the ceiling hangs a huge, white orbital chandelier that brings all of the aesthetic nuances together.

“It was pretty busy earlier but it’s died down a bit tonight,” says manager Sean Jeon, who is dressed in a slim black suit.

Hungry patrons usually show up much later in the night, he says.

When Park decides that everything is under control and she can call it a night, Jeon escorts her to her car, clutching her Louis Vuitton bag.

When he returns, the music suddenly kicks up a notch and the young crowd seems more alive. Perhaps it’s because they’ve been drinking watermelon soju all night or because of the infectious sounds of K-Pop blaring throughout the restaurant. Forget about the language barriers one might have difficulty with. This music is catchy enough that you don’t need a translator to enjoy it.

“There are people who aren’t Korean who ask me for the name of the artists,” says server Ji Kwag. “They want to hear more.”

Kwag rattles off names of Korean groups like Big Bang and Girls’ Generation. The song that’s currently playing is by the Wonder Girls. It’s a pulsating, rhythmic blend of old-school dance and catchy vocals.

“All of the music you hear is on my iPod,” Kwag boasts. “It’s a collection of my favorite music.”

Tucked in a corner of the restaurant is a tiny stage with a microphone. In between serving wings and drinking soju, a couple of the staffers will serenade the crowd with popular songs. It’s something new that they’ve been doing for a few months now and the patrons seem to enjoy the live action.

Kwag jokes that Jeon makes him sing in between serving. But he actually enjoys performing every once in a while – he’s competed at several singing competitions.

“Some of the guys are really good,” says Jeon. “It’s just a good way for them to have some fun at work.”

K-Pop is definitely one of the main reasons why people clamor through the doors at Soho.

“That’s the reason why people are flocking to oh ka, which translates into Five Street,” says Kwag of Café Soho’s location just off 5th Street. “It’s just a cool place to enjoy music and eat good food.”

Quality and detailed preparation, however, appear to be the main reasons why Café Soho has been so successful.

“The cooking process itself is a labor of love,” Park says.

The wings are fried twice to ensure that each wing is crispy on the outside and perfectly moist on the inside. The final step is to hand brush each wing and drumstick with one of their signature flavor blends to ensure a well balanced flavor distribution in each bite. “Our Soho wings are a perfect example of cooking as art,” says Park.

It was Park’s idea to create an environment built on her Korean roots, to serve the community that she’s been active in for years. The restaurant has been so successful that they opened a second location in Blue Bell.

“Everything about Soho has been my mother’s creation and hard work,” says Park’s son, Minu, who also works at the restaurant.

Sue Park exudes a confidence that can be intimidating to those who aren’t familiar to her but it’s a hardly the full story.

“Once you get to know my mother,” says Minu, “you’ll love her.”

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