Pop-up restaurant TKO deliciously mixes Korean and American cuisine – WABE

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Korean Fried Chicken Nuggets, Kimchi Fried Rice, and Volcano Hot Dogs. A delicious mix of Korean and American street food is the concept behind the pop-up restaurant TKO, short for “The Korean One”. The founder and leader Lino Yi will soon be opening a new physical TKO location in East Atlanta at Southern food store. Yi joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the new chapter of her delicious food business.

Interview Highlights:

How Yi’s love for American and Korean cuisine blossomed early on:

“My parents immigrated here to America. I was first generation, so I grew up eating both Korean food and American food. My house was usually always Korean food, but when I went out I ate American food, and I liked both, but I always wanted to eat what my American friends ate. For example, I never had tuna stew or cookies and gravy until much later in high school. So I was like, ‘Aw, I really want to eat this.’ My mother said, “I don’t know what it is,” Yi said.

“Even though I don’t speak Korean very well, I can communicate with my parents by cooking Korean food, and they will appreciate… They were actually surprised that I could make Korean food. So it’s kind of my way of communicating with my parents, it’s through my cooking,” Yi said. “My favorite is this one [Korean food] is usually served with soup, and I love soups, and I remember the first time I really enjoyed my mom’s spicy soft tofu soup. I love spicy food, but this was so tasty – so much so that I started watching her make it, just so I could learn how to make it myself.

How the former head of Lazy Betty came up with his own pop-up concept:

“The quality and craftsmanship of the food is incredible, and this is one of the best restaurants. But many of my friends couldn’t afford to eat there. They couldn’t visit me. So I missed hanging out with all my friends. I was like, ‘Well, you know what, let me make these pop-ups with these dishes that I like to make.’ And they are much more affordable and much more accessible. So really, it was just an excuse to hang out and feed my friends, so we could hang out together,” Yi said.

“My other friends, we’re all cooks, we’re all servers, and you know, we eat fast food and junk food. So we’re like, ‘Well, let me do something a lot more casual and basically at our price point. But Lazy Betty is like, you have to pass rigorous tests to make the perfect dish, and for me, let’s take a corn dog. Let’s have a burger. So it was a lot easier, a lot more laid back, and a lot more fun.

Yi’s famous original – perhaps infamous – volcanic hot dog:

“Years ago, I worked at a…sushi food truck,” Yi recalls. “We were outside this punk rock bar, and the bar was busy, but we weren’t busy. And I made this joke, ‘Man, these kids don’t want sushi. These kids want hot dogs and hamburgers. So as a joke, I went to get some hot dogs, and basically took all the toppings from our volcano roll and put them on a hot dog. I waited for a while and then someone ended up buying it and then they came back with their friends saying, ‘Hey, like that’s really good. Can we have more of this hot dog? ‘”

Yi continued, “I raised a hot dog or brought sushi to the level of a hot dog. But seriously, it’s a hot dog, and what I do is top it with this spicy crab salad, then light it up, then drizzle with eel sauce, sriracha , green onions and sesame seeds and some chili flakes. So when you eat it, your mind plays tricks on you. You’re like, ‘Well, it’s a hot dog, but it tastes like sushi.'”

TKO will soon be opening at Southern Feedstore in East Atlanta Village. More information about the restaurant collective where TKO resides can be found at www.sfseav.com.

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