Mexican fusion on North U
From the September, 2019 issue
As its name suggests, the newest restaurant on North University, Hola Seoul, serves up Mexican-Korean fusion cuisine. Its beginnings and menu lean toward the Korean side of things--owner Sung Hee Kim hails from South Korea, and the meals include bibimbap and dosirak bento boxes--but the cornerstone of the menu is a selection of Korean barbecue tacos.
Sitting in the interior corridor of Roumanis Square outside her restaurant, Kim enlists her adult son Min Kyu Kim as a translator. "We travel a lot, and when you go to big cities like New York or Chicago, Korean tacos are this upcoming thing," he says. "She wants to emphasize that, if you had a survey, 80 percent of people would have tried tacos in America, while [only] 20 percent of people have tried Korean food." Combining the two is her way "to bring people in."
Though Kim speaks English, she defers to Min Kyu and Hola Seoul's manager Jeeun Roh (who goes by Jenny), both of whom grew up in Michigan. Min Kyu is a consultant in Chicago, but he was in town for a few weeks to help out.
He says he moved to Ann Arbor with his mother and grandmother when he was seven years old. The women both worked at Manna, the now-closed Asian market on Broadway, eventually saving enough money to buy the store. "We sold it like ten years ago, and then she expanded from there into restaurants in the Troy area and Northville," says Min Kyu. She's also co-owner of Seoul Garden.
In 2016, Kim opened Mama Satto, a Japanese-style sushi and noodle bar that's across the corridor from Hola Seoul. Mama Satto has soft lighting and a somewhat higher-end feel, while Hola Seoul is vibrant and casual; the counter where customers order opens onto the kitchen, and a window is decorated with anthropomorphized tacos and Korean fried chicken.
Roh manages both restaurants. "We're trying to get more younger people" at Hola Seoul,
she says, "and fusion is something new and different to try."
The tacos "start with pre-marinated meat," explains Roh, "and then you have the lettuce, which has kind of like a soy vinaigrette on it ... carrots, cabbage, and then they put some cilantro on top and pickled onions--we make everything here--and then some spice to go on top." The default wrap is a soft corn tortilla, with flour tortillas optional. "We have an avocado salsa now too," adds Min Kyu.
The Korean fried chicken on the menu may sound like another fusion item, but the dish is considered authentic Korean cuisine. "It's Korean fried chicken because you fry it twice, and it's supposed to be crispier," says Min Kyu. "It got really popular when I was growing up." Roh says it's the reason they're trying to get a liquor license: "Koreans usually eat their fried chicken with beer ... we're aiming for that."
Min Kyu explains his mother's goal for the restaurant: "Asian food kind of gets like a bad rep for kind of Panda Express-style, MSG stir-fry. So what she really wants is to bring in people to try this kind of fresher Korean food.
"We really stuff the tacos with lettuce and carrots and all this napa cabbage and vegetables ... She wants to introduce people to the health aspect."
Hola Seoul, 715 North University Ave. (734) 369-6418. Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
[Originally published in September, 2019.]
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