For Houstonians watching Shark Tank on November 11, Jae Kim may have been a familiar face. After all, the Austin-based restaurateur behind Chi'Lantro owned two food trucks in Houston between 2013 and the final day of 2014. He scaled back his fleet to open his first brick-and-mortar location in the state capital at the beginning of 2015.
But thanks in part to the televised investment of real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, Kim now says Chi'Lantro is headed back to the Bayou City, specifically to one of the neighborhoods in which his trucks used to park.
"We have high interest in opening in Houston soon," Kim says. "We know what kind of location we want. We love Midtown, we love Rice Village. And we are hoping to get a location there."
What has Kim tapped that's compelled him to open four restaurants in a year? First, he claims to have invented kimchi fries. Whether or not he was the first to throw house-fermented cabbage on top of fried potatoes, his version is beloved in both Austin and Houston, as are his tacos, salads and rice bowls.
All of the above are served in the non-mobile restaurants in a fast-casual format similar to that at Chipotle. Instead of Mexican-style meats, Chi'Lantro makes good on its promise of being "Korean barbecue inspired" with beef rib eye, spicy pork or chicken, soy-glazed chicken or tofu. They fill any of the above dishes, as well as burritos or "burgers." The latter is actually closer to a cheese steak, with melted cheese and grilled onions, a fried egg and Magic Sauce on a bun. There's Korean fried chicken in a choice of three sauces, too.
But don't start salivating just yet. Kim says that with more Austin openings already in the works, Chi'Lantro Houston may not debut until early 2018.
Still, he says that's his conservative estimate. By his own admission, "I never thought I would have four restaurants in a year. You just never know. Or I never know."