Though it is cleaner and more brightly lit than OB, I was left with similar feelings: lethargic after over-indulgence, disoriented by sugary K-pop — and willing to repeat the experience.
Purists might balk at the menu, which spans South Korean, Japanese and Hawaiian cuisines. The jumble of options also calls to mind the Cheesecake Factory’s long, seemingly limitless menu.
But if you skew your meal toward the Korean side of things, it’s hard to go wrong.
The Korean-style fried chicken was lightly breaded and less gut-busting than other KFCs I’ve had in the Bay Area. Delicately crispy, it had extra tasty sections where the skin, still juicy, had come away from the flesh, making for a boost of crunch and flavor.
It’s a toss-up which was better — the plain Korean fried chicken or the garlic chicken wings. Joo Mak also got those right.
Soaked with a sweet and smoky garlic sauce that made their light crust soft, the battered and fried wings were gobsmackingly sticky.
The kimchee and pork pancake, made with freshly ground mung beans, was unique.
Scallions laced the pancakes, which had a hushpuppy-like crispness on the outside. They were greasy, but the oil was savory and full of flavor. The pork wasn’t discernible except to lend a savory undertone.
If none of these appeal, try the deokbokki — a dish of spicy rice cakes tossed with fish cake — which was pitch-perfect. I don’t like fish cakes, generally, but these were an exception. The fish lent the right amount of savor and perfume to balance the sauce’s tangy, spicy heat, and its texture blended into the rice cakes’ comforting, toothsome chew.
To give the meal some lightness, okra — treated in a soy dressing — provided a crisp-tender counterpoint to my meal. I might have preferred it to be a bit less earthy and more pickle-y, though.
There were misfires in other parts of the menu.
The tuna tataki’s sauce was muddied, and its sear didn’t give the tuna much character. Also, the chicken liver skewers were not quite to my taste.
But the takoyaki, smoky with bonito, were like a boardwalk merry-go-round of textures: crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, with morsels of chewy octopus in the middle.
Servers are efficient, unpretentious and youthful — a teenage subclass of diner waitresses that, when off-duty, say “Whatever” maybe, like, all the time, but on duty do their jobs quickly and efficiently.
As izakayas go, Joo Mak is an affordable option, with plenty to pique your curiosity — chicken gizzards, anyone? And it’s open until 2 a.m., which means there’s little to get in the way of lingering over your meal, picking at its cooling, yet still tasty, remains.
Location: 4828 Geary Blvd. (at 12th Avenue), S.F.
Contact: (415) 379-6250
Hours: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesdays-Mondays
Recommended dishes: Deokbokki ($9), fried chicken ($11), okra salad ($7), mung bean pancake ($10)
Price range: $5 to $15
Credit cards: All major