Navigating Allston’s hub of Korean restaurants can be exhausting. On Harvard Avenue alone, diners have several to choose from. To find the best, here’s a suggestion: look for large crowds on the sidewalk in front. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself at Kaju Tofu House.
Open since March 2012, Kaju has quickly earned accolades. Boston magazine named it Best Korean Restaurant earlier this year. And a recent visit made clear why.
Kaju prides itself on using the freshest possible vegetables and meats. The restaurant makes ample use of traditional Korean ingredients like doenjang (fermented bean paste), soy sauce, pepper flakes, and gochujang (fermented red chili paste). And the prices will make you want to come back again and again.
We recommend starting with Kaju’s signature soft tofu soup (sundubu jigae, $10.99), which you can order 15 different ways, including vegetable tofu (broccoli, mushrooms, green beans, and carrots), seafood tofu (shrimp, oysters, and clams), and—for the more adventurous—intestines tofu. Diners choose from five spice levels: white, mild, medium spicy, spicy, and extra spicy. Served sizzling hot in a stone bowl, the flavorful soup can’t be beat if you’re looking to warm up on a cold autumn day.
Korean cuisine is notable for the many side dishes (banchan) that come with a meal. Kaju serves about nine, ranging from dried shredded squid and spicy cucumber kimchi to a light salad and broccoli drizzled in a sweet Korean sauce, all free with an entrée.
But diners come here for more than just the tofu soup and side dishes. Among the best of the barbecue dishes is the galbi, four tender strips of sweet barbecued beef ribs ($21.99). If you’re thinking about an entrée and soup, consider the combos: they’re much cheaper. For example, the galbi and soup combo is just $18.99. Ordered separately, they’d come to $32.99. That said, the separate portions are larger. Patrons can choose from other money-saving combinations, including tofu soup with bugolgi, thin slices of grilled marinated beef ($15.99), or the tofu and bibimbap, a bowl of warm rice topped with vegetables, raw egg, and meat ($13.99).
Not surprisingly, rice is a staple of nearly every dish. A complimentary bowl accompanies most dishes, but hungry diners can order an extra bowl for $1 or an stone pot of rice for $2. What’s the difference? The rice at the bottom of the stone pot tends to be crispy, making it the more popular choice.
The restaurant’s slow service and cramped space don’t seem to have made a dent in its popularity. The booths are comfy and inviting and the large windows let in a lot of warm sunlight. But since Kaju does not take reservations, those who don’t want to wait should try coming between 3 and 5 p.m., when the place is quieter. At that time of day, diners can even be seen reading a book while eating.
Those wanting a sweet ending to a meal, however, be prepared: the restaurant offers neither dessert nor alcohol. But the large portions are guaranteed to fill you up and are perfect for sharing with friends.
Kaju Tofu House, 58 Harvard Ave., Allston, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; phone: 617-208-8540. The restaurant accepts MasterCard, Visa, and Discover, but not American Express. Kaju does not take reservations. By public transportation, take an MBTA Green Line B trolley to Harvard Avenue and walk to the restaurant.
This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the comments section below. Check out our list of lunchtime tips on Foursquare.