My first visit to Glendale’s fairly new Korean treasure Gam Tu Bop was in July of this year. My Korean friends, Steve and Joanne, treated my daughter and me to a feast involving the stuff of dreams: perfectly cooked balls of rice (really more like triangle mounds) stuffed with various tasty fillings and wrapped with a beautiful piece of toasted seaweed. Steve had the “in” on this place. He told us what was good (basically everything), how to order (very straightforward), and how to eat it (no forks needed!).
Husband and wife team Jong and Jenny opened for business a few months before this, and they couldn’t be happier with the success of their little eatery. Jong told me that approximately 70% of their customers visit every day or every other day. This is mostly due to the fact that Gam Tu Bop is situated on busy Brand Boulevard, close to lots of office buildings and businesses. What better way to spend your lunch break than to munch on glorious rice balls, sip a little miso soup, and maybe try the delightfully spicy kimchi? (That is, if you’re not going to be sitting too close to anyone afterwards!)
“Cute” and “adorable”. I had no choice but to use these words in copious amounts when describing the interior of Gam Tu Bop. There’s simply no other way to describe it. The first thing you notice when you walk into the place is a couple of cute little shelves adorably decorated with tiny painted pictures, cute potted plants, and the eatery’s namesake in artful gold letter blocks. On the opposite facing wall is the suggestion to “eat happy”, which is exactly what one does here. But the cutest thing of all has to be the small hanging chalkboard drawing that reads “Welcome to Gam Tu Bop” above an adorable chalk drawing of a rice ball family. (See? “Cute” and “adorable” mentioned at least five times in one paragraph. A personal best for me!)
As your eyes are redirected down the walkway, you see a brilliantly red-tiled wall as the backdrop for clearly written chalkboard menus directly above the ordering counter. This is when your mouth starts watering, and you suddenly get terribly impatient, wanting to eat this food…NOW!
The far left menu announces the various rice ball filling flavors, while the menu in the middle gives diners the option to get their rice balls in a combo with accompaniments like miso and edamame. The rice plate and salad plate both offer three fillings (this time listed as “toppings”) set atop either rice or spring mix, accompanied by pickled ginger, edamame, and seaweed salad. Diners should know that, with the rice plate, they can choose white or brown rice. Finally, the small menu on the right gives beverage options, as well as a handful of a-la-carte side dishes, including their outstanding, not-too-spicy kimchi, served in a teeny, tiny plastic cup. The only bad thing I can say about the kimchi is they don’t give enough of the stuff!
I didn’t want to seem like a glutton and take advantage of Steve’s offer to treat us, so I held back and tried only a couple of variations. Besides, I was secretly planning to return the next day to try more things. We started our meal with edamame and tasty miso soup, along with some of the kimchi. The first rice ball I tried was the beef flavor. The beef rice ball utilizes rib eye bulgogi – that gloriously marinated Korean char-grilled beef that calls to me in my dreams. (Oops, too personal. Sorry.) Rib eye yields an extremely tender final result, teeming with the flavor of a proper Korean barbecue beef, but in a portable, much more convenient package – surrounded by perfectly cooked seasoned rice and wrapped in toasted seaweed.
Next was the delicious spicy shrimp. The sweet little morsels were cooked perfectly, chopped up, and tossed in a glorious spicy mayonnaise before getting the rice and seaweed treatment. I could have eaten six more of these.
When I returned the next day, I tasted the imitation crab meat (think California roll filling, but in a tasty lemon aioli). Very nice, indeed. My husband liked the grilled salmon, which I wasn’t crazy for, only because I’m not a fan of teriyaki flavor. Probably the most underwhelming for me was the chicken curry…but I suppose one cannot expect every person to like every single flavor.
I did not get a chance to try the other flavors, but an upcoming return visit will solve that. I’m wonderfully anxious to try the kimchi, the shiitake (possibly my favorite mushroom), and the spicy pork. I was thinking the tamago yaki (grilled egg) would be delightful for breakfast, but they don’t open until 11am, so I’d gladly settle for a couple of these for brunch someday soon with some of their miso and a little seaweed salad. I’ll leave chicken teriyaki, tofu, and unagi for someone who digs those sweet sauces. I know you’re out there!
I find myself thinking about Gam Tu Bop’s rice balls constantly. I crave them most of my waking hours. At least once a week, I try to rearrange my schedule to get over to Glendale for lunch…but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like. Jong did tell me that delivery services are beating their door down wanting to offer their food to people who can’t get to the eatery. That’s a very good sign. He also told me that he and Jenny are looking to expand to other cities – possibly Downtown, Hollywood, Burbank, or Pasadena. We will all have to be patient and see where they open next. One thing is for sure: Southern California needs more Gam Tu Bop.
Gam Tu Bop is located at 132 N Brand Blvd., Glendale, CA 91203
Phone number: 818-696-1236
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11am-8pm. Closed Sunday.