Kimmy Song has earned much success as the founder CEO of !It Jeans, but she wanted more. A food lover, she had already created a kitchen headed by a former A.O.C. chef to feed employees at their Vernon plant, and she got bitten by the restaurant bug. The result is this bright new café just off of Lake, where !It’s brand manager, Ricardo Carrera-Lowe, puts in time manning the cash register, and chef E.J. Jeong (ex of A.O.C. and BOA) turns out Korean dishes both classic and modern, all made with ingredients as organic and local as possible. The genesis for the place was actually Song’s desire to give back, so Cham is a nonprofit operation, with a portion of income going to community projects in developing countries.
Cham developed a following within a week of opening, thanks to its incredibly nice people, its high-ceilinged, light-filled space, its moderate prices and, most of all, its delicious food. The tofu pocket (a variation on a pita sandwich) filled with seasoned rice, spicy tuna and pea shoots is a hot item, as is the mint lemonade made with agave syrup. Almost every table has at least one ssam garden platter, a gorgeous array of butter lettuce, sesame leaves, pickled ginger and noodles paired with a small platter of protein: beef or pork bulgogi, perhaps, or spicy chicken or tofu steak. You load up a butter-lettuce leave with a little bit of everything and eat it taco style. Bibimbap, that Korean rice-bowl standard, is healthier and more colorful than the norm here, with lots of fresh vegetables and your choice of meat.
It’s open for dinner, and will certainly thrive in the evenings once it gets a beer and wine license, but for now Cham is a find for a quick lunch that’s a lot more exciting than the usual salad or taco place.
851 Cordova St., Pasadena, 626.792.2474, chamkoreanbistro.com. L & D Mon.-Sat. Korean. No booze. AE, MC, V. $ – $$