Spice City Toronto: Home of the Bulgogi Burger
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Spice City Toronto: Home of the Bulgogi Burger

A subway-station food stall serves up an unusual take on a Korean classic.

The bulgogi burger at Airima.

Toronto is filled with soulless, concrete buildings. Thankfully, some of them house hidden restaurants dishing up great ethnic food. One such gem is Airima’s Kitchen, which serves homemade Korean cuisine in the bowels of St. Clair subway station.

Airima’s opened about six months ago in a food court by the subway entrance and has quickly gained popularity with local office workers. Its owner is Joe Bang, a Toronto-born former extreme-sports promoter. His retired parents, an adorable couple who are originally from Seoul, helped their son launch the restaurant and have never left. “They’re retired and they’re having fun, so they stayed on,” says Joe. “It’s nice to have them around.”

Indeed, it was Joe’s mom (named Airima of course) who came up with the idea of selling a bulgogi burger (above), a fusion dish. It features traditional Korean sliced sirloin marinated in soy, garlic, brown sugar, and onion, served on an oversized hot dog bun. Overflowing with fried onions and crisp cucumbers, it’s topped with hot sauce and Airima’s homemade thousand island dressing.

The meat isn’t as high quality as the stuff you’ll find at some Korean places, but for just five bucks, it’s a satisfying enough treat, if somewhat messy. However, Joe himself prefers the traditional method of eating bulgogi on rice. “I think the bulgogi burger is weird,” he confesses. “I’ve never tried it.”

Joe Bang and his parents pose for a photo.

The restaurant recently added a $5 kimchee burger to the menu. It’s a chopped pork cutlet topped with kimchee, a pungent Asian cabbage pickled with salt, garlic, and spices. You can get a bargain-priced Korean pancake for $1.91. There’s also dok boki, a wonderfully alien-looking dish of spicy rice cake that is served on the streets of Seoul, for $6.99. The classic Korean rice dish, bibimbap, sells for $7.49.

One of the place’s nicer touches is the free boricha tea, a wonderfully rich caffeine-free drink made with roasted barley and corn kernels. That alone makes it worth a stop if it’s approaching lunchtime and you find yourself travelling along the Yonge-University line.

Airima is located at St. Clair subway station. Tel: 647-340-6262. Hours are 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m., Monday to Friday. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

Spice City Toronto explores Toronto’s great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip-mall joints serving food from all corners of the world.

Photos by Sarah Efron.