In March 2021, Mono Mono Fried Chicken and Beer opened just off the lower end of 16th Street Mall, replacing the short-lived Koba as downtown’s best source for Korean fare. Presented by JW Lee — the same man responsible for opening Menya, Wasabi and Koba, as well as owning and operating Seoul Korean BBQ and Hotpot — the new venture centers largely around the kind of snack food best enjoyed with booze. While the titular fried chicken may certainly be the most festive emblem, the menu centers around anju — Korean shared plates designed to be enjoyed collectively, generally as part of drinking bouts. “People all pitch in and grab a bite,” said manager Paul Kim.
Across the globe, fried chicken can be traced as celebratory grub — with Mono Mono being carefully designed in the interest of not only presenting a delicious rendition but using the plates as part of a larger experience. “It’s not just about the food. Guests are also gaining cultural knowledge as well,” he continued. “People who come with an open mind are the ones who are going to have the best experience.”
A common sight at any bustling Korean joint this side of Seoul will always be the massive stacks of empty bottles of soju, bombers of beer and stacked plates that line the outer edges of a meal oft consumed with vigor. And while dining undoubtedly plays an important social function everywhere, there’s something particularly communal — and frequently uninhibited — found at many Korean tables. Individual dishes often serve as auxiliary components of marathon group events. “It’s about quantity as opposed to quality and most of all it’s about who you are with,” grinned Kim — a Chicago native who spent 11 years in the Korean capital working in sports broadcasting.
Mono Mono does a good job of capturing the spirit — with club-friendly tracks, massive reproductions of the country’s neon alleyways and bottles of infused soju stacked high in every direction setting the boisterous tone. All the plates arrive fully stocked — and while the quantity element is certainly covered, at no point is quality ever sacrificed. The dishes could easily be the star of the show. The idea that items of this caliber should still be tangential to a larger experience is telling — no matter how good the food is, friends are always more valuable.
The kimchi fries ($12) come with thinly-chopped kimchi, scallions, thick slabs of sweet bulgogi, melted cotija and parmesan cheeses and a spicy mayo drizzle. The plate is appropriately decadent, alluding to the cuisine’s graceful internationalism. A kimchi pasta ($11) and a kimchi quesadilla ($10) continue in the same vein. The bulgogi sandwich ($14) — with thinly-sliced ribeye, grilled onions, veggies, pickles, jalapeños and American cheese — also veers towards fusion, though the execution reveals a dish that is greater than the sum of its parts. The wings ($10 for six, $19 for 12 and $32 for 20) are exceptionally crisp — having been fried multiple times to achieve a truly respect-worthy crunch. Available in both soy garlic and hot and spicy, it doesn’t take more than a few bites to see why the morsels sit at the top of the heap.
With not a bad item on the menu, Mono Mono still provides a lesson in priorities, asking diners to reexamine what fundamentally makes a meal great. A lesson best learned after more than a few shots of soju has been lined up amongst companions, soul mates, confidants and kindred spirits. A second Mono Mono is set to open in Lafayette later this summer, with a third location currently being scouted to join before the end of the year.
Mono Mono Korean Fried Chicken and Beer is located at 550 Blake St., Denver. It is open Monday – Thursday from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., and Friday – Sunday from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.