I've heard of Cham many times before but it was Jonathan Gold's piece on their sizzling bibimbap that converted me from "a Korean bistro?" to "oh I want to try that." Now it's one of my favorite places to eat lunch in Pasadena.
Unlike in K-town there's no refillable banchan and you have to pay for barley tea ($1.50) but the prices are pretty reasonable, the portions generous, and the taste satisfying. They have a small but good beer list as well (naturally they have Hite, but they have Lost Abbey also).
The first thing I tried here was of course the Sizzling Hot Bibimbap ($10), served in a piping hot iron skillet.
Carrots, cucumber, beansprouts, kale, meat, and egg on top of rice. Mix in as much gochujang as your heart desires.Mix, but don't forget to let the edges of the rice sit so it's all nicely crispy at the end.
I'm really happy to find something so comforting in Pasadena. Flavorful, sizzling hot, crisped rice. It isn't that spicy which is actually better for me. The vegetables used are fresh, the meat also good and lean with a nice, sweet marinade.
The next time I went I tried the Sizzling Kimchi Fried Rice au Gratin ($8). Yes, kimchi fried rice topped with melted cheese, also served in a hot skillet.
It took some time for me to get used to the combination of the pungent kimchi flavor and the melted cheese, but when I did I started liking it. This is actually spicier than the bibimbap so if you like spicy perhaps you'd like this better. I did wish I could add some meat to it.
Another dish of note is the topokki or rice cakes ($8).
While you'd normally find rice cakes smothered in spicy red sauce, there the rice cakes are sauteed with bulgogi and vegetables in a sweet soy-based sauce, yielding a delicious stir fry that's accentuating by the great chewy texture of topokki.
On the lighter side, you can order one of the tofu pockets ($1.50 each) filled with rice and a topping.. You can choose between four toppings: seaweed, blue crab, spicy tuna, arugula and radish.
There's also the steamed buns, filled with either bulgogi or spicy pork ($3).
Cham brings Korean food to Pasadena in a clean, modern shop, but it's more than a bibimbap and meat shop. You can also find Korean stew, jjim, and rice cakes, topokki. It's more expensive than most places in k-town but it's of good quality and inarguable one of the best lunch options in Pasadena. And hey, if you can have your kimchi with some Maredsous or Lost Abbey, even better.
Cham Korean Bistro
851 Cordova Street
Pasadena, CA 91101