Work Hard, Eat Well: Go Go 7 Serves Up Seasonal Korean Fare

Marilyn Lee, proprietor of Go Go 7. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong)

By NANCY CHAN

Ingleside’s new Korean cuisine restaurant takes energetic inspiration from its namesake, the seven-member Korean boy band BTS. Experienced restaurateur Marilyn Lee chose the phrase “Go Go” as a reference to one of their songs and its work hard, play hard message.

“I try to really take care of people, not just do business,” Lee said. “I work hard and enjoy it.”

Lee has owned seven different restaurants over 32 years, and can prepare Japanese, Ameri- can, Italian and Mexican food along with her native Korean cuisine. She is also a former Kaiser Permanente dietician for people with diabetes.

At Go Go 7, cooks prepare the main courses while Lee creates the sauces, desserts and seasonal banchan, or Korean side dishes that serve as appetizers.

Her autumn banchan trays contain kimchi, seaweed, potatoes, fish cakes, assorted vegetables and imitation crabmeat salad. This considerable range of starting dishes doesn’t go unnoticed.

“Go Go 7 is generous with banchan. I come here a lot to eat lunch alone and bring my family for dinner,” regular Chris Li said. “It’s very kid-friendly. They treat my 4-year-old son very well.”

Servers are never far from the seating area. Lee triples as a manager and a server who’s on her feet most of the time doing different tasks or greeting customers with her soft-spoken “Hello, how are you?”

In contrast, Go Go 7’s menu is designed to be simple. Everything is spelled out in Eng- lish, from the deep-fried “TKim” dishes, the customizable two-item combos and traditional Korean offerings like chapchae — glass noodles.

“There’s a lot I would recommend — the bulgogi (grilled beef), tteokbokki (rice cake), the doshirak (lunch box),” server Jilly Li said. “Ingleside is a nice neighborhood with a lot of food around, so if I need to I can just get food. But I think Go Go 7 gives Ingleside more culture, more diversity.”

Korean pancakes are considered banchan or a solo snack, made in-house with seafood or chive batter and served with soy sauce for dipping. The savoriness makes it ideal as anju — food paired with alcohol.

At the front of Go Go 7, there are advertising posters of Korean singer IU holding up soju bottles. According to Lee, putting up soju posters lets people know a restaurant carries the dis- tilled spirit.

Go Go 7’s soju stock comes plain or in a variety of fruit flavors such as green grape, blue- berry and peach. Buying a bottle comes with the option of having the alcohol infused with fresh lemon or cucumber slices.

“Cucumber and lemon makes the taste more mild. It has good flavor,” Lee said.

For Korean home-cooked flavors, the four soup options are split between meat-based and vegetarian, spicy and non-spicy.

In some respects, Go Go 7 is Lee’s home away from home.

The decor predominantly features 14 paintings by Lee’s oldest daughter, and the main wall has four watercolors depicting Korean landscapes through the seasons. One smaller wall has artwork of a Korean mother carrying her baby on her back using a sling.

“That’s how babies are carried in Korea,” Lee commented. “If I can share them [the paintings] in my house, I can share them with customers.”

Lee’s policy of inclusivity led to the construction of a gender-neutral bathroom. Another way Lee embraces community is to have Go Go 7 as a drop-off point for Urban Angels SF’s ongoing clothing drive for the home- less. Lee, who started volunteering for the charity in 2012, actively contributes by cooking handouts.

“One time I made 260 burritos in three months,” Lee recalled. “They paid for the food costs, but it’s my labor.”

Business cards for Urban Angels SF can be found on Go Go 7’s longest table to the right of the entrance.

“We keep coming back for the environment. They’re super kind and hospitable,” returning customer Florence Lau said. “That’s how you build customer loyalty in this city.”

Lau considered herself and her husband Isaias Rosales “kind of regulars now” since they’ve returned five times. Their favorite order is the bulgogi barbecue sandwich with salad.

“The food’s amazing and the orders come very fast,” Rosales said. “I love the complimentary chocolate cake.”

Dine-in customers receive homemade des- serts. Like her banchan, her desserts vary with the added effect of rounding out meals.

Currently, she offers chocolate cake and diced watermelon.

“Banchan has a lot of sodium and is spicy. Watermelon is in season and has a lot of potas- sium. Potassium helps take sodium out of the body,” Lee explained.

She decided on cake to help people feel special.

If there’s anything else customers might want, Lee is more than likely to reply with “Sure, sure!” and a smile.

Go Go 7 is located at 1300 Ocean Ave. and can be reached at (415) 333-4344.