Mapo Pocha Soju Bar
Mapo Pocha Soju Bar is a hotspot on Bloor that serves up different flavours of soju and comfort food dishes until late night.
Mapo is a district in Korea where owner Becky Zheng's grandmother once owned a barbecue restaurant. Pocha is an abbreviation for pojang macha, the street food stalls that are common late-night hangouts.
Since coming to Canada in 2006, Zheng wanted to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother and has worked in restaurants for the last 10 years.
The space which is now occupied by Mapo Pocha was the original home of Zheng's first business, Mapo Korean BBQ, which has relocated down the street.
Zheng realized there aren't many spots for nightlife in Koreatown, apart from a few karaoke bars. She wanted to introduce a space where she could share her culture while filling in this gap.
Walking inside Mapo Pocha, I'm met with a ceiling covered in hanging orchid flowers with neon lights glowing in between. The detail adds to the party feel of the bar.
There are several wooden booths and tables for groups. Private seating arrangements are lined up against walls with retro Korean movie posters.
Another eye-catching part of the interior is a sprawling mural that covers the right wall as you approach the kitchen.
It displays a scene of a night market in Korea during the 1980s with bustling vendors and after-midnight eaters.
Mapo Pocha carries an extensive list of sojus in an assortment of flavours that are imported from Korea.
Whether it's strawberry, green grape, apple, blueberry, grapefruit, yogurt, or plum, you're served the whole bottle along with shot glasses.
I tried the Peach-flavoured soju ($19.99) which was mildly sweet. Although it contains 14 per cent alcohol, it didn't taste too boozy when sipped.
Mapo Pocha also makes their own soju by mixing distilled liquor with fruit juices and pop in four flavours: pineapple, yogurt, mango and lychee.
I tried the Pineapple ($22.99) which was refreshing and fizzy. The order came to the table in a big glass bottle with an ice chamber at the bottom which keeps the drink cold while it sits on the table.
There seems to be an endless for food whether you're looking for a full dinner or if you just want to order a few snack plates to accompany the soju.
One of the most popular street food dishes on the menu is the Corn Cheese ($8.99). Here, a sizzling grill plate of corn kernels are covered in melted mozzarella, butter, mayonnaise and a sprinkle of parsley. Every buttery mouthful pops with the light crisp crunch of the corn, the salty flavours of the cheese, and the creaminess from the mayonnaise.
Mapo Pocha serves a pizza-inspired Kimchi Pancake ($18.99). Bacon, onion and thinly sliced kimchi are mixed into a pancake batter that's cooked before mozzarella cheese is added on top.
The sweet and sour flavour from the kimchi is quite strong in this savoury dish. I enjoyed the cheese because the hotcake-like dish felt a bit dry without it.
The Fried Chicken in Chili Sour Soy Sauce ($29.99) is pretty straightforward but is also a must-try when you come to Mapo Pocha.
What's different about this fried chicken is that it's marinated in pineapple juice, lemon juice and soy sauce. The seasoning gives the chicken naturally sweet and tart flavours.
Garnished with thinly sliced peppers and sesame seeds, the chicken remains crispy even though it's covered in chili soy sauce.
Finally, the Cold Pork Hock with Veggies ($28.99) is one of the most vibrant dishes on the menu that is plated beautifully with layers of meat and vegetables.
A generous pile of sliced steamed pork sits in the middle of a platter that has sliced carrots, cabbage, orange bell peppers, red onions, cucumbers and lettuce all placed in a flower-like arrangement.
The dish comes with a thin sweet and sour sauce that's meant to be used as a dip or poured all over the dish. It's Zheng's mother's recipe made of garlic, lemon, apple, pear, mustard and vinegar.
Mapo Pocha can be found in the middle of the busy streets of Koreatown between Bathurst and Christie on Bloor.