As I exited the subway and walked to Mahji, the new Korean fried chicken joint just off the Grand Street stop on the L train, it was with a sense of hopeful trepidation. The restaurant, which held its soft opening in the second week of September this year, has been quietly but consistently garnering 5-star reviews on Yelp—and it’s even made a few appearances as the backdrop in some of my friend’s Snapchat stories.
Because new restaurants seem to proliferate and then die around here at such an astronomical rate, the fact that Mahji has managed to generate so much positive word-of-mouth just two months into service was noteworthy. I hoped it would live up to its reputation.
Luckily, it only took one visit to confirm this place is the real deal. Mahji may be a bit of a trek outside of Bushwick proper, but it’s no fluke. The fledgling restaurant has certainly earned its hype, and is worth traveling that extra stop or two on the L.
“Mahji has two meanings,” Mahji’s proprietor, Kyunghoon Richard Min, told me as he guided me to one of the tables on the ground floor. “First born, and greetings.”
True to its namesake, Mahji is Min’s first restaurant, though he’s dreamed of opening up a Korean fried chicken spot for years.
After moving to New York fifteen years ago (without knowing a word of English), Min spent half of that time fully immersing himself in the food industry—and his experience shows.
“I’ve worked as a busser, server, bartender, in the kitchen, and as a manager,” he recounts. His investment in Mahji doesn’t stop at the culinary level: he’s personally involved in all aspects of Mahji’s concept.
It took Min six months to settle on East Williamsburg as Mahji’s new home, and countless hours of dedication to transform the space into the special place it is now.
A split level concept, Mahji’s downstairs dining area is modern and contemporary, complete with a small, fully stocked bar flanked by two sizable televisions.
The upstairs, however, provides a distinctly rustic aesthetic, with exposed brick and ambient lighting for a more intimate dining experience.
Min came in every day leading up to Mahji’s opening. He personally designed the interior and perfected the menu, but a sense of collaboration and community radiates throughout the space.
The furniture and decor in the restaurant were either gifts, bequeathed unto Min by his friends (like the chicken-topped weathervane which sits proudly in the partition between the downstairs and upper level) or gems he found at neighborhood yard sales.
The whimsical, minimalist chicken logo (which is emblazoned not only on the door, but on the walls and all the napkins as well) was designed by his brother on an intercontinental flight.
And of course, every meal on the menu was taste-tested and approved by Min’s wife, Tammy, and their children.
Because the culinary landscape in Brooklyn has become so oversaturated with novelty food items of late—you can hardly walk past a bagel store that doesn’t now offer a rainbow-hued option—Mahji’s menu stands out for its bold simplicity.
While the restaurant aims to cater to a diverse constituency (the menu features vegan options, traditional Korean dishes such as bibimbap and japchae, as well as some fusion entrees, like its kimchee quesadilla) what you really want to order on your first visit is Mahji’s specialty: the Korean fried chicken.
“The chicken is very lightly battered,” Min explained as I started in on my first of many chicken legs. “We use a double-frying technique at a certain temperature. That’s what makes it so crispy on the outside, and juicy on the inside. It took us two weeks of taste-testing and adjusting the recipe. Now, we execute our chicken to perfection.”
Patrons order their chicken either Soy Garlic or Spicy Glazed, and can select wings, drumsticks, boneless breast strips, or a combo in sizes small, medium, and large. Pricing falls between $9 and $21, in part because the chicken that Mahji uses has no hormones and is young, and all-natural, which means the chickens are smaller, but healthier and more flavorful.
“I feel good serving it to my kids when my family comes. I want guests to come and have good food, quality food. Everything that goes into your mouth here is clean and fresh; even the ice machine is hooked up to a special carbon filter. The water here may even be cleaner than in my apartment!”
Min created Mahji’s entire menu, except for the popular Korean Rice Ball, which he laughingly admits is a recipe that he stole from his mother.
Reception, he beams, has been great. Mahji has already earned a handful of regular customers. As I was sampling one of the signature Soju cocktails (80% of the cocktail menu is designed by Mahji’s bartender), another 5-star review came in on Yelp.
“That’s the thing. We’ve been growing slowly, but steadily. When the guests are leaving, what we love to hear is that they loved the food, and that the food was great, and that they’ll be back. And they do come back!”
Mahji is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m., and stays open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. On weekends, brunch service begins at noon.
This week, you can stop by Mahji to watch the election results roll in on the two downstairs televisions; in the future, guests are welcome to rent out the top floor of the space for special events, and use the projector upstairs to screen what they wish.
Check it out!
Korean chicken wings, beer and soju cocktails in East Williamsburg.
Mahji is located at 617 Grand St. (at Leonard Street), in East Williamsburg (off of the Grand Street stop on L train) Brooklyn, NY 11211,
Sunday through Thursday 5 p.m. until 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. until midnight.