Gangchu is a brand new Korean-style chicken and beer joint in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa — and acclaimed chef Noel Cruz has crafted something special for the city.
Acclaimed Tampa restauranteur, Noel Cruz, is probably one of the smartest chefs you’ll ever meet. With a UF microbiology degree, a CIA culinary diploma, and decades of navigating the cutthroat streets of NYC, this man’s got a brain to rival a MacBook. So, when I heard he was launching a new spot, I knew it was going to be something I hadn’t seen before.
“Chimaek,” Noel stated, “That’s what I was going for.”
Sitting across from the entrepreneur at a trendy, blue-lit bar, I raised an eyebrow. He seemed to pick up on my confusion.
“In Korean, ‘chi’ means chicken. ‘Maekju’ is beer. So ‘Chimaek’ basically means chicken and beer. It’s a staple of Korean dining.”
“And that was the goal for Gangchu?” I asked.
“Yes, but chimaek isn’t just about the food and drinks—It’s about late night, big crowds with high energy and bright lights. It’s a whole atmosphere.”
A waiter slid an icy, glass bottle of water across the Silicon Valley reminiscent counter top. Noel cracked open the lid.
“That’s what I wanted Gangchu to be.”
I looked around at the chic, contemporary space. From floor to ceiling, block-shaped TV monitors were geometrically arranged to create living walls of anime. Subtle, neon lights poked through crevices in the bar, and graffiti-like murals coated any empty space between decor. It was almost as if I’d stepped into a graphically designed, digital universe.
A sleek, graphically designed universe
As we continued to chat about international trends and Gangchu’s history, waiters began to pass with savory, aromatic dishes. Notes of scallion and cayenne added a new level of sensory vibrancy to the restaurant, and suffice it to say I was drowning in salivation. From what I saw on those plates, it quickly became clear that Gangchu wasn’t some simple “chicken and beer” spot—it was a modern, Koreatown-style destination. And, founded by a man that spent 20 years in NYC, that made perfect sense.
Now, when I say Noel spent 20 years in New York, I mean he spent 20 years cooking in New York. Starting his chef’s journey at the Culinary Institute of America, and quickly rising through the ranks at Craft, Tribeca Grill, and multiple restaurants of his own, Noel built a repertoire of skill that only the Big Apple—and a natural proclivity for the art—could produce. As a result, every Gangchu plate is high-quality, clever, and delicious.
Wondering what some of these dishes entail? Or how Korean street food turns innovative and chic? Luckily for you, I’ve already tried the spot twice.
Here’s (some of) what to expect:
Gangchu Chicken Wings
As a chicken restaurant, it’s no surprise that Gangchu’s wings would be phenomenal (and they are). What is surprising, however, is how many different ways you can order them. Bone-in or boneless, sauce coated or dry rubbed; if you can name it, they probably have it.
Oh—and don’t even get me started on Noel’s six house-made sauces. Since the dry rub wings essentially let you dunk in all six (and are covered in spices called “Korean Magic”), I’d say they’re definitely the way to go.
Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Sticking with the “chicken and beer” theme, this sandwich is another Gangchu staple. Featuring kimchi brined chicken breast, pickles, and perilla ranch on a potato bun, this Asian-fusion sandwich adds unique flavors and a touch of complexity to a well-loved American classic.
Kimchi Fried Rice
Moving away from the chicken, and starting to dive a bit deeper into Asian fare, I present the Kimchi Fried Rice. Tossed with gochujang, grilled onions, sesame seeds, and more, this dish is a third Gangchu favorite—especially topped with a fried egg.
Tteokbokki (Spicy Rice Cakes)
Tteokbokki, AKA spicy rice cakes, are a quintessential Korean street food. For those of you who haven’t had them, they’re kinda like dense, cylindrical mounds of pasta, and are often served in a kickin’, gochujang based sauce.
In Gangchu’s version of this Asian classic, the rice cakes are mixed into a spicy Korean chili sauce, doused liberally with sesame and scallions, and topped with a heaping handful of mozzarella cheese. The result is a melty, gooey plate of indulgence that is just too good to skip.
Bulgogi Beef Cheesesteak
My second favorite dish on the menu (after the chicken wings, of course), this sandwich is pretty much the epitome of elevated street food. Instead of basic chopped meat on bread, conceptualize thin-sliced, marinated beef and charred onions drowning under a pool of melting cheese sauce…
Hungry yet? Here’s their UberEats:
Neon lights, late nights, and magically good eats
As I headed out of Gangchu, stomach full of decadent bulgogi, I couldn’t help but notice a magnetic pull back towards the heavy doors. Perhaps it was the social, urban energy of the place, or the way that the neon lights danced off the rims of every cocktail glass in the room.
Or—on second thought—maybe it was that “Korean Magic”?
…Guess I’ll just have to go back tonight and find out.
Gangchu Chicken and Beer is located at 6618 N Nebraska Ave in Tampa. To reserve a table, order online, or explore the full menu, diners can visit https://www.eatgangchu.com/.
ALSO, they’ve now got WEEKEND BRUNCH! Get all the details on Instagram: @eatgangchu.