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Kaysan’s 5th Down
Out of a possible five

Sports bar wins fans with menu, big taste

It is an interesting mix, to say the least.

Classic Korean family recipes along with hearty Tex-Mex fare, and, oh yeah, a full array of American bar staples make up the menu at Kaysan’s 5th Down Bar & Grill. And, somehow, it all works.

Located in Washington Plaza just west of Lima Road on Washington Center Road, this sports bar is owned by John Sohn, whose parents, James and Kay Sohn, opened the original Kaysan’s on South Anthony Boulevard more than 30 years ago, and his aunt, Yisun Chang. The original store is now under different ownership.

Not only does the 5th Down have dishes from each of these styles of cuisine, a few of them also cross over and are fused. One of those items just sounded too good not to try – the bulgogi burger.

Kaysan’s used the same sweet Korean barbecue marinade it uses for its bulgogi, which is made with strips of sirloin steak, to season this big hamburger, served on a nice Kaiser roll with Swiss cheese, onion, lettuce and tomato. The sweet sauce combined with the sharp raw onion and tangy Swiss was fantastic. The meaty, filling burger was also perfectly cooked to a juicy medium.

Another interesting item that crossed over all three cuisines was the bulgogi wrap, which had the signature steak along with green peppers and onions in a flour tortilla. The steak was tender and succulent, the tortilla was grilled on the outside and the vegetables still snapped a little.

The wrap was as close as I could get to what I really wished Kaysan’s offered and what is a food trend growing in popularity nationwide, especially on food trucks – Korean tacos. The wrap was good, but that same bulgogi in a soft tortilla with some kimchi slaw would have been awesome. John Sohn said he has experimented with tacos in the past but wasn’t sure whether they would sell, but may have to reconsider it.

The Mexican food at Kaysan’s was kind of old-school, but still good. The 5th Down Grande Burrito was, indeed, grande – the size of a small log – and it was coated with red sauce and then covered in chewy, gooey, melted cheddar. The sauce had a hearty, almost smoky sweetness that matched well with the salty cheese. The stuffing of ground beef, tomato, lettuce, jalapeno peppers and sour cream – which oozed out with every forkful – was fine, but the beef was too finely ground and kind of got lost in the mess. Bigger chunks of ground beef would have been better.

Oh, yeah, and having the “fiesta-marinated” chicken inside instead of the subpar beef would have been better, too, since it is what I ordered.

The grilled chicken was the highlight of my club sandwich, which was one of the better clubs I have had in a while. This triple-decker sandwich made with Texas toast had bacon, Swiss cheese and a thick slice of ham on the bottom layer, and the juicy grilled breast, lettuce and tomato on the top tier. It blew away the typical cold-meat clubs many places offer. On the side, I chose homemade potato chips, which could not have been better executed and came with a tasty bonus side of barbecue sauce for dipping.

The biggest disappointment about my visits to Kaysan’s 5th Down came from the one item I have had many times before and have raved about. But this time Kaysan’s Famous Oriental Sesame Wings did not live up to my hype. The sauce was fantastic, a little sweet and sticky with just the right Asian flair, and the wings were fried until nicely crisp. But the six wings I paid $7.99 for were tiny and there was not nearly enough meat for the price.

The family room at Kaysan’s 5th Down was beautiful. Burgundy walls with stone tile, a smattering of sports photos and posters and cherry wood accents throughout give it a formal but still fun feel. There were big-screen TVs – one tuned to Nickelodeon for the kids – and a pool table, and, despite being closed off from the main room, the staff did not miss a beat. I was greeted within two minutes of sitting down and was checked on regularly. I also appreciated that the kids menu had some of the Mexican house specialties incorporated into it and not just the usual chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, etc.

The main bar room is OK with plenty of TVs and the usual smattering of bar paraphernalia, but it had a less inviting, comfortable vibe and was more open and empty, kind of like a warehouse. I would probably choose the family room for my next visit.

And by the time I make that next visit, I hope Korean tacos have found their way onto the menu, too.

Restaurant: Kaysan’s 5th Down Bar & Grill

Address: 5830 Challenger Parkway

Phone: 490-4447

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday

Cuisine: American/Korean/Mexican

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Sesame wings ($7.99), bulgogi burger ($7.29), bulgogi wrap ($7.99), club sandwich ($8.99), grande burrito ($13.49)

Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.