It can be hard to get an authentic Korean dinner in Knoxville, but Kaya makes delicious and authentic food in a laid-back environment.
Located in a plaza at 7818 Montvue Center Way, Kaya is only 13 minutes away from UT's campus. After walking in the small restaurant, we were welcomed with decor of Korean newspapers, a wall of bamboo and a smiling waitress waving to all the open seats.
I decided to go for the more immersive table option and sat down at a booth with a small round grill embedded into the tabletop, a typical sight in a traditional Korean barbecue grill.
The sight of the grill made me anxious at first. The last time I ate at a Korean style barbecue place was more than five years ago and I could not remember how to work the grill and did want to burn the meat and make a fool of myself. But all my worries were laid to rest when our waitress made a point to teach us how to use the grill. Later, she even helped cook our food for us to make our evening worry free.
My craving for bulgogi had been long overdue so following a glance at the beef and pork versions, I ordered one of each of the sweet marinated meat to grill at the table. The meat options were a little pricey at $22.95 each and a requirement of ordering at least two meats in order to grill on the table meant we were spending more than $40 on dinner.
But if you still want to try bulgogi at a smaller price, fret not. If grilling on the table isn't important to you, you can order kitchen made options of each, which are much more cost effective at $12 each.
I also decided to try an appetizer while we waited for our food, selecting the seafood pancake, which consisted of onions, squid and shrimp cooked into an eggy batter. Other enticing options were the tteokbokki, which is stir-fried rice cake and vegetables in a special hot sauce and the goon man doo, fried meat and vegetable dumplings.
Our food arrived quickly and we were surprised by the amount of food we received. Along with an appetizer big enough for two or three people, our main dishes came in large and impressive portions. Two large plates of bulgogi beef and bulgogi pork were brought over accompanied with sides of rice, kimchi, lettuce, spicy sauces, bean sprouts and more. While I thought we were just ordering for two, we could have hosted a dinner for four.
I was most impressed with the service. Our waitress seemed to be the only one working the floor and handled about five tables during our visit. Despite the other tables, our teapots and cups were never empty and she frequently came by to flip our meat and teach how to properly use the grill.
If you like sweet and tender meats coupled with fresh and crunchy side dishes, Kaya is the place to fill your Korean meal cravings.