Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on October 1, 2021.
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Ki Pollo and Ki Ramen were two staple restaurants in Lawrenceville for many years with the former serving up an interesting mix of fried chicken and empanadas and the latter serving Japanese and east Asian fare like ramen, gyoza, and more.
But in 2021, Ki Ramen closed for construction due to apparent water damage in the building, and it was announced that the menus of the two restaurants would be merging into one Asian soul food concept known as Nanban in the Ki Pollo space.
In a way, this one takes all of the best elements of the two restaurants in one combined space, but also comes with some of the same drawbacks- specifically when it comes to deciding what to order outright as the menu here can only be described as varied!
Nanban Offers Fast Casual Asian Soul Food
One of the things we struggled with when dining at Ki Pollo was choosing between fried chicken or empanadas. We found that menu pairing to be just a bit too confusing and would visit for either one or the other, but rarely ever both.
As Nanban has expanded the menu offerings to also include ramen, bao, sandwiches, and sides, we quite honestly found the menu to be even harder to order from than before. Do you pair ramen with fried chicken? Empanadas and bao? Ramen and empanadas? The options here are great for those who want just one dish and want the flexibility to choose between an array of styles, but as we typically build meals featuring multiple appetizers and entrees, we had a rough time deciding on a game plan outright.
We settled on hitting the fried chicken side of the menu in our first visit and opted to pair the order with bao and banchan (pickled and fermented vegetables) for what felt like a safer pairing for the meal (and as such the ramen and empanadas will require a return visit- although they seem more or less identical from what you may recall from the former concepts- read: they sound delicious).
As soon as the food started coming out, we realized we over-ordered. As most items here run about $8-$12, supporting the fast-casual price point perfectly, we didn't realize that virtually everything we ordered was entree size- including the banchan platter which had many meals worth of leftovers in it.
The bao came two to an order and were quite large, filled with pork belly, bean sprouts, scallions, and lightly seasoned with a tangy Sapporo barbecue sauce. In a way, it felt like Asian bao meets American barbecue in a perfect little hybrid that could've maybe used something a bit more crunchy, like a crisp pickle, to tie the otherwise soft ingredients together.
On the chicken front, we opted for two dishes- a spicy chicken sandwich and gochujang drumsticks.
The spicy chicken sandwich was a fried chicken breast topped with cucumber, inferno honey, ample toasted sesame slaw, and laziji chiles. As fans of Ki Pollo's fried chicken, the flavor and crispiness of the breast here did not disappoint. Should we have ordered more inferno honey to amp the heat? Probably, but all around it was a rather solid fried chicken sandwich both for its flavor and price.
The winner of the evening, however, was the gochujang drumsticks. Much like the sandwich, these pieces of chicken were fried and covered with a heaping amount of gochujang sauce- a spicy Korean pepper paste that we put on almost everything at home. These were then rested on top of biscuits that were topped with a tonkatsu gravy- another Asia meets America hybrid if there ever was one. The chicken offered a spice-forward crispy bite, whereas the biscuits were delightfully soft and fluffy and had an added richness from the gravy.
So while we may need another visit (or two) to really be able to enjoy the entirety of Nanban's menu, we have to go back to one of the first thoughts we had in this article- if you want to make a meal out of multiple entrees, know your plan of attack in advance. Otherwise, you may find yourself with a bit of decision paralysis when at the counter as this one truly has a lot to choose from.
Nanban is located in the former Ki Pollo space at 4407 Butler Street in Lawrenceville.