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¡Hella Hungry! is a column about Bay Area foodmakers, exploring the region’s culinary cultures through the mouth of a first-generation local.
Korean corn dogs are not for the faint of heart. With eye-popping size and a multitude of customizable ingredients, the show-stopping dogs on a stick have earned their keep among Instagrammers and TikTokers from Seoul to San Francisco with their fun geometric shapes and extra-stretchy cheese fillings. Bon Appétit even officially named 2021 “the Year of the Korean Corn Dog.”
Popularized on social media through videos of the slow-motion pull of cheese with each bite, these corn dogs are a hyperized version of the American corn dog, with bigger, bolder and chewier options. You might get a ramen dog coated in panko with mozzarella cheese and wasabi mayo. Or, you can try a sugar-dusted fried-potato version with a beef wiener that’s drizzled with mustard. You can also mix up your options, like adding a half-beef, half-cheese filling, with Hot Cheetos crumbs and spicy mayo as dressing. There are no limits to the culinary imagination you can fit into your stomach.
These stylized takes on the corn dog have been a staple in South Korea since 2016, but until recently they’ve been relatively elusive in the Bay. The Korean originator of these corn dogs, the Myungrang Hot Dog chain, opened its first Bay Area location in Cupertino last summer, but STIX—a locally-owned take on the doggies—was the first to bring the craze to San Francisco proper in 2019. Between massive bites of a cornflake-and-sugar crusted corn dog, I caught up with STIX co-founder Emily Hui at her new shop in Burlingame to chat about how she brought one of social media’s biggest food trends to our region.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KQED: How would you describe a Korean corn dog to someone who doesn’t know what it is?
We get a lot of customers who don’t know what it is, actually—but afterwards they love it. American corn dogs use cornmeal for batter, but Korean uses regular flour and primarily rice flour. With rice flour, it gives the dough a really light, crispy and slightly chewy texture that is similar to mochi. For the interior we use all-beef hot dogs or mozzarella cheese. We serve a combo dog as well, which is half and half. But what makes Korean corn dogs special is that after skewering the hot dogs and cheese, the corn dogs are rolled in different toppings. Depending on what the customer wants, we have panko, french fries, Hot Cheetos, cornflakes, sugar and various other toppings to add to the texture and flavor.
When did the original STIX in the Sunset District open, and when did you add the Burlingame location?
My husband [Michael] and I opened the Sunset location in 2019. My husband grew up in San Francisco and went to high school right up the street, at Lincoln. There are a lot of mom-and-pop shops around here. When we first visualized starting a business, we wanted to do something together, just for us. We wanted to create something that was all our own. The Sunset was the perfect location. It’s very family oriented and neighborhood friendly—it feels personal. We only do to-go orders from there, since it’s a smaller storefront.
We opened the Burlingame location in February . Downtown Burlingame is more high-end, and there’s big chains there. You can dine in at that location and the interior is remodeled. It seems like less people know what Korean corn dogs are, but they come in surprised and leave loving our food. It makes me feel really happy when we can introduce people to them.
What inspired you to bring Korean corn dogs to the Bay Area?
I always wanted to open a restaurant but wasn’t sure what food to serve. I’m a foodie, so I’m on Instagram checking out the food trends and what new restaurants are out there. In 2018, the Korean corn dog was already starting to trend in the U.S. There were a few spots in LA but there wasn’t much in the Bay Area—and it was only in the South Bay. It’s funny because you think of San Francisco having a diverse foodie scene, but I was surprised that no one had opened a Korean corn dog restaurant. That’s when we decided to just do it ourselves. We had to bring it to San Francisco, and we did. It took trial and error to get the recipe right—the batter and the amount of it. But we eventually figured it out.
Do you know the origin of the Korean corn dog?
It’s originally from South Korea’s night market scene. Street food [in Asia] is just big—lots of fun, creative foods. The first time we tried the corn dog was actually on a trip to Asia in 2019. It was all over in Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong. We ate one in Japan. It was wow, just really delicious and I wanted more.
You also serve boba and french fries, in addition to corn dogs. What are some of your most popular side items?
We serve curly fries. The deluxe version has nacho cheese and Hot Cheetos crumbs. That’s on the menu because I just like curly fries a lot (laughs). I also love nacho cheese and Hot Cheetos. People really love it as well. For our drinks, we have varieties of lemonades like mango, strawberry, and the pink guava cooler, which is popular. It’s just a sweet and refreshing juice. We also have typical milk teas that are flavored. The house special is the banana milk. It’s blended with a fresh banana and milk; it’s very creamy and fresh. We added it to the menu because corn dogs are heavy, fried foods. So it’s nice to have a refreshing drink with it.
What’s your personal favorite combo to order?
Potato is our best seller. It’s just a fun crust option and goes with anything. But I surprisingly like the regular. It’s panko covered. It’s crispy and not too heavy when you eat it. My husband likes the Flamin’ Hot Dog. It’s a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos corn dog. You can’t go wrong with that.
Whenever you’re not eating Korean corn dogs, what are some of your favorite places for other Asian-inspired foods in the Bay Area?
We really love ramen—we go to HiroNori in San Mateo for that. There’s also a really good Korean braised beef dish at Daeho Kalbijjim & Beef Soup. And for Japanese curry, we go to Volcano Kitchen. We try to support small, independent businesses in the area as much as we can.
STIX San Francisco (1353 Taraval St.) is open every day except Wednesday; STIX Burlingame (355 Broadway) is open every day except Tuesday. Check their page for specific hours, which vary from noon to 6:30 or 7 pm closing.