Restaurant Review: Underbelly

A gem found in North Park appealing to the adventurous foodies.

At first glance, the North Park UnderBelly seems entirely out of doors; only on inspection will diners find a smaller indoor space. But it’s hard to keep your focus off the spacious outdoor area.

The patio is fitted with a long, wood-topped bar; huge concrete tables whose sides have been chipped to lend a craggy swagger; and lots of glass, stone and steel.  It’s modern and emphatic and provides a strong visual contrast to the nearby and very homey storefronts of Smoking Goat, Zensei Sushi, Alexander’s, Cardamom and Lefty’s Pizzeria.

UnderBelly in Little Italy started out in a very small space a few years ago, then expanded every which way to increase seating capacity. North Park’s UnderBelly is starting out big, but still borrows half its menu from the original location.

If you haven’t been to UnderBelly in a while, you’ll be delighted to find that it still offer wonderful and occasionally exotic ramen dishes. But the menu has expanded to include excellent fresh oysters, fantastic crispy chicken wings and an altogether sensational version of Chinese buns with sous vide brisket and hoisin mayonnaise. 

What makes the restaurant even more distinctive is that, in the evening, there’s an added menu featuring California-modern yakitori — an assortment of items are skewered and grilled over oak charcoal.  The results can be splendid and appeal to both conservative and adventurous eaters.

For those who adore gizzards, Underbelly has them on the yakitori menu. Other offerings include grilled and skewered chicken thighs and breasts; sirloin; clams; pork belly; and a veritable garden of grilled vegetables, such as cauliflower, mushrooms, tomatoes, okra and peppers.

The only thing that’s not so much fun at the North Park venue is the evening crowds. Lines to get in are sometimes very long, and so is the wait. By contrast, there are rarely crowds at lunchtime, though the yakitori menu isn’t offered until 5 p.m.

Patrons: A lot of millennials, with a smattering of every other demographic.

Service: Since diners order at a counter and food is brought to your table, there’s not a whole lot of service going on. But because the place is so busy, it can be a long time before your order gets delivered.

Parking: It’s almost all street parking, and it can be very tight. Allow extra time in the evening to find a space.

Noise:  If you’re outdoors, the noise level is not a problem. 

Special diets: Vegetarians, vegans, and the lactose- and gluten-intolerant can all find something to love.

Details: 3000 Upas St. (North Park). 619-487-9909. Open 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily. Starters are $3-$7, ramen is $9-$11 and yakitori is $3-$5 per skewer. Beer and wine.

Categories: Food & Drink