February 3, 2023 | OPINION | By Sam Treat | Photos provided by author

For those avid readers of Treat’s Eats (the three to four of you out there; hi, Mom!), you may recall the bone I had to pick with Streetcar 520. Using language like “cheugy”, I tore into S520 for its abundant flair and lack of substance (considering the prices).

Despite the fact that 503W is located at the beginning of Old Colorado City and not downtown Tejon, the name gave me SC520 flashbacks. Walking into 503W I grew worried that history would repeat itself — especially given the neon sign that was advertising Negroni (a famously millennial indulgence). However, putting my initial concerns aside, I ventured to explore the Asian-American fusion that is 503W.

My concerns, however, were not assuaged by my seating. Perched at a high wooden table, the  metal stool provided little comfort for my back and my butt. I do not understand this seating trend at seemingly ‘hip’ or ‘chic’ restaurants (the type of place to call itself an eatery). I remain steadfastly dedicated to the ideals of comfortable seating (with a backrest, at a minimum). I patron restaurants to revel in food and comfort, not to work on my posture and constantly reposition myself while unusually high off the ground.

Seating aside, I glanced at the menu, deciding to start with some appetizers. The chicken nachos, seemingly promising on the menu, fell flat on my plate. The trend of wonton-chip nachos is one that does not flatter my tastebuds, especially when the nachos contained such little chicken that only a few bites in I was already having to search under chips for morsels of breast meat.

Many of the more frequent nacho enjoyers may recognize this struggle as a universal experience, although I contend that the wonton chips are far less flavorful and of lower quality as a vessel for transporting meaty, cheesy goodness into one’s mouth. The fries, however, were a perfect golden-brown and came well-seasoned. I would strongly recommend them as a starter.

For the main course, I sampled the more popular menu items (putting the reader over my own desires, you’re welcome). I started with the Little Seoul Bowl ($17), which seems to be 503W’s take on the traditional Korean dish of bibimbap, one of my all-time favorite meals. While it did not come in the hot stone bowl that true bibimbap comes in, it did have the correct ingredients (Bulgogi beef, kimchi, rice, carrot, etc.). Furthermore, all the ingredients came in appropriate (actually, sizable) quantities.

Noticeably lacking, however, was the gochujang chili paste that normally would add a rich umami, spicy flavor to the meal. Even upon request, the best the very helpful waitress could do was to produce an almost empty bottle of sriracha (which is Thai, not Korean).

The Gangnam Fried Chicken did come coated in a delicious and rich sauce, full of the umami I was searching for. While not the traditional crisp and light style that Korean fried chicken is known for, it is not quite a Kentucky Fried Chicken overly breaded breast either. The chicken, a highlight on the menu, is as close to a successful attempt at Asian-American fusion as I can recall. Although it perhaps falls a bit on the overcooked/dry side, the flavor carries this dish.

Another bestseller, the short ribs, are equally as triumphant. A middle ground between American and Korean barbecue, the falling-off-the-bone style of American BBQ meets the flavor and sauce of Korea. Again, I am pleased to report that this dish will leave you feeling full– as does most of what you will consume here. I recommend ordering a side of rice as a balance to the strong flavors and richness that accompanies the salty, meaty flavors (both used positively, here) which fill the plate.

The street tacos, essentially just piles of salty beef on bao buns with a spicy/sweet hoisin sauce for dipping, were filling but underwhelming in flavor (a theme, you might say) and I would recommend avoiding them as your main course.

A main attraction of 503W is its robust cocktail menu. While I am a novice to the Colorado Springs cocktail scene, the $10-12-dollar cocktails impress my Seattle wallet (where cocktails are normally $15-20). With a mixture of more traditional cocktails (such as Spritzes and Mules) and unique creations, the cocktail menu is worth exploring for any sort of alcohol enjoyer.

In particular, the Korean Zombie, which comes complete with a blow torch demonstration, is a cinnamon soju drink. But beware: the Korean Zombie’s high alcohol content results in a two-drink limit. The Bursting Sunrise is among the most fun creations; the fruity drink comes with strawberry boba — a twist on traditional cocktails, to say the least. For those more interested in traditional drinks (albeit with a spin), the Pineapple Mule is deliciously refreshing.

The menu, a true attempt at Asian-American fusion, encapsulates neither cuisine authentically. Yet isn’t that always the pitfall of fusion? To fail both cuisines while being neither? I did not have lofty expectations for this fusion, nor do I for any fusion. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the products of this medley come to the table as complete plates and filling dishes.

The flavor leaves something to be desired, especially for those who have had the privilege of eating authentic Asian cuisine. However, for those who are sensitive to spice or strong flavors, this might be the perfect jumping off point into true Asian cuisine, or just a good place to enjoy some really yummy cocktails.

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