den den v. den den

comparing sister restaurants

There are two Den Dens within 0.5 miles of each other. These sister restaurants share great service and tasty, artfully presented food, but both have distinct personalities—evident through their food, decor, and more.

Den Den Cafe Asiana

The first time I went, I celebrated my first college Friendsgiving. Since then, I have returned countless times with more friends. My roommate and I always eat our first meal here to catch up when we return to campus.

Located in a neat, old brick building on the outskirts of College Hill, this quaint cafe overlooks the Providence skyline. With the restaurant’s brick exterior giving off an unassuming vibe, its delightful and cozy interior is a surprise.

As you enter, you are greeted by welcoming servers and quickly directed to a table (when the restaurant is not packed). A server hands you a menu and tells you to order at the counter when you are ready. It might feel strange to pay before you eat, but it saves you from the post-meal bill struggle when you’re eating with a big group.

The menu features an excellent variety of Korean and Japanese dishes. Behind the counter, an artsy chalkboard menu adds to the restaurant’s cafe-esque feel. Several of the popular options are boxed on the standard menu, which definitely helps first-timers narrow down the delicious options.

Despite this, I struggled to make up my mind on my first visit and asked the server at the counter what to order. Deciding between the bibimbap and the bento boxes, I ultimately chose the former: rice topped with plenty of traditional Korean marinated vegetables, a sunny-side fried egg, and your choice of protein (beef, seafood, chicken, mushrooms, and more). I tried and recommend both of the two sauces: one spicy and one citrusy. I got the perfect dish for a chilly day in Providence—bibimbap served in a hot stone pot.

After you order at the counter, bring your table stand—which is pretty neat— back to your table and get settled. I remember my first time taking in the restaurant’s minimalistic decor and stylish exposed brick interior, which evinces a rustic feeling, while I waited for my food. Complementing the brick walls and yellow lighting are wooden tables, good for double dates and large groups. The nice open space and high windows further bring out the charming, hip, and laid-back ambience.

When our food arrived, I took an obligatory picture of its colorful presentation and one with my friends. Then, we put our phones away and dug in. The bibimbap remained hot throughout the meal, and the sizzling stone bowl made the rice extremely crunchy at the bottom. There were many different vegetables, my egg was perfectly fried, and the protein was tender and full of flavor. All in all, I was very satisfied with the dish’s quality and quantity.

Since that first visit, I have tried an extensive selection of the menu. Den Den’s bento boxes come with a bed of rice, Japanese pickles, vegetables, and a choice of protein, such as moist, flavorful eel. The translucent, sweet potato Japchae noodles with beef are bouncy and healthy, and I will definitely be back again to try it with a different protein. The edamame—salty, creamy soybeans—is an ideal appetizer for sharing.

Den Den Cafe Asiana is a unique dining experience: in this “fast-casual” cafe, consistently tasty food pairs well with great company for a relaxed, fun time. The service is always friendly and knowledgeable–especially for first-timers. 

However, Den Den often attracts a crowd on weekend nights. Additionally, it no longer accepts reservations as it renovated the building next door to expand seating capacity. Nonetheless, check out this casual spot, perfect for a catch-up date.

Den Den Korean Fried Chicken

The evening before a snow day, my roommate and I, excited to watch the snow fall heavily yet beautifully and hibernate in our dorm, couldn’t choose what to eat on Thayer to celebrate the upcoming canceled classes. We decided to give Den Den Korean Fried Chicken a try as we had such great experiences at its sister restaurant.

Spinning off the original Den Den’s minimalistic decor, Den Den KFC adopts a clean, cool, and crisp style with its modernist dining room and partially open kitchen. My first impression was that the place was pretty sleek—subway tiles, black-and-white décor, wooden tables. There are two seating areas, but the restaurant is still relatively small: tables and chairs are squished together with only one large-party table available.

As you settle down, servers hand you a simple and straightforward menu. Though it doesn’t feature all of the original Den Den’s classics, it does offer quite a few dishes in common—like kimbap—in addition to its own delicious snacks. Known for its fried chicken, Den Den KFC has interesting spins on Korean bar food.

Since it’s a namesake dish, I was initially surprised that Den Den KFC serves more than fried chicken. After a few visits, I have tried dishes ranging from whole-chicken stew to beef bulgogi served in a pan-like display. Recently, I tried an appetizer of pork and veggie tang su dumplings that came drowned in a sweet and tangy sauce. And, like the original Den Den, Den Den KFC is a non-tipping establishment—convenient and ideal for the budget of broke college students. More importantly, this policy allows its workers to receive fair wages without relying on customers’ unreliable generosity.

Den Den KFC is definitely a great place to drop by for a tasty meal when you’re on Thayer. Try a few of its delicious dishes in addition to its fried chicken because the huge portions are meant to be shared. Although there is sometimes a wait during popular meal times, you can use this time to check out the menu.

Both Den Dens offer great service, delicious food, and reasonable prices. Whenever you’re in the mood for comfort food, go to either Den Den—the original for a cute, clean, cafe feel or KFC for modernist, fun, and trendy vibes.