Ms. Mong opening in Chapel Hill

msMongBy Greg Cox.

Slated to open in early June on Franklin Street, Ms. Mong is a concept as original as the restaurant’s imaginary namesake character. The brainchild of owners Alex Kim and Isaac Park, the restaurant might be best be described as “the next generation of Mongolian barbecue.”

In more ways than one. Kim’s parents own a Crazy Fire Mongolian Grill in Raleigh, and Park is the son of Bali Hai owner Jeen Park. Once these young rivals steeped in Mongolian barbecue tradition met and became friends, they began to discuss ways to make the concept fresh and contemporary.

The result is a counter service eatery with a menu that Park calls “fast casual fusion.” In this updated version of Mongolian barbecue, you choose your proteins and veggies cafeteria style. Then you choose a sauce (six options, from classic teriyaki to a tangy mango-habanero-ginger-soy blend called The Pacific), and whether you’d like it served over rice (white, brown or fried) or lo mein noodles.

And here’s where the “fusion” part comes in. You can also get your wok-fried goodies in a burrito. Or on a Mong Mi, the restaurant’s fusion riff on a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. The Cali Sunset, say, which serves up pork, egg, onion, avocado, olive oil, cilantro, do chua (Vietnamese pickles) and signature Holy Aioli on a locally baked banh mi bun.

If you’re in a hurry and know what you want, you can skip the cafeteria line by filling out an order form and handing it to the cashier. “You can order Subway style or Which Wich style,” says Park, though he’s quick to note Ms. Mong’s emphasis on fresh produce, much of it local. He also points out the restaurant’s vegan and gluten-free options.

Ms. Mong (163 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill; 919-933-5277; will be open Monday-Saturday from from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The owners plan to expand hours in the fall to include a late night cafe.

(Originally published 5/27/2015)