I visited Seoul, South Korea, last year and I’ve been craving Korean food ever since. The perfectly seasoned meats cooked right in front of you, the bulgogi, the kimchi, the bibimbap… I can’t get enough!
Luckily, Korean fusion is on trend in Chicago with bopngrill, bellyQ and Parachute. But sometimes a gal just wants to scrap the fusion for the real deal. My favorite thing to order at traditional Korean restaurants is beef bulgogi and a seafood pancake. If you’ve never had Korean food before, they typically bring the raw meat to your table, and either the server or you cook it, while you enjoy lots (and lots!) of side dishes. The sides come in little bowls and are filled with pickled vegetables, tofu and other unknown delights.
My list of Korean restaurants to try is a mile long, but these are my favorites in Chicago so far:
Da Rae Jung (5220 N Lincoln Ave)
Many of the traditional Korean restaurants in Chicago are located in strip malls, and so is the case for Da Rae Jung. The interior is quite small with only a few tables. Their beef was tender and flavorful, and the meat cooker had a ring around it for water so we had a nice soup with our rice. We only ordered one meat and got 8 side dishes. The seafood pancake was fresh and soft, not crispy like I prefer. The waitress didn’t speak much English, but helped show us how to cook and eat the food.
Gogi (6240 N California Ave)
At Gogi we ordered two meats, a seafood pancake and got 12 side dishes. One thing to note here: You have to order two meats for them to cook it in front of you, so bring a big appetite (and a couple friends!). Gogi wins on tender meat and good sides. But it’s a tie on the pancake – Gogi’s is crispy, but Da Rae Jung’s had more pieces of seafood. Gogi’s seafood pancake was also spicy with jalapeno. It’s a bigger restaurant and a little fancier, but less of a mom and pop. They also have a service button, just like we saw in South Korea!
San Soo Gab San (5247 N Western Ave)
You know it’s going to be a good meal when they run out of table space! So far, San Soo Gab San is my favorite Korean restaurant in Chicago. The beef bulgogi is delicious, and the seafood pancake is crispy and has lots of seafood. They also win for side dishes: 17 different sides!
The only issue I had at San Soo Gab San was almost creating a “scene” and offending my servers: I accidentally started to walk across the raised seating area with my shoes on, which I learned (by all the yelling) is a big no-no. It’s an interesting seating area in the restaurant, where you don’t sit on chairs. It almost looks like people are sitting on the floor, but it’s actually built-in chairs. It’s the mullet of tables: business up top, party underneath. Anyhow, lesson learned!
Any other Korean restaurants I need to try? I’m making a list, and eating it twice!