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Sep 17, 2007 10:43 PM

Cafe inside Han Yang market on Lamar

A friend of mine crashed at my place for a couple months earlier this year, and we started frequenting this place once a week or so. Since he's left, I have scaled back in frequency.

The place is an actual restaurant. It has its own signs out front. But the front door has been locked for as long as I've been going there. There's a piece of paper taped to the door blaming it on a "sneakthief." Do not let this deter you. The food is good and cheap. To enter, you must walk into the attached Korean market, turn right, and walk through some rice cookers.

There you'll find a dozen or so tables, a few customers, and no stack of Austin Chronicles. You order at the counter from a very small menu, and most everything there is a soup. Drinks come in cans, and there is no table service. The prices all include tax and are all between $5 and $8, mostly $5 and $6. This is a cash-only joint. If you need paper bucks, go to the Walgreen's next door, debit the cheapest thing you can find (or, if you're like me, something you should probably keep in the car for your passengers, like tissues), and get some cash back.

After ordering, you can go get yourself some banchan sitting in some metal bins on top of a bed of ice and protected by a sneeze guard. The typical kim chi is there, and it's good. Go pick yourself up a big jar of it in the market on your way out. They also have raddish kim chi, cucumber kimchi, and some things I cannot identify but are perfectly palatable and guilt-free.

Like I said, most of what you can order consists of soups. The kimchi soup is my favorite. Spicy red broth, kimchi, onions, green onions, tofu, and roasted pork. Each bowl is served boiling hot, and it continues to boil for about two minutes after you pick it up from the counter. These are served with a bowl of sticky sushi rice.

I have not tried the bulgolgi or the sushi bowl. The sushi bowl has tilapia on it, and that's sort of put me off. Next to catfish, tilapia seems like the goofiest sushi fish. Basically, I avoid anything there that does not mention 'spicy' in its description. My ex girlfriend once got a non-spicy ramen-looking dish that tasted like nothing more than $0.10 ramen noodles. I also made the mistake of getting the white beef soup many of you have had elsewhere. I think it's most often used as a meal starter. It's made from beef bones, which a Korean friend tried to shock me with once. And it has no taste at all. I'm not talking about a flavorful beef stock that has been spiced up with carrots and green things and garlic. I mean the soup, from what I can tell, is just beef bones boiled for a day. And I don't see the fun in ruining the ingredients for a good Jello-base.

That all being said, I want to see more of you people there. It's wonderfully cheap, and the portions are just right to not put you to sleep. I often feel bad about ordering pho, because I always have to finish it, and then I need an hour-long nap before I'm done. But a bowl of spicy kimchi soup here fills me up nicely, tastes fantastic, and only sets me back $5 after tax.

The end of the meal is one of the best parts. On my way out through the market, I like to stop by the drinks section and buy something unfathomable. Little energy drinks served in 150mL glass viles, for instance. The ingredients are often insane. Beet and cilantro extract, honeycomb chips, pomegranate skin, etc.

So let me know if you've been there and what you have to say about weird finds in the market and your favorite dishes there. And if the bulgolgi is good.

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  1. Great for takeout! This was my first experience with Korean food and the cafe did not disappoint. Loved the Kim Chi and the attached market always has interesting (and yummy) finds. The "sneakthief sign" is the best and is now an inside joke in my house. "Wheres the remote? Must be the sneak thief. Darn that sneakthief".

    1. The bulgogi is alright considering the amount of meat that they give you, but it's definitely not top of the line. It's a bit sinewy and over cooked for my taste, but I'm Korean and a native of Houston where authentic Korean food is pretty easy to find. I must say, though, their kim chee jigae is very good for $5. The broth is deliciously savory/spicy (ask for it extra spicy!) with lots of tofu and stewed kimchi. Some of the soups are passable, as you were saying. I'd guess that the mul naeng myun (cold noodle soup) has some origins in the packaged foods isle and I'd completely stear away from the ramen soups. You did well not to order the Haedupbap (sashimi rice bowl)... I made that mistake once and had to throw the whole inedible mess away. The fish was definitely prefrozen and seemed as though it had not been properly thawed which irked me. It tasted of metal and no amount of gochujang (the spicy red sauce) could fix it. I would give my vote to the bibimbap, sam gye tang (available only on Fridays and Saturdays - don't forget to add the salt to it though!) and kim chee jigae. Give the kalbi ($10?) a try - it is basically bulgogi made with shortribs - the meat is thicker and juicier imo.

      Oh god, I once drank some of the "Bacchus" energy drink and was absolutely wired for a solid 8 hours. It made me wonder what the hell was in it, but was too afraid to check.

      Also, Their produce is pretty good... if you see some of the small light green bulbous looking zucchini on sale (my mom always said it was a special "Korean" zucchini, but who knows) pick up a few and slice them into 1/4" rounds. Pan fry the rounds in a bit of oil and dip in a sauce made with a a little rice wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar, soy sauce and sesame seeds. It was a childhood favorite of mine and I'm always on the lookout for those delicious "korean" zucchinis.

      1 Reply
      1. re: foodiefound

        Very glad to read your opinion. What other Korean places in Austin do you like?

      2. Anyone know if the Cafe is open on Sunday? Same hours as the market? Thank you.

        1. I agree, this place is just mediocre. OK in a pinch but nothing great. Food wasn't very fresh. They gave a very limited amount of beef with the bulgogi. I don't think they're open on Sundays, Round Sparrow.

          Austin doesn't have a lot of Korean restaurants to choose from. But 2 places seem to be a cut above the rest: Korea House on Anderson Lane, and Shilla near Highland Mall. Korea House is my ATF Austin Korean restaurant. Nice location in a quiet but enjoyable shopping center. Fresh ingredients. You can opt for the BBQ tables or let them cook it in the back. Very well priced and you'll never leave hungry.

          Also worth a mention, because I have heard it's good but haven't made it yet, is Koriente on E. 6th Street.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ridgeback

            As KPeff suggests above, this is primarily a soup joint. Skip the bulgogi and the other stuff and stick to the soups. In addition to the kimchi jigae, I also like their gamja tang -- http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/474787