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Dec 4, 2007 05:34 PM

RAVE: Korean spots in Ann Arbor, MI

There are no fewer than four of these places, with just a counter or a few tables, within three blocks of the University of Michigan campus, plus at least three more in other parts of the city. The best is arguably BeWon on Plymouth Road, but all are good, and there's enough competition that sometimes they'll try to outdo each other in serving the largest number of small side dishes--kimchi, little omelet strips, bright green seaweed, taro root or radish, various less easily identifiable things (unless you're Korean). The bi bim bab, chap chae, and simple stir-fries (chicken, pork, or squid) are always fine. But since the weather turned ugly I've been trying the soups. Yook ge jang is a spicy egg-drop soup with shredded beef and scallions. And tonight, at Seoul Korner, I had a soy-based soup with tofu, potato, and green onions. The soups come out boiling in a hot pot, and they'll still be hot half an hour later. They are just incredibly satisfying on a cold night! And between the soups and the sides, my mother would be proud of me for eating my vegetables. Some college towns have concentrations of these Korean places--there are at least a couple in East Lansing--but certainly not every place does. If you're in Ann Arbor and want a good hot lunch, think Korean. Though spicy, the food, except for the kimchi sometimes, is never blazing hot.

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  1. Oh, your post makes me sad and reminiscent for Steve's Lunch. Little lunch counter on South U. Never once a bad meal. The BEST bi bim bop in the city. Each meal served with a delicate, perfectly wonderful soup in winter, and a refreshing cold cucumber soup in summer. There may still be a Korean restaurant there, but it's not Steve's. They sold out to new owners, who lack any of the original magic.

    Bell's diner now for B3, also a good tak bokum and chapche.

    3 Replies
    1. re: charlesbois

      The former Steve's was one of the four I had in mind near campus, but yes, on South U I now usually go to Kang's, a.k.a. the Coffee Break, instead. It was their Yook Ge Jang I liked so much. My three off-campus restaurants were Bell's, BeWon, and Broadway Cafe, but there's also the more extensive Seoul Garden, and you could count Panda (as opposed to Panda House), Eastern Accents, and Kosmo's too. Any others? Is there another city of 100,000 that has so many?

      1. re: Jim M

        There is also Arirang on the south side near Target and Godaiko. It is excellent and related to Seoul Corner--the owner of Arirang either owned or worked at SC. Bonus--free parking!

        1. re: dct

          I miss the original Kana, at the bend where Washtenaw turns into Huron. The building is gone now, and Kana is now Pacific Rim by Kana, owned by the son of the original owners. Pacific Rim has only the barest of Korean flavors, where Kana taught us all how to eat Korean food back when there was no place else to go.

    2. Jim-
      I'd agree with all your recommendations. In Ann Arbor, I think Seoul Korner (not to be confused with Seoul Garden - which doesn't really serve home-style Korean), and Panda are my favorites. Panda has this amazing banchan (side dish) of fresh spicy cucumbers - awesome stuff. There's Hanna, on Michigan Ave in Ypsilanti. Everything I've had there has been great. She serves a clam, seaweed, and daikon radish banchan that is out of this world.

      Unlike Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai food in this area, Korean food is still quite authentic and delicious. It's the one ethnic Asian cuisine where you'll find many other Asians - in this case, Korean, patrons dining.


      3 Replies
      1. re: cafemonamie

        No ones's mentioned Kangs, but I think it is my favorite. I also love the sauce they have at Kosmo's in Kerrytown. Their hot and sour soup is excellent, too. It isn't something on the chalkboard, but be sure to ask for it. Check out my blog for my best stab of making it at home - I begged Don (who is a super nice guy!) that owns the place and he gave me some hints. It's not traditionally Korean or anything, but it is really good and not the usual hot and sour soup.


        P.S. Hi Christine!

        1. re: cafemonamie

          Christine, have you tried Asian Legend? It does pass the Asian patrons test. I haven't been there with Chinese people, but I've gone with a group from Indonesia, a country with a large Chinese minority. They're discriminating (or fussy, depending on my mood), they know some kinds of Chinese food well, and they gave it thumbs up. It ould be that what's offered there is street food--at home they'd eat a lot of street food, which they buy from Chinese vendors as well as Indonesians, and anything that reminds them of home they love. However, I liked my food quite a bit. I had a pig ear--sounds like a dog treat, but it was sliced very thin like prosciutto and had a great texture--salt-and-pepper chicken, and steamed watercress.

          1. re: Jim M

            Hi Mom's Kitchen - The few dishes I've had at Kang's (Spicy Beef Soup, Kimbop, KimChee Fried rice) were good. I do prefer Seoul Korner in the UM area spots. I just like her banchan...the pressed tofu, grated daikon and seaweed, savory yam cubes, mung-bean jelly, and cabbage kim chee are all good. Hanna, in Ypsilanti has the most banchan though, I think.

            Jim M-
            I plan to go soon - I'll certainly post my 2-centimes when I do.

            Yes, pig ear sounds a bit quirky, but I grew up eating that stuff (often thin, pickled slices) and happen to love the cartilaginous texture. Interestingly, I recently came across a recipe for pressed pig's ears in Fergus Henderson's latest cookbook - Beyond Nose to Tail. He and Anthony Bourdain have renewed my interest and affection for "variety meats," as they're called here.


        2. Just an update for those interested -- Seoul Korner has changed to "Maru". I've been a loyal SK customer for about 2 years. I have to say though, I really dig Maru.

          I haven't been to Seoul Korner in 2 weeks. I was really craving some of their Bibimbap and decided to drop by yesterday. I was completely shocked to see that the place had a total makeover. The restrooms are actually INSIDE the building now! To confuse me even more, I was handed a menu with the word "Maru" on the front page. I asked the waitress what happened and I was told that Seoul Korner is under new management with a new chef, and that it was their grand opening. The sign outside still reads Seoul Korner though.

          I came to have some bibimbap, but there were about five or so different kinds including "Seaweed" bibimbap and "raw fish" bibimbap. I decided to order the plain old original bibimbap to compare Maru's to Seoul Korner's. I must say -- I was not disappointed. The bibimbap tasted great! Even better than SK's if I dare say myself. The KochuJang sauce was nicer as well. Along with the bibimbap came a small bowl of soup. The side dishes were tasty as well (the macaroni salad was my favorite).

          My wife ordered the Tonkatsu (pork cutlet). I took a few slices and it was really good. The sauce is nothing like I've ever had before. Yum.

          My wife and I had a very pleasant dinner at Seo-- I mean, Maru.

          Neat fact - The chef/owner used to work at Arirang. I've actually never been there, but I've read good reviews about that place. Apparently he's worked in NY and ATL. Cheers, chef! :)

          2 Replies
          1. re: Jack078

            We also went to the old SK (now Maru) on Sunday, Dec 23 - which the owner told us was their first opening day after they acquired the restaurant from the previous owners. Their side dishes were good. We ordered the spicy pork, which we found nicely plated and perhaps slightly better-tasting than previous times - the meat was tender and flavorful with a good amount of heat. One minor defect would be that I found the dish to be a little on the greasy side. We also ordered the Soondubu - which was pretty tasty, though the broth was not quite as rich deeply flavored as in the past nor was the tofu as silky or soft. Nevertheless, we were pleased with our food and look forward to coming back to see their progress.


            1. re: cafemonamie

              I have now been to Maru twice, and I'm impressed. The more recent time was last weekend. My date was an actual Korean, who had the spicy pork and gave it thumbs up. She was also impressed by the fish cake banchan. I had yook ge jang; it was fine--was a little sorry that it didn't come in the clay pot anymore, but from a restaurant-operations POV it makes sense to give you something that will cool off more quickly.

              I also went to Hana--hadn't been there for years. What a gem! I had a plain ol' spicy chicken stir-fry, but it had a dimension of flavor I've never noticed in all the numerous other versions of that dish around town. My Korean friend said that it looked like a place you would eat in Korea, and she also likes the food there.