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Korean restaurants, I don't get it.

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So we took our son for Korean food the night before we put him on a plane. We went to one he knew well, a well regarded place in a city with a large concentration of Korean. We had: the usual array of panchan, two kinds of grilled meat (beef boneless short ribs and another kind of beef), a dumpling soup, and seafood crepe. The bill came to $90. So here is my question, for $90 I could treat 10 of my best friends to one sumptious Vietnamese meal, or the three of us could stuff ourselves with an exceptional Cantonese dinner. But instead we got meat that we grilled ourselves (OK they did the marinate), a dumpling soup so thin that I'd be ashamed to serve in my own home, seafood crepe with faked crab meat!!, and panchan that included potato salad?

I am sorry but I could've cooked all of these at home myself, and I am not that good a cook. Granted it's a very nice restaurant, but is this typical of Korean restaurants here in the US? I just don't see the price/value.

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  1. Like with any other restaurant, your experience shouldn't be indicative of *all* Korean restaurants. High quality Korean food could be had at a shack for $20, or at a high rent establishment for $200, and there are places that will grill the meats for you in the kitchen if you ask. I'm sorry you had bad food, but look around a bit more. Personally, I use the kimchee as a litmus test of whether or not the place has good food in general. Also, I see that, as with anything else, there are more places with bastardized (for lack of a better word) Korean food as it makes more and more appearances within the public (think Chinese food or sushi). Even if there are a lot of Koreans in the area or restaurant. (For instance, I don't use the concentration of white Americans in diners as a sign that the food is good or indicative or true "American" food. Olive Garden? Cheesecake Factory? Blech, but they're always packed.)

    Maybe you hit a place that's trying to do everything. A lot of the better establishments are ones that specialize in one thing, whether it be soon dubu, galbi, or naengmyun. I can recommend places in LA, maybe hannaone or bitsubeats are around to steer you in different areas.

    6 Replies
    1. re: link_930

      It's not bad food, it's just expensive food. this place is a nice restaurant and has huge Korean clientele. On weekends the wait can be up to 1 hour.

      1. re: PeterL

        I've heard many a grumbling that Korean restaurants do not offer as much value as other Asian cuisines like Chinese or Vietnamese. I have to say that I think that maybe there is something to that, even though, as a person of Korean descent, I can also see where the OP didn't understand some things.

        Did you go to Chosun Galbi?

        1. re: choctastic

          Yes we did.

          1. re: PeterL

            Hehe. I knew it! That's one of the most expensive places in L.A. Personaly I think the food is decent but a very poor value. In general, Korean food is not perhaps as good a "value" as Chinese/Viet whatever but you just happened to stumble one one of the worst price/value ratios in L.A Koreatown. (imho).

            Did I call that one or what?

            --When i saw the price for the piddly amount of food you got, I knew it had to be Chosun. Those Korean people you saw there...probably there on business or are just stupid.

            1. re: choctastic

              OK I feel better now (or worse?). The place was full of Koreans, many families too.

              1. re: PeterL

                Not all Korean families know where the good places are. It's like anything, sometimes people just go for the bling. I remember when Chosun Galbi was down the street, in a dirty little hole in the wall with parking in the back. The value to price ratio was much better back then... I gotta admit the new place is swank though. I just won't ever pay for that again...except maybe if I have to take my parents somewhere for an anniversary or something.

                --nah on second thought I'd probably take my parents somewhere else.

                --just a thought, just because there's tons of Koreans there isn't necessarily a guarantee of good price/value ratio. Likewise, I noticed that when there are a lot of Chinese in a Chinese restaurant, I tend to find that the restaurant is really cheap or really good, sometimes both but not always. You chose a restaurant that is more known for its looks than its food (though i gotta say, the food ain't bad, just really pricey for what you get) and so it's really more of a celebration type place for the rich folk (did you get a gander at the parking lot?) than for the hoi polloi (me).

    2. A single data point does not make a trend. Try to a different place and different dishes. Grilled meats are a safe bet and dumpling soup never tend to be that great. As for the fake crab in the pajon, it actually a fairly common practice. What city were you in? might be able to recommend a good place.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Soup

        We were in LA. This place is packed with Koreans, and on weekends the wait can be up to an hour. Next time we are back in LA I'd be sure to ask first.

        1. re: PeterL

          Peter
          Just b/c it's packed and has an hour's wait,may just mean they have good PR. It doesn't mean necessarily mean you are getting good value or even a great meal. Like NYC, LA has plenty of "hits and misses". Why not explore the Boards for more hits.? :-}

      2. Korean restaurants have the same range as any other type, from bad to great, and at all price ranges - with price having nothing to do with how good the fare is.
        (Side note on prices - The consuming public has assigned an underpriced value to MUCH Asian food in general, even when the restaurant uses fresh, high quality ingredients that cost the same as what other restaurant types use)
        Dumpling soup is the same, from bad to great.
        The number of Koreans patronizing a place is not always an indicator of good taste either, as they will (men mostly) often frequent mediocre places if it is a convenient gathering place for drinking.
        You just have to try different places as you would any other type of restaurant.

         
        1. As the other posters state, you can't make a generalization about Korean restaurants from one restaurant. Potato salad is also really common as banchan -- I think it had something to do with the war. I'm not a fan of it though. Fake crab is really prevalent in Korean cuisine. I'm not sure what you mean by thin dumpling soup, but Korean dumpling soup is not supposed to have a thick broth (unless you add mochi in it). And I think the beauty of Korean BBQ is that you grill it yourself.

          I think you have some expectations as to how much Asian meals should cost. You go to a mid-range Italian restaurant, order a pasta marinara dish (which is generally flour, water and canned tomatoes) and have to pay $15/plate. I think $90 for three people is pretty reasonable when you have BBQ. It happens to be one of the more expensive dishes on Korean menus. In addition to the meat, you're also paying for the coal, labor for the people to set up the grill, labor to clear away the coals, liability, etc. You're also paying for all the banchan, which is bottomless. Korean food is also very labor intensive with a lot of cleaning and cutting up vegetables. And also think about cleaning up all those banchan dishes! If you don't want to play $30 per person, try not ordering BBQ. You'll find that your bill will be significantly lower. One of my favorite dishes is soon tofu -- it only sets me back about ten bucks.

          And there's also the chance that Korean food is just not to your taste. That's OK -- there's nobody telling you that you must like it. You're not the only one. Personally, I just don't get Filipino cuisine -- but that doesn't make me a bad person, does it? : )

          13 Replies
          1. re: Miss Needle

            I just posted on another thread how much I like Korean BBQ. We go to a restaurant about 15 minutes from our house in central Jersey and it is authentic and always very good. We never spend more than $50 with appetizers and tip. Maybe it is just because we are used to NYC prices, but we think it is full of value for the quality and quantity.

            1. re: kolachman

              Could you share the name and location of the restaurant on the Mid-Atlantic board, please? Love Korean food and Mom lives near New Brunswick. (Hoping it's not too far away.) Thanks.

              1. re: JoanN

                Here is a good message thread on yelp about woojeon, located in Edison, just up the road (Route 1) in Edison.

                http://www.yelp.com/biz/woojeon-resta...

                1. re: kolachman

                  Super! And even closer, since Mom lives in Highland Park. Can't wait to try it. Thanks.

                  1. re: JoanN

                    I hope she enjoys it. We have gone with several of our friends who have been to Korea for extended business stays and with Korean friends too. Have your Mom ask for the "fresh" kimchee. The waitstaff may deny that they have it, or say, "let me check", but she should ask two or three times and for a little discomfort she will be rewarded. It is kind of humorous, but this happens every time we go!

                    1. re: kolachman

                      LoL
                      I love my kimchi fresh, but most Koreans prefer the more aged sour variety. They may actually have to check and see if they have the fresh stuff since that is rare in many Korean restaurants.
                      (That's why I make my own)

                      1. re: hannaone

                        Would you share your recipe? How do you make it without making your house stink to high heaven? I made it once and while delicious, my wife was afraid to let anyone come over. lol

                        1. re: kolachman

                          I've posted several recipes on the member recipes section.
                          Below is the link to Napa Kimchi:
                          If you look at the left column on the recipe page that comes up, there is a list of tags. Click on hannaone in the tag list and it will bring up all the recipes I've posted - there are several types of kimchi recipes there.
                          I have never noticed a problem with the whole house smelling of kimchi, but then I've been eating and making kimchi for 20 + years.

                          http://www.chow.com/recipes/11302
                          --

                          1. re: hannaone

                            thanks-I will give it a go.

                          2. re: kolachman

                            if you want less stinky kimchi, try making the vegetarian version that is made with vinegar rather than making it with fermented fish.

              2. re: Miss Needle

                I fully agree with Miss Needle. She brings up a lot of good points. But I would consider myself lucky--we go to a good Korean BBQ joint near us in La Crescenta called Daban. We stuff ourselves with kalbi and the other panchan for $22 (that's for an order for 2). I happen to love that potato salad stuff. Those seafood pancakes can be pricey--probably for the labor (?) Korean food isn't cheap. What you paid is pretty consistent with probably a lot of restaurants.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  Right on, Miss Needle.One of my pet peeves is when people complain about how expensive Korean food is compared to other Asian cuisine.The poster had ordered the BBQ meat which is usually the most expensive item on the menu.In New York , where i live it is usually $22-26 for beef items in Korean restaurants.If you stick to individual soups the price will be about $10-$12. Seafood items range in $12- $16. Banchan is also unlimited with free refills of rice which works out to be a very filling meal .I'm just using New York pricing because it is more familiar but i think you get the point.
                  The price of Asian food is more about what you order. I can goto Chinatown and order a meal for $ 90 for 10 people , which will mostly be a lot of noodles and sauteed vegetables with sprinkling of meat and fried items or i can order the special of the house with a whole fish thrown in . In Vietnamese Restaurants i notice that there is a similiar type of BBQ set up.I never ordered it because i always order the pho .I do not think That Meat dish is cheap not sure of price. I pay about $5 for a large bowl, do not get anything with it besides bean sprouts .
                  Bottom line, poster was the food you had on its own did you feel ripped off in terms of the quality and quantity? Or did you feel the food should have been cheaper just because it was in an Korean restaurant in a Koreatown. My assumptions since you said it was packed by Koreans.

                  P.S Mandoo soup is never thick, corn starch is never used in korean food except Chinese-Korean cooking.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    I like it. The food is mostly good. The service was good. The restaurant is nice. I was just commenting on, IMO, the price to value ratio.

                  2. Here is a link to a Chowdown that was the only time I ever spent more than $30pp for Korean food:

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/394139

                    you will see that there was a very wide variety of dishes, all cooked for us, not cooked by us, and no, I couldn't make most of these at home (some of those stews are very complex).

                    Typically, I spend about between $15 to $20 pp at Korean restaurants in the bay area, and feel like I get a great value...(I tend to eat at lower end places)..I haven't tried any of the LA Korean restaurants, but I'd suggest looking for recommendations on the board: may have been the restaurant, may have also been what you ordered, but your experience doesn't strike me as typical.

                    I should note that there was a time when I thought I didn't really like Korean food (which is a different issue than price/value). Now that I've been introduced to some excellent dishes at excellent restaurants (thanks to Chowhound!) I've concluded that I simply didn't like mediocre Korean food...

                    1. if you can cook these korean dishes at home, you should and save yourself the $

                      i've been eating korean food my whole life and i still don't make a lot of the dishes at home bc they require a substantial, korean-ingredient-stocked pantry, as well as a lot of time for the numerous banchan dishes, plus skill in prep and flavoring

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: jpmcd

                        I consider myself a decent cook and have cooked Korean BBQ at home, since we are truly addicted. I have also prepared many banchan dishes and kimchee for our BBQ accompaniment. Truly a labor of love! Although I love it, I will stick to eating BBQ out. You are right on jpmcd!

                      2. This is like going to a steak house and complaining that you could've eaten tacos for less. Korean restaurants - particularly the upscale bbq joints in LA - serve large quantities of generally high quality beef. Beef=$$$ (been to a grocery store lately?). Stir fried noodles=not so much. If "value" in your mind equates only to huge portions, sounds like dining out must be fraught with peril.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: neobite

                          The quantify was not large. I don't usually get stir fried noodles at Cantonese restaurants. But have you price the cost of high end deep sea fish lately? Or dungenese crabs (even in season)?

                        2. A year or so ago I ate at a Korean restaurant in Orange County, CA on the recommendation of chowhounds. It was definitely upscale, and I think we payed in the range of 30 pp, maybe more. The meat was grilled at the table, but by our waitress....

                          The food was simple, but delicious. And I didn't feel that we being ripped off at all. The ingredients were all fresh and not inexpensive. And sure, anyone could grill the meat...but I figure if you're going to have the panchan and all those accompaniments you'd either have to buy a lot of different jars (spending $$) or spend a lot of time making it....so I didn't resent the price.

                          My kids loved the place, btw. And to find a place that five of us with very diversified tastes could all enjoy was priceless....

                          1. I am a huge fan of Korean food however I have yet to eat at a Korean restaraunt in the States. My most recent experience with Korean food was in a town called Pyongteak South Korea. We fed 13 people for just under $30. It was great!

                            1. anyone know why korean food is so damn expensive? I just don't get it.

                              I love to eat asian food like thai, vietnamese, and chinese food and all of these are remarkably cheaper than Korean food. Why is that? However when I'm in Korea, korean food is a hell of a lot cheaper than say Chinese food....which is way too expensive.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: bitsubeats

                                I can give a couple of very general reasons.
                                In many cases, if the restaurant is doing "it" right - the meat cuts for Korean dishes tend to be higher priced cuts than other Asian restaurants use
                                The ban chan ingredients range from cheap to very expensive, and you get at least eight dishes and up to twenty in a good spread. These are often "refillable" at no extra charge, as is rice.
                                Korean meals tend to have a bit larger portions, overall, than other Asian restaurants.

                                Please note that these are VERY general observations and that there are probably a lot of exceptions.

                                1. re: bitsubeats

                                  I think it depends on where you are located. I find that the Korean places that I frequent vary just like other types of Asian foods can vary in price.

                                  1. re: justagthing

                                    I have noticed that if you order the grilled-meat dishes, Korean tends to be very expensive, especially in places like LA, NYC, etc. In the past, when Korea was still struggling economically, meat was considered a major luxury. So I suspect that Koreans associate meat with high end dining, and are willing to pay for this luxury even though meat is much more plentiful now. And restaurants who specialize in these dishes can afford to charge premium prices, knowing that Koreans associate meat with luxury and special occasions. (any thoughts from the many Korean posters on this board? Hannaone, you count! Honorary Korean-ness has been granted... especially since you can obviously cook me under the table!)

                                    If you choose the less ostentatious dishes like noodle dishes and soups, Korean can be very affordable (less than $8-12 dollars for a very filling meal).

                                    1. re: moh

                                      Throughout much of it's history Korea has been in conflict both within (the three kingdoms and the Korean War) and without (China and Japan). Even during the peaceful times, the commoners had what was considered poor fare as the best foods and nearly all meat went to the nobility.
                                      During the Japanese occupation the best foodstuffs were siphoned off to feed Japan and their military.
                                      During the Korean War there simply wasn't much of anything available.
                                      After the war meat was still scarce for many years and then purchased at great expense for special occasions.
                                      It's no wonder that being able to provide meat for a dinner became a sign of money and status.
                                      That is changing now, but for many of the older Koreans meat still equates to "the finer things in life", and they will pay higher prices for that.

                                      Edit: If anyone wants to see some pretty good representation of Korean Royal Cuisine, I highly recommend renting or buying the K-Drama "Dae Jang Geum".

                                      1. re: hannaone

                                        Ok, I officially give up my Korean status and defer all rights and privileges of the aforementioned status to Hannaone. (with the exception of my mother's kimchi...). We are not worthy! You are truly a wealth of knowledge. My mother would love you.

                                        "It's no wonder that being able to provide meat for a dinner became a sign of money and status.
                                        That is changing now, but for many of the older Koreans meat still equates to "the finer things in life", and they will pay higher prices for that."

                                        It is true that the younger generation do not have the "Great Depression/Wartime" mentality about meat. But I suspect younger Koreans will continue to play higher prices for a different reason. A lot of younger generation Koreans are growing up and losing their connections to the cultural table. Although there has been a small renaissance of sorts, in general, people don't cook a lot at home anymore. Nowadays, everyone can afford to eat out much more, and there are so many ready-made products that the art of cooking is being lost. Remember CHounders, we are a niche market, not the norm.... Premade sauces, kimchis, soup broths, noodles, ban chan. I recently even saw a pre-made package of white rice that you could microwave and eat straight away. I was horrified! Many people are losing their ability to cook. These are the people who will continue to pay higher prices for Korean meat in restaurants because they can't recreate it at home, and they remember these dishes from when they were young.

                                        Please keep up the great posts Hannaone! First generation Koreans like me learn an awful lot from your insightful writing. My grasp of Korean language is poor, unfortunately, and so I don't have the same access to this sort of information in my native tongue. I can gleam what I can from what my parents and family friends say, but you are able to succinctly summarize concepts that I may understand, but am not able to verbalize.

                                  2. re: bitsubeats

                                    It may be a function of city. I've not have a lot of exposure to LA but I've had waygu beef ribs for $30 per person (was excellent btw) and soon tobu for $8 per person. It depends on the resturant and what you order.

                                    I the DC area where I live, it more about $12 to $15 per person. Which is about what I pay when I go to vietnamese or chinese places.

                                    I do find this thread pretty interesting however, as some really defending korean food. I like korean food in that even in the states, most dishes and resturants haven't been really americanized. It makes no appologies for what it is and asks it be taken on its own terms. I hope its stays that way.

                                    Nothing I write will help make up someone perception of the value they received at a single resturant.

                                    1. re: Soup

                                      Great comment on the fact that korean food isn't americanized for the masses (at least in my opinion). I think that that's one of the best selling points about Korean food in the US

                                      1. re: bitsubeats

                                        It used to be that way, or so I thought, until I moved to No. Virginia from LA (it's like playing basketball with Kobe then teaming with a 3-year-old). I've been to every single Korean restaurant in this durn area that I've been able to scope out, but it's always -- ALWAYS -- disappointing. Sugary kimchee? Olive oil in the banchan?! Waitresses always telling me that Americans/tourists don't like it "so spicy"... Boo...

                                  3. "I could've cooked all of these at home myself"
                                    Yup, that's my view of Korean BBQ - if I want to cook, I stay home! But as others have stated, they're always willing to cook it for you in the kitchen if you ask.

                                    Assuming you're not comparing beef short ribs BBQ to beef pho, I think the main reason (similar) Korean food is more expensive that other asian food is because of the bottomless array of side dishes, always expected and always included.

                                    1. I think that you just went to the wrong place ..Or maybe it was just not your thing.

                                      1. Wow, when I take my friends for a first visit to my favorite NICE Korean restaurant they always comment "That's ALLLL?" when we get the bill. Now I do steer them away from the BBQ at dinner (save that for lunch or an AYCE) and toward the stews or soups with seafood, galbi or tofu. We pay $11 to $16 pp plus tax and tip. This includes 12-14 types of (bottomless) panchan which last time included refills on those yummy blood clams, rice (that kind with the beans in it!), the barley tea and cinnamon tea for dessert. And we were stuffed.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: mlgb

                                          Yeah, well, he went to Chosun Galbi in L.A. which is one of the most overpriced Korean restaurants in town. (He) really can't draw a general conclusion from that experience.

                                        2. You need to come to New Jersey-
                                          we have some of the finest Korean restaurants-
                                          cliffside park, palisades park, ridgefield and fort lee