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Korean food in Charlotte

I thought I'd start an updated thread on the state of Korean food in Charlotte, as the last one I found was from 2006 and a new restaurant has just opened up, and at least two others are here but don't seem to be widely known.

The one that just opened up is Cho Won Garden (www.chowongarden.org) at 2501 Crownpoint Executive Drive, Charlotte, NC 28277. The address is deceiving because it actually faces Independence, and you can't miss it on your right as you drive away from uptown.

Tricia Childress of Creative Loafing wrote a full review on it in August that was more descriptive than critical, so I won't repeat any of that. Also, I saw an article that they got two low inspection scores, which they claimed based on inexperience. Low scores from ethnic restaurants don't always kill a place for me, but it may for some.

I've eaten at Cho Won twice, getting grilled marinated short ribs (Kalbi Gui) once, and stir-fried bean thread noodles another time. The second time I also got the pan fried seafood pancake, which is a really popular Korean dish, as an appetizer. (Side note for full disclosure: I'm not Korean, but I'm a foodie and culinary student and I've read a lot about Korean food and eaten a decent amount of it). Both times I ate with my mom and she got seafood and tofu soup/stew, and of course we got a full complement of Banchans, the little side dishes Koreans eat with their meals.

My overall impression of Cho Won Garden based on the two visits is that they've spent a lot of money on location and decor to appeal to a more non-Korean audience, and maybe that will help them gain popularity where other Korean places haven't. But they may not as popular with Koreans as the other two places in Charlotte because their prices are higher and food may not be as authentic in subtle ways. The sauce on the barbecue ribs was a lot sweeter than I've had before, and their seafood pancake had very little seafood and what was there was this frozen seafood mix with mostly calamari that you see in Asian groceries. There wasn't even much green onions, so overall the the pancake was a dud. Their Banchans are good, and they had a couple of pickled fish and tofu Banchans in addition to the mostly kimchi variety I got at Korean Restaurant. If you want an intro to Korean food or you're dining with people who want a nice atmosphere in a non-threatening-looking part of town, this may be your best bet right now. I hope for the sake of spreading Korean food that they stay around.

Going down the line in atmosphere and up in authenticity is Korean Restaurant at 6404 Albemarle Road. Yes, that's their name, according to the sign. The location was a Japanese place and called "Kyoto Japanese" years ago, and I guess at some point the present owners expanded and added "/Korean Restaurant" to the name and then took off "Kyoto Japanese" and kept the second part of the sign. The place occupies two adjoining standard-strip mall spaces in a shopping center that has seen much better days. But this place is definitely where Koreans families go to eat in Charlotte -- I've been there three times, and it was filled with Korean customers every time, once for a big birthday party that took up half the place. I've never seen a non-Asian there, and usually I'm the only non-Korean. But the staff is English-fluent and friendly, and the place is clean, though plain in decor.

As for the food, their seafood pancake is excellent, with fresh oysters and shrimp and calamari and plenty of green onions. I got their blood sausage one time, which I had only read about and never seen on a menu. They served that as a main entree with banchan, though I would probably prefer it by itself as an appetizer -- a big plate of blood sausage is just too much for one sitting. It was good, and also came with boiled, sliced pig's ear that I wasn't crazy about. I will actually eat pig's ear (I'm Chinese, and we'll eat just about anything), but theirs didn't have much seasoning to it. I don't know if Koreans like it that way, but it didn't do it for me. I got a beef and kimchee stew another time, and it was very good for only around $9 and came with all the banchans. I went for lunch once and saw several Korean men, each eating by himself, and they were all having some kind of soup with rice and banchan, so I've started doing the same. I still haven't had their barbecue yet because I'm working my way through the soups, but I'll update when I do. This is my favorite of the three Korean places in Charlotte and my kind of place -- where working-guys of the culture go to have lunch by themselves on a weekday.

Wow, this post is dragging out. But I'll just mention the last place I know about, which is called something like Pe Pi Ro, a little cafe in the back of a Korean grocery store on Monroe road near Highway 51. I've only eaten there once because everything is in Korean and the cook/counter person doesn't speak much English (yet very friendly and helpful), but they have a full menu with pictures and the food was good. I've shopped there since and always saw Korean customers eating, always a good sign. You place your order at the counter and everything is served in styrofoam. I think I'll go there again to get a better sense of their food and I'll update when I do.

Ok, so how about it fellow Chowhounds? Let's talk Korean food. What's good to get, where to get it, in Charlotte or elsewhere you've had it. Don't leave me hanging after I got carried away on a boring evening and wrote all this!

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  1. Thanks for the heads up about Korean Restaurant on Albemarle. Had no idea it was out there. I've been to Cho Won a bunch as it's pretty much the only game in town (before your heads up). I've known about the little "underground" place at Pe Pe Ro (or whatever) but don't really think of it as a restaurant. Though I'm no stranger to the "hole-in-the-wall" it's not really the kind of place I want to spend my time, beyond sucking down some lunch usually by myself 'cause no one i know will go there! By the way, a great korean market is on Kettering Drive off Hwy 51 back behind Outback, past Wan Fu and on the left. It's called Jin Asian Market. They're making kimchee in-house, much cleaner and organized than Pe Pe Ro, and looks like a greater turn around of product. Rather, nothing looks like it' been on the shelf for a year. I'm glad to see your post about korean. If you go as far as to click the link on my blog (via my profile) you will see that I too am trying to up the conversation about this food locally on-line. Any way, nice post and I'm sure I'll be checking out that place on Albemarle soon.

    1. I have been wanting to try Korean Restaurant on Albemarle since I read a short write-up in Charlotte Magazine. After reading your post last Thursday I visited on Friday. I arrived a little after 1pm, but there was still a good-sized lunch crowd, including several Koreans. I loved the little dishes of banchan (but could have used more rice; I didn't ask in anticipation of a large lunch). And I really enjoyed my first bimbibap, but hope that next time it will be served hot. Maybe that's something that I'm supposed to specify. The very sweet server didn't seem to speak any English except "Thank you." Next time I'm going to try the barbecue, but I have got to bring along some adventurous eaters with me so that I can sample lots of dishes.

      4 Replies
      1. re: QueenCityHound

        If you wanna organize a tasting table at Korean Restaurant count me in!

        1. re: bellyspeaks

          I would be more than interested in a Korean tasting table!! I vistied South Korea last year and I'm always up for eating Korean goodies

        2. re: QueenCityHound

          i may be stating something you already know, but to help you in specifying that you want your bibimbap hot you will want to ask for tol-sot bibimbap. There are two kinds, one is just bibimbap and is served cold. The one I think you are looking for is tol-sot (pronounced toll-sut) bibimbap, which will be served in an extremely hot stone pot. The one in the stone pot is my favorite. Also, i'm from Ohio but am in Charlotte for business and will be trying Korean Restaurant tonight. (I am American but used to live in South Korea) I'm hoping for a great meal, considering the korean food in cleveland leaves much to be desired. Thanks for the tips!

          1. re: sethrOSU

            Interesting. A friend of mine went to try CHowon garden and was so excited to order that very dish bibimbap.
            And with greatly disappointed when it arrived cold like a salad. I wonder if he even knew that was an option or if they did it at Chowon and why would the server not tell about the options? SEE, thats why I stick to what I know unless recommended.

        3. I have had hwe dup bap (Korean chirashi) at both Korean Restaurant and PePeRo. PePeRo's was better, I think (although both my data points on this are about a year ago). I just recently returned to Korean Restaurant (note: on their business cards, it does say "Kyoto") and had a very tasty dinner. They have the mandoo/rice cake soup, which is on my list of things to try, and also some kind of raw fish plus buckwheat noodle plus hot sauce dish that sounds intriguing.

          1. This is a late update but I went to Korean Restaurant for dinner several weeks ago and was a little disappointed. I had the bulgogi (cooked it ourselves) with a friend and our other friend got the tol-sot bibimbap. The bibimbap was pretty solid, but the bulgogi was way too sweet and oily for my tastes. The panchan was subpar and most of it seemed like it had been sitting around for a long time. The place was packed with Korean people, however as a good Korean friend of mine always says; Korean places will always have korean people in them b/c even if its not good the options are limited in some parts of the US. The service was great and I'd like to give it another shot with some other dishes.

            2 Replies
            1. re: sethrOSU

              Attempted to make 2nd visit to "Korean Resatuarant" on Albemarle this past Sat night, right at dinner time, they appeared closed, perhaps for good.

              A friend told me a few months ago that she had heard the owners were opening up a place acros the street from or very close to Chowon Garden.

              Anybody know anything on this?

              1. re: savage animal

                Hi! I do know where the restaurant on Albemarle moved. It's off of Independence Blvd (US 74) in the Windsor Square Shopping Center. It's right down from Chow Garden. It's right beside the CiCi's, near the Sam's Club. The contact info is:

                1806 Windsor Square Drive
                matthews, NC 28105
                (704) 246-3423

                Hope this helps!

            2. So.. how many people would be interested in checking out PePeRo together? Almost like a Korean foodie group? I am looking to go again and would love some company!!

              10 Replies
              1. re: rachaelregan

                I'll go with you! I lost track of which email I used for CH and didn't even know people had replied to my original post. Been away from Charlotte for awhile anyway and haven't been back to PePeRo for a couple of years.

                1. re: rachaelregan

                  I may be interested in going also. My email address is lynnlato@gmail.com. Keep me posted!

                    1. re: lynnlato

                      I'm definitely in if LL is. She knows where to find me.

                      1. re: southernitalian

                        Hungry Donkey is in as long as I'm in town! LL and Southernitalian know how to reach me. (I like that -- I sound mysterious!!!)

                        1. re: HungryDonkey

                          Alrighty, we've got Ickymettle, HungryDonkey & SouthernItalian. Anyone else who wants to join us, please email me at lynnlato@gmail.com.

                          We'll pick a date soon.

                          1. re: lynnlato

                            I've received 5 confirmed hounds who are interested in checking out PePeRo. Friday December 9 at 12:00 noon. 10920 Monroe Rd, Matthews NC.

                            1. re: lynnlato

                              It doesn't look like this "restaurant" holds many more people than that. I'm so excited!

                              1. re: lynnlato

                                Unfortunately I can't go due to work. If you guys plan on a weekend trip, let me know, thanks.

                                1. re: rachaelregan

                                  Sorry Rachel! We'll plan a wknd outing next time.