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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.

                    2. I haven't been to Cho Won Garden. But my friends swear by Kojan Bistro. We went a long time ago on July 4th. We definitely over ordered. We got the veggie pancake, mandoo, pork kalbi, and the jajangmyeon. It was my first time eating Korean food ever but it was sooo good!!!! I would definitely go back for the pancake and the jajangmyeon. But if I see japchae on their menu I will definitely be ordering that next time because I think that is a lighter dish then the jajangmyeon. It was so much food though. We brought home almost a full quart container of the leftover jajangmyeon.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: vttp926

                        Unfortunately, Kojan Bistro appears to have closed. I was out there a month or so ago and the location was for rent with no indication of new location.

                        1. re: sparkythe1dergirl

                          Oh wow! That really sucks. I may have to ask my friend though because he may know of something if he has heard they have moved or not.

                          1. re: sparkythe1dergirl

                            A new place has opened up in Kojan Bistro place. It is called Inter Korea. It is a mix of Chinese and Korean with a much bigger menu then Kojan Bistro had. I had the japchae and the mandoo that night. The mandoo was nothing like what I had in the past with other dumplings. Too thin and very oily. But the japchae was too die for! I would return just for that!

                            1. re: vttp926

                              Just want the Hounds to know I went to have dinner at Inter Korea and had to quickly decide on another restaurant due to that is now closed as well?!!!!!!?????
                              (So we decided on CiCi's instead......I kid, I kid)

                              1. re: Ciao Italia Foodie

                                I heard that as well but had not been able to confirm. I think it is all about location though because if you didn't know it was there you just wouldn't know.

                        2. Really? No one is going to take a swing at this? I'll bite. So I said I wasn't going to throw this place under a bus and I'm not , but a few of us made it to Cho Won Garden and it was just....meh. I got the bibimbop which I would think would be the one thing any decent Korean restaurant could do. It was really rather unremarkable. I can't see myself waking up a few weeks from now and thinking, "Oh man, I have got to go back to Cho Won Garden for the bibimbop" the way I would with good pizza, sushi or pho. The one thing I really did like was the kim chee which they were kind of stingy with. Service was fine. The restaurant is clean and bright. If I were in the area again and someone with me really wanted to go, I wouldn't hesitate. How's that?

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: southernitalian

                            I had the same thing as southernitalian and it was basically a smokin' hot stoneware bowl filled with white rice and topped with shredded beef, some veggies, some congealed broth (i think), a poached egg, bean sprouts and some greens. It was served with a sweet & spicy bbq-like sauce on the side. Without the sauce it was seriously lacking flavor. I liked how the rice stuck to the inside of the bowl and the server suggested scrapping it and eating it for the crunchy texture. The kimchi was good as was the broccoli with a tangy white sauce that they serve before your meal arrives. I'd like to go back in the evening and try the bulgogi and the galbi. I'm thinking maybe things might be better in the evening??

                            Oh, and the decor and service were nice. Great to see some local 'hounds too. Next up - Fern!

                            1. re: lynnlato

                              Sigh. I wish I could've made it but I'm too backlogged with work for final exams right now. Hopefully next time; I really do want to try Fern so make sure you let me know.

                              1. re: ostrakos

                                We were thinking maybe a day during the week between xmas & new years. I'll email you as we get closer. Good luck with your exams!

                              2. re: lynnlato

                                Welp, I had the pork bulgogi and it was just as "meh" as your stuff. It was fine, just nothing I'd drive all the way down Independence Boulevard for. Service was nice and it was comfortable.

                                Looking forward to Fern!

                                1. re: HungryDonkey

                                  try "China Wing" near the Compare Foods on South Blvd. It's owned by an older Korean couple and they have a two page Korean menu that has all the basics you would want. I think the prices are better than Cho Wan and the food tastes significantly better.

                                  there's also another Korean place down Independence in Matthews that is okay as well. I believe it's in the Windsor Square plaza.

                            2. Simplee Sushi on the backside of McMullen Creek Shopping Center has some Korean dishes on the menu. What I've had there has been good. This is the spot that used to be Mizuho (which I sorely miss).

                              1. I had a really good meal from China Wing tonight. Disclaimer: I know virtually nothing about Korean food. The hostess handed me the standard menu when I entered and seemed surprised when I put it down & picked up the Korean menu, which included English descriptions, transliterations, and pictures. Orded bibimbap after verifying that it would still taste good as takeout. It was the "served hot" version and the picture showed both the stone pot and a sunny-side-up egg. The chef prepared the egg as a pancake instead & of course the rice wasn't crispy, but it worked fine. The sauce was amazing. The meat was good & the veggies were very fresh. I found the kimchi (good) "odd" because it was not made of cabbage, but still very good - well fermented & seasoned. (It was in firm cubes - daikon maybe?) Also ordered a spring roll (she twisted my arm). It was good, but I am not discerning enough to know if they buy them frozen.
                                Some 'hounds might be turned off by the menu, which seems to include Chinese dishes, wings, chicken tenders, & even gyros. It is actually a plus for me. Hubby will never try Korean, but will eat the other stuff. Win-win. And it is less than 10 minutes from my new apartment.

                                808 E Arrowood Rd, Charlotte, NC