Korean food in OC
Just finished watching a tivo'd Anthony Bourdain show shot in Seoul and realized that I've never eaten Korean food. Is there a good place to experiment with this cuisine in OC. We live in Irvine, so we'd like to find someplace not too far away...within ~20 minute drive. Any recommendations?
While there are a few places in Irvine, there are two treasure troves of Korean culture in OC: Garden Grove (particularly GG Blvd. between Beach and Brookhurst) and along Beach Blvd. in Buena Park and, increasingly, Stanton.
The thing you need to know about Korean restaurants is that when you decide you want Korean food, it's best to decide what KIND of Korean food you want first, then where to go. I suggest starting where most people do -- Korean barbecue. For that, my recommendations would be Cham Sut Gol, on GG Blvd; Sagan, on Beach Blvd in Buena Park; or Shik Do Rak, on GG Blvd. Cham Sut Gol is the best and the best value, with a wide variety of panchan (side dishes) and excellent samgyeopsal (pork belly); Sagan has excellent kalbi (short ribs, the "cream of the crop" of KBBQ); Shik Do Rak has the best dduk (squiggly sticky rice wraps).
A note before we continue, then: every Korean restaurant, no matter what their speciality is, serves at least a few side dishes of usually pickled or otherwise preserved foods, called "panchan" or "banchan" ("p" and "b" are represented by the same letter in Korean). These may include kimchi, which is preserved, sour, spicy Napa cabbage; mul kimchi, which is the same but floating in chili water; bean sprouts with sesame oil; spinach with sesame oil; mushrooms; tofu in soy sauce; cucumbers; salad; tiny fish; larger, deep-fried fish; raw crab with chili paste, etc. etc. etc. All panchan, in every restaurant, are refillable for the asking, with the possible exception of special items like scallion pancakes. While the quality of the meat is a huge thing when we're talking Korean food, a lot of the discussion on Chowhound about which Korean restaurant is actually best focuses on the panchan or lack thereof.
If you decide to have Korean dumplings (mandoo), there's a total, utter hole-in-the-wall on GG Blvd. called Anna's Mondu. Resist the urge to flee (it's really short on decor) and have the gracious Anna serve you a combination. My favourite are the buckwheat "king" mandoo, but they're really all good.
So far the best soft tofu stew I've had has been at Kaju, on GG Blvd. You can safely ignore the barbecue items, unless you want a combo to round things out; the soft tofu stew (which is served boiling hot with a raw egg to crack into it while it's still boiling -- this cooks the egg) is the thing to concentrate on. They're a little odd and you may have to order as you sit if they're busy (there are menus up front) but the soft tofu stew is very good. A distant runner up is Irvine Tofu House across from the 99 Ranch on Walnut, followed by BCD Tofu House, which is just 'OK'. In a rare case of a place doing two things well, Kaju also has an excellent haemul p'ajeon (seafood and scallion pancake).
Korean fried chicken is a different animal than American fried chicken and the best I've had has been at Kyochon (which is in Koreatown and Torrance, not exactly OC). In OC, the chicken from Pizza and Chicken Love Letter on GG Blvd. in the same plaza as Kaju Soft Tofu is acceptable but not as good as Kyochon.
Not really the time of year for it (scorching hot summer days are when I crave this) but I still haven't found a better mul naengmyon in OC than at Shik Do Rak (GG Blvd.). Mul naengmyon is a soup served ice -- literally -- cold, with lots of chewy buckwheat noodles, a couple of slices of beef, some radish, some Korean pear. Ask for vinegar and mustard to add to your soup -- it really, really hits the spot on a scorching hot day.
This isn't exhaustive -- and what's available in OC pales compared to what's available in Koreatown -- but it's a way to start. Happy exploring!!
My go to Korean restaurant when I lived in Irvine is located in plaza on Culver where Rite Aid, Coldstone, and Elephant Bar are. It's a BIG plaza. I just found out that the name of the restaurant is Korean Dae Myoung Ok Restaurant. For the longest time and to the confusion of some people I told it about, I just called it "Korean Restaurant" because that's all it says on the storefront! I'm no expert on Korean good, but I enjoyed the food here and the price was very reasonable. I put the address below
14250 Culver Dr Ste B
Irvine, CA 92604
Yah, whenever I visit my Irvine Hounds there's a chance we might go to either Dae Myoung Ok or choctastic's pick for Kaya (in the same "long plaza" but in the corner next to the Indian buffet place). Both are decent for the Irvine area and authentic and my Irvine Hounds will bounce between either of them every few months to vary up the experience and side dishes. :) If you get a chance, try some of the restaurants listed in Das Ubergeek's post above, as Garden Grove isn't too far from Irvine. Enjoy~
Hands down my favorite spot in the OC area to enjoy Korean bbq is at Go Goo Ryeo in Garden Grove. Avoid doing any sub-par all-you-can-eat experiences as your first time. This place has a much nicer upscale quality to the restaurant without being much more expensive than your typical choices in the area. The food is really great here.
I'd recommend bringing a party of 3~4 people and ordering a fair number of meats, along with a korean soup item. Enjoy the varied side dishes you get and try out all the flavors.
GOGURYEO KOREAN B.B.Q
8851 Garden Grove Blvd Garden, Grove, CA