My favorite is Korean Grill (Chinatown Center on N Lamar),
a tiny mom & pop restaurant with some big strengths--
jamppong (spicy seafood noodle soup)--had shrimp, squid, mussels, and vegetables;
noodles so tender yet chewy I asked if they were homemade (they're not)
dol sot bibimbap--served in hot stone bowl so it browns the rice at the bottom
mixed tempura--wonderfully light and crispy batter
banchan (side dishes)--excellent, not an afterthought like at many places;
at lunchtime you get more common ones (kimchi, mung bean sprouts, spicy pickles,...)
more are offered at dinnertime (seaweed, tofu, sweet pickles, vegetable omelette,
small dried anchovies, various greens, onions, mushrooms, depending on the day)
The bento box lunches are good deals.
The place is casual and nicely decorated.
Of course, every place has weaknesses--
Seafood pancake, bulgogi, japchae (too oily) and whole mackerel were not impressive.
Service is good, warm, and friendly when the owners are there, hit-or-miss otherwise.
Over all, dining here is an enjoyable experience.
Here are the contenders (roughly from north to south):
Together (N Lamar) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/474787#3309190
Korea House (in the Village on Anderson Ln)--japchae was good
Misung 888 (Anderson Ln @ Lamar)--haven't tried, but Nab has
New Oriental Market (Airport @ Lamar)--big bowls of noodles for about $5 each
Manna Korean Restaurant (Han Yang Market on Lamar)--eh; few self-serve banchan
Somunanjib (Han Yang Market on Lamar
)Chosun Galbi (near Highland Mall)--warm, wonderful service, beautiful place; fairly pricey
Shilla (in Lincoln Village, near Highland Mall)
Korea Garden (Lamar)
Burger Tex (on Airport)--tasty bulgogi "burger"
Oma's (Dobie Mall)--bibimbab was ok
Koriente--more "cleaned up"/fusion; cute, clean; not bad for a quick bite if you're downtown
new mini-reviews (roughly in order of preference):
Shilla--nice decor; some tables have built-in grills; jamppong was quite good, competitive with Korean Grill's; banchan (7 or 8) average to good; dolsot bibimbab lacking the egg and not quite as good as Korean Grill
O'Daku Sushi--as lixlix suggested, the homemade tofu was good in the soondubu jigae; banchan were few but good; small, quiet, beautiful place hidden somewhere between Radio Shack and Panda Express in a strip shopping center!!
Osaka Mansun--mackerel soup was decent; nothing stood out other than the somewhat sweet tiny dried shrimp banchan
Korea House--ok; banchan not impressive
Chosun Galbi--as mentioned, gorgeous interior; dolsot bibimbab was ok, no egg(!); very limited (4) passable banchan; complimentary sweet drink after dinner was nice touch
Misung 888--still haven't tried the lauded gamja tang, but once had a delicious banchan that appeared to be slightly sweet, sour, and bitter greens, with tender stems (watercress?); otherwise, seems to be more of a late-night hangout/bar. By the way, the soju was quite enjoyable--cool, clean, and smooth, like vodka.
Together--going to try something besides Korean-style fried chicken (very thick batter, everything's sweet, incl. the sauce) next time
Also, if you haven't tried Somunanjib (I honestly don't know the name but since budgethound mentioned it and its the only other restaurant in Han Yang Market, I figured this was the name) during weekday lunch recently, you should. Its in Han Yang Market complex on lamar and Justin right next door to the Karaoke place.
Anyways, during weekday lunch, they have a bulgolgi/bibimbap buffet for $7.99 which is a really good deal. Usually 4 types of meats (chicken, pork, beef ) bulgogi and mackarel cooked with Daikon, array of vegetables/banchan, fried eggs, white and rice purple rice, array of different sauces and lettuces.
Also occasionally a few special items on the buffet such as zaru soba/namyeon.
Osaka Mansun probably has the best array of Banchan around in Austin. They give you 8 types even if you are there dining alone.
I would like to add another place not mentioned.
That is Odaku sushi on mopac and parmer in the HEB complex. They are mostly a sushi restaurant but they serve the best Soondubu chigae (soft tofu stew) in Austin IMO. This is because they make their own soft tofu. The stew comes out in a bubbling bowl with the tofu not in cubes but runny like soft scrambled eggs, they cover a soft poached egg and shrimp, clams and mussels, all tender. The other items are of comparable quality to other Korean places but the Soondubu is just awesome. Banchan selection is decent, at 5 to 6 selections.
I finally made it over to Odaku for the soondubu, upon your recommendation. The product was as you described. Very good, although that was admittedly the first time I'd tried the dish. Can anyone list formidable contenders in town that I can compare to?
On a side note, the banchan there was a sad disappointment. Four tiny dishes, and one of them was boring steamed broccoli :/ There wasn't even any kimchi!!!
yeah the banchan selection can be bad at times. If there aren't any kimchi in the banchan selection, I think you can ask and almost all Korean restaurants will provide an additional dish.
The 2 places that I think has ok soondubu but a notch below Odaku's, I would say are Mansun Osaka on anderson mill near 183 and Korean Grill in the Chinatown complex.
I'll add Osaka Mansun (183 & Anderson Mill) to the list. They've really gotten their act together over there recently. I had a bibimbap there that I thought was far better than Korea House. Lots of fresh goodness in the bowl, including a perfectly fried egg. The banchan was superior too... I liked the tiny spicy shrimp and dried anchovies, which Korea House didn't offer.
Great service at Osaka, too, and a very passable sushi bar.
I'll have to check out Korean Grill. My last visit was to Korea House last week. I felt that most of the Banchan apps were a little too old to be served. I still think about the time I was in Vancouver- the Korean place we went to had such fresh, high quality food- I felt I was in the middle of Seoul.
I'm not sure why so many Korean places in Austin are mediocre.