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Korea town and Korean food virgins!

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Hi Chowhounders...

I am embarassed to admit... my boyfriend and I are total Korean food virgins. We have decided that we are going to travel there this fall and want to get a taste of the food we will be eating and well... don't really know where to start.

So this Friday we are going to go to Koreatown for our first of potentially many Korean dinners.

What I am looking for:
1. A restaurant recommendation in Koreatown... your favorite,
2. What we should have. Keep in mind we are new to it, so start us off easy.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. I like Il Bun JI the most on the strip, it's more expensive than a lot of the other bunsik joints populating the strip. I notice the difference in quality.

    Their chapchae is top notch, some of the best in the city.

    1. Walnut cakes. Yep. Though my fave one is up in North York. ahh.. custard walnut cakes!


      And fried chicken. Ajuker is my choice, but it's not "traditional" food.

      1. And those six or eight small dishes of pickled veg and kimchee that show up before everything else are not the first course. They're meant to be eaten alongside whatever you like that follows as condiments. I've seen first-timers polish them off all by themselves. It's like drinking a bottle of ketchup.

        I like Korea House, it's a bit classier than some of the others, tho the decor is kinda hokey. A lot of Korean eateries have sushi on the menu, too, so stick to barbecued beef ribs and bi bim bap, oven-cooked stone bowls of rice and various toppings. And kimchee, of course.

        For the full effect, drink a 26-er of Scotch with dinner, then break out the karaoke.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Dimbulb

          Thanks for the tip on the small dishes; I always thought they were intended as a first course, and I've been eating the stuff for years. <feeling shame>

          To the OP, my personal Korean favorites are bi bim bap (with "dolsot" in front, it means it comes in an insanely hot stone bowl), hwae du bap (sashimi, vegetables, and rice that you drizzle with hot sauce), chap chae, and tofu stew (usually has the word "soon" in there). Be warned: Korean food is HIGHLY addictive!!

          Il Bun Ji is my new Korean go-to on the strip, but Korea House is good too. For tofu stew, I like the place at the south-east corner of Bloor and Clinton.

          1. re: Olivia

            It's OK to nibble them with your drinks while you wait for the mains to show up.

            I took a very hungry friend who had never been to a Korean restaurant to SeJong and she polished off nine little plates in about 10 minutes much to the amusement of staff.

            1. re: Dimbulb

              I'm confused: so it's okay to have some before the food comes, as long as I don't finish them?

              1. re: Olivia

                Well, it's a supplement to the meal. So yes, okay to eat before the meal comes (at least I do! And no one's told me not to yet...) but not meant to be polished off before your "main" arrives.

                1. re: Olivia

                  well, it's a cultural thing - if you eat it all, you leave nothing for the meal and the sides are supposed to be eaten with the rice; also, if you are eating with someone else, it's kind of considered poor manners to finish off a dish that is meant to be shared....having said that, traditionally, the oldest person (elder) dining with you is never given the last remaining morsel, it's the youngest who is allowed to clean off the plate...counterintuitive in some ways, since i'm always inclined to give the last remaining bite to the most respected in the party (ie. the oldest) -- anyways, here in Canada, I don't think any restaurant will refuse you more side dishes if you finish it before your meal

          2. Some of my favourite and safe Korean dishes:
            Bulgogi - thinly sliced, marinated beef with vegetables Bibimbap - rice topped with vegetables and meat with a slightly spicy sauce Kalbi - marinated beef ribs Sangyeopsal - side pork Tang su yeuk - battered and deep fried chicken (pork, shrimp, beef) in a sweet and sour type sauce Ja jang mein - noodles in black bean sauce

            1. Try Owl of Minerva, they have one location in Koreatown and one at Yonge and Churchhill in North York. All their food is good, specifically the Kamjatan, the Bulgogi, and the Soondae. Also Joons, I believe they have a location in Koreatown, and one at Yonge and Sheppard, they do excellent DakGalbi, which im told is a very standard korean food both within the country and abroad. Enjoy your dinning and Traveling!

              1. These are great suggestions!! I will be sure to tell you what we had.

                I am really looking forward to Friday night now there there are so many things to try!

                1 Reply
                1. re: fclm

                  When you're feeling more daring, delve into the various fish stews that are offered. Some are savoury and flavoured with a fermented miso soup base, while others are spicy. I don't find the spicy as fiery as I do salty, though some can be quite hot. What make these stews challenging is that the fish is often cut in cross-sections and quite bony. However, with a little practice, you'll be able to either nibble around the bones or else spit out the strays that wind up in your mouth. You will also come to appreciate the depth of flavour that comes from keeping fish on the bone. Some names of these stews are Saengsun Chigae, Maewoon Tang (various spellings for both will be encountered), and Doenjang Chigae. These stews are served with rice on the side.

                  The only Korean dish I've encountered that I didn't care for was squid or octopus bokum. I quite like the flavours, but I've found that Koreans prefer their squid and octopus a bit more chewy than I like. At first I thought they simply cooked them too long, but a few tries have left me consistently unhappy with the texture, so I avoid those now.

                  If you like spicy, definitely try the spicy beef soup. When done well, the beef is torn into the most tender strands and mixed with egg and vegetables in a spicy broth. I avoided it for years, not being a beef lover, but now that I've tried it, I crave it from time to time.

                2. Walk along the strip on any given night and look into the restaurants. Find the one that is packed full of Koreans enjoying themselves. Take note of the empty to half-empty places surrounding this restaurant. There is a reason for this. The restaurant you are looking for is called Seoul Restaurant. It is not fancy, but it is friendly and the food is superb. You may have to wait for a table. I suggest you do. Try the Gam Jae Tang (spicy pork bone stew). If there are two of you or more, you can get the version served in a small wok on a gas burner at your table, which is very good value and incredibly delicious.

                  1. If I was bringing guest for the first time, I would go for Korea House.

                    If you want your super dirt cheap hole in the wall (you may have to wait) but so tasty, go to Paldo gangsan - pork bone soup is amazing.

                    There is also one accross the street (on the other side of the lights) from paldo gangsan that always has a huge lineup but I dont know if its good...

                    1. Tried Korea House for the first time a few months ago with a party of 5 and was very disappointed. The service was terrible, even though the place was mostly empty on a weeknight. We had to get up and walk around the restaurant several times to hunt down staff to order more food or drinks. Once nearly half an hour went by and they never came by. I have no idea why, we are friendly and polite folks.

                      They were out of all Korean beers. The food was average, nothing really stood out. Having eaten bulgogi at lots of Korean-owned "Japanese" restaurants in the past, I expected more from the variation they served, but it was pretty nondescript. In an attempt to be adventurous I also tried Kimchichigae, a kimchi stew with beef, but the tough chewy beef made it inedible. They never asked why we left 95% of it uneaten. Really the only thing that hit the spot was the selection of free kimchis they brought out at the start.

                      Maybe they just had an off night, but next time I'll be trying Il Bun Ji.