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Favorite SF Korean?

For me, the most important part is at the beginning when the bring you all the tiny plates with different small dishes of pickles and other items. Who do you think does that the best?

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  1. I love the sides (and entrees) at Han IL Kwan 19th Ave. and Balboa. They gladly refill any that you particularly like and want more of. It is a busy place, so everything is very fresh, which I realize is an oxymoron when one refers to fermented food.

    1 Reply
    1. re: saffrongold

      Second on HIK, best panchan I've had in SF.

    2. Not sure it is the best, but Brothers on Geary always sets out a good variety of sides (banchan).

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      Brothers 2 Restaurant
      4014 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

      1. To Hyang's variety of banchan is not the largest, but they usually have some unusual ones like fernbrake that are found at very few (if any) other places. The chef prepares most of them from vegetables from her own garden, some of which are rarely cultivated outside Korea.

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        To Hyang
        3815 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

        1. Don't want to come to Oakland? I've always felt that Sura has the most impressive spread of panchan - as many as 18 or 19 little dishes, including a tasty (and piping hot) steamed egg. It's my favorite all-purpose Korean restaurant in the Bay Area.

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          Sura
          4869 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

          1. Thanks folks, I don't know any of these places but I'm eager to give them a try. And, yes, Oak.land is okay as I work in the east bay, it just limits who I can dine with. :-)

            1. I was impressed with Hanuri's tiny plates (panchan) and menu items.

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              Hanuri
              4217 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

              1. The Brothers restaurants on Geary Blvd at 6th/5th Avenues are flat-out the best in San Francisco. Nothing else comes close.

                That said, San Francisco really isn't the best place for Korean food. As mentioned, if you're willing to travel across the bridge, Oakland's Temescal corridor has much better places in Sura, Casserole House, and to a lesser extent these days, Ohgane (Ohgane used to pretty much be the best in the East Bay, but the place seems to have gone downhill in the past couple of years). Bowl'd in Albany on Solano is also quite good for Korean-style mixed rice bowls.

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                Ohgane
                3915 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94611

                Bowl'd
                1479 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                Casserole House
                4301 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                24 Replies
                1. re: andrewp

                  + Sahn Maru, Koryo on the east bay side.

                  Sahn Maru Korean BBQ - 4315 Telegraph Ave Oakland, CA

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                  Koryo Restaurant
                  2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    Sahn Maru is a Yelp darling for whatever reason, but I've done it and I'll be honest: I found it to be very meh. Nothing jumped out at me as being particularly good and I have absolutely zero interest in ever heading back again. Casserole House is right next door and I still go back every so often for the boiled pork belly platter (and their side dishes are also excellent).

                    Koryo BBQ Restaurant in the Oakland Temescal corridor is, however, an underrated place with very good charcoal barbecue and very good soups/stews, though I realize the original post was about side-dishes.

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                    Koryo Jajang
                    4390 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                    Casserole House
                    4301 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                    1. re: andrewp

                      most people underrate Koryo because of the scary exterior, the lousy Formica tables, and the generally run-down nature.

                      Sahn Maru seemed better a few years ago. I don't know what's up.

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                      Koryo Restaurant
                      2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        I agree Sahn Maru was better a few years ago.

                        Haven't had good experiences with Koryo personally.

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                        Koryo Restaurant
                        2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          I think people also underrate Koryo because it's been there forever and doesn't have the cachet of being new and trendy. In addition, since it was there long before the explosion of Korean places in Oakland, I think a lot of people assume it's less "authentic"/more Americanized.

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                          Koryo Jajang
                          4390 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                          1. re: bbulkow

                            Koryo in Oakland has gone downhill. We made the mistake of eating there a couple months ago. 6 choices for banchan, and none were executed particularly well. Last time I was in that strip mall a few weeks ago to have lunch at Koryo Jajang (a semi-regular stop for me), my wife and I noticed a chalkboard sign in front of Koryo announcing AYCE for $19.99. We inquired inside if that was just a lunchtime offering, and were told it was actually for dinner but they would charge less if we wanted it for lunch. We passed.

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                            Koryo Jajang
                            4390 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                            1. re: Eugene Park

                              So, what, every korean place in that part of the east bay is going downhill simultaneously? What's a korean-loving guy to do? (answer: explore sunnyvale).

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                Han Dae Gam is very solid IMO, per my post further below. As for Oakland, we still go to Koryo Jajang at least once a month (their gen bahng ja jang myun and ggang poong seh woo with the sauce on the side are our staples), and Pyung Chang Soon Dooboo is still consistently good. My BIL is a very good cook when it comes to a variety of Korean cuisine, and I'm solid around a BBQ grill, so we don't hit up the "usual suspects" in Oakland. The only times we go to Ohgane are for their weekday lunch buffet, which is a great deal.

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                                Han Dae Gam
                                1292 Davis St, San Leandro, CA 94577-2572

                                1. re: Eugene Park

                                  I like Yuyu Za Zang (aka Chef Yu's) more than Koryo for JJM. Seems like they have more meat in their sauce.

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                                  Chef Yu's
                                  3919 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                                  1. re: drewskiSF

                                    Chef Yu's Za Zang is probably the best zazang noodles in the East Bay, yes. But this discussion was about Korean food, not Chinese.

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                                    Chef Yu's
                                    3919 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                                    1. re: andrewp

                                      Jja Jang Myun at Chef Yu's is the Korean interpretation of the dish. They have separate Korean & Chinese menus.

                                2. re: bbulkow

                                  I would have to agree with the Sunnyvale/Santa Clara area on El Camino Rd. has really good variety & choices. My 2 favorites are Sui Tofu (homemade tofu, always changing selection of ban chan) & next door is 99 Chicken (best Korean Fried Chicken) & Hana DVD (they specialize in English subtitled Korean dramas & movies for rent).

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                                  99 Chicken
                                  2781 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051

                                  Sui Tofu
                                  2777 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA

                                  1. re: winodano

                                    No one in their right might is going to argue that the South Bay has better Korean restaurants. It just does. This discussion was originally titled "Favorite SF Korean?", so that presumably meant San Francisco-only, though the East Bay is very close and accessible by public transit (BART, etc.).

                                    If we're going to extend this to the South Bay, the best places there include Kunjip and Palace BBQ.

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                                    Kunjip
                                    1066 Kiely Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 95051

                                    1. re: andrewp

                                      my korean friend swears by jang su jang in santa clara as being the only place comparable with LA

                                      1. re: vulber

                                        LA knocks the socks off of everywhere else's Korean food, except for Korea itself.

                                        That being said--I can think of a few places in Santa Clara that may be comparable to LA...but in my opinion Jang Su Jang is not one of them.

                                        1. re: Radical347

                                          Would you care to mention the ones in Santa Clara?

                                          1. re: Radical347

                                            Please elaborate on those better than Jang Su Jang options in Santa Clara if you could.

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                                            Jang Su Jang
                                            3561 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051

                                            1. re: maigre

                                              Cho Sun Myun Oak: banchan, lettuce wraps, (Cho Sun > Choi's), Korean breakfast, and all around menu
                                              Sui Tofu: tofu, porridge, organ meats, and banchan too (though CSMO's banchan gets the upper hand)
                                              Crab House: Korean sushi, in particular halibut (but not for crabs)

                                              And I'll throw in CheonJoo YoungYang Dolsot for fish egg stew & dolsot bibimbap...and, on a good day, most other things from their huge menu - but this is generally more of a case of reasonably good (but not necessarily great) food at extremely good prices.

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                                              Sui Tofu
                                              2777 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA

                                              Crab House
                                              3395 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051

                                              1. re: Radical347

                                                +1 on Cheon Joo Young-Yang Dolsot. It's one of our favorite places for good budget korean food. Delicious pancakes and casserole.

                                                Would also add Beng Nyun Son Nim for their chicken stew/soup specialty. They have the unique black garlic samgaetang which i have not had a chance to sample.

                                          2. re: vulber

                                            Not impressed with Jang Su Jang any more. Seemed to have suffered a quality drop since they opened.

                                            In general, i think the banchan in the south bay are better than Oakland's (Sura etc) ignoring number of plates but have not sampled every single Oakland joints for banchan but Oakland has very good main dishes (Sam Gye Tang @ Sura and that pork neck dish at Sahn Maru, tofu soup @ Pyung Chang Tofu for instance).

                                          3. re: andrewp

                                            I've just posted on the naeng myun at Kunjip,
                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/794423

                                            Would love to hear other opinions --- pls jump into that thread to nominate South Bay cold buckwheat noodle specialists.

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                                            Kunjip
                                            1066 Kiely Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 95051

                              2. re: andrewp

                                apparently Brothers 2 is closing (or may already be closed looking at the link in Civil Bear's post above)
                                http://sanfrancisco.grubstreet.com/20...

                                1. re: drewskiSF

                                  WHAT? Brothers 2 is better than Brothers 1! Argh! I gotta get my fix before they shut down for good!

                                  1. re: drewskiSF

                                    I also noticed today that Pho Hoa Ky next door may also be closed. All the front windows were covered w/ newspaper.

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                                    Pho Hoa Ky
                                    4012 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

                                2. In SF, I think To Hyang and Muguboka have the most interesting banchan. Sometimes a little too weird. Once, Muguboka had tiny slices of weiners mixed in with some sort of vegetable.

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                                  Muguboka Restaurant
                                  401 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94118

                                  To Hyang
                                  3815 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: sfbing

                                    I'll second both of these, with the note that To Hyang can be a little stingy with the pan chan at lunch (or if you're not Korean).

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                                    To Hyang
                                    3815 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

                                  2. Brothers #2 on Geary. Hands down awesome BBQ for late night fix!

                                    1. Though I'm partial to Koryo in Berkeley b/c it just feels like a homey neighborhood spot you'd find in Korea, I go to Han Dae Gam in San Leandro far more often b/c of their proximity to shopping. HDG's banchan is the best I've had anywhere in terms of taste and being at it's peak of either freshness or fermentation. They also make the best heh jahng gook that my family and in-laws have had in a restaurant.

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                                      Han Dae Gam
                                      1292 Davis St, San Leandro, CA 94577-2572

                                      Koryo Restaurant
                                      2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                      1. So Tuesday night we went to Geary Street figuring we'd check out To Hyang or Brother's. It was about 9:15PM
                                        There was nobody in To Hyang, and Brother's was full, so we went to Brothers.
                                        Great experience!
                                        We ordered the bbq beef short ribs and pork, grilled over mesquite coals at our table. This was definitely the most fun and best tableside grilling experience I've had. I kind of like Juban in Japantown, because I like playing with my food, but this meat was waaaaay tasty, and the coals versus gas makes a difference. And I like the medieval feel of having one guy whose job it is to carry fire through the restaurant.. Service was friendly and totally adequate, if not super duper attentive (I mention this because some yelpers seem to be upset by bad service, I did not experience this). I don't know if this is standard or not, but they comped us a very tasty spicy-soup-with-tofu-in-an-iron-pot, which I thought was really nice.

                                        The banchan (I'm learning new words!) was good. A couple of things were great -- the kimchi and pickles in general were delicious. I have limited experience and I'm no expert, but there's a place I just stumbled on a few months ago that I'd say did the banchan better, which nobody on here has mentioned:

                                        Won Mi at 1545 fillmore, near geary.

                                        Won mi also had a tasty rice pot dish. The other place I know is Seoul Garden, whose banchan I enjoyed about as much as Brothers.

                                        The quest will continue! Thanks for all your recommendations!

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                                        Seoul Garden
                                        1635 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115

                                        To Hyang
                                        3815 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: pauliface

                                          I've always gotten a "service" (complimentary) item at Brothers. This seems a much rarer practice at the Oakland Korean spots.

                                        2. The best side dishes are in Oakland. There seems to be a competition of sorts to see who can give you the biggest variety/most imaginative panchan. Sura FTW (I've gotten 20+ when going there by myself & they're pretty amazing), but Ohgane and Jong Ga House also give you a lot of colorful dishes (~14-18). Casserole House gives you about 10 and they're all good.

                                          In SF, for tasty quantity over quality your best bet is Han Il Kwan. They give you about a dozen and they're extremely generous with portions and refills. Muguboka has a nice variety, although not as generous. Same with To Hyang, but they're the best quality and I'll echo bigwheel042's comments about having some unusual items. (I've gotten sea beans as a side dish before!)

                                          Surprised to see the renewed love for Brothers here. Of all the things about that place, I've found their side dishes especially to be lackluster. Maybe I'll give it another shot one of these days.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Radical347

                                            Sura certainly wins for # of banchan and certainly some creative ones I've not seen elsewhere, but I've always gotten 1-2 that were not good (i.e. jap chae with old hard noodles).

                                          2. I went to Toyose the other night and really enjoyed it. I especially liked how it didn't really feel like any other Korean restaurant I've been to, both in terms of the interior as well as the heavy emphasis on seafood, which I really enjoyed in contrast to the typical Korean focus on meat. We had eel, sea bass, calamari and beef, and pork, and everything was delicious. They only gave us four banchan though (although as long as I get the anchovies, I'm happy)

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                                            Toyose
                                            3814 Noriega St, San Francisco, CA 94122

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: vulber

                                              Toyose is a soju bang, hence the different vibe and more limited panchan than you'd get at a restaurant such as Han Il Kwan.

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                                              Toyose
                                              3814 Noriega St, San Francisco, CA 94122

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Perhaps since some people on this thread are less familiar with Korean food terminology you could explain what a "soju bang" is and why it's different from a "restaurant" (I'd try, but I'm sure you're much better qualified than I am to describe exactly what a "soju bang" is).

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  soju = Korean distilled beverage
                                                  bang = room in Korean

                                                  so . . . a soju bang is a Korean bar / pub. usually not a full menu of dishes is offered. more Korean pub-grub.

                                                  similar to Japanese Izaka-ya.

                                                  in Oakland there's Dan Sung Sa on Telegraph

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                                                  Dan Sung Sa
                                                  2775 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                                                  1. re: drewskiSF

                                                    Cocobang in the Tenderloin is another SF soju bang.

                                                    in Oakland my new favorite is Dae Po Jib.