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Cafe Soo in Raleigh

If you've been jonesing for Korean fried chicken, you can now get it in Raleigh. If you've never had KFC, now is a great time to try it. Cafe Soo opened about 3 months ago on Hillsborough St. across from the bell tower a few doors over from Schoolkids Records.

The menu is Korean-Japanese. The Japanese selection is not surprising: tempura, udon, gyoza, teriyaki, and tonkatsu. Go for the Korean. First off, they have Korean fried chicken. If you've never had it before, this is what every chicken hopes to be. The chicken is double-fried, shatteringly crispy, hot, juicy, and coated in a sticky delicious napalm of a sauce. Cafe Soo offers 3 sauce choices; sweet, soy garlic, and hot & spicy. The soy garlic was on the very sweet side with a little kick of ginger. It's offered here in whole or half chicken and, in what I guess may be a concession to American eating habits, popcorn chicken and tenders. It's served with a side of pickled daikon, similar to the Vietnamese daikon served on bahn mi.

They also serve samgyupsal (grilled pork belly). If you're not Asian you may be asked if you know what you're ordering. Order it. The meat is served simply grilled, meant to be rolled in lettuce leaves with ssamjang, rice, and grilled garlic. There is a dipping sauce of sesame oil, salt, and pepper which cuts the heaviness of the fatty meat beautifully.

There are rice bowls which include galbi, bulgogi, tangsooyook (a Korean version of Chinese sweet and sour), and bimbimbap. They serve assorted ssams, including bossam, by special order. The even have hwedubbab (Korean sashimi salad).

The decor is minimal, to say the least. This is a quick serve, not fine dining. The couple who own the place are very friendly and concerned that you enjoy your meal. They moved here recently from Flushing and are still adjusting to the different pace of life here.

If you're familiar with the Bon Chon or Kyo Chon chains, the chicken here is a little different but still quite good. If you live close enough to do take-out this is the perfect food for the game. All in all, a welcome addition to the local scene.

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  1. I love Korean fried chicken. It's a great introduction to Korean cuisine for the uninitiated. I think galbi is too. Galbi or kalbi is a rack of beef ribs cut across the bones. The thin pieces of beef are then grilled and brushed with a sauce of ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. We've served this dish few times for company and it's always a hit.

    1. I got a takeout order of 1/2 chicken (consists of 8 pieces) today with the soy garlic sauce. Really delicious!

      Chicken was made to order and took about 20 minutes. The take out order didn't come with the pickled daikon. The sauce wasn't sweet - had a pleasant hint of bitterness and a mild kick. This chicken is unbelievably crispy. The only negative was the torture of having to wait for it to cool down enough to pick up the pieces! Left overs were still crispy when I put them in the fridge at home an hour and a half later.

      For those not familiar with the area be aware that parking can be tricky! Very limited number of spaces in front of the restaurant.

      1. Sounds awesome! Thanks for the heads-up!

        1. Next time I'm going to Raleigh area solo and need a good lunch spot I'm checking it out.

          1. I'm posting this here since I haven't tried them but I'm hearing good things about another new Korean place in Raleigh called Kimbap. They try to source locally, e.g., pork from Farm Hard. Anyone tried them yet?


            3 Replies
            1. re: bbqme

              I haven't been, but from what I've read and heard from a friend who lives nearby, it seems to be kinda Korean for hipsters. It may still be good though, for all I know.

              To add a little follow-up to Cafe Soo - I tried the bulkogi there yesterday. Don't bother. It tastes mostly like a sweet stir fry. The bibimbap isn't too bad, but is much better at Seoul Garden. I'll still stand by my recommendations of the KFC and samgyupsal, though.

              1. re: bbqme

                It is run by a lady named Kim (thus the name in this case). It is in Seaboard station.

                1. re: bbqme

                  My friends that live in the neighborhood behind Seaboard went to Kimbap last week and really liked it, but I'm not sure what they ordered, though.

                2. I've had the Korean Fried Chicken as Soos. Delicious!!

                  Highly recommended.

                  Pro tip: Even if you're dining in, call ahead with orders for the fried chicken. They make if fresh, and it takes about 15 minutes to come up.

                  1. Just tagging on here --- the 4 of us went to Kimbap at Seaboard Station in Raleigh on Saturday night. Our two friends and I had been there a few times before, but our first visit. It was totally awesome, delish, and fresh. Got a variety of the dumplings, rice rolls, and veggie sides. I loved the sesame greens - YUM! The wine menu was attractively priced and the (I think) lemongrass crème brûlée was lovely.

                    I'm not vegetarian or gluten-free, but they have plenty of options for those dietary restrictions as well.

                    Definitely will be back very soon.


                    1. Finally got take-out from Cafe Soo tonight. Did 10 popcorn chicken of soy & garlic sauce and 10 of the original sweet. The third choice of sauce was hot & spicy. I'm glad to I did not get that --- both the original and garlic/soy are plenty spicy for my tastes - plenty spicy! Also, the sauce is almost like a light caramel, for lack of a better description, because it sticks to my teeth like crazy.

                      OK, enough of the negatives. It is delicious. Absolutely scrumptious! Those of you in the know, do you think the sauce can be made any less spicy? BF doesn't like hot spicy food at all, and while I like my food to have flavor, it is still a little spicy for my taste.

                      Really sweet folks working there. Can't wait to try some other of their dishes.

                      1. Get it while you can! A hotel is planned for that stretch of Hillsborough that will take down Soo and several other businesses as well: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/0...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: JulesNoctambule

                          Wow, that's moving along faster than I anticipated.
                          Hopefully the parking will be better where ever they land.

                        2. I finally tried Soo and have since been back about 2-3 times. Delicious. I like the bulgogi and the chicken of course.

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: panthur

                            I don't think I'll ever get there before the area is bulldozed for nonsensical construction.

                            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                              I tried Soo Café after reading many favorable reviews and the Fried chicken did not disappoint. The bad news is that a hotel is getting ready to be built on the site of their current location. The good news is that they have location plans and I think it is a much better spot than where they are currently. They will be moving to the Stonybrook Shopping Center on Capital Blvd. That will open up the place for many new customers and be more convenient for many more returning ones.

                              1. re: Jesco

                                Yay!!!! That is so much closer to my office than their Hillsborough St. location. I've got a new place for lunch now and another reason to have to hit the treadmill even harder. I wish them lots of luck in their move.

                                1. re: rockycat

                                  And unlike (most) places here in the Chapel Hill area, you can actually park where you eat your lunch.

                                2. re: Jesco

                                  I wonder if this will be in the "mall" section of the shopping center. I haven't been in that section since a few months after the last incarnation of the grocery store closed, but there used to be several food options back there.

                                  Soo Café could really help revive this shopping center!

                                  1. re: meatn3

                                    I hope it works for them, that Pho/Sushi place didn't last too long. Could that be where they are going?

                                    1. re: chazzer

                                      That's a lot of square footage to support. I hope to be back in town in a week or so and will drive by!

                                      Either way, this location will increase my visits. And parking will be much less of a challenge.


                                      1. re: chazzer

                                        I stopped by today and Soo Café IS going into the old Fortune Palace location.

                                        The signage has not changed but they are actively remodeling. I spoke to a man who indicated a Dec.opening!

                                          1. re: Erika RollerGirl

                                            We need to have a chow meet over there...

                                      2. re: meatn3

                                        Just an update on the "mall" area where the food court had been. That area is now part of the new thrift store which went onto the old grocery store. They expanded and take up the entire area.

                                3. I stopped at the new location today. The large (expensive to replace) signage still is the old one. But new signage is above the windows. They also have reviews and such along with a coming soon announcement but no date as of yet.

                                  11 Replies
                                  1. re: meatn3

                                    Hi. Does anyone know if the new place has ever opened?

                                    1. re: bkohler

                                      I drove by last week and no change. I'll be nearby today and will try to take a look.

                                      1. re: meatn3

                                        Still the same...probably awaiting inspections.

                                        1. re: meatn3

                                          I can't wait...

                                          Sorry to hijack this but where else in the triangle besides Seoul garden can I do cook your own Korean barbecue?

                                          1. re: sierrarot328i

                                            They have the grill tables at Korean Garden in Cary too don't they?

                                            1. re: sierrarot328i

                                              I'd like to know, too! We had a poor experience at Seoul Garden.

                                              1. re: Tehama

                                                Wife and I went to Korean Garden a few weeks ago. We did the bulgogi grill (she doesn't like bones so no galbi :-/). Had to ask the guy if it was ok to do the grill myself and he was fine with it.

                                                Taste was not bad as the marinade could have been stronger. Price was like $40 for two but be careful with gratuity as they automatically add 18% to the bill. I guess they are under the assumption that no one other than Koreans would want to come to a restaurant to cook your own food. This applies to Seoul Garden too as the waitress looked at us like deer in the headlights when we went there for the first time.

                                                1. re: Tehama

                                                  I'm curious,Tehama. What was bad about the experience? I've been going there for years and the worst I've seen is that they don't make the Spouse's soon doo boo as spicy as he'd like. We've pretty much got them trained now, though. :-)

                                                  Seriously though. What happened?

                                                  1. re: rockycat

                                                    Hey! Well, I cannot remember the proper name of what I ordered, but it was the recommendation of the waitress and turned out to be this weird, über-mushy conglomeration with a very high-spice content and the combination of the texture and off-putting taste ….was… well, just terrible. And I love to try all new things, but whatever it was was icky and I only had a few bites. I *think* the BF finished his, but I just asked him if he remembered what he ordered and he said it was "completely forgettable." So… not a good experience, but perhaps there are some things on their menu that are much better.

                                                    1. re: Tehama

                                                      Sounds more like whatever you got was really not to your taste. I've certainly had that experience in more than a few restaurants. I'm actually glad to hear that the problem was not something like hopelessly rude or inept service or green meat or something like that. But I am kind of curious now about what it was you were served. :-)

                                                  2. re: Tehama

                                                    It's funny to me, my family has always enjoyed the food there but my sister-in-law's family hates the place.

                                                    I don't know why but regardless of restaurant I gotta have the bones... :-)

                                        2. As of 1/31 there is still no opening date listed. They have replaced the old sign on the building so it is easier to spot.

                                          1. They've now got Soo Korean Restaurant (or something like that) on the Stonybrook Shopping Center sign when you pass it on Capital!

                                            Anyone know if they've finally opened?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Erika RollerGirl

                                              I called up the new number and the lady I talked to indicated they are ready to open but still waiting on final inspections and they hope to be open next weekend around the 15th

                                              1. re: Jesco

                                                Hmm, exactly the sort of under the radar place I like to go for Valentine's Day.

                                            2. I was told on the phone just now that they are open.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: D R C

                                                I just called. They are having a soft opening at 5pm today.

                                                THEY HAVE COOK IT YOURSELF KOREAN BBQ!!!!! (not tonight though but that's ok)

                                                1. re: sierrarot328i

                                                  Too bad we already have tonight's dinner planned. Otherwise I know where I'd be.

                                                  1. re: sierrarot328i

                                                    Do tell me more about the "cook it yourself" I don't think I've gone to a restaurant before where I had to do the cooking. Sounds sort of fun, though!

                                                    1. re: Tehama

                                                      It's fairly standard for Korean restaurants - if the local fire code allows. I believe that's why Seoul Garden in Raleigh does the grill tables and the Korean restaurant in Cary does not.

                                                      There's a gas grill embedded in the center of the table and a strong exhaust fan overhead. When you order dishes that are based on grilled meat, such as bulgoki or kalbi or others, you are brought the raw marinated meat and scallions and maybe some other vegetable odds and ends and - wait for it - you cook it yourself on the grill.

                                                      If you are not Asian, not eating with Asians, or have not told the waitstaff emphatically that you know what you are doing, they will frequently do the cooking at the table for you. If you're completely unfamiliar with the process it's not a bad idea to let them do it and learn for next time.

                                                      1. re: rockycat

                                                        Thanks! (Yes, I do remember seeing those grills at Sooul Garden, come to think of it). I appreciate the info!

                                                2. We went today for lunch. They're on a reduced menu until next week - currently only selling the Korean fried chicken and salad and edamame.

                                                  We had never eaten there before (but have had Korean fried chicken at other establishments) and enjoyed the chicken with the soy and garlic sauce. It was very good, we enjoyed it.

                                                  I'd like to go back once the grill is up and running. I didn't see any grill tables however there were table cloths covering some of the smaller tables so perhaps they were under there or perhaps they have yet to be delivered? I'm not sure.

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: Erika RollerGirl

                                                    Definitely a reduced menu this weekend - no kimchi, pickled daikon, or any other banchan even though we requested it :-). Very good chicken though, and can't wait to try the expanded menu when it's available.

                                                    1. re: D R C

                                                      Did they ever do banchan? Didn't know it was THAT kind of Korean restaurant. Thought they mainly did the fried chicken thing. The Korean fried chicken places I went to in NYC didn't do banchan.

                                                      1. re: TerryG

                                                        Just pickled daikon and kimchi in my limited experience there, none of the other things that can show up at a full-menu Korean place.

                                                    2. re: Erika RollerGirl

                                                      I stopped in for some soy garlic chicken and it was good as always. I asked about the grill and the lady indicated that the grilling would be done in the kitchen, no grills in the dining area which I imagine means the kitchen cooks do grilling and none by customers

                                                      1. re: Jesco

                                                        Oh no...

                                                        The guy must've lied to me or they have a problem with fire code or don't wanna deal with liability. Did you see any vents/hoods in the dining area?

                                                    3. We went to Cafe Soo for a late lunch today and it's pretty much like everyone else said. No, they are not at all set up for tabletop grilling and it does not look as if they have any plans in that direction. Kimchi and pickled daikon are available and both must be requested. I do wish that the daikon would come out automatically with the chicken. though.

                                                      They've redecorated a little since the place was Fortune Garden. It's a large space and I really hope they'll be able to keep things going. The chicken still takes a while to come out so don't go if you're in a big hurry. Still, the food is cooked to order so that will take time and the menu does note that the chicken takes at least 15 minutes.

                                                      FWIW, 1 seaweed salad, 1 miso soup, and a half chicken was quite enough for lunch for 2. Rice is available for an additional charge with the chicken but doesn't seem necessary.

                                                      The menu is as follows:

                                                      Shrimp Tempura
                                                      Vegetables Tempura
                                                      Fried Vegetables Gyoza
                                                      Angus Beef Short Rib Skewer
                                                      Seaweed Salad
                                                      House Salad
                                                      Miso Soup

                                                      Fried Chicken (plain or one sauce only)
                                                      Original/Soga/NC H & S
                                                      6 wings
                                                      10 wings
                                                      5 tenders
                                                      10 tenders
                                                      10 pops
                                                      20 pops
                                                      Half Chicken
                                                      Whole Chicken

                                                      Fried Shrimp
                                                      5 pieces
                                                      10 pieces

                                                      Angus Beef Galbi
                                                      Angus Beef Bulgogi
                                                      Spicy Angus Beef Bulgogi
                                                      Spicy Pork Bulgogi
                                                      Spicy Chicken Bulgogi

                                                      Angus Beef Galbi
                                                      Dae-ji Galbi
                                                      Angus Beef Bulgogi
                                                      Spicy Angus Beef Bulgogi
                                                      Spicy pork

                                                      Noodle Soup

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: rockycat

                                                        Oh yeah, and the KFC is still really, really good.