1802 West Henderson Road
Restaurant Silla (pronounced SHILL-uh) dances on the border of what might or might not fall under the umbrella of alt.eats. Going against it is its longevity (in operation for 20 years) and the scads of reviews that paper the entry and give us every reason to believe it has been more than adequately covered. On the other side of things, it’s in a location that you’d never find if you weren’t on a mission (see photo above), and in spite of all of the coverage very few people seem to know about it.
That last part seems a shame, as Silla puts out some great Korean food. So, here goes…
Silla occupies a large space – on the order of twice what you see above – and includes a bar, sushi bar, and a stage for karaoke and other diversions. Cleanliness is an obvious priority.
Service was great. By reputation, this isn’t always the case – aside from the occasional grumbling you come across online, we’ve heard stories to the effect that non-Koreans have been strongly encouraged to stay within a ‘foreigner friendly’ range of menu offerings. We experienced nothing of the sort on our visit, though, and we hope that means they’ve sorted through the issue.
Our fried soft shell crab appetizer and banchan came out first. The crab, served on a bed of lettuce with a lemon slice, was nicely fried (not too oily), pleasantly crunchy, and only minimally fishy. Banchan included bean sprouts, marinated cucumbers, pan fried potatoes, and three types of kimchee (cabbage, turnip, and cucumber). All were good, and the non-kimchee offerings pleased with the flavor of sesame oil.
The first dish we tried was oh sam bul go gi –squid and pork mixed with vegetables in a spicy sauce. The sauce was sweet, garlicky, and appeared to be kimchee based (which is to say hot), and coated the tender slices of pork, slightly chewier than ideal squid, and crisp vegetables. A few jalapenos were thrown into the mix, just to drive the dish’s sinus clearing mission home.
Next, the beef bul go gi, which had been sizzling away in a cast iron pan atop a portable burner. It was brought to the table cooked rare, and the burner allowed us to finish to our liking. It’s a simple dish – marinated beef with green onion and garlic in the mix, and unsurprisingly, a crowd pleaser.
As was the kalbi – another straightforward beef dish, and one that a) always feels like a waste of an opportunity to try more novel Korean fare, and b) I am unapologetically smitten by, especially as prepared by Silla. What could be simpler – beef ribs marinated in soy sauce, garlic, and sugar? The magic is in the execution, in how Silla gets that grill-charred exterior without sacrificing tenderness. The big beef flavor of this dish should take the edge off of the sharpest of steak cravings.
On previous trips, we’ve tried the bi bim bap as well as a few other items, and all were solid. Silla has a significant sushi offering, but we have not yet sampled from it. There are several vegetarian offerings (though strict vegetarians should inquire about sauces), and pescetarians should be very happy here.