Category Archives: Korean

Bonchon

bonchon chicken columbus, korean fried chicken Korean
3586 Dublin Granville Rd
Columbus, OH 43235
(614) 389-4026
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If you want a good sense of how your food offering will play across the US, you bring it to Columbus. Conventional wisdom has it that we’ll tell you what’ll make the cut, and in practice we often do.

And so, I suspect, it goes with Bonchon, a South Korea-based fried chicken franchise that has recently opened it’s first heartland location in the 161/Sawmill area.

Korean fried chicken has received tons of hype on the coasts, and Bonchon’s rendition has garnered no small portion of it – the graphics in the vestibule boast of the publications they have been glowingly reviewed in, including the NY Times and Esquire.

Bonchon’s primary proposition is simple – you can get wings, drumsticks, or chicken strips (the only white meat option), lacquered with either a (not so terribly) spicy (but fairly) sweet sauce, or a more deeply savory soy-garlic sauce. Whichever chicken cut you choose, it’ll go through the vaunted Korean-style double fry process, which creates a skin so crispy that it doesn’t so much crumble upon taking a bite as shatter into shards of crunchy goodness.

Korean fried chicken

Curious though it may sound, it has to be emphasized – this is not just a novelty. Aside from the alluring texture, the double fry technique intensifies the flavor of the skin, almost entirely banishes greasiness, and preserves the moistness of the flesh exceptionally well.

In other words, it’s something truly new in fried chicken, a genre that so often leads with hype, and then follows up with a minutely distinguishable spin on more of the same. Bonchon chicken is very different, and very good. If you enjoy fried chicken, you owe it to yourself to check it out. If you’re on the fence with the sauces, order ‘half & half’ and you’ll get to try some of both. Having done so myself, I’ll be back for the soy-garlic.

Beyond chicken, Bonchon offers a range of Korean and Japanese style apps and main dishes. They could be great, but I suspect I’ll never be able to speak to them from experience – when I’m there, I’m pretty sure I’ll be there for the wings.


Lotte

Korean Market columbus ohio

Cuisine: Korean
4944 N High St, Columbus, 43214
614.885.3232
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Tuesday -Saturday 11-8pm (last order 7.30pm)

I have a sneaking suspicion that Korean restaurants are trying to hide from us.
The whole idea behind strip malls is that every storefront faces the parking lot, but Silla somehow manages to be tucked away behind a bar, accessible only by going down a forbidding path between the walls of two buildings. Arirang, another strip mall location, is a grocery with a restaurant in the back. You could shop the entire retail space without even knowing that the (essentially walled off) dining area existed. A solid restaurant with a primarily Korean menu on north campus hides in plain sight behind the name ‘Japanese Oriental Restaurant’. And, finally, does anyone remember the Korean restaurant on Lane & High in the ’90’s? It was stuck so far back in a building that the only way to get there was by going down a dank, dimly neon lit, vaguely Blade Runner-esque corridor.
lotte korean food columbus
Now there’s Lotte, an established Korean grocery with a new secret. Towards the back of their sizable retail area there’s an entry to a storage room. Enter, and you’ll see sacks of rice piled high among various other palleted goods. And a door. Enter that, and you’ll find their shiny new restaurant. And, if you’ve actually made it this far, chances are you’ve made your first mistake; you order at the grocery checkout, and take the receipt – which is your order ticket – to the employee working the counter in the restaurant.
lotte oriental food restaurant
The dining area is bright, clean, cramped, and no-frills. Like Arirang, water is self-serve from a dispenser and utensils are stored on boxes at the tables. Also like Arirang, the menu is small and largely focuses on better known Korean favorites, such as bulgogi, bibimbop, and kimbop. Service was brisk, and our orders arrived quickly.
korean grocery store columbus
All were solid, if not exceptional… at least until you factor in the pricing. Our group of 7 ordered the entire menu, ate almost to the point of bursting, took home leftovers, and paid just over $50 for the whole spread.
this is what happens when you order the whole menu
I’m tempted to think of it Korean fast food – it’s not the best, but it’s fast, cheap, and will take the edgy off of any Korean cravings.
lotte oriental new restaurant
Lotte probably has the widest selection of the three dedicated Korean markets in Columbus, including a large selection of prepared foods and banchan dishes. The staff are also helpful.
korean ingredients columbus
One last note – #5 on the menu is not translated into English, and it’s what we believe to be a regional Korean spin on kalbi tang stew (Woogeoji galbitang – beef rib and cabbage soup with soybean paste). This is the only place we’ve seen it in Columbus, and it’s a deeply vegetal beef broth soup with generous chunks of beef. Definitely worth a try if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary.

korean beef rib and cabbage soup

Min Ga

Cuisine: Korean

800 Bethel Rd 43214
(614) 457-7331
Hours – 11.30-10pm daily (open until 11pm on Fri., Sat.)

Click here to map it!

Min Ga is a restaurant that, for us, has always seemed to quietly fade into the background. It’s been around forever, and on previous visits always struck us as the epitome of ‘not bad’ with a dash of ‘hmmm… that seemed a bit expensive’. A nice enough option to have out there, I suppose, but not exactly the sort of place you jump out of bed eager to write about.

So, when we asked the owner of a Korean grocery store for restaurant recommendations and he suggested Min Ga, we were a bit surprised. Ultimately, though, his recounting of a change of management there was all we needed to give the place another shot.

These kimchi dumplings were a thing of beauty – pork, kimchi, and a surprising quantity of soup broth all tidily wrapped up in a wonton-like pouch. The flavors melded seamlessly, with kimchi flavor being obvious but not overly dominant (and contributing little in the way of spicy heat). These disappeared quickly. Word to the wise, though – eat these in one bite, or you’ll be wearing the broth.

I’ve long been a big fan of the Korean seafood pancake, and Min Ga’s version is as good as any I’ve had. Bits of almost every sea creature imaginable (including scallop, mussels, squid, octopus…), are mixed into this moist, dense, bread-like savory pancake. With a bit of the included soy-chili sauce (a little of this salty concoction goes a long way), these pizza wedge cut slices of seafoody goodness are pure contentment.

Our first main was the tofu pork bokum – big blocks of steamed tofu and a generous serving of pork & kimchi topped with sesame seeds and green onions. If the dumplings hinted at it, this dish confirmed – pork and kimchi are meant to be together. Moderate levels of spicy heat mingled with earthy, tangy, porkiness to form a dish that was enjoyed not only at the table but also as a leftover the next day. Tofu should feel lucky to have such a delicious saucy topping to carry it.

Kalbi, marinated and grilled beef short rib meat, is a another longtime favorite, and I’m now a big fan of Min Ga’s version. The meat is extremely juicy and has a big beef flavor, and the taste of the careful char is perfection. The subtly sweet marinade accompanies well and never overwhelms. Many is the time I’ve eaten at a steakhouse and thought I’d rather be having this dish, and Min Ga’s rendition will probably be what I’ll be longing for the next time.

Finally, we tried the soondae guk – Korean sausage soup, described on the menu as ‘soondae soup with vegetable and pig heart and pig intestine’. The (above) top photo shows the soup, and the bottom is the sausage that was served as a side to be put into the soup.  As my experience with Korean soups is limited, allow me to quote a relevant passage from Wikipedia:

“The third category of soups is gomguk or gomtang, and they are made from boiling beef bones or cartilage. Originating as a peasant dish, all parts of beef are used, including tail, leg and rib bones with or without meat attached; these are boiled in water to extract fat, marrow, and gelatin to create a rich soup. Some versions of this soup may also use the beef head and intestines. The only seasoning generally used in the soup is salt.”

Switch up beef with pork and you’ve got the idea. The soup itself was surprisingly bland (tasting of little more than a meat stock with a pinch of salt) and the sausage was packed with rice and had the iron-like flavor and deep red-purple color that I’d associate with a blood sausage. This dish appeared to be a special, and it fell flat for us not because of the off-cuts and other unusual ingredients – which largely just assumed the flavor of the broth – but because of the absence of any real depth of flavor. The wikipedia passage above suggests that this is at least somewhat intentional, and as we’ve encountered similar soups before at other Korean restaurants (and had similar reactions to them), I’m inclined to file it under ‘things I just don’t quite understand’.

As expected, a wide variety of banchan (small, complimentary cold sides) came with our meal. All were enjoyed…

…which also makes for a pretty good encapsulation of the whole experience. Entree prices seemed reasonable ($10 – $20, with most $15 or less), though app prices seemed incongruously inflated ($8 – $25 and every point in between, excluding the $5.00 edamame). Cost perhaps seems a bit more reasonable when the complimentary banchan is thrown into the equation.

Tea Zone

korean food columbus, korean bakery, tea, shaved ice
Cuisine: Korean
5025 Olentangy River Rd
http://www.teazonebakery.com
614.326.0489 or 614.582.2409
Hours: 10am-8pm (9pm on weekends)

Click here to map it!

It may be Tea Zone by name, but it’s a bakery/cafe/restaurant/tea shop by nature. The address is also a little confusing – they’re tucked away deep in a strip mall, between Gallo’s Tap Room and Micro Center off Bethel Road.

Tea Zone’s offerings struck us as largely bakery-centric with Korean-style bread and pastries as well as cakes to order. The pastries range from kimchi rolls (surprisingly sweet and very good) to piggies in blanket (a hot dog in a slightly sweet bread base) to sweet pea and red bean paste (both enjoyed). There is a large variety, especially earlier in the day.

korean bakery columbus

There are three traditional low tea tables, set on a raised wooden platform with a submerged area for your legs to dangle. Not unlike a Japanese tatami room, you must take off your shoes. There are also some regular tables and chairs and a brisk take out business.

Tea Zone’s food menu is limited and includes popular Korean dishes such as bulgogi and bibimbap (not stone pot). While the bibimbap was fine, the bulgogi was far from the best in town. Each came with soup, salad and kimchi. You can also order udon, cold noodles, spicy seafood with rice even spaghetti with garlic toast.

korean food in columbus, tea zone

A pot of tea (shared between two) is $4.25 and comes with some little Pocky-esque cookie sticks. There are over 20 teas to choose from and Tea Zone also serves bubble tea, smoothies, hot chocolate, juice and coffee. Most of the teas are loose leaf, although I did notice some herbal tea bags. Our Pu-er tea came in a scoop accompanied by a flask of hot water and a 3 minute timer.

korean tea columbus
Perhaps one of the best reasons to go to Tea Zone is for the bing soo, a Korean shaved ice dessert (although it is listed on the drinks menu). Tea Zone offers 3 varieties: fruit, regular and green tea. We opted for the regular. It is a large dish of shaved ice topped with condensed milk, sweet red bean paste, tapioca pearls, fresh and canned fruits, and ice cream. The fruit option has less red bean paste and the green tea option has green tea ice cream.

Korean shaved ice, tea zone, columbus

Bing soo is similar to other shaved ice desserts found in Asia. Tea Zone’s version is definitely large enough to share. It is quite sweet but refreshing and would be wonderful on a hot afternoon.

Restaurant Silla

Cuisine: Korean
1802 West Henderson Road
614.459.5990

Click here to map it!

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.