Eats - Korean
I predicted that Korean food would eventually
catch on, and the profusion of restaurants in Silicon Valley
and San Francisco is helping this along. It doesn't (yet)
have the cachet of Japanese food, but the dishes are interesting,
the panchan tradition totally works for my way of
eating, and the new flavors and cooking styles are always
Loose definition: Little bowls of kimchee, and other pickled, spicy, salted, crunchy, or slippery side dishes that accompany the entree.
These just show up. You don't order them.
One of the women I ate with at Korea House turned
me on to a place on El Camino that only sells panchan.
The English name is something like Side Dish House.
Go there. We've gone, and they have some interesting
things, if not the largest variety. For a massive number
of choices, go to the Korean grocery store in
Sunnyvale on El Camino Real north of Lawrence.
3379 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95051
We went to the Korean grocery store in Santa Clara for short ribs, kimchee,
and a 5-pound bag of peeled garlic. My friend had wanted me to buy garlic
at the Indian market, but I knew better. They had some great produce
and the largest selection of unusual frozen fish I've seen in the South
Bay. Check out . The most interesting food was the acorn jello, which
we actually thought was a dessert of some kind. Turns out that you eat
it with a spicy sauce. I can't recommend it.
Update April 23, 2005: They
have really cheap tabletop burners here on sale sometimes.
$9 vs. $26 at Mitsuya. True, the quality is not the
same, but for a third of the price how can you argue.
There's also a panchan-only
shop across the street where the hot dog joint used
Blue Stones Korean Restaurant
3530 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95051
Sunday Thru Thursday : 11am - 10pm, Friday and Saturday : 11am - 11pm
Lunch Special : Monday Thru Friday (11am - 2pm)
We went here by chance after seeing the line at the Pho place across the street.
This restaurant occupies what might have been an Arby's in a former life on
a busy corner near the Lawrence Expressway and El Camino Real. The menu has
a nice variety, and includes several combinations of beef, pork, or seafood
starting at about $30. I take it that these are cooked at the table by the
I was tempted but my friend said he wasn't
that hungry. We opted instead for meat dumplings or mandu (the
Korean variation of potstickers/gyoza) and tofu soup, which
is 90% tofu, broth (ordered from "white"—completely
without chili—to very spicy), plus the meat of your
choice. I opted for pork, my friend opted for seafood. We
waited maybe 10 mins. for our food, which started with two
covered bowls of white rice plus panchan: chili daikon chunks,
gently-cooked soybean sprouts, shredded daikon, stewed beef
with garlic, regular napa cabbage kimchi, barely cooked azuki
beans in a sweetish sauce (highly addictive), and one more
thing I can't recall.
The meat dumplings arrived along with the tofu
soup. The were a bit greasy, but the meat filling was very
evenly textured. I wouldn't order these again. The tofu soup
was very good. The raw egg had already been added below a
pile of enoki mushrooms and nori seaweed. There
was more pork than at Tofu House, and my friend's seafood
version was loaded with periwinkles, small whole shrimp,
tiny clams, oysters, squid, etc. etc. I was like they had
cast a net in the ocean. My friend who wasn't hungry finished
every drop. The bill was $27 before tip, a good deal for
the amount of food. We'll be back to try the combinations,
which looked fantastic. I should note that entire Asian families
were still showing up when we left around 9:30, so if you're
a late eater you have a new option. 08/15/2004
Update 8/28/2004 - We return
to Blue Stones for an all meat meal. I'm going to have
order this again, because I have the feeling that some
dishes just aren't served depending on who you go with.
Update 7/24/2005 - We return
for lunch. I have the combination tofu stew which is just
as I expected. I ordered it spicy this time, which is hot
enough to give your tongue a little burn, but not eye-wateringly
spicy. It was a hot day, so the sweat beading on my forehead
felt good. We also had the green onion pancake appetizer
which was flecked with seafood and had a wonderful texture
and dipping sauce—easily enough for six people, so we took
more than half home. My friend ordered bibimbop; it was
a big portion and looked fine. Panchan: eight dishes (bean
sprouts in sesame oil, those little sweet black beans,
cabbage kimchi, three kinds of daikon, and this amazing
little two-tones egg white omelet with white sesame seeds.
A dish of the yam noodles also came as a side dish. Dessert
was a sweetish, cool drink with tiny grains of rice flour
(I love this stuff). Service was attentive and fast as
1723 Buchanan St. (in the little pedestrian alley across
from Japan Town)
San Francisco, CA 94115
Literally "tofu" in Korean. I think I was swayed by this place because one of
the panchan was a small, whole deep fried fish. There were four other panchan
as well. We had tofu soup with seafood (good with oyster, clams, etc.), BBQ pork
(good), and BBQ beef (also good). They give out tiny plastic bottles of sweet
yogurt drink at the end. Super fun time. $35.70 before tip.
We'll be back. Feb 10, 2008
Hot Pot City
500 Barber Lane
Milpitas, CA 95035
Open 7 days a week, late night special after 10 p.m.
One of the many hot pot/BBQ joints in town, although this one has a nice selection of meats (lamb, several varities of beef, pork, and chicken) and seafood (shrimp, squid, mussels, etc.). Admittedly, I still don't understand the ritual of hot pot eating; I general just grill some meats, add a bunch of veggies and tofu to the pot, and make do. This is a fairly large restaurant, so getting a table is easy. Soft drinks are included. Desserts include tapioca, almond jello, a large selection of fruit, and shaved ice/beans/condensed milk. Service is stoic but efficient. Lunch for two: $26. 03/02
Jang Soo BBQ
6314 Geary Blvd. (between 28th and
San Francisco, CA 94121
We had a GREAT lunch here. Lots of panchan, food was very good, and the service
was perfect. My boyfriend had raw meat bibimbop-style dish called "yuk hwe bibimbab"
and I had grilled mackeral "go deung au gui" which was perfectly done. More on
this later because we plan on going back. Korean food is really looking up in
May 18, 2008: We return
for a late lunch/dinner and again the food was very good,
if a little pricey. We ordered BBQ, which was cooked for
us. The quality was good, but not great. Panchan are very
good though, so we still enjoyed ourselves. Compared to
the Tofu House (near the bottom of this page), I'd give
the nod to this place just because it has such an interesting
menu. For two, price before tip was $47.65.
Korea BBQ Buffet
1783 W. San Carlos
San Jose, CA 95128
We've actually been going here for a few years now, but I finally found a receipt
showing how much we paid. Dinner for two before tip is $43.20, which is about
on par with most all-you-can-eat Korean BBQs. This one is in a fairly rundown
strip mall next to a cowboy clothing store where I used to buy cowboy boots.
It's got about 14 cooktops, with a long buffet running down the middle of the
room, which is very plain and dowdy.
The fun thing here is that the people
that run it are convinced I'm at least part Korean, so
they always speak to me in Hangol, even though I respond
in English. Since I enjoy feeling like an idiot, this arrangement
works well. I'll have to say that it's the overwhelming
friendliness of the staff that keeps us coming back.
The meat selection is good and there are many things to
choose from, but the panchan selection can't touch Palace
BBQ. They also usually have a few "Western" dishes (Jello,
oddball salads) that are probably best left alone. Sept
2340 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95050
11:30 a.m. -11:30 p.m.
Went with Greg, Michael, and a group of his friends from Stanford: Jiwon, who is Korean; Sui Mae who is Chinese; and Mary Ann who is Japanese. We had the Asian bases covered.
We started with cellophane noodles with black pepper and pickles, which were similar to Taiwanese-style noodles but a bit thicker. These had great texture and were a perfect, light start. Then came the bowls of panchan, which was awe inspiring.
I'm used to getting panchan in tiny bowls, but these were almost meal-size portions and great quality:
- fresh lettuce and green onion kimchee*
- regular napa kimchee
- potato kimchee
- tiny dried fish in chili oil
- pieces of fried fish
- small pieces of battered fried chicken in a sweet glaze
- spicy pickled cucumbers
- sliced rice jello
- fantastic sliced mushrooms with green onion
- pressed fried fish cake (sort of like Japanese kamoboko, but with a smoother texture
- seasoned nori sprinkled with salt
- fresh romaine lettuce leaves
- beansprouts in toasted sesame oil
*You must try the fresh kimchee. It's addictive.
The waitress kept bringing bowl after bowl.
Our entrees, by the way were beef kalbi, pork kalbi, fried or salt-baked (couldn't tell) king fish, and a spicy tofu soup. The king fish was interesting, somewhere in between mackeral and trout. Bowls of steamed rice rounded things out.
Side note: Jiwon said that her dad told her fish eyes were "brain food;" my mom used to do this too when I was growing up.
The waitress was very eager to show me how to make a lettuce wrap. First a dab of fermented soy paste (similar to Japanese red miso), then some nori, then some kimchee, then some beef, then some rice, then some beansprouts...you get the picture. Jiwon mentioned that it isn't impolite to stuff your mouth, so that's what I did. The tally was $80 including tip for six peoplea serious bargain. Jiwon also mentioned that she thought Korea House has the best panchan in town. Even Michael really enjoyed the meal, which is unusual given his normally picky eating habits. We'll be back.
12/04 - We return for dinner, and
WHAT a dinner. If you're new to Korean food, order
one of the dinner combos. We chose the bulgogi and octopus
two-person combination for two-people. The latter was
pretty bad, so I'd chose something else, but the rest of
plus a visit from the hostess which is always a treat
(you'll understand when you meet her; she's awesome).
My boyfriend Scott had a great time.
2297 Stevens Creek Blvd
San Jose, CA 95128
Rating: **** www.koreanpalace.com
We went here for an impromptu lunch. We
started with oyster egg dumplings gul jun, which were fantasticlight, with very fresh small oysters, served with a thin dipping sauce.
I ordered kal bi (sliced BBQ short ribs) and my friend had bulgogi. The lunch menu doesn't include do it yourself BBQ; it's done in the kitchen. The panchan, the array of appetizers and pickles, included a napa cabbage kimchee, a daikon kimchee, a marinated seaweed, and a translucent mung bean "tofu" in a spicy sauce. The latter I'd never had before; the texture was smooth without being slippery. The kal bi came with a small portion of marinated mung bean sprouts, soybean
sprouts, and spinach.
Service was attentive and helpful. The dining room is traditional with BBQ burners inset into the perimeter tables. 04/04
Palace Korean BBQ
1092 E. El Camino Real
Lunch 11:30am-3pm; dinner 5-10pm; closed Mon.
I've actually been here a couple of times before this, but I was in
the mood for BBQ, so I hauled the boyfriend and my friend Ken along. The interesting
thing about this place, other than the utter lack of ambience (think McDonalds),
is that it's actually quite expensive, so go with a BIG appetite. Cost for dinner
for three was $76.17 before tip. That's with two sodas and hot tea. The usual
Korean buffet BBQ meats were available, and they were all good quality. There's
a separate dessert and cold salad bar, plus a bar with some interesting panchan
like broiled fish. Still, I'm amazed at the price. I must be getting old. And
1610 El Camino Real
San Bruno, CA 94066
11 a.m. - 11 p.m. every day www.seoulkalbi.com
This restaurant is about three miles north of the Bart/Caltrain/SFO
transportation center on the east side of El Camino Real.
(Thanks to Neil for sending me their website URL!) My boss
took me here for lunch, and we had the combination special.
Soup, bulgogi, broiled strong-smelling fish, a nice
selection of 5-6 panchan and rice cooked to order with peas.
I'm still a big fan of panchan selections, especially when there's a selection
of sesame-flavored, chili-spiked, and salty flavors with
different textures. 03/03
3450 E. El Camino Real, Suite 105
Santa Clara, CA 95051
We went here because we found out Afghani House is closed
on Saturday afternoons. Tucked in a Walgreen's minimall, Tofu
House isn't fancy; don't be put off by the frosted
windows hide the interior; it's a simple white room and the
staff is very friendly.
You order individually, so I opted
for tofu (spicy) in a chili sauce
with grilled pork
which arrived bubbling hot in a metal bowl and stayed
that hot for the entire meal. The portion is
although be warned that this is 99% tofu, 1% pork. They bring
it with a raw egg, which my friend John instructed me to
crack into the bubbling stew. I've been craving eggs lately
for some reason, so this worked out nicely.
The waitress arrived with a heavy covered stone
bowl with the rice. This is a fantastic way to prepare rice
since there's a crispy browned skin that forms against the
sides of the bowl. The waitress may ask if you want "rice
soup" which means she'll pour water into the stone bowl to
soften the rice crust. I'd recommend you decline and stick
with the crispy rice crust. Panchan includes four different
types of chili kimchee plus some water kimchee in a strangely
Overall, a very satisfying, simple meal. We'll
be back. This would be fantastic as a late night meal. 07/04
NEW - Toyose
3814 Noriega St
San Francisco, CA 94122
This is a strange little place in the garage of a house about
four blocks from the ocean on Noriega. My boyfriend lives
about a block away so we've actually been here quite a few
times over the past four years. At first we thought it was
just a bar, since it's only open at night and there are no
windows. The atmosphere on weekends is like walking into
a house party in Seoul. Don't expect a quiet dinner because
there will be dozens of 20-somethings screaming and laughing.
The menu here has odd
dishes, such as pork feet, but we typically stick to the
standards which are all good, solid renditions. If I was
going to recommend anything here, I'd get the big omelette
with the seafood inside. Service can be spotty because there's
always so much going on, but we've never been unhappy. Dinner
for two: $37.31 before tip. August 8, 2008