The Korean district in Spring Branch is known for its barbecue and banchan, but did you know that Asiatown is home to dozens of markets and restaurants catering to Korean culinary demands? Below is a segment from a multi-part feature on Korean food in Asiatown.
DINING-OUT NOTES & TIPS
English spelling of Korean words is tricky. “K” is often “G,” “P” is often “B” and “J” may be “Ch.” A single “t” may be a double “tt” (usually pronounced almost like a “d”), and a single “k” may be a double “kk” (pronounced almost like a hard “g”). The “eo” in many words, such as Seoul, is not a flat “o” but it’s definitely not ee-oh. It’s not an easy sound to replicate, but if you stay with a flat “o,” you’ll be fine.
Korean meals should be a mix of colors, tastes, smells and textures that reflect um (Korean for yin: greens, fruits, pungent, cold), yang (roots, meats, spicy, fried) and the primary colors of nature (red, green, yellow, white, black) and their many blends. In order to have all these on one table, you need a lot of banchan (photo below).
In addition to banchan, almost all meals come with boricha (Korean barley tea that is served cold in summer, warm in winter), soup (often a broth) and rice. Some places serve japgokbap (purple rice) – it’s fabulous. Desserts are uncommon, often complimentary fresh fruit.
Never pour your own drink. And when receiving booze from an elder person, hold the glass forward with both hands with your head bowed. Drink all in one shot and return the favor.
KOREAN EATERIES IN ASIATOWN
9715 Bellaire Blvd.
There once was a Chinese/Korean place next door called Dumpling King, the undisputed king of mandu (Korean dumplings). Sadly, they closed, but Arirang has proudly carried on the local mandu mantle. The other reason to go is all-you-can-eat marinated meats (pork, galbi, bulgogi, chicken), cooked on a table grill – a steal at $19.95.
Go Hyang Jib
5860 Ranchester (in Young’s Convenience Store)
It’s located inside a convenience store in a squalid strip center near Harwin. There are no signs – just go in, turn left and order from the friendly counter staff. One of the few places serving the traditional ox bone brisket soup seolleongtang. Another must is the kimchi fried rice – ask for it inside an omelet (a classic dish called omurice, particularly scrumptious with a smear of gochujang).
H Mart (grocery store)
9896 Bellaire Blvd.
A smaller, less-Korean version of the massive Super H Mart in Spring Branch and without much of a food court. It’s still the best place to shop on the Bellaire Strip.
Han Kook Kwan
9140 Bellaire Blvd.
Look for the English words “Korean Barbecue.” The servers, who speak more Mandarin than Korean, are friendly and astute. Order the japchae (glass noodles stir-fried with vegetables and meat), hobakjeon (massive zucchini pancake), bulgogi and jajangmyeon (noodles cooked in black soybean paste). In addition to banchan, meals include a complimentary salad bar.
Jang Guem Tofu & BBQ House
9896 Bellaire Blvd.
The best sundubu jigae (spicy soft tofu stew, photo above) in town is just one reason Jang Guem is perpetually full, mostly with Koreans, but the servers are very helpful with wehgukin (non-Koreans). The banchan includes a perfect oi sobagi and potato salad as good as Grandma’s.
10603 Bellaire Blvd.
This is the first American outpost of Lim’s, the originator of what we call Korean fried chicken, created in Seoul 40 years ago. It’s excellent, but the less costly version at Super H Mart’s Toreore in Spring Branch is still Houston’s best.
8508 Bellaire Blvd.
The food is superb, but what makes LP particularly pleasant is the gracious, attentive service. They serve some of the best mandu (Korean dumplings, photo above) and japchae (glass noodles stir-fried with vegetables and meat, photo below) in town, and don’t pass up the grilled meat combos on the back page.
The latest from Mike Tran, owner of Tiger Den, Mein and Night Market. Ohn is described as a “Korean dive bar” serving soju, makgeolli, maekju and Korean bar food. The vibe is smooth and Seoulful, and the flavors are brilliant. Arrive early if you don’t want to wait – this could be a deal-changer for Asiatown and H-Town.
9889 Bellaire Blvd.
The tofu soups are better at Jang Guem Tofu House across the street, but the pajeon (pancakes), especially the haemul pajeon (seafood pancake), and the magnificent nakji bokeum (stir-fried baby octopus) are the best in town.