Even among foodies, Korean cuisine does not get its due and that’s even more the case in San Francisco. As I searched for ways to get my kimchi on, I can’t tell you how many people told me to look elsewhere. Some even said I had to go all the way down to Los Angeles if I wanted the good stuff. Well, naysayers, behold: these six eateries will help you put a little Seoul in your disbelieving bellies.
The Richmond is like the mecca of Korean food in this city, and Brothers is one of its better known eateries. Unlike some of the other Korean restaurants in SF, Brothers offers a no-frills environment. It’s a bit like a diner seen through a Korean lens. Though the kalbi (barbecue short ribs) is quite popular, I would recommend the fried beef dumplings. If you dip them into the accompanying sauce (a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, and scallions), you won’t go wrong.
4128 Geary, SF. (415) 387-7991
Not far from Brothers geographically, Namu is on the other side of the universe in terms of vibe. Its minimalist decor and predilection for playing Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass provides a little bit of hipness and dare I say, sexiness to an otherwise sleepy and seemingly sexless block on Balboa. Namu is billed as an Asian fusion place, but don’t let that stop you. The bibimbap (a Korean stew made of veggies, rice, and egg served in a clay pot) is tasty and the ingredients are wonderfully fresh. (Local and organically grown veggies are used when possible.) And if that didn’t sell you, try one of the desserts the bean paste/chocolate cupcake gives new meaning to the word goodness.
439 Balboa, SF. (415) 386-8332
If you want a more traditional Korean eating experience, complete with a variety of delicious banchan (the side dishes that traditionally accompany every Korean meal), then Korea House is a good place to start. Located in the heart of Japantown for some reason, a number of nicer Korean restaurants are located there Korea House has an old-school formality to it. It’s the type of place where plush carpets encourage hushed voices, which is too bad because the bulgogi (barbecue beef) is so good that it’ll make you want to holler. Please don’t.
1640 Post, SF. (415) 563-1388
JOHN’S SNACK AND DELI
Until about three years ago, if you were slogging away in the Financial District, you were out of luck when it came to Korean food. But then John came to the rescue. For less than ten bucks, he and his mom who works right next to him at the counter provide you Starbucks-loving folk with some pretty fine Korean fare. The menu is limited, but each dish comes with rice, a salad topped with a snappy ginger dressing, and a side of kimchi. And for those of you who just want to snack, there’s kimbap (Korean-style vegetarian sushi roll) for around $3. You go, John!
40 Battery, SF. (415) 434-4634
OK, so you’re thinking, yeah, Korean sounds good, but I want a hangout, too. Well, brothers and sisters, I hear you and the answer is Cocobang. With Korean music videos projected on the back wall, Cocobang is a great place to get both your Korean food and liquor needs satisfied. There are two-liter bottles of Korean beer at the ready, and soju (think vodka) chasers to be had. And because the official closing time is 2 a.m., it’s a good place to end your night. As for the food, the fire chicken came highly recommended, but being more a lover of the cow, I opted for kalbi, which had a marinade nothing short of awesome it was like Memphis meets Seoul, it was as though … I’ll just say it: the guys at Cocobang are truly bringing the world closer together, one barbecue at a time.
550 Taylor, SF. (415) 292-5144
SEOUL ON WHEELS
Last, and certainly not least, there’s Seoul on Wheels. True to its name, this food truck combines two of my favorite things: the streets and the meats. Julia Yoon (the owner and mastermind) doesn’t stay in any one place too long, but you can find her route on her Web site. Once you do find her, though, you won’t be disappointed. For six bucks by far the cheapest Korean on my list you get a meat dish with rice and japchae (a vegetable and noodle dish). You can opt for the kimchi fried rice, one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. The food is made fresh to order when not driving, Julia and her assistant are cooking up the goods, which makes Seoul on Wheels truly a movable feast worth finding.
Locations vary throughout SF. www.seoulonwheels.com