I thought I'd start an updated thread on the state of Korean food in Charlotte, as the last one I found was from 2006 and a new restaurant has just opened up, and at least two others are here but don't seem to be widely known.
The one that just opened up is Cho Won Garden (www.chowongarden.org) at 2501 Crownpoint Executive Drive, Charlotte, NC 28277. The address is deceiving because it actually faces Independence, and you can't miss it on your right as you drive away from uptown.
Tricia Childress of Creative Loafing wrote a full review on it in August that was more descriptive than critical, so I won't repeat any of that. Also, I saw an article that they got two low inspection scores, which they claimed based on inexperience. Low scores from ethnic restaurants don't always kill a place for me, but it may for some.
I've eaten at Cho Won twice, getting grilled marinated short ribs (Kalbi Gui) once, and stir-fried bean thread noodles another time. The second time I also got the pan fried seafood pancake, which is a really popular Korean dish, as an appetizer. (Side note for full disclosure: I'm not Korean, but I'm a foodie and culinary student and I've read a lot about Korean food and eaten a decent amount of it). Both times I ate with my mom and she got seafood and tofu soup/stew, and of course we got a full complement of Banchans, the little side dishes Koreans eat with their meals.
My overall impression of Cho Won Garden based on the two visits is that they've spent a lot of money on location and decor to appeal to a more non-Korean audience, and maybe that will help them gain popularity where other Korean places haven't. But they may not as popular with Koreans as the other two places in Charlotte because their prices are higher and food may not be as authentic in subtle ways. The sauce on the barbecue ribs was a lot sweeter than I've had before, and their seafood pancake had very little seafood and what was there was this frozen seafood mix with mostly calamari that you see in Asian groceries. There wasn't even much green onions, so overall the the pancake was a dud. Their Banchans are good, and they had a couple of pickled fish and tofu Banchans in addition to the mostly kimchi variety I got at Korean Restaurant. If you want an intro to Korean food or you're dining with people who want a nice atmosphere in a non-threatening-looking part of town, this may be your best bet right now. I hope for the sake of spreading Korean food that they stay around.
Going down the line in atmosphere and up in authenticity is Korean Restaurant at 6404 Albemarle Road. Yes, that's their name, according to the sign. The location was a Japanese place and called "Kyoto Japanese" years ago, and I guess at some point the present owners expanded and added "/Korean Restaurant" to the name and then took off "Kyoto Japanese" and kept the second part of the sign. The place occupies two adjoining standard-strip mall spaces in a shopping center that has seen much better days. But this place is definitely where Koreans families go to eat in Charlotte -- I've been there three times, and it was filled with Korean customers every time, once for a big birthday party that took up half the place. I've never seen a non-Asian there, and usually I'm the only non-Korean. But the staff is English-fluent and friendly, and the place is clean, though plain in decor.
As for the food, their seafood pancake is excellent, with fresh oysters and shrimp and calamari and plenty of green onions. I got their blood sausage one time, which I had only read about and never seen on a menu. They served that as a main entree with banchan, though I would probably prefer it by itself as an appetizer -- a big plate of blood sausage is just too much for one sitting. It was good, and also came with boiled, sliced pig's ear that I wasn't crazy about. I will actually eat pig's ear (I'm Chinese, and we'll eat just about anything), but theirs didn't have much seasoning to it. I don't know if Koreans like it that way, but it didn't do it for me. I got a beef and kimchee stew another time, and it was very good for only around $9 and came with all the banchans. I went for lunch once and saw several Korean men, each eating by himself, and they were all having some kind of soup with rice and banchan, so I've started doing the same. I still haven't had their barbecue yet because I'm working my way through the soups, but I'll update when I do. This is my favorite of the three Korean places in Charlotte and my kind of place -- where working-guys of the culture go to have lunch by themselves on a weekday.
Wow, this post is dragging out. But I'll just mention the last place I know about, which is called something like Pe Pi Ro, a little cafe in the back of a Korean grocery store on Monroe road near Highway 51. I've only eaten there once because everything is in Korean and the cook/counter person doesn't speak much English (yet very friendly and helpful), but they have a full menu with pictures and the food was good. I've shopped there since and always saw Korean customers eating, always a good sign. You place your order at the counter and everything is served in styrofoam. I think I'll go there again to get a better sense of their food and I'll update when I do.
Ok, so how about it fellow Chowhounds? Let's talk Korean food. What's good to get, where to get it, in Charlotte or elsewhere you've had it. Don't leave me hanging after I got carried away on a boring evening and wrote all this!
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