when i moved to chicago, i heard that there was a fairly substantial korean population. as a former angeleno, i sighed with relief, as i anticipated a decent selection of korean food. unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a large number of korean restaurants, and the variety is not too good (although i am glad there is at least one soon tofu place, and ssyang, a ssam gae tang place).
korean bbq here is especially confusing. i've been to most of the restaurants (with the exception of woo chon, that's this week's target), and the quality of everything widely varied with each visit.
kang nam is lauded on metromix as maybe the best in the city. my sister, a chicago resident, never went because everyone in the korean community said that the place was not clean. we went the other day and had a mixed meal - hae mul pah jun (seafood pancake) and kalbi. the pah jun was terrible (not "pasty" enough, weird imitation crab, no oysters, or at least it tasted like no oysters, which is the best part). the kalbi was decent - seasoning was right, all the right condiments (shredded onion, bean paste, garlic, lettuce) plus one i haven't seen eaten with kalbi (thin crosswise slices of mu/radish). pan chan was par - all the standards plus the spicy crab
hai woon dae seems to be the most supported korean restaurant on chowhound. i will say that it is probably the best value, but it seems more like a homestyle place than a professional restaurant (maybe that's part of the charm). suffice it to say that this place is like eating at "the relative's who knows how to cook." i think the pan chan here is excellent, as is the pah jun. the kalbi is so so (seasoning was off), and the ssam gyob sal (pork belly) was also just okay (not fatty enough). all in all, a good meal for the price.
which brings me to chicago kalbi. first, this is a korean owned place but it caters to a japanese clientele. so if you're korean, and you try speaking korean with the wait staff, don't be surprised by the blank looks. second, this is not a place where you get a ton of food for the money. korean bbq has a rep for being a good bang for the buck, but chicago kalbi leans more towards smaller portions and artful presentation (which i think is a little silly for raw meat which is going to be tossed on the grill, but whatever floats your boat). that said, the quality of the meat and the seasoning are top-notch, right up there with my favorites in l.a. it can get expensive for korean bbq (two people can usually polish off an appetizer and three plates of meat, with entrees around $17). however, given the choice, i would rather pay more and go to chicago kalbi.
3752 w lawrence