Food Tour: Korean
Check out these authentic dishes at five different restaurant's in Oakland's Kimchi Row.
Photo by Cindy Chew // Illustration by Roderick Mills
Food Tour: Korean
There’s something about Korean food that gets down into your soul and stays there, creating a recurring craving that can only be satiated by the cuisine’s signature, palate-arousing blend of spicy, sweet, salty, sour, even pungent flavors. Nearly four decades after my Korean mother gave me my first taste of kimchi, I remain absolutely obsessed with the cuisine—the sweet and savory grilled meats, the spicy tofu stews in individual earthenware pots, the panoply of colorful side dishes that accompanies every Korean meal, including, of course, the red chili–bathed kimchi.
After traveling through Korea and exploring San Francisco, I thought I’d discovered it all—and then I moved to Oakland and happened upon “Kimchi Row,” a stretch of Telegraph Avenue that’s peppered with restaurants offering some of the most authentic Korean cuisine this side of the Pacific. Here are a few of my favorite dishes.
Heuk Yum So Tang
(Sizzling Black Goat Stew)
You’ll be hard-pressed to find this dish served anywhere else in the Bay Area, and chances are you’ve never tasted anything like it. I worried that I’d be put off by the meat’s gaminess, but now I can’t get enough of the tender chunks of mild goat served with vegetables and sesame leaves in a mini stone cauldron of spicy broth.
Sahn Maru, 4315 Telegraph Ave., (510) 653-3366, sahnmarukoreanbbq.com.
(Black Bean Sauce Noodles)
Adopted from the Chinese a century ago, this dish of wheat-flour noodles smothered in a black bean paste flavored with pork and vegetables (pictured above) is the epitome of Korean comfort food. Enjoy it with raw sweet onions, neon yellow pickled daikon, and kimchi. Happy slurping.
Koryo Jajang, 4390 Telegraph Ave., (510) 652-3900, koryojajang.orengeo.com.
(Braised Beef Short Ribs)
A glistening heap of delicious fall-off-the-bone beef ribs (pictured below) lies in a broth of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and sugar—all complemented with daikon, carrot, yellow and red bell pepper, mushrooms, red currants, and a garnish of julienned omelet strips and scallions.
Sura, 4869 Telegraph Ave., (510) 654-9292.
(Silken Tofu Stew)
Rich, bubbling stone pots of peppery red tofu soup are offered nine different ways (from meat to seafood to veggie-only varieties) and with five degrees of spiciness. Hitting the table first is velvety white rice in an earthenware bowl and then banchan, seriously flavorful side dishes: cabbage and cucumber kimchi, tofu curds with parsley, and steamed potatoes in sweetened soy sauce.
Pyeong Chang Tofu House, 4701 Telegraph Ave., (510) 658-9040, pyeongchang.orengeo.com.
(Barbecued Beef Short Ribs)
General Manager Young Lee won’t reveal the recipe for Ohgane’s magical marinade, but it’s likely to include sesame oil, sugar, soy sauce, scallions, and garlic. Ask to grill the meat at your table: It’s more of a party that way. Ohgane uses mesquite wood that’s been soaked in water. The result is a slower burn and an addictively smoky flavor.
Ohgane, 3915 Broadway, (510) 594-8300, ohgane.com.