There may be no better communal dining experience than Korean barbecue: friends and family gathered around a fired-up tabletop and up to their ears with various cuts of meat and fish, as well as all the fermented fixings and sides.
And the Windy City has its fair share of excellent Korean establishments. The next time you need your fix, head to one of these five restaurants:
What It Is: A cozy BYOB mainstay in Lincoln Square serving Korean classics for over 30 years.
What Our Inspectors Say: “As tempted as you might be to judge this book by its brisk, unsmiling cover, don’t. Instead, enter the cozy, wood-paneled den and raise that first delicious forkful to your mouth.”
What to Order: Cook up chaldol-gui (thinly-sliced beef), soyang-gui (beef tripe in house specialty sauce) and chukumi-gui (sliced baby octopus) via the tabletop stone pan.
What It Is: A Wicker Park destination for classic bibimbap.
What Our Inspectors Say: “Healthy doesn’t have to be humdrum. This simple little Korean eatery, run by a husband-and-wife team and decorated with more than a hint of whimsy, specializes in big bowls of bibimbap. You choose your rice and protein, be it pork or barbecue beef, decide on the heat level and then dive straight in—up to 16 different vegetables are used and they’re as tasty as they are colorful.”
What to Order: Indeed, bibimbap is what you come here for, but En Hakkore also specializes in paratha tacos. Choose between spicy pork or Korean barbecue beef, both served with kimchi, onion, mushroom, cilantro, lettuce and house sauce.
What It Is: Jennifer Kim's Korean-American story in restaurant form.
What Our Inspectors Say: "Indeed, the window advertises 'fun Korean fare.' However, chef/owner Jennifer Kim honed her skills in Italian kitchens, so expect a cultural collision. It’s a delightful surprise, one that welcomes a steady stream of area dwellers who arrive hungry for bright, bold and creative flavors."
What to Order: "Bay scallop crudo with a house-made XO sauce is another prime example of this Italian-Korean mashup," per inspectors. "Then, pan-fried rice cakes with a lamb ragù hint at gnocchi, while Pelicana chicken is delicately fried and coated with a sweet and sticky red pepper glaze."
What It Is: A contemporary Korean restaurant in the heart of Andersonville.
What Our Inspectors Say: “A sexy spot on a bustling stretch of North Clark, Jin Ju spins out luscious Korean classics with aplomb. Inside, dim lighting, dark wood furnishings and luxuriant fuchsia-red walls create a sophisticated coziness, while servers are gracious and attentive.”
What to Order: Start off the meal with daeji kalbi—barbeque pork spare ribs marinated in a red pepper sauce—or kimchi-filled dumplings, before moving onto one of the many bibimbaps on offer. Traditional bulgogi is also up for grabs.
What It Is: A nondescript Korean BBQ spot housed in an Uptown strip mall.
What Our Inspectors Say: “The surging popularity of Korean food continues to flourish along these shores of Lake Michigan. And as foodies would have you know, Gogi is one of the best places in the city to experience it. With its hip, industrial décor, imposing exhaust fans over each table (a clear sign that there’s a ton of grilling going on) and lively blend of sweet, spicy and sour flavors, dinner here promises to be a sensory explosion like no other.”
What to Order: “One could feast on the abundant pre-meal banchan alone—a stunning selection of kimchi, Mirin-soaked fish cakes, sake-steamed black beans and more,” per Michelin inspectors. “But, that would mean missing out on delicate slices of sirloin bulgogi smothered in a sweet, gingery marinade; or restorative, spicy sundubu jjigae bubbling away in an iron pot.”
What It Is: A Korean barbecue institution that just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
What Our Inspectors Say: “Inside, you’ll find a warm, welcoming space with large tabletop grills to cook your own meats. Most excitingly, the authentic, traditional dishes turned out of the kitchen don't bow or cater to Western sensibilities—to wit, an incredibly flavorful bowl of piping hot goat meat soup arrives with wild sesame green leaves and a flutter of seeds.”
What to Order: Casseroles and stews, like the spicy boodae jungol with potatoes and pork bone meat, or the saeng a-gu tang with fresh monk fish and a load of vegetables.
Images courtesy of Tim McCoy/Jin Ju.