What’s with all the people milling around outside this spare White Center storefront? They’ve come for Korean-style fried chicken—in sandwiches, rice bowls, and served straight up with a compulsory pile of napkins. In this context Korean doesn’t imply spicy (that’s what the sauces are for), but rather a delicate, shattering crust. It’s more akin to a Pringle, in the best possible way. Chef Brian O’Connor is a veteran of Skillet Diner and Roux, as evidenced by Bok a Bok’s perfect biscuits. But the rest of the counter-service menu nods hard to the East, like a chicken sandwich with yuzu aioli and charred Korean chiles alongside the requisite spears of pickle or kimchi mac and cheese. Since first opening in 2016, O'Connor has since added two new locations—one inside The Runaway on Capitol Hill, and another in Burien.
When your houseguests clamor for a restaurant that feels like the real Seattle, set your GPS to the belly of Pike Place Market and find yourself in a glittering jewelbox that celebrates the cuisine of Korea. Sort of. Chef Heong Soon Park honors his origins with classics: braised kalbi short ribs, kimchi pork belly. But that’s just half the menu. The other half fuses Korean cuisine to, well…whatever fancy Park is flying that day. Brioche buns pack bulgogi beef, cucumber kimchi, and chili mayo for some of the most entertaining cocktail sliders in town. Kimchi fried rice—a Korean classic—goes Euro with bacon in the fiery rice and a thick crown of melted mozzarella. Yes, purists will be horrified. Heat is dialed way down from what you’d taste at the Korean mom-and-pops in Shoreline or Federal Way, but Park is in it for the converts.
Along the University District’s main restaurant-lined drag awaits chicken and beer at Chi Mac, where Korean-style, crackle-skinned wings arrive coated in parmesan and onion powder or a red, glossy glaze of tangy gochujang hot sauce. Quell any heat with beer or do the Somac Tower: a bottle of soju liquor meets a pitcher of Korean lager in a tall, tabletop dispenser. Hey, this is college territory after all.
All lofted timbers and sleek glassy surfaces at the edge the stadium district, Girin is as striking as restaurants get in this town and the first, unbelievably, to present highest-end Korean cuisine. What this means—besides bring the platinum card—is Korean steak house: marinated kalbi short ribs to dry-aged bone-in rib eyes, butchered in house to abet nose-to-tail eating. Meats are all served with ssam (herbs, leaves, and vegetables for wrapping) and banchan (a constellation of small-dish accompaniments, eggplant to nettle greens), and they’re done to perfectionist specs.
The elegant tatami rooms inside Hae-Nam Kalbi and Calamari, the stateside franchise of a Seoul favorite, seem perpetually filled with diners who may delight in the spice lurking inside an order of the marinated pork belly and calamari, or the heat—in terms of both spice and temperature—you'll encounter in a boiling bowl of kimchi jjigae, a hot stew with slices of fatty pork. The bibimbap offering has the comforting components you'd find at other joints (perfectly fried egg, bulgogi beef, fresh veggies), but the Ham-Nam specials are rarely served in other Korean restaurants and are great for sharing.
From bulgogi to kalbi ribs, Korean standards are plentiful around here, especially in the North End, where not finding a decent Korean eatery would be a story. For the panoply of other Seoul food, though, Hosoonyi Restaurant in Edmonds is a mandatory visit. Dak bulgogi with slivered, stir-fried chicken and vegetables sizzles in the bowl, fragrant with sesame oil. Fluffy pancakes studded with green onion and squid are a rainy-day Korean tradition. Sundubu jjigae is fast approaching cult status for many Seattle diners: A tureenful here, brimming with custardy tofu and hefty portions of seafood and kimchi in a salty, spicy broth is piquant, filling, and satisfying. The mackerel flank, fried crispy and sweet, is dangerously good. Banchan are generous. “Drinking snacks,” like cod intestines and pig’s feet, are happily authentic. Communication—and service—is sometimes spotty. Your patience, however, is delectably rewarded.
One of Seattle’s genuinely electrifying culinary adventures is Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi’s Korean-fusion steak house—close quarters buzzing with loud music and a lively vibe—where the humblest cuts of beef (chuck steak, short ribs) get draped in chili sauces and fermented tofu and served with sides like rice cakes with greens and chorizo or Chinese broccoli with walnut pesto, all with admirable consistency. The room is swank and modern; weekend brunch, with its serve-yourself lineup of salads and pastries, is legitimately fascinating.
When the cramped and carbon-stinky Korean Tofu House spread out into the space next door, it secured proper ventilation in the process. You may still endure a midday wait—tofu houses are the thing in Korean food right now, and Korean college kids are packing the place—but you’ll no longer leave smelling like you’ve spent your lunch break around a campfire. And you won’t spend much more than $10 for delicacies like kimchi beef sundubu jjigae, a gurgling concoction of bubbly broth and tofu funked up with fermented cabbage. It’s meaty in essence if not in actuality—just a few slices float around the pot—and when the woman comes by and offers to crack a raw egg over it, nod. It adds a viscous richness to the hearty soup.
Old Village’s dark booths deliver genuine authenticity, thanks to the old-school charcoal grills (complete with robotic grill hoods that descend from the ceiling) for browning the raw bits of marinated beef and pork bulgogi that servers slice with scissors at the table. Diners bop around to ’80s tunes (Madonna!) and try to decipher the mysteries of a muted news broadcast beamed in from Seoul while enjoying some of the best grilled meats and mushrooms around. And no need to fight over the macaroni salad—banchan servings are unlimited.
It’s eye-popping, rule-breaking Korean-fusion comfort food—pork belly kimchi or smoked herring chermoula pancakes, short rib and pickled shallot dumplings, seaweed noodle bowls with Dungeness crab and creme fraiche—temporarily served in South Lake Union while its Fremont home is redeveloped. The casual spot from the folks behind Joule is on the short list of must-visit Seattle restaurants.
Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi (of the aforementioned Joule and Revel) fuse Korean food; that’s what they do. When the two opened Trove back in 2014, they had a plan for a new concept: four different dining areas—cocktail lounge, fast-food noodle bar, Korean barbecue dining room, parfait truck—all in one space, but separate. But after years of feedback from customers, in the fall they fused everything into one cohesive restaurant and retooled the menu. The main event is still Korean barbecue: Tables have grills for DIY cooking of cuts like Wagyu chuck or pork belly with sesame salt. Take your meat off the heat, cut it with scissors, then dress it with the lettuce leaves and fresh herbs and kimchi and other Korean embellishments known as banchan and ssam—marveling as the flavors and textures ricochet around your palate, enhanced with every collision.