Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3547 18th. 504-888-0654. Map.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
New Orleans seems able to support only one high-profile Korean restaurant at a time. First came Genghis Khan. Gimchi came and went in a year (2009). Meanwhile Korea House–an unassuming, little-known cafe in Fat City–has served spectacular and ethnically true versions of this exciting cuisine.
If you’re not familiar with Korean cooking, think of the big bowls of brothy soups in Vietnamese places, the high pepper levels in Thai cafes, Chinese fried rice, and grilled, marinated meats like Japanese teriyaki. It has all those qualitys, but a flavor all its own, easy to love. The family that runs Korea House will steer you toward the most interesting dishes. High on that list is a unique dish called bibimbab, the Korean fried rice, made at the table in a searing hot stone bowl with eggs, vegetables, beef, chicken, or whatever. The same idea is accomplished with noodles, or without. The soups–particularly the seafood version–are the equal of the best pho you ever ate. It will require more than one trip to dig all this. Even though entree prices are just a shade over $10, you won’t have room for anything else except the pepper-hot pickled vegetables called kimchee.
The restaurant opened in the late 1980s, and has never made much noise about itself. Since it was right in the middle of flashy Fat City, around the corner from Drago’s, a lot of people wondered whether it was actually open. For a short time, the place claimed to serve sushi, but I never saw it there, and lately a sign there says “No sushi.”
A continuous renovation makes the dining room look nicer every time I go, although it’s still simple and clean in its lines. It is certainly much nicer inside than the exterior would have you imagine.
Mandoo (boiled or fried dumplings).
Hae mul pa jun (stir-fried seafood, a Korean crabcake, sort of).
Bok kum with squid or octopus (pan-fried and spicy).
Bibimbob with seafood or beef (best of all with raw beef).
Man doo kuk (dumplings and rice cake soup).
Tang soup (spicy, made with a wide choice of ingredients).
Jam boong bob (seafood and vegetable soup).
Jun gol (gigantic hot pots for several people, made with some very exotic meats).
Jam bong (seafood and vegetable soup).
Steamed or fried whole fish.
Bul go gi (marinated meats–many choices–grilled at the table).
Kimchee (complimentary side dish).
FOR BEST RESULTS
Although the Korean national dish is the charcoal-grilled beef called bulgogi, make sure the soups, bibimbab, and dumplings are on the table before ordering that.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Some work on the exterior and a little effort to get the word out would put more customers in the place, which would make the first-timers feel better.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency +2
- Value +3
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The more ethnic of the two local Korean restaurants here, this small, plain place serves up big bowls of steaming, whole-meal soups, platters of grilled meats, and various other creations in seafood, poultry, and meat. All of this is accompanied by many small dishes of pickled vegetables, sauces of various degrees of hotness (some are as hot as anything you could possibly eat), and other unexpected delights. The best meals you will eat here are the soups, which are much more substantial than those you’re familiar with and make for more than ample meals. There’s a list of Chinese dishes, but if you order that stuff you’re missing the point.