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Korean food can be intimidating to newcomers with its fiery-red colors and funky fermented aromas. But don’t be scared. Although many Korean dishes are red from peppers, they’re generally not as hot as they look.
Gochugaru, the red pepper flake commonly used in seasonings and marinades, is typically low on the heat scale. Milder versions are usually favored so that more of it can be used for the vibrant color. Gochujang and ssamjang are sweet and milder than sriracha, but pack much deeper flavor thanks to fermented soybeans.
Fermented foods such as kimchi can be more of an acquired taste. Thankfully, most Korean restaurants present banchan, an assortment of small plates, at the beginning of every meal for diners to nibble on. Traditional napa cabbage kimchi is always a must, but other varieties such as bean sprout kimchi, pickled radish, stir-fried fish cake, and even potato salad are in the mix so it’s easy for picky eaters to discover something they’ll enjoy.
Jump into the main courses to find an Asian version of soul food filled with nourishing, flavorful dishes, soups, and stews that will defeat any soju-induced hangover.
Tucson has several restaurants that aren’t Korean restaurants but offer a few Korean dishes, including but not limited to:
However, this article focuses on Korean restaurants that have more than just a handful of Korean entrees. Here’s our list starting with our most-favorite.
It’s hard to go wrong at Kimchi Time. The yuk gae jang and kimchi chigae are spicy soups that rival the revitalization power of menudo, while the beef or chicken bulgogi on a sizzling cast iron plate will impress any Korean food newbie. The kimchi fried rice with pork, ham, and a fried egg on top sounds simple, but the kimchi adds complexity that makes it hard to stop eating. For a social experience, order one of the combination specials that include a bottle of soju.
For more information, visit Kimchi Time on Yelp.
For a Korean street food favorite, order the Ddeok Beok Ki. Rice cakes, fish cakes (similar to imitation crab but with more chew), and onions are slathered in a spicy gochujang. If you can’t get enough of their kimchi, they’re happy to sell you a large take-home portion. Though Seoul Kitchen also offers Japanese dishes, the Korean dishes are where their soul resides.
For more information, visit seoulkitchentucson.com.
Conventional tabletop seats and private booths are popular choices, but choose the low-tables with floor seating for a unique experience. Start with the Fried Mandoo, which are deep-fried dumplings filled with beef. For a fun Korean classic, order the Hot Stone Bibeem Bop (more commonly spelled ‘bibimbap’). Once the sizzling bowl arrives at the table, crack into the yolk and stir everything together, adding gochujang to taste.
For more information, visit Korea House on Yelp.
While Takamatsu is popular for their all-you-can-eat sushi, teppanyaki, and Korean barbecue, they also offer a fleshed out Korean dinner menu. Rarer options include Hye Dup Bap, a raw fish rice bowl similar to ahi poke, and Cha Jhang Myun, spaghetti-like noodles topped with pork and vegetables in a black bean sauce. The yellow radish on the side unfortunately tastes strongly of artificial sweetener, so take a small bite first to gauge if you’d like it. If you opt to grill your own Korean barbecue, the beef tongue bursts with beefy flavor while the beef deckle is ideal for those who appreciate rich fattiness.
For more information, visit takatucson.net.
Where’s your favorite Korean food in Tucson? Let us know in the comments.