Every country takes the food of their immigrants and makes it their own. In Italy, it’s “Italianized” and mild. In America, it is supersized. But, as the US is a country of many immigrants, the food melds and blends seamlessly across menus.
Case in point, I recently went to Pho-Cue in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a hipster vibe-y place that could easily be in Oakland, California, or London, England. The staff have tattoos and shaved manbuns. The food is a mix of Vietnamese food, pan-Asian food, and American barbecue.
The barbecue was too strong for the pho soup but I like that they tried. The banh mi sandwiches were gigonormous.
The best thing were the pork belly “chips” — because why not take a fatty pork belly and deep fry it? It’s almost the American way.
After living in Rome, it was nice to get both pho and barbecue of high caliber.
There are only 12 so that makes it easier. I am listing the restaurants on flavor, authenticity, and selection.
Seoul: This place was filled with Koreans and the atmosphere is more family than business lunch. They have no mandu (dumplings) but otherwise a full menu. The service was fast and the flavors were authentic. Not a wide variety of panchan but at least the kimchi was okay. This is on the south side (also figuratively) of Termini. This newly renovated place is down in a basement and I think it is located where the previous highly rate Hana was once located. I would go back.
Starbaps: This tiny three high table top take out place has five things on the menu (bento box, rice bowls, dumplings, rice cakes, and soup) but the flavor is authentic. But it annoys me that they deep fry their mandu as this destroys any “chew” factor. I go back all the time.
Gainn: Perfectly acceptable place to eat Korean. Elegant enough for a nice meal. Near Termini on the nice side. Probably would take newbies here.
Hancook: New restaurant, pleasant atmosphere. They are a bit south of the center. The seafood pancake was good, but the bulgogi was bad. It tasted blah. The japchae noodles were excellent. They had no beef mandu (dumplings) but have small deep fried scallion gyoza. They also have pork dumplings in a money sack shape were “sold out” when I visited. The pork, seafood, and tofu stew was spicy and okay. The rice was not sticky Korean rice. The restaurant looks nice but there were not too many Koreans eating there even though the owner is Korean and the waitress is also Korean. She bops around in her mom jean shorts and speaks Italian. Might go back.
Jangbaeksan/Chang Bai Shan: It’s Chinese Korean. Perfectly acceptable Korean food. A bit far out down south of the center of town. Might go back.
Da Lui Bian BBQ: This place is listed as a yakitori (meat on stick in Japanese) place but the photos show Korean items. The Korean items are all fine. The bulgogi was more like roastbeef so not too sinewy. This place is also near the center of town so convenient. Might go back.
Kombi Ni Ni: is a pan Asian place but they do make some Korean items. Very generic pan Asian but okay if your live nearby. It is actually a Korean owned shop but they are doing well enough that it takes 90 minutes to get the food so it is best to order online. I liked their fried chicken but it could have been fried anything. Good though. The kimbap (like sushi rolls/maki but these are with beef) were good too. No kimchi served with meals/bento boxes. A bit like Starbaps. Too far away to go back to.
Mamma Coreana/Corea: This is a bit like eating at a Korean mamma’s house. They have all you can eat which includes some basics including rice and soup. There are a few a la carte items but not much of a menu. When the food is done, it’s done. This is bare bones, TV on, children running around, businessmen on video calls with wife while eating, kind of place. I might go back.
Arirang: The food was very average, the location and facade make it a hole in the wall. This is the place that I’ve seen from when driving around Termini… I even walked around twice looking for this place with the Korean painted frontage… and then I searched on Google Earth… finally, I found it by reading other lists of Korean restaurants in Rome, but I clicked on the image search instead of the regular search. Read that list here. I would not go back.
I-gio: This is possibly the most trendy of the Korean restaurants. The restaurant is elegant. The food was okay but I didn’t find it good enough to finish or take home. I would not go back.
Galbi: This was another strange frankenstein of a place. The menu is made for Italians. If you want the food served more Korean style, the owner will do so. I wish him good luck, but I would not go here for Korean food. I might go back to grill steak on the mini grill for an Instagram video. Would not go back.
CLOSED: Biwon: Sad. I did not finish the food and I left quickly. Now called Sura, much better.
There are two other restaurants listed on Google but…
Kumkan-san: way outside Rome, near Ciampino airport. Temporarily closed.
Rist.coreano: Outside the ring road around Rome. I think this is only for organized tour groups and I don’t think this is really open to the public.
And then there are places with Korean food on the menu:
Raviolieri: It’s not Korean but while many restaurants are trying to get a piece of the “Korean chicken wing” action, this place actual has several pages of Korean items on their menu. The items are fusion Roman-Korean.
Most of the restaurants now make “Korean chicken” wings but they are not. They are chicken wings. Some have sauce. It is not the same as the ethereal rice flour wings of real Korean chicken wings.
I know that it is the general convention that dishes, food, is best tasted at the source. I think that does some disservice to the diaspora and fusion food that has evolved over the millennia. That said, here is a list of food that I often crave. Actually, for many of the dishes, I prefer in their newer form. But, then again… some I prefer at the source.
Ceviche — I like the classic old fashioned version. The Peruvians love fusion. They are a fusion and so is their food. So now one can find “warm ceviche” and ceviche not made with fish.
Danish hotdog — I prefer them in Denmark. The actual hotdog is special, the ketchup is different, the dog is served with crunchy fried onions… New York pizza — also, one of those things. Some say that the New York pizza is like a Neopolitan pizza from Naples, Italy. We shall see… Hamburger — Some of the best I’ve had are in the United States. American beef and lack of gristle in the mix. Banh mi — I’ve had good ones outside of Vietnam. Pho — Also, good in the certain parts of the United States. Very bland in other places. Korean BBQ — If one sticks to the pork belly, then it’s fairly easy to get good Korean barbecue in many countries. I think that many people think that bulgogi should be made with a high grade of beef and grilled at the table. Traditionally, bulgogi was created to use bad cuts of meat that required marinating. Usually the slices are so thin that grilling at the table dries them out. Some places use good cuts of steak and then one can dip them in sesame seed oil and salt. This is a delicious way to eat barbecue. Chicken wings — Oddly, some of the best barbecue wings I’ve had were in a pizzeria in New Mexico. Dim sum — can be good in many places outside China.
Laksa — so far the best I’ve had, and even some of the mediocre, was in Singapore and Malaysia. What can I say?
Most of all, the food of other lands transports you to them.
It’s not Punta Cana. I hear that Punta Cana is popular. Instead, the beaches at Las Terrenas are not as populated. Hardly anyone to be seen. Which is slightly surprising considering all the villas and hotels on the beach.
I was lucky to get driven there so I don’t know how to get there. But, I do know that we paid many tolls of hefty amounts (as in 8 bucks, 8 there, etc.) in Dominican cash. The drive took about three hours and went through an area of natural beauty.
Along the way, we stopped for some famous barbecue, at a gas station. It’s the Gran Parador Bellamar, Autopista Nordeste, Carretera Samana KM 1, Santo Domingo. After the first toll. It’s a good pitstop with toilet, cash machine, kiosk, etc.
We rented a luxury villa. I think there were enough beds for 10 or more people, and it was a good party house. But, also great for relaxing. Our villa cost $500 per night but I’m sure there are much cheaper options.
So pack up the cooler with drinks and food! You can probably find a colmado that will deliver!
On the way back, we stopped for some chicharron. Chicharron is pork rind but with meat attached. It’s not like pork rinds in the U.S. This is like greasy barbecue.
I can’t tell you the location because it simply appeared, like magic.
The larger than life Jamaican woman is the event. Sure, go for the ribs and potatoes too. Plus the German beer. But, mainly, it’s a good place to drink and carouse. Carolina, the Jamaican German who owns this place makes this one of those places where you feel welcome. (If you like fancy places, look away now.) It’s a self service sort of place, or rather, self order. There are various men and boys, like the baker’s son, who will deliver your food to you, but you order stuff inside. This is a place where the water is the most expensive item on the menu. A lunch plate for two of ribs and potatoes (split open like hot cross buns and soaked in chives and butter), with meatball thrown in, cost around 545 pesos ($10). The potatoes are golden mega-nuggets of comfort. Carolina (great name for a lady who serves barbecue) serves grilled ribs, sausages, meatballs, and she sells them too. The addictive potatoes are the accompaniment, and when she remembers, there is sauerkraut. The only sauce is a sweet mustard, unless she remembers to make a chili sauce. When I asked for chili sauce, she brought me the tiniest chili peppers (they were under an inch in size) to chew on. I did. The location is on a street off the malecon (coast road): Calle Hermanas Mirabal, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This place is easy to find on Google. Once you find the street, the restaurant is a few hundred yards up the street, next to another stall. The German place is quite large with a small beer garden feel. There are lots of fans and shade to keep you cool if the icy cold beer doesn’t. Inside, you order your food at the deli counter and the beers at the other corner. They will keep track on a chit and you pay when you leave. Not sure about credit cards as I paid cash. Inside, the German Baker had a table set up selling his breads. He sells pretzel bread and many other items.You can’t miss it as Carolina will be the LOUD large lady yelling and singing in Spanish, German, and English. She likes to talk dirty and flirt in a big way. If you get there before noon, she may be less racy. May. Be. She does thirsty work so we bought her many a beer and she sat with us, in between bursts of hugging, dancing, or yelling!Sometimes there is entertainment, other than Carolina, and that will bring about more carousing. Despite this place being “famous” — it doesn’t feel super touristy. Maybe because Anthony Bourdain hasn’t been here.If I lived here, I would probably be here every Saturday.
“Hey, do you have a recommendation for a Korean restaurant?” Do I ever! In the service of social media=democracy=sharing information… here’s my list of Korean restaurants I like to go to when in Northern Virginia. I also mentioned Korean food in my list of iconic American eats in the Washington, DC area. All these restaurants are located in Annandale in Fairfax county about ten miles from the Lincoln Memorial. There are buses out to this area but that experience would probably ruin your experience.
Lighthouse Tofu (Vit Goel Tofu) – 4121 Chatelain Rd #100, Annandale, VA 22003: More than tofu, this place specializes in volcanically hot earthenware bowls of stew/soup. This place actually has seafood stew which I love. Plus, they have created a mini seafood pancake which is more like an American appetizer. Most places serve a huge seafood pancake (haemul pajeon) which can be harder to deal with.
Honey Pig – 7220 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003: Very loud music, steel decor and smoky, this place will make you feel like you are in Korea.
To Sok Jip – 7211 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003: Across the street from Honey Pig, easy to overlook, this place with the purple awning, is worth finding. It’s got three “rice” options – white, barley, or purple which is a mix of brown rice and beans. This is one of the few hole-in-the-wall places left in this area. The bok choy kimchi is fantastic. They also have a mega-pot “wartime soup” which is a hodgepodge of hot dogs, tofu, pork, kimchi, noodles, etc. thrown into a cauldron. Must not eat alone. Plus, the ladies’ has a fancy Japanese toilet.
Gom Ba Woo – 7133 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003: This place is next to Giant. I mention it because I’ve had some really delicious home made mandu (dumplings, potstickers) here, and I’ve had wonderful language barrier issues here too, one of which resulted in us receiving a cold bowl of noodles in a lard soup. The lady looked at us approvingly because clearly this was the dish to order in hot weather, but we were not so thrilled.
Nak Won – 7317 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003: This place is where I’d take newbies to Korean food. It’s got a nice authentic feel and it’s quiet. The decor reminds me of the decor of the 80’s with wood tables and memorabilia on the walls.
Oegadgib – 7331 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003: This place should be called “Mr. Lee’s” but instead I think it is “Gram’s place” or something like that. There is a full menu but the two things that stand out are the all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu (where you cook meat and vegetables in a broth – like hotpot) and the barbecue which includes three kinds of meat. The prices are under $20 per person so a great place to go with big eaters. This place is hard to find and hard to pronounce so look for the Jerry’s Sub sign, make absolutely sure that you do not park in Jerry’s lot, and then go behind the building on Little River Turnpike and you will often find Mr. Lee waving his light saber around to help you find parking in his lot.
Yechon – 4121 Hummer Rd, Annandale, VA 22003: This is a 24-hour standby. It’s big and they do everything well. It’s located a bit away from the other restaurants and many don’t like how generic it feels, but that’s one thing that’s good about it — you can always go there and find acceptable Korean food.
There are two other places to mention – one bakery and one chicken place:
Shilla Bakery – 7039 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003: Forget all the weird ideas about not liking Asian desserts… you will like these! They have everything from French bread, puffy pastries, colorful cakes, bingsoo (frozen ice dessert with flavorings, fruit, etc.), Illy coffee, and yes, some of those weird Asian desserts made with beans. This place is always pumping with Korean American youth hanging out and families. The bakery is very generous with its samples so you can try four or five different breads, cookies, pastries, before buying one or none.
Bon Chon Chicken – multiple locations: Really, very few things make me NOT want to share. I have a friend who is a true foodie friend because when we shared a plate of Bon Chon’s wings, he ate the winglets (part that looks like a drumstick) so that I could enjoy the flats (the part with two bones). Sigh, now that’s true understanding. These wings are sweet, crunchy, and lightly coated.
Maybe once I get to Colombia, I’ll compile a list of the seven best Korean restaurants in Bogota.