This is a Lip Smackers Moment™. That’s what I call it when I eat someplace that I cannot stop talking about, cannot stop recommending, cannot stop hoping will stay alive long enough for others to enjoy how delightful it is.
Taste of Korea needs you the same way Lip Smackers does. It’s in a weird location, beset by traffic construction. It’s in a building that has been so many restaurants before that one cannot help but wonder if it’s cursed.
But the main similarity between Taste of Korea and Lip Smackers is that the food is Just. That. Good. This place can beat the odds. I believe that. I can taste it.
My history with Korean food is a short one. No one in my early life was eagerly waiting to introduce me to the cuisine of Korea, nor was I particularly diligent in seeking it out. So I do not consider myself an expert, in case you’re looking for a Korean culinary historian. I could probably send you to my oldest friend in the world (also™) Becky Carman for that, but I’m just a lame white guy who enjoys eating something new and different. If you’re in the same boat, experience-wise, I hope this review is of some help.
In case you didn’t see it before, here’s a link to the primer on banchan (those little plates dishes of Korean condiments that come out to the table). Those are not appetizers. Eat them with your meal.
Or do whatever you want, I guess. I’m not your mom. The science just isn’t there yet.
Instead of eating condiments, like some kind of monster, order an appetizer like tteokbokki ($9.95).
Quick note: nobody at Taste of Korea expects you to speak Korean. Give it a shot — it’s only polite — but it’s also okay to supplement your broken Korean by pointing on the menu to what you want.
In this case, my oldest friend in the world Becky Carman ordered tteokbokki in flawless Korean. Possibly because she is from Korea. I mean, who know? But this dish is one of her favorite comfort foods and I understand why. It’s rice cakes stir fried in spicy sauce and topped with slices of fish cake. The rice cakes are tubes of sticky, chewy, delicious rice. I don’t feel like I’m doing them justice, but they both soak up all the flavors of the sauce while retaining this amazing texture.
It’s spicy, but it’s not over-the-top spicy. It’s not Sylvester Stallone in an arm wrestling movie spicy. It’s tingly, happy spicy.
Next up was the dolsat bibimbap ($12.95), which I was legally obligated to order. Can you imagine publishing a Korean restaurant review without addressing OKC’s favorite dish?
Bibimbap is rice, covered in various pickled veggies, red chile paste, beef and an egg. Dolsat bibimbap is all of that in a hot stone bowl.
Is it worth more to be served in a different dish? Yes. Absolutely. 100%. The bowl crisps up the rice. Let the dish sit for a while and you’ll get that glorious toasty crunch on the rice. Stir it up, mix the egg in and the chile paste and let it sit a while longer. Bibimbap is great regardless, but the addition of the hot stone bowl adds another layer of texture that I find completely irresistible.
One reason I’m so grateful for the help of my ofitwBC is that she knows what she likes. I would likely have been too intimidated to order ojingeo bokkeum ($15.95), the spicy stir-fried squid.
Most of what I know of squid is calamari, which might as well be onion rings for how deeply fried most of it is. This was not that. It was a whole mess of vegetables and thin pieces of squid in that bright red chile paste sauce.
Squid doesn’t taste like much (to me, at least), so what you’re really getting is the texture. It’s firm, but with just a bit of chew. You won’t have to gnaw on it or anything. And that chewiness paired well with the tender-crisp vegetables really well. The taste is much more about the sauce — spicy, with a deep savory smokiness — and the mix of vegetables.
I should have stopped there, but that’s never actually stopped me before. So when I ordered the kimchi jjigae ($10.95), the kindly server told me, “No. That’s too much.”
“It’s okay,” I assured her. She looked at me like I was insane, which isn’t much of a leap, honestly.
But how could I not get kimchi jjigae? It’s my favorite Korean dish! Kimchi is a spicy fermented cabbage, like a Korean sauerkraut. This dish is a stew of kimchi and tender chunks of pork. It was still bubbling when it came to the table, but that wouldn’t hold me back for long.
There’s heat, but it’s not the kind of spice that should scare anyone away. The pork has that deep, rich umami flavor that is so comforting while the kimchi provides a sour acidity that keeps you coming back for bite after bite after bite aft-
Whoa, buddy. Where are you going? We’re not done yet. There are so many more bites.
Okay, fine, let’s talk about jjajangmyeon ($11.95). My pal Michelle Bui told me I absolutely had to try it and I tend to listen to what she says. Jjajangmyeon are noodles covered in a black bean and pork sauce, topped with a fried egg. It’s kind of like a goth version of bolognese. Michelle just calls them black noodles and said it’s like the ultimate Korean comfort food.
I was about a bite in when I knew she was right.
The black bean and pork sauce is deep and rich, coating the springy noodles and collecting on the chopsticks as I pulled up successive mouthfuls. It’s great served as-is, but if you want to test out your banchan skills, this is a great opportunity. Kimchi cucumbers is especially good here, because it lightens the otherwise heavy dish. It’s not on the menu, but it’s been on the specials board for a while, so I hope it sticks around indefinitely.
The I-40 construction has been terrible for Taste of Korea, but it’s not impossible to get there by any means. Incidental traffic, the kind that brings new customers, is harder to come by, but if you’re going there, it’s no problem.
So. You should be going there. You should type 5 S. Western Ave., Oklahoma City into your GPS and let it take you right to the building. Because this is very good food and very good people and I want them to stay in business for a long time to come.