Last night, I rolled out of the house ‘bout 8pm hell bent on a mission. You see, Buford Highway is canvassed with Korean restaurants. It’s a cuisine I love and covered in the past and a culinary adventure reviewed extensively by stalwarts like Eat, Drink, Man (linky), Take Thou Food (linky), and Chow Down Atlanta (linky). My mission: find a place untouched by our collective obsession. That’s no small task but as luck would have it … the food gods smiled on me.
Stationed in one of the dime a dozen strip centers in Chamblee is a brand new Korean restaurant. It’s so new that they don’t even have menus and even the name seems to be debatable. The sign outside might tell you the name, but I don’t know cuz I can’t read the damn thing. For now, I’ve assigned it the title of Korea Soup House. It’s located at 7130 Buford Highway, denoted by a 24-hour sign, and sits next to Mirak, a Korean joint discussed by the aforementioned Gene Lee, aka EDM. Let’s put it like this … despite casual digs and no menus, I felt like I had fleeced them when I saw the $25.00 pre-tip bill they handed me.
Korea Soup House has been creatively named by me for good reason … soup is the centerpiece. When I asked the server what the name was, she responded with a flustered affect broken up by a sheepishly but adorable smile. She shrugged, said she didn’t know, and walked off. What a woman!!! :-) I sent an obfuscated picture of the sign (see above) to Gene. He replied, but apparently the best we could come up with is that it was simply a list of things offered. Finally, I called today and talked to “the person in charge.” Owner or manager, I don’t know – and neither did they! Whether or not the restaurant actually begins to call themselves by my moniker is TBD (I’m going to guess that’s not likely!).
So here I found myself, all alone in a strange land. I didn’t speak the language and there wasn’t a menu in sight to guide me. With the help of Jessica, my server whose real name is actually Jihae, I managed to wrangle up an order. It’s about this time that I found out that the restaurant is actually owned by the people who do Mirak. They share the same kitchen and restrooms and are joined by a big doorway to the back. While Mirak has a contextually upscale feeling, private rooms, and barbecue tables, Korea Soup House is Plain Jane. The decorative differences actually make sense when you consider that Mirak closes at 10, while Soup House stays open around the clock.
As a quick aside, I was advised that you can actually get everything Mirak offers, save for the barbecue, at Korea Soup House. So worst case scenario, just ask for a menu from next door.
Per my usual m.o., I decided to over order in the hopes of getting a good feel for what the restaurant can serve up. Jihae was a little tentative with me at first, after all, how many white dudes walk into a place like that all alone? However, just as soon as the word “banchan” came out of my mouth, she lit up like the Eiffel Tower.
When I finally decided on jjin mandoo (homemade steam dumplings), woogeoji galbitang (broiled beef ribs in soup), and jogae sundubu jjigae (tofu soup with clams and a dish i’m not sure I named correctly), Jihae’s got all big and happy! We chatted, and I’m sure she returned to the kitchen with a “Getta load of this guy” attitude. As I kicked back to watch the non-English speaking TV program, I took in the room. With eight big tables, half-wood, half-not, and sparing use of decoratives, I’d call it a glorified cafeteria. Nothing dingy, just basic.
(view detailed pictures of the Banchan)
A short bit later, my table was laden with several items of banchan. Even on sight this stuff just popped. The kimchi reeked of freshness, the pickled cucumbers were punchy and crunchy, and the long strings of bean sprout were phatty boom boom! Might I remind you people that this stuff came out of the kitchen in the middle of the night … so i’m pretty sure it was brought in über fresh and it stayed that way all the way into my thankful belly. Everything was top notch, from fried fish to the rice!
My body tensed, this stuff was good … really good … so what was to come? A big let down or comparable execution?
The dumplings showed up, presented beautifully in a tin steamer with bright lettuce underneath. On top? Eight gloriously fresh dumplings. Bites were full of doughy awesomeness with a muted protein and scallion filling. It’s something I suspect many American’s might find bland, especially when compared to the flavor forward power of most Korean grub. There’s a dipping sauce to help you, otherwise, I suggest you sit back and enjoy these beauties… assuming this wasn’t an anomaly of a meal. I managed to take down just four … cut me some slack … there was a lot of food on the table.
Second to the table was a big (and I mean huge) bowl of woogeoji galbitang. This is a broiled beef rib soup with cabbage leafs. The meat was juicy, just the right balance of soft, and full of marinated goodness. I’d spend more time on this sucker, but I just didn’t have room for more than a few bites of this goodness.
No, the love of my evening … the siren of my taste buds … the eye of my beloved was a bowl of sundubu jjigae with jogae (clams). This is an uncurdled soft tofu stew noted for its spice and Korea Soup House’s version really kicked my ass and took me for all I was worth. Yeah, in this case … that’s a good thing. The broth was light and the scallions and mushrooms brought a real savory essence that is to be expected from this type of dish. The clams were full on awesomeness, but I must admit that there was a good bit of grit in them. At least you know they were fresh!
This particular meal was the single best Korean meal I’ve had in this city. I don’t purport to have been everywhere, but I’ve been to enough of them here in town. So Kong Dong may get the most attention for its tofu soups … this easily bested that. Korean Barbecue is to Korean food what sushi is to Japanese food. That is, its the window to a cuisine that is deep, developed, and cultural. While many of us around these parts immediately equate Korean to all things grilled, if you want to branch out, Korea Soup House seems like a home run.
So yeah, I’m confident in my own word here. That said, I am really anxious to hear what Asian stalwarts like Eat Drink Man, Take Though Food, and Chow Down Atlanta say. This place was great and immediately vaults to the top of my list of Atlanta’s best Korean restaurants, but with an asterisk. You just can’t up and give a restaurant this new the title of Best X, Y, or Z, especially with a handful of joints that have been doing it for so long. However, this might be worthy of being the exception to that rule …
- If you’d like to learn more about Korean food, have a look at Christiane Lauterbach’s article on Korean food. The Belle of Atlanta’s food ball put together a real nice starter piece with the help of Senor Lee.
- On a trip to the bathroom, I took the opportunity to snap some pictures of Mirak, you can check them out in the flickr album!
Korean Soup House Restaurant Address & Information
7130 Buford Highway Atlanta, GA 30340 // 770.807.7249