Sobahn on Shawnee Mission Parkway west of Metcalf is probably the best of the five or so Korean restaurants the Kansas City metro has to offer. Cho-sun, Choga, Rainbow and Kokoro Maki House are the only other places that offer decent Korean dishes in town, but I think Sobahn surpasses them all.
I was privvy to an off-menu private dinner at Sobahn earlier this year which enabled me to experience the full extent of their skill, but rest assured the regular offerings present a number of enticing options for casual lunch diners. As is the case for most Korean restaurants, lunch at Sobahn will cost a few dollars more than your average lunch spot, and it may take a little longer to get in and out.
Fans of meat will find plenty of pleasing items on the lunch menu including the region’s most delicious beef bulgogi, pork (jaeyukk bokkeum) and short ribs (tong galbi) which arrive on sizzling cast iron trays, accompanied by rice and banchan, the traditional side dishes that typically include kimchi among other pickled or fermented foodstuffs. Banchan are never quite the same on each visit, and recently I’ve found them a little less pungent and spicy than I prefer. Sobahn does prepare delicious Korean pancakes which can be stuffed with any number of items, including kimchi, and is usually served with a thin, tangy sauce.
Service can be hit or miss at Sobahn. On my last visit, I had to wait a full ten minutes before being seated, and a good fifteen minutes to get my check after plates had been cleared. I was also charged dinner prices during lunch hour, which was hard to argue with since I received the large portion due to a misunderstanding and ate it all. Regardless the server was eager to please that day, and talked to me at some length about the food and my personal tastes with regard to Korean cuisine. Perhaps I’m not the average diner, I don’t know, but most ethnic restaurants would do well not to assume the worst about their white American patrons. In general, Sobahn does well in this respect.
While I’ve eaten a fair amount of Korean food over the years and tried a number of items at Sobahn, this strikes me as a menu that contains many pleasures for the uninitiated diner.
I love counter service lunch spots. They are almost universally faster than full service restaurants, they tend to be more informal, and the food can still be excellent. But let me begin by stating what I think should be a self evident truth:
Ordering sushi from a counter, paying and then waiting for it to be delivered is just wrong.
No one waits on you, no one fills up the water glass, and you are not at the sushi bar chatting with anyone. You are just waiting. It is purely a capitalist exchange of goods for money.
Kokoro Maki House is way more lunch-oriented than any of the other sushi places I can think of. The menu is small and a lot of the sushi is served a la carte. But counter service prevails here, and it can be very difficult to choose what you want to order. Sushi involves lots of hard decision making and I always feel rushed at Kokoro, especially when there are people in line behind me. When getting sushi there I always feel like I miscalculated the amount I really need. Moreover, if you want something else after eating your food, you have to go up to the counter and order it, pay, then wait for it. I call bullshit on that. Sushi is a splurge food for me. I want to be waited on, and that’s that.
So recently I stopped back into Kokoro and saw something I had not noticed before: Korean dishes on the menu. Much like Cho-Ga Kokoro offers lunch boxes with a Korean entree and various accouterments including rice, dumplings, 2 pieces of maki, and a salad.
I know, I know these boxes are not authentic Korean, but damn it was delicious! The bulgogi was perfectly cooked, piping hot and the dumplings were little deep fried nuggets of delight. My partner’s Bi Bim Bop and accompanying kim chee looked damn good too. The pickled daikon was my favorite of the three. She claimed it was one of the best dishes of Bi Bim Bop she has ever tasted.
What’s more, they seem to care about presentation at Kokoro. Details like the little foil square beneath the dumplings, black sesame seeds atop the rice, and nori strips on the Bi Bim Bop indicate that these are folks who care about what they serve.
I have had the sushi here as well, and found it very good and affordable. But it has been at least a year since I tried it, so I can’t really say much more about it with any confidence.
The food does take a while to come out, even when they are not busy. This is perhaps the biggest drawback. What service they do have is fine, although the teenager at the counter was not particularly helpful and seemed more interested in texting than taking care of us. But generally I give teenagers a pass; their lives are annoying enough without some half-assed food blogger complaining about how they do their jobs.
These are great little affordable Korean lunch specials right in the heart of Waldo. For those who need the Korean fix without venturing into Johnson County, look no further than Kokoro.
When I posted about the pedestrian but serviceable Rainbow Korean Restaurant earlier this year, a few commenters suggested I try Cho-ga across Metcalf. Not long after, I had lunch there with Meesha, the award-winning, benevolent Czar of the KC blogosphere and his delightful daughter. I think it’s fair to say that we were all pretty happy with the food–even the youngin’. I’ve made a repeat visit or two by my lonesome and have found the food to be quite consistent.
First of all, it’s located at 105th and Metcalf which is pretty much my definition of hell. Yeah I know, all I do is complain about the suburbs while consistently working, eating and spending my money there all the freakin’ time. I’m the worst kind of hypocrite. Anyhow, the shopping center that houses Cho-ga has not aged well (what shopping center does?), it has a drab color and a wan-looking cedar shake roofing. The center is comprised of several “islands” of shops, each surrounding a perfectly charming little courtyard. Some shops have entrances on the outside and some on the courtyard side.
Surprisingly it houses some pretty successful business, notably the OP version of D’Bronx which by most accounts is not as good as its 39th street counterpart. I also stopped by a business called “A Touch of Asia” because I was looking for…well you know, a touch of Asia. To my dismay I found it to be yet another JoCo Indian lunch buffet. I guess I’ll be back when I’m less hot and bothered.
Cho-ga is located at the East edge of the shopping center, and faces north. The interior is nothing special, a virtually undecorated mid-sized room containing a mix of tables and booths. This place get fairly busy at the height of lunch hour and the service is typically pretty mediocre. It took me at least 5 minutes to get seated on one trip, another time the waiter forgot my drink order, another time I waited insanely long to get my check. But of course, commenter Tze Yuin warned me about this so I was prepared. Yes this is the same gentleman woman who insisted I try the Chinese menu at Lucky Wok and I think he she is my new hero.
But the food at Cho-ga is excellent. As I’ve mentioned previously I am not an expert on Korean food, but the value, presentation and taste are all top-notch in my own humble, esteemed, infallible, totally kick-ass opinion.
The menu offers a number of things to choose from: beef, seafood, chicken, pork, soups and more. There is a regular lunch menu and a list of “lunch boxes” on the flip side. Here’s a terrible photo of the regular menu:
And the boxes…
I usually get the boxes because they are cute. I have eaten the pork, beef bulgogi and short ribs and they are all very tasty. The short ribs are sliced cross-wise and still attached to little pieces of bone, making them quite challenging to eat with chopsticks. But it’s worth it.
In addition to the primary offering, lunch boxes come with steamed rice, two dumplings, a small portion of noodles, salad (mostly lettuce) cabbage kim chee, and a few slices of melon to calm the palate at the end of the affair. That’s a lot of food! Most of them run $8.95 so expect to pay a several dollars more with beverage and an unextravagant tip for subpar service.
So if you’re looking for Korean chow, go pay them a visit. You won’t be alone, you won’t be the only non-Korean there (assuming you know, that you’re not Korean) and the food is well worth it.
PS: Well crap, I just checked out the Pitch for info on Cho-ga and found a typically top-notch Charles Ferruzza review dated TOMORROW (Oct.9 2008). Ferruzza is bending the laws of space and time people! If this is not some mistake, there will be plenty of info about Cho-ga to go around. If only I had published this two months ago when I started it. Anyhow, read his take. I found Cho-ga somewhat less exotic, but I haven’t been for dinner. I don’t blog about dinner.
We got a no-frills little Korean diner here that is the perfect joint for an informal lunch whilst running soulless, horrible shopping errands in the JoCo. Rainbow is located in that rambling and not particularly well-aging series of strip malls at Metcalf around 103rd. Directly across from the Sprawl-Mart. The restaurant itself is tucked back off the street in a smaller strip that includes a florist, liquor store, and a Jose Pepper’s Border grill and cantina.
For the record, I have never been, nor do i plan to ever eat at Jose Pepper’s Border grill and cantina. There is kind of a funny bio of the mythical Mr. Pepper on the front page of their website. But it only goes to prove that this place is about as Mexican as Chili’s. But they are local, which I didn’t realize. I’m thinking it’s like Taco John’s with beer. But believe me, I would LOVE to hear impassioned defenses of Jose Pepper’s on this blog. Why?
Because I love when people love crappy places, it makes me me laugh. at them.
Being unapologetic and self-deprecating about one’s tastes are attractive traits, and indeed are the hallmark of my generation.
Sometimes I’m actually convinced.
Back to the matter at hand: a really drab, tiny little Korean lunch spot that sits down the walkway from Pepper’s. While the white people are down there eating deep fried tortillas filled with crap and covered in queso sauce, there are usually one or two tables of Korean folks enjoying a meal at Rainbow. Unfortunately for Mr. Rainbow, that’s usually about it. I’ve never seen the place even remotely crowded and I’ve been about 3 or 4 times.
Here’s where I fess up: I don’t know a hell of a lot about Korean food so I usually just guess at what sounds good. One time I went for something adventurous and wound up with a seafood stir fry in a black sauce made from what I can only assume was squid ink. Seriously. It was actually decently prepared but just not my personal taste or texture preference.
Yesterday I went safe and ordered bulgogi which is one of the more famous Korean dishes, along with Bi Bim Bop (which is great hangover food by the way).
Bulgogi is basically a beef and onion stir fry. Mine was really quite delicious and was accompanied by some steamed rice, and of course bok choy and daikon kim chi varieties. Korean food is really distinguished by its used of these pickled delicacies and really can’t be appreciated unless you partake. Korean dishes also have an affinity for the raw or lightly cooked egg which is another really great feature.
The atmosphere at Rainbow is…well…a little depressing. The booths came straight from an auction at a failed early 90’s Shoney’s restaurant and the decor is basically nonexistent.
However there is one highly entertaining and exciting exception: DORAEMON SAUCE BOTTLES! Who the hell is Doraemon? Shit I had no idea, but that’s what Google is for, unless you are some kind of creepy Japan-o-phile manga loving freak with a furry costume and some ilicit polaroids secreted in your mom’s basement. Anyhow, Doraemon is an insanely popular Japanese animated character who appeared in a series of 60’s-70’s cartoons. His charm and jaunty spriti quickly spread like wildfire across parts of Asia.
So every single table of the restaurant has a Doraemon-themed soy sauce bottle, rice vinegar bottle and matching tray. They are very informative as to who this Doraemon character is. The bottles read:
Doraemon the cat-like robot. he measures 129.3 cm around the belly. he was born on 3rd September 2112. He has many fantastic tools
Ok that explains it right? Well, check out the Doraemon episodes on Youtube, they are very inventive and funny. And he does have some crazy-ass tools.
Not sure if his birth in 2112 is related in any way to the most hilarious multi-part epic suite Canadian wackoids Rush ever made, but I’d be willing to guess that it is not. Doraemon would have a tool to destroy the Priests of Syrinx.
Back to lunch spots. Service here was extremely friendly and efficient. Kim Chi and water came out immediately, the food emerged lightening fast out of the kitchen and the bill was delivered as soonas I put the chopsticks down.
This is the only Korean place I’ve tried in the metro and I know there are others, so let’s hear about em.
Oh, and sorry for all the tangents, but you realize that rather than a restaurant blog, this is only a joke/humor blog, right?