The 12 Best Korean Restaurants In Chicago

By Staff in Food on Oct 8, 2014 9:00PM

Utility players play vital roles in athletic, politics, films and television programs and even on writing staffs like Chicagoist. Korean cuisine, in our opinion, is the utility player of the Asian culinary diaspora. It complements pan-Asian menus, can be fused wholly into Western culinary traditions and stands on its own with its history, flavor, preparations and textures.

From Bill Kim's mini-empire of "belly" restaurants to the dingiest storefronts in Albany Park, Chicago isn't lacking for good Korean food, whether pure or as a mish-mash with other cuisines. Here are a dozen of our favorites. As always, we encourage discussion with these lists. Let us know what we should have on our radars.

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(Dolsot bi bim bop at Parachute/Photo: L. Stolpman)

Parachute
Parachute might not be a traditional Korean restaurant, but it has very strong Korean influences and is impressively brash with them in a way many mainstream Korean-influenced restaurants aren’t. Their kimchi is spicy and unapologetically funky and alive, signaling they aren’t afraid of strong flavors. I highly recommend it in their pork belly and mung bean pancake with black garlic and pineapple, their version of Korean bindaetteok. —Melissa McEwen

Parachute is located at 3500 N. Elston Ave.


Joong Boo Market
Besides being one of our favorite markets in the city and also one of the best places to grab dumplings in Chicago, tucked away in the back of Joong Boo is a tiny cafe serving up some seriously delicious and hearty Korean fare. Expect it to be crowded and chaotic, expect swift and somewhat gruff service from the ladies who are too busy working hard crafting your delicious food to worry about friendly demeanor. I like to stick to comfort food when dining at Joong Boo, a warm bowl of soon doo boo is the perfect cure to a chilly Chicago day (although I’ve ate it in the summer too). The stew is full of silky, soft tofu and seafood, mussels and shrimp bobbing around in the bright chili pepper colored broth. Most dishes come with a variety of banchan, the famous Korean side dishes which I like to nibble on the side and add into my soon doo boo. Another favorite is their ra-bok-kee, full of chewy rice cakes and ramen noodle, a carb-lovers dream. It doesn’t hurt that these hearty feasts are also incredibly cheap. So you have enough change after to grab some snacks in the stores and a few dumplings on your way out. — Lisa White

Joong Boo Market is located at 3333 N. Kimball Ave .


Crisp
Arguably the best Korean joint in Lakeview, Crisp delivers on its name with some of the tastiest chicken wings in town. Large pieces of meat smothered in homemade sauces like the Korean/American fusion BBQ and the delicious garlic, ginger, and soy combination of "Seoul Sassy" make the cozy location feel like the best kept secret on Broadway. Those looking to keep their hands clean can feast on a variety of bowls loaded with anywhere from 4-12 different veggies. I have to point to the Seoul Steak Bowl as a personal favorite. The amount of steak packed into this thing will bring any major meat eater to their knees for less than $10. Then there's the atomic sauce. Oh the atomic sauce. We're not quite sure what this perfect tangy and spicy creation is made of, but it goes well with everything on the menu. If you don't ask for extra, you're not doing it right. — Robert Martin

Crisp is located at 2940 N. Broadway St.

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(The spread at San Soo Gab San/Photo: Facebook)
San Soo Gab San
This Lincoln Square gem is a loud and crowded joint with a smattering of long booths and narrow tables. The service is incredibly efficient, but they won’t provide you with much help while you attempt to grill your meats or maneuver your way through the dozens of sides and condiments that overpopulate your table. You’re smart to stack the sides that you don’t want off to the side, and fill your plate with the marinated tofu, egg cake, seaweed and kimchi. I recommend both the Wang Ki Bi, marinated beef short rib, and the Dai Ji Kai Bi, pork short rib. The vegetable dumplings are like warm and flaky little handpies. —Erika Kubick

San Soo Gab San is located at 5247 N. Western Ave.


Chicago Kalbi BBQ
This Albany Park restaurant bills itself as “the best Korean BBQ in Chicago.” That’s debatable, but it is in the upper pantheon and all you’ll need is a couple visits to be convinced. Who doesn’t love the conceit of grilling your own meats tableside? I’ve certainly paid for the privilege at Chicago Kalbi several times over the years and would continue to do so. Especially since the staff here does all the prep work. The Bulgogi is popular, but I always lean toward the organ meats: beef liver; beef tongue; beef heart; and miso-marinated intestine. Balance this out with sides of vegetables or mushrooms and you’re eating as well, if not better, than if you were on the streets of Seoul. —Chuck Sudo

Chicago Kalbi BBQ is located at 3752 W. Lawrence Ave.


Dancen
This neon-lit minimalistic pub reminds me a bit of something you might find while wandering around the world of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or Gibson’s Neuromancer. But what really draws me here is the outstanding variety of home-cooked Korean food and Korean drinks both classic and modern. The most popular of the modern Korean dishes is the “fire chicken”, a grilled to order dish that you can have topped with cheese, which is better than it sounds (what isn't better topped with cheese?). Dancen also serves excellent pajeon, a salty green onion and seafood pancake, and dukbokki, chewy rice cakes topped with a spicy sauce. Their variety of offal and skewered meat is also perfect pub food. Wash it all down with a stone bowl of bubbly fresh Chicago-made Makgeolli that you can ladle out among your friends. Or Baekseju, an herb-infused rice wine that reminds me of vermouth. —Melissa McEwen

Dancen is located at 5114 N. Lincoln Ave.

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(Del Seoul's Haemul Soondubu/Photo: Facebook)

Del Seoul
Serving a mix of Korean and Korean-inspired street food, Del Seoul is best known for its tacos. We’ve sampled nearly every one over the years, and they’re all excellent whether one prefers meat or seafood. The classic kalbi taco combines sweetly marinated beef with cabbage and sesame. The pork has a slight kick to its marinade. The shrimp and fish tacos are each tempura battered and fried to give them nice crispiness. While not authentic Baja fish tacos, these are among the best fried fish tacos in Chicago. In addition to their popular tacos, Del Seoul’s menu includes Korean takes on banh mi sandwiches, bi bim bop bowls, and a couple of Korean-style fries, including ones topped with kimchi, onions, scallions, and pork belly, as well as the kalbi poutine topped with braised short rib, meat gravy, cheese, and pickled onions. —Benjy Lipsman

Del Seoul is located at 2568 N. Clark St.


Cho Sun Ok
Somehow I always end up going here in blizzards. I feel like I’ve journeyed miles through the snowy mountains (in reality, from West Town to North Center) and finally arrived at a warm rustic cabin serving meaty, spicy, salty food to help me recover from the cold. A feast of Korean BBQ beef cooked on the table grills surrounded by what seems like infinite banchan- kimchi and other pickles to snack on. —Melissa McEwen

Cho Sun Oak is located at 4200 N. Lincoln Ave.


Takos Koreanos
The best tacos are Korean tacos, and you can get them at other places besides Del Seoul. New to Andersonville and practically empty both times I’ve visited for a weekend lunch, Takos Koreanos deserves your attention if you crave kimchi with your guac. The taco combos with Korean potato salad and fried rice are miniature works of art with honey chili sauce that makes everything better. Burritos and quesadillas are also on offer, as are appetizers like beef barba fries and kimchi dumplings. —Melissa Wiley

Takos Koreanos is located at 1706 W. Foster.

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(Grilled meat at BellyQ/Photo: Facebook)

BellyQ
Bill Kim is responsible for putting many Korean influences on the mainstream Chicago food radar. Whenever I eat dinner here I’m impressed by the diversity of people chowing down on kimchi, Korean-influenced BBQ and their excellent Korean-style pancakes that seem to be a riff on Korean jeon. My favorite of the pancakes is the double-smoked bacon with kimchi. —Melissa McEwen

BellyQ is located at 1400 W. Randolph St..

bopNgrill
I’m a big fan of fusion food done well, mixing up the flavors of different cuisines to create a hodge podge of deliciousness. Besides being tasty, well done fusion food is also a great introduction to unfamiliar cuisines for those who might be more hesitant to try something new. So when I have a friend who hasn’t tried Korean food before, I ease them in with the menu at bopNgrill. Sure, I love their traditional fare like their bi bim bop and bulkogi, but when I stop in I can’t resist the siren song of kimchi fries. Crispy fries are covered in cheese sauce, caramelized kimchi, bacon, scallions and sesame seeds for a gooey mess of salty, spice and savory. The acid in the kimchi really cuts the fatty cheese sauce and brings out the pork flavor in the bacon, making them my favorite cheese fries in the city. If you are a total kimchi lover like I am, add to your order the kimchi burger as well, which is topped with caramelized kimchi, fried egg, cheddar, bacon, kimchi mayo and shredded cabbage. Grab A LOT of napkins because both dishes can get messy, but are totally worth it. They also sell their kimchi to go in giant jars behind the counter, so grab one of those before you head out the door. —Lisa White

bopNgrill is located at 6604 N. Sheridan Rd.


Gogi
This West Rogers Park restaurant is one of my favorite Korean restaurants in the city. Do you have a taste of pork shoulder or brisket? Gogi offers it. Intestines or pork neck? They can accommodate. Spicy chicken or pork? Again, yes. With the chill in the air signaling colder climes ahead, you should also feast on some of Gogi’s soups, like the kimchi jjigae (fermented cabbage with pork and tofu), gamjatang (pork spine and ribs with potatoes), or sundubu jjigae (tofu and seafood). The dishes here are large enough for sharing, and share you must with the bounty of flavors emanating from them. —Chuck Sudo

Gogi is located at 6240 N. California Ave.