Slideshow: 20 Korean Dishes We Love in Chicago

Galbi at Gogi ($26)
Galbi at Gogi ($26)

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

It was clear from the start of my first meal at Gogi that just about everything was a step above every other Korean barbecue joint in town. That's no slam on the rest, just an honest observation on the care and dedication Gogi lavishes on its dishes. That includes all of the banchan and even the salad, but if you want to experience Gogi in all its glory, you must order the galbi. The thinly sliced sheets of short rib are still connected to the bone at one end, and it's mostly the waiter's job to unwrap the meat and cook it on the charcoal grill in front of you. This allows you to focus and take it all in. Breathe in the in the mix of beef fat and charcoal. Dig into the browned meat, with its mix of crisp meat and juicy fat. Gnaw on the heavily caramelized scraps clinging to the bone.

Gogi, 6240 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60659 (map); 773-274-6669; gogichicago.com

Bibimbap at En Hakkore
Bibimbap at En Hakkore

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

"Nowhere in Chicago will you encounter a more vibrantly colorful bowl of bibimbap. But not only is it genuinely beautiful, I'm not sure there is a better version of this Korean dish around. Featuring a stunning collection of fresh and pickled vegetables, no two bites are the same. You can add meat if you'd like, but this is one bowl of bibimbap where the vegetables get to be the star." Read more here >>

En Hakkore, 1840 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-772-9880

Paratha Tacos at En Hakkore
Paratha Tacos at En Hakkore

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

"Instead of a corn tortilla, En Hakkore uses a paratha, which is an Indian flatbread. The paratha is flaky, almost like a scallion pancake, but with none of the grease. It evokes the softest flour tortilla you can imagine. The tacos are topped with crisp shredded lettuce and a creamy and spicy sauce made from a combination of gochujang and mayonnaise. Perhaps it was the pinkish hue of that sauce, but when mixed with the grilled meat and fluffy paratha, I started having flashes of the special sauce on a Big Mac. Was I caught off guard? Yes. Did I eat the whole offering in less than a minute? You bet." Read more here >>

En Hakkore, 1840 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-772-9880

Orange Chicken Wings at Joong Boo
Orange Chicken Wings at Joong Boo

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

"These wings are always crunchy, even hours after later. They also hold their integrity while coated in a sticky sweet and spicy sauce. Actually, the sauce leans more on the sweet side of things, giving them a slight candied edge, but that only makes me crave them like a five year old binging on yesterday's Halloween candy haul. Honestly, I get myself into this sugar high trance where I have no idea how many I've eaten or whether I'm even hungry or not." Read more here >>

Joong Boo Market, 3333 North Kimball Avenue, Chicago IL 60625 (map); 773-478-5566; joongboomarket.com

Dukbokki at Joong Boo
Dukbokki at Joong Boo

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

I have to thank Steve Dolinsky for this pick. I'm a sucker for this dish (which is also referred to as Tteokbokki, among others), even when the soft rice cakes are swimming in a red sauce tastes more of sugar than chili spice. But Joong Boo's version adds an appealing savory dimension, making the dish more satisfying and filling.

Joong Boo Market, 3333 North Kimball Avenue, Chicago IL 60625 (map); 773-478-5566; joongboomarket.com

Dol-Sot Bibimbop at Rice'N Bread
Dol-Sot Bibimbop at Rice'N Bread

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Whenever I think of bibimbap, my mind first goes to the obvious—the rice, the veggies, and the egg. What I don't often worry about is the serving dish. But at Rice'N Bread (which oddly just transformed from being a Hamburger King) the bibimbap is served in a hot stone pot, which you might consider a minor note, but it makes all the difference. The rice touching the stone gets nice and crispy, adding another texture to a dish that already has a lot of stuff going on.

Rice'N Bread, 3435 N Sheffield Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (map); 773-281-4452; ricenbread.com

Korean BBQ Beef at Belly Shack
Korean BBQ Beef at Belly Shack

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

I wasn't sure if I should include Belly Shack or not on this list, because even though the menu has obvious Korean influences, there are dozens of other cuisines also in play. That certainly explains why there is a pile of pita on this platter. But if you block that from your vision, you're left with a pretty recognizable plate of Korean barbecue, and they even cook it for you. The charred Korean barbecue beef in the center is worth the attention, but don't forget about the healthy serving of kimchi on the right—it's expertly pickled stuff.

Belly Shack‎, 1912 North Western Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647 (map), 773-252-1414, bellyshack.com‎

Japchae at Tozi Korean B.B.Q. Restaurant
Japchae at Tozi Korean B.B.Q. Restaurant

[Photograph: Roger Kamholz]

"Curly strands of delicately cooked egg crowned the bowl, adding a bright accent of yellow to the already richly colorful tableau. Smoky onion slices; strips of tender carrot, zucchini and green pepper; earthy mushrooms; and juicy spinach were all knotted up in the generous tangle of noodles. The smoky-sweet beef spoke highly of Tozi's BBQ cred. The dangmyeon--sticky, elastic, and extra toothsome--had been thoroughly inoculated in the japchae's unctuous, savory-sweet sauce, made with sesame oil and soy. The sauce bordered on greasy, but the array of veggies went far to balance out the richness." Read more here >>

Tozi Korean B.B.Q. Restaurant, 1265 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (map); 773-252-2020; Tozi/Facebook

Kimchi Jjigae at Cho Sun Ok ($7.50)
Kimchi Jjigae at Cho Sun Ok ($7.50)

[Photograph: Huge Galdones]

"The Kimchi Jjigae from Cho Sun Ok is a modest classic. This one-pot dish is customarily prepared by using the more advanced (read: fermented) kimchi that's been hanging around the house for awhile, along with whatever else one feels like adding. This version includes tofu, glass noodles, scallions, and beef. Like most traditional Korean meals, it is accompanied by a plethora (9!) of side dishes, including a small bowl of the 'younger' kimchi. The smell alone is intoxicatingly pungent (in a good way), and spoonful after spoonful, one gets hit by spicy, sour, and salty all at the same time. This dish is a true kimchi lover's paradise." Read more here >>

Cho Sun Ok, 4200 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618 (map)
773-549-5555
chosunokrestaurant.com

Raw Fish Spicy Cold Noodles at Da Rae Jung
Raw Fish Spicy Cold Noodles at Da Rae Jung

[Photograph: Roger Kamholz]

"Seemingly in lieu of a welcome mat, the bustling Korean restaurant Da Rae Jung has a sliding-glass-door fridge in its dining room, visibly laden with jars of housemade kimchi. I certainly felt happy to be there after glimpsing that sight on a recent visit. But enviable kimchi isn't the only Korean staple Da Rae Jung traffics in; the family-run restaurant also serves up a trio of traditional Korean chilled-noodle dishes, including raw fish spicy cold noodles. Thin yet resilient buckwheat glass noodles form the basis of this dish. Raw skate, pears, radish, cucumber, and a boiled egg round out the accompaniments. Oh yeah, and a spicy, funky, salt-spiked sauce of maddening complexity. The proprietor will happily dress up your noodles for you with vinegar, mustard, sesame oil, and sugar. Let him do this." Read more here >>

Da Rae Jung, 5220 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625 (map); 773-907-9155

Fried Chicken Wings with Soy-Ginger Sauce at DAK Korean Chicken Wings
Fried Chicken Wings with Soy-Ginger Sauce at DAK Korean Chicken Wings

[Photograph: Mike Gebert]

"As at other Asian fast food places like Crisp or Take Me Out, you can get wings, with your choice of a soy-ginger sauce or a spicy-sticky hot sauce. You can also get chunks of white meat tossed with rice, or a simple bulgogi with rice. First off, you want the wings over the bland boneless skinless white meat, and you want the soy-ginger sauce over the hot sauce; it's more complex and interesting than simply dousing everything in hot goo. Best Fried Chicken Ever? Perhaps not, but the wings are big and meaty--almost as big as the pteranodon wings at Grand Palace in Chinatown--and well fried." Read more here >>

DAK Korean Chicken Wings, 1104 W. Granville, Chicago, IL 60660 (map); 773-754-0255; dakwings.com

Spicy Seafood Tofu Soup at So Gong Dong Tofu House ($6.90)
Spicy Seafood Tofu Soup at So Gong Dong Tofu House ($6.90)

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

"So Gong Dong Tofu House on the North Side serves a collection of tofu soups, including this spicy seafood version. The mussels mixed in are fine, but the silky tofu is really the main draw. The almost custard-like texture of the tofu is a great foil for the spicy broth." Read more here >>

So Gong Dong Tofu House, 3307 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago, IL 60659 (map); 773-539-8377

Seolleongtang at Han Bat
Seolleongtang at Han Bat

[Photograph: Lindsey Howald Patton]

"This simple, comforting oxbone stock swimming with meat bits and noodles is what you come for. Served up in a big heavy bowl, the beef and noodles swam in a bland, milky broth. That broth is the classic feature of seolleongtang; its white color and silky mouthfeel come from simmered marrow bones, traditionally those of an ox. It's definitely the kind of food you crave when you're feeling under the weather." Read more here >>

Han Bat, 2723 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625 (map); 773-271-8640

Bibimbop at Tweet ($9)
Bibimbop at Tweet ($9)

[Photograph: Lindsey Howald Patton]

"Many bibimbops are rice-focused, with a small scattering of thinly cut cold vegetables atop. But here you have to do some digging to even find the rice (which is short-grain brown instead of traditional white), obscured as it is by heaps of fresh produce. The usual julienned carrots, radish, cucumbers, and bean sprouts are joined by a few delicious new additions, including piping hot blanched broccoli and spinach... As you work your way slowly into the massive bowl, the best part--far and away--is the kimchi. Tweet sources it from Viet Hoa Plaza just a few blocks away, and it's good stuff. It would be perfect eaten chilled and alone, but Tweet steps it up by cooking the slightly spicy fermented cabbage and burying copious amounts of it between the steaming rice and vegetables." Read more here >>

Tweet, 5020 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640 (map); 773-728-5576; tweet.biz

Kalbi Beef at San Soo Gab San
Kalbi Beef at San Soo Gab San

[Photograph: Mike Gebert]

San Soo Gab San has long been one of the best-known Korean restaurants in town, partly because of a menu that did well at everything from barbecue meats to panchan to soups, and partly because it's open almost 24 hours a day, making it a natural place to soak up alcohol with grilled meats. That also meant it had the occasional surliness of all-night joints used to seeing patrons at their most dissolute. But a recent visit found the place not only spiffed up, but shockingly friendly and service-minded. (Who are you and what have you done with the real San Soo Gab San?) Anyway, marbled galbi over fire remains as primally satisfying as ever, even in nicer surroundings. —Mike Gebert

San Soo Gab San, 5247 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625 (map); 773-334-1589; San Soo Gab San/Facebook