Eight Dishes to Demystify Korean Dining in Columbus

Beth Stallings

Korean is an esoteric Asian cuisine. It's fermented and spicy, and bones are almost always lurking somewhere in a stew. Unlike Japanese, Thai and Chinese, it's rarely Americanized at fusion restaurants. Perhaps that's one reason newcomers to the fare have trouble finding foothold. But that's changing, says Columbus Food Adventures co-owner Bethia Woolf, who leads ethnic food tours around the city. "Now Korean is influencing other restaurants," she says. "You have American chefs using gochujang sauce and kimchee." We teamed up with Woolf to create this sliding scale of Korean dishes, from least intimidating to all-out adventurous, to help guide you, whether you're a novice or seasonedKorean cuisine eater.

1. Fried Chicken

The extra-crispy, twice-fried tender chicken at South Korean-based chain Bonchon gets a fear factor of zero for being nothing more than terrifyingly good fried poultry.

2. Bulgogi

Let chef Laura Lee introduce you to Korean street food at her truck, Ajumama. Start with the Bulgogi Cheezesteak-shaved beef marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil and topped with a kimchee-spiked cheese sauce.

3. Barbecue

Now graduate to more traditional barbecue at San-Su. We love this Bethel Road spot for its traditional, marinated fare cooked tableside, and also for its friendly staff who strip away the intimidation factor. Try the kalbi.

4. Dolsot Bibimbap

Customization is what makes this rice and veggie dish in a hot stone bowl approachable and the gochujang sauce gets points for its soft, pungent flavor. You'll find great renditions at Diaspora and Min Ga.; Min Ga, 800 Bethel Road, Northwest Side, 614-457-7331

5. Japchae

If it's noodles you're craving, start with japchae, made with clear, sweet potato noodles and veggies stir-fried in a soy-sesame sauce. Some of the best in town are at Kaya and Hae Paul's. Kaya, 4710 Reed Road, Upper Arlington, 614-326-2551;

6. Seafood Pancake

Crunchy and salty, this is a seafood medley (scallop, squid, octopus) trapped inside a bread-like savory pancake. At Min Ga, it's a great app to share. Control your own heat level with a side of soy-chili sauce.

7. Ojingeo Bokkeum

This stir-fried squid dish gets adventurous billing for its intense heat. It's fiery, sure, but also sweet and savory. You'll get a great rendition at Arirang, where the counter service isn't stellar, but the food is unforgettable. 1526 Bethel Road, Northwest Side, 614-459-8070

8. Black Goat Stew

You'll get raised eyebrows when you order this at Restaurant Silla, but don't be swayed. The soup seasoned with grassy perilla seeds and leaves is served tableside at a rolling boil. Bring friends. This dish will serve two to three.

Pro Tips

Don't waver from ordering more adventurous dishes. "Don't ever ask for recommendations," Woolf advises. Waiters will more than likely suggest safe choices pleasing to the typical American palate. Do a little research before you go.

Wherever you dine, be ready forbanchan-a complimentary round of Korean cold snacks, served in small bowls and meant to share.