Restaurant Review: Min Ga Korean Restaurant

Bailey Trask
Kalbi at Min Ga Korean Restaurant

Editor’s Note: Min Ga is currently closed for dine-in service but open for carryout from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily until further notice.

If Columbus has a Koreatown, it’s along Bethel and Henderson roads. It’s here that you can find Korean groceries, churches and restaurants, including Min Ga, an unassuming eatery that brought on a new owner, Joo Lee, three years ago. And while Lee hasn’t changed the menu or atmosphere of the 25-year-old restaurant, she has taken steps—like building a website and advertising—to attract more customers. The restaurant is prepared not only for its Korean clientele, but also for those who discover this gem when visiting the nearby dental clinic or Vince’s Muscle Shop in Olentangy Square.

Not familiar with Korean food? No problem. Min Ga’s helpful menu showcases a glossary of Korean dishes, including steamed rice (bap), soups (guk) and stews (jjigae). And the service is just as accommodating, with considerate waitstaff who are quick to offer adjustments to dishes for those who may not be familiar with Korean food or ingredients. They’ll ensure that customers are aware that a dish is spicy or explain the texture of bean paste. And when my partner and I tried to order a casserole (a protein/vegetable medley marked on the menu for two), a server suggested a different option, saying that the casserole dishes are better for three to four people.

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The restaurant has a strong carryout business, and while the tables are almost always full, the kitchen—which offers a view to a prep station—is just as busy filling to-go and delivery orders for Postmates and DoorDash. The atmosphere in the two dining rooms, adorned with bamboo plants and generic ornamental lighting, is warm and lively as carts come and go, delivering banchan and removing spent dishes. Small touches, such as candy suckers served with the check, help underline Min Ga’s family-run feel.

The drink menu consists of a small selection of canned sodas, bottled beers, wine, soju and sake, but for a crowd, I’ve seen pitchers of beer delivered tableside. I stick with water to counter the heat from some of the spicier dishes.

Min Ga’s variety of banchan (complimentary side dishes, including kimchi) changes from day to day. The brightly colored, mostly veggie-based sides are a delightful sight for winter-weary eyes. During one visit, I enjoyed three varieties: a seaweed dish, spicy fish cakes and curried potatoes, the latter of which are the first I’ve experienced in a Korean restaurant and something I found myself hoping for every visit.

A number of appetizers are tempting but unnecessary, given the size of the mains. (I’ve never been able to finish an entrée in one sitting.) The duk bokki ($12.95), a popular Korean street food, is big enough for a main course. A platter of 1-inch rice cake cylinders are served with fish cakes in a thin red sauce spiced with gochujang—Korea’s ever-present red pepper paste—and soy sauce. The sauce is vaguely reminiscent in color and texture of SpaghettiOs sauce, which is strangely enjoyable. The cakes are tender and not as chewy as I’ve had elsewhere.

One starter I’d order again as a main is the Korean roll ($7.95). Known as kimbap, the app is essentially a giant sushi roll filled with rice, radishes, mushrooms, cooked eggs, cucumbers, pickles and imitation crab meat. Min Ga’s version is cut into 10 pieces that are a little too large to eat in a single bite, creating an awkward experience as the roll falls apart midbite. It’s worth the mess to experience the warm rice next to the cool vegetables, and leftovers keep well for next-day consumption.

Soups and stews make up a large portion of Min Ga’s menu, and the kimchi jjigae ($12.95) tops the list. This stew has a never-ending array of ingredients, including tender pieces of tofu, kimchi, clear noodles, green onion tops, slivers of fish cake and large pieces of delightfully fatty pork. But it’s the thin, tangy broth with gochujang base that delivers kimchi’s fermented flavors in a slow and subtle way. In this form, the base flavors of Korean cuisine can be appreciated layer by layer, a distinct change from the in-your-face nature of kimchi in its non-soup form.

Another slurpable specialty is ugeoji guk (spelled “ugoji kuk” on the menu; $11.95). Like the majority of the soups and stews at Min Ga, it comes out bubbling. This super-spicy bean paste soup (often referred to as a hangover soup) features tofu, cabbage, green onions and jalapeño peppers. The ox bone-seasoned broth is rich with umami. A little white rice spooned into the bowl helps to temper the heat.

One of the most familiar dishes to the Western palate—the hot stone bibimbap ($13.95)—does not disappoint. The Korean version of the “Buddha bowl,” this dish is served in a hot stone pot and filled to the brim with rice (which cooks to a nice crisp in the pot), an array of vegetables, seasoned beef and an egg. When mixed together, the yolk both cooks and serves as a sauce. But the key element tying it all together is the gochujang served on the side. Without the paste, the dish would be bland, but as my friend who spent time in Korea explains, with the paste, “It is everything.”

Min Ga is not equipped with a tableside barbecue setup (like Gogi Korean BBQ just up the street), but it offers charcoal-grilled beef, pork and chicken options. The kalbi short ribs ($23.95) will fulfill any carnivore’s cravings. Doused in a sweet and peppery marinade, the sizzling slices of beef are served alongside grilled onions, which taste like grown-up candy, and topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. This is comfort food at its best.

And in Columbus, this is Korean food at its best. While it’s a little pricey compared to other area eateries (save Refectory), Min Ga delivers in quality, taste and quantity. A visit to Min Ga is a portal to a side of Columbus’ culinary scene that is little-hyped compared to our chef-driven restaurants, but nevertheless vibrant.

800 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side, 614-457-7331

Hours: 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun–Thu; 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri–Sat

Price Range: $5–$15 appetizers, $8–$30 entrées

Reservations: Accepted

In Short: With an extensive menu of soups, stews, barbecued meats and classic bibimbap, this old-school Korean restaurant continues to shine years after it first opened on Bethel Road. Helpful service and colorful small plates of banchan go a long way in making diners, both novices and experts, feel welcome. Standouts among the main entrées include the restorative kimchi jjigae with its gochujang base and the sizzling beef kalbi.

Three Stars (Excellent)

Min Ga Korean Restaurant