A taste of Korea in Chicago for under $20

From authentic DIY barbecue to spicy fried chicken, tangy, funky kimchi, and street food spins on classics, Chicago has no shortage of great Korean fare. While places like Michelin-starred Parachute, with their imaginative fusion small plates, or chic BBQ spot Belly Q are ideal destinations for a Korean splurge, sometimes you want to get your fix of Korean flavors without breaking the bank. Here are seven spots in the city to sample some colorful, meat-centric cuisine that are also eminently affordable.

San Soo Gab San will satisfy your late night Korean cravings
If you’re in the mood for real-deal, cook-your-own Korean BBQ, this late-night resto (open till 1 a.m.) in a Lincoln Square strip mall should be on your list. Don’t expect much help from the staff beyond lighting your coals, but you can’t really go wrong with the assortment of high-quality meat offerings—from marinated beef short ribs ($19.95) to bulgogi ($17.95) to marinated sliced chicken ($16.95). A profusion of little side dishes include rice, garlicky kimchi, and raw and cooked veggies. Grab a few bottles of soju (Korean rice liquor) for the table, and make a night of it.

Jin Ju delivers on traditional Korean, and in style
Don’t be fooled by the ultra-chic interior; Jin Ju sticks to mostly traditional—and approachable—Korean dishes. Start with the haemal pajun, a hubcap-sized fried seafood pancake ($9.50). Piled high with mussels and squid, it’s perfect for a crowd. Four types of bi bim bap—from sliced beef to vegetarian, shellfish, and a sizzling hot pot version with sesame oil ($13 to $16)—headline the entrees, which are all served with rice and rotating pan chan (side dishes) like kimchi and shredded daikon.

Check out the North Asian-South Asian fusion at En Hakkore
This bright, eclectic Bucktown spot has a small menu of budget-friendly Korean fare headlined by beautiful bi bim bap bowls ($9.50). Your choice of spicy pork, Korean BBQ beef, or soft tofu cubes is neatly arranged with 16 kinds of cooked and raw veggies and a hardboiled egg atop al dente rice. Drizzle with irresistibly savory-sweet gochujang(Korean red pepper paste). If you prefer to go handheld, the hearty paratha tacos (two for $7.50) pile grilled meat, lettuce, pickled radish, and spicy mayo on Indian flatbread for a delightful culinary mash-up.

Cho Sun Ok treats you to a variety of cold noodle bowls
Yes, this cozy Lincoln Square BYO delivers on traditional, cook-your-own Korean barbecue, though its specialty is the naengmyeon, or Korean cold noodle bowls and soups, which run you under $10 apiece. The soups teem with chewy buckwheat noodles in a savory chilled beef broth. Hwe naengmyeon adds raw skate and spicy sauce. The bibim naengmyeon noodle channels bi bim bap, with beef and veggies in spicy pepper paste sauce. Wash it down with a few Korean beers, and you’ll think you’re in a Seoul home kitchen.

Del Seoul brings the soul of Korean street food to CHI
This no-frills, counter-service eatery offers a lighthearted take on Korean-inspired street food. Wallet-friendly meals range from Korean BBQ tacos filled with hand-battered tempura shrimp ($2.99) to sesame-chile aïoli, soy-marinated steak bulgogi “báhn mì” ($7.25) and fried rice laced with kimchi and spam ($10.95). Add a plate of kimchi and pork belly fries with scallions, Cheddar Jack, and sour cream for the table ($6.95).

With a name like Crisp, you know what you’re coming here for
This counter-service Lakeview joint offers Korean-style bowls, burritos, and sandwiches all for around $10, but the thing to get is the fried chicken. It’s a steal at $8.95 for a half or $15.95 for a whole bird—the meat inside is juicy, the exterior golden and crisp. Get it plain or slathered in your choice of sauces: sweet-smoky BBQ, buffalo or ginger- and soy-laced Seoul sassy.

Step it up a notch at Tozi
This modern, spacious Korean barbecue spot in Wicker Park is a bit pricier than its North Side cousins, but the rich stews—like pungent kimchi with pork and spicy beef in bone broth—are warming and hearty and all under $15. So is the bulgogi, laced with marbled prime rib eye. If you’re in for barbecue, sticking to the non-beef proteins will save you a few more bucks. The fatty, marinated duck ($18.95) and marinated octopus ($18.95) are especially memorable, and—like with all Korean BBQ—the plentiful sides here won’t leave you hungry.

Email   Print   Tweet