Registry Tampa Bay

Korean food is having a moment. Like the most popular cultural exports from that Asian country, it has earned the “K” prefix. K-pop. K-cinema. K-food. According to The Food Institute, interest in Korean cuisine spiked nearly 90 percent during 2021.

K-food’s moment does not appear to be waning. In a very informal survey of Google maps, I found more than a dozen Korean-specific eateries in the Tampa Bay area. I wouldn’t have guessed that. I recall having a bento box lunch at Sarione in Tampa more than a decade ago, and not caring for it. But as a semi-professional food columnist, it’s imperative that I not let this K-food moment pass me by.

Korean BBQ is one of the most high-profile items on the K-food spectrum. And I discovered that a popular way to experience it is cook your own meat on a table-top grill. One visit to the Melting Pot in the early ’90s cured me of cooking my own food in a restaurant. So I found two places that would cook it for me: Dooriban in St. Pete and One Family Korean Restaurant in Tampa.

Okay, enough context — 이렇게 해보자 (Let’s do this)

DOORIBAN

This converted drive-through on 66th Street just north of 54th Avenue had a no-frills, neighborhood vibe at 6:30 on Monday.

Several tables were occupied, some with Caucasians, some with Koreans. The latter engaged in loud, lively conversation that I found rather musical, and lent an air if authenticity. A Korean TV show played on a screen over my shoulder.

Our server, Torrey — a Caucasian — was upbeat and helpful when we told her that we were K-food rookies. We ordered Beef Bulgogi (BBQ, $22.99) and Vegetable Mandu (deep-fried dumplings, $9.99).

Appearance

The beef, with some slices of onion and carrot mixed in, came out on a hot plate, steaming. It smelled terrific. Bonnie remarked that the meat looked like the kind they put in Philly cheesesteaks, so I’ll call it shaved. The entree came with five small side bowls: three types of kimchi (cabbage, radish, cucumber), along with thinly sliced potato and fish cake.

The eight crescents of Mandu were lined neatly on a white plate, sided by a small bowl of house soy sauce.

Texture and Taste

I tend to avoid beef at Asian restaurants because in my experience it’s often chewy. But I’m pleased I took the plunge at Dooriban. The meat was tender, lean and succulent, save for a few pieces that required extra jaw work. The barbecue sauce — which was marinated into the beef, not dripping off of it — was sweet and seductive. The first bite made me nod and a smile.

I took quite a bit of the dish home because I ill-advisedly plowed through the fried dumplings, an ample portion that was quite filling. They were fine, although the vegetables were soft and mushy and could’ve used some crunch.

Of the side dishes, I liked the sharp-flavored cucumber kimchi the best, the soggy(ish) and bitter cabbage the least. The skinny strips of fish cake were surprisingly enjoyable.

We left full and happy.

ONE FAMILY KOREAN RESTAURANT

” … where you can get awesome bulgogi (thin, marinated slices of beef or pork) and delicious Korean barbecued short ribs …” New York Times (March, 2022). That’s one of the reasons I chose this place as part of my K-food moment.

OFKR is situated in a drab gray building in a faceless shopping center set back from Hillsborough Avenue in Town ‘N’ Country. The restaurant’s small, windowless dining room has eight tables and booths — tight but not quite cramped. The vibe was intimate and relaxed. At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday most of the tables were occupied, but the noise kept to an acceptable level.

KK was the only server, and she managed to be attentive to everyone while hustling like crazy. We ordered Beef Bulgogi ($24.99) and Fried Dumplings (6 for $7.99). I also got a Korean soft drink ($2.99), pear-peach flavor, which came in a six-ounce can.

Appearance

At first blush, the beef did not look as appetizing as that of Dooriban. It had an almost grayish hue. The portion, which arrived on a hot plate, was smaller than the competition’s.

The Bulgogi came with five small side bowls: cabbage, cucumber and daikon (radish) kimchi, bean sprouts and white radish cut julienne-style. The dumplings looked like dumplings.

Texture and Taste

The beef, while sweet, was less so than the version at Dooriban. I preferred its dialed-down sweetness, but would’ve have liked a smidge more. The meat was supremely tender and I did not encounter a single chewy piece. Let me acknowledge the white rice, which had the ideal level of stickiness and complemented the beef.

The dumplings, filled with ground pork, were tasty, and the shell provided some crispiness. My favorite side bowls were the daikon kimchi and sliced radish, which eat sat in a their own tangy sauce and added lots of playful crunch. Again, I wasn’t fan of the cabbage kimchi. The soft-drink was pear-forward and light on the carbonation, almost like juice. I appreciated it as a change of pace.

Bonnie and I finished the entire meal. We left full and happy.

And the Winner of the Tampa vs. St. Pete Battle Over Korean BBQ Is …

One Family Korean Restaurant.

But not by much. I delighted in both meals, and look forward to returning to the restaurants.

My K-food moment was a rousing success, and I hope to incorporate the cuisine into my rotation. I look forward to trying more dishes. I just wish one of these restaurants was in easy striking distance for takeout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses

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  2. This article was incredibly insightful! I was captivated by the thoroughness of the information and the clear, engaging way it was delivered. The depth of research and expertise evident in this post is remarkable, significantly elevating the content’s quality. The insights in the opening and concluding sections were particularly compelling, sparking some ideas and questions I hope you will explore in future articles. If there are any additional resources for further exploration on this topic, I would love to delve into them. Thank you for sharing your expertise and enriching our understanding of this subject. I felt compelled to comment immediately after reading due to the exceptional quality of this piece. Keep up the fantastic work—I’ll definitely be returning for more updates. Your dedication to crafting such an excellent article is highly appreciated!

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