As with any new year, there’s bound to be some kind of change that happens. And 2018 just happened to start off with another move for us! While we’re still in the larger Bay Area, we’re a bit too far to eat at the East Bay places we discovered on a daily basis, so I wanted to dedicate this post to three of our Korean go-tos.
First up is my all-time favorite Bay Area restaurant (so far) – Ohgane. This cook-it-yourself Korean bbq spot features an all-you-can-eat option that doesn’t disappoint! It even made it onto the 2014 MICHELIN guide of San Francisco, Bay Area, & Wine Country restaurants!
The wide selection of meats, stews, and small plates that you can order, along with the salad and assortment of side dishes that are brought out to your table when you sit down, makes this place a definite winner in my book. Here are a couple of pictures to whet your appetite:
Ohgane: (L) assortment of banchan, (R) side salad
As I mentioned, everyone starts off with a set of banchan, side dishes that vary from seaweed salad and pickled cucumbers, to fishcake and tofu, and of course, kimchi.
Then, the meat and other dishes you ordered off the menu are brought out to you as they become ready. The last time we went, we started off with spicy pork and bulgogi, or marinated prime short steak (pictured below).
Once these meats started cooking, I forgot all about taking pictures and the hippo took over – sorry! However, based on what I’ve tried the numerous times I’ve been here, I’d also recommend ordering the bulgogi casserole (bulgogi jeongol). It’s a sweet broth filled with green onions, vermicilli, and thin slices of beef. It’s really good over rice too! This dish was being tested out the first time I checked out Ohgane, so not only is it reminiscent of my initial experience here, but it also makes me oh-so-happy to see that it’s made it onto the final menu!
Be sure to order some rice wraps for the table too! These “rice wraps” are actually thin slices of rice noodle that you can wrap around the meat, sides, or even eat by themselves! My favorite way to eat them is with a piece of meat, with some salad mixed in to help lighten things up. What about you?
I’ve also tried other Korean staples from Ohgane, such as their soondubu (soft tofu stew), gyeran jjim (steamed egg) and jhap chae (glass noodles stir-fried with meat and veggies). They offer good ol’ fried options like french fries and potstickers too, and if you’re a fan of Korean fried chicken, you’re going to want to add that onto your AYCE meal as well.
Although Ohgane provides a salt and pepper mixture that you can add sesame oil into to create a dipping sauce, I still found myself missing the jalapeño-infused soy sauce I grew up with in SoCal. The vinegar in this sauce helps to cut through the fat of the meats, but all in all, I have to say that the variety and overall deliciousness of Ohgane is spot on!
Even though the hippo within me shouts Ohgane whenever I crave Korean, the all-you-can eat part pushes me to choose bowl’d for a more day-to-day option. Located on the infamous Solano Avenue in Albany, this Korean restaurant also features a contemporary decor, complete with a tree growing in the middle of the restaurant.
I’ll go ahead and start off with the banchan again. Here, they include a plate of steamed cabbage with soybean paste, along with the traditional assortment. Much like the rice wraps at Ohgane, I use the cabbage as a wrap around the bbq meat. A bonus that I have to share about bowl’d is that if you order to go, they include all of the bachan dishes (which is usually only reserved for dine-in customers at most Korean restaurants)!
bowl’d: (L) light broth and steamed cabbage with soybean paste, (R) assortment of banchan
If you only have enough money to order one thing on the menu, do yourself a BIG favor and order the wings. They’re simply delicious! Perfectly crispy on the outside, with the meat nice and tender on the inside, all dripping in a sweet and spicy sauce.
As for the barbecued meat, my go-to is definitely spicy pork. You can taste the pineapple in their marinade, which balances out the spiciness of the chilies.
bowl’d: (L) spicy pork, (R) beef (bulgogi)
The bulgogi is another good choice, but I usually like to save that to add onto my bibimbop, which combines rice with a medley of seasoned vegetables, meat, and egg. You mix everything together, along with gochujang (red chili paste) and sesame oil. The trick is to mix it up real well – the more you mix it, the better it tastes! You can also order the SIZZLING WORKS, where the bibimbop is served in a hot stone bowl (dolsot bibimbop), as seen below. This makes some of the rice crispy for an even more delicious meal.
Some other dishes that I’ve tried from bowl’d are the spicy beef stew and kimbop, which is basically the Korean version of sushi. The kimbop pictured below is with bbq beef.
bowl’d: (L) spicy beef stew, (R) kimbop with beef (bulgogi)
Lastly, for a quicker, take-out option, BopShop is the answer! Their menu isn’t as varied, with bibimbop and poke bowls being their main ticket items, but they DO have something called the kimchi-rito! This is a Korean-inspired burrito featuring kimchi fried rice, lettuce, cheese, and your choice of meat, all wrapped up in a spinach tortilla.
BopShop: (L) bibimbop with beef (bulgogi), (R) kimchi-rito with spicy pork
Their packaging for their bibimbop is also on point, as they separate the cold ingredients (veggies) from the hot ones (rice and meat), keeping everything from getting soggy. Try it out, and let me know what you think!
Upon further research, I discovered that this Korean trio is all owned by the same conglomerate – OMC Brands. This corporation was founded in 1990, is currently based out of Oakland, and prides itself on being a leader in “upscale casual dining Korean restaurant companies,” with over 12 restaurants under it’s reign across the Bay Area. No wonder these hippo-approved restaurants are all on the top of my Korean restaurant list! Don’t forget to check out their sister restaurant spoon too!
Until next time, happy eating!