Houston’s Koreatown – A Mini Photo Tour
As Adrian said recently, Houston is big. Very big. Spread across Houston’s sprawl are different neighborhoods and communities that reflect Houston’s diversity. One such area is Houston’s Koreatown off of I-10W.
Most Houstonians are familiar with the huge Chinatown area along Bellaire Blvd, or the vast selection of yummy pho houses along Milam and Bellaire. But fewer, it seems, have discovered Houston’s Koreatown.
So, for those not yet familiar with this area that’s near and dear to my heart, I’ve put together a mini photo tour of some of my favorite Koreatown spots. Enjoy!
The photo tour starts at the corner of Bingle and Long Point with a view of Dongyang supermarket, one of the older Korean supermarkets in Houston. Most Korean businesses are concentrated on Long Point between Bingle and Gessner, with some extending north towards Hammerly.
(All of these photos were taken on Long Point and Gessner).
Seoul Garden Restaurant, at Long Point and Blalock. Generally speaking, Seoul Garden seems to draw both a younger crowd and more non-Asians – especially on the weekends. The bulgogi and kalbi (awesome Korean beef BBQ) are good. Seoul Garden also won the Houston Press awards for Best Bulgogi (2002) and Best Korean Restaurant (2000).
Several doors down from Seoul Garden is Mandarin Cafe – a Korean-Chinese restaurant that is one of only two places in Houston (that I know of) with jja jang myun(noodles with black bean sauce) on the menu. mmmmm.
Korea Garden Restaurant, near the corner of Long Point and Blalock.
Located directly across the street from Seoul Garden and Mandarin Cafe, this restaurant’s been around forever. Overall, some of the dishes have been outdone by the newer places, but it’s still a good place to check out. My mom says this is her favorite Korean restaurant.
Korea Garden’s strengths are their longstanding history and the mellow, cozy booths and private rooms….a great place to share dinner with a smaller group of friends. Next door is a supermarket and video store so you can pick up some yummy snacks and a Korean soap opera after gorging yourself on kalbi. Best of all, you’ll be supporting a family-owned Korean business at the same time.
There are plenty of Korean churches to go around – in high school, we used to joke that there were more Korean churches in Houston than Koreans. Smaller and less visible is the buddhist community. There are very few Korean buddhist temples in Houston (I only know of two), but the largest is the Southwest Chogye International Zen Academy at the corner of Long Point and Bunker Hill.
The Chogye center looks pretty drab from the outside, but inside it’s very peaceful – thanks to renovations by the building’s owners (a Korean buddhist couple). A Korean female monk lives in the temple and leads services. The Center holds sitting meditation on weekday mornings, some evenings and Sunday mornings.
This is Thinga Thinga Noraebang (noraebang = karaoke place), my favorite place to get down and karaoke the night away. You have your choice of 8 private rooms so only your closest friends can watch you make a fool of yourself singing Bananarama’s classic hits. Beer and soju (Korean version of sake) are available as well.
Offices of the Hankook Ilbo (Korea Times) in Houston.
Seoul Books & Gifts, on Long Point just east of Gessner, is Houston’s only Korean bookstore. Next door is Koryo Bakery, where sweets, breads and other desserts are baked on site and delivered to local supermarkets. Try the custard bread – it’s delish.
Il Mi Jung Restaurant, at 10017 Long Point, may not be much to look at, but the food is closer to real home cooking than most other restaurants. The restaurant itself is small, but the booths have high dividers so you can still enjoy some privacy.
Hanil Korean Restaurant recently changed owners – it used to be Green Pine Tree Restaurant. Green Pine Tree was known for its BBQ , though I thought it was just OK. I’m a hard sell, though, since my mom is reigning queen of Korean cooking this side of Seoul (fo’ real).
Next door to Hanil is a Rice Cake Shop, where you can buy different kinds of dduk (Korean sweet rice cakes).
Asiana Garden on Gessner, between I-10 and Long Point. Ah, Asiana Garden. After Korea Garden, this is another old-timer in the community. Asiana Garden has survived multiple changes in ownership/manager, and the quality of the food changes accordingly. The last time I was at Asiana, the food had definitely improved. Overall, I’ve seen more home dishes at Asiana than I’ve seen at other restaurants (with the exception of Il Mi Jung). In my opinion, the menus at other restaurants seem to focus on dishes non-Koreans will recognize and enjoy…”mass appeal” if you will. At Asiana, you’ll see dishes that’ll remind you of mom. For example, in the summers you can order (off the menu) kongbiji, a cold soup made from soy beans. Delicious and nutritious. I also think Asiana Garden has the BEST soon dubu jigae (spicy tofu soup) in Houston. The BBQ is pretty good, too.
Asiana Garden has a second location in the Greenspoint area.
The quick lowdown on Korean food:
* The best time to go out for Korean food is Friday night. Why? Lots of Koreans in Houston are christian-y, and attend these things called “house churches” on Friday nights. This means restaurants are wonderfully, gloriously not crowded. I don’t attend a Korean church, so my sister and I refer to Friday night at any Korean restaurant as “heathen night”. But, since the restaurants are less crowded, you get great service so it really does pay to be a heathen.
* All Korean restaurants have grills at the table for grilling meat. The unspoken rule is that you have to order a minimum of 2 orders of BBQ in order to use the grill – otherwise, they cook the meat for you in the kitchen.
* Although Korean food is mostly known for its BBQ (for good reason), there are many, many other great dishes. Try the mandu gook (dumpling soup), kimchi jigae (kimchi casserole – spicy!), or haemul pajun (seafood fried pancakes) for starters.
* Vegetarians need not despair – Korean food is vegetarian friendly. My veggie friends like to order bi bim bap, which is steamed rice topped with a variety of veggies like marinated spinach, steamed mung bean sprouts, fried tofu, and more. Hot sauce is optional.
Of course, there’s more to Koreatown than these photos show – if you’re on the west side of town, take the Bingle or Gessner exit from I-10….and explore!