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!

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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).

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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).

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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.

The other spot for a bowl of jja jang myun is North China Restaurant at 879 Frostwood Dr behind Memorial City Hospital. My family’s known them for more than 25 years, and their food is excellent.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Shout out to my hair salon, Ta Bong. hee.
The KA Institute is a hagwon, an afterschool study program that a lot of Korean kids are forced to go to. I hated going to them as a kid. Kumon, anyone?

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Offices of the Hankook Ilbo (Korea Times) in Houston.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Next door to Hanil is a Rice Cake Shop, where you can buy different kinds of dduk (Korean sweet rice cakes).

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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.

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Nam Gang Restaurant at 1411 Gessner. I haven’t been to this restaurant, but check out the Houston Press review.

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.

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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!

9 Comments so far

  1. marc (unregistered) on April 8th, 2006 @ 1:24 am

    long point is one of my favorite enclaves in houston. i’ve been to south korea on vacation many times, so i visit long point often. your mom and i must have similar taste as korea garden restaurant is my favorite korean restuarant as well. i really enjoy their bulgoli and bi bim bap. koreatown is indeed a gem in the landscape of houston.


  2. Lambo (unregistered) on April 8th, 2006 @ 8:00 am

    Hey Jen,

    Sketkar and I are always talking about how diverse Houston is. We are usually talking about how we can’t think of any US city that is as cultural diverse as we are. I think you post shows that. I don’t go out to Long Point area, and here this community existed that I didn’t know about. Thanks for sharing.


  3. laanba (unregistered) on April 8th, 2006 @ 10:36 am

    Great post. Thanks for sharing this interesting part of Houston.


  4. eva (unregistered) on April 8th, 2006 @ 10:41 am

    Thanks for sharing this info. Just wanted to point out one thing though. The Houston Chinatown link you have is weird looking, not sure if it contains symbols or what inside the webpage, but you and others might want to visit this one I found instead, http://www.chinatownconnection.com. Believe me, it is so much better than that one.


  5. Steelsun (unregistered) on April 8th, 2006 @ 5:36 pm

    On Longpoint (I think at Gessner) is a place called Seoul Gardens – a great restaurant that I and a bunch of friends have been hitting for years.

    Try the Bu Go Gee (not sure of the spelling), basically a marinated BBQ beef that you cook yourself on a table grill.
    And the Zuchini Pancakes are awesome.

    You’ll also get a spread of differant Korean foods as samplers for free with a meal. Some weird stuff there, but fun to sample.


  6. Governor (unregistered) on April 8th, 2006 @ 5:36 pm

    Dude!!! I’m going to Nam Gang tonight. I’ll post a review of the food in this comment section.

    I’ve had the jja jang myun from Mandarin Cafe last weekend and there is nothing else as wonderful! Isn’t it funny how Mandarin Cafe’s name in Korean is not Mandarin Cafe?

    And hey!!! You need photos of KoMart!


  7. a~lotus (unregistered) on April 8th, 2006 @ 9:48 pm

    wonderful tour! i should try some of these places.. and some of them look familiar when i pass by some of them. :)


  8. adrian (unregistered) on April 9th, 2006 @ 4:58 am

    What an awesome post! Thanks for sharing more information about this little piece of Spring Branch. I’ve always thought it was quite neat having such an extensive Korean community inside a predominately Hispanic area.

    I’m certainly going to check out some of the resturants in the area.


  9. Ray (unregistered) on April 22nd, 2006 @ 8:17 am

    Interesting post. Although, in response to Lambo above, I find it hard to believe that Houston is “the most diverse city” in America. As someone who’s lived in Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and currently San Francisco, I can definitely say that these other three cities are wayyyyy more diverse than Houston. And to Steelsun, above, those items aren’t “samplers,” they are side dishes that come with every meal.



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