From classic Korean BBQ in Albany Park to decorated fine dining destinations to fried chicken joints with legions of fans, the quantity and quality of Korean food in Chicago has grown to a point that someone might have to write a song called "Seoul Man". Sorry, that joke was terrible. Luckily, these establishments are quite the opposite.
We’ve already told you that Crisp makes the best wings in Chicago, and that title is all thanks to that expertly twice-fried skins and the Seoul Sassy’s ginger soy garlic sauce.
Dak serves up enormous (seriously: they’re huge.) drumsticks with extra-thin, super crisp skin, the trademark of Korean-style wings. While the soy-garlic is also delicious, get yours tossed in the spicy-BBQ option.
This table-top Korean BBQ spot with Tokyo flavor is a hotspot for visiting Japanese baseball players -- there’s even a life-size cut-out of Ichiro. Come in to hang out the hit king, and enjoy the beef tartare, marinated beef liver, and prime ribeye wrapped in lettuce and spicy soybean paste.
Finally, something you enjoy raking over the coals more than Ventra: tasty short ribs. Everything’s cooked over a charcoal grill, which seals the meats with caramelized char that’s unattainable on conventional, electric, tabletop grills. The Kalbi is top-notch; pair it with an abundance of banchans until as late as 3am.
Chef Bang bangs out traditional Japanese and Korean fare at this upbeat neighborhood spot. Bring your favorite bottle of booze, and settle in for attentive service, stone-bowl bibimbap with marinated beef, cross-cut short rib, and drunken fried wings with Gosu fire sauce.
This place is no secret amongst Loyola students and its Rogers Park neighbors, but it’s time the rest of the city got familiar. Susie’s is your spot for a Korean inspired breakfast like that which your grandma would make. Not only do you get to indulge in fantastic bi bim bop and omelettes mixing American cheese with funky kimchi but you also get service with a smile.
It’s no longer a secret but any list without the best Korean bar food in the city just isn't legit. All you need to know is one thing, two words. Fire Chicken. They manage to make the meat both well charred and juicy and bring the heat with each bite which is just fine because there’s plenty of alcohol to calm it all down.
There’s a nice little Korean cafeteria located inside this popular Korean grocer but you don't even have to step inside to get one of the best food deals in the city. Located at the entrance is the almighty dumpling stand specializing in Mandoo which are large Korean dumplings stuffed with meats and veggies. Just $2 for your choice of filling and you got yourself a nice light lunch. We’re partial to the pork offering.
Hidden in a strip mall on Kedzie are some of the best Korean wings in the city. Crispy is an understatement with these things, not to mention the flavor each wing packs. It doesn't stop there: you can also enjoy many other family favorites all made by the sweet mom and pop team that own the place.
For $20, you’ll get alllllllll the buffet-style pancakes, kimchi, and galbi. Large grills sit on the tabletops, so diners can cook the meat to their liking, and there’s no corkage fee for those who embrace the BYOB policy.
You can’t go wrong with the large portions and reasonable prices at this BYOB mainstay that's equipped with hot plates at every table. Nosh on the chadolbaegi and bulgogi, and don’t miss the seafood pancake. Pro tip: the place is consistently packed and they don’t take reservations, so try dining during off-hours, or be prepared to wait.
Korean food saw it’s rise into the gourmet nationally recognized category this past year with this James beard award-winning restaurant. The team takes Korean favorites and ever so slightly slightly reinvents them into pretty plates that taste every bit as good as they look.
When the current owners bought the previous business, which was also a restaurant, they made sure to keep the locals favorites while adding their own Korean family recipes to the menu. Staples like Bulgogi, Kalbi, teriyaki, and twigim (deep fried) make out the menu alongside American diner classics and the aforementioned long time customer favorites such as akutagawa.
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Titus Ruscitti is a contributor at Thrillist and longtime Chicago food explorer. He is the man behind "Smokin' Chokin' and Chowing'," "What's Your Beef," and "The Chicago Taco Tour." You can peek in on all his adventures on Instagram: @chibbqking.
Kailley Lindman is a contributing writer for Thrillist Chicago, as well as a freelance food photographer, food blogger at KailleysKitchen.com, and recovering vegetarian. Follow her at @KailleysKitchen.
1. Crisp2940 N Broadway, Chicago
2. Dak1104 W Granville, Chicago
3. Chicago Kalbi Korean BBQ3752 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago
4. San Soo Gab San5247 N Western Ave, Chicago
5. Gosu2515 N California Ave, Chicago
6. Susie's Noon Hour Grill6930 N Glenwood Ave, Chicago
7. Dancen5114 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
8. Joong Boo Market3333 N Kimball Ave, Chicago
9. Cafe Orient 334829 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago
10. Song Do4918 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
11. Cho Sun Ok4200 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
12. Parachute3500 N Elston Ave, Chicago
13. Rice'N Bread3435 N Sheffield Ave, Chicago
Objectively speaking, the only thing better than a fried chicken wing is a jumbo fried chicken wing, which explains why the not-so-jumbo Crisp -- a Korean counter-serve in Lakeview -- is always packed. Everyone wants a taste of those juicy, jumbo Sassy Seoul wings (the sauce is just a garlic-sesame-soy glaze, but Sassy Seoul is more fun to say). There are other sauces, and also other Korean comfort dishes like kimchee and bibimbap-like Buddha Bowls, but those jumbo wings are unequivocally the main event (it’s called Crisp for a reason). It’s BYOB, so be sure to bring something that pairs well with sass.
Dak takes its name from the Korean word for “chicken,” a nod to its specialty: delicately crisped wings. Food is made to order, so it’s guaranteed to be fresh, and portion sizes are generous. Though it’s fast-foodish, Dak makes you feel right at home with wood and tile accents in a contemporary setting. Try the wings, wings and more wings. Indulge in as many mild or spicy sauces you can handle.
At this Chicago eatery, you can mix-and-match Japanese and Korean appetizers and entrees. The food is grilled right in front of you and what sets Chicago Kalbi apart from other KBBQ spots is its use of wood chips instead of gas on the tables. The delicious, smoky smell will invite you in from the street. Open seating or privacy rooms are available for groups.
Mix up the routine and take your cooking skills outside the home: this Korean BBQ lets diners cook their own meat! Don’t let its humble looks fool you: beyond an unassuming façade lies a Korean BBQ gem equipped with charcoal grills on your table for a fun DIY dining experience. Meat and seafood options include marinated beef short ribs, pork ribs, and baby octopus.
This Logan Square haunt features both Korean and Japanese fare. The decor is comfortable and inviting, and meals are accompanied by miso soup and a small side salad at no extra charge. With a name like Gosu—Korean for “exception skill”—you know it’s going to be, well, exceptional. For extra savings, BYOB to go with the hearty food.
Noon Hour Grill fame for for food is rivaled only by the fame of the woman who prepares it. Susie is an elderly Korean woman who does it all: taking orders, preparing meals, serving tables and running the business. Every dish—your choice of Mediterranean, Chinese, Mexican and American—is handmade with love. Her energy for customers and passion for food is palpable the moment you walk through the door. The mostly Korean comfort food comes in substantial portion sizes. You’ve got to check out this incredible one-woman show.
The authentic fire chicken, Korean music and dimly-lit ambiance almost make you forget you’re in Chicago. Dancen’s got great cocktails, and the casual environment is perfect a perfect spot to grab some drinks and a bite to eat with a few friends. Lincoln Square is a cute place to shop and hang out after your meal.
This hot spot is one part supermarket, one part fast-food Korean restaurant. The Avondale market is packed floor-to-ceiling with the all of the best Korean products, including housewares and kitchen utensils. Come to shop, and stay for the chicken wings and pork wang dumplings, served in the back of the market. For years, it’s been one of Chicago’s best kept secrets for good, inexpensive eats.
Cafe Orient 33 is a neighborhood favorite. This informal, family-run Japanese-Korean spot in Albany Park is BYBO and offers some of the crispiest, most delicious wings in the city. The supremely flavorful sweet and spicy wings are a must, as is the Bibimbap. You’ll for sure get your dollar’s worth of taste. The place is warm and welcoming with high ceilings and soft yellow interior, and the family is very sweet.
This low-frills Korean fare and BBQ spot has our approval with delicious menu combos and a BYOB policy. There are ready-to-eat options and a buffet, too, if you’re short on time. Song Do takes reservations and is best for casual dinners. Street and bike parking is available right outside.
This North Center restaurant is a quality spot to chow down on tasty Korean BBQ made grill-top style. Pro tip: try the short ribs, beef dumplings, or kimchi fried rice. Service is quick and prices are more than reasonable. Oh, and they're BYOB, so don't forget your favorite booze!
From Chefs Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim, Parachute takes a soulful American approach to Korean cuisine. The husband-and-wife team cranks out innovative dishes like boudin noir with kohlrabi, apples, and seedy salad; dolsot bibimbap whose ever-changing toppings range from tuna and n’duja to short rib and foie gras; and salt & pepper ribs with a yuzu-chili pepper glaze. The family-style Avondale restaurant is drawing diners en masse, and the 40-seat dining room has a lofty list of reservation hopefuls vying for a table in the intimate space. Start with an order (probably two though, to be safe) of the addictive baked potato bing bread, made with bacon, scallions, and sour cream butter.
Rice ’N Bread offers a different take on the typical Korean buffet: the food is mostly American but with Korean influences. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck with large, fresh meals spiced to perfection. It’s a great spot for small groups, especially for breakfast and lunch. Located a block away from Wrigley Field, RNB is there for you when you want a break from the action.