JANG MO NIM, 6320 N. Lincoln, 773-509-0211: Korean dining doesn't get much better than Jang Mo Nim. Mother and daughter Sun Pak and Rachel Hyun have been graciously serving their creative cuisine for 14 years, Hyun running the dining room with her excellent translation skills and Pak cooking with a passion. The menu describes their work accurately: "To the uninitiated palate, we offer exotic yet familiar flavors. For the connoisseur of hanshik (Korean food), we will astound and surprise." Gol jun is something to try--plump fresh oysters lightly battered, then panfried and served with a red-pepper and soy dipping sauce. Another worthy starter is yook hwe, shredded raw beef marinated in sesame oil and topped with an egg yolk. Fabulous cook-it-yourself renditions of bulgogi and kalbi are offered, alongside the more unusual seng nak ji bo kum (octopus) and yum so bo kum (goat). The cold noodle dish hae mul jub shi guk soo--jellyfish, squid, cucumber, and fresh sesame leaf over thin rice noodles in a spicy chili sauce--packs a punch. Everything is homemade, from the Korean soy sauce to the various kimchi. Great for first-timers and aficionados alike.
PYUNG YANG MYUN OK, 5828 N. Lincoln, 773-506-1065: Boasting one of the larger main rooms on a restaurant-saturated stretch of Lincoln Avenue, Pyung Yang Myun Ok also has several private tatami rooms. Slate floors and wooden chairs make it a bit more polished than many of its competitors, but it's far from upscale. The menu, printed on paper place mats, features an assortment of cold buckwheat noodle dishes, some served in broth and others in a spicy sauce with beef, vegetables, or fish. Burners are brought to the table for cook-your-own options like kalbi (short ribs), bulgogi (marinated beef), cha dol baki (thinly sliced brisket of beef), and mok sal so keum gui (marinated pork shoulder). The tofu casserole, haemul tofu, incorporates baby clams, mussels, and whitefish; other casseroles come chock-full of ingredients like squid, octopus, or tripe--for the even more adventurous there's hong eu hwae, raw skate in a chili sauce. Korean vodka (soju) is served, along with beer and other cocktails.
LINCOLN NOODLE HOUSE, 5862 N. Lincoln, 773-275-8847: With its assortment of Korean noodle dishes and dumplings, Lincoln Noodle House puts Penny's huge menu to shame. What's more, the menu features color photos of most dishes to demystify the ordering process. Jum gol is a satisfying bowl of pork dumplings, thick rice noodles, and vegetables in a chicken stock, while zuk suk duk bok ki combines soft rice cake (slices of rice starch similar to thick noodles) with sesame leaf and hot sauce; u-dong mixes chewy rice noodles, fried-egg strips, fish cake, rice cake, and Korean radish in a chicken base. Cold noodle dishes are also worth a try--bi bim myun is slender buckwheat noodles mixed with shredded red cabbage, leaf lettuce, zucchini, and sesame seeds in a mildly spicy chili paste. There's hardly a dish over $8, and the portions are huge.
SONG DO BUFFET, 4918 N. Lincoln, 773-878-0999: A steam table laden with raw and cooked ingredients runs down the center of the room at the no-frills Song Do Buffet. All tables are equipped with heating elements for cooking items like kalbi, bulgogi, squid, pork hearts, and gizzards. Precooked selections include pig's feet (prepared two ways), vegetable and octopus dishes, and chap chae, Korean cellophane noodles with kimchi, bean paste, and soy. The language barrier is minimal, and anyway, you see the food before you choose it.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dorothy Perry.