If you're into food and you haven't dined in Beaverton, you're missing out on some of the Pacific Northwest's most exciting Korean food. Eight of the top 10 Korean restaurants in the new Fearless Critic Portland Restaurant Guide
(whose release we've just celebrated at Powell's) are in Beaverton. I can only scratch the surface of Beaverton's many treasures in a single blog entry, but here goes.
I am willing to make the unambiguous claim that Beaverton's Korean restaurants absolutely stand up to what you can find in America's foremost Korean communities — Northern Virginia, Flushing, New Jersey, Oakland, L.A., and so on. The problem here — which is the problem in those other communities — is finding the good restaurants, which often hide behind the blandest façades on the bleakest stretches of strip mall.
Sometimes you see a certain sort of sign for a certain sort of Korean grocery store, and you just get that feeling that a certain sort of secret restaurant lurks inside. When I saw the sign for the "Pal Do World Market," off a strip-center alleyway in Beaverton, I got that feeling. That tingly feeling. Sure enough, inside, after making my way past the meat counter and through the 17 different varieties of kimchi, I found a stairway in the back, which led to Spring Restaurant (p. 321 in the Fearless Critic book, 3975 SW 114th Ave.).
Hidden entrance to Spring Restaurant
Pictorial menu at Spring Restaurant
It turned out to be one of the best places in the Portland area for spicy Korean stews. Don't get Korean BBQ here — opt for DJK instead (see below) — but the deep, rich broths here are sensational. The menu is conveniently pictorial, which is a big boon for non-Korean speakers. Oh, and if you want to take pictures, try to be more subtle than I was. (The owner became convinced that I was spying for the competition. Imagine that: Robin Goldstein, Beaverton Korean grocery-store spy.) This humble little spot scored an 8.7 in the Fearless Critic.
Next up is my favorite place of all for Korean food in Beaverton, and one of the most undiscovered by urban foodies: Country Korean Restaurant (4130 SW 117th Ave., p. 134 in the Fearless Critic book). It's on another strip center (you'll get used to this as you do the Asian-culinary-gems-of-Beaverton tour). And its soondae is sensational, winning the restaurant a 9.0 for food, landing it in the greater Portland area's top 25 restaurants in the book.
There's a good chance you haven't heard of soondae. Even America's foremost chefs are only starting to discover this sultry gem of Korean cuisine. It's a version of blood sausage, rendered fragrant by aromatic spices and herbs and studded with rice noodles, endowing it with an easy softness.
Soondae at Country Korean Restaurant
My favorite way to have Country Korean's soondae is as soondae guk (in a deep, spicy stew), although you can also get it as a plate that will thrill innards fanatics — the soondae comes with an assorted plate of tongue, tripe, kidney, and such. Seolleongtang (ox-bone broth) is also excellent here, with an emergent milkiness that gets more addictive with every sip. Get it with dropped egg and pleasantly gamy shredded beef. The banchan (small side dishes that come out at the beginning of most Korean meals) are also first-rate.
Banchan at Country Korean Restaurant
Another great place for Korean stews is JCD (p. 199 in the Fearless Critic book, 3492 SW Cedar Hills Blvd.), which achieved an 8.7 for food. It's one of the dingiest Korean storefronts you'll ever see. It's part of a ratty strip center, adjacent to a sketchy-looking sushi joint. Until recently, the only sign was in Korean. Nowadays there's a helpful "JCD" in front. Inside, though, the atmosphere is surprisingly pleasant, the people are friendly, and the pajaeon (seafood pancake) is delicious, as is daen jang jigae (fermented soybean paste soup) and pork-neck-and-potato stew, which both brandish profound umami flavor.
JCD Korean Restaurant's interior
For Korean barbecue, DJK (p. 143 in the Fearless Critic book, 12275 SW Canyon Rd.) leads the pack. Galbi (short ribs) are sensational, with melting fat and a wonderfully evocative marinade — good enough for an 8.8 food rating. The restaurant's interior is lined with smoke hoods and barbecue setups at each individual table. That's always a great sign. If you're up for an all-out meat feast, it's hard to do much better than this. Forget El Gaucho, Morton's, and Ringside — meat eaters, come here!
DJK Korean BBQ's unassuming storefront
Beaverton is by no means only a town for Korean food. Yuzu (p. 366 in the Fearless Critic book, next door to Country Korean, at 4130 SW 117th Ave.) is a dark, secluded little izakaya that opens nightly at 6 p.m. and is absolutely packed from that moment practically until closing at midnight. It is quietly turning out some of the best izakaya fare in the Pacific Northwest, from cod roe to braised pork belly to Kobe katsu (deep-fried Kobe hamburger). And that's not to mention the excellent sake list. Yuzu scored a 9.2 for food in the Fearless Critic, placing it at #12 in the entire Portland area.
Hidden delights at Yuzu
Codfish roe at Yuzu
Kobekatsu at Yuzu
Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention Hakatamon (p. 347 in the Fearless Critic book, and 9.1 for food), which is the grocery-store annex to the amazing Uwajimaya (p. 346). If you don't know about Uwajimaya, then you should: this supermarket minichain has singlehandedly redefined Japanese shopping in Oregon and Washington State. There, you'll find an incredible selection of everything from housewares to a huge Japanese-language bookstore. But nothing is more exciting than the humble little restaurant, where everything from the cloudy, complex Kyushu-style tonkotsu ramen broth (the results of simmering a pork bone for 12 hours) to sushi — silky yellowtail, sexy sea urchin — with ideally vinegared sushi rice.
And this is only the beginning.
Uwajimaya, home to Hakatamon