You're jonesin' for some Korean food while at work in North Hollywood. You have about an hour and a half for lunch, give or take a few minutes, and decide to go get some. You:
A) Drive west to the Reseda/Northridge area.
B) Drive to Koreatown.
C) Drive to Burbank.
D) Drive to Glendale.
...A? Wrong. While I've heard there are a few Korean restaurants in the Reseda/Northridge area, the drive's just too long. You'd be fired for sure by the time you got back into the office.
...B? Wrong. Koreatown's only about 10 miles away from North Hollywood, and 101 Hollywood Freeway traffic isn't that bad, but once you get into Koreatown, forget it. Lots of traffic, no parking, You'd be fired after coming back from here too.
...C? Wrong. There's one Korean restaurant called Seoul-Something-Or-Other on the trendy part of San Fernando Road near Ikea and all that. It's close enough to drive to at lunch but the food's not good.
...D? You are correct! Wow-how'd you guess? Only about 10-11 miles from lovely North Hollywood, there sits a little Korean sit-down restaurant called Seoul Cafe on a popular stretch of Brand Blvd. Traffic's usually pretty zippy getting there from the 134 and once you get there, there's a metered lot in back and plenty of street parking surrounding the restaurant.
At lunchtime, Seoul Cafe caters mostly to the downtown Glendale office lunch crowd--guys and gals in business or business casual attire, ID badges clipped to their waists. Most people go for one of the Korean BBQ lunch specials, although there are other menu items to choose from: jigae stews, jap chae, bibim bap. For about 8 or 9 bucks, the lunch specials are friendly to the average wage slave's pocketbook and a helluva good value for the amount of food they give you. A soup, usually a warm broth with slices of daikon, is brought first, along with a couple dishes of panchan, usually baechu (napa cabbage) kimchi, oi (cucumber) kimchi, ggak-dugi (radish kimchi), or shreds of pickled daikon. It's not the huge array of panchan that you usually get at your typical Koreatown restaurant, but for lunch it's good enough. And Seoul Cafe's kimchi ain't bad either; they've all got good, soaked-in spiciness and flavor and a good bite.
Cabbage kimchi and pickled daikon
Crunchy, pungent cubes of ggak-dugi.
Your BBQ meat comes out on one of those typical black iron cow sizzling platters--no cooking at the table here, but remember, you have to go back to the office afterwards, so the less smoky the clothes, the better. My pals and I always split the galbi (shortribs), bulgogi (sliced beef) and the daeji bulgogi (spicy pork). I like the galbi the best, it's got a good sweet and salty balance, and it's fun to tug the tender meat off the little nub of bone with your teeth. The bulgogi and daeji bulgogi are always juicy but slightly charred around the edges the way I like it; the daeji bulgogi, however, could use more spice. Oh well, what do you expect for Glendale? Sometimes we also get the dak bulgogi (chicken) to add to the mix. It's just allright. You know, it's chicken.
Dak bulgogi and "regular" bulgogi
Each lunch special comes with its own plastic-trying-to-look-like-ceramic rectangluar platter with rice, a green salad with soy-ginger dressing, and a partitioned dish with more panchan. This panchan always changes, and ranges from good to not so good, depending on what it is. I like it when they have namul (seasoned bean sprouts) or bits of crunchy sesame infused broccoli. The last couple times though, they've served up a Korean version of a Waldorf salad--mayonnaised fruit chunks--which I just don't get, and some too soggy tenpura (fish cake).
Lunch special "sides" platter
I think our regular waitress, an older Korean lady, had a secret crush on my ex-coworker, a goofy 26 year old Japanese guy, so she's recognized us ever since she's laid eyes on him. We went on a non-Friday casual weekday once and she kept telling him how handsome he looked in his tie. Now, even after he's left us, she knows that we always want an order of jap chae with our meat to mix things up a little. In general, the jap chae is good: chewy noodles, good garlic and sesame flavor, nice ratio of stuff (meat and veggies) to noddles, but it has been known to be inconsistent at times, with the noodles being too soft at times, and with the amount of jap chae they give you varying.
A sometimes inconsistent jap chae; this time it was allright!
Because the people at Seoul Cafe are used to us office types having to eat and go, the service is generally speedy but at the same time very friendly. You're in and out of there in under an hour, so there won't be any worries about getting fired when returing to the office because you've taken a 3 hour lunch. And if you're lucky, you'll have time to spare to run across the street to Porto's to grab some pastries for dessert! (But don't come yell at me if it's Porto's that makes you get back to the office late and get fired--you KNOW those lines are long!)
312 1/2 N. Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91203