If you dream of going through a Korean exchange program just to experience authentic fare, GangNam Korean Restaurant is probably a better, and cheaper, option. If you want high-quality Korean food prepared by folks who’ve clearly been doing this for a while, then you’re in the right place. Tucked into the strip mall where you can also find Austin’s Karaoke, this is a small and excellent find — Korean food plus insane Karaoke? You’re welcome for the best date idea ever.
I took a friend with plenty of Korean food experience, and he gave me the lowdown, which I will now pass along to you. GangNam’s menu has a lot of traditional dishes, so we started with kimchi pancake ($9.99) appetizer, which is basically a giant plate of kimchi joy. The pancake has very little to hold it together, but it packs the best flavor kimchi has to offer. Dig in and take a huge bite of Napa cabbage, bok choy, scallions and more. Heads up: This is a rather greasy dish, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it tastes good. In case you’re worried about the kimchi spice level, rest assured that it was just the right amount to give it a little kick without going nuclear.
I was told that the beef bulgogi ($16.99) is a must so, of course, we had to try it. GangNam’s bulgogi is made of paper-thin, tender strips dressed in a traditional Korean bulgogi marinade, a sweet and savory combo of a sauce. Your second and third tastes only deepen flavors of ginger, and reveal a hint of sweetness only brown sugar can give. The dish is served with slightly crisp sliced onions and scallions, which added a nice texture and fresh flavor.
Next up is another dish that’s not to be missed on the traditional Korean roster: Bibimbap — which is definitely the most fun word to say. I’ll pause for a moment so you can try it out: Bib-im-bap. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It tastes even better. At GangNam, you can order Bibimbap in a stone bowl ($12.99), or not … but I’m not sure why anyone would ever have it without the stone pot experience.
This Bibimbap, provided you’ve opted for the stone pot, has the coolest presentation. The piping-hot bowl contains an array of sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, zucchini and spinach organized around rice. Then, the crème de la crème, piping-hot bulgogi spooned over top, with a freshly cracked egg plopped right in the middle of everything. Don’t let the raw egg intimidate you. The dish is so hot (if it wasn’t obvious before, warning: don’t touch the ridiculously hot bowl) it cooks the egg more the longer you let it sit, allowing you to choose your level of runny-ness.
Your order will be served with tiny bowls filled with accompaniments like fish cakes, cucumbers pickled in kimchi seasoning, kimchi, sprouts and, the most exotic of all, potatoes. I’m a big fan of pickled everything, so my chopsticks dived right in. Fish cakes, or fish strips as they should be called, are not as weird as you may think. The texture is a little spongy but, altogether, it’s got a good flavor.
There are tables with heating elements for large parties of diners who want to just hang out for a bit. And you may cook your own marinated meat for a different culinary experience. Get ready to dazzle your taste buds with some delicious flavors.