Soo Bak To The Basics
Soo Bak Seoul Bowl is right at home in their new kitchen
With my proclivity for drinking and being out and about, you would think at some point I would have eaten at this truck, and yet, our paths never crossed, which is just how life goes. So I made the trip to get my grub on and rectify the situation. Tucked away behind the Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Hermosa Drive and Central Avenue, it would be easy to miss on a quick drive-by. Adorning their building with a large sign, the massive garage doors at the front make you do a double take, making sure it’s a restaurant. But once you step inside, all worries on that notion tend to vanish.
Immediately, you’re hit with the smell of food cooking. Most notably, the smell of Korean BBQ beef is present, a scent that is music to the ears (nose?) of anyone looking for good food. In preparation for the dinner I was going to sit in on, I avoided eating all day, and the aromas wafting out of the kitchen brought me back to the days of Looney Tunes characters floating off the ground, drawn forward by redolent fumes weaving through the air. I knew I was in for something way beyond average.
Perhaps because of the day of fasting, or perhaps because I had a guest with me, I went a little all in on the food. At the counter, I ordered sesame noodles, sweet chili tofu tacos, fire chicken tacos, spicy pork tacos and a bibimbap. Albeit not the greatest idea considering I had no food in my system, I also ordered a beer, which they carry along with local wines and hard seltzers (ain’t no laws when you’re drinking claws). And this, my dear readers, is where the great feast began.
Let’s start with the sesame noodles ($9.95). The plate comes fully loaded with half noodles, half rice (your choice of white, brown or fried) and within those noodles comes a heaping helping of vegetables, specifically spinach, carrots and onions. More interesting was the fact that these were sweet potato noodles. Nearly translucent save for the sesame dressing that gave them their distinct flavor, these noodles were impeccable. Did I slightly struggle with remembering how to use chopsticks while I ate them? Absolutely. But it somehow didn’t slow me down from going to town on them as quickly as I could. The saltiness of the soy mixed perfectly with the slight sweetness of the noodles, making them immeasurably enjoyable.
Then came the tacos (two for $7.95, three for $9.95). The sweet chili tofu taco was just plain good. With light crunch on the tofu, it was gently seasoned with a Korean pepper paste, dressed with lettuce and had a bit of crema for good measure. While tofu isn’t usually my go-to, it was definitely one of the best iterations of tofu I have ever had, with a robust flavor and texture that made it feel like an authentically good traditional taco. I followed it up with the spicy pork taco, which was also good. It definitely wasn’t the standout option of all the ones I tried, but I attribute that more to the fact that everything else was so good, how could most anything stand up to it? Much like the tofu taco, the extra hits here were the pork itself and the jalapeño salsa. Again, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a breakout hit like everything else I tried up to that point. Finally, the fire chicken. My proclivity toward heat in food is somewhat well known at this point, so I was definitely excited to get to this one. With juicy, large pieces of chicken and lettuce, sriracha-lime crema, cilantro and lime, this was the best of the three by far. The heat takes over your mouth for a second, then you are caught by all the flavor sitting behind it; yet long after the initial bite, you have a gentle sizzle crossing your tongue for a good long while. Soo Bak is absolutely my new favorite in the city for chicken tacos.
Finally, the bibimbap ($9.95 classic, $11.95 deluxe). Now, if you’re like me, you’ve never heard of this. The easiest way to explain the concept is a bowl of rice, that you just load up with ingredients, mix it up and chow down. Featuring your choice of rice, you get to add a protein of your choice (in our case, it was the Korean BBQ beef, naturally) as well as 3 to 5 toppings, depending on which version you order. They have some staples that are available year round, but they also have a bunch of seasonal choices. Follow that up with your sauce of choice, and you have a loaded-up bowl of tasty. You can, and should, throw a fried egg on top for $1, giving even more texture and flavor to this dish. It was, without a doubt, one of the best meals I’ve ever had. There’s not much more to say about it; besides you absolutely must try it for yourself.
Soo Bak Seoul Bowl is just plain amazing. From food truck to full restaurant, with food this good, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they were busy, even hidden away off of Central Avenue. This needs to be on your list of go-to restaurants, because I want them to stay with us forever.
111 Hermosa Dr. NE
Hours: Wed-Sun, 11am-9pm
Vibe: Friendly food in a cool fresh space
Alibi Recommends: Fire chicken tacos, and any form of the bibimbap