For a city of its size, Austin is an unlikely destination for Korean food. However, when you consider that Samsung, the largest Korean company and one of the leading electronics manufacturers in the world, has a huge factory here that’s staffed by many Korean nationals, it comes as no surprise that there are an abundance of Korean businesses in Austin.
Korean food in Austin is located mostly in the central part of town on Lamar Blvd, although some markets and restaurants are located up north closer to Samsung (which is located on East Parmer Lane near I-35). There are a few Korean fusion restaurants and mobile food trucks downtown, but for the really authentic stuff you have to look north of 51st Street.
Korean food is quite distinct, full of flavor, usually pretty healthy, and often red and spicy. In restaurants, most Korean entrees are served with numerous accompanying side dishes known as banchan (one of the reasons I like Korean food so much). Despite it being widely available, I feel that it’s one of the least understood Asian cuisines in America. The purpose of this guide is to introduce more Austinites to this wonderful ethnic genre and to talk about some of the best places to find Korean food in the capital of Texas.
If you are new to the cuisine, you might be interested in a few quick primers on Korean food:
- Wikipedia Article on Korean Food
- Korean Tourism Board Intro to Korean Food
- 10 Korean Foods you Have to Try
Austin, Texas Korean Restaurant and Food Guide 2012
While this is by no means a complete list of Korean food in Austin, these are among the better establishments that I enjoy. I’ve divided the list up into a few different categories: Traditional Korean restaurants, Chinese-Korean restaurants, Japanese / Korean combo restaurants, Korean Fusion restaurants, and Korean supermarkets.
You can also browse this interactive map below to find a Korean restaurant near you:
View View the Austin, Texas Korean Food Guide locations in a full sized Google map
Traditional Korean Restaurants:
- Cho Sun Galbi – This restaurant, named after a dynasty of Korea, used to be an Outback Steakhouse near Highland Mall but is now one of the nicer (and more expensive) Korean restaurants in Austin. Like the name of the restaurant suggests, they serve up pretty good galbi (marinated cross-cut beef ribs) here and it can be added to almost any order for just 4-5 dollars. Another dish that is good here is Naengmyeon (cold noodles), which is good on a hot, Texas summer day. If you want to try bizarre foods here, you can eat the Agujjim (fish and bean sprouts in a spicy sauce that they usually serve with sea squirt here)
- Shilla – Also located next to Highland Mall, and named after an ancient Korean dynasty, Shilla is a relatively high quality Korean restaurant with slightly higher prices. Shilla is also a good place to eat Korean BBQ beacuse the meat is cooked full service, right at your table. Other dishes that are good here include their Gaeran Jim (steamed egg and tofu dish) and Pajeon (seafood scallion pancake). The restaurant is a little hard to find because it’s on the back side of a shopping complex near the corner of East Highland Mall Blvd and Middle Fiskville Road.
- Together Restaurant – This is a Korean restaurant frequented almost exclusively by Koreans (which means it passes the authenticity test but communication might be a little difficult as 1/4th of the menu is in Korean with cryptic English translations). At this hole in the wall you’ll always find Korean TV on in the background, Korean Hite beer and soju flowing on the tables, and good Korean bar style food at almost any hour of the day. My favorite things to order here are the deep fried chicken, grilled mackerel, or stir fried spicy chicken. Lunch specials are good and inexpensive. You can also order get exotic dishes such as stir fried silkworms here. The woman that runs Together is very nice and I enjoy the banchan side dishes here a lot. Together is open all day, and it gets crowded late when people come in to drink.
- Korea House – an Austin institution that’s known for good Korean food and decent, inexpensive sushi. Chances are that if you’ve had Korean food in Austin, you’ve been here. This might be a good restaurant to start at if you are a novice to Korean cuisine, because they have good service, but it’s not the best Korean place around (notice that few Koreans eat here). Dishes I like at Korea House include the pork bulgogi (spicy), beef bulgogi, and jjamppong (spicy seafood soup). The staff is very friendly here and this is a good place to eat before catching a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse next door.
- Misung 888 – Like Together, 888 is another restaurant frequented mostly by Koreans that opens late. This smallish restaurant at the intersection of Lamar and Anderson lane has authentic fare and is a popular drinking destination for Koreans. Perhaps the most interesting item on the menu is the Korean version of escargot, Golbangee Muchim, or snails in a spicy red sauce over rice noodles. Their gamjatang (spicy pork soup) is also decent, but again this place is mostly known as a drinking destination instead of being known for good food.
- Manna Korean Restaurant – this is a no frills, inexpensive self-service eatery attached to the Han Yang Korean market that serves fast-food style Korean. Here, you order your at the counter, get your own tea and soup while you wait, and 10 minutes later they will call you to pick up your food on a plastic tray. The tradeoff is that most dishes are $6 but they skimp out a little bit on the quantity of meat. Decent dishes here include tofu jjigae (spicy soup) and kimchi fried rice.
Japanese / Korean Combo Restaurants
- Odaku – A mostly Japanese restaurant that happens to serve good Korean food in North Austin on Parmer Lane. The soondubu tofu bowl is good here and the banchan (numerous Korean side dishes that come with the main course) are good as well. On the Japanese menu, their pork katsu is quite good and filling (and it comes with banchan).
- Osaka Mansun – Another Japanese restaurant that happens to serve good Korean food, and possibly some of the best sushi and sashimi in town. If you are going to eat sushi, it’s fun to sit at the bar and watch the experts do their thing. If they have it in stock, the uni (sea urchin) sushi here is always fresh and delicious. Our favorite Korean dish here is the Maeuntang (spicy fish soup), which is big enough for two people.
Chinese – Korean Restaurants
- Hunan North – A Chinese-Korean restaurant in an older strip mall that specializes in two Korean dishes – Jajangmyeon (noodles mixed with a black soybean paste) and jjamppong (spicy seafood noodle soup). My favorite is the Jjampong but if you can’t handle spicy food, you might want to skip. The other Chinese-Korean dish that’s pretty good is a sweet fried chicken dish called Kkanpunggi. All of the Korean / Chinese fusion dishes are on one page of the menu, the rest is completely Chinese. You can learn more about Chinese-Korean food on Wikipedia.
Korean Supermarkets – restaurants aren’t the only places to get Korean food. At supermarkets you can get excellent banchan (side dishes) such as kimchi, dried anchovies, and seasoned beansprouts. Also, there are many Korean snacks and drinks that are worth checking out.
- Hana World – the newest and largest Korean market in Austin. Located on West Parmer Lane about a mile from Samsung, this brand new market will host a small food court with 4 Asian restaurants. They have a wide selection of Asian produce, a large meat and seafood counter, and many snacks and drinks. They have opened a prepared foods section too and they make good, savory Kimbap (pickled radish and egg sushi roll). Also, this is a good place to buy thin sliced shabu shabu meats. Hana World is owned by the same family as New Oriental Market.
- Han Yang Market – Located on Lamar Blvd and Airport Blvd next to Austin Karaoke, this market is just a 1 minute drive from the New Oriental Market and is about the same size, but a little bit newer. They sell several kinds of banchan here as well in addition to prepared foods such as Tteokbokki (rice cakes and fish cake in red sauce) and Japchae (sweet potato noodles in sesame sauce).
- Mom’s Taste – A little known shop that sells hand made fresh banchan, like mom used to make. If you get a few different banchan they will last for a week if you eat them as side dishes and have another protein as a main dish. This is a cheap option for getting home style Korean food that you can eat at home. Good dishes here include Myulchi Bokum (stir fried spicy anchovies), kimchi, Jangjolim (soy sauce eggs) , Jokbal (sliced pig knickle with garlic and pepper) and Kkaennip (seasoned shiso perilla leaves).
- New Oriental Market – *** NOW CLOSED as of early 2012 – has moved to Hana World *** an older, medium sized market on Airport Blvd near Lamar Blvd. They used to have a great self service restaurant in the back (in my opinion better than Manna Restaurant at Han Yang Market) but that restaurant will soon move to Hana World on Parmer Lane. I used to like their Kalguksu (hand cut noodles in clear broth with veggies and seafood) – hopefully that dish appears when the restaurants at Hana World open.
Korean Fusion Food
- Koriente – A small restaurant in the middle of downtown that has been around forever. Despite the name, by no means is the most authentic restaurant in town but it does have some very healthy items and a lot of loyal customers. Rice and noodle bowls here are inexpensive and if you are downtown and are craving Asian food, this is a decent choice.
- Burger Tex UT – Another Austin institution that serves primarily American style burgers, but they do have a Korean Bulgogi (marinated beef strip) burger on the menu that earned the honor of one of the top 50 burgers in Texas from Texas Monthly Magazine.
- Chilantro – One of the original food trucks in the mobile food craze that took off in 2008-2009, Chilantro is a late night fan favorite. Stop by their truck after a night at the bars and you might have to wait in a long line for their Korean tacos, burritos, and kimchi fries. I’ve eaten their whole menu, and my favorite items are the beef bulgogi and tofu tacos. The pork taco is also good, but a bit spicy. Chilantro also serves a bulgogi burger like Burger Tex.
- Coreanos – Coreanos is another Mexican / Korean fusion truck in Austin known for their tacos, burritos, and fries covered in meat, spicy sauce, and cheese. There’s a bit of debate over which Korean food truck is the best in Austin, as both Coreanos and Chilantro consistently receive high marks on review sites.
There you have it, my own personal overview of Korean restaurants in the Austin, Texas area. If you want to see other food guides in the Austin area, go to the 2012 Austin Food Bloggers City Guide roundup.