It’s only been a few years since Charlotte’s Korean food scene started to emerge. We had some bulgogi and kimchi, but you had to search for it.
When Choi’s Korean & Wing opened about 20 years ago it was called Choi’s Chinese Wing and primarily focused on Chinese food and chicken wings. But over time, the Korean family who owns it noticed a shift in the city’s palette. Diners would make special requests for bulgogi and bibimbap, so eventually the family changed the restaurant’s name and started serving Korean food full-time.
In the past few years, we’ve seen Korean food make its way closer to center city with the addition of hip fusion restaurant Seoul Food Meat Company, fast-casual Bulgogi Box, and all-you-can-eat Let’s Meat. This summer, upscale MOA Korean BBQ & Bar opened just steps from the corner of Trade and Tryon.
Here’s a look at Charlotte’s 7 must-try Korean restaurants — from a food stall in an international market to fancy date night spot. (Listed in no particular order.)
Upscale Korean barbecue restaurant with a fancy steakhouse-like atmosphere
Background: Before opening MOA, and his sister restaurant 929 Kitchen & Bar in Columbia, Sean Kim noticed a gap in the Korean-American dining scene. All-you-can-eat Korean barbecue places often used less expensive meats like pork belly to increase profit margins, he says. And when he thought about the other Korean options, very few were right for special occasions or a business meeting. MOA fills that need, he says, with an almost steakhouse-like vibe.
What to order: To start, order a Korean pancake (with seafood, kimchi, or seafood and kimchi). Then go big with a Korean BBQ combo ($80-$200, feeds 2-5).
Location: 128 S. Tryon St. in Uptown.
Related Agenda story: Upscale Korean restaurant with tabletop barbecue is now open in Uptown
Small Korean restaurant in the back of a Korean market in Matthews
What to order: Yaki mandoo ($7.99 for 10 fried dumplings) and bulgogi marinated Korean BBQ ($12.99) over rice with banchan, side dishes typically come with a Korean entree like kimchi.
Location: 10920 Monroe Rd., Matthews
Modest family-run restaurant that’s been around for 20 years
Background: Located in an old Long John Silvers off South Boulevard, Choi’s has a large menu of Korean dishes as well as Chinese food, a Greek gyro, and Korean-American bulgogi cheesesteak fusion. Owners Jong and Yong Choi plan to retire in 2023 so dine here while you still can.
What to order: Start with kimbab, a Korean sushi roll with bulgogi beef, carrots, crab, cucumber, daikon, and rice rolled in seaweed. For your main course, go with bibimbap served in a stone bowl (a.k.a. dolsot) or pork ja jang myun noodles. Choi’s is also known for its wings.
Location: 808 E. Arrowood Rd.
Korean Restaurant inside Super G Mart (temporarily closed)
A mother-daughter duo runs this food stall located in the back of Super G Mart
Background: Nancy Park and her daughter Jade Chong own the aptly named Korean Restaurant, which under normal circumstances is open six days a week in the back right corner of the Super G Mart in Independence Square. During the coronavirus pandemic, the food stall is temporarily closed.
What to order: The dolsot bibimbap ($11.99) here nails the crispy rice at the bottom. It’s No. 11 on the menu.
Location: 7323 E. Independence Blvd., inside the Super G Mart.
Korean-inspired pub food with a late-night scene and karaoke rooms
What to order: The wings. They come in two flavors — soy garlic or spicy barbecue. Order half and half ($9 for six to $29 for 30) and then order some drinks.
Location: 1400 S. Church St., Ste. A, South End.
Related Agenda story: Seoul Food Meat Co. is now open. View menu, food, interior and Asian craft beer list
All-you-can-eat Korean BBQ from the Seoul Food owners
What to order: The all-you-can-eat BBQ experience costs $29.99, and you’ll have a two-hour limit. Just order a little bit of everything — brisket, pork belly, shrimp, and more. If you’re getting takeout, go with a bento box.
Location: 1400 S. Church St., Ste. B, South End. It’s next-door to Seoul Food.
Related Agenda story: 8 quick takeaways from my first trip to Let’s Meat
Fast-casual restaurant with Korean BBQ bowls
What to order: The namesake dish — beef bulgogi box ($16) with thin slices of grilled beef and Korean BBQ sauce, sautéed onions, and white rice.
Location: 1750 Camden Rd., Ste. 104, South End.
More Korean food: Hawker’s has dishes from countries across the Asian continent, including South Korea. There’s also GOGI and Hiya, Korean food trucks. And Fujiyama in Latta Arcade Uptown has plenty of Korean dishes like galbi and bibimbap, too.