9 of our favourite Korean restaurants in Toronto
Our go-tos for steaming tofu stew, bowls of bulgogi and all things gochujang
Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu
691 Bloor St. W., 416-537-0972
The melamine tabletops at this scruffy spot are crowded with sizzling plates of bulgogi beef, bi bim bap and the namesake soon tofu, a spicy silken tofu stew. The umami-rich, slow-simmered pork stock is bolstered by a choice of dumplings, beef, pork or vegetables and is served with purple japonica rice. Sweet bulgogi beef soup brings gossamer noodles that add a silky contrast to the tender ruffles of beef.
Charcoal and Salt
5523 Yonge St., 416-551-1666
You won’t find any charcoal at this North York barbecue stop, but cooking your meat on the electric grill is just as fun. Thick slabs of short rib, pork belly and sliced beef arrive at the table ready for a DIY cookout; they’re accompanied by greens as well as a piquant pajeori salad of green onion doused in a tart red chili dressing. Bulgogi is soupy and saccharine, but bi bim bap is excellent.
Cho Dang Soon Tofu
5130 Dundas St. W., 416-234-1161
This minuscule Etobicoke takeout shop is full of surprises, starting with the banchan. Along with the usual items—sesame-scented bean sprouts, sweet kimchee—you get a fried yellow croaker with crisp skin, meaty flesh and intensely briny flavour. The spicy soon tofu stew is rich and complex, with a subtly smoky kimchee broth and slow-building heat from ruby pearls of chili oil. But the real revelation is the tofu, made fresh in-house every day: served cold under a sweet soy sauce sprinkled with garlic, sesame seeds and green onions, the spongy cubes dissolve into an ethereally creamy custard.
This sleek new French-inspired Korean restaurant brings contemporary techniques (sous-vide octopus) and trendy ingredients (mugwort ice cream) to its changing menu. For $65 per person, chef Paul Kim offers diners the option to sample the entire card. His artfully composed plates—like a kimchee-and-perilla-seed bouillabaisse, tender dumplings filled with duck confit and foie gras, or intense kalbi sliders with pickled daikon—seem tailor-made for Instagram. Strong, well-balanced cocktails pair well with the dishes, and hyper-modern desserts, like shards of red bean sponge cake with yuzu curd, keep sweetness in check while emphasizing texture.
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585 Bloor St. W., 416-533-9306.
Ka Chi remains a great spot to feast on the cheap: the menu is encyclopedic, the service is friendly and the food is soulful and satisfying. Korean pancakes—massive discs of golden-fried potato stuffed with onion, green pepper and chewy morsels of squid—are the perfect starter. Sizzling strips of bulgogi beef are marinated in a sweet, garlicky sauce; silky cubes of house-made tofu and strands of green onion frolic in a kimchi broth in the addictive hotpot stew. For the more adventurous, delicate buckwheat angel hair noodles are served cold, with a dollop of incendiary pepper paste.
Tucked a half-level below the bustle of Yorkville, Koko Share Bar attracts well-heeled diners devouring trendy sharing plates. On the menu of Japanese and Korean-inspired dishes, the latter are more deftly executed, like a flash-fried appetizer of soft tofu that takes on the mildly nutty flavour of its crisp perilla wrapper. A textured salad brings mesclun greens, creamy, pungent goat cheese and crispy pear slathered in intense kimchee; together, the sweet fruit balances the mouth-numbing heat from the pickle. A plate of galbi overflows with thinly sliced beef short rib brushed with a slightly caramelized soy sauce. Sushi portions are generous, but the fish tastes like it spent too much time in the cooler. The drinks list offers inventive cocktails like a herbaceous, refreshing caesar made with cucumber-infused soju.
Leemo and Leeto Han’s sophomore venture remains a popular late-night spot for sharing plates of boldly flavoured Asian fusion. The snack-focused menu, served until 2 a.m., is packed with munchies that go great with a boozy cocktail (or three). The Loosey, a mini cheeseburger made with ground brisket, processed cheese, kimchee and a kimchee-based hollandaise, tastes like a Korean Big Mac. The tempura prawns, which come deep-fried and drenched in spicy mayo, are unforgettable, and the squash poutine—cubes of deep-fried kabocha topped with mayo, (more) kimchee, curds and gravy—is frighteningly addictive. A draconian no-reservations policy and servers who treat diners as an inconvenience are vestiges of a trend that’s lost favour for good reason.
Count on this Bloor West mainstay for late hours, cheap beer and excellent pork bone soup. What the broth lacks in traditional cloudiness, it makes up for in garlicky spice and meaty chunks of tender, slow-braised pork neck. The rest of the menu offers everything you’ll need to satisfy a late-night craving: grilled beef bulgogi in a sweet sesame sauce, or crunchy fried dumplings stuffed with a spicy onion, beef and pork filling. Lacklustre banchan dishes and chewy deep-fried chicken are best avoided.
681 Bloor St. W., 647-345-3836
This Koreatown spot isn’t any more expensive than its numerous competitors, but it’s a notch above on most other levels: the room is open and airy, the Disney-esque K-pop is kept respectfully low, and kimchee (fresh, crunchy and less funky than most) is constantly replenished. Making an excellent first impression, banchan includes waxy potatoes cooked in sweet soy sauce, crunchy sesame-perfumed bean sprouts and cold tofu with tiny broccoli florets. As the name suggests, soon tofu is the star of the menu; it’s a spicy, garlicky stew of soft tofu served with a substantial stone bowl of purple rice. Bi bim bap is fantastic; a raw egg adds velvety richness, and deep red gochujang sauce charges the dish with savoury heat.