Best Korean Restaurant 2011 Award

Every meal at the upscale Seoul BBQ starts with the superb, complimentary banchan, a collection of a dozen or so tiny dishes that showcase what Korean cuisine is all about. Savory mini-omelettes full of garlic and scallions. Baked Korean yams doused in sweet syrup. Crisp pickles, totori muk acorn jelly and, of course, kimchi, pickled napa cabbage coated in chili oil. You hardly need an entree after that, but Seoul also makes excellent Korean specialties such as bulgogi — strips of marinated beef sizzling on a grill pan — and bibimbap, a clay pot of rice topped with a yolky egg and savory ribeye, getting crispier as it sits.

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On Yelp: Reviews

If you like meat…and I mean high quality, tender and flavorful meat, you need to go to Seoul BBQ!

My job brought me to Denver for the 2nd time, and I use FourSquare because I’m a dork. I started following Westword Street’s Best of Food & Places 2011 and this was listed as the best Korean BBQ in Denver. This was certainly deserving of that recognition!

I went with 2 other people and we ordered Combination Dinner A. The food seemed to be never ending! It came with a variety of meat, including short rib, beef rib-eye, and brisket (which was the best one by far). Then they served 14…yes that’s right, 14 sides! They were little plates but more than enough for 3 people. It also came with soup, scallion pancakes, an egg souffle, and finally a cup of delicious homemade iced tea (it had actual little ice shards in it – great texture!). Did I mention they give you a ton of delicious food?

If you’ve never tried Korean BBQ, you may want to avoid this for a while…because once you go here, you may never want to leave Denver!

The Good: great food, great value, for the amount of quality food, the price is one $.
The Good: nice environment.
The Bad: the price is cheap for the value. Nothing bad about this place so far.

I live in Colorado Springs, but I plan to drive up to Denver just for this restaurant. It’s also a nice environment, so I don’t have to feel awkward about inviting any of my friends. :)

Best Korean BBQ restaurant in Denver. Haaaaands down.

My fiance did 2 study abroad trips to South Korea and I spent a week visiting. We ate the most delicious Korean BBQ. When we got back, it was our mission to find authentic Korean BBQ and we’ve finally found it!

From the minute you walk in, you feel like you’ve stepped into a restaurant in Korea. There are even Korean newspapers and magazines in the lobby while you wait.

The food is fantastic – a whole slew of delicious side dishes (kimchi, bean paste, veggies, green onion salad, ect, ect. So many to eat! It’s required to order 2 meats for BBQ – we ordered the daeji galbi (pork short ribs) and samgyupsal (pork belly/BACON!). More than enough for 2 people – could have easily fed 3.

We love the authenticity of this restaurant – from decor and atmosphere to food quality to service. Definitely the best Korean BBQ restaurant we’ve been to!

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Pot Luck: Seoul BBQ Removes the Flash of Other Korean Barbecue Joints

The lobster was staring up through beady black eyes, flicking its tiny feelers while lashing out menacingly with a clicking claw. Our main course — a recently decapitated crustacean plunged into a massive clay bowl of boiling broth set above a flame on the table — was so fresh, it wasn’t dead yet. As I squirmed back in my seat, our robed server yelled something in Korean, stuck his hand in another bowl, then tossed two live octopi into the cauldron. Tentacles unfurled in every direction as the creatures slithered frantically through the contents of the hotpot, straining to get away from the heat, convulsing as they pushed up the side of the bowl, turning pink as their frenetic movements slowed. Finally, one of my friends, unable to stand it any longer, poked a chopstick into an octopus and pushed it below the surface: a mercy killing.

Now we could eat.

We were at Sik Gaek, a Korean restaurant in Queens that’s gained nationwide notoriety for its shocking barbecue that gives diners the chance to cook a live animal (or three) for dinner. It’s quite a spectacle, and ramps up the ritual so important to most Korean barbecue restaurants in this country, including those clustered along a stretch of Havana in Aurora, where signs with Korean lettering are more common than English. In these strip malls, barbecues of all varieties hawk meat and hotpots, served with a side of tradition. Some are dark and flashy, with deafening Korean pop and leaping flames beneath sizzling grills — even if they stop short of the live-lobster sacrifices featured at Sik Gaek. Others downplay the drama.

And then there’s Seoul BBQ, the restaurant that James and Lily Kwon opened three years ago, which follows the traditional formula of a Korean barbecue joint but removes just about every flashy aspect — including the actual barbecuing. Although several tables are equipped with a grill, I have yet to find a dish that allows me to use one, and I’ve never spotted any other diners grilling their dinner.

The Kwons aren’t new to restaurant ownership — James estimates that they’ve been at least part-owners in over 35 restaurants all over the country, including a forthcoming spot in Northglenn called Q Table BBQ — and they wanted to make their first Denver spot, tucked into a nondescript building set off Havana, more upscale than its neighbors. The dining room is sectionalized in an effort to create discrete enclaves (you can also book a private room behind a row of closed doors for your party), and pop music, mostly Motown hits, plays just loudly enough to drown out the specifics of the conversations around you. That’s a good trick, since the place is usually at least half-full — and totally full during peak hours.

While Seoul BBQ may not be flashy, it is certainly bright. The same kind of garish light so popular for illuminating international airports glares off the floor-to-ceiling white marble, corporate art on the walls and metal hoods above the tables. The room would be sterile enough for surgery, if not for the forest of potted plant life scattered throughout. Those plants help give the space an oddly peaceful feeling. There are no loud yells, no fiery explosions, no drama of any kind. And servers don’t walk, they glide, quietly pushing carts to tables when they need to make a delivery, whether it’s two glasses of water or a dozen entrees.

The banchan, a complimentary collection of a dozen side dishes that offers a broad representation of Korean cuisine, emphasizing the garlic, chili, eggs and pickling so prominent in that country, is the first delivery. Some of these dishes are standard: savory mini omelets full of garlic and scallions, baked Korean yams doused in sweet syrup, crisp pickles coated in chili oil and cut into discs, and kimchi, the classic fermented napa cabbage bathed in chili paste. Normally, kimchi is one of my favorite flavor combinations: simultaneously earthy and fiery, powerful enough to be paired with gamey meats and interesting enough to be consumed alone. Seoul BBQ’s version is light and mild — inoffensive, but also boring. It’s better when baked into the kimchi pancake offered on the appetizer menu, because the kitchen adds more chili to the kimchi in the pan-fried flour cake.

The kitchen rotates the rest of the banchan offerings, and that’s when the really interesting stuff begins to hit the table. Stuff like the square of totori muk, or acorn jelly. I’ve had versions as dark as coffee and versions that are white and cloudy, but they all taste the same: mildly nutty, with a jello-like texture that takes on the flavor of the vinegar-and-sesame-seed topping. Or the salty, crispy shreds of dried fish, just mildly reminiscent of the sea, a perfect snack to go with a light Korean beer. I also love the cold tripe salad, strips of intestine braised until incredibly tender, then bathed in peppery, garlicky Korean soy sauce for a pleasantly sweet and savory dish. And though hard-boiled egg is the one food in the world I truly detest, I like the preparation at Seoul BBQ, with the egg marinated in a soy-sauce-based broth and served in a satisfying pool of the liquid.

When the entrees arrive, they make up in flavor what they lack in ostentatious presentation. As much as I enjoy a show, at a place like Seoul BBQ, I’d rather not cook my own food: I like knowing that I’m getting the dish exactly as the restaurant intends it to be served. Besides, even without participating in the cooking process, here I get to finish off the preparation. The traditional way to eat Korean barbecue involves rolling the meat in leaves of lettuce with pajori (a spicy scallion salad), ssamjang (a spicy paste chock-full of garlic) and raw garlic, using the cool temperature of the accoutrements to balance the heat of the meat. Dishes are shared, and while one barbecue entree is more than enough for two people, your server will encourage each diner to order one. That’s advice worth taking, because there are so many good ones to try, including the bulgogi: spicy marinated beef chuck, tender and juicy, sizzling on a hot grill pan in that Korean soy sauce. And the deeply delightful jukumi daeji bulgogi — a combination of fat-laced hunks of pork and springy baby octopi — reminds me why I love eating baby animals. (That’s right, PETA: all the flavor of a big animal packed into a tiny baby body.)

Although Seoul BBQ draws the line at live sea creatures, it does serve some entrees in scalding-hot clay pots. The bibimbap mixes sautéed zucchini, carrots and bean sprouts with hearty chunks of spicy marinated ribeye, a yolky poached egg and a pinch of scallions over a bed of rice. The rice gets progressively crispier from the heat, and I enjoy the changing texture — unless I eat too slowly and everything gets charred. I do tend to eat this slowly, too, because I keep needing to add hot sauce for more flavor as I work my way through the dish. Another hotpot holds my favorite entree: soon tofu soup with seafood (it’s also available with beef). The sweat-inducingly spicy broth is swimming with silky gelatinous tofu, clams, glittering mussels, delicate squid and huge prawns still in their shells. Popping the poached egg gives the dish creaminess; cabbage, scallions and fish flakes lend color and texture. This is deeply satisfying comfort food that makes me nostalgic — even if for someone else’s past. It’s also the manifestation of a kitchen that focuses on food rather than gimmicks.

Like everything that’s gone before, the final ritual at Seoul BBQ is firm and quiet: Your server presents both the traditional sweet-rice sikhye and the check without a word, and without clearing the remnants of dinner away, allowing you to linger at long as you’d like. And once you finally leave, the staff won’t shout goodbye at you, either — just offer a simple nod of thanks as you exit out into Aurora.

A meal here may be anti-climactic compared to the thrill-a-minute Sik Gaek, but the end is also a lot less sinister than catching the lobster claw from someone else’s hotpot waving you goodbye.

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Seoul BBQ: Korean Barbecue in Aurora

The best place to find Korean markets and barbecue restaurants in Colorado must be along South Havana Street in Aurora. There are so many hole-in-the-wall joints with telltale Korean script on the signs in this part of town you can practically smell the kimchi from your car.

After much deliberation and consultation, we chose Seoul BBQ, 2080 S. Havana St., as our entry into Colorado-Korean gastronomy.

The least you need to know about dining at a Korean barbecue restaurant is this: you cook your own meat on a gas grill in the center of the table, the meal is served with a huge variety of banchan or small sides, and the cocktail of choice is soju, the sake-like Korean spirit made from a blend of rice and grain or sweet potato.

The menu at Seoul, and most other Korean restaurants, also includes lots of hot, brothy bowls with meats, vegetables and eggs, and a large selection of appetizers like dumplings and various fried pancakes.

Seoul BBQ is a busy restaurant with rows of shiny black tables each with a gas grill in the center and a buzzer on the wall to summon the wait staff, a handy tool. Servers aren’t at your side every five minutes offering you water or more lettuce wraps, but if you need something, just buzz, and a waiter will be there in seconds.

Korean food is exciting. It’s spicy and aromatic, and interactive – you get to cook it yourself. At Seoul BBQ, servers hustle by your table with multi-tier carts of tiny banchan dishes, steaming hot bowls of bibimbop and huge plates of marinated raw meat ready to be thrown on the grill.

We pored over the huge Seoul menu for what seemed like an hour, sipping plum wine and soju. I chose a barley blend; it was very light, slightly sweet and refreshing between spicy bites.

We tried the leek appetizer, a huge thin and crispy pancake bright green with tender leeks. It was served with no fewer than seven banchan and a mild chili sauce.
We ordered the fresh pork belly and marinated beef short ribs, possibly a mistake. The huge plates of fatty raw meat that rolled up to our table minutes later were heart-stoppers. This is not the kind of food you want to eat more than a few times a year if you know what’s good for your arteries. One of the orders would have been more than enough for the two of us.

We’re not the type of girls to back down from a challenge. As our server laid out another 13 banchan dishes and lit our grill, we looked at each other for encouragement.

The beautiful banchan array included several different types of kimchi, including my favorite, cucumber, steamed squid and seaweed with chili sauce, potatoes and apples in creamy dressing, sweet potatoes in gooey, savory sauce, thin slices of pickled daikon radish, spicy mung bean sprouts, egg custard, tiny dried fish and several other mysterious dishes.

We enjoyed the marinated short ribs more than the fresh bacon. There was so much of it we had to refill our grill three times just to cook it all.

The barbecue was served with shredded scallions in a chili dressing, steamed rice, toasted sesame oil and chili sauce with big green leaf lettuce leaves for wrapping. The crisp leaves and scallions balanced the fattiness of the meat, but at the end of dinner we still wished we’d reconsidered the highly recommended fresh bacon.

Another mistake we made at Seoul BBQ was overlooking the brothy main courses. We watched enviously as the tables around us slurped and spooned their bowls. The main courses are also served with banchan, and are cheaper than the barbecue plates. Next time, we’ll definitely mix it up.

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Seoul BBQ is an unexpected take on traditional Korean barbecue

When I first walked into Seoul BBQ, 2080 South Havana Street, an Aurora spot owned by veteran Korean restaurateurs James and Lily Kwon, I was expecting to dine in a restaurant that, like so many traditional spots from that country, put as much emphasis on the novelty of the culture’s dining rituals as it did on the food.
So I was expecting to start with banchan, complimentary side dishes ranging from very normal crispy scallion omelettes to very strange, vaguely nutty gelatinous cubes of totori muk (acorn jelly topped with vinegar and sesame seeds).

I was expecting the entrees to include bubbling hotpots of broth in which you could cook seafood and meat, and expecting a searing hot grill on which I could lay strips of pork and beef. I was anticipating a feast that was as much about digging in and playing with food as it was about eating.

And I was expecting my meal to end like a typical Korean barbecue feast, with sweet rice sikhye — a light, refreshing drink that cleanses the palate and indulges the sweet tooth.
But while elements of that ritual prevailed, my dining experience at Seoul BBQ deviated dramatically from most Korean feasts I’d experience before — and while parts were familiar, much as completely unexpected. Find out what was different when the review is posted here tomorrow, along with a slide show of more photos.

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