- 4951 E. Grant Road, Tucson, AZ, 85712
- Overall User Rating:
- (2 ratings)
- Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; closed Sun.
What we ordered: one japchae ($8.95) and one beef bulgogi ($9.95), for a total of $18.90, just short of our Cheap Eats goal of $20 for two people.
Comments: While Tucson is swimming in a river of sushi restaurants, the landscape is more arid when it comes to Korean food. There are only three full-service Korean restaurants in the city. Each of them—Takamatsu, Korea House and Seoul Kitchen—is named after a location. And despite that, their menus are almost identical.
While the cuisine isn’t as widespread as raw fish, Korean barbeque seems to be picking up around here. Dives such as Wings and Rice and Runway Bar & Grill are offering the marinated meats alongside American food, and even Sushi Garden serves bulgogi. But the greatest indicator is Seoul Kitchen, a casual spot on Grant and Swan that opened in October.
On a recent Saturday visit, the place was packed with families and twenty-somethings, forcing the one server on the floor into panic mode. The restaurant was more chic than expected, with dainty Asian art tacked over smartly painted lime and maroon walls. The kitchen, which is obscured by nothing more than a low wall, is stretched along the side of the restaurant, making it look sort of like a well-decorated Subway.
Food: It was instantly apparent why the server was in such a hurry: She was giving out loads of free sides with every meal. Our dishes each came with miso soup and edamame, as well as three Korean banchan side plates, a bowl of rice and a yogurt drink for dessert.
I have to admit, I would have sacrificed the miso soup for a few more banchan selections (usually dried fish, vegetables and kimchis) as is typical in most authentic Korean places. But I was surprised and glad to see two different types of kimchi—one made with spicy cabbage and one made with crisp radish. They also served us a side of marinated spinach, which was wonderfully slithery, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The main courses were definitely bargains, but not as well-prepared as at other sites around town. The bulgogi, which is basically beef marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil, was sliced just a bit too thick to be very tender. It also wasn’t very flavorful, giving us the impression that the sauce was poured on afterward instead of being used as a marinade. It also didn’t have any grilled onions on the bottom, which is usually my favorite part.
The noodle dish we ordered was a standard japchae, a stir-fry of transparent cellophane noodles with beef chunks, green onions and carrots. It was very good altogether, but the noodles themselves tasted very sticky, like they hadn’t been blanched in cold water before they were served.
Service: They had one server on the floor, but she was still prompt and on the ball.
Bar: They serve beer and sake.
Bottom line: The food wasn’t exactly as good as Takamatsu or Korea House, but it’s almost impossible to get out of those places for under $15 a person. Seoul Kitchen gave us a three-course meal, complete with tons of beef and an orangey cream soda yogurt juice, for under $10. Not to mention, they were playing Korean soap operas on the television, which was interesting to say the least.