Restaurant Review: 지실리애 (Hand-Made Tea)

 

This former BBQ restaurant (숫불갈비), no more than a five minute walk from the house, was the kind of place that made you NOT want to visit.  I had walked/driven/cycled by it a million times over the last couple of years and could never really tell if it was a functioning restaurant and open for business or…something else.  It had that run down “given-up” look to it.
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Restaurant Review: Sanggyo Galbi (쌍교 숯불갈비)


Sanggyo has recently undergone some major renovations, presumably to solidify their reputation as “the” top dog in the Damyang restaurant market.  I try not to let fancy buildings influence my judgement of the food (it’s Korea after all…some of the best food in the country is found in some of the scariest looking restaurants), but it’s hard not to be impressed with this beautiful hanok inspired two-story restaurant.  As a testament to the quality of the food, I can tell you that for the better part of a year, during the renovations, they had people eating in make-shift shacks and it didn’t affect business in the slightest.  Be prepared to wait at least 45 minutes on the weekends…mind blowing when you see how big it is inside.

 

Like any good tourist restaurant (not a negative in this context) they provide, both floor and table seating as well as private rooms.  The food comes out quick and servers are accustomed to obnoxious picture taking so snap away.

 
They offer two local specialties: ddeok galbi and Damyang style BBQ’d galbi.  I’m sure you can find better ddeok galbi elsewhere in town, so stick with the galbi they’re famous for.  The Damyang style of BBQ is a bit different in that the meat is brined and cooked in back and comes out piping hot and ready to eat.  You have a choice between regular and spicy (it’s not spicy at all).  Both are delicious.

 
The basic banchan will arrive almost immediately and consists of three types of salad, three types of kimche, three types of seaweed and a couple of other odds and ends.  The server will recommend which salad or seaweed to eat with the meat, but after a decade of living in Korea I’m pretty sure that there is no rule about what goes in your lettuce leaf wrap.

Additional servings of meat are easy to order and encouraged by the staff.  Refills of banchan are no problem what-so-ever.  Basically, arrive hungry and ready to eat.  Be sure to save room for the “shik-sa” portion of the meal…because it’s not dinner unless rice is involved!  We, for some reason, always order the sujaebee and are always disappointed.  One portion is more than enough for three or four people though so at least it’s not expensive.  In fact our entire meal for three people, including five orders of meat (don’t judge), five beers, and an order of sujaebee was about 80,000…and I didn’t eat for the next 48 hours~

 


Not interested in galbi?  Plenty of other options can be found here.

Restaurant Review: Daega (대가 – 생선구이)

Daega is another popular “destination restaurant” for both domestic tourists and Gwangju day-trippers alike.  It’s situated directly across from the Gwangju dam and it checks all the right boxes by being comparatively cheap, serving local specialties and having a somewhat quirky “traditional” interior design.  Even during the winter months, when everything else is dead, this place is thriving on the weekends with a packed parking lot and a full restaurant.

 

Even if you don’t like grilled fish (looking at you dad), this place is just straight up fun to be in.  Walking through the big wooden front doors, you’re greeted with a large open restaurant offering floor seating, table seating and a few private rooms in the back.  There’s tons of traditional kitsch around to keep your eyes occupied while your stomach waits for your food to arrive.  They even have a water-way built into the floor with goldfish swimming around!

The menu has a few options, depending on the size of your group, but it’s basically your choice of grilled fish with or without ddeok galbi.  Don’t sleep on the ddeok galbi…it’s better than most (all) of the Damyang restaurants specializing in this tasty local treat.  The set menus toward the top will give you a mix of different fish, ddeok galbi and the dolsot rice.

The banchan will arrive first, of course, and while it doesn’t look like much they are extremely friendly about refilling the dishes you like, especially if you catch them before the lunch/dinner rush.  The kimche is at least a million years old and is phenomenal…refills are a must.

Next out is the dolsot bap.  If you’ve never had it before, it’s basically two dishes in one:  rice and 누룽지 (I’m not even going to try and spell that in English).  Simply scoop out your rice into the separate rice bowl (not pictured).  Don’t scrape too hard because the crispy burnt pieces stuck in the bowl is what makes your 누룽지.  Next, fill the stone bowl with the barely tea from the pitcher on your table and put it aside until the end of the meal.  During the time it takes you to eat everything else, this burnt rice and barely tea will turn into a delicious after dinner porridge.

Shortly after you’ve dealt with your dolsot bap, the fish and ddeok galbi will arrive.  The type of fish will vary depending on which set menu you choose, but it’s all delicious!  If you’ve been in Korea longer than five minutes you probably know the fish comes out whole…you’ve been warned.

  

Here’s what the entire spread looks like:

 


For dessert you have a choice of coffee, shikhye or do-it-yourself ice cream cones.   Or you can do yourself a favor and skip the crappy dessert and order another round of OB and a few more of those tasty ddeok galbi paddies!

Restaurant Review: Vietnam Restaurant and Mart

Spring Rolls

Fried Spring Rolls

Pho Bo

Pho Bo

What this place lacks in decor and ambiance, it makes up for in authenticity and taste.  Don’t be fooled by the dilapidated exterior of the building and the exposed kitchen and appliances indoors.  They’re serving Vietnamese food miles beyond what you’ll find in Gwangju (those Vietnamese chain restaurants basically serve Korean food for twice the price).

 

 

Walking in, I was met by a small Vietnamese server and a handful of younger Vietnamese friends having lunch…always a good sign to see actual Vietnamese people in a Vietnamese restaurant.  Rumors of Bahn Mi sandwiches proved false (possibly sold out?)  (update: been back a couple of times and still no Bahn Mi sandwiches) so we opted for the litmus test of Vietnamese food:  Pho and Spring Rolls.

It wasn’t cheap at 24,000 for two people, but two bowls of soup and a plate of spring rolls was more than enough to fill us up and ultimately well worth the price.  Simply put, it was delicious. (The fresh spring rolls are better than the fried)

This place is also a mart selling Vietnamese snacks and ingredients.  The mart is in the back, where you will also find additional seating.  The best part is they sell fresh cilantro if you ask nicely…2,000 for a large handful.

The location is pretty easy to find as it’s close to the river, noodle street, and one of the most famous restaurants in town, SeungIl Shikdang (승일 식당).  Here’s the google map link.  Just in case, here’s the map from my phone:

If you have room for dessert, head down to the river and get in line with the rest of these suckers and buy some of the “famous” Damyang donuts 🙂

 

Restaurant Review: Soho Cafe

Soho Cafe has been situated on a prime piece of real estate alongside one of the bigger rivers feeding into Gwangju Lake for a loooong time.  It’s proximity to the Eco-Park and local tourist attractions, coupled with the scenic drive along road 887, have ensured it’s everlasting popularity.  With more development and options opening up around the area it was only a matter of time before this cafe changed hands and underwent a much needed renovation.  The new owners, a mother-daughter team (at least according to what I’ve learned on facebook), have done a good job of making this cafe look at bit more inviting during the darker hours of the night…it’s the brightest place in the neighborhood!

It’s exactly the kind of cafe you would imagine finding on any ‘date course’ around the peninsula, serving pizza, pasta and of course coffee, but the landscaping gives it a distinct advantage over the competitors.  Fountains all around, outside seating near the river and a tepee of all things, certainly add to the uniqueness.

 

Making pizza at the house is something we are well equipped to do (and do often) so personally I can’t justify paying 18,000won for a pie, but the pasta and homemade don katsu, although equally pricey, were pretty damn tasty.  Need some wine to compliment that fried pork cutlet?  They have plenty of options.

 

 


All said and done, it’s tasty food and drinks served in a beautiful atmosphere.  There are certainly cheaper options around, but the old adage “you get what you pay for” is more than applicable.  It’s also right down the street and only a five minute walk so stop in and enjoy a coffee near the river in their back garden during your next visit.

Looking for something else?  Plenty of other restaurant recommendations can be found here.