The thing I miss the most about my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia is the Korean food. I miss the Koreatowns surrounding my neighborhood, and, most of all, I miss my mom’s home-cooked Korean meals. I’ve never gone more than like two days without Korean food, but now it’s eighth week and I’m going through some serious withdrawal.
I’ve been to Chicago before and I’ve tried various Korean restaurants in the suburbs. They have all been mediocre to less than great. I’m not even from Los Angeles (where the “real” Koreatown is), but I like to think that I know good Korean food when I taste it. So, I made it my personal mission to find a Korean restaurant in Chicago that I, and other Korean people, actually like.
I kicked off my mission at Ajoomah’s Apron, a restaurant located in the heart of Chinatown. It was a Friday night, and it seemed to be fairly busy as it’s the only Korean restaurant nearby. When I walked inside, I just felt this vibe that was entirely reminiscent of home. I don’t even know how to describe it; it was just everything: the smell of steaming rice and marinated beef, the murmur of Korean conversations, the feeling of belonging.
I ordered haemool soondubu jjigae, or spicy tofu stew with seafood. Soondubu jjigae happens to be my favorite food, so I was pretty excited.
Before our main dish, Korean cuisine always offers a variety of side dishes, or banchan. Usually they are just small platters of marinated vegetables, tofu and kimchi. The banchan themselves tasted decent but weren’t very amply provided. If you’re eating with a large group, asking for refills will be inevitable. Ajoomah’s Apron does give free refills of banchan, but we went during busy hours and they repeatedly forgot to refill our dishes.
Korean Tip #1: If a restaurant doesn’t give free refills of banchan, get out and don’t come back. Free refills are literally a basic requirement for any respectable Korean establishment.
My soondubu looked amazing. It was bubbling and hissing in the stone bowl, and it smelled spicy and flavorful. I missed that smell so much.
Korean Tip #2: There are a lot of different ways to eat soondubu, but I swear by the following method:
1. Scoop a spoonful of rice.
2. Dunk it into the soondubu, making sure the soup covers the rice. Get some tofu onto your spoon too.
Some people prefer spooning the stew onto their rice or just eating the soondubu and rice separately, but I’ve always found my method to be the most efficient.
I’ll be honest here and say that it wasn’t the best soondubu I ever had, but it tasted pretty good and hit the spot. That’s pretty much all I can really ask from a Korean restaurant, but it was still really missing a certain depth of flavor that I could’ve only found at home or maybe a better restaurant.
My friend ordered dolsot bibimbap with beef (pictured above), or rice with mixed cooked vegetables in a sizzling stone bowl. This dish is basically a Korean staple since it’s filling, easy to make and delicious. It’s honestly impossible to mess this dish up, so Ajoomah’s Apron didn’t disappoint here.
Korean Tip #3: If you leave the bibimbap to sizzle for a little bit in the stone bowl, the rice at the bottom will toast into a really delicious crunchy layer for you to munch on later!
Overall, I accomplished what I set out to do at Ajoomah’s Apron: I ate some decent Korean food and walked out full, happy and a little less homesick than before.