Before Cafe Corea, the extent of my experience with Korean food was Korean airline food on my way to Beijing, so when my friend invited me to get authentic Korean food with her, I was both excited and nervous. What if I didn’t like it? Would my already dubious status as a half-Asian be revoked? I was determined to be open-minded, and I wasn’t disappointed.

On a Saturday night, I took the 55 from North, which was overall a five-minute bus ride. Before I even walked in, Cafe Corea got points for convenience; I didn’t have to catch an Uber downtown for this authentic dining experience.

When we walked in, the tiny, homey atmosphere was that of a mom-and-pop shop, which it really is. The restaurant is run by a local Korean family and is rarely crowded. 

wine, tea, pizza, beer, coffee
Jade Goldstein

We immediately sat down and were given water and menus, and then our order was taken.

I opted for the beef Dolsot Bibimbap (505B), while my two friends each ordered the beef Ddek Mandu Guk (607B) and the beef Suntofu Jjigae (404D). Five minutes later, we received our complimentary Banchan, or small eats.

sauce, vegetable
Jade Goldstein

From the front, clockwise, are traditional cabbage (baechu) kimchi, potato salad (gamja bokkeum), seasoned cucumber (oi muchim), and braised potato (gamja jorim). My personal favorites were the potato dishes. The braised potato was my favorite, with the soy sauce flavor connecting well with the hearty, rich potato. The potato salad was also flavorful but much lighter.

The kimchi and cucumbers were also very well made, but for me their flavors were a little jarring. One of my friends, more used to Korean food, very much enjoyed these dishes.

Promptly after we finished noshing on the Banchan, our main courses arrived at the table.

Ddek Mandu Guk: 7/10 

parsley, pork, meat, broth, vegetable, soup
Jade Goldstein

This dish is a rice cake and dumpling soup with egg. My friend noted that the rice cakes were extremely tender and complemented the beef and dumplings very well. The broth was rich and thick, so there was great texture, but the broth could’ve been a little more flavorful. Overall though, she really liked it.

Suntofu Jjigae: 9/10

bibimbap, meat, chili, soup, vegetable
Jade Goldstein

This stew, with beef and tofu, was truly excellent. The stew was flavorful and savory; the egg was runny and blends well into the soup. The broth was spicy, but its richness ended up balancing well with the tofu. The tofu in particular was silky and full of flavor, complemented nicely by the vegetables and beef in the dish. Eating this with rice also adds another texture. Overall this dish was a winner—one of the top dishes at Cafe Corea for sure.

Dolsot Bibimbap: 9/10

pepper, pork, egg, rice, ramen, meat, bibimbap, vegetable
Jade Goldstein

This dish’s core ingredients were rice, beef, carrots, bean sprouts, cucumber, spinach, and an egg. It came in a piping hot stone bowl, hence the name Dolsot. Taking advice from one of my friends, I immediately added some gochujang sauce and mixed everything up.

bibimbap, onion, rice, meat, pepper, vegetable
Jade Goldstein

When I took my first bite, the flavors all blended perfectly. The fresh, light vegetables paired well with the steamed rice and tender beef. I could taste a hint of the egg, and the gochujang really amplified all these flavors and added its own spicy twist. This and the Suntofu Jjigae really emerged as the two signature dishes of Cafe Corea.

We finished off our food and ordered green tea mochi ice cream as a dessert.

Green Tea Mochi Ice Cream: 9/10

mochi, coffee, cream, milk, dairy product
Jade Goldstein

The quantity of ice cream wrapped in mochi was bigger than most commercial mochi ice cream. The matcha flavor, I noticed, was much more intense than most mochi ice cream where the sweetness dominates. Overall, this palate cleanser was a perfect finish to our meal.

In short, this hidden gem in Hyde Park is a quick walk or bus ride away from UChicago campus. Whether you’re a Korean food veteran or a newbie like I was, Cafe Corea’s authentic, homemade eats won’t disappoint. I will definitely be back.