Da Rae Jung aka “Korean Restaurant”Address: 5220 N. Lincoln Avenue
I’ve been disappointed in previous Korean restaurant experiences, so I wasn’t in any particular rush to try any of the spots that form a northern ring around Lincoln Square. But after a soul- and stomach-satisfying experience at Da Rae Jung, 5220 N. Lincoln Ave., I kicked myself for waiting so long.
In the dead of a Chicago winter it’s hard to beat a nice big bowl of soup. And the bubbling cauldron of seafood soup ($27) served up at Da Rae Jung thawed me out, right down to my toes. The slightly spicy broth was brimming with whole shrimp, fish steak, mussels, “crab” stick, straw mushrooms, zucchini, radish, onions and jalapeno chili. The menu says it serves two, but that includes a second meal for two in leftovers apparently.
Da Rae Jung specializes in soups and stews (there’s a special chilled soup called Jajang Myeon that I’m saving for a summer visit), but they also offer Bibimbap (a sizzling rice dish) and a few dishes I would equate with stir-fry. Almost all dishes come with banchan – assorted small servings of pickled and/or spicy vegetables and accessory proteins.
Some Korean restaurants emphasize the pickled vegetables (ad nauseum), but I was pleasantly surprised by the range of banchan Da Rae Jung delivered. Although limited in quantity, the range of flavors was surprising. In addition to their homemade kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage) we eagerly devoured marinated tofu, fermented bean sprouts, fish “omelets”, sweetened potatoes, and lightly pickled broccoli.
During our recent visit, my husband tried the Jaeyuk Bokum ($11), a large serving of spicy pork sliced thin and pan fried, and our friend ordered the Kimchi Chigae (a.k.a. pork soup). I typically only enjoy kimchi in small doses, so I had low expectations of this soup, but it turned out to be the winning dish that night. Da Rae Jung manages to find a good balance between spicy and tangy, and the pork was complemented by tofu and other vegetables besides cabbage.
Comfort food is the main focus here, and it is cheerfully served by one of the nicest old guys I have ever seen. I hear that his wife runs the kitchen, but our conversation with the host was limited by language obstacles. There’s not much ambiance, but the BYOB is conveniently located next to a liquor store. You will only see “Korean Restaurant” in the sign as you pass by the small strip mall where it’s located, and parking is limited.