Pepper Guides: The Best Korean Dishes in ManilaSeptember 4, 2020
- Pamela CortezWords
There is an excess of Korean restaurants in Manila. In the past few years, the community has grown larger and larger, and with it, the number of establishments dedicated to their cuisine has increased. From high-end to low-end, from big ticket franchises to shops run by first and second generation migrants, it has become clear that this is not the result of trends-based infiltration, but cultural diaspora. With the wealth of places out there, it isn’t difficult to find something both delicious and traditional, but it is also fairly easy to find some less-than-stellar duds. Here, we attempt to trudge through some of Manila’s best Korean restaurants, and find out where to go based on which dishes you should be eating.
1. Bo Ssam and Pajeon: Masil
Masil might be the best Korean restaurant in Manila, without contention. The sprawling compound has a menu which seems concise compared to the dozens of pages that are usually found in Korean restaurants in the city. This however proves the old adage that quality is better than quantity, with almost every version of a classic better here than elsewhere. It is the pajeon (P350) and bo ssam (P1,200) in particular that leave the strongest impressions; their pancake is studded with so much seafood, that you’re likely to get more shrimp and squid in one bite than vegetables. The accompanying sauce is a star on its own, bright and tart, with enough chilli to awaken the tongue. Their bo ssam proves that Korea has more to offer than just their barbeque; their pork belly is boiled with herbs and sliced so thinly that it is almost translucent. Fold it into their endless supply of perilla leaves, and dip each parcel into their sauce which is more than just the average salt and sesame oil combo—tiny preserved shrimps add a briny hit.
Address: Oranbo Dr, Pasig
Phone: (02) 631 2173
2. Bulgogi: Sam Won
Sam Won’s BF branch is an institution. Nightly, both Korean expats, and locals in the area flock to the restaurant which favors charcoal grills over gas stoves. The best thing on their menu however, is cooked in their kitchen instead of in front of you. Bulgogi has easily assimilated into Filipino culture because of its sweet nature, which plays to the flavor profiles that are popular to Filipino palates. There are many versions that are sickly sweet, and are full to the brim with other ingredients that are unnecessary to the traditional dish, but Sam Won’s bulgogi (P270) sticks to the basics with a result that eats like a cross between chap che and Japanese sukiyaki. The meat is incredibly generous and of good quality, with a soup-like sauce that will satisfy until the last sip or slurp.
Address: Aguirre Ave, B.F. Homes, Parañaque
Phone: (02) 825-1144
3. Korean Beef Stew: Ye Dang
Many often articulate that Ye Dang is the city’s best Korean restaurant; however, lately, there have been glaring inconsistencies in the products they deliver. Their fame has made them skimp on their banchan, and there are now rules to eating there (you need to order at least two dishes to get served even if dining alone). But when Ye Dang delivers, the results are always fantastic, and their accolades become well-deserved. Their version of Korean beef stew (P300) is one of the best renditions in the Metro, a well-balanced sticky stew that does not skimp on the meat, and instead piles on the ribs for good value.
Address: 88 Goldpark Center, Meralco Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig
Phone: (02) 246 9069
4. Bibimbap: Soga Miga
Soga Miga’s offerings might seem pricier than your average Korean restaurant, but it is because the quality of what’s in store is always of high standard. The service is a little inattentive, but that is made up by some of the best banchan around, which will always include bowls of hot, steaming egg. What sets their bibimbap (P350) apart is the rice they use, a Japanese purple rice variant, which has incredibly plump, large grains perfect for soaking up raw egg and gochujang to make a viscous, sweet and spicy mess.
Address: Molito Commercial Complex, Alabang, Muntinlupa
Phone: (02) 807 3008
5. Korean Fried Chicken: Top Dish
This entry might be highly contested, as Korean fried chicken is now all over Manila. As chains go, Kyochon’s expertly-fried wings are a clear winner, and many places serve excellent variations (Big Mama’s in Poblacion has great skin, Donu below has the spiciest sauce we’ve found yet, and Snowman Izakaya has a version on a sizzling plate that makes for good pulutan). Hole in the wall Top Dish however, has a plate (P350 for 1/2, P700 for 1 whole) that has one of the best ratios in the city: crisp coating, generous amounts of sauce, and a pleasing heat that will be embraced by those who love spice, and those who don’t. The servings are highly generous, and each order comes with a side of pickled radish that cools down the palate.
Address: 4890 Durban Cor. P. Burgos St., Poblacion, Makati
Phone: (02) 758 1122
6. Galbi: Makchang
If you’re looking for authenticity, there is no better place to get grilled meats than Makchang. The original branch has everything you might possibly need from Korean barbeque: charcoal grills, a short menu dedicated to their beef and pork, and expert servers who are dedicated to cooking for you at your table. The prices are reasonable, and each offering is solid, from the eponymous makchang or intestine, which is muscular and chewy in the best type of way. If you want galbi, you shouldn’t have it anywhere else. LA galbi, galbisal (above, P550), pork or beef galbi—either way, you’ll get meat marinated long enough to have slight sweetness permeate each piece, without it distracting from the inherent beefiness of each cut. The servers cook it in a way which gets the outside distinctly caramelized, but still leaving the center almost-red and still juicy; which makes you never want to cook your own again. Sorry Cafe Chosun, but this is where Bourdain should have eaten.
Address: 1547 Adriatico St., Ermita, Manila
Phone: (02) 394 8612, (02) 521 9540
7. Samgyupsal: Hwangso-Ga
There are many unlimited samgyupsal places, but Hwangso-Ga wins on value for money alone. Each slice of pork belly is thick cut, studded with generous amounts of fat that flavor the meat, and when grilled, are far from stringy. The accompanying buffet (P399 for lunch, P449 for dinner, including unlimited beef brisket) of various Japanese and Korean-inspired dishes aren’t too fresh, but when your plates of devoured belly stack up, these are secondary to the porcine product.
Address: 1547 M. Adriatico St., Cor. Pedro Gil St., Ermita, Manila
Phone: (02) 405 0100
8. Pork Jowl: Donu
The best thing about Donu is the fact that it is open 24 hours, willing to feed anyone seriously inebriated in the early hours of the morning. A cold beer in hand must be accompanied by their pork jowl or hangjungsal (P400), an unctuous, slightly muscular cut from the face of the pig. Each bite has a unique profile; the texture feels like fattier, slightly chewier pork belly, but has a more intense porky flavor. Donu cooks it until the edges of fat are almost burnt to a crisp, rendering the meatier parts juicy. Banchan here is a little tired, but the jowl comes with a generous side of spring onions laced with vinegar and chili, that cut through each greasy bite.
Address: Polaris St., Bel-Air, Makati
Phone: (02) 897 6878
9. Kimchi Jigae: Jang Ga Nae
Jang Ga Nae has become the go-to Korean joint for students in the Ortigas area because of both its accessibility and generous price points. The standard of cooking here is spotty and varies with each dish, but the standouts are in every stew or soup that comes out of their kitchen. They have a fish egg soup with an addictive, salty broth, and a sam ge tang with white chicken and ginseng that is incredibly potent. But when they start introducing kimchi into their broths, it is another thing entirely. Their take on the cabbage is strong, funky, and fermented, and when introduced to stock, flavors ingredients with a potent acidic savoriness. Their kimchi jigae (P280) is chock full of kimchi, tofu, and pork, and delivers a tart and spicy kick with every spoonful.
Address: 237 Aguirre Ave., BF Homes, Paranaque
Phone: (02) 820 4071
10. Makguksu: Min Sok
One of Korea’s most celebrated dishes is not as well-known to Filipinos, but should be eaten everywhere. Makguksu (P280), a brilliantly conceived cold noodle bowl, is a refreshing change of pace to the barbeque that is familiar to diners everywhere. Made with thin buckwheat noodles, its a close relative to the more universally known naengmyeon, served with a cold broth with hot mustard, sweet vinegar, and sesame oil. It is rarer to find in Manila, but Min Sok’s version wins points for its accompanying sauces, and affordability.
Address: 5655 Don Pedro St., Poblacion, Makati
Phone: (02) 895 9586