Eunice and Jay Kim know Korean food.
Bi bim bab, bulgogi and kimchi have been staples on their Hana Cafe menu since it first opened 15 years ago – even though it’s technically a Japanese restaurant.
Recently, the Kims – both Korean – opened a second restaurant right next door to their Hana Cafe, a popular sushi spot that has operated at 325 N. Mead in Old Town Square since it moved from 306 N. Rock Road in 2007.
The new restaurant is called – appropriately – Hana Next Door, and it pares the menu down to just the Korean dishes, which customers order at the counter rather than wait for table service.
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The idea, the Kims said before opening, was to offer the same quality food in a faster, to-go setting.
Though the food is wonderful and completely up to Kim standards, it was the opposite of fast on our visit. And the restaurant seems a little redundant considering that most of the dishes on the menu were already served right next door.
I’m more likely to keep going to the original for my Korean fix, but any new restaurant that expands the Kim empire is okay by me.
ON THE MENU The menu features a few appetizers, soup, salad and 15 Korean entrees made with grilled meats, veggies, noodles and rice.
DON’T MISS DISHES The best thing we ordered was the bi bim bab served in a hot stone bowl ($11.50). This dish, a bowl of rice topped with separate “compartments” of vegetables and meat and a fried egg, is one of my favorite Korean dishes, and I love it equally both at Hana and at the wonderful Manna Wok at 4865 E. Harry St. When served in a stone bowl, the rice gets so hot on the bottom that it crisps up, creating a satisfying, delicious crunch. It’s $3 more to get the dish in the hot stone bowl rather than in a more standard noodle bowl, but it’s worth it. (Although the stone bowl is only available to dine-in customers.) Get it with beef, ask for the egg overeasy, and thank me later.
We also liked the bulgogi, which is made of thin strips of marinated meat stir fried with slivers of carrot, bean sprouts and green onion and topped with toasted sesame seeds. We again chose beef, which was tender and nicely seasoned and came with a perfectly-formed crab Rangoon and side of rice for $8.95.
For variety, we also ordered the gooksu with shrimp ($9.50), a dish featuring wheat noodles stir fried with cabbage, broccolini and green onions. The shrimp were smallish, but the dish had a nice, spicy kick and also came with rice and a crab Rangoon.
Our least favorite dish was the curry rice, which we ordered with chicken for $9.50. It consisted of a mixture of small cubes of carrot, zucchini, potato and chicken coated in a curry-flavored sauce and served over rice. The flavor was fine, but the dish was a little bland and mushy.
AMBIANCE The dining room is small with a limited number of tables and chairs. But it’s bright and nicely decorated. It has more of a “daytime” feel than the darker, more sleek Hana Cafe next door.
PRICE RANGE Appetizers are $3.95 to $6.95. Entrees are $8.25 to $11.50.
SERVICE The day we visited, Eunice Kim was in the restaurant alone with one other employee, meaning that she was frantically taking orders and working in the kitchen herself. It was a full hour before our entrees arrived, and it looked like to-go customers were having lengthy waits as well. Other fellow fans of Kim’s food who have visited Hana Next Door on other days assure me that my visit was an anomaly and that their food arrived much more quickly – and was just as delicious.