5955 North 5th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19120
One thing missing from the Philadelphia food scene (at least from all of the areas where anyone WANTS to live) is authentic Korean BBQ. Sure there are a couple of places to find it, but nothing that is worth spending the amount of money, when I could easily make it at home on my trusty Weber Kettle. However, a jaunt up north through the badlands will take you to some of the best food in the area.
First of all, Kim's is no ordinary Korean BBQ joint. Unlike most (all) of the other places in the city, they use real deal, hardwood charcoal. It's hard to believe that no one else does it right, but the competition tends to use gas. No comparison. Maybe they are afraid of burning the restaurant down. No one ever got anywhere (delicious) by being scared.
Kim's is like stepping back in time. They have an old decor, punctuated by the giant hoods hovering over the old wooden tables, and the fish tank with no water (or fish, for that matter) in the back.
Don't believe me about the charcoal?
As we were seated, we noticed that the dining room was full of young Asian people of various nationalities. It was really interesting to hear the conversations always revert to the unifying English. They were also drinking sake . . . heavily. This had all of the makings of a good time. We were quickly brought an abundance of banchan, and some of the best I have had, to boot. All of the flavors were nuanced, and most of them were quite addictive.
There is a large stainless tub in the middle of the table, which at first might not look too appealing, but the magic happens once you choose your protein. We chose the bulgogi, which, at $38, was a bit spendy for two, but it was certainly a great value in the end, as they say, "100% Natural Hardwod charcoal is very expensive.... we do this because the meats just taste better..." How true. We also drank a couple of pots of sake, because that's half the fun.
Next thing you know, a red-hot hibachi, filled with the aforementioned hardwood charcoal, is delivered to your table, and the decades old ventilation system is electronically lowered, thus rendering your conversation—over. If there is one thing that can shut me up (and I truly think there is only one thing that can), it's food. More importantly, good food.
Heaping piles of meat will usually do the trick. Coupled with a hot charcoal grill, my lips were sealed.
The marinated beef hit the grill with a sizzle, as Mom Kim quickly and efficiently threw our first round on the smokey coals.
One of my favorite parts is the garlic and jalapeno slices, which get laid in the drippings tray, and cooked mainly in the meat juice. Amazing.
When the meat is cooked to your liking, which happens quickly on the hot coals, take your bounty, wrap it in a lettuce leaf, pour some of the optional sauce on top, and prepare for happiness. The cool wrap is a perfect complement for the warm, tender, salty meat. I must have eaten twenty of these wraps.
As tough as it was to hold off, those crispy bits were well worth the wait.
The aftermath was not pretty. Nary a banchan dish left standing. Certainly not a single sliver of delicious meat.
Kim's is not cheap. Korean BBQ rarely is. But it is well worth the money, and the experience is second to none. Cooking the meat of your choice over a hot charcoal fire indoors is something that I will gladly pay for, especially over the dark winter months. In my book, Kim's is THE PLACE for Korean BBQ in Philadelphia. No one else even comes close. The flavors and service were reminiscent of my much loved first experiences in Koreatown, Los Angeles. This meat is not to be missed.