*Groupon is trying to get Ilsong Garden for one of the daily deals…when you visit let the owners know you’d love that too!
Ilsong Garden is the best Korean restaurant in San Antonio, hands down proving it with the numerous awards received from MYSA, the Current, Zagat’s, and other culinary critics. As my sister and I were both adopted from Korea I feel qualified (albeit unreasonably so) to make such a blanket statement! I have tried several different Korean restaurants in San Antonio; there is a clustering of them near Fort Sam Houston. For me, Korean food is one of the milder food groups, not a lot of risk, tons of rewards!
The food is great! Some of the tables along the wall have grills, watch out for the flaps, you will spill your drink…if you have time and are looking for a fun new experience request on of these tables during dinner and enjoy preparing your food table side! The lunch specials, served Monday through Friday, which we had today, are hearty and well worth the trip and price, the Bulgogi plate includes a salad, two fried yaki mandu, a heaping serving of rice, and a lot of meat. My co-workers and I go frequently throughout the month, making more new fans each time. When I’m not there for lunch, I frequently visit with my daughter or friends on the weekends or quickly stop by while running errands to pick up takeout.
Although sometimes they get really busy and it takes a little longer to request banchan refills (see below) or the check, the service is always first-class! The owners are always mingling with the customers, most on a first name basis…you always hear customers introduce their guests to the Cacy’s or asking about their children that also sometimes work there. My 6 year old daughter loves going, her favorite waitress always sneaks her Korean candy and lavishes her with verbal affection.
Oh and before I forget…don’t be surprised to see a sushi menu towards the back either. The sushi chef, who enjoys golfing on his Sundays off, was trained by one of the best sushi chefs in Korea and you can tell! Plump pieces and creative rolls leave little to be desired. If you’re eating with your eyes he’ll quickly come over and wrap up your sushi before you can throw it into a takeout container, ensuring that the sushi is properly coupled with fresh ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce packets. Little touches like this bring me back for more every time.
Some of My Favorites
When in Rome, knowing what to order…you don’t have to be Korean or critic to enjoy a meal at Ilsong Garden. Here are a couple dishes I always recommend to beginners…hooks even the pickiest eaters…for life!
Bulgogi – is thinly sliced, marinated meat (normally beef but could also be chicken/pork) that is traditionally cooked over a flame grill but can also be cooked in a skillet. Think of it as Korean BBQ. Make at home, ask your butcher to thinly slice sirloin steak and marinate with something similar to Noh’s Korean BBQ seasoning packet. (BTW, I like a LOT of Noh seasoning products!)
Bibimbap – is one of my dad’s favorites. Literally meaning “mixed rice”, this dish consists of white rice in a bowl, an assortment of mixed vegetables (sautéed spinach, julienned carrots and cucumbers, bean sprouts to name a few), slices of meat (Bulgogi) or tofu, a chili pepper paste (“gochujang”), and a fried, over easy egg on top. Mix everything together and enjoy! Although it can be served in a “regular” bowl, if there is a “hot pot” option take it! This means the entire bowl will be hot enough to hear the rice crackling…when you get to the bottom of your mean the rice will offer a crunchy, tasty treat!
Chop Chae Bop – glass noodles as we call them in my family…are stir fried clear (cellophane) noodles, veggies, normally served with beef. Chap Chae alone is the noodle dish, served with rice includes the “Bop”. Normally not a spicy dish…
Yaki Mandu – Think of this as a crescent shaped dumpling that is either pan seared or deep fried. I like both although am partial to the deep fried variation and are stuffed with a mixture of beef, glass noodles, and finely chopped vegetables. My daughter cannot eat enough of these.
Banchan – these are the little side dishes that accompany the main entrée, comparable to Spanish tapas or meze from the Mediterranean. Although you receive less at lunch, we still go 5 with our midday meal special. These little sides are to be eaten with the main, in the same bite if desired. They are normally set in the middle of the table to be shared by all. At Ilsong Garden they have never questioned my requests for free refills either…I guess they understand a deserving palate. Also, if they don’t have one of my favorites (especially during lunch or busy times) I still ask the wait staff and they’re always happy to look.
- Kimchi comes in many shapes and forms and is essentially fermented vegetables, usually cabbage, seasoned with chili peppers. My favorite is the “kimchi radish” which is cubed radish.
- Namul (steamed, marinated, or stir fried) are a variety of veggies. My favorites are the spinach (lightly cooked with sesame seed oil and garlic), the chilled bean sprouts, picked julienned white radish, broccoli, yum!)
- Many others…potatoes, shredded squid, a sweet “cake”