Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

K-Town Cafe in Dr. Phillips brings Korean street food staples to the restaurant-heavy neighborhood

Seoul searching

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I'm not going to suggest Orlando has a Koreatown (it doesn't), but it's hard to overlook the heavy concentration of Korean restaurants in the West Sand Lake Road corridor in Dr. Phillips. Joining Beewon, BaBbi BaBbi and Gogi Grill now is K-Town Café, the "K-Town" being an initialism for "Koreatown" – so hey, maybe one day Dr. Phillips; maybe one day.

Korean street food is what's promised here, but if you've strolled the streets of Hongdae, Itaewon or Namdaemun in Seoul and come here expecting hotteok (stuffed pancakes), tteok-bokki (spicy rice noodle cakes) and sundae (blood sausage), you might want to keep those expectations in check. K-Town Café only has an interest in the conventional cuisine of Hanguk, with focused fast-casual fixes of bulgogi, galbi, japchae and the like. It's certainly a far cry from the sandwiches Which 'Wich served up when it operated out of the space, a space that was to be taken over by Brother Jimmy's BBQ until that deal seemingly fell through. In fact, the boxy room with its woodsy walls looks like the abandoned blueprint of a Brother Jimmy's BBQ joint.

The air inside, hazed and scented by the sizzle of grilled meat, is a protein punch to the proboscis, so much so that it influenced our decision to sample both bulgogis – one with shreds of beef ($9.95), the other with morsels of chicken ($9.95). Both seemed to have been similarly marinated with soy, mirin, sugar and sesame oil; both were served over a healthy portion of egg-flecked rice with the perfect amount of stickiness; and both were enjoyed thoroughly, perhaps the chicken a bit more than the beef. The former held the flavor of the marinade a little better, not that there wasn't plenty of flavor to go around.

PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

Our choice of sides – housemade kimchi and fiery cucumber salad – were both bold and beautiful, though there are more innocuous banchan to be had. If you're a meat-and-potatoes sort, pass on the steamed broccoli, cabbage slaw and pickled onion-tomato salad and go for the smooth apple-sweetened mashed potatoes. (Note: They're served cold.) That said, I was hoping to see a greater variety of banchan offered, namely seasoned bean sprouts, spicy radish and stir-fried anchovies.

Japchae ($9.95) – the traditional banchan of glass noodles stir-fried in garlic-soy and sesame oil – is offered here as a main. The noodles are tossed with red peppers, onions, carrots, mushrooms and thin slices of beef, and they're an absolute simple pleasure. Galbi ($12.95) done in the L.A. style (thinly cut across the ribs) comprises all the finger-licking aspects of salty, sweet and meaty.

On this particularly rainy day, a warming bowl of kimchi tofu soup ($4.95) seemed a warranted treat. Actually, it was served in a to-go container, like everything else that we ordered and then ate at a socially distanced table. Same goes for a geodesic dessert of Earl Grey mousse cake with hazelnuts ($6.95), which looked like a miniaturized version of Epcot's Spaceship Earth, dimples and all. It was a lovely cake, perhaps even fitting, maybe even an augur. Who knows? Dr. Phillips could very well be witnessing the burgeoning of an Experimental Prototype Koreatown of Tomorrow.

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