What a delightful mom and pop shop!
A friend and I wanted to get Korean bbq and wanted a central place to meet since she’s in the Far East and I’m in the West. We decided on Cafe Korea because it was one of the very few places that has KBBQ and she’s never had Korean food.
We went in and it was moderately busy with 2 staffers seating us right away. They only provide bottled water here so we got sweet iced tea, drinks run around $3. We ordered a yaki mandu (pan fried dumplings) appetizer, it was definitely homemade, and good for $8, fair pricing for the portion. 🥟
We then decided to split the Korean bbq for 2 since it came with brisket and pork belly, my favorite 2 meats and steamed egg for about $40. Then the food just kept coming….
They brought out homemade banchan (side dishes), with the variety and quality as good as I remember it in LA’s Koreatown. This has Korean Ajumma homemade all over it, meaning someone’s auntie elder or Grandma made this food. My ex was Korean and I remember helping his auntie make the sides at home. It was really really good. 😋
Korean cooking techniques (blanching, steaming, braising, and stir-frying) for vegetables and typical seasonings/techniques (sesame oil, red pepper powder, and fermentation) are used for different vegetable side dishes. 🍱
The dishes can change daily because of what’s in stock or availability, so there can be a big variety. Here’s the 7 banchan we were given that day:
-Kongnamul Muchim (Seasoned Soybean Sprouts)
-Oi Muchim (Spicy Cucumber Salad)
-Mu Saengchae (Spicy Radish Salad)
-Gamja Jorim (Braised Potatoes)
-Japchae (Stir-Fried Glass Noodles)
-Baechu Kimchi (Napa Cabbage Kimchi)
-Dubu Jorim (Braised Tofu)
Then we got our steamed egg I was surprised it was only one but it’s ok because they asked us what type of ingredients we wanted in our soup and we had the choice of beef, or beef and seafood. We choose the latter and out came a huge claypot of bubbly Soondubu Jjigae (Spicy Korean Soft Tofu Soup). It was sooo delicious with chopped pieces of beef, clams and creamy soft tofu. They didn’t skimp on the ingredients either! It wasn’t too spicy since we can tell them how hot we like it. 🍲
Once we started, the food didn’t stop. The owner I believe came out with a gas stove and bbq grill and a plate full of pork belly, brisket, and mushrooms! She thought I was Korean but I told her I wasn’t but usually get mistaken for one since I have a “full moon face”. 🌝🤣
She started cooking for us and then brought out rice bowls and garlic and jalapeno slices along with lettuce to wrap our meat in. I was sad they didn’t have the green onion salad but there was so much food on the table that we probably wouldn’t have gone thru it as well. I noticed that other people cooked their own so I guess she did it for us because she was worried I couldn’t cook it right or because it was my friend’s first time. 🤷♀️
As she cooked I made conversation that I missed Yeolmu Mulkimchi (Young Summer Radish Kimchi) and I used to buy it from small restaurants like this and she said they made it in house but it’s out of season but they did have another and brought out Kkakdugi (Cubed Radish Kimchi)!
When we were given salt and sugar in sesame oil, and a miso soy jalapeno sauce to dip our food in,
I also asked for Gochujang she was so surprised! She said “oh you know about Gochujang? You like it? I’ll get it for you, no one asked before.”
If you don’t know what it is, it’s a red chili paste made to marinade or dip foods in. It’s a savory, sweet, and spicy fermented condiment, perfect for KBBQ. She came out with a huge squeeze bottle and apologized since they actually use it in cooking and that’s the only form they had. I told her it’s ok and she left us after cooking everything. She’s soooo sweet. I would come back just to talk to her and support her, but luckily the food is delicious as well!
We ended up taking things home since it was so much food and total with appetizer and drinks came out to be like $65+tax which isn’t bad for all that food! We didn’t see a menu for lunch specials but I saw they used to have them. You can certainly get other foods like bibimbap!
What a little treasure and find in El Paso! Come out and support local! I’ll definitely be back when I don’t want to cook Korean bbq at home and also to try out their extensive menu!
CAFE KOREA EL PASO
3901 Broaddus Ave, El Paso, TX 79904