Hankook Tofu House
Hankook Tofu House9521 Folsom Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95827
If you’ve ever slurped a piping hot bowl of sundubu jjigae at BCD Tofu House—a popular chain in Southern California—you understand the transcendent potential of stewed tofu, gochujang and a raw egg. It’s soothing and spicy, and the tofu disarmingly silky. You spoon the bubbling mixture over rice and delight in the just-cooked yolk at the bottom of the bowl. You want it every cold winter night for the rest of your life.
Unfortunately, you won’t find such bliss at Hankook Tofu House, which opened in February. As its name suggests, the restaurant specializes in these soft tofu soups, but they don’t quite deliver if expectations are high.
Still, Sacramento lacks a top-notch Korean restaurant, and Hankook Tofu House definitely rivals Mo Du Rang, the current favorite located just a few doors down. Hankook is warmer, brighter and cleaner—just one quick and friendly server takes care of all 10 tables, though the television is distractingly loud—and its prices are consistently lower.
Compared to most Korean restaurants, Hankook offers a minimalist menu: eight tofu soups and a few classic Korean specialties. Portions are generous. Plus, your table gets loaded with banchan after ordering—about 10 little side dishes, which change from night to night. Quality varies. Broccoli one night tasted strongly of garlic and sesame oil, another night the florets were too plain. Kimchi was intense and sour one night, on another it seemed like it needed more time to ferment.
Some of the banchan were mysteries: some kind of root vegetable, some kind of pickled something? Servers aren’t confident on the English names of various ingredients, but if business is slow, they’ll grab an English-Korean dictionary and try to help you out. For example, I now know the fabulous, bright red banchan of dried fish is made with pollock. Thanks, dictionary.
On the tofu soup menu, I sampled the kimchi-pork and vegetable varieties (both $9.99). They suffered the same watery problem and lacked depth—particularly the vegetable—but the spice levels were generous. If you like sweating, this is your spot.
You’ll need to ask for an egg with your soup—assuming you want one, which you do. It might seem like an annoying extra step, but, really, it’s infinitely better than places that automatically drop the egg in before bringing it to your table—that action usually results in an overcooked, scrambled surprise.
Actually, away from the tofu soups is where Hankook shines brightest. The giant seafood pancake ($13.99) merits repeat visits for its chewy, soft center and super-crispy edges. Long strips of scallions, mussels and tender, charred squid stud the surface and load it with flavor. With the banchan, one order could easily feed two people.
The dol-sot bibimbap ($10.99)—a picturesque classic of finely julienned vegetables and an over-easy egg over rice—sizzles upon arrival in a big stone pot. Release the egg yolk, mix furiously and relish in the semiburnt, crispy bits of rice that cling to the hot bowl. Hankook’s bibimbap feels healthy and light. The incredibly flavorful shreds of beef bulgogi do the heavy lifting, and I only wished there were more of them. Luckily, there’s the squeeze bottle of gochujang, the distinctive, fermented Korean red pepper paste, which helps make anything more interesting.
Short ribs ($19.99) and spicy rice cakes ($12.99) are both well-executed. The ribs arrive smoking hot, with lightly caramelized edges and an air of sweet, garlicky soy. The fat, oval rice disks are freshly made, staying soft and pleasantly chewy in a pool of bright red, sweet-spicy sauce with thin rectangles of fish cake. And gochujang. Yum, gochujang.