At So Kong Dong Tofu & BBQ, you hear your food before you see it. The hiss-spit-sizzle of broth and meat hitting hot stone and grill tops fills the space all day long. The Korean restaurant took over the Banh Cuon Tan Dinh space in the 82nd Avenue Fubonn complex last year, and has been serving face-meltingly hot stone bowls of spicy tofu stew and mountains of tabletop barbecue to shoppers ever since.
Korean grub is still a relative rarity on Portland's east side, compared to the legions of pho joints or Thai and Chinese restaurants that crowd its outskirts. While SKD's plates aren't as transformative as the goods at Beaverton and Hillsboro spots like Jang Choong Dong Wang Jok Bal, its hearty fare is always well prepared and incredibly comforting—like some Midwestern family dinner amped up with smoky chili pepper paste. The staff is kind and willing to explain to you which sauce goes with what dish and why you're getting a pair of scissors with your barbecue.
There's an excellent simple mackerel ($12.95), served grilled and dressed with lemon, and a crunchy, feather-light seafood pancake bursting with long scallions and nubbins of squid ($13.95) and other sea critters. But the soon tofu ($8.95) is the unexpected star of the menu. The slippery, custardy tofu is served in one of those super-hot stone bowls, bobbing in a rich, spicy beef-bone broth that takes the kitchen two days to boil up. You can order the soup with pork or beef, but the best rendition is packed with briny oysters, clams and big shrimp. It's served with a raw egg, too. Crack it directly into the bowl, creating fluffy clumps of egg and a creamier broth as you stir it in. Order an SKD Combo, and you can pair that soon tofu with a respectable sizzling plate of pork, beef or chicken bulgogi ($12.95-$13.95 lunch, $13.95-$15.95 dinner).
The namesake barbecue, which you cook yourself on a grill embedded in your table and dip in spicy soy/ginger/sesame sauce, is good—especially the fatty pork loin. The smallest combo is $44.95 for two people but can feed four, thanks to the tasty vegetable-packed soybean soup, fluffy steamed egg bowl, rice and banchan (assorted side dishes like kimchi and bean-sprout salad) that come with each order. One server mentioned that SKD's American customers are partial to the cold, roasted potatoes dressed with honey that often show up as free banchan. He's right. Those suckers are addictive.
But although playing with tongs and fire is fun, it's far easier to heat things up with the stone-pot bibimbap ($10.95). The Korean standby asks diners to mix little piles of hot beef, cucumber, bean sprouts, mushrooms and other veggies atop rice with, again, a raw egg and a healthy squeeze from a bottle simply marked "bibimbap sauce" (think of it as spicy chili ketchup). The stone pot, or dolsot, actually toasts the rice into a crunchy mat of grains as you eat, lending a complex, charred flavor to each mouthful.
You will burn your tongue at least once as you eat this. And you will not care. After all, your dinner didn't hiss-spit-sizzle for nothing.
- Order this: Seafood soon tofu ($8.95); stone pot bibimbap ($10.95).
- Best deal: The crunchy seafood pancake ($13.95) is big enough to share; and it tastes good cold from the fridge the next day.
- Iâll pass: By itself, the bulgogi is underwhelming; get the SKD combo with tofu.
EAT: So Kong Dong, 2850 SE 82nd Ave., No. 11, 808-9990. Lunch and dinner 11 am-10 pm daily. $-$$.