914 NE Broadway, 503-208-2172, hak-restaurant.business.site. 11:30 am-3 pm, 5-10 pm Monday-Saturday.
With the arrival of Hak, the corner of Northeast 9th Avenue and Broadway has quietly evolved into a hotbed for no-frills noodle spots. It's just feet away from cult classic Frank's Noodle House, and though Hak's Korean roots mean you're more likely to stumble upon pungent kimchis and spicy-sweet barbecue flavors, the hangover-curing capabilities of a hot plate of noodles is the tie that binds the two establishments in spirit.
The focus at Hak is far more singular, which leads to much more surprising—and sometimes disappointing—results. The menu is a tidy two pages, with just a few offerings per section, a stark contrast to the massive tomes you'll find at say, Spring in Beaverton or K-Town Korean Barbecue on Southeast 82nd. But the relative lack of options can be a blessing for diners overwhelmed by the paradox of choice found at more traditional Southeast Asian eateries.
And in the case of appetizers, it's an easy move to just try one of everything. The pork and veggie fried dumplings are contained in impossibly fresh and tender dumpling dough, and at just $5 a plate, you'll probably want more than one. The seaweed salad bursts to life with a bright lemon dressing that cuts the vegetal flavor of the seaweed just right.
The "Grilled Meat" section contains a small handful of showstopping platters that arrive from the kitchen sizzling in dramatic fashion. The heap of beef rib-eye bulgogi ($19) was the clear winner, with a gentle, warm spice trailing right behind a burst of juicy sweetness from the tender, lightly charred meat. The pork is also worth a look, but the cuts sometimes suffered from a lack of consistent seasoning between one bite and the next.
Though you're more than able to piece together a meal from the first two sections, the star of the show is the be bim bob ($10). It's a relatively luxe treatment of the dish compared to others in town, but the price is unusually generous relative to the portions. The texture of the shiitake and squash pairs perfectly with the dripping egg, and the noodles are a top-notch filler for a dish that often scans as impossibly rich.
With the cold and wet days already around the corner, anyone looking for a new wintertime go-to probably needs to keep searching. The spicy brisket noodle soup is well-constructed, particularly where the tender slices of brisket bobbing on top are concerned, but it was otherwise lacking in dynamic flavors that went beyond nondescript spiciness. With the aforementioned meat and noodle dishes packing such a wallop, you might as well ignore this part of the menu. But regardless of where you find that astringent, mouth-coating spice on the menu, it's best washed down with a small glass of Makgeoli, a form of sparkling rice wine that has sweet, sour and milky components in equal measure. The Seoul ($13) complemented the sweetness of the bulgogi quite well.
There's not a lot of hard choices to make at Hak, and though a few items miss the mark, there's more than enough reliably great dishes to put together a meal of diverse flavors that accentuate everything there is to love about Korean soul food. PETE COTTELL.
Kkoki Korean BBQ Portland
8001 SE Powell Blvd., Suite O, 503-327-8875, kkokibbq.com. 4 pm-midnight Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-12:30 am Friday-Saturday, 11:30 am-11 pm Sunday.
For meat lovers, Korean barbecue is the perfect DIY treat.
You take a seat at a table with a burner in the middle and a smoke-sucking hood above, slap your chosen cut on the grill, and within minutes, dinner is served. This is well known to K-BBQ aficionados in Beaverton, where most of the good spots are located. Now, denizens of the outer eastside have an alluring spot of their own.
Kkoki BBQ Portland—a sister outlet to the Beaverton original—is situated in a strip mall not far from Southeast 82nd's Jade District. Chain joints—or in this case, chain joint wannabes—aren't normally my sweet spot, but the same wife-and-husband team provides the culinary energy behind the entire operation. More important, this new Southeast location is spacious, clean, hospitable and delicious. And best of all, it keeps late hours.
Once seated, diners are handed a menu that's sizable in both dimensions and content. Photos and English-language descriptions accompany menu listings, keeping the anxiety level low for newbies. Servers on each visit also bent over backward to answer questions, check on progress, even cook the food. We never even had to press the tableside call button—a tradition at Korean barbecue joints—to summon help.
A solid ordering strategy begins with the selection of meats. In all, there are 19 barbecue offerings—a truly impressive quantity. One protein plate, two at most, should be ample for an average pair considering the included "ban chan," small dishes of cabbage kimchi (acceptable if not great), bean curd skin, pickled daikon radish slices, greens, sprouts and mixed green salad. Go with la galbi ($24), marinated crosscut beef short ribs or, if the big raise just came through, the prime rib-eye ($36.95). Should preferences lean toward pork, chicken or even seafood, Kkoki has you covered there, too.
Depending on how hungry you are, you may want to add an appetizer, stew or platter of messy, palate-rousting Korean fried chicken ($20.95), or "yangnyem," to the ticket, but be forewarned that all dishes other than the starters arrive in gargantuan portions. A simple scallion pancake ($8.95), which avoids excess oil, is a good way to get the ball rolling.
Among the stews, the avant-garde hot pot of choice would be budae jjigae ($29.95). Its rock-star standing among the cool kids is at odds with its humble origins as a dish borne of privation during the Korean War in the early 1950s. Still, the assemblage of ingredients, including ramen noodles, tofu, hot dogs, spam, bacon, cheese, rice cake and greens in a chile-lashed broth is a toothsome taste to behold. For the indecisive, there are three pre-selected, progressively larger combinations, including meats and stews (and ban chan), starting at $65 and topping out at $140.
Whatever you end up choosing, arrive hungry and go easy on the call button. Your restraint will be rewarded. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.