With its bright flavors, lengthy history and rising-star status in the health-food world, it’s no wonder kimchi is popping up all over DFW. The bright red side dish, or banchan, as it’s known in Korean cuisine, is working its way into Dallas menus in creative ways.
A building block of Korean dishes, kimchi is made by curing vegetables in salt and chili paste and allowing healthy bacteria to ferment the mixture into what we know as kimchi. The most common kimchi is made with Napa cabbage, but anything can be used in its place. It's served with most Korean meals as a condiment, a digestive aid or a delightfully pungent snack.
Despite being a mainstay in Korean food for eons, this funky ferment has only recently become a hot item in Dallas. Its salty, tangy, spicy characteristics match well with a surprising array of dishes; it can be made as mellow or as wild as the dish it's paired with. But kimchi’s superpowers go beyond its inescapable flavor. It's long been considered a health-food powerhouse because the bacteria that give kimchi its tangy bite also make it a probiotic that's good for digestion and gut health.
Whether you're a kimchi neophyte or a lifelong fan of the funk, here are nine DFW restaurants – and the dishes we recommend at each – that have a little fun with fermentation.
Chicken Moto's kimchi queso, $3
2069 N. Central Expressway, Richardson
Chicken Moto’s kimchi queso is a funky take on a Tex-Mex classic. The culinary cookbook is pushed aside here, where south of the border meets south of the Koreas. A sautéed 3-month-old kimchi makes the tangy, zesty, robust base onto which the classic golden cheese sauce takes hold. Try dipping the curry fries, taro chips, or hell, even fried chicken into it. Why it's not called kim-cheese, we may never know.
Top Knot's chicken karaage, $12.50
2817 Maple Ave.
Top Knot consistently impresses with a variety of Asian-influenced dishes with a twist. While the term karaage implies a starch-fried chicken, what arrives to your table at Top Knot is so much more exciting. Immediately after frying, the ultracrispy chicken is tossed in a "kimchi emulsion" made from all the concentrated flavors of the real deal. Garlic, ginger, Asian pear, jalapeño and house-made fish sauce give off an intoxicating aroma that you can smell as the dish makes its way to your table.
Junction Craft Kitchen's kimchi bloody mary, $10
2901 Elm St.
Once deemed too out there to stay on the menu full time, the kimchi bloody mary at Junction Craft Kitchen is now a staple on the former Kitchen LTO's brunch menu. The crazy creative tampering from chef Joshua Harmon gives a new dimension to the brunch cocktail. The kimchi, made in traditional clay pots, is aged for up to six months and is sprinkled throughout the menu in both liquid and solid form. Tastes of ripened fruit, dried squid, cured beef and a lot of love make the drink as flavorful as it is unique. This bloody mary, garnished with togarashi, a dried Japanese pepper, is potent enough to cure any hangover Deep Ellum may throw your way.
Kor-BQ's Kuesadilla, $5.75
6505 W. Park Blvd., Plano
Tucked away in a small section of strip malls in West Plano is a fusion restaurant with a hidden menu item that hits all the right spots. Kor-BQ’s Kuesadilla (short for Korean quesadilla) is a Tex-Mex Seoul food that brings together flour tortillas, a melty Mexican white cheese blend, your choice of beef or chicken (we recommend the chicken) and a chopped kimchi. The flavors play with each other surprisingly well, and because the kimchi is made fresh in house, it holds its crispy crunch all the way to the delicious end. Dip it into Kor-BQ's spicy sauce and enjoy the fusion of flavors and textures.
Koryo Kalbi Korean BBQ's kimchi jjigae, $7.99
2560 Royal Lane
For a more traditional take, heat things up at Koryo Kalbi. This kimchi is hot in an entirely different way. Koryo Kalbi serves kimchi in jjigae (stew) form, which arrives at the table still spitting and boiling in a 5-pound cast-iron dolsot bowl that keeps the spicy soup hot for nearly half an hour. The stew is a rich red with hunks of pork, tofu and wilted Napa cabbage kimchi that dissolves in your mouth like fermented chili cotton candy. This dish truly shines in the broth, where the kimchi has sacrificed its physical characteristics to flavor. There are hints of brine, a tang of sour ferment and a deep complexity that takes nearly a dozen tastes to really pin down. Our advice: Don’t wear a white shirt.
Kimchi Stylish Korean Kitchen's kimchi and spicy pork, $8.95; kimchi ramen, $10; and kimchi soup, $10
2625 Old Denton Road, Carrollton
Kimchi Stylish Korean Kitchen is more than just its mouthful of a moniker; it’s a promise. From the custom-ordered kimchi to the carefully ordered ceramics that look like bean pod boats, Kimchi Stylish Korean Kitchen's dishes are beautiful. Its most popular dish, the kimchi and spicy pork, is an unctuously seasoned pork mix served with shaved carrot, corn, bean sprout, rice, green onion, sesame seed and a ripe, ready-to-burst fried egg. There's also a tofu version for the meat averse. Those even more in the know order off the secret menu, which includes the popular kimchi ramen and kimchi soup. Both are served with a blended broth, soft noodles, tofu and the same decadent texture that one would expect from such a stylish, attentive kitchen.
Arirang Korean Restaurant's kimchi dumplings, $3.50
2625 Old Denton Road, Carrollton
Dynamite comes in small packages, and the same can be said of Arirang’s kimchi dumplings, which come in a small steel steamer but pack a spiciness that's not for the faint of heart. Arirang is a small Korean restaurant filled with clattering melamine and porcelain. Amid all the noise, the kimchi dumplings sing: Five plump, perfectly steamed little packages open both barrels to a pure, unbridled gochujang pepper punch.
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LA Burger's Seoul Dog, $5.99; K-Town Burger, $6.99; K-Fries, $5.99; and Asian tacos, $5.99
200 N. Plano Road, Richardson
LA Burger provides a gentle transition into the kimchi lifestyle with three of its most popular dishes: the Seoul Dog, K-Town Burger and K-Fries. The dog is topped with sautéed kimchi, bulgogi, shredded lettuce and cheese, and if that weren’t enough, it's garnished with a potent wasabi sauce. The fries and tacos are also equally fantastic, piled high with bulgogi, spicy mayo, cilantro and mounds of kimchi to pull with each bite. The burger’s claim to fame — after the bakery-fresh buns, of course — is the tantalizing crunch and zip from pickled jalapeños and kimchi. If you've never tried kimchi before, LA Burger is a perfect spot for beginners.
Bbop Seoul Kitchen R&D's sizzling kimchi and kale fried rice (serves 3-4), $19
828 W. Davis St.
Bbop Seoul’s R&D menu has a family-style dish, only served at its Davis Street location, that can satisfy everyone at the table. Made by sautéing its 3-month-old kimchi in rendered pork belly fat, rice and fresh kale, this meal is as flavorful as it is large. It's meant to be shared among three or four people, and the sizzling kimchi is served in a kiddie-pool-sized cast-iron dolsot bowl and garnished with green onions, sesame seeds and three fried eggs with yolks ready to pop. The tang and funk from the kimchi give just the right amount of heat, and the cast iron sears the bottom layer of the fried rice, giving the final bites that crispy bottom-of-the-rice-cooker texture. Excellent for a shared lunch or a few meals' worth of leftovers, Bbop's sizzling kimchi fits the bill perfectly.