Spotlight Series: Korean Village

27 Jun

This is the second in a series of monthly posts about some of my favourite smaller spots in Toronto.  I love getting to know the people behind the great food we have in this city!

You can’t miss Korean Village Restaurant. Even in a sea of Korean restaurants and stores, it stands out with its huge yellow sign. Located just west of Palmerston on Bloor, Korean Village is an institution. Opened in 1978 by a Korean pop star and her husband, it catered to other newly-immigrated Korean families and its popularity steadily rose to the point where, now, film executives and stars pop in for dinner during TIFF or whenever they happen to be in town. (As you walk in, you’ll see walls adorned with many, many autographed pictures of stars and the owners.)

Chances are that if you spend an evening here – and they’re open 365 days a year – you’re likely to meet Jason Lee, son to the owners, server extraordinaire, occasional manager and jack of all trades. Jason is the kind of warm, charming presence that makes a restaurant stand out over its competitors. I had the chance to sit down with him not long ago and he impressed upon me how important his job is to him and his enthusiasm for customer service is astounding. He is happy to make recommendations to first-timers who might be overwhelmed by Korean Village’s immense, 12-page  menu. What is he most proud of? “The beef ribs are my personal favourite,” Jason says. Marinated for hours and hours, I can attest that they are tender and rich. I actually forgot myself and started eating my portion before taking this picture…

Beef short ribs

Having been here before, and after talking to numerous people who have as well, I couldn’t argue. The sides are especially great: the kimchi, pickled cucumbers, bean sprouts and spicy pickles are all made expertly, with a nice crunch. If you order the bbq platter – and I recommend you do. It’s leaps and bounds above the chain Korean bbq spots – all these sides will come with it and they are a wonderful accompaniment.

Fabulous – and partially eaten – side dishes.

The kitchen takes a lot of pride in their dishes and make just about everything by hand including the outstanding dumplings. Do not miss these lightly fried delights, stuffed with beef, green onions and various spices.

Other specialties of the house? “I often recommend the bibimbap and sweet potato noodles,” Jason explained. Both are traditional dishes and you could certainly do worse. I happened to love bibimbap and I will certainly be trying this the next time I go.

I have no doubt that most other restaurants in Korea Town have many of the same dishes but going to Korean Village Restaurant is such a fun experience, one that Jason, his parents and the entire staff works hard to maintain. I have heard stories of first dates, business dinners, late-night-not-entirely-sober-drop-ins and massive groups all showing up at the restaurant, all to be shown a great time with delicious food. I do not pretend to be an afficionado of Korean food, but I know what I like: I like great food and great service. I have found both in spades here. Both Jason and his mother are gracious hosts who genuinely want their guests to enjoy themselves. “My mom told me to be a hawk,” explained Jason. “Pay attention to the details.” Clearly, he and Korean Village Restaurant have taken this to heart.

Like this post? Check out the first Spotlight Series article!

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