The owner of Seoul Garden, simply known as Sam, has been running this joint for over 9 years. Even during the bustling lunch service, she was kind enough to check in at each and every table to make sure everyone was satisfied with their meals. Walking into the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was how expansive the restaurant was. There were over 4 barbecue tables (each with the ability to sit up to 6 people) and at least 10 other booths/tables.
I’m a huge fan of barbecue, especially Korean barbecue. However, I am always wary of any restaurant where you can cook food tableside, as sanitation and cleanliness of the grill or cooktop is a must. The table was not only immaculately clean, so was the grill. The grates were scrubbed clean of any previous debris, which eased any qualms I may have previously felt.
The barbecue deliciousness that ensued was unreal. Beef Bulgogi ($19.99) made from tender slices of ribeye enveloped in a garlicky and sweet marinade with just a hint of saltiness and ginger to balance it out. There is no way you can go wrong with pork belly, no matter what language you speak. Seoul Garden’s Pork Samgyupsai ($19.99) was meaty with just enough fat to remind you that you were basically eating bacon without the smokiness. Cooking tableside was fun not only because you could pace out the meal, but also because of the ability to cook everything to your desired doneness. The two dipping sauces accompanying the barbecued meats were a sweet soy and gojijang. I preferred the gojijang, as it was spicy and salty to cut through the rich meats. If you like things on the sweet side, the sweet soy would be your go-to dipping sauce.
Of the numerous banchan, the kimchi and freshly pickled cucumbers stuck out as the favorites. The kimchi had more of a sauce than previous ones I’ve eaten, but it still served its role as the familiar spicy punch needed alongside Korean dishes. The spicy pickled cucumbers were still crunchy, offering a nice textural balance to the soft rice and meats.
Dolsot Bibimbap ($12.99) is my new favorite style of Bibimbap. The serving vessel for this rice-based dish is an earthenware bowl. This bowl is filled to the top with steamed rice, a variety of seasoned veggies, shredded chicken and a perfectly sunny sunny-side-up egg. There were two things that changed my Dolsot Bibimbap game during this visit. One, mix in the gojijang once the dish gets to the table so it can permeate and season the rice from the inside out. Second, once you mix in the gojijang, let the dish sit for a few minutes. You will be rewarded with crispy rice nuggets at the bottom of the bowl that console you once you reach the bottom of said bowl.
Everything was going well at the table and then the Haemool Pajun ($12.99) happened. This crispy seafood pancake was chock-full of squid, shrimp and krab (yes, with a k) and brought the meal to another level. I wasn’t even mad they used imitation crab, as the pancake batter was light and fluffy and seriously stuffed to the brim with tender seafood. The soy chili dipping sauce was almost too much to add to the Haemool Pajun, as it was seasoned well on its own. I can’t wait to order this again next time.
With barbecue smells wafting around me as I left the restaurant, I was already thinking about how I wanted to bring everyone I know back with me to enjoy the full Korean barbecue experience Seoul Garden has to offer. You have to stop on in to Seoul Garden for a multitude of reasons, if only for the amazing and enjoyable tableside barbecue dining experience. They cook up both traditional favorites and an extensive variety of Americanized offerings that are true crowd pleasers.
Address: 4701 Atlantic Ave, Raleigh, NC 27604
Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @