In a world where cats have Facebook, and miniature teacup pigs have Instagram, it’s hard for me to imagine any company surviving solely based on word of mouth and customer reviews, but Soo Café has done just that. Soo Café is a humble Korean restaurant in a quiet shopping center along Capital Boulevard. After my foodie coworker recommended this restaurant, I Googled it and found plenty of Yelp reviews, and a Facebook fan page – but no website. I couldn’t help but think: this place has to be good enough to exist on word of mouth alone, otherwise, how else has it survived?
Soo Café is brightly decorated, but dimly lit with a TV in the back playing a constant stream of Korean music videos. The menu is a single page – appetizers and entrees on the front, and Korean fried chicken and shrimp on the back. I had heard about the Korean fried chicken before even getting to the restaurant, and seeing the sauce choices sent me into a frenzy of trying to not order dozens of fried chicken wings in each of the sauces. When our waiter came, I restrained myself and only ordered one serving of 6 wings ($8.00). I also ordered the tempura vegetable appetizer ($3.50) and Chul-pan beef bibimbab ($12.99).
The vegetable tempura appetizer arrived first. This appetizer contains a few pieces of sweet potatoes, mushrooms and broccoli and the traditional soy mirin dipping sauce. Each vegetable was fried until crisp and crunchy. When I first saw the dipping sauce, I was worried there wouldn’t be enough, but as it turns out, it was the perfect amount, even for someone that likes to double dunk every piece of tempura.
Next up was the Korean fried chicken wings in Original sauce, defined as “mainly sweet & little tiny bit spicy” (they could have been describing me and not the sauce). These wings are amazing. There’s something oddly satisfying to me about eating wings. They are messy and uninhibited and best of all, acceptable to eat in public. What makes these wings so excellent is the fact that they are made to order. In fact, the menu tells you that they take a little longer to come out because of this. They also have this crispy exterior that somehow survives the deliciously sticky sauce that clings to it. The sauce is so bold, sweet and yes, just a “little tiny bit spicy.” These Korean Fried Chicken wings are the real deal. The only thing that bummed be out about this dish was that I only ordered six.
The hot bibimbab came out next in a mini cast iron with a side of kimchi. One of the appeals to me about bibimbab is that the dish is a presentation of a lot of ingredients with different textures that can be eaten in any combination at the discretion of the eater. The dish included gently sautéed and seasoned shredded carrots, bean sprouts, broccoli, shitake mushrooms, onions, and fresh shredded lettuce, full flavor bulgogi beef and of course front and center, rice with a fried egg.
So I’ll start with my disappointment and build to the good, because there was a lot of good to this dish. Whenever there’s a fried egg on a plate, I can’t wait to cut into it and have the yolk ooze out. So I couldn’t help but feel a little let down when I cut into the fried egg and found it to be a little over. I also didn’t understand how the sautéed onions got a seat at the table instead of being worked into another component.
So all of that aside, I thought that the fresh lettuce added a nice crunch to the dish, and I was happy to find that the clean flavors of the other vegetables were showcased by not being over seasoned. My favorite was the mushrooms. The beef was very flavorful, sweet and salty, and helped pull the components together. The rice was nice and fluffy, I know that sounds silly to say, but I’ve learned to not take that for granted. The kimchi helped brighten and spice up the dish. I really enjoyed this traditional dish, but I honestly couldn’t stop eyeing the Korean fried chicken that kept coming out of the kitchen.
I know the next time I’m craving wings I’ll be at Soo Café. I’ve already contemplated seeing if I can fit it into my one-hour lunch on the weekdays. The tempura vegetables and bibimbab are delightful, but the Korean fried chicken wings are where it’s at.
Christine Nguyen is a structural engineer working in downtown Raleigh. She is an alumna of NC State University and Virginia Tech where she was a member of the Food Science Club. Christine is an avid traveler, and a lover of good food and company. You can follow her on Instagram @atinywin.