K-pop is far from the only Korean cultural phenomenon that Americans have embraced in recent years. According to the food analytics company Spoonshot, interest in Korean cuisine rose nearly 90% in 2021, and that doesn’t just mean in Korean restaurants.
As lacto-fermented vegetables have gained popularity as health foods, kimchi – a traditional Korean dish of salted and fermented cabbage or other vegetables – has made it onto menus at chain restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen and TGI Friday’s. Even iconic chains like Shake Shack have cashed in on America’s love for the sweet-and-spicy ultra-crispy glazed Korean fried chicken known as “the other KFC.” (Indeed, Korean-style glazes can be found at some of the best chicken wing spots in the U.S.)
But for an authentic taste of Korean cuisine, why not head to one of the nation’s several thousand Korean restaurants? To determine the best Korean restaurants in America, 24/7 Tempo exercised editorial discretion after reviewing information from a variety of sources including Thrillist, Far & Wide, and the Michelin Guide, as well as local and regional sites and reviews by Google and Yelp users.
Some of the largest Korean populations in the U.S. are in Southern California and New York. Accordingly, many of the restaurants on the list are in those two places. Washington, D.C., Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Portland (Oregon) all have more than one place listed here, too.
Aside from fried chicken, a staple of Korean dining is a style of barbecue, often simply called KBBQ. Whether the servers cook the food for you on a table-top grill or you cook it yourself, KBBQ is a thrilling way to enjoy numerous cuts of beef and marinated pork; and many of the best Korean restaurants in America specialize in it. (This is very different, of course, from the kind of BBQ you’ll find at the best barbecue restaurant in every state.)
Some others offer fusion menus or New American cuisine with heavy Korean influences. Whether traditional or modern, though, the highlight at many of the best Korean restaurants is a signature spread of banchan, a series of small side dishes that are served before the meal and are often included in the cost of dining (like chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant). Typical banchan include sesame spinach, seasoned bean sprouts, various types of kimchi (cabbage, turnip, radish, or otherwise), spicy cucumbers, and stir-fried eggplant.
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