Tara Morgan worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.
Do you know your bibimbap from your banchan? Are you obsessed with the sweet smoky magic of gochujang? Whether you’re a Seoul savvy world traveler or a Korean cuisine novice, Boise has a number of Korean restaurants where you can dive into a mound of spicy beef bulgogi, load up on extra funky kimchi and tap your toes to the saccharine sounds of K-pop.
While all-you-can-eat sushi is most certainly the draw at this Broadway Avenue strip mall joint, the Korean options are a surprising bonus. Particularly the Hot Stone Bibimbap served in a crackling bowl that crisps the rice as it sits. Shogun’s bibimbap is served with little mounds of perfectly cooked and seasoned veggies, including braised greens, sauteed mushrooms, soft cucumbers with a slight crunch, bean sprouts and seasoned ground bulgogi, a marinated Korean beef. Squeeze a drizzle of gochujang—a sweet-smoky-spicy Korean pepper paste—on top and use your chopsticks to dig down to the bottom of the bowl for a crunchy bite of toasty rice.
Sauce is boss at this quirky fast-casual Korean concept that includes a food truck and a Meridian brick-and-mortar. Billed as “new Korean-style bbq in a cup,” Cupbop offers a layered dining experience, starting with a bed of rice on the bottom, a sprinkle of cabbage, a pile of japchae (a Korean side comprised of sweet potato noodles and veggies) a fried chicken mandoo dumpling and your protein of choice—everything from spicy beef to tofu to Korean-style fried chicken, aka the Ugly Pop Bop. From there you specify your preferred level of heat from 1 to 10 and let the sauce wizards doctor up your cup with alternating drizzles of spicy mayo, gochujang, lime margarita, sweet teriyaki, sriracha sambal, honey chili, butter garlic or “fire sauce.”
For a more traditional take on Korean, head to Mr. Wok on Vista, a charming hole-in-the-wall that draws in crowds for its home-cooked fare and ample assortment of banchan–a rotating array of tiny dishes served with most Korean meals. On a recent night, the banchan included broccoli with tofu, japchae, fermented black beans, cucumber and regular kimchi, bean sprouts and fermented daikon radish. The combo meals—like the lightly sweet pork bulgogi and funky soft tofu soup with beef—make for a great, shareable meal.
For a spicy stew that’s sure to clear out your sinuses, swing by Gangnam on the Bench for a big bowl of Yuk Gae Jang. Under a deep red sheen of fermented chili paste, you’ll find ribbons of shredded beef, sweet potato noodles, scallions, mushrooms, and onions. Lunchtime banchan sides include a couple varieties of pungent spicy kimchi and a fried scallion pancake. Other popular Korean dishes on Gangnam’s menu include the Galbi—marinated beef short ribs—and the soon tofu soup with seafood and veggies.
One of Boise’s more seasoned Korean haunts, K-Fusion opened on Broadway in 2013 next door to the Broadway Bar. The small, dark restaurant serves a menu of classic Korean barbecue fare, including hot stone bulgogi, spicy pork and galbi, along with bibimbap served sizzling in a stone bowl. But when the kitchen closes down, things really start to heat up. In the evenings from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., K-Fusion doubles as a private karaoke room by reservation only.
While Rice Works isn’t a Korean restaurant per se, the pan-Asian street food stand does serve up some great Spicy Korean Chicken Tacos from its storefront in the Village at Meridian. Loaded with marinated chicken, housemade cucumber kimchi and a hearty drizzle of sriracha on griddled corn tortillas, the Korean Chicken Tacos are a fusion favorite with a heat that lingers long after the last bite. In addition to dishes like Vietnamese egg rolls made with organic local pork and General’s Chicken, Rice Works also serves bulgogi, Korean marinated beef with a side of cucumber kimchi.