Dong Yang vs. Hoban: Bulgogi blowout
Amy Dahlin Beef bulgogi at Hoban
To paraphrase noted poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "In the spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of grilled meat." While Minnesota lifers know another snowstorm is not inconceivable, burgers, brats, and juicy steaks on the grill are just around the corner. If you haven't scraped your grill clean, dusted off your charcoal, and tied on your apron yet, then this week's Food Fight is here to help. The Korean barbecue dish known as bulgogi offers a taste of summer while the thaw continues.
Amy Dahlin Dong Yang spicy pork and pickles
If your only experience eating in a grocery store is at the healthy self-service counter in Whole Foods, allow Dong Yang Oriental Food in Columbia Heights to fix that. Dong Yang has a tiny restaurant in the back of its Asian grocery, and on weekends, a charming, all-business old codger -- part busboy, part informal host -- keeps watch over its 25 seats. They don't have a menu; just look at the pictures above the cash register if you don't know what to order. In contrast, Hoban is a sunny, much larger restaurant located in an Eagan strip mall right off Highway 13.
There are a number of Korean joints in town, but this week's match-up is an exercise in dramatic contrasts. Do you want informal or formal ambiance? Would you like to see a twelve-item menu or a longer, more diverse one? Are you in the mood for a quick grab-n-go or a more relaxed dining adventure? Do you want to eat with wooden or metal chopsticks? With its more extensive menu, better booths, and leisurely paced meals, Hoban definitely has the advantage.
Round 1: The pickles
As you'd expect, both places serve small side dishes of pickled vegetables called banchan. These offer a bright, crunchy contrast to the sweet, savory, and tender main dish. At Dong Yang, the seaweed and pickled cucumber distinguish themselves from the more typical kimchi, egg, and potato sides. Hoban offers lightly pickled broccoli, amazing shredded daikon, and two types of spicy hot kimchi with their bulgogi. These four stand-out sides helped Hoban win this round.