, a Korean dish that's often made by combining leftovers, is one of those deceptively simple comfort-food dishes that you think would be foolproof...until youíve had a lackluster version.
When a bowl of bibimbap (which translates as "mixed rice" or "mixed meal") hits the table, the white rice, sauteed veggies, beef, occasional egg and chili pepper paste get mixed together, turning the lily white rice a delightful shade of soft red just before its gobbled up. For an added treat, try dolsot bibimbap, the same dish served in a heated stone bowl that's been coated with sesame oil so that the outer layer of rice crisps into a golden brown. We've dipped our spoon in a few of the best.
So Gong Dong Tofu House
When the bowl of dolsot bibimbap lands on your table laden with thinly-sliced veggies, chewy bits of beef, rice and a fried egg, it literally sizzles. Act fast by pouring a bit of the deep red chili paste on top, stirring the whole concoction together with your chop sticks and then patiently waiting a few seconds for the rice to caramelize along the bottom of the bowl. Though it's not on the menu, the Tofu House will obligingly substitute tofu for beef in this traditionally meaty dish. A complimentary cup of sweet rice water cools your mouth off at the end of this big, spicy meal.
Despite the non-Korean crowd, Jin Ju offers a decidedly spot-on menu, with traditional, vegetarian and dolsot bibimbap, all served with a savory soybean paste soup. The latter comes topped with rice, beef, bean sprouts, spinach, carrots, shitake mushrooms, radish and red leaf lettuce, though most of the veggies are so finely shredded or julienned that it's hard to tease out anything beyond the delightful texture. Even if you're not a total meathead, you'll appreciate the tasty bits of beef tucked into the mix. Order the mandoo soup (tasty dumplings floating amidst scallions and egg in a clear beef broth) and you could easily split this meal with a friend.
Cho Sun Ok
Seven bucks for a big, lip-smacking bowl of seasoned beef, rice and mixed veggies? Either we're dreaming or we're inside Cho Sun OK, a North Center spot that looks all-but-dead from the outside but is hopping inside, with people cooking tableside barbecue and feasting on bowls of traditional Korean dishes. Cho Sun Ok is a small spaceóbad news for those waiting to sit at one of the tables equipped with tableside grills, good news for you, who can trot right by to a grill-less table and enjoy the bibimbap prepared fresh in the kitchen. Portions are large, prices are cheap and the waitstaff is reputedly grumpy (but the tasty noshes will keep you coming back anyway).
Loyal patrons who call this strip mall spot a "taste bud extravaganza" have likely dipped into its bibimbap, which diners can doctor to their hearts' content: The 10 or so dishes of small salads and condiments filling the table include different variations of fermented cabbage, sweet potato, spicy daikon, eggplant and sprouts. Studded with tasty chunks of beef and a rotating mix of thinly-sliced veggies, the bibimbap makes for a hearty meal, though the panchu appetizers (a cross between a thin omelette and a pancake) are tasty enough here to demand some stomach space.
Alice & Friends Vegetarian Cafe
If fake meat so tasty it tickles your tongue is your version of wonderland, head to Alice and Friends Vegetarian Cafe pronto. The mostly vegan, Korean-focused eatery dots its bibimbap with hearty chunks of juicy unbeef, shredded mixed vegetables and a palate-punching jolt of red chili paste. After much sampling of the fruit smoothies, lychee juice and red bean shakes, we settled on the green tea (soy) milkshake as the perfect way to balance the heat from this spicy dish.
Other notable noshes:
Seoul Corea's version is no-frills comfort, perfectly packaged in this sunny South Side storefront.
Rice Box serves bibimbap as one of the unfussy, wallet-friendly house specialties.
San Soo Gap San caters to hardcore foodies, and one bite of the bibimbap will show you why.