Modern — it’s easy to be wary of the term when used to describe a cuisine that’s often best enjoyed in its most traditional and home–cooked form. But Buk Chon Korean Cuisine doesn't lose sight of the rich flavors that characterize authentic Korean food. Instead, its contemporary approach is seen most clearly in its artful decor and beautiful presentation.
Our first impression was that of a relaxed neighborhood joint, a friendly atmosphere well–suited for its Old City location. K–pop music crooned at a low volume, making easily audible the sounds of nearby conversation and the glass clinking of iced teas. The restaurant is perfect for a casual date night or a small group of friends, especially since it's also BYOB. But don’t expect to get rowdy in this quiet setting—a bottle of soju is all you’ll need.
Their menu isn’t expansive by any means, but it’s perfect if you’ve never tried Korean food before. Showcasing the most objectively popular classics, from bulgogi—marinated and grilled slices of beef or pork—to Korean fried chicken, from mild scallion pancakes to spicy stews, you can’t go wrong with whatever you choose.
Only two items are exclusive to their restaurant — the spicy pork bun and the oyster fries, both of which we immediately decided upon for appetizers. We also ordered the bibimbap, a rice dish with rib–eye beef, and the soft tofu stew. The food arrived in quick succession as we sipped on sweet lychee iced teas.
The oyster fries are presented with a gochujang–mayonnaise, but we preferred to dip them in plain gochujang sauce for an extra kick. The mayo tempered the heat of the gochujang—a red chili paste that is spicy yet sweet—in a way that the typical American palate might respond to, but we didn’t love the combination. Unfortunately, the oyster fries, while a fun textural experience, didn’t meet our high expectations as the crunchy panko breading gave way to a soft but entirely flavorless oyster inside.
On the other hand, the spicy pork buns were delightfully unique, due in part to the owner’s choice to use Taiwanese sweet buns. The sweetness of the pan–fried bun and the spiciness of the crispy pork belly tucked inside, balanced by a light layer of lettuce, all worked in tandem to create a memorable flavor. This Asian fusion treat exemplifies Buk Chon’s contemporary approach and cannot be missed. Have it as an appetizer, then order it again as dessert.
As for the main courses, they arrived piping hot. The rice in the bibimbap was still sizzling in its hot stone pot. A colorful assortment of stir–fried vegetables, including bean sprouts, bell peppers, pickled radish, carrots, snow peas, and edamame lay artfully on top of a bed of rice. Topped with a sunny–side–up egg and a generous amount of juicy bulgogi, the dish looked aesthetically pleasing long enough for us to snap a few photos. Then we made quick work of mixing the contents together so that each bite had a nuanced combination of rich flavors. Tinged with soy sauce and spice, this dish was absolutely delicious. The heat of the stone bowl makes the rice stick to the sides—scrape it off for extra crunch.
But for those who crave spice, their soft tofu stew (also known as soondubu) will disappoint on that particular front. But despite the mild flavor of the stew, it’s still a filling and delicious meal, with generous portion of silken soft tofu swimming in a mix of seafood, pork, and chicken broth. It comes with a bowl of jasmine rice sprinkled with furikake. As far as Korean comfort food goes, it’s a classic that’s hard to mess up, but for all its savory flavor, it has a unsatisfying lack of heat.
Buk Chon is perfect for those looking to be introduced to the traditional cuisine with its careful selection of Korean classics, each dish beautifully presented to match the restaurant’s stylish decor. It may not be the most authentic, but when it tastes this good, who cares?
TL;DR: A delicious introduction to Korean food in a quiet, contemporary setting.
Location: 132 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Hours: Monday: Closed