I remember the first time I went to a Korean restaurant with my American friends. As we walked out of the restaurant, one of them asked: “So, was that legit Korean food?”
The food there was OK, but it wasn’t the kind of Korean food my mom makes—it was definitely Americanized. Their kimchi wasn’t spicy enough, and they filled fusion dishes with ingredients familiar to non–Korean diners. In other words, the restaurant was pulling its punches.
Chris Cho, executive chef of Seorabol in Center City, wants to change that. He believes in serving real Korean food to everyone. “Cho does not Americanize his menu,” Michael Klein writes in his Philadelphia magazine article “How Korean cuisine is moving to downtown Philadelphia.” After reading about Cho’s story, I went down Spruce Street to experience his work for myself.
With its clean–cut tables and a small bar, Seorabol feels much more modern than its parent location in North Philadelphia. Try to sit away from the main wall, though; the way the fluorescent light flickers can hurt your eyes.
Seorabol had many more banchan, or side dishes, to offer than the typical kimchi and pickled radish. Among its five banchan, the highlights were the diced radish kimchi and the sausages. The potato salad and the soft tofu were good as well.
However, I’ll skip the haemul pajeon (seafood pancake) next time. It was more mushy than crusty because it had a bit too much oil. But some good news: Their galbi (marinated short rib) was not oily, even though galbi tends to have this problem. It was just sweet enough and came with an assortment of ssamjang (spicy dipping sauce), scallions, garlic, and pepper.
For all you dolsot bibimbap (stone pot bibimbap) lovers out there, Seorabol is the place to go. If you don’t love bibimbap already, why not start now? A standard bibimbap is a healthy vegan dish, and it’s delicious! It’s hard to find good dolsot bibimbap outside of Korea, but I found it in Seorabol. I thoroughly enjoyed their haemul dolsot (spicy seafood hot stone bibimbap). I let the rice rest in the hot stone pot to give it a nice crunch. The bibimbap was flavored well, and the seafood was fresh and plentiful.
All in all, I’d recommend Seorabol for people who want to get good bibimbap. I’ll definitely go back for more Korean food that tastes like it’s from across the Pacific.
TL;DR: A modern but true–to–its–roots Korean restaurant in Center City.
Hours: Mon: Closed
Tues—Thurs: 11 a.m.—2:30 p.m., 5 p.m.—11 p.m.
Fri—Sat: 11 a.m.—2:30 p.m., 5 p.m.—2 a.m.
Sun: 11 a.m.—9 p.m.
Location: 1326 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Price range: $$