CLOSED: Kookminhakgyo (Toronto)

Photo courtesy of Jes Lin

Finding authentic Korean restaurants in North York isn’t difficult, every step along Yonge between Sheppard and Steeles presents another option; what’s hard is choosing between all the choices. If it weren’t for a recommendation, I would have never stumbled into Kookminhakgyo – the store front is small and the plaza it’s situated in hidden amongst larger buildings.

Yet, it’s well known amongst locals as the restaurant had a constant stream of customers in hopes of settling into one of their ten circular tables, allotted on a first-come-first-serve basis. Kookminhakgyo’s surroundings is sparse but functional: the stainless steel tables easily cleaned and you can get messy on; the cushion lifts on the seat to protect coats and bags from smelling like food; and décor reminds you of a school or teenager’s room but uncluttered.

Not knowing how long it’d take to receive our food - quite quickly it turns out – we assumed an order of gaeran mari ($8.99) would be required. The Korean omelette was essentially just egg with green onions served with ketchup. I would have thought there’d be something more to it (chopped kimchi, a spicy paste), really anything to make it more “Korean”.  Nevertheless, as a plain omelette it was still tasty with its many layers and slightly gooey center.  

In terms of the actual BBQ, the Kookminhakgyo set ($57.99) will make any pork lover’s heart flutter, a large platter of the animal’s skirt meat, shoulder, jowl (or cheek) and belly (both with and without skin). Depending on your hunger, it’d be sufficient for three to four people.

It was the ideal dish for a first visit, to allow us to try everything and gauge what we like. The large slabs of pork belly were too heavy for me (although the fat renders off on the hot grill) and the jowl desperately needed seasoning. But, the large shoulder slices were a nice balance of moisture from the fat and meat and the skirt meat chewier but at least flavourful.  

I’m always partial to beef so we also ordered some beef skirt meat ($23.99), a decent sized portion cut into strips to allow you to easily wrap in lettuce.

After ordering, a flurry of side dishes, banchan (cabbage and radish kimchi), sauces (spicy and sweet bean paste), add ons (garlic oil, marinated jalapeno & onion) and lettuce appear. For our table of six, we received two orders of the garan jjim (regularly $6.99) a lovely fluffy steamed egg that would be fantastic with rice and a spicy soybean paste soup with bean sprouts.

Other than beer and soju, a popular drink diners ordered was the Bokbunja ($23.99). If you enjoy ice or dessert wines, you’ll like this Korean fruit wine made with black raspberries; as one friend describes it tasting like an alcoholic Ribena. It’s certainly an easy going drink, but awfully sweet to go well with grilled meats, for dessert perhaps.

Overall, it was a fun meal as meat was tossed on the grill, small plates passed around and hot meat wrapped in lettuce and topped with sauce and fixings. Yet, Kookminhakgyo has a limited menu (no kalbi) and the meat isn’t marinated so you really couldn’t eat it plain. Of course, some items such as pork belly can rightfully be left neutral, but the skirt meat and jowl would really benefit from a marinade. The small tables also make it hard for them to offer additional varieties of banchan; these small dishes are a highlight to having Korean BBQ! I was certainly missing the crunchy cucumbers, sesame laced bean sprouts and chewy soy beans.

Nonetheless, they did have fantastic service: staff frequently checked in on us to ensure depleted banchan and lettuce was replenished swiftly. After all, with their limited tables, serving food quickly and getting diners in-and-out is important – the whole meal lasted about an hour. So, you may not get the full experience, but the restaurant is a great option for those who want Korean BBQ but not sitting around for hours.

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 6016 Yonge Street

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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