By Beth Mack
November 17, 2022 (updated)
More and more Korean restaurants have emerged in cities across the country, and Charlotte is catching on. With crispy fried chicken and bulgogi being some of the more ubiquitous dishes, the cuisine’s growing popularity in the American South is no big surprise.
With a culture that dates back over 700,000 years, the depth of flavors and traditions of indigenous Korean cuisine is vast. While some of the most well-known Korean dishes today feature meat as the star of the show, that is not the case for many traditional dishes. The mountainous peninsula of Korea lent a plethora of rice, seafood, leafy greens, and root vegetables to the indigenous people who in turn made them into soups and stews or fermented their harvest in an effort to preserve them. Ingredients such as garlic, ginger, doenjang (fermented soybean paste), ganjang (soy sauce), gochujang (fermented chili paste), aekjeo (Korean fish sauce), and Gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) provide the backbone of Korean flavors.
Common street foods include mandu (steamed or pan-fried dumplings), buchimgae (savory pancake sometimes including kimchi or seafood), and tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes). Traditional entrees include bibimbap (sautéed vegetables, gochujang, kimchi, and meat served over warm white rice sometimes with a fried egg), japchae (sweet glass noodles stir-fried with vegetables and meat), jjajangmyeon (noodles in a black bean sauce tossed with vegetables and pork), bulgogi (thinly sliced beef marinated and grilled), and galbi (marinated grilled beef ribs). Hearty soups (guk) and jjigae (stews) are often viewed as entrees as well, made with a broth seasoned with the many staple flavors of Korea like gochujang, gaenjang, soybean paste with vegetables, meat or seafood, and sometimes noodles. Popular soups and jjigae include kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew), samgyetang (whole chicken soup), sundubu jjigae (spicy soft tofu stew), gamjatang (pork back-bone with potatoes), doenjang jjigae (fermented soybean paste stew), and the famed budae jjigae (Korean army stew).
Korean tradition can be found not just in the heritage dishes, but in how they eat meals. Bapsang, a traditional Korean meal, consists of rice, guk or jjigae served in a dolsot (stone pot), kimchi, and banchan (side dishes). The result is a diverse and balanced combination of flavors, spice levels, textures, temperatures, and nutrients.
No Korean meal is complete without a drink. Drinking is an embedded part of Korean culture and is not just reserved just for celebrations. By far the most popular beverage is soju (Korean distilled liquor) which comes in a variety of flavors. Also of note are makgeolli (milky sparkling rice wine), bokbunjaju (sweet black raspberry wine) and, of course, beer.
Whether you are looking for a more traditional Korean meal of jjigae or bibimbap, barbecue, or fried chicken, Charlotte has a growing number of Korean spots to offer.
Pepero Korean Restaurant
One of Charlotte area’s most well-known Korean restaurants, Pepero, has been serving up traditional Korean food since 2005. Located in Matthews, Pepero serves dual purposes with the front half of the space being a Korean market and the back half a restaurant. The quaint family-owned business offers an extensive lineup of authentic dishes starting with appetizers like steamed mandu, tteokbokki, and buchimgae (Korean pancake, both seafood and kimchi). For the main event, Pepero offers a healthy selection of guks, jjigae, noodles dishes like japchae and jajangmyeon, rice dishes such as bibimbap, and barbecue entrees.
10920 Monroe Rd., Matthews
MOA Korean BBQ
After finding success with his first Korean restaurant, 929 Kitchen & Bar, located in Columbia, South Carolina, owner Sean Kim wanted to expand upon the modern Korean concept. Kim’s vision came to life in August 2020 with MOA, an upscale Korean barbecue experience located in the heart of Uptown. Unlike typical Korean barbecue restaurants, MOA is not all you can eat. Rather, meats and banchan can be ordered a la carte or they have combos you can select from that include banchan. In addition to barbecue, they also offer traditional items such as buchimgae, tteokbokki, and bibimbap along with some fusion items such as Korean tacos (available during lunch only), kimchi bulgogi nachos, and kimchi fries. Complete with a full bar, patio, and modern take on Korean, it fits well with the Uptown vibe.
128 South Tryon St., Charlotte
Korean Restaurant (Super G Mart)
Located inside one of Charlotte’s largest Asian supermarkets, you will find Nancy Park and her daughter, Jade Chong, serving traditional Korean food. While the menu at the food stall may be small, it includes all of the classics: bibimbap, jjajangmyeon, jjigae, naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles in cold soup or spicy gochujang sauce), and the popular Korean/Chinese spicy seafood noodle dish, jjamppong. Dine-in seating is available within the food court for a respite after your international shopping journey. If not for a meal, you can swing by and pick up some of their packaged, freshly made kimchi and other sides to get your fix.
7323 E. Independence Blvd, Charlotte
704 Korean BBQ
Located in a strip mall off of Pineville-Matthews Road is one of Charlotte’s newest Korean barbecue restaurants. The all-you-can-eat spot opened in April 2021 with a full bar complete with soju cocktails, bokbunjaju, makgeolli, and the harder-to-find Korean lager, Oriental Beer (commonly referred to as OB). In standard fashion, you will find a selection of marinated meats and non-marinated meats to grill at your table with banchan, soups, rice, and various sauces to kick things up a notch.
8320 Pineville-Matthews Rd. #607, Charlotte
Choi’s Korean Chicken & Soju Bar
After closing in October 2019, Minae, the youngest daughter of Jong and Yong Choi, stepped up to the plate to take over the family restaurant. The restaurant remained closed for a modern refresh of the space and reopened in April 2022. Diners can expect authentic, traditional Korean dishes ranging from noodle dishes such as jajangmyeon, naengmyeon, and jjamppong with a variety of jjigae and guks. Served complete with banchan, Choi’s also makes it easy for those avoiding meat by offering a new vegan and vegetarian menu. To complete the experience, you can order a drink from their full bar complete with soju and makgeolli, and take in the K-pop playing on the TVs.
808 E. Arrowood Rd., Charlotte
Dae Bak Korean Restaurant
Located in a shopping center off Highway 51 in Mint Hill, you can find the quaint Dae Bak restaurant serving up very authentic and traditional Korean fare. Dip your toes in with appetizers like tangsuyuk (crispy deep-fried pork in a sweet and tangy sauce), buchimgae (vegetable or seafood), fried mandu or spicy tteokbokki. Take a deep dive into their entrees, ranging from Ojingeo bokkeum (spicy stir-fried squid dish) to their classic jjigaes like Seolleongtang (ox bone soup) and yukgaejang (spicy beef soup), all served with banchan and rice. Dae Bok offers limited dine-in seating or you can grab it to go.
6908 Matthews-Mint Hill Rd., Mint Hill
Seoul Food Meat Company
A play off of the capital city of South Korea, Seoul Food Meat Company opened in 2016 with Korean-inspired dishes with a Southern twist. Similar to a Korean barbecue restaurant, you can select from a selection of barbecue-flavored meats and a large variety of sides all a la carte. The Southern twist comes to life largely in their selection of sides such as green tea cornbread, doenjang collard greens, kim-chili ramen mac (ramen mac and cheese), and soy-pickled deviled eggs, to name a few. To round out the menu, you can find Korean fried chicken wings and tofu, fusion tacos, and kimbap (Korean sushi roll). For a taste of Korean beverages, there is a selection of fruit-flavored soju and makkoli, baekseju (ginseng wine), and bokbunjaju to compliment their local craft beer selection. They also bring a true sense of Korean nightlife with late-night hours, an outdoor patio bar, and private karaoke rooms.
South End: 1400 S. Church St., Charlotte
Noda: 421 E. 26th St., Charlotte
The sister restaurant of Seoul Food Meat Company opened its doors in March of 2018 just down the street in South End. Let’s Meat is a traditional all-you-care-to-eat Korean barbecue restaurant featuring an assortment of meats, seafood, and mushrooms that you grill right at your table. Banchan and sides that include japchae, doenjang jjigae, bone marrow broth, and rice are also included in the flat price. To wash it down, choose from a large selection of beverages with a focus on Korean wines, soju, and local craft beer.
1400 S. Church St. B, Charlotte
One of the newer international Korean fried chicken chains, BB.Q Chicken recently opened up in the Arboretum. Founded in Seoul in 1995, it wasn’t until 2014 that the first store opened in the States, with a Charlotte location in December 2021. What sets them apart from other chains is a large variety of sauces you can have your chicken tossed in. They offer the traditional sauces (soy garlic and spicy) but also have put their creativity to work on 12 other concoctions such as hot mala (seasoned with the Chinese mala spice), cheesling (dusted with a blend of sweet cheeses), and Gangnam style (black pepper sauce with garlic and onions). Their crispy chicken is available as wings, boneless wings, breasts, and thighs. Also on their menu is kimchi fried rice and different flavors of tteokbokki to complement their wings.
8206 Providence Road, Suite 1600, Charlotte
Iron Dish Korean BBQ
Grilled meat lovers can find solace at Iron Dish, an all-you-care-to-eat Korean barbecue restaurant. Boasting 36 tables with grills in the center begging for you to try any number of the marinated or non-marinated meats they offer alongside banchan, soups, rice, various sides, and sauces. Complete with modern decor and a full bar featuring Asian specialties soju, bokbunjaju, and makgeolli, it’s a great addition to the University area.
9605 N. Tryon St. Suite H, Charlotte
KPOT, Charlotte’s first combination Korean BBQ and hot pot spot is now open in Pineville. Offering both traditional Korean BBQ and Chinese hot pot with a full bar serving beer, soju, cocktails, and makgeolli in a spacious restaurant off 51, the fast-growing franchise (started in 2018) will also open locations in Matthews and the University area in 2024. Enjoy an endless variety of meats, seafood, and vegetables to grill at your table or dip into your choice of savory hot pot soups like spicy Szechuan, Thai tom yum, Japanese miso, Korean seafood tofu, mushroom, and tomato.
8652 Pineville-Matthews Rd Suite 1100, Charlotte
For South Korean native, Jin Mengert, opening a Korean restaurant was always a dream. With the help of her aunt who brings over 30 years of culinary experience to the table, that dream came true in September 2017 with the opening of Bulgogi Box. They offer a hybrid service model with a fast-casual lunch and sit-down service for dinner. Bulgogi Box offers a good variety to appease the masses with options for vegetarians, fusion items such as the B.B. wrap (bulgogi wrapped in a scallion pancake) and B.B. Frites (fries tossed in Korean spices with spicy aioli), along with classics like wings, bulgogi, and bibimbap. They are also on the front end of the Korean corn dog trend, being one of the few places in Charlotte currently offering them.
1750 Camden Rd. Suite G, Charlotte
Capitalizing on the Korean fried chicken craze, Bonchon Chicken is an international chain taking their crispy chicken globally. Jinduk Seo founded the chain in Busan, South Korea in 2002, and by 2006 opened the first U.S. store in New York City. The craze reached Charlotte with its first location in Montford in 2016 and its second in South Charlotte in 2017. While the main attraction is the chicken– offered as wings, drumsticks, and stips tossed in the sauce of your choosing– they also serve japchae, bulgogi, bibimbap, and tteokbokki.
In this article
- BB.Q Chicken
- Bulgogi Box
- Dae Bak
- hot pot
- Iron Dish
- kimchi jjigae
- Korean Chicken
- Korean food
- Korean Restaurant
- Korean Restaurants
- Let’s Meat
- Seoul Food Meat Company
- sundubu jjigae
- Super G Mart