Review: Putting a Bit of Seoul Into Our Soul

Review and photos by Bruce Kong.

What we know about Korean food can be summarized in a variety of recipes that include spice, vinegar and fermentation. Bulgogi, tteokbokki, and naengmyeon (cold noodles) are basic dishes that introduce us to a cuisine that seeks comfort for the human soul. But Korean food has come a long way, and it isn’t just the original recipes people crave any more.

Peter Jeong, owner and managing partner, opened Del Seoul and has kept it running for ten years and counting. His success is supported by his front-of-house crew, who work hard and communicate thoroughly to ensure a positive dining experience. Behind the scenes is the remarkable work of the kitchen crew who send out food promptly—all with the chef’s approval first, of course. 

I’m inclined to believe that Jeong’s success as a restaurant owner includes his talent to play around with different ingredients, and that brings a unique profile of flavors into his recipes. But Jeong doesn’t just have a food niche: he stepped out of his comfort zone when introducing LA street food to Chicago by opening Del Seoul. It was only a matter of time until Korean tacos, one of the most prominent dishes to top the “street food” list, was officially launched and the world fell in love with the Korean-Mexican fusion dish.

However, I didn’t go to Del Seoul to try their Korean tacos. I know what Korean tacos taste like; they’re a hearty street food that everyone in Chicago needs to try at least once. 

No, I went to Del Seoul to challenge Peter Jeong’s roots and see if he could still create dishes like bibimbap and japchae. Jeong passed the test, but that is no surprise. His effort to serve food with consistent quality proves that a customer dining in his restaurant will not leave disappointed. 

Del Seoul’s bibimbap arrives in a hot stone bowl; you can hear it sizzling as it comes to your table. The smell of charred meat snuggled into the stone bowl is the first to greet your nose, and following it is a beautiful presentation of white rice topped with shiitake mushrooms, root vegetables, gochujang (Korean red pepper sauce) and my favorite, short ribs. Bibimbap is supposed to be mixed instead of eating ingredients individually, and the combining agent is the egg, sunny-side up, resting on top, waiting for you to stir it into the other ingredients. Del Seoul was prepared to take their hungry guests on an exciting, flavorful adventure. 

Just when I thought the fun stopped there, I was in for a surprise: Jeong’s innovation of combining a bento box with Korean barbeque. 

Bento box originally came from Japan, and historically was considered a single-person or take-out meal. Over time, other East Asian countries have adopted this idea as well, but Del Seoul gives it a twist and strays from the traditional bento box; much like the hot stone bowl, the bento box arrives with melt-in-your-mouth bulgogi sizzling in one square, soy sauce rice topped with sesame seeds in a second square, dressed greens in the third and kimchi in a tiny ramekin. It’s a Korean barbecue for a party of one. 

Korean fried chicken.

But the flavors don’t stop there. I save the best for last, and you can never go wrong with Korean fried chicken. This is not your typical flash-fried chicken; instead, it’s taking it up to the next level by sauteing the fried chicken drumsticks in a sweet soy glaze over low heat to ensure that it still maintains that fried, crispy texture. It’s sticky, sweet and more importantly, it needs to be paired with a bowl of white rice. This dish alone would be enough to keep Del Seoul in business. 

Del Seoul offers a casual, food-truck-like experience. You can dine in or order takeout, paint your mouth with sauce and not feel the need for napkins, or bring a group of four and order from “Shareables” on their menu. A word of caution, Del Seoul has limited seating, so be sure to know what to order and if seating is unavailable, you might just have to enjoy a delicious meal under the sun (weather permitting). 

Del Seoul is located at 2568 N. Clark St. Hours are 12 noon to 8:30 or 9pm seven days a week. You can order online at delseoul.com

Bruce Kong is a native Wisconsinite who moved to Chicago in January. He focuses on food writing and restaurant reviews, but plans to branch out and write on other topics of interest. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2022 with a BFA in Writing and ApplIed Arts.

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