Savor an Epiphanic Lunch at Seoul Asian Food Market and Cafe

click to enlarge Clockwise from L-R: Charbroiled squid, rice, assorted banchan, stone pot bibimbap
Clockwise from L-R: Charbroiled squid, rice, assorted banchan, stone pot bibimbap

Tucked away in the back right corner of a tiny Korean supermarket in a strip mall on the grittier end of Rittiman lies what is likely the best Korean restaurant in the city. The grocery store that houses the restaurant is Seoul Asian Market and Cafe, though the eatery hidden in its interior lacks a name. Still, whether you are drawn to the ersatz kitchen by the sound of clanging metal, the low chatter of soft conversation, or — most likely — the fragrant aroma, if you step foot in the market, you will eventually find your way to the restaurant.

Three female cooks run the dingy outpost. Flurrying in circles, the trio flit between washing dishes, prepping and cooking ingredients, and delivering the food to your table. The women work with the utmost efficiency, reinforcing the well known but under-acknowledged truth that, despite the machismo of modern celebrity chefs, the best cooks have always been and will always be women. Though their pace is frenetic, the cooks never lack the time to save you from mistakenly using soy sauce on your bibimbap when gochujang is the proper adornment, nor are they too busy to hand-snip your chilled yam noodles tableside with a pair of green scissors.

The menu, plastered in pictures on the back wall and adorned with Korean and English explanations, has more than 40 available items, ranging from the American-friendly pork bulgogi ($10.99) and fried rice ($7.99), to the more adventurous spicy fish egg soup ($11.99) and atka mackerel ($12.99). None of the items cost more than $12.99, and most are in the $6-8 range; portions are enormous and will feed your hungriest self twice over, meaning economy is reason in itself to visit.

Most dishes, such as the spicy pan-broiled squid ($10.99), come with a complement of banchantiny bowls of various pickled, fermented, and parboiled vegetables, most notably funky cabbage kimchi and vinegary bean sprouts. The squid, swimming in a crayon red sauce peppered with bell pepper and onion, was barely sweet and had the taut, muscular chew of cooked cephalopod.

My dining partner ordered the stone pot bibimbap ($7.99), the hotter, heartier cousin to its cold brethren. With a raw egg waiting to be stirred into edibility, the earthenware bowl bubbles and hisses with heat, keeping the beef strips, blanched spinach, bean sprouts, and julienned carrots warm.

click to enlarge The bibimbap
The bibimbap
When appropriately topped with gochujang, the dish-in-a-bowl is a satisfying, texturally diverse, mildly spicy epiphany, more than fit for a memorable lunch. A meal in its entirety takes a little more than half-an-hour, though you would do best to savor the experience; in San Antonio, few restaurants will astound you more than this one.  

1027 Rittiman Road, Suite 101, (210) 822-1529.

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