Have you yet to watch Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix, where Phil Rosenthal samples real Korean food and shares cultural stories and customary cooking based on ancient agricultural and nomadic traditions (evolved through centuries of social, political and environmental change)? In Seoul, South Korea, he eagerly tries tteok-bokki, feasts on crab, and gobbles fried chicken with K-pop star Eric Nam. Most of us don’t have the means to fly 32-plus hours to South Korea just for a bite, but luckily, these local standouts are the next best, and closest, thing when craving a hot pot of steam-cooked short-grain rice and a kick of kimchi with some cold sake. Grab your gochujang and have a seat at one of these Korean family restaurants where geography doesn’t mean a thing. 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Korê, a new Asian restaurant concept created by the owners of JPAN Sushi & Grill is coming soon—set to open its first location this year in the newly-developed Waterside Place, Lakewood Ranch’s newest village. This first-to-market eatery will feature Korean barbeque prepared tableside, as well as a sushi bar and an upscale cocktail lounge. “Korê will deliver...unique dishes that diners would likely find in larger metropolitan cities like New York and San Francisco,” said Daniel Dokko, founder of JPAN and Korê. “I’m excited to debut this concept in such a supportive community.” Coming soon to Waterside Place town center, Lakewood Ranch.

Charlie’s BulGoGi, a transient family food truck turned into a successful storefront in 2018. Charlie’s has become a neighborhood touchstone for Korean BBQ lovers. At BulGoGi, meats are marinated for at least 12 hours and sometimes as many as 20, soaking in the house-made combination of Korean red pepper paste, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, rice wine, onions and apples. There is such a thing as too spicy, but husband and wife co-owners, Charlie and Soomi Chi, are good at tempering the heat for American palates. “Korean food is kinda like Thai or Mexican food,” says Charlie, “It’s hot, but there’s still a lot of flavor.” 4567 Bee Ridge Rd., Sarasota, 941-554-4806, charliesbulgogi.com.

Shilla Korean Restaurant, family-owned-and-operated by the Yi family. The Yis have been cooking authentic Korean cuisine for more than 40 years and have brought their beloved dishes—such as Bulgogi, Galbi, Bibimbab, Bibim Naengmyeon and Japchae—to Sarasota. Originally from the province of Gyeonggi near Seoul, the family has been in the culinary world for many decades, with Grandma having worked the markets (offering up a variety of popular street foods) and then passing on the tradition to her son, who is now running Shilla. 501 N Beneva Rd. #240, Sarasota, 941-366-9700.

K-Nam Korean BBQ and Sushi, after operating a local Korean BBQ food truck in Sarasota for the past three years, Hung Kook (Justin) Nam and his wife, Soung-Ja Nam, expanded their menu and opened this new concept restaurant in November 2020. Serving sushi, Korean BBQ and fusion dishes makes this the perfect spot for everyone to enjoy. With more than 15 years of experience cooking in Korea and the United States, Nam passionately presents his vision of combining Korean and other Asian flavors to our multicultural locale. 3440 Clark Rd., Sarasota, 941-312-6469, knamkoreanrestaurant.com. 

SSAM BAR, one of the pioneers that came onto the scene in Sarasota to grow the city’s lacking Korean scene, cultivating a menu heavy on the peninsula classic platters. Formerly the owner of Bradenton’s Sam Oh Jung, Yup Namgoong opened SSAM in 2017 to bring a fusion of Japanese-style sushi and Korean entrees. Since the opening, Namgoong has mentioned that a large percentage of customers continue to order more Korean over the sushi. 1303 N Washington Blvd., Sarasota, 941-312-6264. 

Sam Oh Jung, a longtime staple in Bradenton for no-frills Korean cuisine. Sam Oh Jung must be doing something right, with people frequenting the locale for the “Dinner Box” specials on the menu. Many of the dishes remain unchanged from the days when the original Sam opened.“Not a lot of people know the cuisine,” said Sam Oh Jung Manager Hieu Nguyen, “and it’s very hard to make if you don’t know what you’re doing.” 6032 14th St. W, Bradenton, 941-755-3568.