When Won Jung Gak took over the storefront vacated by Basil Leaf in August at 10023 107 Avenue, it finally added a Korean option to the panoply of Asian restaurants in Chinatown. Up until then, to satisfy Korean cravings, diners had to head to the south side, where the vast majority of Korean establishments are located in the city. In addition, given Won Jung Gak has quite a popular following already from their industrial site at 9655 62 Avenue (they can count my Mum as a fan), it was great that they chose the area of central Edmonton for expansion. I met Jill there for lunch last week, ready to see if Won Jung Gak lived up to such expectations.
The restaurant was empty when I entered, though a handful of parties joined us by the end of our stay. I had to wonder if their location, just off of the beaten path of 101 Street, had anything to do with that. That said, it is a very pleasant place for lunch – with a large bank of windows, the flood of natural light made it a relaxing midday retreat. The new owners retained the periphery of wooden booths inherited from Basil Leaf, but they replaced the loose furniture with elaborately carved tables and chairs, adding some interesting visuals and intricacies to the space. Jill and I also noticed that each table had access to electronic service buzzers – instead of flagging down a server visually or verbally, diners could simply push a button to notify staff that their attention was needed at the table. This was the first time I had ever encountered such a system, though given the few tables occupied at the restaurant that afternoon, we didn’t need to use it.
The menu was huge, and on top of familiar (and unfamiliar) Korean dishes, also featured some Chinese items. Jill and I both ordered the dolsot bibimbap ($13.50), which we agreed was our “benchmark” dish – the one that could make or break our opinion of a Korean restaurant. To start, we also ordered steamed kimchi dumplings ($8.99), which intrigued us.
All of our food arrived simultaneously in a timely fashion, steaming hot. Unfortunately, the dishes were surprisingly bland. For advertising a kimchi filling, we couldn’t detect much heat, and instead, tasted more of the pork inside the dumplings.
Steamed kimchi dumplings
As for the dolsot bibimbap, the stone bowl did help the rice form the crunchy layer of rice the dish is known for, but in terms of flavour, it lacked any discernable pizzazz. Neither the pickled vegetables or seasoned meat stood out from the bed of rice – both Jill and I had to add flavour to our bowls with the supplied chili and vinegar condiments, something I’ve never had to do with bibimbap in my previous experiences.
We didn’t have any complaints about service, but based on our benchmark dish, we both could think of several other Korean restaurants that we would likely return to over Won Jung Gak. That said, given the raves I have heard about its other location, I have to wonder if the kitchen was simply having an off day. With the lack of Korean options in this part of the city, I would like to give them another chance, and hope Korean cuisine is here to stay in Chinatown.
Won Jung Gak
10023 107 Avenue
Lunch daily: 11am-3pm; Dinner: Sunday-Thursday 5-10pm, Friday-Saturday 5-11pm
8 thoughts on “Korean Cuisine in Chinatown: Won Jung Gak”
Sorry to hear about the lack of flavour. I’ve been to the original location a number of times and the quality has ranged from pretty good to remarkably good. Hopefully things will improve downtown,
It could have been an off day too. Given its proximity to my work (and home), I’ll be back hopefully soon to give it another try.
The proper way to eat bibimbap is to add the red pepper paste (gochujjang) and mix everything well. Eating it any other way would, of course, be bland… do it it up right!
Thanks for the tip – though I have to say, other versions of bibimbap I’ve encountered have already had quite a bit of inherent flavour. I’m sure the condiments would enhance the dish, but if the base is already bland, then you’re already starting off on the wrong foot.
If you haven’t learned how to eat Korean food properly yet, then a review must be taken with several grains of salt. If you’re eating it wrong, you can hardly blame the cook for not meeting your expectation – you’re not eating it the way he intended anyway.
Anyway, another tip. Won Jung Gak isn’t primarily known for staple Korean dishes like bibimbap, so judging this restaurant on that dish would be silly.
This restaurant specializes in dishes that are considered “Chinese food” in Korea – dishes like jjajjang myun, jjamppong, kan pong gi, tang su yuk, etc., etc. I would recommend that you try some of those if you return to understand a bit more why this restaurant is popular with local Koreans and others who have spent time there.
My favourites are the jjam jja myun and the kan pong gi..
+1 to mkt, good post
i’ve been to Won Jung Gak too, and their selection of banchan is mediocre, in fact banchan selection at Edmonton Korean restaurants is a joke….Bul Go Gi House in Edmonton is the worst offender.
Agree – it’s unfortunate, but I haven’t yet been to a Korean restaurant in Canada
that dishes out banchan (side dishes) like you can find in korea. But I do like gak du gi, and you’ll typically be given some of that along with cabbage kim chi, and the radishes and onions that normally accompany jjajjang myun. Korea is awesome for the amount that you typically get…
I agree – you have to understand the type of place you’re going to. You can walk into a Chinese buffet, get their westernized chicken wings and stale pizza they offer, and proclaim it as disgusting, but it won’t be an accurate representation at all. You don’t come here for bibimbap, you don’t expect to get fantastic traditional Korean food. Won Jung Gak excels at Chinese Korean food which is completely different from typical Korean fare. Go back and order the jjajangmyun or the kanpongii or the variation of jjajangmyun where the ingredients are pan fried and not simmered in sauce (the name escapes me right now) or the sweet and sour squid strips. You’ll walk away with a entirely different outlook on the place once you understand this is not a Korean restaurant, this is a Chinese Korean restaurant.