There’s no shortage of places to eat on the U of I campus with restaurants all along Green Street, inside Illini Union, and near the Krannert Center for Performing Arts. On one small block of Gregory Street between Oregon and Nevada Street, there are seven restaurants, and one of them is a Korean restaurant called Bab Plus.
The outside is unassuming, but the interior was nicer than I expected for a fast-casual campus restaurant.
I liked the lighting fixtures, the glossy white tables, and the whole vibe of the place. There were plenty of tables for dine in, and the restaurant was clean.
We browsed the digital menus on the back wall and ordered at the counter. After paying, we received a buzzer and picked a table. When our buzzer went off about ten minutes later, all of our food was ready.
We ordered the man doo ($6.99) to start. The six fried dumplings had crisp edges and a soft, chewy wrapper encasing flavorful pork, chopped scallions, and clear noodles. The dumplings were delicious and a pretty good price.
We ordered the bulgogi ($15.99), which came with a side of white rice. Not all Korean restaurants in town serve bulgogi with vegetables, but I loved this version with equal parts marinaded beef and mixed veg. The thin pieces of beef had a salty, charred flavor with a sweet soy finish, and the carrots, onions, broccoli, and zucchini were perfectly cooked. Both the bulgogi and veggies had an awesome savory-sweet flavor with bursts of garlic and pepper. Bab Plus’ bulgogi was downright delicious.
We also tried the curry ton katsu ($13.99). The portion was enormous: curry filled about two thirds of a giant bowl, and the amount of pork included was more than we could eat in one sitting. The pork cutlets were pounded super thin, coated in a panko crust, and fried until crispy. Soft carrots, silky onions, and potato chunks filled the hearty curry, which was not at all spicy. I enjoyed dipping the cutlets in the curry because the crunchy pork soaked in the robust garlicky flavor like crackers in a soup.
Once we had a taste of the food at Bab Plus, we were hooked. Just a week later, we returned again to try more from the menu.
I ordered the kimchi jaeyook bokeum ($14.99), and it had thin pieces of pork with cabbage, onions, and green onion tops with sesame seeds, all covered with a spicy kimchi sauce. The chewy pork was very good, especially the pork belly pieces with ribbons of fat. Cooked soft, the vegetables tasted great, but it was the heat — the sheer level of spiciness — that made this dish so yummy.
The entire dish tasted like fire because of the sour kimchi sauce. I couldn’t get enough, and I loved how the subtle sweetness of cooked onions momentarily relieved some of the spicy flavor. If this dish had not come with white rice, there’s no way I could’ve finished it. As I ate, my mouth was stinging, my scalp itched, my forehead perspired — but it tasted amazing.
My husband had the bulgogi fried rice ($11.99). A large portion of rice with tasty stir-fried onions, carrots, broccoli, green onions, and beef bulgogi had a fried egg on top. Expertly cooked, the egg had a crisp edge and a runny yolk that seeped into the fluffy fried rice. There wasn’t much bulgogi in the rice, just enough to add a sweet beefy sprinkle to some bites.
Mostly, Bab Plus exceeded my expectations for a fast casual restaurant. The campus spot has generous portions, reasonable prices, an aesthetically pleasing dining room, and a chef that nailed every dish we ordered. Though there are many restaurants on campus, I am already ready to return to Bab Plus for more tasty Korean food.
700 S Gregory St
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.