A few weeks ago, I celebrated my birthday. A tradition in my family is to celebrate by going somewhere a bit more special than normal; I realize that most people go out on their birthday to that steakhouse or that “one-worded-restaurant” that has outrageous prices. But it’s my birthday, and “treat yo self” rings in my head from Tom and Donna on Parks and Recreation as I decide where I want to go. I decided to gather some friends and go get some Korean barbecue. It surprised me to no end that many of my friends had never had Korean barbecue, or any traditional Korean food, so I decided that we would go to Woori Jib.
When you walk in, you might be thrown off by how informal everything is. Crisp white tables are dotted throughout the restaurant, and they all line up in narrow rows and columns. If you show up during a weekday dinner, this place will be crowded. I was accompanied by only one other person, and luckily we were able to snag a one of the two remaining tables. A server came by and clear the table, if need be, but you might wait a minute before you realize that you need to go up to the counter and order. The menu is extensive and encompasses a lot of good items.
If you’re willing to explore and try something new, I recommend Ja Jang Myun ($9.99), which is a Korean style noodle soup in a black bean paste, Kimchi Jjigae ($9.99), a Kimchi based hot soup, or Bulgogi Deop Bap ($11.99), a marinated meat and rice platter that is stir-fried and served with Woori Jib’s bulgogi sauce. A friend allowed me to try their Kimchi Jjigae. The soup hits you with a subtle punch of spicy and salty from the kimchi, but lulls you over with the savory, defined broth. As I sat and waited for my order to be called, I only shook with anticipation to get my Bi Bim Bap and my friend to get her Bulgogi.
When our orders were called, which only took about 5 to 7 minutes, I was very excited. As the pictures can show you, Woori Jib does not mess around when it comes to getting you a heaping amount of food. When I first ordered, I was confused by why the dumplings cost $8.99, but there are ten of them, so I cannot complain at all. All of this food was piping hot — we had to wait a while before we could dig into this mouth-watering meals. The dumplings were crunchy on their fried side, but super soft on the flip side. Filled with pork, green onions, and rice noodles, these were sealed and seared to perfection. They came with a soy-based sauce, which helped cool down these steaming dumplings.
Let me just say that I do not know what Woori Jib does to their meat, but my Bulgogi ($13.99) was killer: a dish of marinated, grilled meat and onions on top of a bed of rice seems “simple.” This was anything but; the meat was succlent and tender, super savory and a good texture due to the grill marks on it. The onions complement the meat and rice with a mellow sweetness and a strong flavor.
The Bi Bim Bap ($8.99) was the masterpiece I knew it to be: a bed of rice covered with julienned carrots, steamed zucchini and spinach, fresh cut lettuce, daikon radish, bean sprouts, a fried egg, and some ground pork is all contained within this single bowl. A huge spread of Gochujang, a peppery, smoky sauce made from soybeans and Korean peppers, lies just underneath the egg. If you do not like spicy foods, I highly recommend avoiding Gochujang or just getting a small bit. Gochujang is an astounding addition to any Korean dish, and even to some American classics. The whole point of Bi Bim Bap is to slowly mix everything together, while still keeping all of the components separate.
Overall, I am fully satisifed with Woori Jib. Their dishes are simple, yet elegant, and are overflowing with the flavor that you cannot get anywhere else but in Korean food. My only concern was that prices are varied, with a huge emphasis on meat dishes being much more expensive than others. I took my leftover Bi Bim Bap home, which makes the price worthwhile. If I were to describe Woori Jib’s style, I would say that it’s clean. There aren’t fancy additions, no overused sauces, and everything they do is based off of two themes of having white rice and serving all dishes with a some of their housemade kimchi. I am a kimchi fanatic, going so far to having made my own, and I will give Woori Jib, hands down, an award for the best kimchi I have ever eaten. I only wish there was more of it. If you have never been to Woori Jib, I highly recommend that you check them out ASAP. If you are interested in exploring different restauarants, like me, you will love this place.
Woori Jib is located at 710 South 6th Street, Champaign, and open Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
All photos by AJ Taylor.