As far as I know, the only Korean food we had in the Mission before Sam Ho Won was at a convenience store on 16th Street, KD Market, which, last time I checked, had closed their kitchen during the pandemic, and Smile BBQ on 22nd Street, the divey little café that maybe offers a couple of Korean dishes, along with burgers and breakfast?

And now, we get this! Sam Ho Won: The love child of Chef Corey Lee and Executive Chef Jeong-In Hwang (both of Benu fame), which they’re billing as “casual” Korean BBQ, but which we found a beautifully serene space, bringing updated Korean food using pristine ingredients, with touches of fine dining, sans the stuffiness.

Sam Ho Won is booked to the gills 29 days in advance by reservation. BUT, you can try showing up right at 5 pm when they open, and possibly get seated as a walk-in, which is what we did on a Sunday evening when we were able to sit relatively far apart from other diners. Although I expect that phenomenon to end as their popularity continues to grow.

The former Blowfish space at 2170 Bryant St. has been gussied up, but with a minimalist vibe, industrial and elegant, with tones of light and darker wood. There’s a low counter where you can eat and watch the grilling action (all BBQ dishes are grilled in the kitchen, except for in the private dining room on the side, which is equipped with a smaller grill), as well as booths and small tables . The smells emanating from the kitchen are intoxicating, with lychee wood keeping the home fires burning.

Along with a steaming earthenware pot of barley tea, complimentary banchan are brought to the table upon seating: spicy daikon kimchee; a spectacular soft tofu dish topped with soy and chili sauce; and a stand-out slaw of finely sliced, par-cooked potatoes, carrots and minari, a popular Korean green with a slightly peppery taste, a cross between celery and watercress. I could have eaten a whole bowl of just this vinegary / sesame oil slaw, and our server offered me more when I told him it was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

Banchan.

Next, galbi mandu. This dish looks almost like a pancake when it arrives at the table with its delicately connected dumplings. The mandu, while crispy on top, was incredibly tender inside, the ground short rib beef lightly spiced, with a mustard sauce accentuating but not overwhelming it; a homey, savory combination.

Galbi mandu.

Next, we got the much-talked-about double-cut galbi ribs.

Double-cut galbi BBQ ribs.

Heaven on a grill. The smoky meat, again, was tender yet chewy, with a good fat-to-flesh ratio, and this was plenty to share. Our server suggested we order the side of ssam, which you absolutely must do. Sure, in most Korean restaurants, ssam comes with your BBQ, but here it is extra and it is worth it.

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