A Night of Delicious Korean Food at Sobahn in Kansas City

My youngest sister flew back from the East Coast tonight after being out there for roughly three weeks.  My parents, Aaron, and I met her at the airport and then went out to a place called Sobahn, a well-rated Korean restaurant in Kansas City.  We had been wanting to try it for awhile so it seemed like the perfect opportunity.  Plus, we were in the mood for the cuisine because Aaron and I had spent 20+ hours over at my parents’ house this past week watching a show my mom told us we’d love called 킬미힐미, or Kill Me, Heal Me.  There’s only so much Korean food you can see before you began to want it.

Sobahn in Kansas City(She was right about the drama, by the way.  The show was great with all the over-the-top emotions you’d expect of the genre.  It’s about the sole heir to a family-controlled, publicly-traded holding company being forced back to Korea from the United States while trying to keep the secret of his dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder), at least until the stockholders’ meeting so his grandmother, the chairwoman of the board, doesn’t lose power.  He ends up in a romance with his personal doctor – not sure how the ethics on that one work – who systematically has to kill off the personalities that wreck hilarious mayhem in his life, which range from a fashion-model looking, Mustang-driving bad boy to a suicidal 17 year old, a teenage girl who chases after boy band members to an old man obsessed with building bombs.  While this is going on, he begins to remember the dark family secrets that turned him into “a monster”, as he believes himself to be.  You can watch it for free at the earlier link I provided.  It’s also interesting to see how ubiquitous the Ford Motors product placement is, with different brands in the plot being used by, and representing aspects of, certain characters.  It makes me want to study their market share because it seems like the Detroit-based automaker is going for full-blown PSYOPS.  I’d be surprised if there isn’t a spike in their regional sales, though the recent mess with the Chinese economy might be a more powerful counterbalance.)

Anyway, Sobahn.  According to The Kansas City Star, Sobahn, at least as far back as 2011, was run by chef Susana Kwon and her two daughters.  The Star says that Kwon’s husband and co-founder, Paul, passed away unexpectedly in 2010, just a year after it opened its doors.  The mission of the restaurant is to serve the type of wonderful, casual home-style dishes you’d get in a family setting in and around Seoul as the owners wanted to share their culture.

We pulled into the parking lot between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m. if I remember correctly and spent an hour or two indulging in a wide array of amazingly delicious dishes.  Seriously, if you like Korean food or are up for trying it, drive over the first chance you get.  Located at 788 Shawnee Mission Parkway in Overland Park, it’s a convenient trip from practically anywhere in the metro area.  You can’t miss it because – I kid you not – it’s located right near a Korean grocery store, a nail salon, a massage parlor, and a Kia dealership.  (I can’t help but go into economist mode when I see that.  You know from the Federal Reserve data that self-employed people, as a class, tend to have a much higher median net worth than those who work for others, and it’s been an oft-studied phenomenon since the 1970’s that, dollar for dollar of income, due to certain cultural values Korean-American immigrants bring with them, they have a 5x probability of making it to self-made millionaire status compared to what they should (see work of Dr. Thomas J. Stanley).  I’m not even joking when I say I’m tempted to pull the property tax records and find out who owns the strip mall because I’d be surprised if it wasn’t somehow an equity or debt investment of one or more of the entrepreneurs operating within or near it or a member of their family.)  It’s definitely a laid-back atmosphere, though, so don’t try to rush it if you go in for lunch or dinner and need to be in and out quickly.  To us, that was part of the appeal and one of the things that made it unique.  You could tell it was a family business into which someone had poured their heart and soul.

Aaron and I will probably be back sometime before the end of January.  I didn’t manage to take pictures of everything at the table because I was too busy eating well – my mom ordered bulgogi, which was fantastic (her comment: “I could eat this morning, noon, and night”), and my youngest sister ordered galbi steak, which was good – but I did snap a few photographs when I wasn’t smiling, sighing, and shoving banchan in my mouth.

Banchan from Sobahn in Kansas City

The banchan included white raddish, spicy cucumbers, kimchi, broccoli with tofu, and fish strips, the latter of which is not pictured and off to the left.

Japchae and Kimbap Korean Appetizers Sobahn Kansas City

I took a serving of the japchae from the big bowl in which it arrived (japchae is a dish consisting of glass noodles made from sweet potato starch in sesame oil with vegetables). The flavor was definitely one of the best things I had in a long time. We also had kimbap.

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mandu guk and dol sot bibim bap Sobahn Korean restaurant in Kansas City

Aaron and I ordered a third entree between us to try – a bowl of mandu guk, which is dumplings in a beef broth (they extract the flavor by boiling the bones for twenty-four hours) – which we ended up saving in takeout because it was too much food. It was good. Aaron’s main entree was dol sot bibim bap. The stone bowl was so hot that when he poured in soy sauce and hot pepper paste sauce it would still boil ten or more minutes into eating.

jaeyuk bokkeum spicy pork with vegetables Sobahn korean restaurant in Kansas City

My main dish was jaeyuk bokkeum, which was spicy pork with vegetables. It was incredible. I’ll probably order it again the next time we go back to Sobahn. The flavor of the drippings with the rice was out of this world delicious! It’s somewhat similar to the sauce that develops in that rainbow beef stir fry Aaron and I make.

Tong Galbi from Korean Restaurant Sobahn in Kansas City

My dad ordered Sobahn’s Tong Galbi, which is hand sliced beef short ribs that you can put in a lettuce wrap with rice and a bean paste sauce. They were delicious, too.

If you are in or around Kansas City and give Sobahn a try, let me know what you think about it.  They have pictures of the dishes on their website so you know what you’re ordering beforehand (see earlier link); the chef will do custom events and menus for events, birthdays, corporate get-togethers, or groups.  I’m thrilled to have discovered this place and can tell we’ll probably make it a regular thing.

  • Roundball

    Korean food is the bomb. Did they have karaoke as well? My favorite bulgogi of all time is at this place in SF- kind of a dingy looking place but the food is spectacular

    http://www.playgroundsf.com/

    • Ang

      Anecdotally, the best ethnic places are always dingy looking/hole in the wall/next to a gas station in the part of town you wouldn’t walk around even in daylight – I suppose it could be because those are typically run by the boot strappers who do everything themselves and have low capital levels rather than corporate functions with lots of capital but farm out the cooking to minimal wage earners that might have never touched the ethnic cuisine before working there

      • Roundball

        Ang- I live in the Dallas area as well. Any Korean restaurant recommendations? Love H-Mart!

  • Ang

    Re: “Korea town” – this is ubiquitous in Texas as well. The best Korean restaurants are almost always built close to a supermarket of some type (we have “H Marts” in Dallas). I think it taps into the culture, where you first drop off your dry cleaning and the women might go get their nails done while the men get a massage or grab the Korean newspaper from the supermarket, then you go eat BBQ for 2 hours, and then finally shop for your groceries at the market and pick up some pastries on the way out (Korean/Asian bakeries are great, the offerings are very soft and fluffy, including tons of off kilter offerings, although a lot of it is, stereo-typically, mixing sausages and dough, ha! If you’ve never tried them, get some the next time you visit Sobahn on your way out, there’s usually one either inside the supermarket or a standalone establishment close by, my favorite is the soft raisin bread – reminds me of when I was little. Here’s the first example I found on Google that resembles what I’m talking about). It’s a Sunday tradition, and many Koreans will wrap the routine around their Church activities on that day as well.

    Re: food – Dolsot Bibimbap is one of my favorites – especially when combined with chili paste. It’s sweet, spicy, with some of the rice at the bottom caramelized from contact with the bowl… mmmm. And I agree with your mom, bulgolgi is the best, puts the salty and sweet flavor profiles in perfect balance (imo)

    I have to laugh at your father’s dish – the garlic cloves are just there, unchanged and unmodified, did he wrap any into his lettuce wrap?

    The banchan looked good too, did they offer sushi as part of it? That seems strange – perhaps they started offering it because of this country’s tendency to get various asian cuisines mixed up and there was a lot of request for it?

  • I’m a strange representative of my culture in that I, for the most part, do not like the fermented flavor in kimchi. I adore fresh kimchi that has yet to get fermented. When it comes to feremented kimchi, outside of a very narrow range of fermented flavor (which is very hit and miss) I just can’t stand it.

    I recently went to dinner out at a Korean place as a friend is going there to teach English and wanted to experience some of the culture. Her boyfriend is vegetarian. When we ordered our dolsot bibimbap, we requested no meat and the waitress verbally confirmed no meat. It came with meat. Korean cuisine is fascinating in how heavy the meat influence is. I’m pretty sure it would be near impossible to get something that doesn’t have meat in it in some form or another.

    I ruined kimchi for a vegan friend on NYE by informing her that kimchi contains fish sauce. Before that, an Indian friend informed her that almost all Indian food is cooked in ghee, thus ruining that whole spectrum of cuisine for her. She took it like a champ and let us know she’d rather be informed.

  • Ang

    Whenever the wife and I have a craving, we always go to Seoul Garden off of Royal, which is the “next to a gas station” location that I was referring to above. The first time I took her there, she looked at me with this super apprehensive look, hahaha, but once you get inside it’s very nice. My favorite thing on the menu there (the bulgolgi not withstanding) is the Galbi Sal Dolsot Bibimbap, it comes premixed but the chunks of beef and veggies and chili sauce is just mouth watering (no egg, unfortunately).

    A second choice is Kimchi Kitchen, by the H-mart in Carrollton, it’s more of a fast casual concept but they have pretty good pork belly. Our favorite dish there is the Bulgolgi Stir Fry noodles. Their desert crepes are pretty good as well if a little out of place.

    How about yourself? Have any recommendations for me?

    • Roundball

      Wow, we pass that place all the time. Thanks for the recommendation, those items sound awesome.

      My wife is vegetarian so we generally don’t go to Korean/ East Asian places. We are of Indian origin so I’m happy to give you our Indian faves, all on MacArthur around Las Colinas.

      Saravanaa Bhavan- at MacArthur and Valley Ranch Parkway. South Indian food- this is a global chain, awesome dosas (all vegetarian though)
      Bawarchi Biriyani Point- In the same complex, if you like spicy food get the Chicken Chettinad with garlic naan
      Bombay Chopstix- on MacArthur and Las Colinas Boulevard near the Toys R Us. They make Indo-Chinese food. Get the Gobi Manchurian dry (cauliflower), chili chicken, hakka noodles and Shrimp Pepper Salt.

      Hope this helps! I’m going to have to hit up Seoul Garden soon

  • Mykrohan

    There is some very excellent Korean food where I live. I have been driving myself crazy looking for a good jajangmyeon, though… still have yet to find one.

  • scorp2780

    I’m not sure if it’s more appropriate to post in an older post or the newest one, but I will post here. Reading this article made me think about the Dolly Parton posting you made Joshua. Thanks for all your good work.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3405811/Bowie-breathtaking-reinvention-Turning-drug-addled-hedonist-financial-wizard-pulling-strings-135m-empire.html

    • That was a lot of fun to read, thanks for sharing it!

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