A family-run operation in Northbrook is serving some of the best versions in the region.
Korean barbecue can be a little disorienting for first-timers. It's definitely an active endeavor. But at Pro Samgyubsal -- hidden, like so many Glenview and Northbrook Korean restaurants -- in strip malls with dentists, cleaners and insurance salesmen - they're taking a different approach.
"We like to keep it really simple, we don't offer any appetizers or desserts. Our menu is very concise. We like to kind of make high-quality meat the star of the show," said Becky Choi, whose family owns and runs the restaurant. "For first-timers, we know that it can be kind of intimidating if you don't really know what to do, so we're trying to break that barrier; we're a family business. We want people to feel at home here..."
The name of the restaurant means pork belly, so do start there. Thick slabs are first scored, to expose more surface area, then grilled on a curved surface to let the fat drain off.
"The tabletop setup for grilled pork belly is really unique here and that's why we offer about five different cuts of just pork," said Choi. "Your server will cut all your meat tableside for you. We recommend making your own wraps."
First dip the pork into sesame oil laced with black pepper. Then wrap up the tiny pieces in pickled daikon radish. Or, dip into ssamjang, a chunky soybean paste, then wrap up in lettuce leaves.
"There's really no wrong way to do it," said Choi.
Another option is beef. Typically kalbi, or short rib, the long cuts are scored as well, much like they do in L.A. Grilled for just a few minutes, they're delicious when dipped into ssamjang, then wrapped up with shredded scallions. Free sides, called banchan, are also unique, though limited. Kimchi is homemade, as are the dried radishes and pickled ones. Pickled garlic leaves are rarely seen in Chicago, so take advantage of them.
"It's actually natively grown only in Asia, so we import it directly from Korea and we use it as a wrap for your meat and it goes really well with the pork belly," she said.
Be sure to try to makgeolli - the cloudy, fermented rice wine - and save room for the hearty miso soup with tofu and cucumber. Better yet, bring a few friends.
"We recommend coming with a group so you can try other cuts of meat as well," said Choi.
So whether you decide to get the pork or the beef, just make sure to bring a couple of friends because Korean barbecue definitely a communal experience.
EXTRA COURSE: Spicy noodle dish served cold, but is a great complement to Pro Samgyubsal's grilled dishes
3420 Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook