Korean’s gotta be the most underrated cuisine in Melbourne. It doesn’t get the hype of Mexican, but when was the last time you went out for Korean BBQ and said ‘You know what? Didn’t do it for me.’ Never happened.
Korean’s got the clean flavours and healthy crunch of Japanese, China’s heat and zing, plus some of the best fried chicken you’ll find outside the States. Kimchi, bibimbap, Korean BBQ, fried chicken coated in sesame or garlic, sizzling bulgogi, heavy on the onions...we might need to have a lie down.
Here’s where to find the best Korean in Melbourne.
If you want traditional Korena food, Melbourne Bornga serves up the real deal. If you’re ducking in for a quick lunch, go their colourful stonepot fried rice (bibimbap-style) with beef and a rainbow assortment of vegies. For lovers of kimchi, try their spiced kimchi stew with pork and mushrooms. Their sizzling bulgogi plates cover a variety of meats, from the usual beef to baby octopus, marinated in soy garlic and ginger. And then there’s the tabletop-cooking… strap yourself in folks, you’ve got quite a menu to work through.
This North Melbourne gem on the edge of the CBD has made quite a name for itself over the years, so if you’re thinking about dropping by, we highly recommend calling ahead and making a reservation. The best way at Wooga is to try a bit of everything. The combos are excellent: premium wagyu chuck eye roll, marinated flank beef, and topside beef with salt and pepper should start you off nicely, with bean paste, soup and rice. They don’t skimp on the kimchi here either, so go nuts.
Four levels of fantastic Korean fare is what you’ll find a Guhng, with each level catering to a slightly different crowd. The focus is on the meat here, with 100% Aussie beef, pork, chicken and lamb, all barbequed to perfection. Sometimes, you want the decisions to be made for you—and their banquets are well put together, so they're a perfect option. Get stuck into some kimchi tatare, crispy pork belly, Angus Porterhouse from the charcoal barbeque, and your choice of dessert for just $50.
Joomak spruiks itself as a ‘Melbourne style Korean pub’. It’s really a sort of subterranean Izakaya arrangement: shared plates and lots of nibbles, hidden down some stairs in an unlikely looking building, just near Melbourne Central. The fried chicken is a solid option, slathered in soy garlic sauce, as is the ‘Corn and Cheese’: fresh popping corn kernels covered in molten mozzarella. Wash it all down with some mango rice wine cocktails, served in a cauldron with a DIY ladle.
Fried chicken and beer always have been best friends, and while there are quite a few places doing Korean Fried Chicken (KFC), Gami would have to be our pick of the bunch. First, decide if you want a whole chicken or boneless, then pick your sauce (from original fried, sweet chilli, soy garlic, and spicy). All chicken comes with cabbage salad and radish pickles, and to wash it all down grab a bottle of Korea’s popular beer, Hite. You can even order it by the cask (we highly recommend this). The service is good, but they’ll try to shuffle you along if you linger over your chicken—this place gets seriously busy.
Dae Jang Geum BBQ
Stand near the corner of Swanston and Little Bourke, breathe in deeply and you might just catch the aroma of barbecued pork wafting down the stairs from the massive Dae Jang Geum. Follow your nose into this meat-lovers' paradise, a great place to line your stomach before a big night out. Service can vary from attentive to meh, but the meat—particularly the bulgogi (marinated beef) and galbi—is consistently good. The galbi is a must for pork lovers, with chunky pork ribs marinated in a mixture that includes soy sauce, garlic and sugar. Try to avoid drooling as the meat cooks on the table grill in front of you, and remember that a diet based entirely on pork and sugar is not nutritionally sound...so you'd best have some beef as well.
G2 Korean BBQ
Patience, grasshopper. We know you're hungry for some Korean BBQ goodness, but wait for your charcoal grill to heat up before you load it with melt-in-the-mouth Angus beef and spicy marinated chicken. G2 Korean BBQ's gleaming copper exhaust fans snaking down from the ceiling certainly add to the drama. They go pretty nicely with the exposed brick walls and ice-cold Hite (Korean rice beer). Ooh, is that pork belly? That'll go well with the salty sesame oil-based sauce. Try barbequing some mushrooms next, to go with the beef. Have another round of soju. And then – ah, bugger being patient. Get in there and eat as much of everything as you can, it's delicious.
Hwaro Korean BBQ
Become the grill master of your own meat destiny at Hwaro, one of the city’s best DIY Korean BBQ joints. The gal-bai beef ribs are the place to start here: you can either get them in a variety of grades, thin, standard, premium marble or top grade. Unwrap the meat from the bone, then hear it hiss as it hits your hot plate. The glowing coals underneath give an awesome char to the beef. If you’d rather be a spectator, the Hwaro staff can do all this for you, but it’s fun to get involved. For banchan (side dishes), go the softened bean sprouts, finely diced green onion and cabbage kimchi. All you need now is an ice-cold pint...
If you can drag yourself away from Purple Peanut, head down the alley nextdoor (past their sister restaurant, Pallet) and on to Chick-In, a wood and copper Korean restaurant. Fried chicken and jugs of Brunswick Bitter are the go here. If in doubt, try the gang jung, boneless crispy chook with potato wedges and a rice cake. The Korean fried chicken wings with chips are also a fantastic Friday binge, and if you order the Jungsik combo you also get green salad, pickled onion and miso soup. Chilli fiends, you should probs have a crack at the ‘hottest chick-in Melbourne’. Fairy warning though, it doesn’t hold back.
For dessert? It’s gotta be Milkcow, a South Korean soft serve parlour that took off and went global. You’ll find it just near Melbourne Central, on Swanston St (just follow the crowds). This isn’t your standard Maccas soft serve, either. The ice-cream here is all organic, and topped with Willy Wonka combos like macarons, fairy floss clouds and espresso shots. Our tip? Try the Mont Blanc: oreo crumbs, chocolate rocks and Italian apple syrup surrounded by a (quite literal) cloud of fairy floss.
Gangnam style comes to Melbourne. The pocha bit refers to the Korean equivalent of izakaya-style dining, where eating and drinking both get equal billing. This place a is a bouncing K-Pop temple, spinning authentic Korean cuisine. Sit up the back where they’ve got K-Pop tracks playing on the plasma screen and order up a big bowl of seafood broth: mussels, prawns, clams and calamari in a peppery kimchi and red chilli broth. The bibimbap is also a knockout: cooked in a stone vessel so it gets that paella-like crust on the bottom. For tipples? Fragrant Korean plum wine. It’s uber refreshing.
This little piggy went to ChangGo...and pigged out on eight kinds of pork belly. EIGHT KINDS. It's a good thing there's a lengthy wait to get in here – it gives you enough time to organise ambulance coverage and health insurance before your side serve of coronary, available free with ChangGo's famous death by pork belly set (whose real name is the Palsaik set, fact fiends). But wow, what a way to go. A metre-long wooden plank is laden with eight plates of neatly rolled fatty pork belly, each coated in a different marinade; flavours include miso, garlic and ginseng. Bring your friends, you'll need them; first to help you grill – and eat – your way through all that Korean BBQ deliciousness, then to help you roll out the door.
Gukbab is the real deal. From Korean-style blood sausage to Teok-bok-ki, a dish of strangely addictively chewy rice cake, fish cake and eggs cooked in Korean chilli sauce, they’ve got every kimchi base covered. Kimchi & bean sprout guk bab (a soup), kimchi seafood pancakes and a kimchi-dedicated Dol-sot Bibimbab are a few of your fermented options, but our pick is the homemade Kimchi Jji-gae with vegetables and pork. You’ll be kimchi-ed out.
If you hadn’t guessed from the name, this place does a more modern take on Korean cuisine. Seoulja Boy’s menu explodes with chilli, fermented vegetables and addictively rich spicy sauce (but seriously, can we please have some to take home?). The fit-out is all matt black and neon pink, which matches the ambitious little menu. street-style ddokbokki with chewy cylindrical rice cakes. Silky soft fried Korean tofu and stir-fried sweet potato noodles. Not to mention funky cocktails spiked with lychee and yuzu, plus a solid list of Korean rice wine. It’s the stuff rockin’ nights are made of.
In The Suburbs
Deep fried Korean in Melbourne’s Italian heartland. Yep, Hwatu is certainly something different for the Lygon St crowd. But you know what, it doesn’t matter where you are, late-night fried chicken will always be appreciated, especially when it’s this good. Hwatu specializes in Korean BBQ and pocha, with five different BBQ menus to choose from (think Wagyu scotch fillet and crispy pork skin). Our pick is the Dumpling Chicken & Beer Set (music to our ears). Think Fried Korean pork dumplings, juicy corn kernels topped with cheese, Korean-style boneless fried chook, drenched in soy garlic sauce and an icy cold jug of Sapporo. All for just $55.
Not only are the options plentiful at Seoul Soul, but they have two locations you can drop into: one in Northcote, one in Richmond. For a little bit of everything, try the Dosirak, with your choice of either beef or spicy beef bulgogi, soy or spicy chicken, soy or spicy tofu, soy mushroom, and spicy calamari. Once you’ve picked your meat/tofu, add steamed rice, seasoned mixed salad, spring rolls, and seasonal side dishes that have been marinated in their Korean homemade sauce. Absolutely nuts.
You won’t find a lot of noise around Donwoori. It has almost zero online presence. Most people don’t even know it’s there, tucked on Victoria St, just near the Queen Vic Markets. It’s not a massive place, but the food is always top notch. It starts with the unlimited banchan refills (think little snack bowls of pickled daikon, veggies and kimchi), and keeps going strong with the tofu stew (a fiery kimchi red, stuffed with clams and silken tofu). A plate of the sweet pork bulgogi and steamed rice is usually a good call too, and there’s always a hot coal BBQ menu if you’re feeling some crispy Wagyu. A solid northside choice.
Mrs. Kim’s Grill
The theatre of Korean barbecue is always an excellent option for those who like to play with their food. At Mrs Kim's, each table has their own charcoal grill, so you can eagerly watch your dinner sizzle before it lands piping hot on your plate. The go-to here is their famous marinated galbi beef ribs, but they also serve up everything from ox tongue to Wagyu depending on the butcher's cut of choice. Complimentary sides such as homemade kimchi and pickled onion never go astray, and the wine list ain’t bad either.
One of our favourites from The Lucas Group (aka the folks who run Chin Chin and co), Kong is a tongue-tingling mix of Korean and Japanese (with a smidge of American in there too). For the super hungry, go the Bossam of barbeque Cape Grim Black Angus sirloin in a bulgogi, marinated with walnut ssamjang, kimchi and lettuce. They also do a killer gochujang grilled chicken if you want a bit of spice. If you’re looking for something to eat on the go, take away is available—and they have an express lunch. Try the Japanese meets Korean ‘K Bento Box’, with Korean fried chicken, seaweed salad, house pickles and Japanese rice.
Koornang Rd is probably Melbourne’s unofficial Korean Town. There’s a bunch of good restaurants along this strip, but Hankki is one of the best. It was previously known as Goga Soondae (thanks to its delicious handmade soondae pork sausages), so do yourself a favour and order a plate of those. The chargrilled chicken, Korean pancake and spicy kimchi stew are also knockouts, and whatever you do, order a side of their kimchi fried rice. Pickled, zesty, with some serious heat. It’s a dead-set winner.
Towoo Charcoal BBQ
A Surrey Hills favourite, Towoo has been going strong for ages. Tabletop charcoal pits and extractor fans are the go here, but you can order a la carte if you want. The service can be a bit patchy, but the BBQ makes up for it. The Wagyu beef here is some of the best we’ve tried anywhere in Melbourne. Proper melt in your mouth stuff. Wagyu short ribs and porterhouse are also excellent meaty options. Pro tip: try the fried crab balls. A house favourite.
Cute décor, lovely staff, and a cracking BBQ menu. What’s not to like? Noda is on Bridge Rd, just near the Epworth, and it’s probably doing the best Korean in Richmond. Vegetarians should definitely grab a serve of the fried tofu and greens in chilli paste. Meatheads, you know what to do: the three-step Korean Fried Chicken Feast. Step 1: choose a size (large). Step 2: choose your flavour (garlic teriyaki and sweet & spicy are the best). Step 3: grab a side (go the corn cheese). An ice-cold Hite lager is basically a must, but there’s also a dedicated tea menu if your stomach’s feeling a little chickened-out.
Zen Charcoal BBQ
A South Yarra fave, there’s no such thing as a bad night at Zen. Here’s how you do it. Start with a few entrees, maybe a Dak Kang Jung crispy chicken with sweet & spicy sauce, or seared Saam mushrooms, wrapped in iceberg lettuce. Then it’s time for the banquet. The Momo Set is a pretty good intro: you get prawn dumplings, beef scotch fillet marinated beef ribs, kimchi hotpot and black rice for $39, plus your own glowing charcoal grill. Pro tip: wear layers, Zen’s multiple open coals mean the restaurant gets really hot.
Ribs, ribs and more ribs. This is where you come for the best BBQ Korean ribs in town. Go either the So Galbi Gui (beef ribs) or Dae-ji Galbi Gui (spicy BBQ pork ribs)—both are just $24.90. The meat is bloody filling, but you should be able to squeeze in room for a stone pot bibimbap or a fresh cold beef noodle soup. Kimchi Grandma is one of the city’s OG Korean restaurants (it was a thing before bulgogi got trendy), and there’s a reason it’s stuck around so long. Join the queue and see what all the fuss is about.
Chimac has been hailed as the best fried chicken in Melbourne, but you’ll have to be the judge for yourself. If you have to get one, make it the ‘Ultra Crispy’, seasoned with salt and parsley, then double fried to shatter-crisp perfection. Kimchi fans, try the Kimchi pancake: it’s loaded with well-fermented cabbage kimchi, onion and scallions. Fried until golden brown and optimally crisp, you won’t be able to stop at one kimchi-loaded bite.
Bibimbap Food Truck
Flavoursome, nutritious, and convenient, the Bibmbap food truck will sort out your Korean cravings in no time. Pick from three variety of meats or tofu – we can’t go past the rump steak marinated in bulgogi sauce. Add additional sauces, salad and vegies, and mix together like crazy. At the time of writing the Bibimbap truck is doing quite a few rounds at Chadstone and Welcome To Thornbury, however, they have been spotted at the odd music festival or two. For the health conscious out there, did we mention there’s basically no fat in these bowls of flippin deliciousness? Get amongst.
Image credit: Griffin Simm | Bornga