What to Order in a Korean Restaurant

A spread at a Korean restaurant
Henry Hyeongrae Kim / Getty Images

If you are a first-timer at a Korean restaurant, you'll likely have no idea about what to order. By following this simple guide, designed for newcomers to Korean cuisine, you won't be at a loss for words when the server takes your order. In fact, you'll probably be hooked when your meal arrives.

Keep in mind that this is a guide geared towards people with a more Western palate, as there's a huge variation in the most popular Korean restaurant dishes around the globe. Although this guide is for newcomers to Korean cuisine, the intention isn't that diners should eat these same menu items over and over again. As you get better acquainted with Korean food you'll definitely want to start sampling some more daring dishes.

What to Try Your First Time at a Korean Restaurant

If you're at a Korean barbecue restaurant where there's a grill on your table, then order Galbi (marinated short ribs). Don't be surprised when the meat comes raw along with all the fixings. If the restaurant you're visiting is not a do-it-yourself grill establishment, then order Galbi Jim (braised short ribs) for the table to share family-style. This means that you'll all share the ribs rather than you eating them all alone

Don't be surprised when the server also brings out a variety of little side dishes that you didn't order. These side dishes are called banchan, and they are free. It's customary to serve banchan, just as it is to receive free bread before your meal at American restaurants.

In addition to main courses of meat, such as ribs, you can also try a mix of mostly vegetarian side dishes at a Korean restaurant. These include mandoo (Korean dumplings), pa jun (scallion pancakes) and chapchae (stir-fried sweet potato noodles). You should also consider ordering bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables). Finally, there's duk gook (rice cake soup).

Don't Panic If You Don't Remember What to Order

If you don't remember what to order, even after reviewing this list, don't panic. Your server will likely have some great options for you to try. You can tell the server if you're a meat-eater or vegetarian, or if you like your food more spicy than mild (or vice versa). These details will help the server pick out the perfect dishes for you.

If you're too shy to ask the servers to help you, think about the diners joining you at the restaurant. How knowledgeable are they about Korean food? If they're Korean or Korean American or have eaten Korean foods multiple times, they should be able to help you choose what to order or even order for you, if you don't mind giving control of your dinner to someone else.

In places such as Los Angeles, which has a bustling Koreatown, it shouldn't be difficult to find a Korean restaurant accustomed to attracting diners from all walks of life, of Korean and Western heritage alike.