Featured image: Cheese Chicken Galbi @ Alirang
I am extremely happy that the most popular Korean restaurant in Ottawa, Alirang, now has a second location. In the past, I would often forgo its downtown restaurant because I did not want to wait for a table during their busy dinner hours. Now I can easy walk in without much of a wait.
This new location is located on Merivale Road with plenty of parking compared to the tiny narrow parking lot of its original location downtown, where I would alway fear backing into a concrete wall on my way out. This new restaurant is a lot roomier, allowing for a more comfortable eating experience. There is some seating in the front lobby of the restaurant in case there is a bit of a wait.
As with most Korean restaurant, they will by default serve you some hot tea (in a large pitcher) with your meal. In addition, we would usually order some soju (popular Korean liquor), which goes very well with the hot, spicy food, especially BBQ meats. We prefer the original one. The fruity-flavoured ones just taste too sweet. After returning from Korea, I cannot get over the inflated costs of soju here (~6x the cost compared to Korea). This is not unique to this restaurant. It is across the board more expensive in Canada.
For appetizers, we usually order either the pajeon (seafood pancake) or the tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes). The pajeon is probably the best in town, being light and airy. Their tteokbokki is flavourful and generously portioned.
Our favourites to order here is the gamjatang (potato pork bone soup) and their bulgogi (beef). It’s really quite excellent, although not going to be as authentic as the ones you will find in South Korea. Of course you cannot compare the two, since in South Korea, the restaurants only specialize in one dish and hence, have perfected such dish. I have yet to find something like that in Canada. See my previous posts – here and here for details our our experiences eating these dishes in Seoul. For the gamjatang, you can choose to get the individual size or if you’re coming with an eating buddy and you both want the same thing, we sometimes order the 2-person hotpot and the portions are usually bigger. I don’t recommend the “spicy” version. The original version is spicy enough and I find the “spicy” version is too overwhelming with it’s generous use of peppercorn.
Another good choice is their bibimbap, which is a mixed rice bowl with various pickled veggies, a runny fried egg, optional meat, and extra gochujang (hot pepper paste) to go on top. I eat this when I miss the amazing veggie-filled bibimbap I had at Gwangjang Market. Here, you can either get the regular bibimbap or the dolsot bibimbap which is served in a stone bowl with nice and crispy rice on where the rice touches the hot bowl.
For more protein, their galbi (beef ribs) also is super tasty and tender. We have also tried the pork and duck bokum recently and I think I prefer the simplicity of the galbi and bulgogi more. I’ve always wanted to try their bossam (pork cabbage wraps) since we really enjoyed it in Vancouver but they did not have it last time when we tried to order this dish.
If you want a soupy dish with leftovers the next day, their soondobu is usually a good choice. It is a tofu stew with lots of veggies and flavours and is perfect with a side of rice (which comes with the dish).
One of the unique features of Korean cuisine are it’s complimentary banchan or side dishes. They come in the form of various kimchi, sesame oil-infused bean sprouts, marinated spinach and seasoned potatoes – which are usually a favourite of ours. These add more variety to your meal and if you feel it’s not enough, you can always ask for more!
They also have BBQ at the table here but we always crave the soupy dishes more so we only recently had the chance to try this. We finally got to try the cheese chicken galbi, which was really good. You cannot go wrong with a large hot plate with spicy chicken, ttoek (rice cake), vegetables and an outer ring of melted cheese and corn to dip this in. The sauce is on the spicy side, so have it with the side of rice which is included or order a cold beer to go with this! It seems that they use a similar sauce in their tteobokki, bokum and now this dish.
We also tried some other BBQ items: the pork belly and pork galbi (ribs). Along with their usual sides, the BBQ also comes with a side of salad (with a garlicky balsamic vinagrette), lettuce (to wrap the meat in), dipping sauce, and soup (made with fermented bean paste, not as stellar as their other soups*). This does not come with rice but you can order it for an additional $2/bowl. Note that there is a minimum order of 2 servings for BBQ meat, so come hungry or invite more friends to join you. The star for the BBQ would have to the pork galbi. The marinade was so so flavourful and the portion-sizes were so generous!
The service is fair. The staff are polite. The wait-times are quite reasonable to get a table. Come earlier if you have a bigger group. When they get busy, though, you’ll need to make an extra effort to flag them down to order.
Alirang is an excellent choice if you are craving or want to explore Korean food. There are so many favourites on the menu, it’s always a dilemma whether to try something I know I love or something new to excite my palate. With now two locations to visit, there is really no excuse for us not to visit this restaurant more often!
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*Thanks Lisa for your contribution your editorial help for this comment.