I’ve always been fascinated by the abundant Korean population in the Lynnwood area. While only 14% of Seattle’s population identifies as Asian, drive 16 miles north into suburban Lynnwood, and this figure spikes up to 17%, the majority of which are Korean. It is said that in the 1970’s and 80’s, the area experienced a large economic boost through property annexation and suburban development, and many Korean-Americans flocked to the Lynnwood and North Lynnwood area as a result.
Nowadays, the effects of these migrations can be seen in full effect. If one heads up highway 99 or I-5 from Seattle, 20 or so odd minutes later they will be confronted with countless signs in Korean for various spas, markets, and most importantly, restaurants. I’ve tried several restaurants in this area, mainly for barbeque, and absolutely loved it. The super tender and flavorful marinated galbi particularly resonates with me as a favorite.
But, while I adore BBQ, I know that this is only one part of the incredibly interesting and versatile Korean cuisine. I decided I must dig deeper into Lynnwood to discover these hidden treasures of Korean cooking. So, I recruited my friend Bob La, who swears he knows the Korean food scene in Seattle inside and out, to help me find my next review destination. 40 minutes of driving on a dreary Friday morning later, and we arrived at New Seoul Restaurant in North Lynnwood.
Everything about New Seoul gives the impression of a local hotspot for Lynnwood Koreans. Besides the words “New Seoul Restaurant”, there is little to no english on the restaurant exterior. Instead, various Korean characters of what I assume are food items wrap the windows in blue and yellow. When entering, a TV playing Korean reality television immediately catches my attention. Shoulder-height wooden barriers sector off one section of tables from another. At our table a crisp copy of Korean Weekly sits. I very much get the vibe of a Korean-style cafe from New Seoul upon first impression.
Korean Chicken Wings:
Before you mistake these chicken wings as a recreation of an American favorite in an attempt to appeal to white customers — as I did when Bob suggested we order them — you must realize how integral chicken wings are to Korean snack food. As I now know, ever since the Korean war when it was first introduced, fried chicken wings have really come into its own in Korea — Interestingly, they are twice fried (opposed to the single fry in American cooking). I’m thrown off by the fact that they are slightly cold when I first pick one up, but this doesn’t matter the slightest bit to me when I bite into what was the crispiest chicken wing I’ve ever eaten. The twice-fry really adds a new level of crunch to the wing, while remarkably remaining juicy on the inside. What’s more is that the dark sauce it’s dressed in is delicious, adding a balance of sweet and spicy flavor. I’m beyond impressed. These might be even better than American chicken wings.
Sundubu (Spicy Tofu Soup):
For the main dish, I ordered the Sundubu (Soon-doo-boo), a spicy soup made with soft tofu and vegetables, with rice on the side Bob encourages me to mix in. The waitress places it in front of me in a piping hot stone pot, similar in appearance to that of a witches cauldron. It bubbles ferociously at me. I take five minutes to finally decide it has cooled down enough for me to dive in. I’m surprised to find that the soup’s taste isn’t nearly as fierce as its appearance. In fact, it could actually use an extra dose or two of spice and sour. The soup is delicious for the first taste in which these flavors are present and balanced, but they quickly fade away and leave a slightly bland broth with already bland tofu. I absolutely love how the rice is cooked in a stone pot as well, offering versatile bites of both fluffy rice in the middle and crunchy rice stuck to the sides. When paired with the rice, the soup is even better, almost taking on the form of a porridge, but still lacks the in-your-face flavor that would bring it all together. It is worth mentioning, though, that the soup is still tasty enough paired with the rice for me to nearly finish the whole bowl.
Given how large and intriguing New Seoul’s menu is, I can tell there are still many Korean treasures still left for me to try in the cuisine. But, if this visit taught me anything, it’s that none of these places will be able to master each and every delicacy, and so basing the quality of the restaurant off of one dish is foolish. While I hope to find a better Sundubu in the Lynnwood area, I will definitely be returning to New Seoul for their Korean chicken wings. Soon.