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A spread of dishes at Silla
A spread of dishes at Silla
Silla Korean Restaurant

13 Destination-Worthy Korean Restaurants in Santa Clara

Where to go for some of the Bay Area’s very best Korean barbecue, tofu stews, jajangmyeon, and more

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A spread of dishes at Silla
| Silla Korean Restaurant

San Francisco’s Korean restaurant scene is experiencing a mini revival, and Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue has long been home to a host of solid soondubu and KBBQ spots. When it comes to the depth and breadth of its Korean food offerings, however, the affluent South Bay suburb of Santa Clara remains undefeated. Here, in an unofficial Koreatown mostly centered on almost-exclusively-Korean strip malls all along El Camino Real, diners will find huge, luxurious Korean supermarkets, and restaurants that serve some of the Bay Area’s very best versions of standard offerings like tofu stew and tabletop barbecue. But there’s also enough of a concentration of Korean businesses and customers here that the market can support specialists that are only known for one outstanding dish, as well as bakeries dedicated to hard-to-find traditional treats that are relatively little known to non-Korean customers.

In short, it’s where the Bay Area’s Korean Americans tend to go themselves when they want the very best Korean food. Here, then, are 13 of Santa Clara’s most exceptional, destination-worthy spots.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Hankook Supermarket

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Technically located just over the Sunnyvale border, Hankook is the best of the several gleaming, mega-sized Korean supermarkets in the area. The meat and fresh seafood displays are immaculate (it’s as good a market as there is in the Bay Area if you’re looking for well-marbled beef), but customers can also put together a lavish, restaurant-quality meal just by stalking the hot food and banchan bars, where you’ll find big vats of marinated baby octopus, stir-fried anchovies, fried chicken, japchae, and dozens of varieties of kimchi. For a quick, portable meal, grab a package of kimbap (Korean-style sushi rolls) or one of the still-warm lunchbox sets.

Banchan bar at Hankook Supermarket Thien Pham

Moo Bong Ri Korean Restaurant

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You know a city’s Korean food scene is strong when it can support single-dish or single-ingredient specialists like Moo Bong Ri, a chain (with another location in Oakland) whose menu revolves around soondae — Korean blood sausage, available both in offal-intensive soup form and sliced and served straight-up as part of a big sausage platter. Haven’t yet acquired a taste for blood sausage? Never fear: The restaurant also offers an assortment of other soups and casseroles that are a little bit more novice-friendly.

Jang Su Jang

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Easily the most well known of Santa Clara’s Korean barbecue specialists, Jang Su Jang (which also has a second location in Milpitas) is considered by some to be the quintessential local spot for tabletop grilling. (Michelin, for instance, has long recommended the spot in its Bay Area guide.) Beyond the parade of meats, the restaurant also offers solid versions of all the standards — tofu stews, cold buckwheat noodles, and the like.

Jang Su Jang Stefanie Tuder

Sweet Potato Stall

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Now set up at a new location in front of the bustling Super Kyo market plaza, Santa Clara’s most nostalgia-inducing street food vendor sells freshly roasted, intensely well-caramelized sweet potatoes, served piping hot in a paper bag. On a cold day, nothing could be better. Look for the stand mostly during the winter months, when it keeps its most regular hours.

K-Star Doshirak

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This little takeout spot specializing in doshirak, or Korean lunchboxes, has a K-Pop pedigree — the Korean company it’s affiliated with, Res2Go, touts itself as the catering company “most loved by Korean stars,” so the wall is decorated with signed testimonials from bona fide celebs. But you don’t have to have a record deal or an entourage to appreciate what K-Star Doshirak brings to the table: tasty, inexpensive, and conveniently packaged to-go lunches — featuring, say, spicy pork, rice, kimchi, salad, and potstickers, plus lettuce leaves so you can wrap up each bite, ssam-style, and eat with your hands.

Silla Korean Restaurant

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One of the city’s newer Korean restaurants, Silla touts itself as “modern Korean,” which mostly seems to refer to the sleek, contemporary-looking dining room, though the food is also presented a little more elegantly than your average neighborhood Korean spot. The restaurant is known for its galbi tang, a rich beef short rib soup, and it also offers distinctive, harder-to-find dishes like yookweh (a sesame-oil-based beef tartare), oysters fried in an egg batter, and sizzling stone pots of eel-topped bibimbap.

Ewha Dang

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This tiny, old-fashioned bakery specializes in handmade traditional steamed rice cakes, available in a variety of filled or soybean powder-dusted varieties, most of which are only just barely sweet. Note: The menu is in Korean, so first-timers who can’t read hangul may want to ask the staff for guidance.

This homey strip mall restaurant features a concise menu focused almost entirely on soups and stews. Almost every table orders at least one of two dishes: the salung tang, a very plain but rich, milky-white ox-bone broth that you season to taste at the table with salt and red-pepper paste; or the sweet-and-spicy galbi jjim, a short rib stew that you cut up at the table with scissors. As an added bonus, the restaurant is open at 9 a.m. every morning, which means it provides a much-needed resource for hard-partying clientele who hope to put salung tang’s famed hangover-curing properties to the test.

Galbijjim at Kunjip Thien Pham

Paik's Noodle

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Also known as Hong Kong Banjum, this Korean chain, connected to the celebrity chef Jong-Won Baek, is known for its tasty versions of jajangmyeon (thick, chewy noodles in black bean sauce), jjampong (a spicy noodle soup), and other Korean-Chinese dishes, all served up lightning fast and at a reasonable price. Slick branding notwithstanding, this is pure comfort food. Make sure to get some gun-mandu (pan-fried dumplings) with your order — they’re especially good here.

99 Chicken

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The South Bay has no shortage of Korean fried chicken chains, like the ubiquitous (and sure, quite excellent) Bonchon shops, but 99 Chicken has been providing a solid local alternative for well over a decade, since, well, before very many non-Koreans even knew about the other KFC. The chicken is twice-fried and often sauce-slathered and bracingly spicy, and dine-in customers can help themselves to as much rice and pickled daikon cubes as they like. Fair warning: Leave the weak of appetite at home, as there’s a five-piece-per-person minimum to sit down and eat at the restaurant.

Jin's Bakery & Coffee

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This strip mall coffee shop is a popular local hangout spot for older Korean folks, who can often be seen sitting on the wraparound patio with a newspaper, an espresso drink, and some sweet treat. Uniquely Korean offerings include barley bread, doughnut twists, and assorted cakes and buns filled with things like sweet potato and red bean paste. It’s a fairly low-key, unpretentious spot — a sweet potato latte is the closest thing it has to a trendy beverage offering.

An assortment of baked goods at Jin’s Bakery Thien Pham

BN Chicken

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Once again, the strip malls of Santa Clara show their strength with another specialized restaurant, this one focused on the soul-fortifying chicken-ginseng soup known as samgyetang, each bowl of which includes an entire Cornish hen, cooked to falling-apart tenderness, plus whole garlic cloves, rice, and assorted medicinal roots and herbs. A steaming bowl of the stuff hits the spot on cold night, though traditionally, Koreans are known to seek it out on the very hottest days of the year — the better to restore all the nutrients your body has sweated off.

Han Sung BBQ

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Other barbecue restaurants in the area might be more widely known, but Han Sung stands above them all as the only one to feature charcoal grilling — an experience that’ll leave you smelling like smoke for the rest of the day. This is the spot for primo cuts like thin slices of incredibly well-marbled kalbi or even dry-aged ribeye or American wagyu-style steak, especially if you’re looking to enjoy Korean barbecue in its pure, simple form: Get some unmarinated cuts and revel in the intense smokiness of the grilled meats, with a little bit of sesame oil and salt for dipping and plenty of raw garlic on the side.

Meats on the grill at Han Sung Thien Pham

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Hankook Supermarket

Banchan bar at Hankook Supermarket Thien Pham

Technically located just over the Sunnyvale border, Hankook is the best of the several gleaming, mega-sized Korean supermarkets in the area. The meat and fresh seafood displays are immaculate (it’s as good a market as there is in the Bay Area if you’re looking for well-marbled beef), but customers can also put together a lavish, restaurant-quality meal just by stalking the hot food and banchan bars, where you’ll find big vats of marinated baby octopus, stir-fried anchovies, fried chicken, japchae, and dozens of varieties of kimchi. For a quick, portable meal, grab a package of kimbap (Korean-style sushi rolls) or one of the still-warm lunchbox sets.

Banchan bar at Hankook Supermarket Thien Pham

Moo Bong Ri Korean Restaurant

You know a city’s Korean food scene is strong when it can support single-dish or single-ingredient specialists like Moo Bong Ri, a chain (with another location in Oakland) whose menu revolves around soondae — Korean blood sausage, available both in offal-intensive soup form and sliced and served straight-up as part of a big sausage platter. Haven’t yet acquired a taste for blood sausage? Never fear: The restaurant also offers an assortment of other soups and casseroles that are a little bit more novice-friendly.

Jang Su Jang

Jang Su Jang Stefanie Tuder

Easily the most well known of Santa Clara’s Korean barbecue specialists, Jang Su Jang (which also has a second location in Milpitas) is considered by some to be the quintessential local spot for tabletop grilling. (Michelin, for instance, has long recommended the spot in its Bay Area guide.) Beyond the parade of meats, the restaurant also offers solid versions of all the standards — tofu stews, cold buckwheat noodles, and the like.

Jang Su Jang Stefanie Tuder

Sweet Potato Stall

Now set up at a new location in front of the bustling Super Kyo market plaza, Santa Clara’s most nostalgia-inducing street food vendor sells freshly roasted, intensely well-caramelized sweet potatoes, served piping hot in a paper bag. On a cold day, nothing could be better. Look for the stand mostly during the winter months, when it keeps its most regular hours.

K-Star Doshirak

This little takeout spot specializing in doshirak, or Korean lunchboxes, has a K-Pop pedigree — the Korean company it’s affiliated with, Res2Go, touts itself as the catering company “most loved by Korean stars,” so the wall is decorated with signed testimonials from bona fide celebs. But you don’t have to have a record deal or an entourage to appreciate what K-Star Doshirak brings to the table: tasty, inexpensive, and conveniently packaged to-go lunches — featuring, say, spicy pork, rice, kimchi, salad, and potstickers, plus lettuce leaves so you can wrap up each bite, ssam-style, and eat with your hands.

Silla Korean Restaurant

One of the city’s newer Korean restaurants, Silla touts itself as “modern Korean,” which mostly seems to refer to the sleek, contemporary-looking dining room, though the food is also presented a little more elegantly than your average neighborhood Korean spot. The restaurant is known for its galbi tang, a rich beef short rib soup, and it also offers distinctive, harder-to-find dishes like yookweh (a sesame-oil-based beef tartare), oysters fried in an egg batter, and sizzling stone pots of eel-topped bibimbap.

Ewha Dang

This tiny, old-fashioned bakery specializes in handmade traditional steamed rice cakes, available in a variety of filled or soybean powder-dusted varieties, most of which are only just barely sweet. Note: The menu is in Korean, so first-timers who can’t read hangul may want to ask the staff for guidance.

Kunjip

Galbijjim at Kunjip Thien Pham

This homey strip mall restaurant features a concise menu focused almost entirely on soups and stews. Almost every table orders at least one of two dishes: the salung tang, a very plain but rich, milky-white ox-bone broth that you season to taste at the table with salt and red-pepper paste; or the sweet-and-spicy galbi jjim, a short rib stew that you cut up at the table with scissors. As an added bonus, the restaurant is open at 9 a.m. every morning, which means it provides a much-needed resource for hard-partying clientele who hope to put salung tang’s famed hangover-curing properties to the test.

Galbijjim at Kunjip Thien Pham

Paik's Noodle

Also known as Hong Kong Banjum, this Korean chain, connected to the celebrity chef Jong-Won Baek, is known for its tasty versions of jajangmyeon (thick, chewy noodles in black bean sauce), jjampong (a spicy noodle soup), and other Korean-Chinese dishes, all served up lightning fast and at a reasonable price. Slick branding notwithstanding, this is pure comfort food. Make sure to get some gun-mandu (pan-fried dumplings) with your order — they’re especially good here.

99 Chicken

The South Bay has no shortage of Korean fried chicken chains, like the ubiquitous (and sure, quite excellent) Bonchon shops, but 99 Chicken has been providing a solid local alternative for well over a decade, since, well, before very many non-Koreans even knew about the other KFC. The chicken is twice-fried and often sauce-slathered and bracingly spicy, and dine-in customers can help themselves to as much rice and pickled daikon cubes as they like. Fair warning: Leave the weak of appetite at home, as there’s a five-piece-per-person minimum to sit down and eat at the restaurant.

Jin's Bakery & Coffee

An assortment of baked goods at Jin’s Bakery Thien Pham

This strip mall coffee shop is a popular local hangout spot for older Korean folks, who can often be seen sitting on the wraparound patio with a newspaper, an espresso drink, and some sweet treat. Uniquely Korean offerings include barley bread, doughnut twists, and assorted cakes and buns filled with things like sweet potato and red bean paste. It’s a fairly low-key, unpretentious spot — a sweet potato latte is the closest thing it has to a trendy beverage offering.

An assortment of baked goods at Jin’s Bakery Thien Pham

BN Chicken

Once again, the strip malls of Santa Clara show their strength with another specialized restaurant, this one focused on the soul-fortifying chicken-ginseng soup known as samgyetang, each bowl of which includes an entire Cornish hen, cooked to falling-apart tenderness, plus whole garlic cloves, rice, and assorted medicinal roots and herbs. A steaming bowl of the stuff hits the spot on cold night, though traditionally, Koreans are known to seek it out on the very hottest days of the year — the better to restore all the nutrients your body has sweated off.

Han Sung BBQ

Meats on the grill at Han Sung Thien Pham

Other barbecue restaurants in the area might be more widely known, but Han Sung stands above them all as the only one to feature charcoal grilling — an experience that’ll leave you smelling like smoke for the rest of the day. This is the spot for primo cuts like thin slices of incredibly well-marbled kalbi or even dry-aged ribeye or American wagyu-style steak, especially if you’re looking to enjoy Korean barbecue in its pure, simple form: Get some unmarinated cuts and revel in the intense smokiness of the grilled meats, with a little bit of sesame oil and salt for dipping and plenty of raw garlic on the side.

Meats on the grill at Han Sung Thien Pham

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