It's a beautiful thing to find delicious food at a delicious price, and Arirang (A.R.) Supermarket in Garden Grove has been a champion at serving up some of the tastiest but also affordable Korean dishes for years. And they just keep getting better.
When entering through the grocery store's sliding doors, turn a sharp left and you'll find a tiny food court with three hole-in-the-wall restaurants and one corner bakery (literally, a bakery in the corner). The stands don't look like much at first with their barely-lit signs and flutter of hand-scratched menus, but all three joints offer all sorts of cheap Korean comfort foods with absolutely no sacrifice in flavor.
That is, if you know what to order:
STAND #1: BA DA SUSHI
What to get: hweh-dup-bap special
It's basically a massive bowl with sashimi cuts, rice, and salad. Definitely not as fancy or customizable as poke, but way underrated and under-popular amongst non-Koreans. You'll appreciate the simplicity of this dish's natural Korean flavors and not having to think so hard about building your own sashimi bowl in a long, poke-frenzied line. Less is more with this one, and while poke usually tops out at $10-13, for $6.99 this ginormous Korean-style sashimi rice is a steal.
How to eat it:
There's already a nice coat of sesame oil underneath the rice, so all there's left to do is stirring in the gochujang to your liking. Mix, mix, mix, and once everything's evenly tossed, eat away to the finish - if you can. A fantastic summer dish for the super starving. Disclaimer: the miso soup on the side is tasteless, but that's not what you're coming here for, anyway.
If you're feeling especially adventurous to try something more traditional and less ordered, the owner here specializes in a delicacy called dil-keh kal-gook-soo: hot knife-cut noodles in a thick and nutty soup base made from wild sesame seeds. Hers is business.
Stand #2: LEE MANGU KYODONG JJAMPPONG
What to get: jjamppong + tangsuyuk (crispy pork in sweet and sour sauce) combo
It's still unclear why these spicy seafood noodles are always billed as Chinese wherever they're served, because you won't find them in China and here inside A.R. is DEFINITELY the best place in OC to eat them. Lee Mangu Noodles opened last September and has become the instant star attraction of the food court among locals. The reason is because most jjammppong restaurants leave you feeling oily, gross, and dehydrated from an overly spicy broth, but at Lee Mangu, their secret is that they actually don't add in any oil at all. Instead, they give time for the natural oils from the seafood to marinate into the mouth-watering broth, and use the recipe of famous Korean chef, Lee Mangu, who's jjamppong has earned a "Top Five" reputation in South Korea.
How to eat it:
Before you start slurping up the noodles, take a small sip of the soup to adjust your senses first, because while the deep red broth is actually quite light on the tongue in terms of spice, the fire kicks you hard in the back of the throat if you swallow it too fast.
At the end of the cashier box, there's a self-serve area with pickled daikon, sauces, and extra bowls to share. Mix two-thirds part soy sauce and one-part vinegar with a dash of hot red pepper flakes as a dip for the fried dumplings. When ordering the tangsuyuk, sauce on the side is best to be able to enjoy the crispiness of the pork just before hitting the sweet-and-sour gooey goodness.
STAND #3: HANGUK KWAN
What to get: dol-sot-bibim-bap special
Bibimbap is really hard to screw up. As long as you have rice, fresh veggies, some meat, and a fried egg on top, you're good to go. But this hole-in-the-wall gives you the dol-sot option (sizzling hot stone) for $6.99 with just as much quality as a fancy table elsewhere, and after eating it here you'll wonder why you ever wasted $10-15 bucks eating it outside A.R..
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How to eat it:
It's HOT. Let it sit for a while so the rice can get crispy and browned on the bottom. Then stir in that darling gochujang sauce and savor it with the beansprout soup on the side. Looks murky, but it's light and gentle with just enough flavor that complements the bibimbap well.
This place's yukejang is the bomb: spicy shredded beef and vegetable soup. Also pairs nicely with the bibimbap.
Stand #4: COFFEE & CAKE BAKERY
Read about it here from our Mexican-in-Chief.
Arirang Supermarket, 9580 Garden Grove Blvd. #300, Garden Grove, (714) 539-2703. Food court opened seven days a week, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m..