D Magazine intern Carol Shih prowls Dallas in search of the best Asian cuisine. She promises to try everything once, except dog meat and other animals she would like to keep as pets one day.
This week my stomach begged me for Korean food, and (being the good, kind, and wonderful person that I am) I decided to oblige. Although most people who crave this cuisine would head over to Harry Hines where all the Korean restaurants are jumbled together, I decided to go where no major food critic has gone before: a little gem-of-a-place called Da Won hidden in Plano.
When Da Won first opened its doors one-and-a-half years ago, it barely made a blip on Dallas’ food radar. That’s how obscure it was. The owner and chef, June Lee, is a soft-spoken South Korean woman who decided not to spend a penny on advertising and save all that money to buy the best beef she could lay her hands on. Her plan most definitely worked, and she drew in the most dedicated customers.
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When I laid out the menu in front of Mrs. Lee and asked her what item she could eat for the rest of her life, she didn’t hesitate and directed her finger to #21, the Soon Tofu. I took her suggestion and ordered this spicy soft tofu soup, which arrived still bubbling like hot lava in a stone bowl, stuffed to the brim with mini oysters and clams in a red soup with just the right amount of kick. The tofu was tender enough for me to squish between my teeth, a bad habit of mine that helps me determine how well the tofu is cooked. (It passed the test.)
But it’s really the banchan (Korean side dishes) that makes Da Won different from all the Harry Hines wannabes. Mrs. Lee calls her food “traditional” and “guarantees the food’s freshness” for good reason. Unlike most other Korean restaurants, she makes banchan twice a day instead of only once, right before lunch and right before dinner. As soon as you order from the menu, eight side dishes are piled onto your table along with a mug of hot barley tea. The banchan changes daily, but on this particular day I was presented with steamed egg (a personal favorite), broccoli salad, homemade kimchi, pan-fried vegetable pancake, and four other small plates that the servers are happy to refill if you just ask.
If you’ve decided to give Da Won a shot, don’t forget to try the seafood pancake (called hae mool pa jeon on the menu). This baby has all the right qualities; it’s fluffy, crispy and half-an-inch thick with seafood stuffed in every corner. Also order the galbi goo ee, seasoned beef ribs marinated in sauce; the meat tears easily off the bone and I had to remind myself it wouldn’t be ladylike if I licked the homemade sauce off my fingers.
A big thanks goes out to manager Sonya Soh who helped us translate (I speak Chinese but that didn’t help). She told me I should try the sushi next time, and I most definitely will.
1301 Custer Road
Plano, TX 75075-7491