When you drop by Kimchi Kitchen, a 16-seat restaurant located between Inman Square and East Cambridge, it's no surprise that bibimbap — a steaming bowl of rice adorned with seasoned vegetables, meat, and a sunny side up egg — can be found on almost every table. This version of the Korean classic hits all the right notes.
Jeanette Park, daughter of restaurant owner Kyung Hee Park, is happy to explain the traditional way to eat the popular rice dish. "Start with a dash of the gochujang sauce," she instructs, referring to the brick-red chile condiment, "then break the egg with the long-handled metal spoon, gently combining everything so you get all of the ingredients in each bite." She says it's important to mix, taste, and add more of the spicy sauce as you like.
This two-month-old spot, which replaces Cambridge Coffee & Pizza Shop, excels at simple, homey fare, the kind you might eat at your grandmother's house if your grandmother made bulgogi and fermented her own kimchi. Kyung Hee Park, who likes to be called Helen, is a talented home cook who honed her skills in the kitchens of Koreana in Cambridge and Meju in Somerville's Davis Square.
Walk into the spare, well-lighted space and scan the streamlined menu of a dozen or so items posted on the wall. Pay for your order at the counter, then help yourself to hot tea or ice water before taking a seat. The gracious owner brings your meal to the table.
Kimchi fried rice ($8) takes the house-made Korean delicacy of spicy fermented Napa cabbage and tosses it in a wok with sliced pork shoulder and a generous helping of tender white grains. It's a comforting dish infused with gentle chile pepper heat and topped with a fried egg. Ddukbokki ($8) arrives as a dish of glutinous rice cakes bathed in an orange-hued sauce that the menu describes as "sweet yet fierce." (It's more easygoing than bellicose.) These smooth, substantial nubbins resemble gnocchi in shape, but their rustic chewiness might take the Korean-food novice by surprise.
More-familiar offerings include crisp pan-fried dumplings ($8), delicate wonton-like skins stuffed with cabbage, clear noodles, and plenty of minced scallions. Kimbap ($6) is another easy-to-approach snack, akin to the maki found at sushi restaurants. The rice roll, wrapped in nori, is filled with mild ingredients like steamed spinach and savory minced beef. Popcorn chicken ($10) — breaded and sauced chunks of poultry — looks exactly like General Tso's but offers sesame and kimchi-spice flavors.
One of the best ways to brace yourself against winter's chill is with soondubu jigae ($10), a satisfying stew of soft tofu, pork shoulder, and cabbage immersed in an intensely umami-laden broth made from long-simmered kelp, white radish, and dried anchovies. An egg is cracked into the still-bubbling soup just before it arrives to the table. Kimchi jigae ($10) features the same rich broth with sliced pork and no egg, but plenty of the pickled delicacy that lends both heft and heat. Both stews, as well as an excellent spicy pork bulgogi ($12), stir-fried meat seasoned with pungent fermented soybean paste, are excellent with accompanying steamed white rice.
On a weekday afternoon, an order of the bibimbap with beef bulgogi ($10) is as eye-catching as ever, especially with a drizzle of chile sauce. The colorful array of zucchini, carrots, daikon, and bean sprouts — each item tucked around the egg on hot rice — is so pretty that we have to pause. Then, as instructed, we mix it all up with a spoon.
847 Cambridge St., Cambridge,
All major credit cards accepted.
Not wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers and snacks $6-$8. Noodles and rice $8-$10. Meats, soups, stews $10-$12.
Hours Sun, Mon, Wed, Thurs 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed Tues.
What to order Kimchi fried rice, ddukbokki (glutinous rice cakes in sauce), kimchi jigae (kimchi stew), soondubu jigae (soft tofu stew), bibimbap with beef bulgogi (rice with toppings).
Ellen Bhang can be reached at email@example.com.