It is now about 8 months since my trip to Korea, and I’ve been keeping my foodie sense alert to the chance of getting Korean food. In July, I gave it a good shot with Fancy Hill Korean Diner, but, alas, it just wasn’t what it could be. Other than that, the opportunity to have Korean food hasn’t come my way.
Last week, though, the food gods smiled on me. Tucked away, in a very nondescript looking Chinese restaurant in Lincoln, NE, is the closest I’ve come to getting satisfying Korean food in America.
Panda Garden is a place that on my own, I probably would have never gone to. It is in a strip mall between the Super Saver Grocery Store and a Target. Also, a name like “Panda Garden” speaks more to mass cooked and generic Chinese food. Although a place I might have checked out on a night when I was looking for low key Chinese, there is a strong chance I would have just passed on by.
Luckily, a new colleague introduced me to the place. Not just luckily, that is food karma at its best.
Though Panda Garden does offer a long line of reasonably priced Chinese food, it is worth the extra money to splurge for the Korean. There is a long list of the classics—Kim Chee soup, short rib soup, Bhim Bahb, and sweet potato noodles. Plus, all the dishes come with four different kimchi. The first time I went, the kimchi assortment had broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, and eggplant. The second time, it was daikon, cabbage, potatoes, and cucumbers.
On the visit I made with my colleague, I got a vegetable and tofu soup that was spicy, red, full of lovely tofu, and what almost looked like chopped up mung beans. It was so satisfying on a cold day and hit the spot beyond words. On my recent visit, I went with Korea nostalgia and got the Kim Chee Chi Gae, kim chee soup with mung bean sprouts. Probably not quite as good as the vegetable and tofu soup--it was a little too tangy. However, even though not as strong, it is still a soup that I would order again.
Sure not exactly like what I got in Korea, but the spirit of Korean pride in the food was there. Panda Garden is run by a friendly, happy looking couple. When the food comes out, the wife stops in to make sure that you are happy and that the food is pleasing. With me, she also brought out a to-go cup just in case I couldn’t finish the soup. And just like the restaurants I enjoyed in Korea, if you want any more rice or kimchi, they are happy to give you more. That is such a gracious gesture and really makes you feel welcome.
With Panda Garden right on my way home from work, I expect there are many cold Lincoln nights that will be warmed with a large steamy bowl of Korean soup.