A genuine Korean experience at McAllen’s Nak Won Jung

Bulgogi, a Korean style marinated beef with a side of sticky rice (Omar Zapata | The Monitor)
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McALLEN — Nak Won Jung not only offers some of the best Korean cuisine in the area but also gives customers a Korean authenticity upon entering the restaurant.

Located at 1010 S. 10th St. behind Taco Palenque and next to La Quinta Inn is a small Korean restaurant hidden in the corner. With my friend showing me Nak Won Jung in 2019, it has been my favorite restaurant ever since and I am now the friend that loves to show people this restaurant.

So, for this South Texas Flavor review, I brought my friend Alvaro and Jay to try Nak Won Jung for the first time.

Upon entering the restaurant, Alvaro compares it to being in a Korean grandma’s house in a way. From the aesthetic of the table cloths, to people having conversations in Korean and enjoying their meals at a table, he said there’s a realness and authenticity to being in the restaurant that gives him a homey feeling.

Spicy seafood noodle soup (Omar Zapata | The Monitor)

Undergoing renovations inside the restaurant, Nak Won was filled with K-Pop stars on every wall, Korean paintings and even had a television playing Korean news, which I always enjoyed even though I had no clue what they were saying.

The restaurant offers 27 different items on the menu and has something for everyone to enjoy, no matter if you’re new to Korean food or know exactly what you want. The menu includes meat and seafood options such as bulgogi, a Korean style marinated beef, stir fried squid to kimchi stew made with fatty pork and vegetables.

Call me basic but I always get the bulgogi though I have tried several different items on the menu.

To start us off, I ordered the fried dumplings filled with pork, beef and vegetables. The dumplings were amazing, with the right amount of crispiness to them along with a soft and juicy texture right when you bite into them.

Along with anything you order at Nak Won, you also get two plates filled with different options to go along with your food or to eat separately. From bean sprouts, spicy seasoned squash to a bowl of kimchi, all the little options are delicious to eat or to mix with the dish of your choice.

Fried dumplings along with a variety of dishes such as bean sprouts, kimchi and spicy Korean seasoned jalapenos. (Omar Zapata | The Monitor)

But there is one thing you must do or at least attempt to do when eating at Nak Won Jung. Use chopsticks. Not only are you eating the Korean food how it is supposed to but it adds a traditional feeling to it and makes the meal better in my opinion. Also you just don’t want to be the person asking for a fork or spoon at a Korean restaurant.

Of course, I ordered the bulgogi, the dish that has drawn me back to Nak Won over the years. Always coming out sizzling hot alongside a bowl of sticky rice ,that is a great complimentary side dish with the beef, it is cut into smaller pieces. The bulgogi sitting on a hot cast iron plate keeps the beef hot and along with the onions. The beef is soft and tender and just melts in your mouth.

Alvaro, a barbecue enthusiast, ordered the galbi and quickly approved of the Korean style roasted ribs after a few bites. Offering me a piece, the ribs were tender with a slight crisp to them with a unique flavor sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Jay, a spice aficionado, ordered the spicy seafood noodle soup. The soup is huge and could easily feed two people. Filled with a variety of different seafood and noodles, the soup has a spicy red color to it, kind of like a warning sign but my friend with his expertise said it wasn’t too spicy.

Galbi, Korean style marinated roasted ribs (Omar Zapata | The Monitor)

He also wanted to try chopsticks for the first time, which is a great mindset to have for anyone trying any kind of Asian food.

Most of the time the food is delivered by one of the Korean ladies that work at the restaurant. Over the years, without knowing my name one is able to recognize me. There have been several times where I don’t go to the restaurant for an extended period and upon my return she has said, “Long time no see.”

The other Korean lady who I’ve heard people call “Ma” is also a sweetheart. She is always welcoming customers, wanting to ask people how the food is, giving hugs, carrying babies and often gives customers little Korean treats. Coming in when we were eating, she was going around greeting customers and recognized me and gave me a hug.

Along with great food, it’s the great service, authenticity and comfortableness that keeps me coming back for the bulgogi. It’s also the reason why I love bringing my friends to share that experience. I encourage anyone that wants to try the restaurant to bring a friend, or friends, and also share that feeling.

Nak Won Jung is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, but there have been times where they close early at 6 p.m., so I recommend going for lunch if possible.