Me Kim and Young Lee once owned a video store, but they had their sights set on mandu and kimbap for their next business venture.
On Sept. 25, their restaurant, Song Song, debuted on South Tacoma Way. The restaurant is right in the middle of Lakewood’s Korean dining district, which is home to close to 20 restaurants and grocery stores featuring Korean cuisine.
Song Song operates in the former home of Manmi Bakery, which closed more than five years ago. It took the best friends more than a year to open their restaurant.
Diners will find an assortment of Korean soups and snacks.
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“My mom’s home cooking is great,” said Kim’s daughter, Rebecca Kwak.
Her friends would vie for after-school invitatitons to see what her mom was cooking. She described her mom’s food as traditional Korean, but her mother also has an affinity for Korean street food, just like Kwak.
Kwak said many dishes on the menu would be recognizable to diners who grew up in Korea.
“To Korean people, the older generation, her food brings a lot of memories,” Kwak said.
Then there are fun takes on casual fare, such as the mini kimbap rolls that come in six flavors.
Here’s a first-bite report. It’s this paper’s policy to skip criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
Dining room: Casual and cute with decorative wood chair rail lining the dining room and flat black tabletops paired with light wooden chairs. The space is equipped to seat big parties. A dozen tables with four tables seating 6-8. The rest seat four diners each.
The menu: More than half the menu features soup. Nine kinds include classic sul-lung tang beef-bone soup ($9.99), fishcake soup ($6.99), dumpling soup with rice cakes ($9.99), hand-torn noodle soup ($8.99), clam noodle soup ($9.99), udon ($8.99) and ramen ($5.99).
There’s also the spicy noodle dish jjal myun ($9.99). Snacks include fried or steamed dumplings ($6.99 to $8.99), a pork cutlet similar to katsu ($10.99), fried rice ($8.99 to $10.99) and six kinds of mini kimbap ($6.99).
The kimbap: Kimbap is a Korean-style sushi roll. At many restaurants, they look something like a California roll, but with bulgogi ribeye beef and vegetables tucked inside. At Song Song, the mini kimbap show up as 10 tiny rolls with a seaweed wrapper holding a bit of rice and a single ingredient.
Order yours with kimchi, and you’ll be rewarded with the house-made fermented, spicy cabbage that’s also served as banchan (in the little plates) alongside the soups and snacks. Kimbap also comes with tuna or crab salad, anchovy, spicy beef or fried bean curd. It’s served with a delicious dunking sauce made with soy sauce and sliced peppers. Kwak said her mom developed all the sauces used for dunking or flavoring.
Soups: Hand-torn noodle soup came with bouncy noodles, hand-cut into different shapes, sunk into a lightly salted broth brimming with zucchini, potatoes and scallions. A tangy, slightly spicy sauce with a soy sauce base was served alongside. Tip the whole dish into the soup.
Dumpling and rice cake soup came with a milky broth, the telltale sign of bone broth.
“My mom’s been coming home at 1 a.m. because she’s making the broth from scratch,” Kwak said.
Snacks: Complimentary dishes of banchan are served alongside the soups. Tasty kimchi, plus marinated daikon radish, chile-spiked cucumber wedges, and devilishly spicy pickled jalapenos and onions. You won’t have to ask for refills. They’ll offer you as many as you’ll take.
Coming next: Korean fried chicken, similar to that served at nearby Mo Mo Hof and Kko Kko Place, will be on the menu soon.
Song Song Restaurant
Where: 9205 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood
Contact: 253-503-1855; facebook.com/songsongrestaurant
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays