TNT Diner

Dine in Lakewood, dine around the globe

Lakewood is a dining destination like no other for ethnic food.

From Salvadorean pupusas at El Pulgarcito to the island cuisine of Puerto Rico at Old San Juan, Lakewood outpaces any other ethnic dining pocket around the South Sound. That dovetails perfectly with the flavor of this year’s Sister City/Arts Fest, and offers fest-goers a chance to combine a great meal with a day of multicultural arts.

Here’s what you might not know. Lakewood holds the region’s largest concentration of a single ethnic cuisine. Korean restaurants dot South Tacoma Way on a one-mile stretch like no other in the region.

From grocery stores to soup dens to tabletop barbecue, put Lakewood’s South Tacoma Way at the top of your list for adventurous Korean dining.

1. Korean tabletop barbecue. O-bok (8602 South Tacoma Way; 253-582-6713) is the oldest of the tabletop barbecue restaurants, which offer plates of marinated meats that diners cook on a tabletop gas grill. It’s a group dining must-do.

Gangnam BBQ (9104 South Tacoma Way; 253-581-1200) is the newest with the most stylish atmosphere. Cham Korean Garden (10518 South Tacoma Way; 253-584-2287) is the friendliest to the sample-this-or-that crowd, charging a flat fee for its buffet.

Chung Ki Wa (8601 South Tacoma Way; 253-588-5976) and Palace (8718 South Tacoma Way; 253-581-0880) are quite similar in that they cater to larger groups.

2. Paldo World. In one destination at this Korean grocery store’s food court, you can find well-priced sushi at Sushi Niwa, traditional Korean fare at Nak Won, and Korean-Chinese cafeteria dining at Peking Garden. On the outside of the building, find the region’s finest Szechuan at Tacoma Szechuan and Korean soft tofu soup at Cho Dang Tofu. Find Paldo World at 9701 South Tacoma Way.

3. Korean soups. From the milky Korean beef bone soup seolleong tang at Hanbat (8904 South Tacoma Way; 253-584-4002) to the deeply assertive fermented soybean soup found at Cheong Guk Jang (8797 South Tacoma Way; 253-581-1150), South Tacoma Way is the region’s epicenter for different styles of Korean soup. I’m partial to the ladies-who-lunch atmosphere of Ho Soon Yi (8501 South Tacoma Way; 253-584-4572).

4. Banchan. Every restaurant on South Tacoma Way makes its own banchan, those little appetizers that start every Korean meal. If you’re a shopper wanting to purchase banchan outside a restaurant setting, the must-visit grocery store is Asian Market (11715 Bridgeport Way SW; 253-582-1158), not far from the core of Korean restaurants. You’ll find a banchan counter with a few dozen varieties that can be packaged in any amount; also visit the on-site cafe.

5. Korean fried chicken. It’s an American export to Seoul that returned to U.S. bar menus. Find two Lakewood bars serving chicken in spicy or sweet configurations. Kko Kko Place (11113 Pacific Highway SW; 253-584-1865) serves its chicken in a restaurant popping with K-Pop (that’s Korean pop music to you neophytes). Mo Mo Hof (10727 Pacific Highway SW; 253-582-6405) looks like Seoul spring break just departed the bar decorated with empty liquor bottles.