Heath Ledger was only on screen for about 30 minutes in The Dark Knight, but there’s a reason he won an Oscar - he completely stole the show. It’s kind of like Sun Nong Dan, the strip mall Korean spot on 6th St. They have 25 things on the menu, and they’re all pretty good. But there’s only one dish people line up for: Galbi jjim, a massive cauldron of braised short ribs in a spicy galbi sauce.
Yes, it’s deserving of all the attention. And, yes, it’s really that simple. In fact, you’ll likely order it before you even sit down. At Sun Nong Dan, you sign in, hang out in the parking lot until they call your name, then tell a server your order before being led to your table. If that sounds stressful, don’t worry: Just get the galbi jjim with cheese. Sure, if you’re here alone, there are other things you could order - their oxtail soup (sulung tang) is good, and the short rib soup (oo guh ji galbi tang) is rich, spicy, and filling. But not ordering the galbi jjim is like going to Gotham and skipping a tour of Wayne Manor.
The galbi is massive and meant to be shared while hot, so Sun Nong Dan is definitely best when you’re eating with a group. It’s also not the kind of place you go for a long, leisurely meal - the banchan is waiting for you when you get to your table, and the galbi isn’t far behind. When the server does bring that cast iron skillet over, it’s hard not to contemplate one of those McDonald’s hot-coffee lawsuits. The red stew is bubbling violently, and the sizzling skillet is giving off more steam than a Wi Spa shower - and then the server fires up a blowtorch to melt the shredded mozzarella on top. It may be a touch theatrical, but it amps up the anticipation (is it possible for your eyes to drool?) in a way that a basic broiler never could. When you spoon the mixture out over some rice, you’ll encounter a lot: Bone-in short ribs and boneless back ribs, onions, carrots, potatoes, and tteok - firm, cylindrical rice cakes.
You’ll encounter even more once you taste it. There’s an immense amount of garlic, the sauce is both sweet and fantastically spicy, and the cheese adds a creaminess that helps mitigate the spice. The beef is tender enough that you probably won’t need the accompanying meat shears to get it off the bone. And by the time you get to the bottom of the pan, the rice cakes have turned crispy, adding a bit of crunch to the savory paste of cooked vegetables and gochugaru (red chili) sauce.
If it wasn’t clear, this galbi jjim is popular. Popular enough that there will literally always be crowds here. Sun Nong Dan is open 24 hours a day, so if you turn up at 2:30am after stumbling out of HMS Bounty, you’ll still find a line that includes both fellow partiers and folks just getting off a late-night shift. But even if you’re coming here after a miserable 12 hours on the clock, the galbi is going to put a smile on your face. In a fun way - not the way the Joker would.
The only thing we’ll ever recommend eating out of a cauldron, this galbi jjim is worth whatever journey you took to get here. Simply saying that it’s sweet, spicy, and satisfying won’t do it justice, so just look at this picture until you plan your visit.
If you’re really coming here and not ordering the galbi jjim, this spicy beef and cabbage soup is the next best thing. It doesn’t have the same complex kick as the main event, but the beef is tender, and the fermented cabbage complements the fatty short ribs well.
The banchan here isn’t as plentiful as some other spots nearby - you only get three sides. But they make the most of what they give you: The three (green onion, radish, and cabbage) all hold their own. And besides, they’re just a prelude to the main event.