New Orleans has scant options for Korean food, so the arrival of Little Korea (3301 S. Claiborne Ave., 821-5006) is bound to draw some interest, even though its menu of traditional Korean dishes has an unusual sideline in Vietnamese food.
Little Korea's building originally was a Taco Bell franchise, and previously it had been lightly renovated into Orleans Seafood, which served boiled and fried seafood and Chinese food. The owners have given the place a more thorough makeover, but its fast food roots are still evident. The drive-through window remains, but Little Korea doesn't use it.
Table service is handled by staff who are eager to explain dishes to customers unfamiliar with Korean cuisine.
One mainstay is the dol sot bibimbap, a hearty rice dish with beef, vegetables and egg served in a hot stone pot that binds the rice together and cooks the grains at the bottom into a crunchy, toasty crust. The menu has a wide range of entree-sized soups, panko-battered fried meat and seafood dishes, stir-fries and a few vegetarian options. If you have at least two people at your table, you can get an order of Korean barbecue (with short ribs, brisket or pork belly) prepared at the table on a portable grill. Most dishes at Little Korea cost between $11 and $15.
Nearly every Korean entree comes with a selection of banchan, a wide-ranging array of fermented or pickled vegetable side dishes, of which the spicy, fermented cabbage kimchi is the best known.
Traditionally, Korean cooking shares some of the fundamentals of the cuisines from neighboring Japan and northern China. The connection to Vietnamese cooking is more of a stretch, but manager Sunnie Park says Little Korea serves pho, spring rolls and rice noodle salads to give customers more options.
Little Korea serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.