Monday, September 30, 2013

On the cheap: Japanese-Korean at Albany Park's Cafe Orient 33

Posted By on 09.30.13 at 09:30 AM

Daeji bulgogi, Cafe Orient 33

It's time to move on. I've become tired of mourning the long slow death of Koreatown in Albany Park and its orbit. It wasn't very long ago that the neighborhood housed three large Korean groceries, great bars like the Hourglass, and terrific restaurants like Kang Nam and Hai Woon Dae (actually in West Rogers Park, but bear with me). So I was heartened to learn from Steve Dolinsky that Gogi, a promising new barbecue place, had opened in Hai Woon Dae's deserted space (more on that in a few weeks). Between it and the opening of quick-serve Cafe Orient 33 in the half-deserted strip mall just north of the intersection at Kedzie and Lawrence, it's almost time to imagine a Korean renaissance in the neighborhood.

Nah, probably won't happen. But Albany Park still remains the city's center for gampongi, those spicy-sweet deep-fried chicken wings that keep Chinese-Korean spots like Great Sea, VIP Restaurant, and Peking Mandarin going strong. Cafe Orient 33 has them too, as well as a number of basic Japanese-style dishes and iconic Korean ones at extremely low prices in a spare counter-service operation next door to the great Jaafer Sweets (which makes for a great one-two punch).

bacon and cabbage, Cafe Orient 33

So you have teriyaki-style chicken breast, beef noodles with vegetables, ramen, and gyoza as well as simple, cheap plates of bulgogi and rice, daeji bulgogi (spicy marinated pork, here called pigogi), bibimbap, and the gampongi, which are hard-fried and sauced not as spicy or sweet as some of the neighborhood standbys, but still perfectly respectable. There are a few quirky side dishes too, namely a half-dozen deep-fried mashed potato croquettes and a big plate of stir-fried cabbage and bacon that, were it not for a hint of chile, wouldn't be out of place in a Polish restaurant. None of these dishes are going help make the neighborhood a destination for great Korean food again, but what's most remarkable about them is the price point—entrees are between $5 and $7, and the side dishes, like that huge plate of cabbage, don't top $3.25. They come with kimchi and kkakdugi too. Smoothies are around $2, but corn tea is free.

Cafe Orient 33, 4829 N. Kedzie, 773-509-6538

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