Min Ga of Bethel Road transports diners to the Korean dinner table.
Editor’s Note: Min Ga is currently closed for food service but open for take out from 11:30 am to 9:00 pm daily until further notice.
If Columbus has a Koreatown, it is along the Bethel and Henderson Roads. It’s here that you can find Korean grocery stores, churches, and restaurants, including Min Ga, an unassuming restaurant that brought in a new owner, Joo Lee, three years ago. And while Lee hasn’t changed the menu or the atmosphere of the 25-year-old restaurant, she has taken steps, like creating a website and advertising, to attract more customers. The restaurant is prepared not only for its Korean clientele, but also for those who discover this gem by visiting the nearby dental clinic or Vince’s Muscle Shop in Olentangy Square.
New to Korean cuisine? No problem. Min Ga’s helpful menu features a glossary of Korean dishes, including steamed rice (bap), soups (guk), and stews (jjigae). And the service is equally accommodating, with attentive waiters offering quick dish adjustments for those who may not be familiar with Korean cuisine or ingredients. They will make sure customers know a dish is spicy or explain the texture of the bean paste. And when my partner and I tried ordering a casserole dish (a protein / veg mix marked on the menu for two), a waiter suggested a different option, saying casseroles are better for three to four people.
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The restaurant has a strong take-out business, and while tables are almost always full, the kitchen – which offers a view of a prep station – is equally busy filling take-out and delivery orders for Postmates and DoorDash. The atmosphere in the two dining rooms, adorned with bamboo plants and generic ornamental lighting, is warm and lively as carts come and go, delivering banchan and removing exhausted dishes. Small touches, such as candy lollipops served with the check, help to underline the family atmosphere of Min Ga.
The drinks menu consists of a small selection of canned sodas, bottled beers, wine, soju, and sake, but for a crowd, I saw pitchers of beer delivered to the table. I stick to water to counter the heat of some of the spicier dishes.
Min Ga’s variety of banchan (free side dishes including kimchi) change from day to day. The brightly colored sides, mostly made from vegetables, are a delightful sight for winter weary eyes. During one visit, I tasted three varieties: a seaweed dish, spicy fish cakes and curried potatoes, the latter being the first ones I have experienced in a Korean restaurant and which I hoped every visit.
A number of starters are tempting but unnecessary given the size of the main courses. (I’ve never managed to finish a starter all at once.) The duk bokki ($ 12.95), a popular Korean street food, is big enough for a main course. A 1-inch rice cake cylinder platter is served with fish cakes in a thin red sauce spiced with gochujang – Korea’s ubiquitous red pepper paste – and soy sauce. The sauce is vaguely reminiscent of the color and texture of SpaghettiOs sauce, which is oddly pleasant. The cakes are tender and not as chewy as I’ve had elsewhere.
One starter I would order as a main course again is the Korean Roll ($ 7.95). Known as kimbap, the app is basically a giant sushi roll filled with rice, radishes, mushrooms, cooked eggs, cucumbers, pickles, and imitation crab meat. Min Ga’s version is cut into 10 pieces that are a bit too big to eat in one bite, creating an awkward experience when the roll collapses in the middle of the bite. It is worth tasting the hot rice alongside the fresh vegetables, and leftovers keep well for consumption the next day.
Soups and stews are a big part of Min Ga’s menu, and jjigae kimchi ($ 12.95) tops the list. This stew has an endless array of ingredients, including tender chunks of tofu, kimchi, clear noodles, scallion tops, slices of fish cakes and chunks of deliciously fatty pork. But it’s the fine, tangy gochujang-based broth that delivers the fermented flavors of kimchi in a slow and subtle way. In this form, the basic flavors of Korean cuisine can be enjoyed layer by layer, a distinct change from the straightforward nature of kimchi in its non-soup form.
Another drink special is ugeoji guk (which is written “ugoji kuk” on the menu; $ 11.95). Like the majority of Min Ga’s soups and stews, it comes out bubbling. This super spicy bean paste soup (often referred to as a hangover soup) includes tofu, cabbage, green onions, and jalapeño peppers. Beef bone flavored broth is rich in umami. A little white rice poured into the bowl helps moderate the heat.
One of the Western palate’s most familiar dishes – the hot stone bibimbap ($ 13.95) – doesn’t disappoint. The Korean version of the ‘Buddha bowl’, this dish is served in a hot stone pot and filled to the brim with rice (which cooks well in the pot), an array of vegetables, seasoned beef and a egg. When mixed, the yolk cooks and serves as a sauce. But the key thing that ties it all together is the gochujang served on the side. Without the dough, the dish would be bland, but as my friend who spent time in Korea explains, with the dough, “That’s it.”
Min Ga doesn’t come equipped with a table-top barbecue setup (like the Korean Gogi barbecue just up the street), but it does have charcoal-grilled beef, pork, and chicken options. Short Kalbi Ribs ($ 23.95) will satisfy any carnivore’s craving. Drizzled with a sweet and peppery marinade, the sizzling slices of beef are served with grilled onions, flavored like adult candy, and topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. It’s comfort food at its best.
And in Columbus, it’s Korean cuisine at its best. Although it is a bit pricey compared to other restaurants in the area (except Réfectoire), Min Ga offers quality, taste and quantity. A visit to Min Ga is a portal to a side of the Columbus dining scene that is low profile compared to our chef-run, yet vibrant, restaurants.